Nothing expresses more the dangers of superficiality than the new terrorism. The picture that is emerging from terrorism in modern European cities is that the perpetrators really hate people enjoying themselves, be it at a music concert or interacting in shopping districts. What seems to unite the manifold forms of the new terror – be it ‘Islamic’ or ‘right-wing and white’ – is a massive hatred of Western-style consumerism. The hatred of consumerism however is not confined to reacting terrorists. It permeates society in forms such as environmentalism and left-wing redistributionism. It is there in conservative-traditionalist railings against mass society, particularly when the working class are told they are irresponsible for wanting bigger televisions. The obsession with ‘consumer choice’ is also there in libertarian critiques of the reactionaries – all they do is endorse as ‘free’ what the reactionaries ‘hate.’ Hence, the only debate in society we seem to be seeing is about ‘celebrating our way of life’ versus ‘hating our way of life,’ where our ‘way of life’ is only defined in relation to consumption. This narrow debate is likely to prolong the existence of the new terror despite obviously the majority feeling rightly angered about it.
In order to transcend the parameters of the narrow debate, and hopefully unite humanity in a more progressive positive direction rather than this all-round barbarism, it is necessary to understand that consumption is relatively unproblematic. It is true that the law of value holds sway over all consumer transactions – to that extent, commodity exchange is not *entirely* free, i.e. volition doesn’t rule. Nevertheless, consumption is pretty much the only civilising aspect of market society. Through consumption, points of contact are made between otherwise atomised individuals. The mediation of the commodity is simply the way in which society is glued together – and it is just about the only way society is glued together nowadays. So, it is wrong to hate consumption – it is the best thing about capitalism, and the only way in which society prevents itself from deteriorating into a kind of ‘Mad Max’ scenario. At the same time, it is wrong to celebrate consumption as the only mark of ‘freedom,’ because it is essentially a passive rather than active thing: it doesn’t concern the way we act, just the way we enjoy society’s bounty after we have acted.
So, the focus of concern really needs to shift onto the realm of production. If all the reactionaries railing against consumption (or celebrating it) would only look at the realm of production, it would shake things up immensely, and cure the malaise that is now giving rise to the horror of the new terror. It is in the sphere of production that people truly aren’t free – from the negative experience of the alarm clock in the morning to the iron discipline deployed by managers at work, doing things you hate for a boss you despise, the sheer lack of creativity, initiative and ingenuity in the office or factory – it is really these things that cause people to loathe the society in which they live. But because of the dogma of ‘there is no alternative,’ the sphere of production remains relatively uncontested, and thus disappears from view. Consequently, the alienation in society which has its root in the estranged and unfree sphere of production reappears as a criticism (or celebration, depending which side of the fence one is on) of consumption. It is thoroughly misguided and becoming downright dangerous, yet it can be understood as what happens when everyone agrees that the capitalist mode of production is not itself up for discussion. The law of value should belong only to the sphere of consumption (for the time being), not the sphere of production. When value relations determine the way we produce, i.e. the way we live, then it becomes far too coercive to enjoy life. Workers have to fight for the option of being in full control of the workplace so they govern what gets done, how it is done, and according to whatever timescale. This self-emancipation of labour will make humanity far happier and thus erode the basis for irrationalism in all its forms, including the terrorist form.
After making pro-paedophilia comments where he said it might be okay and consensual for a 28 year old man to have sex with a 13 year old child, Milo Yiannopolous, Senior Editor at the right-wing online magazine Breitbart has resigned.
It is likely if he hadn’t resigned, he would have been sacked. So, he jumped before he was pushed. The podcast in which Milo took a relaxed stance towards paedophilia was created a year ago, but has only just hit the media and social media spotlight, prompting a juggernaut of verbal protest and threats from advertisers to withdraw funding. It was therefore a commercial decision for Milo to go, but does this impede free speech and freethought? Has Breitbart, which has a reputation for controversy, succumbed to ‘the tyranny of political correctness’? No.
There is a difference between political correctness which has, at times, been rather over the top, and standards of common decency and morality. PC is only a problem when it is intimately related to the state which has the power to ban things, to censor. As an informal form of moral evolution, PC is unproblematic in this blogger’s opinion – it has simply reformed outdated attitudes on many social issues and made society better in the process. Overt racism, sexism, homophobia etc., are no longer seen as socially acceptable in a way they once were. The result? Levels of prejudice have indeed gone down. Reactionaries regard this as a ‘new conformity,’ but if it has evolved fairly spontaneously, this is wrong-headed – society just does require common moral standards in order to function. And if the newer moral standards are superior to the old, why not have something like political correctness? It would only be seriously problematic if the state was the administrator of the changes that have happened. By and large, it hasn’t been, though it has often exploited the new morality to jail or fine transgressors, which is wrong.
The case of Milo however, is not about the state. It was a commercial decision where Milo’s free speech rights have not been infringed at all. He can still spout his nonsense on an alternative platform, indeed the furore might encourage some of his supporters to fund a new site where Milo’s egomania can run amok. All that has happened is effectively that one particular platform – Breitbart – is refusing to host Milo’s views any more, and that is within their remit as a commercial enterprise. It is the same not just in the commercial sector, but elsewhere too. Political groupings, especially parties, reserve the right to expel members for breaches of policy, even at the level of what they say. This is quite right. In order for a social entity to pursue a particular course of action, it must have the freedom to decide the views it puts out, and cohere its membership along those lines, else it becomes dysfunctional.
The issue then isn’t ‘free speech’ nor ‘free thought,’ but freedom of association. Milo’s free speech and free thought hasn’t been impinged upon so long as the state with its thirst for prosecution is not involved. He has just been denied the privilege – not the right – to have a particular platform for his views. He can now go elsewhere, and sadly, will do, no doubt. But Breitbart or any other magazine or social entity must always be able to refuse publication of this or that article or otherwise disassociate itself from a rogue individual if that is in its own interests. To claim otherwise, to claim that a group should promote views it doesn’t believe in, is actually the real tyranny. What are the libertarians seriously trying to claim – that the state should force a private sector entity to promote ‘all’ views? ‘All’ views in that case would be the state’s own view, and discourse as a meaningful thing pursued by beings with intentionality and subjectivity would be subsumed under a kind of Mad Max-ism.
The idea of a ‘golden age’ for humanity is a common theme in our history. Usually it has denoted a ‘heaven’ or ‘nirvana’ that is only attainable for the individual by leading a morally good life, and is delivered upon death, or after some almighty Armageddon-like clash between Good and Evil. In addition to such religious depictions, secular idealists have pondered whether we can become so wealthy economically that we can live the life of Riley. Furthermore, Star Trek enthusiasts have argued our species will become as ‘One’, do away with money etc., after we make First Contact with aliens, itself achieved by making technological breakthroughs. All these notions are, however, dreamy and unrealistic. The recognition of this has now led many to accept the way things are – with the drudgery of 9-5 work, immense dissatisfaction, terrorism and war – as an eternal fact of human existence, at least until we are all wiped out by nuclear apocalypse or global warming. So, on the one hand, we have dreamy religious idealists, on the other, cultural pessimism. This blog argues for a superior view: that the golden age is obtainable by society based upon the knowledge left to us by Karl Marx and some successors – it is a thing that can be ‘scientifically’ understood, and armed with a scientifically-thorough vision of this, the public becomes unstoppable in achieving it.
Marx’s unequalled genius in analysing the laws of capitalist development that flow from the exploitation of propertyless labourers shows how we get to the golden age. It is simply not something that can be delivered by capitalism. Why? Because capital itself is an amalgamation of congealed abstract labour – its growth can only be premised upon the subjugation of the majority. No golden age can ever exist whilst there is capital, because capital itself is like a blood-sucking vampire. Furthermore, investment can only take place when there is a decent rate of profit – else, capitalists do not invest in the things that make our lives easier. Hence society’s resources currently only get deployed if it is profitable to do so, rather than to enable a standard of living worthy of human beings. Additionally, the capitalistic rate of profit must always fall as enterprises become so over-burdened with the value embodied in new machinery (from which no new value can be created), in relation to a relatively fixed stock of living labour from which value can be extracted. So our work, rather than leading to extra steps towards the good life, ultimately only slows down the tempo of society’s progress. So, despite everyone working hard, we have stagnant economies. We’re doing all this for nothing.
Now, if a worldwide revolution took place that threw off the shackles of capital, work could immediately begin to take place to consistently improve the machinery in order to shorten the working day and make it less burdensome. Eventually robots could do all the boring stuff, leaving humanity free to develop in any way it wanted to. The individual would be free to become fully-rounded with highly cultivated talents, or simply just lounge around, whatever is preferred by him or her, and society would leap forward in an unbounded way. That would be the golden age.
So, what changes are required to get rid of capital? Labour has to become directly social, rather than only indirectly-social as it is with capitalism. Instead of production for a capitalist’s profit, society would ensure production is directed to meet people’s needs. So instead of the dual character of the commodity as use-value and exchange-value, what gets produced are simply articles of use that have been requested by others and democratically discussed as part of an overall conscious plan. Corresponding to the collapse in the dual character of the commodity, labour also no longer has a dual character. Instead of labour being an unholy alliance of value-producing labour and useful labour, it becomes only useful labour, thus destroying the source of why work under capitalism is both objectively and subjectively a terrible form of suffering. With society’s conscious plan, labour is no longer exploited – value-producing labour has ceased to exist, and therefore capital itself ceases to be. With this massive shift in society’s priorities – the destruction of the commodity-form, the destruction of capital, and the changed character of labour, the golden age will see money wither away and the human race would at last be emancipated. Corresponding to that, the basic source of so many tensions between people disappear as does the oppressive nature of the State, and so we have a world of peace rather than one that is constantly on the brink of destroying itself. Now, there’s a golden age worth fighting for.
Former football legend Paul Gascoigne tells a racist joke at a theatre, is ordered by the courts to pay £2,500 in fines, gets publicly shamed, and will struggle to tour again (who would allow the gig?)
A tape mysteriously “emerges” in the media of Presidential nominee Donald Trump in private bragging chauvinistically about groping women. The subsequent Presidential campaign gets thrown off any political issues and becomes a competition of sleaziness where each side lowers the bar and attempts to demonise the other. Trump is just as guilty of this as Hillary Clinton as he raises the issues of husband Bill’s lewd conduct in office and lawyer Hillary’s defence of him.
Both these cases speak to a crisis of free speech. But it is not what you think it is. This crisis of free speech isn’t quite about censorship. Neither Gazza nor Trump has suffered state-imposed penalties to the extent it impinges their lives. The thing that is impinging their lives is a form of moral condemnation.
Yet moral condemnation is not always a bad thing. Any community needs morals to survive, and when those morals are transgressed, it is correct for the community to pull people up. If Gazza or Trump were simply told they were being backward and needed re-education to come up to scratch with twenty-first century society, then Gazza wouldn’t need to be publicly shamed and fined, nor the Presidential competition would need to be distracted around personal failings.
What has happened is that our fragmented society which has been atomising exponentially for many years now has such a flimsy grasp of morality that in order to express a moral belief, it throws everything against the transgressing individual: fines, public shaming, court appearances, you name it. This isn’t a morality that is assured of itself, but one that is witch-hunting its enemies.
In our age, where it is difficult for anyone to achieve power and wealth in society, people have resorted to moral condemnation as a way of gaining one-upmanship. This squalid competition for virtue sees careers ruined over ‘unwitting’ mistakes, ‘unintended’ racism, or any privately expressed view (what Trump called ‘locker room banter’).
The way to stop this madness is NOT to demand “the right to be offensive.” Neither Gazza nor Trump’s ‘rights’ have been seriously corroded by any of this, that is their rights in relation to the state, which is the only meaning rights have. Furthermore, demanding we are able to hear Gazza or Trump’s unsuppressed views is only an invitation that everyone can be as offensive as they like, regardless of social harmony. Speech is a part of the world – indeed it is the most direct way we perceive society, so being gratuitously offensive is only going to lead to the experience of harm (not physical, but suffering in the mind). There is no point in calling for the right to be offensive – the characters we are talking about really are yesterday’s figures and should not be put on a pedestal where we all passively sit by and relish how they have these ‘rights’.
The damage which is being done however to the public and private spheres through the form of moral condemnation as one-upmanship, is that society further atomises and everyone becomes scared to open their mouths. What’s needed to combat this isn’t a free-for-all of everyone venting spleen, but a new kind of society, one where moral transgressions are treated as bad things, yes, but also treated gently and sympathetically. Everyone makes mistakes now and then, and the community does have to pull us up on them. But the community shouldn’t lose sight of its own maturity and vision for a healthy society in doing so, nor should it attempt to wreck people’s livelihoods. Instead you should just calmly and sympathetically explain to the transgressor why they are wrong so they can become better people rather than just repressing them in a different way.
The situation today is that our morality has gotten loose of a broader vision of how we want to live, it has developed its own legs, and metaphorically like the Death Star, is casually blowing up planets and ships at random. Moral condemnation is prancing around without any sense of purpose to why we want morality to be like this. Instead of human beings communally relating to one another and helping each other, we have let our own morality become detached from ourselves and it has become more policeman, than sage. To regain control of morality we have to take a helicopter view of society, realise where we are going wrong, and change things through mature considered debate. A good first step in this direction would be to accept apologies.
Shrewsbury Folk Festival has banned Morris dancing teams from wearing full-face black make-up as part of its routine. Under threat of legal action from the quango FRESH (Fairness and Racial Equality in Shropshire), the festival felt compelled to ban the acts but have expressed hope the issue can be discussed in public. And now it has been reported in local press and the Daily Telegraph. Although FRESH’s discovery that the Shrewsbury Folk Festival is actually a seething hotbed of ‘Hate’ runs counter to the impression of everyone who attends, FRESH’s principles include ‘challenging oppressive and discriminatory views and behaviour’. In their view, the tradition of ‘border Morris’ which has involved the use of black make up for half a millennium is a bit like the ‘Black and White Minstrel Show’ that existed on the BBC up to the 1978 when it had become a source of sensitivity and embarrassment. The BBC show however did at least warrant certain allegations of insensitivity since the blacked-up characters did behave in racially stereotypical ways that many in society were wanting to challenge. That is unlike border Morris. The BWM show at its peak attracted 21 million viewers, but notably it was never banned by authorities or threatened with legal action. There were petitions and complaints against it, but the decision to axe it wasn’t quite authoritarian, it simply reflected a changing social landscape.
Contrast this with FRESH’s approach to border Morris. FRESH, although it calls itself a community group, has no roots in the community. It only has 30 members, nearly half of whom are Directors, and liaises most of the time with authorities such as the police. The notion they should target a harmless traditional activity, mistakenly seeing it as a far-right racist campaign, is blatantly a misuse of anti-racist resources. Real racism consists in things such as the police deporting minorities back to places like Somalia, broader immigration controls, or violent wars being waged against people of colour, all things FRESH is silent over. They ignore real racism and invent it in the sphere of innocuous entertainment.
Further proof that border Morris is part of a cultural tradition rather than an expression of
modern-day racism lies in the realm of historical study. The very term ‘Morris’ is derived from ‘Moorish’, an allusion to the Moors of Morocco. Morris dancing as has evolved since the 1500s was partly a fusion of Basque inspired imitation of Moroccan dance and even older English pagan rituals of the battle between Summer and Winter, hence the emphasis on the contrast between light and dark. None of these sources of influence are remotely like modern-day racism any more than dancing ‘Gangnam Style’ is ‘racist’ against South Korea.
There are three main harms that have occurred by the Shrewsbury Folk Festival ban. 1) they have curtailed people’s enjoyment. 2) they have banned a cultural expression on the spurious grounds they think it expresses the ‘wrong’ sort of politics. Through doing so, they are politicising art, just as the totalitarian one party state in China polices ‘immoral art’. So it is harmful to society. 3) they have slandered Morris dancers such as the Flagcrackers of Craven (a team who were considering taking part at Shrewsbury), as ‘racist’. But Morris dancers are the gentlest folk you could hope to meet – the idea they are closet racists is grossly offensive and insulting. This is harmful to the individual when done by a quasi-state entity.
May the black faces long dance up and down the country, and may the FRESH faces be sent to Bedlam.
Through his spat with Richard Branson regarding alleged overcrowded trains, Jeremy Corbyn has revealed he wants to be treated like an Emperor. Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor of an off-peak Virgin train from London to Newcastle, having a moan about privatisation. However, CCTV footage released by Virgin Rail shows there were many seats available on the train without reserved tickets. Corbyn chose to sit on the floor as a publicity stunt that has somewhat backfired. Now he says ‘what he meant’ was he wanted a free double-seat so he could sit with his wife. But that expectation is absurd.
The humble hoi-polloi are well aware if you want to sit with family members, it is best to book in advance where that can be fully accommodated. But Corbyn who thinks he has a god-given right to be the next Prime Minister simply because he pays lip-service to ‘socialism’, believes special measures should be laid on just for him. The fact is that no train company – state owned, or private – could have guaranteed that Corbyn and his wife could sit together if they haven’t booked in advance. It is a utopian dream whilst any company has to operate within the parameters of the market, be it a nationalised company or a private company. It is simply too expensive to generate enough carriages for everyone to have lounging room, hence seats are designed on the fair principle – one man, one seat – based around the physical structure of the human being. If you bring someone else on to the train without booking in advance, you should expect you may be separated. Normal people put up with this. Normal people also remember when rail was nationalised – prior to 1996. It was a shoddy overcharging service with overcrowded trains back then as well.
It isn’t ‘bloody Tory privatisation’ or whatever, it is derived from the efficiency of the market. If you want a superior system to this, you need to go beyond the capitalist mode of production and develop the train network far beyond what is possible if everything has a price. So Corbyn’s threat to nationalise the rail network really means, in this context, he will tax people more to fund his desire for himself and whoever he decides to travel with in the lap of luxury whilst everyone else struggles to make ends meet (because their tax bill has risen). But the solution is to transcend the “nationalisation vs privatisation” debate. Nationalisation to the extent it implies social ownership is only useful if it exists in the context of a broader liberatory challenge to capitalism, i.e. that the goal is part of a project to abolish the wage-labour/capital social relation at the heart of things through a social revolution. This leads to the erosion of the law of value so that people become free to produce longer trains without the need to consider profitability at all. As well as this, the likelihood of getting rid of all train staff becomes possible. If you can have driverless cars, you can have driverless trains. A fully automated network would also not require any station staff or guards, freeing all these people (3068 of them in Virgin Rail) to do more rewarding jobs than just travelling the same old routes up and down the country again and again just to earn the right to survive.
Corbyn’s supporters such as the Guardian’s Owen Jones has argued that privatisation is a tactic of greedy capitalism so they can overcharge on fares and cut corners on delivery in order to make super profits. Is he for real? Whilst Virgin Rail’s annual turnover is just over £1bn, their net worth in 2015, the latest year where figures are available, is only £42m. When you think of the millions of journeys made in any year, a net worth of £42m is a pitiful sum. Virgin Rail are definitely not making super profits, they are only just surviving, if that. The problem with the capitalist mode of production isn’t that it makes some people rich, it is that it cannot develop the economy enough. It is thus that we are stuck with an inferior train network which neither privatisation nor nationalisation can solve, since both are wedded to a wider market structure. If Corbyn’s ‘socialism’ was anything more than moralistic posturing, he might be able to grasp this point.