Posts Tagged ‘ Politics ’

ranthill: defining the political

so, riots.

and looting and burning. but, as every media outlet seems to be (either explicitly or implicitly) asking, are these events (in the red corner) POLITICAL, or are they simply (in the blue corner) CRIMINALITY?

aside from all the other crucial issues raised by the riots, the nature of this juxtaposition is well worthy of some reflection. it roughly maps, of course, onto the divide between left and right wing political philosophies and their distinct conceptions of the nature of history.

[before moving on, let’s pause for a small recap – so we’re all on the same page]

in line with the classic Liberal tradition, those on the right tend to emphasise the role of the individual and see history as largely directed by the exercise of reason or the will, and therefore tend to emphasise the importance of moral responsibility and social roles.

in line with the Radical tradition, those on the left tend to emphasise the role of the masses and understand history as a force directed by the movement of the people, and, as such, tend to emphasise the role of social conditions.

in terms of goals, the left tends towards the idea that equality equates to stability and flourishing, whereas the right tends to see these as best served by hierarchy and the rule of law. the left strives for equality of access (to social ‘goods’); the right, for equality of opportunity (to move up).

these descriptions are, of course, merely sketches of stereotypes, but they roughly define the boundaries of the philosophies that are in play.

and so we have seen in the responses to the riots in London, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, West Bromwich, Nottingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Salford, Leeds and Bristol (i hope i haven’t left anyone out). those on the right have consistently downplayed the role of politics and sought to characterise the riots as a collection of illegal acts committed by individuals who will be brought to justice, oh yes. Theresa May, and her constant recourse to the language of ‘sheer criminality’ (a phrase she must have used ten times in two minutes on The Today Programme yesterday), is a good example.

the left-leaners, on the other hand, have generally wanted to emphasise the social conditions and context from which the riots have erupted, and Darcus Howe’s revealing contribution to the BBC News channel yesterday, or their interview of Ken Livingstone on Monday would serve as a perfect examples here.

it’s also not hard to see that, aside from the philosophy that undergirds their politics, those currently in office have a vested interest in downplaying political causes, whereas those in opposition have the opposite investment. given that a centre-right coalition holds the reins and a centre-left party stands in opposition, this dynamic is currently set at ‘maximum skew’.

the question, however, of the role of politics per se, is more complex than this. it seems fairly clear that the motivations of the majority of rioters are not explicitly political – these are not ‘protests gone violent’ – but does that mean that they are utterly apolitical phenomena in the way Boris Johnson or Michael Gove would have us believe?

in one sense, if you stop to think about it, how can they be? politics is not just about voting, the party system and banner-waving, it’s about everything that affects and impacts society. in one sense, everything is political, or should i say nothing is apolitical. however, speaking in more specific terms, any mass movement of people, any expression of dissatisfaction, any insurrection, any wanton group lawlessness of this sort must have a political aspect.

what seems to have gone ignored in much of the right-wing rhetoric is the fact that riots are an established phenomenon. Boris Johnson spoke yesterday as if what has happened in London over the last few nights was utterly unprecedented. yes, the role of social networking adds a small novel element, but a riot is a riot.

the reality is that these are marginalised people who languish under the effects of massive inequality – of both access and opportunity – and who have seen the escalation of violent crime, the spread of deprivation and the removal of social resources within their communities, and as a result the widespread asphyxiation of cohesion, pride and hope.

when young people who’ve grown up with these kind of realities sense an opportunity to vent their anger, their fear, their hopelessness, they do not write to their local MP on thick, recycled paper. they do not organise a march and paint brightly coloured banners. these people smash, and grab, and burn. they do everything they can to show their contempt for the world in which they live and at the same time reveal (somewhat pathetically) their desire for/faith in material goods as harbingers of ‘the good life’.

such events are called riots – they’re not new, that’s why we have a word for them. yes, they are made up of a mass of criminal acts, but does that make them meaningless?

remember St Paul’s, Brixton, Toxteth, Moss Side, Salford and Chapeltown in 1980, ’81, ’85, ’87, ’90? remember Los Angeles in 1992? do we think of these as meaningless, apolitical, criminal events, or as eruptions of socio-political discontent from members of disadvantaged, marginalised and otherwise dying communities?

for the last few nights, (mainly) young people have smashed, looted and burned their own neighbourhoods and those nearby, and what is more (and perhaps most disturbing to middle-class onlookers) they’ve expressed pleasure in doing so. “you can’t control us” a boy cheerily shouted towards a BBC camera in Croydon on Monday night – i wonder if he really believed that himself, and if so, if he’s ever felt that way before. i also wonder how long the feeling lasted.

we might not want to condone the acts of violence, theft and arson that comprise these disturbances, but we dismiss them as meaningless at our peril. the riots might not be explicitly political in the way a protest march is, but they are a manifestation of a political reality which, if we are to deal with the root and not only the thorn, demands a political as well as judicial response.

#xmasongs: day ten

well well well

it only went and came upon a midnight clear.

as i’m sure you’re all more than aware, as well as presents, turkey, baby Jesus and so on, this day also brings with it the conclusion of our ten strong round up of the world’s best festive music that we like to call #xmasongs

without further ado about nothing, it only remains for me to say a big happy birthday Jesus and glad tidings to all from and on behalf of all of us here at RQT, and to inform you of the winner.

those that did not make the cut include:

any actual carols
Frosty The Snowman
Winter Wonderland
the cheerful prelude to a Christmas rape It’s Cold Outside (sorry Roaring)

however, the winner is …
Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher by
Elton John


#tirednewsflash: headliners

good even-ing

and time for a wintery of the main news in urea:

– world “gone all to bollocks” admits Tutu

– Cowell counters Cage with 4’33” cover

– many students ferrel, claims Oxford MP

– climate change knocked out of top ten worries by impending gravy shortage

– bible “original wikileaks” preach desperate vicars

– It’s A Wonderful Life “too optimistic” for xmas schedule

– royal Charles caught in car with Widdecombe — why?

and finally

#ranthill: our duty and our joy

today, Jeremy Cunt the Hulture Secretary will reveal the latest scheme designed to ‘establish’ a hulture of philanthropy (and justify tax breaks for the rich).

amongst all the rhetoric of introducing an ‘American style’ system of ‘conspicuous giving’ that is floating around, it seems to have escaped many people’s attention that, like almost every aspect of American hulture, their system is an instantiation of a British notion from a bygone era.

“let money fructify in the pockets of the people” is one of the most famous catchphrases (say what you see) of one of Britain’s most famous politicians, and is indicative of the economics of laissez faire that dominated the Victorian period.

this is almost exactly the rhetoric that lies behind today’s initiative. however, you probably won’t hear Gladstone quoted (after all, this is the announcement of a new, dynamic policy) – but you probably will hear commentators invoking ‘trickle-down’ imagery, which is equally old.

the image conjured is something like a pyramid of champagne glasses at an expensive wedding. the wine is poured in at the top (the rich) and once (and only once) it has filled the glasses there, it ‘trickles down’ and fills the glasses on the next level. and so on.

of course, one aspect of reality not encompassed by this cheerful imagery is the fact that the rich have very large champagne glasses which take a long time to fill. imagine a pyramid in which the more elevated the glass within the structure, the larger it is in comparison to those beneath it – of course it’s a difficult thing to picture, given that, in reality, such a structure would be woefully unstable and likely to collapse at any minute (hmmmmmmm …)

this, therefore, was the big issue (pun intended) with Gladstone’s idea – deep pockets take a long time to fill and come into ‘fruit’, and in the meantime the people at the bottom starve.

it was in response to the economic failures of nineteenth century toryism and the shocking evils of early twentieth century warfare, that the British welfare system and the NHS were established. the logic of these institutions was totally different. government was elected to serve the interests of the people, as defined through engagement with the political process. government was entrusted, through taxation, with the money to invest in welfare and the provision of that which benefitted the common good.

taxation expresses a duty on behalf of all to each. it also binds each working person into the political system – each having a palpable interest in how and where their tax is spent. as our American friends know best, there is rightly a working relationship between taxation and representation.

what is more, tax is taken ‘off the top’ at the source. it does not ‘fructify’ (i.e. sit in off-shore accounts earning interest) in anyone’s pockets before it enters the mechanisms of redistribution. those in need do not have to wait for the rich to get as rich as they feel they need to be before they can get some help to pay their rent. the dignity of those at the bottom is not dependant on the charitable whims of those at the top.

this is precisely why people saw ‘tax and spend’ welfarism as the only appropriate response to both the legacies of Victorian poverty and the horrors of the two world wars. furthermore, during the latter, british people had discovered that working together – rationing goods, helping neighbours, each ‘doing their duty’ – actually made for a better quality of life, even in extreme conditions.

the world wars constituted a profound challenge to the idea that human beings are innately good. and thus the Victorian idea that, having been given the chance to make as much money as possible, wealthy people would naturally want to give some away to those in need, lost much of its purchase. people vividly perceived that humans can be good if determined and directed, but in the same way they can also be terrible.

don’t get me wrong, the British culture of philanthropism did many great things. many public libraries, schools, hospitals, parks and so forth were built by successful entrepreneurs for the benefit of their localities (although it was never quite as it is in America today, where every bench and tree bears a benefactor’s plaque). the problem was, that few people wanted to do the less glamourous work of helping the poorest survive day-to-day.

it was not the grand largesse of Victorian philanthropy, but largely the dutiful and sacrificial service of Victorian Christians that propped up the system where it was weakest – movements like The Salvation Army and the YMCA mopped up the rotten ‘fruits’ of Gladstone’s labour. and, while it is true to say that such movements were to some extent the product of charity, the fact is that the kind of charity they exercised was not primarily the trickle-down kind of the rattling coin jar, but rather the self-sacrifical ideology of Christian love.

taxation is not a perfect system of wealth redistribution, and it is certainly at the mercy of political corruption, but, personally, i’d rather live with a common purse hostage to the potential for democratically elected and accountable corruption, than allow the richest corporations even larger tax breaks and place that money in the hands of those who, by will and law, must serve only the financial interests of themselves and their investors.

no-one particularly enjoys looking at their already meagre pay-slip and seeing how much money they have ‘lost’ to tax, but in reality we should celebrate the system and see it as ‘our duty and our joy’ to contribute to the common good. we all want good public transport, quality public health care, good schools, competent public emergency services, decent levels of public sanitation and so on (all the things the Victorians mostly lacked), so we should be happy to pay for them, together.

what we should also want, however, having done our duty and made our contributions, is to passionately ensure that government is held accountable for the proper use of our money. that means voting, yes, but also writing to your MP to express your wishes, joining unions and pressure groups which lobby government, and, where necessary, taking to the streets to express dissatisfaction. each of these avenues for influencing political process to some extent or another relies on the economic mandate that comes from taxation.

if you hate paying tax, and are persuaded by the rhetoric being spouted by Cunt and others, then I would ask you to do this: take a detailed look at American society and politics. America has more billionaires then any other country on the planet, one of the largest accountancy sectors (frantically working to help people avoid tax) and some of the hugest tax breaks for the rich and powerful:

Do they experience less political corruption? Does the average American have more political influence, more say in what goes on on Capital Hill? Do they have better public transport? A better school system? A better justice system? Do they have less unemployment? Is their’s a more stable economy? Do they have less poverty?
and frankly, if you think they do, then why not move there? and please take the current government with you. as for me, i believe in taxes – yeah, now who’s with me?

… hhello?

#faithseeking: conversations with hauerwas

and with thy spirit.

Blue (Labour) Steel

for those of you who attend to such things, and more importantly for those who don’t, i would like to draw your attention to the fact that an audio file of the discussion between Stanley Hauerwas, John Milbank > (classic photo) and Luke Bretherton which happened on 18th October at King’s College London, is now available (although unfortunately without the questions).

[thanks to Jason Clark]

in listening, my ears were drawn in particular to:

> Luke helpfully pressing both (but John in particular) on slightly diffuse uses of ‘catholic’, and the political significance of too much of an elision of the term with some abstracted notion of the church that transcends time and place.

> Stanley’s insight that serious writing, of any sort, not just autobiography, is about acknowledging your own death and death more broadly, and is thus thoroughly anti-Liberal.

> John’s reflections on his desire to ‘win’ and his identification of ‘winning’ with mission.

> The incessant clicking of a pen.

anyway, for your instruction, here it is:

#inspiringquotations: number six


“Most people don’t realise just how much of a burden beauty can be.”

>Margaret Thatcher

#admin: #showertune lives …

Dear You

as you might know, recently YouTube got together with all the major record labels in a huge, boardroomed evil lair and decided that despite the fact that the blogs and other video sharing platforms has been directly responsible for the successes of several now well-known acts, they would make it increasingly difficult for people to embed and share YouTube content that is subject to a copywrite claim (which, with regard to the ‘property’ of the majors, is basically done automatically as part of the recognition algorithms built into YouTube upload).

there was a first phase of this over the summer, which in the end didn’t seem to come to much, however the latest round of spoil-sporting and in-the-foot shooting came into effect last week. as you may have noticed, one of the upshots of this has been that the majority of #showertunes have stopped working.

i did consider burying #showertune in a memorial garden, but to be honest i was furious that not only had she been killed, but her life’s work was now useless, given that it consists of a host of links that no longer give rise to sweet music, but instead just a notice that says

the incident made me realise that due to its reliance on YouTube, the #showertunes catalogue (of which i am unjustifiably proud) has always been a hostage to fortune, and that it was all my fault. as a result, i have decided to keep the dream alive, and not only will #showertunes now be hosted on our own servers, but i have begun the lengthy process of uploading all the existing tunes and relinking them to their new homes – hopefully you should already be able to play all the ones currently on the first two RQT pages.

please bear with us as we go about this tedious, but ultimately pointless yet liberating work, and if you feel, given the amount of effort you know goes in, that you should probably get round to telling more of your friends about the magic that happens in this sleepy little corner of the interweb, then we would bloody love that.

thanks ants. thants.