Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Things you notice about incidental music

Our school's assembly was xmas-themed this week, and a bit of Charlie Brown's Christmas was shown. Peanuts is one of those things you know about because it seems to be a formative part of most Americans' childhood experiences, rather than something I know much about myself, so I'd never seen it.

So hey, maybe you are a big Peanuts fan and already know this. WELL GOOD FOR YOU. But I didn't, so there.

Listen to the background music here!



THE RED FLAG! Is it me, or is that a weird choice for an American cartoon? I used to read the strip in my Nan's Daily Fail, for the gods' sake!

PS more cartoon strip to follow soon, if you like that sort of thing.

UPDATE: Thanks to Roobin (see comments), I have learned that in fact The Red Flag is usually sung to the tune of a German Christmas carol called O Tenenbaum, which in English is rendered as O Christmas Tree. Therefore it is just a coincidence that it appears in Charlie Brown Christmas at a point where Charlie is railing against consumerism. You Learn Something New Every Day.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Shit TV: But How Shit?

I've been contemplating obtaining some proper shit-but-fun films for xmas, to provide relief from my lowly, lonely, pointless existence. I've got the beginnings of a list, but I feel there must be more. I therefore solicit suggestions to function as addenda to this compendium:
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  • Lethal Weapon
  • Lethal Weapon 2: Diplomatic Immunity
  • Beverly Hills Cop
  • Beverly Hills Cop 2
  • Die Hard
  • Die Hard 2
  • Ghostbusters
  • Ghostbusters 2
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

I know I'm missing some obvious ones, but what?

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Directions in the Opiniosphere - Update

The perils of anecdata:
  1. The immediate response of a 'close family member'* to Jody McIntyre's ordeal was to blame him for being on a demo in the first place.
  2. Another 'CFM' just got home after a train delay due to a suicide and complained that their death would have 'eaten into East Midlands' Trains' profits'.

Conclusion: People are inexplicably detestable.

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*Genetically. I've never thought about love when I thought about home.**

**Slight exaggeration. Although not tonight

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Pleasing Directions in the Opiniosphere

It's been an interesting few days for democracy, I'm sure you'll agree. For the first time since Iraq there's a strong public protest on the streets whose aims, at least, are backed by a big majority* of the public. Only this time there seems to be a cross-section that are supportive of the elements that the PM is calling 'hell bent on violence' and 'feral thugs'.

On a purely anecdata level, it's been brilliant to see the short shrift that a lot of the hand-wringing 'BUT TEH SNOOKER BALLZ' gang are getting. I have quite an insulated life in some ways, as I don't bother with the tabloids or the right-wing broadsheets, and I stopped that soppy 'got to read opinions from BOTH sides' crap years ago, on the same basis that I don't bother getting the Discovery Institute's reaction to every new fossil find. But the normally centrist people I know through work and through social media (I don't really have enough of a social life at the moment to canvas IRL people) seem at the very least disoriented and frequently openly sympathetic to direct action.

It's a basic tenet of Marxist thinking that revolutions offer points where people's perception of themselves and normal social truths begin to shift, and although we're obviously not at the point of storming Whitehall yet, we are witnessing people normally safely esconsced within establishment notions of 'democracy' and 'peaceful protest' genuinely questioning themselves. I think that at the very least, the Tory attempt to re-write history so that the entirety of Labour's period in office was a disaster is dead in the water. Admittedly, at least one person I know has reaffirmed today that they are 'still proud to be a Lib Dem', just 'disgusted at the leadership' - but I can't take that too seriously, 'cos what does 'being a Lib Dem' mean, exactly? And at least it's in the right general direction.

Anyway, interesting times ahead.

*H/T Adam Bienkov

Xmas - The Prologue Continues.






Are they really this obtuse? REALLY?

Currently on teh Beeb's news site:

THE GOVERNMENT IS DOING SOMETHING MORALLY REPUGNANT AND DEEPLY UNPOPULAR. Jesus, are they a bit slow or something?

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Funny Thing...

... but I've become so familiar with the sleazy, dishonest ways that the Fail does business that I now only have to read as far as the words 'the author, James Slack' to know exactly what's coming next.

How long before he becomes an entry in the OED?

Slack, vb. To repeat casually racist and factually inaccurate tropes about asylum, immigration or brown people for the purposes of meeting tabloid deadlines and reinforcing readers' prejudices about 'foreigns'.

'Hey, are we meeting Tozzer down the Dog and Hammer later?'
'I dunno, it'll just be another Slackfest.'

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Religulous: I do not think it means, what you think it means, Bill Maher

I've been doing a bit of research on religious differences and conflict recently, and came across a couple of documentaries on the subject. One of them made me quite angry. Here’s why.

RELIGULOUS!

Bill Maher's film about religion is so bad it's actually very funny. Just not for the reasons Maher seems to want. Made in 2006, it's full of the kind of extremist-bating stuff that Louis Theroux got bored with 10 years ago. You know the drill: find some inarticulate and/or hardline people with extreme or rigid views on some doctrinal matter, then take the piss. The only difference here in terms of format is that whilst Louis took the time to actually live in his subjects' world and was careful to keep his incredulity as hidden as possible, so that we got at least a fuller portrait of them and their lives, Maher just turns up and insults people to their faces, talks over them with his own equally strident but better articulated (and crucially louder) opinions, with occasional mugs to the camera to demonstrate how loony these people are. Then the camera can film people getting angry or defensive or begin to stutter or stumble over their words. Thus God is a LIE, sheeple!

Maher is opposed to religion, in a sub-Dawkins -Hitchens -Humphrys kind of a way and makes no bones about this. Well, that's fine. I've been a lifelong atheist and have never felt the pull of God or religion to be an important force in my life, and I once felt angry about how stupid religion obviously was. Of course, I was 16 at the time*, and didn't use my years of experience as a stand-up comedian who works rooms for a living to bully people into looking stupid for a documentary.

So I don’t object to an atheist making a documentary about religion per se, it’s just one as poorly made and thought-out as this one. Part of the problem is the obviousness of his targets, and a big part of it is the sheer pointlessness of the format. Maher goes around the world** doing his look-at-the-loony shtick but despite most of the screen time being a series of ‘interviews’, in reality they are monologues. The interviewees are just there to hear The Amazing Wit of Bill Maher and either agree with him on the spot or look offended. Bill does not at any point seem to be under the impression that anyone he talks to has anything in particular to offer him, with the possible exception of his mother.

This approach leads to quite a lot of unintentional humour. There is a scene where he ‘interviews’ a Muslim woman about some of the more disturbing interpretations of Qur’anic verses (and I do mean interpretations – although Bill never mentions it, there are a variety of variant translations of the text, and the Qur’an is famously difficult to render in English, and guess what, Bill – these books are products of particular times and places and most believers are quite capable of understanding that), and when she tries to explain how she ‘reads the Qur’an’, Bill impatiently interrupts her: ‘That’s not how you read a Holy Book!’ he exclaims. The curious spectacle of an atheist telling a person of faith how they read their scriptures has a wonderful irony to it. It was a scene that returned to my mind at the end, when Bill tells us about the importance of being ‘humble’, which apparently only atheists are capable of.


Two other things stick out about this documentary as truly repellent, however. The first of these is Bill’s self-righteous and thoroughly underserved claiming of ‘reason’ for himself and fellow atheists alone, and the second is how his unacknowledged prejudices come to the fore when he talks about two issues in particular: Islam and Israel.

Bill is convinced that because he has spotted that religious texts can be contradictory or express unpleasant sentiments, and that the figure of Jesus has non-Christian historical antecedents (a truly astonishing insight that only someone engaged in the forefront of theological disputation could have unearthed – that or an AS Religious Studies student) therefore belief in God/religion (Maher frequently treats the two as identical) is fundamentally irrational and therefore wrong.

Of course, this childish level of analysis Has Teh Dumm. He repeatedly refuses to acknowledge a social, cultural, historical or political aspect of religious belief, as evidenced in his interviews regarding Israel and Islam, and evinces no ability to empathise with people whose cultural background is different from his own.***

Israel is a particularly fascinating example of his prejudices. He interviews an anti-Zionist rabbi, who begins to outline his theological justification for his stance, before the inevitable series of accusations and interruptions. The rabbi is pretty much accused of holocaust denial and wanting the destruction of all Israelis, and the hapless man is left looking somewhat bemused by the whole encounter when Bill does an O’Reilly, quitting the interview with a smirk on his face. So we never hear much about what the rabbi does think on the subject and the whole Ahmedinejad ‘Israel wiped from the face of the earth’ controversy is brought up, Maher doesn’t do anything to acknowledge the controversial way that the comment was twisted and reported in the media and uses it to discredit the rabbi. In fact he doesn’t investigate the political nature of the Israel/Palestine dispute at all, not mentioning the Naqba, the 1964 or 1967 wars, the Oslo Accords or the intifadas. A montage of angry Muslims and some bombing scenes are what we are offered. How insightful. No refugee camps, white phosphorous, ‘targeted killings’ or anything then, Bill? What about the UN GA resolutions condemning the occupation? No? Hmm.

This links directly to Maher’s characterisation of Islam. After his casual dismissal of anyone who opposes or criticises Israel as effectively in favour of suicide bombing, he decides to characterise Islam as a whole through a few of the high profile incidents of recent years – the Muhammad cartoons being a favourite, though he’s not above using 9/11 footage during the film’s epilogue. He says that when things start getting blown up, it’s usually Muslims behind it (which conveniently ignores the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions – presumably they’re hiding behind the huge elephant with ‘Israeli state terror’ written on it in fluorescent neon letters that’s already in the room) and actually goes so far as to say that his Muslim interviewees are only saying they’re peaceful because he’s an ‘outsider’ – that’s right, Bill’s implying that there’s some global Muslim club that is setting out deliberately to deceive people about their hidden agenda to take over the world, probably concealed in that funny ‘writing’ of theirs and that gibberish that so many of them speak. If they’ve got nothing to hide, why don’t they say everything in English, like the rest of us, eh? Tying everything back together, I particularly loved the bit when we see the Temple Mount, with subtitles helpfully informing us that ‘The Temple of Solomon is the holiest site in Judaism ... but Muslims built the Al-Aqsa mosque right on top of it’. Nice.

The end of the film has Maher standing in Megiddo, saying that unless we give up religion right this second we’ll all die in a nuclear holocaust. Because we’re not rational and unprejudiced like what he is.

In short then: thanks for flying the flag for atheists and reason there Bill, really appreciate it. You did everyone a service, really you did. Did you ever wonder exactly why those guys in the al-Aqsa mosque said they'd never found you funny?


-----------------------------------------------
*That's actually an exaggeration for comic effect. I used to get annoyed about it in a New Atheist way well into my early 20s. Eventually I grew up a bit though – my motto became encapsulated on a t-shirt you can get from Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science store: ‘I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.’

**In that curiously American way where you go and see people around the world but never leave America in your head.

*** This got me thinking about exactly what Bill was missing out in his view on religion. Here is a rough list.
1. The idea that religious practice is part of your family life. By his own admission religion played only a limited part in his own childhood, but he seems not to be concerned enough to see how children incorporate their understandings about religion and practices – such as when to fast, when to pray, how divorce happens into their early experiences.
2. Social influences. If your religion is something practiced by family members, friends, authority figures, people you look up to, this will influence how you see your religion.
3. Political considerations. Religion, as Marx noted, is a reflection of and an expression of resistance to class society – it is a place where the unspoken or unspeakable desires of the oppressed and the solace and justification of the oppressors can find a voice. People look to their religion and their God for an expression of peace and justice that cannot be found in their own lives, as well as to express the right of the haves to their lot. The Church of England is a good example of this – at one level it is the state religion, represented in Parliament and led by the head of state, but internally split between a High and Low Church – one of the establishment and one of the People. Around the margins you have the denominations concerned with ecumenicalism and social justice – the Nonconformists, the Methodists, the Quakers, where so much progressive thinking and leadership has come from.
4. The ineffable. Whether Bill likes it or not, many people have an experience of something Other, alien to ourselves. This experience cannot be quantified, it seems to be entirely personal, and yet often intensely profound. This experience can be attributed to God, insofar as it can be named. If pressed, people often describe this as their conviction that ‘there is something greater than themselves’
The extent to which these factors and others I’m still ignorant of interact within an individual are entirely unpredictable. It certainly doesn’t make someone irrational because they are influenced by any of these.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Xmas - Part 1

As part of a new service to humanity I'm offering, here is the first part of an ongoing saga I like to call 'Xmas'. Conveniently, I've also titled it 'Xmas'. Enjoy.



Saturday, 4 December 2010

So, Kids.

WARNING: LONG, SELF-INDULGENT POST.

I was getting my hair cut this afternoon. One of the hairdressers was sounding off about education, one of those dreary, depressing 'bring back the birch, kids don't have no respect' monologues that I've talked about elsewhere, but it did remind me of one of those topics I've thought about a lot recently - just what should a teacher's relationship be to their pupils?

I think it goes without saying that part of being a teacher is not beating children, but what should we be prepared for? I used to think that as long as I'd given the pupils a lesson, moved them on through their curriculum, that they'd learned something new, that was enough. The longer I've been doing it, though, I've started to come to the conclusion that it isn't, not really. The ideal, I now think, is a bit more complex than that, and one which I'll be outlining in a shamefully overly sentimental and lachrymose way below.

It transpired that the reason for the hairdresser's diatribe against this new fad for not throwing things at children was the presence of a schoolgirl in the shop, who had obviously got herself a Saturday job. This girl in turn was giving her strident opinion on the uselessness and stupidity of teachers in general. I found it all quite fascinating, in a way. I've often heard pupils say that what they want in a teacher is someone who can 'control a class' and this girl was no exception. To illustrate her point she mentioned a case when a supply teacher had been unable to get her class to be silent to the point where she had left the room. The touch of bravado in her voice as she told this story said it all. Although I doubt she'd ever admit it, she obviously felt guilt over this incident. The hairdresser's confusion of 'fear' with 'respect' had stemmed from this.

Here's where I know I have a long way to go as a teacher developing their practice. I know that children are not young adults, that they are rapidly developing individuals, often with fragile egos, and that part of the job is to provide the kind of guidance and structure that will help them to make academic progress as they go through the godsawful process known as 'adolescence'. So you can't treat them as adults, no matter how grownup they seem to be - not because of their intellectual capabilities but because of everything else. I don't like to cite non-peer-reviewed sources when talking about child development, but here's some good shorthand to cut through my waffling:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.*

Or to put it another way: you can never go home again.

To grope my way slowly towards this post's destination, then. Despite my knowing all this, a part of me wants to give The Speech, every time I encounter some child who's worked it all out and knows everything (i.e. all teenagers, everywhere). Since I could never give the speech in a professional context (and hence it's something I've always had in my head and has never been said aloud), I've decided to reproduce it here, in my nice pseudonymous blog.

'I have absolutely no doubt that you think you know what school is, and what classes are for, and I'm guessing you think it's something like 'to pump you full of facts and some skills and get you some GCSEs then shove you out into a job'. Maybe you think this is a good thing, maybe not. But if you do reckon that's what all this is for, I'm afraid that's not quite it.

You are, and I appreciate it probably doesn't look like it to someone who has to go to 25 lessons a week and spend hours on homework as well, plus whatever hells happen outside of school, really lucky. For most of human history, most people have received little or no formal education. A hundred years ago, most people didn't get much past primary school, even in the UK. Today millions still go without any formal education at all.

But having the opportunity to learn about algebra and thermodynamics and Shakespeare and slavery and Sikhism and how cities grow and how to play cricket isn't the only reason you're lucky. You're also lucky because your teachers are people who won't hit you, or threaten you, who want to encourage you to be your best**. You're lucky because the CBI ideology that you get an education to get a job hasn't won yet, and because a lot of teachers do what they do because they think you should have a chance, at least once in your life, to learn about some of the things that make this universe and this planet and humanity so absolutely fascinating and give you a flavour of all the possibilities that your life has to offer you, that we've not yet given in to the turgid utilitarianism of 'get a trade, son' thinking - the kind of thinking that leads straight back to throwing chalk and sitting in silence with textbooks.

The proto-existential philosopher Nietzsche saw two possible futures for humanity - one where people dared to be great, and one where people lost sight of their own souls. He called this second possibility the 'ultimate man,' and wrote of him like this:

Behold! I shall show you the Ultimate Man.

'What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?' thus asks the Ultimate Man and blinks.

The earth has become small, and upon it hops the Ultimate Man, who makes everything small. His race is as inexterminable as the flea; the Ultimate Man lives longest.

'We have discovered happiness,' say the Ultimate Men and blink.


Well, some of your lessons will be dull and some of your teachers won't understand you and you'll probably get shouted at sometimes, and if you make it through your school life without at least one detention you'll be very weird, and life isn't perfect, and the next few years might see classes grow larger and resources get fewer, and there probably will be a bully who makes your life miserable at some point - and that bully may even be in school - but underneath all that stuff, what we really want to do is more than give you a good education, one that doesn't turn you out at 16 any more jaded and cynical than you're forced to be because you're 16, we want you to leave with self-confidence and skills and if at all possible the understanding that the world is an amazing place that you've barely begun to explore.

But I couldn't give that speech of course, because I'd have to explain what the CBI is, and utilitarianism. And that would be a picnic compared to Nietzsche. And because kids' attention spans aren't long enough. And it's soppy. And it doesn't really solve anything.

But basically I'd model all education on Doctor Who if I could.


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*Admittedly, this is being used as a metaphor for awakening to the love of Christ, but I think it's more useful if you look at it more literally.

**For a given value of 'your teachers'.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

A Party You Just Don't Want to Go To.


I get emails from Cage Prisoners. It's a worthy cause. Sometimes though, you think 'was that really how you wanted your header to look?

Friday, 26 November 2010

Ad Criticism

Watching the new series of Peep Show. Here are some random thoughts that occurred during the ad break.

Does that bloke do all the ad voiceovers, or just anything to do with telecommunications?

Attention CGI'd-to-look-sort-of-plasticine new fathers: this is how it works in a maternity ward - if you don't tell the nurse, she will just keep giving you more babies.

Davidoff isn't going to be the person people want him to be any more. He's going to interfere with children.

Everyone involved in Skoda needs to die.

McDonald's food is not xmas themed and everyone involved in this pathetic attempt to persuade us that it is should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The day is starting well.

Have you noticed that people start their Christmas shopping earlier every year? Who did Mr Justice Mann get this for, I wonder? If it's for me, he shouldn't have. All I got him was one of those Terry's Chocolate Orange bars last year. Now I'm going to have to get him something nice. Tickets to Les Mis, perhaps?

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

I always knew this day would come, and wondered how it would be, yet now that it has I feel strangely ... serene*

The inevitable is happening, apparently, and one of the few women politicians that can make Thatcher seem vaguely human - or at least remind you that in the good old days evil villains used to be vaguely intelligent - might try the presidential run that everyone has been expecting from her.

The only question is whether this is to be (a) welcomed, because she's so patently unelectable and the Republican machine is divided so might not be willing to pull the same scams they did for the last fucknuckle; or (b) feared on the grounds that enough people might be pissed off with Obama not to vote and enough people are downright insane enough to go to a voting booth and pull a lever marked 'Palin'?**

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* Yes, you have heard this before.

**Yes the allusion to a gallows was in there - obviously in this case a self-operated one.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

NEWS!

(imagine it being shouted by a drunken Johnny Vegas for full effect. Yes, I've been watching Attention Scum! too much recently)

Since people neither I nor anyone who reads this blog will ever meet* are getting married, completely understandably nothing else appears to be happening today.

But just in case you were under the delusion that EVENTS can still happen even when the NEW MARIE DIANA is GOING TO UNDERGO AN ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURE before the Earth has next rolled around to its current position in its orbit of a ball of flaming hydrogen 1.4 million kilometres across and 150 million kilometres away, here are some illusory gobbets of THINGS.

  • Despite compensation being offered to the Gitmo detainees, Shaker Aamer has been held without charge for more than 9 years now. Cage Prisoners will be holding a rally about his case in London on 11th December.
  • Sussex University is under occupation by students calling for no rise in tuition fees.
  • Cameron has stopped paying his photograher from general taxation.
  • Viktor Bout, arms dealer and scumbag extraordinaire, has been extradited to face trial in New York.
  • Francis Maude is ConDemNation's Mephistopheles (and a mysterious organisation run from a private house near Stratford on Avon has direct access to the whips' office). OK, I was a little slow on that one.
  • The President of the European Council thinks Ireland could destroy Europe. Go, you priest-infested backwater you! Honestly I have no idea whether this is a serious possibility or pointless hyperbole. My instinct is the latter, but who knows? We all remember the damage Father Dougal Maguire could cause with a poorly placed comment, and I assume the republic is basically just like a sitcom about priests.
  • There's probably loads more STUFF too. But I can't process more than however many news stories this was in a single day or it all goes out of my ... thing. You know, with the hair and the eyes. Inside that.
  • Yeah, that.

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*Although to be strictly honest, I did used to work for his dad. He is the one who's dad is Charles, right? He's not the other one? I get confused.

Friday, 12 November 2010

I'd forgotten this. But it's brilliant.

A few years ago, there began the most important translation of a sacred text that has happened since the National Council of Churches' Division of Christian Education first had tea, cake and an agenda.

Now pretty much complete it stands as a testament to human wisdom folly foldom. As a sample, here's John 3:16, the verse that rednecks love to wave around the ring at wrestling matches.*

NRSV:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Ceilincat sez:
So liek teh Ceiling Kitteh lieks teh ppl lots and he sez 'Oh hai I givez u me only kitteh and ifs u beleeves him u wont evr diez no moar, kthxbai!'

I think you know which is the most readable, enlightening, and above all true to the spirit of the message.

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*Why? No one knows.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

It's fine, you can thank me later.

Just realised, after a friend updated their FB status to 'We turned London into Paris' that basically, the success of yesterday's demo in London was down to me.

Without my incendiary blog post, on the prestigious, edgy internet no less, who would have had the cojones to drag a sofa out of Millbank and into the street? That's right, no one.

You're welcome.

No, no money required. Just a post on the supreme soviet will do nicely.

When in doubt, blame the victim.

A classic right-wing move when one of their policies turns out to be very bad for people is to blame the victims of that policy. There are probably a gazillion examples but when I saw IDS's nauseating plans, the first one that leapt to mind was Norman Tebbit’s ‘on yer bike’ attitude at a time when Thatcher’s policies had just cut 2 million jobs from the economy.
It is an exact replication of the same calculated idiocy (by which I mean that if you look at it for a moment you can see how stupid it is, and assume that the ministers responsible are cretins rather than what is actually the case: they are committing deliberate acts of evil in public), whereby employment secretaries conveniently forget that we don’t live in an industrial democracy, and most people don’t have much choice about work, and assume that the reason there is so much unemployment must be because there are so many unemployed. Therefore, goes the ‘thinking’, if you make life hard enough for people who have 'chosen' to be unemployed, this will incentivise them to find the work that 2.5 million of their comrades also seem to be a bit too lazy to find.

Actually, a more accurate title might be: When in doubt, don't just blame the victims. Beat them up a bit more. 'Hey you, you haven't got a job! That makes you basically a criminal, yeah? Here's a bin bag and a rubber glove. Off you go.'

I think what sickens me most is that it’s not even new. I’m assuming that when drawing up the policies, one of the remaining civil servants/photographers were sent round to get some clippings from a 1981 copy of the Times.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

It's Happening, Reg! Somthing's Actually Happening!

Today was awesome for anyone who likes to see proper angry protest in a progressive cause. Aaron Porter might think those who smashed windows were "despicable", but as someone who's been on one too many protests where you see too many of the usual faces, a demo like this says something that 'peaceful' (let yourself get kettled by the cops and don't say so much as a bad word about it) protests don't quite so well: we're really angry. I think people in power tend to get more sleepless nights about angry protest than peaceful protest.

Always good to see a bit of people power and a progressive cause taking control of the streets, anyway. And if you wanted a demo without dickheads you might as well wish for a police force full of paragons of virtue. Just accept that people REALLY don't like Condem policies, guys.

Not that it needs stating, but just for the record: I don't think violence is to be welcomed, but if you're pushing through policies that hurt people, people can't always be relied on to wait for deliverence from a Mediator. Besides, as a revolutionary I tend to think that only the co-ordinated power of the working class can overthrow the class system itself and bring an end to the conflict inherent in class societies - and I don't expect the bourgeoisie to give up easily.

Not that I was on a demo, mind. I work for a living, me.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Have You Ever Wondered How Epic Modern Poetry Might Sound if Read by Stephen Hawking?

Wonder no more with Alan Ginsberg's Howl:
video
Next: Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner followed by John Milton's Paradise Lost.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Daily Mash in cultural reference missed opportunity blunder

The Mash had a news briefly about this article speculating on the possibility of one day being able to record your dreams.
Moran Cerf, a researcher at New York University who is currently working in the field of consciousness and emotions, believes he has a system that could one day detect and record the subjects of your dreams.*

However, as any fule kno, the correct auteur to use in this reference is Wim Wenders:
As this linear chase snakes itself around the world, the nuclear satellite is shot down, causing an EMP effect that wipes out all unshielded electronics worldwide. The characters wind up in a hidden cave in the Australian Outback, where the recordings are played back. After the death of the hitchhiker's mother during the transition between the first and second phases of the plot, his scientist father discovers a way to use the device to record human dreams; by this time the second phase of the plot has fully commenced. Several of the central characters become addicted to viewing the playback of their own dreams

No need to thank me, I'm just happy to be of service. I do recommend you see it if you ever get the chance, it's one of the strangest and most beautiful films you'll ever see.

-----------------------------
*
But before you get too excited about playing back last night’s slumber-vision in high definition, Cerf’s system is far, far more humble, and is a far cry from the systems seen in science fiction movies. Instead of watching your dream on a display like Red Dwarf's "dream recorder", the method simply monitors neural activity in your brain.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Sky News in admirable lack of bias outburst

Niiiice.

For a slightly more useful take on the current dispute see here and here.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

... and the award for 'Least Convincing Definition of "Everything"' goes to...


Also works for 'triumph'.

And 'treat'.

'Musical' also too. [That's enough "also"s - Ed.]

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

ATTENTION SCUM!









With apologies to Simon Munnery (and Stewart Lee, who directed).

Monday, 18 October 2010

Will Britain's Lingering Xenophobia Save Multiculturalism?

The Germans are a little behind the times. Over here, racists have been claiming that 'multiculturalism has failed' for ages - ever since racist attacks started being taken seriously by the police, in fact.

Still, since a quick visit to the Mash today I have a message for everyone who's worried about the rise of the far right in the UK. In the words of i was a cub scout, I want you to know that there is always hope.

Since the immediate reaction of satirists to quotes like:

The comments come amid rising anti-immigration feeling in Germany.

A recent survey suggested more than 30% of people believed the country was "overrun by foreigners".


was to reach for the big blood-red button with a swastika on it,


perhaps anti-racists can break the seal on the 'you know who else thinks multiculturalism has failed?' bottle.

What I'm saying is, whilst this story's given the morons a field day,


it does seem that the anti-multiculturalism crowd have just permanently godwinned themselves. Nice.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

I forgot just the one thing...

At the time of the Terry Jones Qur'an burning idiocy I was a bit blase about it. He was so obviously a massive wanker that there didn't seem to be anything much to say about it. In fact I was fairly thoroughly agreed with the Daily Mash on the subject.


But I forgot. The most basic lesson. The one that anyone who's had contretemps with racist organisations should remember.

Idiots. Copy. Each. Other.

One man in a grey Adidas tracksuit and white trainers, who has a blue cloth wrapped around his head as a burka-style mask, makes a series of obscene gestures towards the book as it burns.

Laughing, the tracksuited gang shouts “This is for the boys in Afghanistan. September 11, international burn a Koran day, for all the people of 9/11.

“This is how we do it in Gateshead, right.”

One man then attempts to add more fuel, but instead sets the plastic petrol can on fire. He then kicks the book across the yard, leaving a trail of flames which he is forced to hastily stamp out.

For the record: no it isn't, you twunt. That's why you got arrested. For an encore, the EDL turned up to an SWP branch meeting to try and assault my comrades, and assaulted two Irish Centre members of staff for good measure.

What a bunch of twunting twunty twuntbags.

In short: copycat crimes are a symptom of people who haz teh dumm in the worst kind of way.

Exciting new bloggertunity

The brilliant, acerbic and rather lovely Siobhan Schwartzberg has started a new blog. I reckon it'll be well worth keeping your peepers on.

That is all.

Although it is on wordpress, so expect much FYWP in coming months...

Friday, 1 October 2010

Look, it's over there! Insists Gove.*

The so-called "no touch" rules that discourage teachers from restraining or comforting schoolchildren are to be abolished as part of a "new deal" for teachers, the education secretary, Michael Gove, said yesterday.

Personally, I didn't get into this job to hug kids but to teach them. If I can support pupils, that's fine, but I don't want children to see me as part of their extended family either. I'm a professional with a job to do, not a babysitter.

Slightly less callously, and more in tune with what I most especially dislike about this idea, it's important to have a clear 'don't touch the kids' policy for several reasons. An atmosphere where pupils need to fear the teachers physically is a bad atmosphere for learning. It erodes trust between teacher and pupil. Also, kids can be very antagonising and badly behaved - pretty much every school I've worked in has been in a deprived or inner-city area and had behaviour issues of one kind or another. The last thing a stressed teacher approaching the limits of their temper needs is to feel that there is some leeway around physical contact with the kids. It's better for us as well as for them.

I know of schools - heck I've worked in them for brief periods - where there are panic buttons on the walls and teachers carry walkie-talkies. There was one school in Newcastle (not one I've worked in I'm afraid, although one I did visit on one or two occasions in my previous professional life) with metal detectors and an on-site police officer. There are serious behaviour problems at these schools.

But:
(a) there is no miracle solution to this - bringing back the birch will not make the pupils better, in fact I'd say that it would be more likely to prolong the cycle of violence.
(b) violence in schools is always found in the most deprived parts of the community, those most suffering from joblessness and poverty. The very problems, I should point out, that Gove and his government are doing their level best to exacerbate.
(c) this is a tiny minority of schools. In most schools teachers do not feel threatened by their pupils. Certainly I never have. And even if this should change in the future, and some pupil does sincerely make a threat against my personal safety, any putative moves back towards corporal punishment will be a terrible backwards step. How can we teach children that violence solves nothing if we are prepared to use it ourselves?

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* I can't help but feel this is the first salvo in an attempt to blame bad behaviour and school problems in the coming years on pupils, as schools are sapped of vital resources, much-needed refurbishments are shelved and class sizes grow.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Hahahaahaaa, pt 94

This is priceless. If you're in the doldrums because the new Labour leader is marginally less ghastly than the one the Graun have been crowning since the election but still nothing to get excited about, at least look at how terrified teh Fail is. First there's this:
Ed Miliband is the Thatcher of the Left, apparently, allowing daring newshound James Forsyth to use 'doomsday scenario' and 'insurgent' to describe the narrow victory of Ed over David.*

But this hysteria is not only confined to the reactionary press. The Graun's coverage isn't much better, with the following making it in at paragraph four:
MPs who supported David Miliband warned that Ed Miliband's reliance on the union vote was a "disaster" for the party – leaving it open to charges that its leader would be in the pocket of its leftwing paymasters, and wide open to attack from the Tories and rightwing elements in the media.


Or, 'you can't vote for Ed, the tories won't like it!' Inspired.**

But by far the best has to be this:
Ed Miliband in Not Married Shocker!
Love the caption under the photo, using the word modern in the way only the Fail can (i.e. as a pejorative)

And check out the opening paragraphs...

As the son of a North London Marxist intellectual, you might expect Ed Miliband to have a less than conventional approach to traditional family values.

And the birth certificate of his 15-month-old son, Daniel, would appear to bear this out, as it includes everything except any mention of the boy’s proud father.

Although the section headed ‘Father’ is blank, Daniel’s mother Justine Thornton is named, along with her Manchester birthplace and profession, barrister.

Daniel was born on June 2 last year and the birth ­certificate was signed by Justine in Camden, near the couple’s London home, five weeks later on July 9.

There is no suggestion that Ed Miliband is not Daniel’s father and when asked why his name is not on the register, a spokeswoman for the new Labour leader suggested he simply had not had time to fill in the form.



'Paul, we've reached the bottom. I think we've scraped our way through the wood. Look, I can see the floor. Can I stop now?'
'No, Daily Mail Reporter, you may not! Scrape, damn you! Scrape! If only we can shriek loud enough, maybe people will start to think this is an actual problem of some kind! Can you find a picture of a saucily-dressed young mother of the kind Ed might well shack up with when his hedonistic sex-crazed mind takes its fancy? The kind that our readers fear will make them go blind if they see, and induces in them a fear of their own repressed and furtive attitudes toward intercourse?'
'Not in time for the first editions, sir.'
'Damn, just run one of him and his partner looking happy and suggest there's something immoral going on beneath the surface, and that this is somehow anybody else's business, then. There'll still be plenty of pics from the X Factor to lure the punters in.'

EPIC FAIL, Daily Mail.

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*Special mention goes to alluding to a fear of 'Ed's willingness to indulge the party' - the Fail's genuine fear of Labour members as feral beasts who do not know their place and will be coming for your Buy to Lets and begonias given the slightest nod from on high.

**In many ways this election is of course an indictment of how far Labour has fallen to Thatcherite nonsense, that the union vote is being seen as a problem for the Party. But there we go. And don't give me any of that 'unelectable' nonsense either. See here (unless you've got the book, which goes into more detail).

Friday, 17 September 2010

So anyway, I was just wondering...

Let's not worry for a second about the ex-Nazi* whose office (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Holy Inquisition) was not exactly enthusiastic about pursuing allegations of child abuse but still lays claim to a billion followers complaining about the 'marginalisation' of Christianity. I was more thinking about his now legendary speech yesterday. Just after the Nazi reference. This bit.
As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a 'reductive vision of the person and his destiny'

Now I've already had a dig at his Nazi past, as has everyone else on the internet. Just thought it might be worth mentioning that Italy and Spain were both heavily RC nations in the 20th century, and, well you know what bastions of human freedom they became. So you don't need to look as far afield as ... well one doesn't want to appear indelicate, does one? As far afield as You-Know-Who to find a place for the Vatican at the fascist table. Phew, I think I managed to avoid Godwining this piece. Close call - that Ratzinger and Nazism, it's just going to dog him like a child-sex allegation at the Criminal Records Bureau, isn't it? Sorry about that.

Damn, I mentioned them! Three times!

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*Yes, I know it was the law when he joined the Hitler Youth and I know he was only a teenager, but in fairness, he started it.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

In Other News, Braaaaaiiins.



I will be seeing this in 3D. That is all.

Reasons to Hate Newsnight Review, Pt 94

I stopped watching Newsnight Review back when it was still called Newsnight Review*. I should've stopped when this was first broadcast but I let myself casually drop into it occasionally back when I still was capable of watching Newsnight itself without wanting to kick the screen in. So about 5 years ago.

Anyway, it came on last night when a DVD finished and I was subjected to the mutilated horror of it all for a minute or two. Couple of things:
  1. Something called Clemency Burton-Hill is a fucking idiot.
  2. Jesus Christ, SHUT THE FUCK UP ALL OF YOU. SHUT THE FUCK UP. WHENEVER YOU SPEAK IT'S LIKE DROWNING IN A LAKE OF SMUGNESS. I SINCERELY WANT YOU TO DIE.



To explain point (1), I refer you to the review of Tamara Drewe (a strip so incredibly dull I never successfully navigated a complete edition of when it was in the Graun's Review section. In fact it was probably the reason that I now open it at the back, read Doonesbury, then stick it in the recycling). Here is Clemency, looking like every annoying fucking Rah that I would see hanging around Hatfield at uni, apparently doing nothing whilst waiting to be appointed part of the Establishment when they graduated.

'Isn't it amazing to see the middle classes depicted on film like that, I mean, especially a UK Film Council-backed film? I mean we're talking about Shane Meadows later and they're much more likely to back a film like ... This is England, and I found that fascinating, though sort of rather uncomfortable as you say, kind of I might have that [inaudible due to scratching of absurd rah hairdo] I quite often see Jim Naughtie at literary festivals, I'm complicit in this as well.'


Yes, if there's one thing the British media needs more of, it's portrayal of the lives of the average ordinary member of the middle classes who live in Arcady-By-The-Waitrose. We just don't see enough of these people, do we? FUCK OFF.
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*It is apparently now called The Review Show.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Belated Yanks-Fish-Barrel-iness

Meant to do this the other day, but all that Bible study got in the way.

Is it just me, or is this the single most expressive image of America ever created?

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Rock n Roll Communique #2

You have sealed orders. Go see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

It will make you want to fall in love if you're not. It will reaffirm your faith in love if you already are.

Report back to HQ when you have achieved this objective.

That is all.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Leeds 2010 Roundup

"I'm sorry for quoting U2 in a place where poetry has been performed"
- Eddie Argos

It was a good festival this year, despite the fairly weak lineup. It was definitely a personal best in terms of number of bands seen and some really stood out - Foals in particular, but also Klaxons, Los Campesinos!, Phoenix, Egyptian Hip-Hop, Minus the Bear, Chapel Club and a few others. Futureheads were as fun as ever - you never get bored of the Bouncy Bounce or the Futureheads Singing Game, after all.

Because I was working on the Main Stage bar again this year, this did unfortunately mean I had to see Guns 'n' Roses, the only interest here being of course how late Axl would show up, assuming he turned up at all. In the end even that was boring - only about half an hour late, which in Axl's world is actually on time. He's the man for whom the phrase 'wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff' was invented. It's like the Libertines, if they just turn up and play their rubbish pop songs, no one will give a fuck.

Funny thing though, we'd been saying all weekend how they were 'just a covers band these days' and when they turned up they played Knocking on Heaven's Door, The Pink Panther, and Another Brick in the Wall. For fucking hours.

Total highlight of the festival for me was Eddie Argos's turn with Art Brut's guitarist and Everybody Was in the French Resistance ... Now!'s keyboardist. He was funny, had some kick-ass pop songs and the best engagement with the crowd of anyone I saw. he managed to get everyone in the comedy tent on their feet and up at the stage, which is a fair achievement really. Plus he played Emily Kane in front and with the assistance of his girlfriend (the aforementioned keyboardist, lovely Dyan Valdes) which is if nothing else somewhat ballsy.

Also the M.C. went 'who wants to see Guns 'n' Roses tonight?' and most of the tent went 'Meh.' Slightly taken aback, he said 'Who's not bothered about Guns 'n' Roses?' which got a deafening cheer. 'Oh, that's not the reaction I was expecting, to be honest' he said, looking genuinely confused.

This leads me onto my mini-rant for the day. Comedians at Leeds: don't ditch your material just 'cos you're at a festival. Andrew Lawrence did OK, but Jason Byrne disappeared into misogynist, misandrist wankiness after an amazing start. Every comedian seems to think shouting 'This is much better than Reading, isn't it?' and swearing a lot is what the audience want, but the truth is no one gives a fuck about Leeds/Reading rivalry and if you're in a comedy tent there's a chance that you're there to see some comedians do their actual material. For the love of gods!

Rant over. Pics may follow, or may not. Anyway, that's my reason for not having anything to say about the other major event of this weekend.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Remember This?

I don't like memes. I think it's a clumsy and facile concept that aims to give a scientistic account of data that doesn't hold water.

That said, remember this?


And then Delboy fell through the bar, I know. But still. It was a funny meme. If memes existed, which they don't.

Interludes from Real Life

A friend of mine told me the other day about one of her cats having to be put down, and the subsequent and somewhat delicate task of explaining this turn of events to her young daughter.

The child took it pretty well, considering, and had that direct way of looking at the situation that the pre-adolescent often does, asking blunt questions along the lines of 'can I come to the vet's?'. But then it got a little trickier. Having lost one cat, it naturally occurred to her to worry about the other.

'Is Schrodinger alright?'

Of course, the problem is, with a name like that, it's hard to be sure.

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True story.

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Taunting of Floridian 123

Just because I'm looking for a distraction from doing some actual work, here's a random fucking idiot from CiF.*

Background: Charlie Brooker wrote about the 'Ground Zero Mosque' nutters , in which he pointed out that it's not a mosque and not at Ground Zero, although oddly he didn't do the obvious and make it clear that there shouldn't be a problem if it was either or both of those things, as it would be rather like saying that Oscar Romero is the same as Alexander VI. Anyway, here's a particularly cretinous comment from some stupid bloody wingnut.

First of all that building was close enough to have the falling landing gear of the plane Muhammad Atta was on damage it. Secondly, they said they will hold Friday nite prayers in it so of course it's a mosque. This is not about religious freedom. It's about LOCATION. Do you think the Russians would be happy about a mosque being built in Beslan near the school where over two hundred kids were raped and shot in the back by terrorists? One more thing, I seem to remember a super mosque that was supposed to be built in London just in time for the olympics. The people protested about it and now the mosque isn't being built. Rather hypocritical of you isn't it?

The governor of New York wants to meet with them to suggest an alternative site but they flat out refuse to even consider it. Their present position is "We are going to cram this peace loving, bridge building mosque down the throats of you Americans whether you like it or not."

So, let the taunting commence!
First of all that building was close enough to have the falling landing gear of the plane Muhammad Atta was on damage it.

You're saying that these terrorists were willing to risk damage to one of their own buildings*? How evil is that! Like TOTALLY evil. We're through the looking glass here, sheeple!
Secondly, they said they will hold Friday nite prayers in it so of course it's a mosque.

Or, is it a cultural centre with a prayer room in it?
This is not about religious freedom.

Or, is it? Because it kind of sounds like you're saying that people can't use their own building to worship in their own way and use that building to promote understandings between other people exercising their religious freedom in the way they want to. So, it kind of is about religious freedom really, isn't it? Just a little bit? Maybe?
It's about LOCATION.

Hmm, don't know about you, but if I was trying to think of anywhere for people to build some hope and understanding between faiths, somewhere near an awful reminder of what happens when people have an intolerant attitude towards others might be, oh I dunno, the perfect place to put it?
Do you think the Russians would be happy about a mosque being built in Beslan near the school where over two hundred kids were raped and shot in the back by terrorists?

Hey, Floridian, have a look at this:

Here are some Terrorists:


And here are some Muslims:

P.S. Islam is the second largest religion in North Ossetia-Alania, an independent republic within the Russian Federation, not actually in Russia. But wait, you don't want the great US of A to be judged by the standards of the RUSSIANS, do you, Floridian? Why do you HATE AMERICA?
One more thing, I seem to remember a super mosque that was supposed to be built in London just in time for the olympics. The people protested about it and now the mosque isn't being built.Rather hypocritical of you isn't it?

I have to admit, I'd never heard of this story, but then I don't live in that London, and anyway it does seem a tad racist to assume that Charlie Brooker would have opposed the Mosque because he is British. Presumably the Muslims who wanted to build the thing in the first place were British as were the community groups that opposed it. Not sure this is actually hypocritical in any way at all. Hang on a sec...
Nope, doesn't seem to apply. Perhaps hypocrisy doesn't mean what you think it means?
The governor of New York wants to meet with them to suggest an alternative site but they flat out refuse to even consider it.

What, you mean they don't see why they should move from their own building just because some hysterical racists are shouting at them? They won't back down from a project whose explicit point is to combat idiotic ideas like yours? I wonder why ever not?
Their present position is "We are going to cram this peace loving, bridge building mosque down the throats of you Americans whether you like it or not."

Or, 'we're not going to let a bunch of hysterical racists stop us'? Sounds kind of, you know, courageous to me. Also, Veiled Penis Reference, too.

But anyway, in conclusion Floridian, you thought building a mosque was insensitive? Check THIS out.
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*It's OK to read CiF if it's for Charlie Brooker, it's like eating a sandwich whilst you're walking.

**I just found Floridian 123's dictionary. I see the problem, because under 'Mooslem' it just says 'See terrists'

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Is Human Nature a Barrier to Socialism?

Ante-Script

As previously when I've done talks like this, the below is more or less what I meant to say, any resemblance to my actual, stammering and highly eclectic delivery is purely coincidental. Enjoy...

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Every socialist will have heard this objection to socialism. You've got someone to agree that the current system doesn't work, that the credit crunch shows some basic problems with the system, that it's unfair that some have so much and others so little, but then you come to propose socialism as an alternative. 'Ah, but that's human nature, isn't it? You've always got to have leaders. Some people always rise to the top. People are naturally selfish/greedy/bastards.' That's why doing a speech on this topic is brilliant, because tonight we'll have the space to actually talk about why this is not an effective objection, rather than, as I usually do, to myself on the bus home.

In my experience, people believe that this is their trump card, the insuperable objection. It's all very well wanting equality, but in the end we're all a bunch of selfish buggers, right? Good point. From littering to murder we can think of all manner of examples of selfish behaviour. Indeed, the political party with the largest number of parliamentary seats is explicitly based on the politics of greed and self-interest. So how do we explain the fact that we are still socialists? There are only 2 options:

  1. This brilliant objection had never occurred to us before
  2. We think we have a good response.

Since every time you mention your politics this is brought up by someone, I think we can discount a, even if you don't credit us with the smarts to have thought of it ourselves (a point of view that implies that socialists emerge fully-formed from some kind of Damascene conversion). That leaves us with b. So what might a socialist response consist of?

There are really three aspects to the question:

  1. What is human nature?
  2. What is socialism?
  3. Is 1 incompatible with the aims of 2?

Some people have argued that there is no such thing as human nature at all – that humanity is some kind of tabula rasa on which all behaviours are written by social and cultural influences. I won't be arguing this, but rather that although some human behaviours can be seen as universal, the expression of those behaviours does not sum up human nature and that social factors hugely influence some behaviours and completely determine others. This, I think, suggests that human nature is perfectly compatible with our idea of socialism.

Some human behaviours are universal. Language is the most obvious example – all human cultures have complex languages. We are speaking, and because of that thinking, apes. Other candidates for universal behaviour include play, laughter, and tool use. You will notice from my examples that these are broad and general formal categories, they describe a general form of behaviour but no specifics. All humans laugh, but do they all titter? I honestly couldn't tell you. All humans speak, but clearly not all humans speak about Peter Mandelson's autobiography, or the advantages of Python over Perl.

Not even the person who has told you that socialism is impossible because we're all too nasty or selfish would agree that all human behaviour is essential to our nature. There is no gene to code for writing Star Trek fan fiction. So we're talking about defining what is essential to humanity and what is not, in general terms. We've already looked at some things that all humans seem to do independently of culture. So what kinds of things are particularly socially constructed, other than fan fiction?

First off there are social institutions – these clearly have only social roots, responding to a social set of circumstances and defined entirely by social relations. Money, schools and religions fall into this category. But more than that we are, as Aristotle so neatly put it, 'political animals' – animals that by our very natures exist in communities, that are social not through choice but because it is one of the things that define us. We can only have a concept of selfishness at all because it stands in opposition to our ideas of communal behaviour: selfishness is a feature of our political natures, usually defined in a negative way against our presumed social obligations rather than in accordance with them – that, I think, is our intuitive understanding of selfishness.

The idea of the individual, isolated human as a major philosophical idea begins with the Enlightenment and Rationalist thinkers, such as Descartes, with his solipsistic evil demon, and the Empiricists like Hume and Locke, for whom individual perceptions were the building blocks of philosophy. This isolationist tendency in philosophy is mirrored in the phenomenon of alienation that is produced by capitalist society.

It is sometimes thought that Marxism is somewhat crass, that it reduces the complexity of human interaction to an economic basis, but of course for Marxists, economics form the base of what humans are able to do, and society is the superstructure built on top of this base. One of my favourite quotations from Marx is about just this phenomenon: men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please, they do not do it under conditions of their own choosing. In other words, how our society is structured is fundamentally governed by how we put food on the table – how society produces for itself. So, what is alienation, why does capitalism lead to it, and what does this have to do with human nature?

To take the last question first – from a Marxist point of view, any society will emphasise certain human characteristics over others, according to how it is organised. Theft, for example, is a big issue in capitalist societies, where most things are held as private property and therefore taking most things without asking, or paying: food from a supermarket, a train journey without a ticket, burglary, are seen as theft. A society which does not hold most things to be private property would of course not have such an obsession with who owns what. Alienation is not a conscious product of capitalism, but a result of the way people relate to each other under this form of production, and I will argue is a big factor in why people make the 'human nature argument' against socialism, although they may not be aware of it.

Of course at this point many people cry foul over Marxist argument, as with the related idea of false consciousness: 'how can you tell me that what I think I'm thinking isn't at all what I'm thinking! I know I'm selfish sometimes and I'm not a capitalist, you're being very presumptive about being able to determine my psychological motivations here!' And it's important to distinguish between what we can say about the general forms of capitalism and the motivations of individuals. What we can say is that the way in which our society produces for itself means that the individuals in it are alienated in certain ways. This doesn't tell us how any individual will choose to act but it does tell something of the general ways in which people relate to each other.

So what is alienation? There are several possible ways of approaching it, but one which most people will recognise is that sense of disconnectedness from those around us, sometimes focused on the workplace, at other times more difficult to place. Alienation can be in the pointless meeting you've got to attend, or when watching the telly and realising that there is nothing on that was made with you or your tastes in mind. At these moments we feel disconnected from those we work with, disconnected from the culture that we should be able to identify with.

But alienation goes far deeper than this – consumer culture is itself a form of and response to alienation. Capitalism produces commodities at a rate far outstripping any previous mode of production, and the defining way that it achieves this is mass-production. Mass-production in a capitalist system forces redundancy (because capitalists compete with each other to generate profit and need to maintain growth in order to increase those profits) – resulting in endless iterations of objects and the idea of artefacts as inherently disposable. A good example of this is the iPhone, which although only launched about 5 years ago has gone through 4 iterations, each marketed as utterly superior not only to its competitors but also to the model that preceded it. So we come to think of objects around us as impermanent, transitory and without substance.

Mass-production creates millions of identical objects. When we see Toy Story, for example, the toys in it are instantly recognisable. Each Mr Potatohead or Barbie is after all identical to all the others. The result of this is that even the objects of play that we are presented with as children are throwaway – if my son has an Optimus Prime and his friend has an Optimus Prime, they have two completely identical toys. There is no uniqueness to the objects we purchase.

Mass-production places the actual making of objects, from the morning Weetabix we eat to the cars we drive, outside of most of our objects of experience. If I work on a production line at Toyota, I will may have a part in the making of the car I drive, but I will have had no part in making my Tesco's pizza. Most of the objects of our experience are obtained with no intervention from ourselves other than the exchange of currency. We are alienated from the things around us because we have no direct connection to them.

Perhaps most importantly, mass production places us in a position of powerlessness in relation to many of the objects that we own. If I need a table, it is still possible for me to go down to B&Q (other builder's merchants are available) and buy the wood I need to make it, and thus create an object purely for my own use. But I cannot put together a mobile phone or a computer in the same way. If I want a commodity I may be able to choose between different suppliers, but I cannot relate to the object as anything other than a commodity – it is produced to be sold more than it is produced to be used.

The wider system of capitalism alienates us from people around us. At work we are often in competition with our workmates, we are keenly aware that there are only so many jobs and more than that we in most cases have no control over our economic lives. We do not set our own wages, or our own hours. We do not choose who we work with or the way we approach our jobs. The lower the pay you're on, the more likely this situation is to be true. More than this, because capitalism is a very particular mode of production, where things are made not on the basis of need but on the basis that they will be sold, there is a sort of creeping tendency to assign everything a monetary value. Indeed, as capitalists have sought to find new markets to expand into, new arenas of profit, we have seen the creation of markets in water, in pollution – effectively parcelling up the air we breath, and even in government itself, through PFI and PPPs.

So capitalism is not only an economic model but one which defines the way society works and affects the way we relate to the people around us. The essence of capitalism is competition and private wealth. These are the driving motors of capitalism and why the logical endpoint of capitalism is Gordon Gekko's famous comment that 'greed is good' – it is somewhat telling of course that what was intended as an indictment of the relentless pursuit of profit was enthusiastically taken up as a slogan.

What effects might the profit motive have on human behaviour? In the USA people are paid for their blood donations. This means that blood is donated by people who are in need of money quickly, and is looked down upon socially. Another effect is that the blood is more frequently found to have infections – the only major illness outbreak resulting from transfusions in the UK, where blood donation is voluntary, came from a batch of blood bought from New York. Bringing in the profit motive can undermine the idea of public service itself, not just by changing the motivation from those involved in delivering it from public duty to personal enrichment, but by changing the general public perception of the nature of the service. Revelations about the levels of pay in the top levels of the NHS, or major charities like Oxfam, affect how people think about those organisations and reduce the public's support for them.

Just to briefly sum up, then: what does all this suggest? Well, along with the idea that we are animals whose nature is shaped by the social forces we encounter, and the idea that the social forces produced by capitalism do not simply encourage greed, but also alienation and commodity fetishism, there is the undeniable public-spirited side to human nature that is revealed in the reaction to inroads to public-sector work being made by the profit motive. Capitalism has no choice but to encourage the profit motive, and with it the selfishness, alienation and greed that characterises it.

One of the questions I started this talk with was: what is socialism? It's a difficult question to answer, because socialism envisages a world without an exploiting class, one in which the workers enjoy real economic and political power – which of course unfortunately also means that we cannot say what a lot of it will look like, since the decision is not ours to make. As revolutionary socialists, we look forward to the day that we are no longer needed. What then, the question should perhaps be, does socialism offer? Socialism offers the opposite to capitalism. It is fundamentally co-operative, food is put on the table not by competing consumers but by the agreement of all, by workers who are in control and where there is no class of people profiting from the work of others. Since human nature is to be sociable, adaptable and co-operative, and since capitalism makes us so unhappy and unfulfilled, not only is human nature not incompatible with socialism, human nature will actually benefit from it.



Update: This may be of use.