Leaders of the World, Unite!

Only kidding. There’s no rush.

(As soon as I find the source I’ll add it.)


Cherwell: We Can Still Save Syria

I wrote this before Ed Miliband betrayed the Syrian people, so it is a bit out of date/lacking necessary expletives, but here is my article for Cherwell.org:

“Never again,” we like to tell ourselves, again and again. Looking back, we know Thomas Hardy was right to anticipate “all nations striving strong to make red war yet redder”; the so-called “war to end all wars”, beginning in 1914 with Gavrilo Princip’s bullet of the century, would not really end until 1991. Outlived as he was by the old men who sent him to die, Wilfred Owen’s glib submission “dulce et decorum est” should represent more than anything else the grim legacy our generation inherited from the 20th century. Our heroes showcase a grand hatred of war.

Except we see the world beyond through different spectacles. The student voice, which in the 1960s called on Britain to take a moral lead in the world, drops dead with apathy or sinks into “post-colonialist” hysteria whenever faced with foreign conflicts; the Labour Party has been mellowed by a populist sickness that chases after old Tory slogans; and Barack Obama, with his innocuous charm and Nobel Prize to think of, would rather pretend there is no war than bring it to an end.

Read the rest here!

What is a Teapot?

One of the scare stories told to students applying for a place at Oxford and Cambridge is that they their fate will inevitably be determined by something arbitrary and unexpected. With a mendacious grin the professor will recline as he asks, “What is a teapot?”

Via The Atlantic, here is tea time in Syria:

Iraqi refugees find themselves on the boundaries of another war: a teapot lives with the community abroad.

Fighters of the Free Syrian Army warm their drink on the embers of one of the regime’s posters: a teapot brings life and energy out of destruction.

Behind the flimsy curtain defending against snipers, an iron teapot is the unperturbed stoicism of routine.

The good teapot can be picked out of the rubble; it civilises war. Is that a good thing? Or does it just normalise it?

Nigel Farage Is The King of the Castle

There is no more painful an unrequited love than that for history. Nevertheless, someone should tell Nigel Farage that the days of the Motte-and-Bailey are long over. He is not our hero; and the barracks he purports to champion, that refuge of well-civilised romantics standing stoic against a hoard of European barbarians, is no more realistic a concept than toddlers throwing balls in a playpen.

The surge in support for UKIP is then, we might then say, alarming not so much for the troubles it might present to the Commons but for the delusions it legitimises as a constitutional party. It would almost certainly lose every seat it were to contest at a general election; but if the Tory party is to defend itself then it too will need to slur out some drunken nonsense. The task of the political party should be to justify the direction in which to take the nation, not to embody its most irrational and populist psychologies.

“National sovereignty” has become as much an oxymoron as the “global world” a tautology. Once political authority had passed from the Crown to Parliament it was always presumed that the people had gained some control over their lives; and with the coming of nationalisation, and of the welfare state, it seemed guaranteed. But however cliched it might be to say, these days are over. In order for Britain to maintain its influence over both its foreign policy and indeed internal affairs it has to align itself with other powers. Free trade, for a start, is in itself incompatible with isolationism; and in contrast there is nothing to stop a government upholding trade links both with South America and with Europe. Now it is true to say, of course that London’s dependence on the financial services would give it a merry position from which it could grow outside of the EU. The government could cut corporate taxes and make the City favourable to foreign investors.

But so fluid a river as that of global capital would leave Britain not a barge but a raft resting nervously on its surface. The investors it attracts would not, after all, be from within Britain – a slap in the face to the cultural isolationism of the UKIP voter. In this context, though, the implications should also concern the socialist for whom there can be no defence against tyranny of capital through only domestic machinery. From the perspectives of both socialists and capitalists, then, it is fundamental to (virtually) all British people that we remain a part of the European Union.

None of this is to demean what are very powerful criticisms of the EU, of course. For a start, any convicted neoliberal should be seriously concerned with the Common Agricultural Policy. At the price of a third of the EU’s budget, the CAP is in effect a method of subsidising French and German farmers at the expense of those in underdeveloped nations. And herein lies a frightening moral conflict that we’d rather ignore: the British middle-class contenting itself with buying Fair Trade no more alleviates the poverty in rural Africa than clapping loudly to make contact with aliens. Perry Anderson’s The New Old World concurs; radical ideas gave momentum to the EU’s shape but ultimately it has an exploitative history, the trading relationship between France and West Germany mutating into a bourgeois authority over the less equipped.

And here I return to the question of sovereignty. Can an essentially undemocratic bureaucracy offer any autonomy to a nation, either in its economy or its political process, if such a nation is shaped by a group of unelected figures in Brussels? Clearly not; and fortunately that is not the situation in which we find ourselves. The EU has a tiny bureaucracy; it has only a few thousand employees. It has no methods of collecting taxation, and its control even over its own currency is not a lot more persuasive. In no fewer words, I might therefore suggest, the we are looking at a transitory state. A right-wing project, Anderson describes it, with radical potential.

It’s times like this that we must return to those principled ambitions when the hope of European unity was nascent and urgent. Orwell, 1947:

When I think of these and other difficulties, when I think of the enormous mental readjustment that would have to be made, the appearance of a Socialist United States of Europe seems to me a very unlikely event. I don’t mean that the bulk of the people are not prepared for it, in a passive way. I mean that I see no person or group of persons with the slightest chance of attaining power and at the same time with the imaginative grasp to see what is needed and to demand the necessary sacrifices from their followers. But I also can’t at present see any other hopeful objective.

If Europe is growing then it needs the participation of Britain. It’s perfectly possible for us to get a political – and economic – Union favourable to the principles to which UKIP claims, however falsely, to uphold. But the weight to mature rests not only with the Right: what cannot be allowed to happen in defenses of the European Union is for left-wingers to abandon their commitment to the democratic process. An obvious point, we might say, but in recent days that old favourite of mine Glenn Greenwald decided, one again, to equate liberal democracy with Islamic jihad.

And then the image of Nigel Farage in his grand armor of chivalry returns to me. If he had his way, we’d be repairing the wooden stockades while France and Germany build citadels. He needs to drop the drawbridge and enter the fucking world.

Optimism and the Orion Nebula

The Orion Nebula

The Orion Nebula (click for larger image)

When I see a photo like this my impulse is a pessimistic one: to say that against a cloud bigger than our minds could ever comprehend we don’t matter. Not at all!

It’s our very perspective that brings us to that conclusion, one which invites us to subvert it. Take another look. We’ve seen those clouds before – the lines as malleable as they are intricate, the ghoulish blend of black into green through which modest lights pierce. And they’ve been found on earth in their own forms, be it the aurora borealis or that piece in the Tate or a field: it’s a description that after all fits into the English language. This thought that a gas cloud 26 light years wide can be captured and compared with what we see everyday is, I think, an optimistic one: although we shouldn’t forget how incredible the universe is, it should not be used to make us feel tiny and insignificant.  We define it!

How promising.

(About the Orion Nebula from Slate here.)