‘Ukania’, as my old comrade Tom Nairn dubs it, has a monarchy that is now neither dignified nor efficient, a Church which cannot fill its pews or find a reputable or willing crowned head, and a ‘kingdom’ structure that reflects none of the centripetal aspirations on the peripheries – especially the Scottish and Irish ones.
Orwell considered the capacity to recognise and accept unpleasant facts a power. If he was right, and he certainly is, Francisco Goya’s work stands as testament to a man who elevated it to the level of a superpower. One doesn’t seek out Goya’s paintings or etchings looking for consolation. Here one finds the brutalities of war, the sadomasochism on which class and feudal relations depend, and the many ways Man can embody impotence.
Goya became an expert in the last of those when, at a relatively young age, he was struck by an illness that left him both blind and deaf. The former was temporary, the latter proved lifelong. This had the effect of turning the artist inward and further away from an idealised view of his country. Out went the beautiful scenes of picnics and salons, and in came the bull fighting, highwaymen and lunatic asylums in all their gory authenticity. See The Death of the Picador:
Ordinarily such scenes would depict a moment of triumph: man demonstrating his superiority over beast. A predictable assemble, with the tacit message, “this is the natural order of things”. But here is the bull, outnumbered and defiant, impaling the performer in a – although can it ever be contrary? – particularly undignified way. His horse is crushed beneath. In doing this, Goya shows Spaniards what they really wanted to see. (And if the tabloids are to be taken at face value, what they still do.) An articulate observer of this “sport” will tell you that, besides cherished tradition, it is the grace and pageantry that keep them coming back. But Goya knew that pueblo wanted gore, and lots of it.
There’s a question over whether anyone wanted to see inside a madhouse, however. This is where Spain dumped the mentally disturbed and its non-aristocratic eccentrics, and where the mantra “out of sight, out of mind” was cruelly followed. No one received care worthy of the name, and, with a architectural design George Carlin would be proud of, these prisons were open, chaotic. The resulting paintings by Goya convey a terrible atmosphere. If one were to take a peek into the cave of Michaelangelo’s The Last Judgement, I imagine one would see something like this:
It’s debatable whether or not he was a secret republican (many have taken his royal portraits as quite enough evidence, ignoring the fact he made the very best out of some very ugly sitters), but this scene would certainly suggest a sympathy. There is a man with a crown fashioned from feathers holding his hand out to adoring “courtiers”. Another wears a headdress made from cards, and a third sports a DIY mitre. This is the royal court depicted in one of the few ways possible. It takes skill and bravery to dupe most contemporaries, while leaving a clear subversive message for posterity. He saw behind the enchanted glass propped up to simultaneously dazzle and terrify, and found asses instead of lions.
He was a man of the Enlightenment, but unlike many of that tendency he never romantised “the people”. It is a failing of some liberals (and even more socialists) to assume that, if only the shackles were to be undone, most of population would rationally, and dutifully, get behind them. No, to Goya the reactionary inclinations of the hoi polloi were only too clear. It was they who, when the horrid Fernando VII consolidated his power – by employing secret police that hunted liberals like hogs – went to the streets chanting, “long live our chains, long live oppression; long live King Fernando, death to the Nation!”
(And it was the great mass that had urged along the monarch’s crushing of the 1812 Constitution, along with its liberating potential. This document was drawn up by the exiled Spanish government in Cádiz in response to Napoleon’s invasion. It promised the people a country worth fighting for: one with a free press, universal male suffrage, land reform, and checks on the monarchy. At one time – as the Peninsula War raged – it looked as if Spain would end up with either this indigenous liberalism born from war, or an enlightened absolutism imposed by France. Tragically, but in keeping with this troubled land, it got Fernando.)
There is a sense of disbelief, if not disgust, toward his victims of social inequity. In this image from the Caprichos, two proletarians lumber almost prostrate under the weight of asses, representative of the aristocracy. Their looks are one of complacency.
Here is Goya facing the unpleasant fact of power: in order for one to oppress, the other must choose to submit. Granted, this is the perspective of the artist: distant, if not disinterested. One with more sympathy – for either side of the dynamic – will be eager to point to Marxist or Humean theories of indoctrination, and the threats of violence contained, either latently or explicitly, within the dictates of tyrants. It’s not that Goya is unaware of these factors, but he isn’t so willing to absolve those who bend the knee. What bothered him, a man so use to questioning his surroundings, was the self-enforced ignorance of “the many,” that in fact makes a despot’s life so easy. The majority, by simply refusing to ask why, are more than complicit in their structural misery. Minds untutored in political philosophy are better placed to see this than their opposite. This is what Blake called “mind-forged manacles”.
This insight may seem blunted by the fact it comes from a painter of the court, though it shouldn’t. Goya maintained a fierce independence that got him in trouble with both the Inquisition and Fernando. And, besides, we can’t be certain that self-loathing wasn’t part of the impetus behind TheCaprichos.
Another print, a favourite of Christopher Hitchens, shows a peasant groaning beneath the bulk of an overweight friar. The caption reads, “Will you never learn what you are carrying on your back?” This is, in part, one of Goya’s many shots at the clergy. A class of men he considered parasitic, stupid and dangerous.
Ever since the Moors were forced out, a particularly reactionary strain of Catholism was enforced on the Iberian peninsula. The climate of fear that began with the targeting of Muslims and Jews and their descendants, came to infect every corner of society: speak a foreign tongue? Suspect. In love a non-Catholic? Dangerous. A woman with aspirations above the convents or child rearing? Abhorrent. Known to read the latest treaties out of France? Traitor. And all knew the rack and burning poles awaited transgressors.
Though the Inquisition’s most tyrannical years had passed by Goya’s day, it maintained an ominous and persistent presence. For example, he was made to answer for TheNaked Maja – the first Western painting to include female genital hair, according to biographer Robert Hughes – as well as The Caprichos.
During his early career he found himself at the whims of men of the cloth – a rare group with the capital to commission such works, and the bane of hundreds of artists before Goya and since. In a letter to a friend, he refers to his difficulties with them,
If you don’t watch out and even if you do, [these insects] will tear away your flesh and your hair out as well; not only do they scratch you and look for pretexts for quarrelling, but they bite, spit, stick you, and run you through; they often become food for other and worse ones…
As is classic of one who has made a deadly foe, Goya can’t even bring himself to consider his adversaries human. This colourful language prefigures later depictions of the clergy.
Hughes has suggested that even with this animus, Goya remained some sort of believer in the supernatural. But his pessimism runs so deep, and his contempt for religion’s representatives so great, that it’s hard to see him as anything but an atheist.
At his most pointed, he thought religion stupified the mind. Thesleep of Reason brings forth monsters. Other times – as with the lore surrounding witches – he had an almost anthropological interest in the fantasies on which people build lives around. But this interest remained at a safe distance. See Plate 69 of Disasters of War, his second major series of etchings: A corpse faces away from the viewer holding a pen which, in rigamortise, hovers over a sheet of paper. It reads: Nada. Like that other great atheist David Hume, the everyday dreads of old age weren’t enough to bring about a late conversion. Goya remained steadfast, and kept the God-botherers from his bedside.
As well as that, not only does Christian imagery become absent early in his private work, but the motifs associated with such images end up being employed for notably secular purposes. Justice and reason, those cornerstones of the Enlightenment, look almost holy in Goya’s pen (see Lux et tenebris and Sol de justicia). While that symbol of revolution, and Spain’s wartime adversary, Lady Liberty, strikes a saintly pose in Allegory of the Constitution of 1812. (Old man Time has less hassle bringing her forth on canvas than “he” had in actual fact.)
This is a rare moment of optimism in Goya’s collection, which makes the knowledge that the 1812 Constitution was scrapped – and by a Spanish administration – so crushing. It’s hard not to think that, however courageous the resistance was – and Goya honored the everyday heroes of the struggle – a French victory would’ve been preferable to the outcome Spain was dealt. (The conflict has an odd parallel with the 2003 Iraq War: both began with foreigners citing enlightened progress as their casus belli, and both, in their own way, brought awful reaction.)
Although he clearly had a “side” during the war, he is surprisingly evenhanded in his coverage (a journalistic term that seems apt). The French are shown committing terrible acts of mutilation and savagery, but so are Spanish patriots. They are shocking.
At another time Goya said that he had hoped to document universal human failings. Looking at these prints today one’s mind is taken immediately to Syria in 2017, which is a strange compliment to the “most Spanish of artists”. One hopes there is enough left of that country in the near future so that a worthy heir might emerge.
At the very least, all schoolboys know that Cromwell killed the king, Lincoln freed the slaves, and Hitler caused WWII (while possessing one ball). It’s strange practice – and in many cases an unwise one – to condense the life of one of humanity’s great men – or monsters – into a single pithy phrase. How unfair that one of History’s elect or leads (that’s “moulders” for crustier readers) should receive nothing but a sentence for their efforts! But we are endowed with minds that categorise and simplify as a matter of course; and I’m not so bloody-minded to think I can counter that.
We just witnessed the end days of the Obama’s White House (if not the end days, period) and are forced to ask, “how will the 44th President of the United States be remembered?”
(Of course, I’m presuming two things: 1) classrooms and schoolyards of the future won’t be subsumed by hoards of cockroaches seeking substance and shelter in a post-MAD world; and 2) “first black president” won’t suffice.)
Ineloquent as my bid may be, Barack Obama will always be the president that didn’t…
Apparently We Can’t
Seldom has the world set itself up for such crushing disappointment as it did in 2008. Obama promised change we could believe in, and “we” bought it. Even Christopher Hitchens, no stranger to heady nights turning into sour morns, allowed himself to be swept up in the general buzz – or, as he was later to admit, hubris.
Obama had a great many of us hoping – “audaciously” so (Ed.: groan) – and for what? He:
Promised to close Guantanamo Bay, and he didn’t
Promised to make Wall Street pay, and he didn’t
Promised to loosen the lobbyist stranglehold on the Capitol, and he didn’t
Promised to bring transparency to government machinations, and here, resoundingly, he did not
(There was also the implicit pledge that he wouldn’t be George W. Bush, and, thanks to the basic laws of the physical world, he managed to hold to that.)
Bay of Horrors
If your concept of failure happens by the part of your cortex where Obama’s impression resides, the resulting synapse will likely scream Gwentemeno, Guantelemo or Guantanamo, or however it’s pronounced. (Do you remember just how awful Bush was at everything?)
This blot on Western civilisation remains open today still, now with 40 detainees. Guantanamo Bay, a place of anal rape and constant degradation, where solitary confinement is used frequently, and where the terrible extremes of sensory bombardment and sensory deprivation are imposed. So too, was (is?) anal feeding – which may seem comparatively slight. But remember: starvation is the last – and you’ll have to excuse me here – avenue of protest and/or escape left open for Guantanamo’s detainees. This base, which, thanks to a historical absurdity, resides on Cuban soil, invites suicide and then cruelly denies it.
As far as it’s possible to discern, Obama really was sincere about closing Guantanamo, and really was disappointed that the legislative branch wasn’t conducive. Even if some cynical observers have suggested if only because he missed out on a golden PR opportunity on the international stage. (His 2008 campaign was granted America’s most esteemed advertising award, we ought to remember. For those still unclear about what the Clinton Effect on US politics was, and how it sucked out both conviction and principle leaving only power play and image, this fact hopefully lays a foundation of healthy scepticism.) And, should he have cared, it might’ve gone some way to making the Noble Prize Committee look less ridiculous.
Obama would’ve like nothing more to have had all detainees disappear into the, frankly not too much better, penitentiaries of the Deep South and Midwest. Because, after-all, Guantanamo’s main function is symbolic: Of Obama’s ineffectualness and of the Republican torture fetish.
Conqueror of the East
It has been discovered that many of “Gitmo’s” detainees are in fact fodder in the petty tribal disputes of Afghanistan, and not of bin Laden’s gang.
Both American and British forces have allowed themselves to be used by warlords and charlatans: Is your neighbour causing you problems? What better way of enacting Stalin’s maxim than by telling Coalition forces that he’s with Al Qaeda, a bad sort who harbours jihadi intent. In goes R boys and, if he and his family are lucky, he’ll be in an orange jumpsuit and tranquilised by sunrise. It recalls to mind my reading of the first English colonists’ contact with America’s natives, and how exploitation can – and did – work both ways.
Patrick Cockburn has done an excellent job over the years of documenting how local realities – primarily, but not limited to the sectarian – have had the paradoxical effect of dividing “conqueror” too. With squaddies left questioning a commander class which is never quite sure if the Taliban is to be quashed entirely or granted, with gritted teeth, ‘partner’ status. Brits, too, are left envious and dependent on superior American air and logistical support. And now we’re witnessing that war be exported (or is that imported?) home.
To that extent we can say that the Islamist outrages in Paris, Brussels, Turkey, etc., were successful – ISIS achieved their goal of dividing the “West”. Gone are the “we are the 99%” placards and a grudgingly sympathetic Middle England. Now, one is either the 52% or 48%; Red State or Blue; proud Aryan or some variant of the N word, or far, far worse: race traitor.
(Class is no longer the go-to gauge of voter intent. William James wrote of how you can learn all you need to about a man by familiarising oneself with his temperament. Are his sensory filters grey or rose-tinted, and which passions are most likely to surface in response? It’s these implicit emotions which are the gate keepers too often of logic and reason.)
I’m not suggesting Obama is to blame for any of this – even the world’s most powerful man is subject to History’s whims. But it is “blowback” of a sort, and Obama seemed clueless as how to respond.
Foreign policy wonks from across the spectrum have grimaced at his unfocused response to the Syrian disaster, and claimed, if anything, it has made the West’s lot worse. Alluding to WWII (as they always do) strategists have argued that Obama would’ve been better of knocking off the greater evil even if it meant aligning with a lesser for a time. But I have a sneaking suspicion that many of those drawing this comparison would have no interest in fighting Assad once the chessboard had lost some of that clutter. The Pentagon was quite happy with the “normalising influence” of a “stable” Syrian dictatorship once, and would be again given the chance.
So, just for the record, I was one of the few within my ‘corner’ of the Left who had agreed with the spirit of Obama’s two-pronged assault against both Assad and Islamic State. Fascism – or Ba’athism – is no easier to abide if it has state apparatus and a seat at the UN. And if he had decided to join Putin in crushing the revolt – that wasn’t and isn’t entirely Islamist whatever the self-righteous pundits squawk – I have a hunch Galloway and his cultists would be now condemning Barrack for aligning with a fascist despot (Assad, not Putin, to clarify). Or perhaps not, is he still in the pay of Russia Today? Spudhead, isn’t it?
As it happened though, neither were defeated, and one – Assad’s forces – are shaping up to be a powerful player in the Middle East. As well as, quite unintentionally, beyond.
The Mid-East Legacy
Perhaps it’s unfair to focus on the Middle East. Obama did try to pivot the eyes of the world toward the south-east Asia, along with American destroyers. But there’s certain truths I would be uncomfortable omitting:
American troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan
Obama’s drone program, celebrated by liberals of the lesser-evilism variety, had a 10% success rate (according to one of those dreaded whistleblowers)
Though the slight chiding of Netanyahu at the UN has been completely overblown, Obama’s actual Israel policy has been one of lavish military spending and objectively pro-the illegal settlements. The prospect of a Palestinian state that doesn’t constitute in toto Gaza seems, tragically, an impossibility
The Egyptian counter-revolution was successful, thanks in large part to American subsidy of Egypt’s state-within-a-state: its military
The Saudi elite remains untouched, even though it provides ISIS with financial and ideological support (something the Podesta’s emails revealed Clinton knew about and did fuck all about)
His one success – the Iran Deal – came only after brazen lying which implicated Turkey and Brazil and support for Israel’s terroristic murder of nuclear scientists. And it looks set to be undone by Trump. (What was it we were saying about hubris?)
In a boring but highly-publicized 2009 speech, replete with platitudes and euphemism, Obama cleverly aligned the United States with the forces of “democracy” without getting down to specifics. And, again, “we” allowed ourselves to be duped. Imagine how ready to the mind the above facts would be if a Bush Jr-Jr was in the White House up until 2017.
It is his enemies which have outlived him in every case but bin Laden’s. (Helped by, in no small measure, US support for states which don’t have elections.) In the histories of Egypt, Israel, Syria and Iraq Obama may just about warrant a footnote. And if ISIS is ever allowed to mutate into a nation state, he wouldn’t even get that.
There were planes on that other 9/11, but unlike those in 2001 they were designed for terror. These were the Hawker Hunters of the Chilean airforce, the year 1973.
The army surrounded La Moneda, the presidential palace, with tanks at 1400 and began firing in at staff, sheltered citizens, and representatives of the elected government. Sporadic shots were sent back, with President Allende taking potshots from behind the drapes. Their only hope lay in prolonging the siege. But as calls to the navy and the national guard rang out, they realised there was no one to hold out for.
They, in their work clothes. They with their desks and cabinets full of boring reports and dull charts, were it – the sole defenders of a democracy. Santiago’s fortress was crumbling and soon Chile would.
Those inside knew what was expected of them but military made it formal: Rendición incondicional, cabrones. Thoughts about exactly what Latin American troopers do to their quarry became whispers, and then the suicides began. (See a graphic timeline here.)
What exactly had these besieged bureaucrats done to deserve all this? In the words of a US Senator, Warren, who investigated the episode,
Like Caesar peering into the colonies from distant Rome, Nixon said the choice of government by the Chileans was unacceptable to the president of the United States
All this sounds rather orthodox from a European perspective – bland even – but to the Nixon administration it was anathema. Chile was providing the Third World with a precedent so terrible it brought to mind the horror that was Vietnam. They were a good example.
They showed that a government could be elected – be aligned to neither the US or USSR – and successfully develop out of banana republicdom…
“NOT IN MY BACK YARD.”
And so Nixon sent his attack dog to the Andes to help along a coup. Perhaps more reptilian than canine, Kissinger did go and he did his thing. He put a hit on the uncooperative leader of the armed forces (a conservative figure who nevertheless was a constitutionalist); armed some fascist thugs to do the deed; and headhunted the ranks for someone less scrupulous. Pinochet – unintelligent, with a fondness for torture – was that man.
Allende didn’t last the day, didn’t live to see his nation become the plaything of the Chicago Boys. Didn’t see the thousands disappear… but then again, who exactly did?
He [Allende] would have been 64 years old next July. His greatest virtue was following through, but fate could grant him only that rare and tragic greatness of dying in armed defence of the anachronistic booby of the bourgeois law, defending a Supreme Court of Justice which had repudiated him but would legitimise his murderers, defending a miserable Congress which had declared him illegitimate but which was to bend complacently before the will of the usurpers, defending the freedom of opposition parties which had sold their soul to fascism, defending the whole moth-eaten paraphernalia of a shitty system which he had proposed abolishing, but without a shot being fired. The drama took place in Chile, to the greater woe of the Chileans, but it will pass into history as something that happened to us all, children of this age, and it will remain in our lives for ever.
Gabriel García Márquez
On this day, September 11th, when thoughts turn instinctively westward, it would be wrong to overlook the people of Chile. For them, they do not need to placate their passions with never forgets. It’s still with them. There are brother, sister, mother, father, son, daughter, cousin, friend, neighbour-shaped holes in their Universe, and they haven’t the solace confirmed dead brings.
(To learn more about the Britian’s role in all this, the Guardian has a good article here. While the state bolstered reaction, the public didn’t.)
Anon #1: I do genuinely also think the war was a horrible idea.
Paddy: The stated goals by Blair just prior to invasion were 1) regime change, and 2) uncovering WMDs for neutralization. The second of those aims resulted, of course, from institutional self-deception, but still. (And, to be fair, the British state had good reason suspect Saddam of maintaining a WMD stockpile – after all we still held the invoices re: chemicals employed against the Kurds and Iranians.)
Now, even if you add securing oil for corporate exploitation here (the majority of which were not American or British-based), I can imagine far worse reasons for war.
Anon #1: Right, but just because you can imagine a more ignorant motivation, this doesn’t make the actual rationale any more sensible.
Paddy: Okay, George I-haven’t-met-a-dictator-I-didn’t-like Galloway.
Anon #1: Yeah, because George Galloway was, and still is, the only person who ever thought going into Iraq was a bad idea.
Anon #2: A reasonably common joke at the time was “We know Saddam has WMDs because we’re the ones he bought them from.”
Paddy: And not a single one of them could have convinced me that maintaining Saddam’s grip on Iraq, its people and its neighbours was a good thing. There were principled and convincing strategic arguments for opposing that war (Patrick Cockburn springs to mind, as do some academics who suggested such force and funds would be better employed to combat poverty) but I seldom heard them. Definitely not from anyone carrying one of those placards.
Most leftists thought “it’s all about oil” was a sufficient argument, others sought to compare it to Vietnam – which was truly sickening to anybody who knows anything about that region and its history.
And to #2:
I remember. I also remember a lot of sentences starting with “Saddam’s a bad guy and stuff, but…”. I was – and am now again – sick of the whole bloody lot.
Anon #1: Wow, you’re like a caricature of someone who bought into all the propaganda they were ever sold. I didn’t know anyone like you actually existed. At least most of the Remain voters weren’t deluded about the fact they voted that way to get rid of all the dirty foreigners. How much would it cost to hire you to display as a circus freak?
[Note: You can see views on that issue here and here.]
Paddy: And not a single substantive thing in your post…
If I decided I was going to go full ad hominem I would have had made sure it was going to be bloody good, rather… rather than that.
“How much would it cost to hire you to display as a circus freak?”
Anon #1: And what’s substantive about pretending everyone opposed to the war was George Galloway?
Also, learn what an ad hominem is before you throw the term around.
Anon #3: There are a multitude of “bad guys” in the world, that doesn’t mean every country burdened with one needs a military intervention cast at them like a brick through China shop window. Not least one lacking any meaningful knowledge of the social or political history of the region into which it’s staggering.
Paddy: This is another one I used to hear, and really I expect better.
What you are suggesting is this: if you cannot fix all the world’s problems you shouldn’t even bother trying to fix one.
Humbly, I disagree.
“And what’s substantive about pretending everyone opposed to the war was George Galloway?”
Did I? Um, no, I didn’t. I responded to your specific comment, addressing you specifically (if you really are a collective of a million or more people, I will apologise).
You suggest deposing a dictator who had a history of committing genocide, torture and aggressive war was not “sensible”. I disagreed, so compared you to the leader of the Stop The War coalition, somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Mainly because you gave me nothing else to go on.
“Also, learn what an ad hominem is before you throw the term around”
How was I throwing around such a term, and how have I misunderstood its meaning? I directed it at specific target – you.
You have an unfortunate tendency of passing-the-buck… suggests you’re not, well, confident with your position.
And, again, nothing substantive in the rest. I’m really not going to get anywhere with you, am I?
(NOTE: just to be clear, by “you” I mean you, as an individual.)
Anon #2: Regardless of how passionately you oppose the evildoers, that alone isn’t enough to make it sensible, no. There are other considerations. “Will this massively destabilise the country and greater region for a generation?” is a pretty important one.
Someone insulted you. That is not the same thing as an ad hominem.
Anon #1: Except literally nothing, not one thing, is better for the people of Iraq now than it was 15 years ago.
I swear some people use this place solely to hone their debating skills.
Paddy: “Someone insulted you. That is not the same thing as an ad hominem.”
He insulted me instead of actually responding to my argument… I don’t quite get why you’re choosing to ignore this? If you’re trying to turn this into a tedious semantic debate, I really don’t have the time.
How about I put it in another, more British way: I was always taught, growing up, that you tackle the ball instead of the man. “You belong in a freak show” sort of falls outside that for me.
Thankfully though, I did receive something of substance this time:
“There are other considerations. “Will this massively destabilise the country and greater region for a generation?””
Yes, an important consideration. But seeing as it doesn’t actually address any of my points made so far, and it is lacking context, I’m not entirely sure how to respond.
I mean plenty of conservatives were making that point at the time based on Hobbesian rationale, and I would have to say, as a leftist, I prioritize progress over order. But, again, seeing as your point really was just thrown out there, I can’t really say more.
Anon #2: “He insulted me instead of actually responding to my argument”
Which is not an ad hominem.
“as a leftist…”
Then understand that not everybody is quite so convinced of the merits of military force as a tool for progress.
Paddy: “Except literally nothing, not one thing, is better for the people of Iraq now than it was 15 years ago.”
Now that’s just silly.
I don’t have anything to swear on nearby, so you’ll have to take me on my word. I was much more ambivalent about the Iraq War until I met a visiting Kurd (at Speakers Corner actually) who told me he fully supported what he called “the intervention”. It had turned a place where the earth was permanently scorched and its people permanently scared into place worth living (and worth defending, but ISIS “happened” after we met). They were thriving off the oil money and participating, for the first time, in elections.
The Kurds were the largest ethnic group without a state and now they have the beginnings of one. That’s something.
That’s the funny thing: the people who have actually been affected by what seems to us rather vague and distant, can sometimes have a better idea of what’s going on.
“I swear some people use this place solely to hone their debating skills”
I’m not entirely sure what your point is. Is it that hard for you to accept that there are those who sincerely disagree with you? And can actually defend their position?
I have a feeling I just wasted my time trying to discuss this issue.
Don’t you find it funny that I was the one accused of being brain-washed, when in fact my contributions are the least dogmatic?
Anon #1: The “dogma” of the people you’re arguing with is called reality mate.
Paddy: Great, good to see another Stephen Colbert fan. (And someone who apparently has never heard of the Kurds.)
Anon #2: Action like this should only be taken if there’s multilateral agreement, there are clearly defined goals, and it has minimal chance of worsening the situation.
Paddy: This actually took me back. I mean… really.
I’m sorry, but you really come across as someone who knows very little about the Iraq War and even less about international relations.
Look at the pic, how much more multilateral do you want?
The UN supported disarming Iraq and had condemned again and again the Saddam regime. Suggesting that his power grip had to be “removed anyway necessary“.
And there were clearly defined goals: regime change and neutralization of Iraq’s WMDs. The success or failure of their outcomes does not change the fact that these objectives existed.
“…has minimal chance of worsening a situation”
What does this even mean? It’s so vague it almost doesn’t deserve ridicule. For who? Worsen in what ways?
But, more broadly, its clear you’ve never held a position of power. And, in politics, if you do want to wait for the “perfect moment” an entire people could be wiped out in the interim. (In some quarters, governments that have participated in military interventions have been pilloried for enacting the “right to protect” principle while not doing it elsewhere. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. See Mark Curtis, who, bizarrely, has been praised by John Pilger.)
Professor Chomsky enters the room. It is crisp white. For a time, the sweatered figure stands awkwardly in the silence, hunched, hands in pockets.
“Noam, old buddy, old pal.”
“…Howard? Howard, is that you?” His inquisitive eyes pierce through his spectacle lenses.
By this time Professor Zinn at Professor Chomsky’s side, arms aloft and preparing for embrace. Still guarded, Professor Chomsky croaks, “Howard, I know this is a dream. You are dead.”
“Why, yes! This will be a lot to take in, my friend. I’ve been assigned to, well… I’m sorry about this, because, well, I’m not sure you’re going to like this…”
At this point, a broad shouldered figure sways into sight. It carries another familiar face although time hasn’t been as kind to this one.
“Hah! What a sight! Here’s ‘The Professor’! What did you in? Old age, the FBI, nuclear weapons… surely you didn’t fall victim to one of the ‘Religion of Peace’ crowd?”
“Oh, Christopher! Now’s not the time.”
“But we have all the time in the Universe now, isn’t that correct, Professor?” Again, the name produces a sneer as it passes Mr Hichens’ lips. He nudges the one addressed, spilling red wine.
“Christopher? I haven’t thought about you in a long time.” Professor Chomsky is notably deadpan.
“That’s no way to greet an old comrade and friend. After-all we’re all comrades here.” He produces a hip flask from his crisp white suit and takes a sizable gulp with his free hand. “At least they saw fit to provide complimentary booze.”
“I am afraid I don’t understand what this means.”
Professor Zinn quickly interjects, guiding his friend to the other side of the room.
“Noam, you won’t believe this,” he raises his eyebrows in feigned disbelief and chuckles, “but, well, heh – you’re here because, well. You’ve passed old friend, you’ve reached the end of the line.”
“And!” Mr Hitchens exclaims, finding it quite impossible to be left out, “you didn’t reach the mark, old dog! You’re among the damned, the junk, you’re officially – how should one put it? – persona nongrata. Professor – welcome to Purgatory!”
At this point the old Trot splutters, clearly finding the upright position difficult to maintain. Professor Zinn looks up at his colleague, in life and now death, and says, “he hasn’t been taking this well”.
“I am still finding it difficult to accept this as reality,” the taller of the two professors remarks as they walk down a crisp white corridor. His navy sweater draws a sharp distinction with its surroundings.
“Well, old friend, I can’t say it’s not good to see you again but these circumstances could… eh, be better.”
Professor Chomsky scans the side rooms where there are others mulling about, some sit, most stare out of crisp white window frames onto crisp white nothingness.
“Let’s say, for purposes of thought experimentation, I grant you that we are walking in the Antechamber to the Christian conceptions of Heaven and Hell.”
“To think the gentiles were right, huh? What a thought! Oh, sorry, you were saying?”
“If this scene is not a creation of a muddled mind currently occupying a room of the Massachusetts General Hospital – this is a thought experiment to clarify – then what, Howard, are you doing here? I only knew you to be a good man, an enlightened and moral person. A rare thing. Surely there is no question about where you belong.”
Professor Zinn chuckles, embarrassed as ever by praise, “well thank you, Noam, I’d say the same about you, heh-heh. But it’s not you I have to impress, old friend. You see, my past is far from untarnished.”
The historian’s face shows signs of distress as his thoughts return to his previous life.
“You know about my service in the Air Force? Of course you do, and you do you remember what I told you about what I did in April of 1945? Just before the closing of that war.”
“I do recollect a tragic tale, all too common from that period. You were ordered to drop napalm on a French town. One of the first times that devastating weapon was employed against civilians. Experimental”.
There’s a pause before Professor Zinn picks up the thread, “I was so proud to fight in that war. Heh, marching forward and taking it to the fascists! Eh, you know what us Marxists were like…”
“Howard, it was a horrendous act, no doubt, but you are no monster. You had little idea of what you were participating in, as I remember from your telling. You also did your best to reveal the crime and to negate your role in it following the war. You aren’t a murderer.”
“Intent matters little to the gentiles in matters this severe, as it should be.”
Removing his hand from his well rubbed chin, Chomsky finally responds, “As it should be”.
Some evil murderous bastards posing with Nazi officers
These whistling husks appear to serve two purposes:
1. committing themselves, out of fear and love for a Heavenly Father who doesn’t exist, to great personal suffering
2. taking 1. out on the rest of us
Sticking with 2. (because the first is really their own business): At their most brazen, you can witness these ugly bores scuttling off to countries awash in the victims of starvation and war to preach about how contraception is equal to abortion and abortion is murder. With Bible in one hand and phony charity in the other, they spew dangerous nonsense about the only half-enjoyable activity one has at hand in these places. (One can go to Hell Proper if one wears a rubber apparently.) In the process they make themselves the only virgins I’m aware of which spread AIDs.
And when these sexless beasts aren’t attempting to stamp out physical love in Earth’s many wastelands, they’re teaching their cloth-less sisters about the virtues of slavery. A woman is only something, they squawk, when she’s the property of a man, and she is only a soul worth saving when she’s squirting out children she can’t feed. Preventing, as Christopher Hitchens tirelessly argued, the only known cure for poverty: female empowerment.
Hitchens questions the saintliness of a women who was found in bed with murderous dictators and dodgy millionaires
Indoctrination-cum-molestation centres masquerading as schools have been inflicted on everyone from the Native population of British Columbia to the victims of Franco’s coup, to the stick figures haunting India’s slums. The nuns dug thousands of graves (left unmarked) in the service of their designated Father Torture. The willing congregations haven’t fared all that much better. The poor have been fleeced of their last pennies in exchange for, of all things, a few Hail Marys.
Gimme gimme gimme
The stains left on Ireland, Mexico, the Congo and elsewhere by these satanic harpies will be difficult to remove. But, in respect for their countless victims, we should at least try.
Paddy: In the early 21st century the new Prophets graced us with their presence. Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennett (for we are always in Their debt) led a ferocious charge against the Forces of God and gave all non-believers a bad name in the process.
For a teenager with a religious background the “Four Horsemen” were a marvel, brilliantly dismantling – in the case of Hitchens totally eviscerating – Christian dogma at a time I was just about capable of flirting with agnosticism. They not only clinically diagnosed the problem – the exact inconsistencies and hypocrisies of religion – but provided its young emigres with an alternative: science and capital r Reason.
Little did I know that Reason was a euphemism for something just as dogmatic.
Pole: It’s ironic for a sworn atheist to use religious symbolism like that but it is a good analogy: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, bringing an end to a world of religious ignorance and usher in one of Reason. Angry atheists which keep trying to tear religion to pieces and prove that its adherents are delusional idiots holding humanity back:
They’re treating atheism as an ideological agenda rather than an idea, inflating their egos in the process. In fact, this ‘new atheism’ bears some similarity to a new religious movement. It’s based on a belief in the non-existence of god; its members claim to have a monopoly on truth; and they are trying to conver-… I mean enlighten others to their way of thinking. Not long before we see them going house to house, clutching a copy of The God Delusion, telling those impatient few who open their door about life, morality and how to cleanse themselves of superstition.
Paddy: Although I agree in principle, you’re setting your sights far too low. As the Spanish militia leader ordering lead to be fired down upon spineless, fascist clergymen may have said, “aim for the head, Jose!” The head of this movement, of course, consists largely of pseudo-intellectuals who have long exhausted their use to the academy.
Admittedly, I still have a grudging admiration for at least two of the original quartet but, still, they make it difficult. Dawkins, a brilliant popular science writer, has resorted to Grade B Twitter trolling while Dennett saw to naming his insufferable followers “brights”, and the Hitch crudely conflated politics, anthropology and religious studies to carry out a dangerously convincing crusade against Islam.
None of the above, however, is as slimy and smug as the Ben Stiller look-alike. No one else encapsulates the unsettling ideological overlap between American liberals and the traditional far-right quite like Harris. (Wasn’t it he who claimed Europe’s fascists were the most clear-headed about immigration policy?) His talking point is this: religion is thought crime of the highest order.
Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them
Despite this he somehow manages to maintain a love affair with Buddhism. It may be imperfect but its principles and teachings, Harris drones, correlate strongly with the objective innate moral system he both claims to have uncovered and adhere to (details of which can be found in The Moral Landscape, available at fine book stores across Seculardom). This unusual admiration aligns with his abandonment of logic in claiming that mind and body are non-dependant entities (this view is something neuroscientists, among others, have thoroughly discredited, so surely he knows this?). And perhaps plays a role in his excursion into realms normally associated with New Age yah-yah types, when he argues that a metaphorical society whose only reading material is Buddhist texts – as opposed to the actual ones clogging up the Himalayas – would be a peaceful, enlightened one. A stranded group granted nothing other than Islamic texts however, would degenerate into a savage death cult within the same time it would take Sam’s buds to occupy Rousseau’s dreamscape.
This hogwash is on the same level as the stupid Sapir-Whorf hypothesis – Harris, that’s simply not how the mind works! Any first year Psychology undergrad could tell you that you’re tacitly – if not overtly – rejecting basic truisms about the human mind. Spelled out: single source of potential inspiration is not capable of changing a group’s entire nature, you tit. I hesitate to call this pseudo-science, in the words of Wolfgang Pauli, it’s not even wrong.
Harris claims religious texts are man-made except when he spots an opportunity to support American interests – then, and only then, it’s the other way round. It’s the Qu’ran that maketh the man.
With this cognitive leap, the rest of the New Atheist agenda becomes easy to embrace. And so we see the flock regurgitate lines about the inherent incompatibility the Muslim psyche has with Progress. So too, we are bombarded with excuses for the need to maintain a boot firmly atop that burnished head of theirs – for their good as well as ours. Ignorance (or perhaps I should pay them the compliment of saying deception) lead them to omit that it was Our enlightened side which, not so long ago, helped to quash that region’s secular left – going as far as to bankroll Saddam’s cull of inconvenient free thinkers within his borders and overthrowing Iran’s reformers – no doubt postponing that Islamic Reformation Harrisbots rant tirelessly for. But back then, of course, Harris’ intellectual forebears were arguing that godless socialism was the great enemy of civilization…
Boy, I guess geo-politics is complicated huh?
Harris’ contribution to philosophy is about as sophisticated, although not nearly as entertaining, as this seven minute bit by Charlie Brooker
Returning to an earlier point: you’d have to be a special sort of sheltered to have missed just how unreasonable Buddhist reading groups can be. There’s people around today for whom the swastika is still a terrifying sight. Unfortunately for them, because Harris and his followers do not seem to care, they’re Muslims.
Those who wouldn’t be bent to his will were burned, crushed and torn asunder by Cormac McCarthy’s Judge, and this, apparently, is exactly what we’re looking for in a leader. At the height of the nuclear weapon debate, former PM David Cameron graced our television screens just long enough to tell us what a cold, murderous bastard he would be given half the chance. How weak and simpering, he went on, was the alternative, that Jeremy Corbyn. He possesses no intention of committing, and in turn inviting, genocide through Trident.
The press provided the echo, asking readers if they knew what possible mental defect had consumed the peace-mongering leader of the Opposition. Regurgitating with approval the Conservative reassurance that, yeah, they were still fully committed to lending the Rapture a helping hand, “want to make something of it?” (Omitting, in doing so, that they could only do so should the Americans demand it, treaties stating so going back to Attlee. Highlighting a curious master-slave relationship that the anti-EU crowd never raise objections to.)
The living embodiment of War may be too grandiose a comparison but Cameron and Co. certainly share something with the McCarthy plagiarism: sadism.
If you think this analogy strained reflect on this: Dave has imagined circumstances in which he would be willing to conscript every British man, woman and child into an international game of Russian Roulette. Although, the excitement would sort of dissipate when all cylinders are loaded… Regardless, these are scenarios which must have occupied the dreams – for the giddiness of their delivery suggests they aren’t experiencing terrors in the night – of many a democratically-elected leader since 1945. (At what point up the pecking order does the prospect of holocaust go from unthinkable horror to viable, even good, “deterrence”?)
And yet how eager we find the silo fodder. The Tory press, eager to remind all of their tradition’s familiarity with both edges of the sado-masochist dialectic, pledged their allegiance to mutinous military men against the man who wishes to bring them back in from the front-line.
“And the fact Jeremy Corbyn is currently taking a hammer to them represents a much greater threat to British parliamentary democracy than any off-the-record military braggadocio. It is not the generals who are currently mounting a coup against the British constitution, it is Jeremy Corbyn mounting a coup against the British constitution.”
That same piece shares the sobering figure that 79% of Telegraph readers “could push the button”. Apparently they don’t need a reason.
All this may be baffling but it shouldn’t be surprising. Nuclear weapons have provided insignificant men with an opportunity to project a macho image from their very inception. When wiser men were calling for caution (including those whose brilliant intellect had brought about the Atomic Age, Einstein and Oppenheimer), the stupid Harry S. Truman was preparing to launch B-52s at Hiroshima, gifting the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside with a blinding light show and their children with birth defects, and their children ad nauseum.
In what George Carlin diagnosed as the Bigger Dick Foreign Policy problem, Truman committed the heinous act of disintegrating two Japanese cities – and for what? A show of force to Stalin, who was committed to a much-dreaded (on both sides of the Pacific) invasion of the island nation. Thus mutating the end of history’s most destructive war, which should have been a time of reflection and quiet celebration, into the Half-Century Dick-waving Contest (known to the politically-correct as the “Cold War”).
The most likely “exchange” – a euphemism which manages to be clean, capitalist, child-friendly – Britain will be involved in is with the Russia born from that engagement. Ukraine, Syria, the Middle East as a whole, it is these proxy wars between NATO and Putin which has Geiger counters everywhere wincing.
The Most Dangerous Moment
Thanks in large part to two Slavs, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov and Khrushchev, we haven’t achieved mutual incineration already. The second of that pair was willing to risk Soviet face rather than the planet during the Cuban Missile Crisis. A comparative slight which proved that bit too much for John F. Kennedy. Contrary to what many choose to believe, the Boy Wonder, adored by liberals everywhere, almost destroyed the planet in 1962. Letting his personal vendetta against Castro reach the obscene level of state terrorism – not to mention attempted invasion – he was then willing to apply pressure to the small island’s patron, causing a stand-off which he was warned by his own had a 1 in 3 chance of culminating in all-out war.
I’m reminded of that Christopher Hitchens’ quip, “Like everyone else of my generation, I can remember exactly where I was standing and what I was doing on the day that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy nearly killed me”. It was your and my very existence he was gambling with in between fucking the mistresses of mobsters, maids and Marilyn Monroe. And for some reason most people will still be more outraged, if at all, by the second half of that.
(His crony McNamara has assured us since in Foreign Policy that he regretted enabling that drug-fuelled megalomaniac, and took the opportunity to marvel at making it to the 21st century.)
I recommend Seymour Hersh’s excellent book for those who are interested in the dingier side of the US’s 35th president. And Putin, remember, is no Khrushchev. He pines for that Great Bear the other sent into hibernation.
As absurd as Kennedy’s nuclear policy was, it did make sense politically. As Noam Chomsky and others have pointed out, in a time when domestic and foreign policies weren’t so easily disentangled, the nuclear build-up enhanced the state’s power to such an extent that, by the time Kissinger entered that frat house on Pennsylvania Avenue, a lone sadist had to power to begin and end wars. Although the “doctor’s” speciality was always the former.
Orwell, with characteristic prescience, and with an eye on the political, saw that an intolerable extension of the State lay just behind Ernest Rutherford’s discovery,
“Ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance.”
Picture the Ancien Régime with Gatling guns rather than the common musket, and you’ll get the drift. By extension, imperial presidencies today can only be maintained with the specter of Nuclear Holocaust looming above this and that directive out of D.C. And the threat isn’t without force. Nixon, an excellent Inner Party representative, threatened to unleash nukes at Indochinese peasants after-all, completely subverting established arms race rules.
And still the Nuclear Question has the power to shape the debate. Dormant as it may be in the majority of geopolitical discourse, it remains a steady and apparently reliable gauge of character in the sickly theatre of personality politics. What better way of allaying fears of potential sissyness (and original thinking) than by declaring openly, “I love The Bomb”? This laid-back approach to species suicide is meant to convey just how tough and hard-headed our prospective Commander-in-Chief is. How bloody his grip, how steely his will. The fatherly figure who never tires of reminding us how we’re kept from death because he allows it.
Soon enough, the small hand hovering over “the button” will be that of a head-strong, air-headed game show star.
“I am not—I am not taking cards off the table”.
Trump on whether he would employ nuclear weapons in Europe and the Middle East
Perfectly fine candidates running for high office have seen their bids go the way of Fat Man – kaput! – when trepidation was shown. Alexander Cockburn wrote of the left-Democrat Harold Hughes, who lost all legitimacy by answering, “would you use nuclear weapons?” with the negative. He went on to add that should he be informed the Soviets had launched their warheads, he would not retaliate in kind. There was no point in confounding a genocide.
All Filth is Local
Toryism needs Trident. We, in Britain, may not have an imperial presidency to uphold, but there’s always that seat on the Security Council. Without which we would never have been able to stifle action against the Monroe Doctrine’s worst excesses, enable Suharto’s campaign of mass-murder, enforce Iraqi sanctions, or, more recently, elect Saudi Arabia to the UN’s human rights council. (Just what would the world do without us?)
Also, we are now burdened with a generation of MPs who simply cannot envisage life outside the special relationship – the junior role in which WMDs are seen to make up for a loss of BOTs (British Overseas Territories). An Army representative cut to the chase, warning of a coup should the public ever dare to elect the Jez, the Great Confiscator.
“The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.
“There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny.”
Anonymous Army General
Every now and then a line is uttered that you’re sure will feature prominently in future history textbooks (if England doesn’t, in fact, deteriorate into Airstrip One). The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. Just where was the counter-punch? Where were the unions and fiery journos and the denunciations from Parliament? Where, for that matter, was the fucking Left?
Those who think the anti-fascism cause is an unnecessary one in the 21st century need to take a hard look at General Sir Nicholas Houghton and his ilk. The mere whiff of democratic socialism – the prospect is, remember, four years away – and, Heaven forbid, seizure of their apocalyptic dildos and they’re morphing into Pinochet.
We may have lost on Trident, but the Nuclear Consensus has become the Nuclear Question with introduction of Corbyn to the Shadow Cabinet. For too long it had been sheltered by bipartisanship and Tommies with a clear disdain of those of us on the civilian side of the constitutional divide. When coming to judging who best lead us in 2020 and – I suggest this optimistically – beyond, the British voter should perhaps think about the Judge’s sort and how, in the end, they’ll bugger you into the dirt.