Monday, 22 August 2011

The Grey Sands of Libya

Much like the comic book character Mr. A, our view of law and justice has grown increasingly black and white over recent months. While the riots are the obvious stem of this simplification of morality, we must also look at the Western intervention in Libya. As I write, Gaddafi is making his last stand and will soon be deposed. This is hardly a bad development, of course, Gaddafi had total rule and unleashed a brutal mercenary force upon his own people. However, I simply fear that throughout this whole intervention, too much has been focused on the notion that Gaddafi is somehow 'evil' and the Rebels are 'good', and thus military intervention is justified. Just as the rioters are, in the media's eyes, the embodiment of moral decline, Gaddafi is the evil ruler, the irredeemable force. Just as Mr. A says, “There is black and there is white, there is good and there is evil. And there is nothing in between.” This view is profoundly wrong, both morally and historically. It may well be a good thing that Gaddafi is about to fall, but I lament the portrayal of the circumstances.

Anyone with a good memory will know that the Western nations' sudden vilification of Gaddafi, is hypocritical seeing as he and other dictators like Mubarak or Assad, were recently seen as allies against Islamic Fundamentalism. They were supported by our governments and given weapons, some of which are now used to kill their own peoples. For the developed democracies to suddenly portray him as 'bad', suggests that they saw his rule as legitimate beforehand, and only jumped on the rebel bandwagon when it was viable to do so, not to support the pre-2011, opposition to Gaddafi. Hence, the situation is something of a farce of UK and US diplomacy. Moreover, there is the classic argument. If we truly went into Libya to uphold democracy, why not invade North Korea, Myanmar/Burma, Zimbabwe and all these other oppressed nations. The argument that such adventures would destabilise regional relations makes no sense, given that Libya is in the Middle East, arguably the least stable region on the planet. At the risk of cynicism, the presence of oil in Libya, Earth's 9th largest reserves. being the main motivator should not be ruled out.

Equally, there are no good guys or bad guys in Libya, only shades of grey. Supporting the rebels could still become a regrettable action for the West, as was supporting the Mujahideen in the 1980s.
I mean, who are the rebels? Currently their leading Council consists of either ex-Gaddafi men, who could create an akin despotism or elite intellectuals who may not fully understand the leanings of ordinary Libyans. Indeed, would we support democracy if Islamic Fundamentalists were elected, I certainly would not.

Intervention always has unintended consequences. We may well have perverted the natural course of democracy in Libya which will now become associated with divisiveness and Western allegiances. Many of our past kings were worse than Gaddafi yet we celebrate them or at least portray them as farcical villains. What if foreign intervention had supported the peasant's revolt or the continuation of the English Commonwealth in the 1600s? William the Conqueror, was far worse than the Gaddafis of this world, yet few historians doubt the meaning of his rule in creating the prosperous nation of today. See democracy as the maturity of a country. It must be reached on its own terms, not supporting one half over another.

Besides, our ideals are hardly perfect. In our 'liberal democracy' you can only really have a say in government if you vote for one of two very similar parties. Everything becomes a financial issue, facts become opinions, all that is worthy in life is reduced to a marketing exercise. Obviously we are better than Gaddafi, but we are not so great that we can pontificate to the 'lesser' nations.

Mr. A was wrong. Anyone who knows their fellow humans can tell that there is no black or white, only shades of grey. All we can do is pick the lighter shade of grey and hope that it works out in the long term.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The American Malaise

Much like the football season, US elections seem to be almost constant, with minimal breaks in between. Unfortunately this means we will now get a deluge of articles and commentaries in British publications about the American election. This is mainly because it is easy to criticise foreign systems, to hide our own failings, but also because, current US politics is increasingly extraordinary. Their elections have always been more exciting, see 2000, but recently it has attracted the interest of the idle pontiffs of political commentary, for different reasons, namely the rise of tea party extremism in the Republican party. It intrigues us as it is so bizarre. In Britain, ultra libertarians, theocrats, and rabid anti-abortion campaigners, are often pushed to the sidelines, but there we have them in control of the main opposition party. Of course, such things are hardly new for the US right. The Moral Majority was key to Reaganite success in the 1980s, while Pat Buchanan gained some attention in leading a 'paleo-conservative' movement in the 1990s. Yet only today do we have such a total and extreme manifestation that has even turned against its own party in a bid for power. One that has no goal, no aim, no vision, save for stagnation and the profiteering of its puppeteers.

The movement itself is muddied by many contradictions and even paradoxes, at least, for European eyes. Most obvious of which is the notion that lower-middle class workers would campaign for an economic package stressing the lowering of taxes for high earning 'wealth creators' at the cost of extreme budget cuts that only really hurt them. The weird statements of its leaders (Herman Cain said he'd not appoint any Muslim terrorists to the cabinet if elected, no doubt a blow to Al Qaeda's plans), esoteric policy, such as the 'free light-bulbs' campaign and the return of plastic cups to the canteen at Congress to cement their disbelief in global warming, along with the ill though out philosophies that guide it, such as the claim to be 'libertarian' whilst profusely attacking rights of LGBT groups and abortion-seeking women. If anything this would be funny, were it not for its tragic nature and ominous signs of potential success in upcoming elections. Instead the tea party is a threat to the very system it is meant to stand for; Anglo-Saxon liberal democracy.

Clearly, the main danger comes from its purely ideological stance, believing in 'no compromise' and trashing any conciliatory conservatives as 'RINOs' (Republicans in Name Only). In the past, the left was always seen as favouring ideology while conservatism and liberalism marketed themselves as 'practical'. Today, in the US at least, the roles are reversed. I was shocked to see many of them demanding a US default and in the primary debates saying abortion was a closed issue. This is not politics, there is no pretence of conciliation, they are simply trying to force their views on the rest of the country, if not the world, given the key role played by Wall Street. Yet these are the people that refuse to believe in issues backed by scientific consensuses such as anthropogenic climate change and fluoridation of water. We let them have their 'debates' on these issues, but they refuse to even allow alternatives to their ideas. In this way their reactionary anarchism threatens to undermine the 'freedom' that they claim to uphold.

In 1979, President Carter, perfectly summed up the American Malaise, arguing that her problems lay in the fact that “In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in god, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns.”. Such a perceptive view really applies to the West as a whole now. The capitalist system was supposed to work so that anyone could become rich and wealthy but has now, for many, become a case of 'everyone will'. In the 1980s, television showing wealth, like Dallas, highlighted how it was undermined by the lack of happiness that could not be merely purchased via consumerism. Today such shows, particularly for the young, link happiness to social, not economic factors, while many characters live in vast wealth. Thus the message implied is that all that is meaningful in life is played out in the arena of wealth and consumption.

At the end of the day this is an internal issue within democracy. The leaders of the tea party are simply creatures of the populi, merely trying to corroborate their own views with those of the right wing masses. The public faces; Bachmann, Palin and the like are not really the driving force here. During the Wisconsisin Unions standoff earlier You've probably heard of the Koch brothers, they bankroll, and even influence the tea party movement, while Fox News acts as a voice of propaganda for it. Why? Because the interests of rich business leaders, the men of money, are the same of the tea party and other right wing groups, who are engineered to support principles expounded by the elites. Often this is done through actual public manipulation, but occasionally, tactics called 'astroturfing' are resorted to, whereby activists are targeted at certain internet comment sites to create the impression of mass support for an opinion when in reality opinion is more balanced and divided. Such fabrication of opinion is clearly a substantial threat to democracy, which relies solely on voluntary expression of opinion.

I am not trying to insult the ordinary people in the party or call them dupes, but judging from their comments and beliefs ('Obama is a communist', refusal to even consider raising taxes etc) they are being corrupted and misled by a cabal of men who are connected purely via their ideals. Their aims are merely to perpetrate the great malaise in the US and abroad, to stagnate via economic laissez faire. Such libertarians have more in common with Marx than we like to think. They both rely solely on unproven ideology, claim that practical failures of their ideas are 'not really Marxism/Libertarian economics' and they both believe in a world without progress.

We risk sleepwalking into a confused and misguided imitation of democracy. To prevent this, those in America and elsewhere must root out the fabricators of opinion and have a real debate on politics, based on fact not fallacy. I'll let Carter continue;

“I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.”

When push comes to shove I do not really care for the details of your politics, conservative, socialist, it no longer matters when we face threats such as this. There is always a redeeming feature in even the worst ideologies, as there is always a vision to carry the species onward. The 'cabal' I discussed before do not care. They are criminals of the mind. Their serve only their personal economic and hedonistic agendas. They must be stopped.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Cultural Stuff 1.0

Seeing as apart from the riots there is very little to discuss in popular politics, I thought I'd offer words of cultural wisdom, ie what I have been doing culturally, the past few weeks.

Book-'100 years of solitude' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This is like no book I’ve ever read, it makes me hate it and enjoy it at the same time. Its about a mystical village in Post-Columbian South America full of 'insomnia outbreaks' and esoteric references to 'flying carpets'. Considerably, Marquez has a great talent for managing to involve multiple themes and storylines whilst keeping the whole novel in the same village and 'Buendia' family. The imagery is also brilliant, especially the thought of a Spanish vessel marooned deep in jungle, which I can't seem to get out of my head. Only drawback here is that Marquez takes many pages to explain seemingly minor developments, obviously this only further cements his literary skill, but in my opinion it does start to make some sections a chore. Moreover, the book, for the most part, is almost entirely direction-less, until one reaches the end. Nonetheless, it is a book that will not leave for long.

Music-The Miserable Rich
For the last year or so, I have been religiously listening to this band with a weird mix of indie-folk and rejigged classical music. Though recent attempts to make classical 'cool' are rather tiresome, these guys have really pulled it off. Highly recommended, especially 'Pisshead' and 'The barmaid's canon'.