Thursday, 22 February 2018

Barry Bennell and the Comfort of Evil

Evening - hope you're doing well.

The case of Barry Bennell that has been going on for the last 18 months or so was not exactly a new one. Some of you might remember the Dispatches episode from the late 1990s, during which many of his crimes against young footballers were well documented. It was pretty grim viewing at the time and no less so when I re-visited it on YouTube last year - it's called 'Soccer's Foul Play' if you want to watch it, but I should stress that the subject matter is less than pleasant and viewer discretion very much advised. It was the revelations of Andy Woodward, a former Crewe player back in 2016 that led to further complaints against Bennell and ultimately his convictions this week.

A proclivity for young boys, allied to what seemed a total lack of impulse control and a complete disregard for the damage done to his victims means that it should be a cause for relief more than anything else that Bennell will spend at least the next 15 years behind bars and probably die in prison. Excellent. There can also be no doubt whatsoever that Bennell made the choice he did to go into youth coaching for a very specific and unhealthy reason - just as other perpetrators of similar crimes deliberately seek to become priests or teachers to get access to vulnerable youngsters, Bennell saw a chance to get into the 'position of maximum oppotunity' and took it, with tragic results.

I'll make two observations about the court case of the last fortnight or so, one of which some of you may find easier to digest than the other. The first point is that what Bennell has been convicted of may represent but a fraction of his overall tally of victims. One can only hope that those who have not been given direct restitution in the courts can take some comfort in their assailant's imprisonment. Perhaps a more troubling statement to make is that in amongst the genuine victims of crime (some of whom finally got their day in court), there will almost certainly be fakers, liars, attention-seekers and failed former footballers hopping onto something of a bandwagon. Unfortunate but true.

Speaking of attention-seekers, the judge's comments in sentencing smacked of fame-seeking, attempting to get into the newspapers and make himself the story rather than calmly and dispassionately dispensing justice, which is what what any judge should be striving to do. Referring to the convicted as "the devil incarnate" was surely irresponsible and (whether you believe in our dark overlord or not) factually incorrect? I wouldn't dare suggest that Bennell wasn't a bad bastard who made a decision in his mind that his own desires were worth more than the harm caused to other people - but to foolishly suggest that "Lucifer made him do it" actually trivialises his crimes.

Another comment that caught my attention came from a neighbour of Bennell (who has legally changed his name to Richard Jones for reasons that should be fairly obvious). Upon discovering his previous crimes this neighbour was astonished and felt somewhat misled, stating "I had absolutely no idea he was a paedophile, he told me he was a software engineer". Now this strikes me as what my good mate Chris Coey might refer to as a 'dissociative biscuit', the blurring of two wholly unrelated statements into some fucked-up montage of randomness. I allowed myself a guilty/bad taste laugh at the assertion that 'paedophile' and 'software engineer' were somehow mutually exclusive.

But perhaps I shouldn't have done - far from being funny this is actually central to the obsession that many working class (and indeed underclass) people have with the perpetration of crimes by adults against children. As I've stated previously when you're living in a trailer and eating crab paste sandwiches for dinner it's always handy to scrape around the very bottom of the food chain and find someone to make you feel good about yourself. Sadly this, and not a genuine concern for child welfare, is what a lot of the council estate hysteria about paedophiles is actually about. After all, the same people usually feed their own kids shit so they can afford more booze and fags for themselves.

I wrote only a couple of weeks ago about the phenomenon of self-appointed internet paedophile hunters. Now I'm not disputing that there are people who go online with the explicit intention of grooming and/or getting 'involved' with people who they know are underage and that is both absolutely wrong and highly illegal. However, this concept of the 'cybernonce' appears to be the 21st century equivalent of the creepy old man dangling bags of sweets out of his car window or hovering around parks late at night wearing nothing but a trenchcoat. A comfortingly inhuman stereotype of would-be perpetrators maybe, but painfully unrepresentative of reality.

Cases like that of Barry Bennell are a far more likely and true 'face' of this type of crime, even if that is the polar opposite of what makes some feel good about themselves. Precisely what makes the Bennell case and others like it as upsetting as they are is that he did not walk around with horns tucked behind his ears or the word 'NONCE' tattooed in large red letters across his forehead. Far from being a deadbeat or loser he had a life on the surface (first playing and then coaching football) that many thousands of other people envied and/or aspired to. Like a multitude of sociopathic criminals before him, Bennell wore a convincing mask of normality as a means of hiding in plain sight. dreadful as such crimes are, I'm interested in measures going forward that seek to prevent offending (or indeed re-offending) rather than giving a handful of louts down a backstreet boozer someone to feel superior to. Given that no mentally stable adult would ever 'choose' to be attracted to kids, do we offer some sort of help and support to those who identify that they have 'a problem' in this area and an express wish not to follow that up with criminal behaviour - much as we might with, say, somebody who admits to being dependent on drugs and wants to get clean? I appreciate that won't go down well in said backstreet boozer, but I'm open to ideas if you have any.

What I do know is that we need to reject the comfort of evil on this matter, as difficult as it might be, and deal in reality.

Anyway, I appreciate that may have been heavy going for some of you - I owe you all something a bit lighter in the very near future.

No music video with this one, it doesn't seem appropriate.

Many thanks again and I'll see you at the weekend - take care.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Sortition - It's Up to Us

Evening - let's stick with these snappy pieces, they seem quite popular.

Some of you will know already that I'm hardly a member of the fanclub when it comes to the concept of Representative Democracy. The system I less than affectionately refer to as RepDem is a thoroughly rotten one that invariably descends into a dismal ponzi scheme, infantilises on an industrial scale and produces bucketloads of other nasty little side-effects that we'll go into soon enough. Most people accept this analysis at least up to a point, but tend to counter it with something akin to the Churchill defence of RepDem "the worst system of government apart from all of the others". Well I'm not sure I agree with that, but we'll explain the benefits of Sortition later on.

RepDem is by definition a system which confers a false sense of rectitude on the majority view at a moment in time and can end up as little more than a legitimised form of mob rule. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, it would be absolutely wrong for 51 of us to go and steal the possessions of the other 49, but RepDem basically decrees that it is morally sound for this fortunate 51 to elect representatives who will implement the theft (wholly legally I should add) on their behalf. That Democracy itself is regarded as a 'good word' by the masses means that its ability to be used as a figleaf for tyranny (with those masses as willing enablers) is very rarely if ever discussed.

This is the inevitable outcome of a process you'll have already heard referred to on these pages before as messiah-seeking. Fuelled by a demand for validation of simply 'free stuff', this search for 'the great leader' generally leads to reckless overspending and economic failure at home, the initiation of force and disastrous misadventure overseas and persistent attacks on individual freedom, be it in the economic, social or constitutional sphere. These 'messiahs' (think Blair or Obama for example) are later re-packaged as 'disappointments' who 'lied to the people' and 'let them down', thereby absolving those who voted for them (sometimes more than once) of any responsibility.

Meanwhile, it's not just the politicians within this system who degenerate into the pathetic team sport that apparently serves as a substitute for the discussion of serious ideas. We are at least quite as bad at this 'virtue signalling' bollocks and possibly quite a bit worse - simply skim-read the majority of 'topical discussions' on social media and you'll see my point. Look, if it comes to listening to a bunch of 10-watt wankers declaring 'which side' of the proverbial road they're on, well I'm sorry but I have a rather sharp set of needles that I need to stick into my eyes and be assured the task cannot wait. Meanwhile, the Toddlers of both Left and Right proceed to launch rocks at each other.

Nuance is stripped out of the issue and those suggesting the existence of it (so that'll be most readers of this site then) invariably get shot by both sides.

The 'political media' lap this fodder up, often becoming a participant in 'the game' themselves like one of those card-happy football referees playing out the career they should have had.

I mean, where would the mainstream media and its 'pundits' be without the soap opera and contrived 'drama' that RepDem gives them?

As is the case in all team sports, the players tend to become rather famous and the emergence of the 'celebrity politician' in the modern age is a natural enough, albeit pretty revolting one given the rules of the game being played. This creates a perpetual demand for 'characters' and 'showmen' in politics, which is an understandable requirement of the frontman in a rock group or lead actor in a television series, but surely should not be on the job spec for the would-be Education or Immigration minister? I'm clearly in a minority here, but I'd like those keeping things ticking over to be as boring, nondescript and uninterested in fame as possible. In fact, I don't really want to hear from them.

One of the most frequently wheeled out defences of RepDem is that through its Parliamentarians it gives ordinary citizens access to a member of its legislature. Well, hypothetically yes, but in reality most of those MPs who attempt to engage with their constituents (and many don't bother) end up as little more than social workers for the perpetually pushy and/or well-connected, while individuals with genuine issues tend to be too busy working or looking after the kids to fit their constituency surgery into the schedule. No doubt those pushy, well-connected sorts invariably love the current system as it gives them a wildly disproportionate level of influence.

Tragically, the RepDem system perpetuates 'identity politics' and gives those participating in it a degree of clout that cannot be justified through any objective lens. Politically, group advocacy is all about 'gaming the system' by forming voting blocks based on some 'point of identity', with a shopping list of demands to be extracted from would-be politicians in exchange for a significant number of votes. A form of mutual bribery that suits both sides, it invariably leads to attacks on the liberty of others, be that being forced to fund 'free stuff' for said group, or some new law being passed either offering 'special status' or forbidding the expression of contentious opinion.

Whether it's LGBT wankers or the English Defence League, wouldn't it be fantastic if our representatives could simply ignore them or, even better, tell them all to fuck off?

The good news is that if we chose them by random lot rather than a grubby quasi-barter system known as elections then they could - and I would laugh my balls off the day that happened, please bring it on. No false messiahs, no more 'showbiz for ugly people', no sad team sport played out by dismal 'ultras' trying to replicate the atmosphere of the Milan Derby or State of Origin final. No more middle class nag-hags 'gaming the system' and reducing their 'honourable' Member of Parliament to the status of Trainee Case Worker. And no more having to pander to 'identity politics' shithouses, be they of the Toddler Left or Toddler Right persuasion. Halle-fucking-lujah.

Probably the biggest thing Sortition has going for it as a system is the 'seen unseen' of it taking Utopia off the table. Once we accept that there is no Utopia, no 'magic formula' as 'messiahs' have continually had to promise us and that our rights are not more important than the rights of others, the rational case for the very existence of politicians simply evaporates. However, this means first taking responsibility - for our own role in the mess that RepDem has brought us to, for the Faustian pact we have entered into with politicians (they get 'the good life' in exchange for being 'the bad guys') and owning the consequences of what we support when it happens, both good and bad.

I suppose the question is...are we ready to step up to the plate and uplevel our Democracy? I'm not suggesting that it would be perfect - as stated previously, there is no Utopia and there will always be people who are unhappy with what is going on.

But...would it be a significant improvement on what we currently have? Absolutely.

I'm convinced that Sortition is 'the least worst system', although how we make this happen is tricky and one for another night. I appreciate politicians aren't going to take their ball home voluntarily, but we have it within our gift to 'make them redundant' if enough of us take some of the steps I've just outlined.

Anyway, I'm busy tomorrow so this was basically a replacement for what I intended to write then. There may or may not be something tomorrow night dependant on a few factors.

I'll leave you with Propaganda and catch you next time, whenever that is - thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

A quick note re:- the Suffragettes and Alleged Charities

Evening - be assured this will all be over faster than Lonald Lump's (alleged) night of passion with Stormy Daniels. Hope you're all in fine form.

A lot was made of the Suffragettes last week and I thought a few words immediately after the rather hysterical and fawning coverage they received might be the right way to go. There can be no doubt that what the Suffragettes were fighting for was right and I think we're all in agreement that to discriminate regarding who does and does not get the vote based on gender is no better than it would be to discriminate on the grounds of race or ethnicity. Whatever qualification you might decide to use use, be it age, employment status or whatever else then it needs to be applied consistently and fairly across all genders and all races. To think otherwise is, frankly, mad.

However, there is a saying that I have used on these pages and others before - just because you ended up getting what you campaigned for doesn't mean your campaigning had anything to do with it. Moreover, there are less than noble ways of going about achieving your goal and it's worth remembering that the Suffragettes engaged in such less than peaceful forms of protest as burning down the houses of MPs (most notably the last Liberal Prime Minister, David Lloyd George), the planting of bombs and destroying public property. Millicent Fawcett, a peaceful campaigner for many of the same basic aims as Pankhurst et al, regarded them as a hindrance to the cause.

Something frequently forgotten is that the oft-cited (indeed assumed) dichotomy of men could vote and women couldn't wasn't quite true. Indeed, it was only when women over the age of 30 were given the vote after World War 1 that the remaining working class men previously excluded from the franchise also received it. Now we were still circa half a century away from total voting equality and no doubt that is somewhat embarrassing, but the terms of the argument, and the Suffragettes' precise role in the ultimate winning of it strike me as being altogether more complicated and nuanced than the media coverage last week might have suggested. There were much wider issues at play.

It's also impossible not to comment on this without some reference to the recent call for an across the board pardon for all criminal convictions relating to Suffragette activity. Surely when it comes to pardoning somebody the most pertinent questions to ask are 1) is what the person convicted of still illegal? and 2) are we still pretty damn sure they were guilty as charged? If the answer to both of those questions is yes then any suggestion of a pardon is off the table. I'm not disputing that some of the treatment of Suffragettes by police and prison officers could be filed under 'cruel and unusual' but 'campaigning for women's suffrage' was not illegal and nobody was convicted of that.

Meanwhile, over at Oxfam it seems a few of their number have given the phrase 'missionary work' a whole new meaning. It's always interesting to hear the puritanical hypocrisy of people who engage in vices of their own, be they drugs, gambling, sex or whatever else, preaching fire and brimstone about the behaviour of others and using the fact that they work for a 'charity' to hold them to a higher standard. Look, if there's one thing that this story demonstrates, it's that people who work for 'charities' (especially big corporate charities like Oxfam) are not 'saints' but a fair enough cross-section of society, most of them doing a job for money and spending that money as they see fit. the rest of us really. End conversation.

Or at least that conversation - I find it stunning that more has not been made of the ongoing phoney bone of contention regarding whether or not Oxfam should lose its State funding. The latest from the Ministry for Feeling Good about Yourself is something about no snap or rush decision, which is most unfortunate as it means that Oxfam will continue to receive nearly half of its 'donations' from the taxpayer as it does today. Now I'm sure that the lateral thinkers amongst us will recognise two key points, namely 1) an organisation that receives taxpayers' money is not a charity and 2) there must be a reason for government part-nationalising 'the third sector' in the way they have.

That reason, as far as I can see, is to neuter those charities while creating a new 'crony capitalist' class amongst their upper echelons, creaming off taxpayers' money while continuing to trouser the voluntary donations of well-meaning people who haven't clocked that outfits like Oxfam are basically now an arm of the State. A strong independent charity will criticise government, sometimes loudly and rather robustly, whether that's to tell it to do more or just get out of the way. They have a key role in our democracy, highlighting the issues that arise in the course of their work. In contrast, a charity that has been 'bought off' knows not to bite the hand that feeds them and acts accordingly.

This also puts the political bullshit Oxfam come out with in a whole new light. 

Checking the true 'charitable status' of any charity before you hand over your hard-earned to them might be a smart move. Just a suggestion, feel free to take it or leave it.

As promised I've kept that to less than 1,000 words so please feel free to suggest the topic of discussion on Friday. We could go into the mad world of non-binary, the minefield that is mental illness or you can hear my musings on the Monarchy.

Anyway, seeing as we mentioned the Suffragettes I'll leave you with a Mick Ronson-inspired David Bowie. Thanks for reading and see you next time.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Life and Times of Tories

Afternoon - good to see you all again.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that we have (at least nominally) a Conservative administration and not some 'government of national unity' as you might get at times of war or constitutional crisis. To paraphrase Tony Blair when New Labour were in opposition, Tories might be in office but could not be described as being 'in power' in the true sense. In many ways, Trezza and her dismal ensemble remind me of a caretaker manager in football, installed after the previous incumbent was sacked mid-season but knowing that their odds of getting the job permanently are precisely zero. Mayday's government has that very same 'temporary' feel to it and this is a symptom of its wider problems.

British Conservatives have two major difficulties - the first (and most important) is that in large swathes of the country they are something of a 'poison brand', an institution that millions would refuse to support and vote for even if they agreed with the entirety of the Tories' manifesto. Were they a private company they would have been closed down and re-launched under a different name circa 15 years ago for this reason, but such options do not exist in the political sphere. Their second substantive problem is that, regardless of whether they happen to be the government or opposition, this type of Conservative is culturally irrelevant and has been for some time.

Something we've tried to illustrate on these pages is where the real battle lines are within the current discourse - and it's clear that Tories of the Thatcher and Major mould fall completely outside the parameters of the ongoing conversation. For most of its existence, the Conservative Party was not a party of classical liberalism and a small state, in fact it usually took the 'managerial' form of being 'slightly to the right of the opposition', which is why I'm infuriated when people construe Cameron and now May as being 'right wing savages', based solely on the colour of the rosette. Useless, rudderless and ineffectual? Absolutely. Brutal, savage and inhumane? Get a grip.

Almost nobody wants a low-tax small state but then in the climate of 'ADHD politics' underpinned by a perpetual sense of disenchantment and popular desire for some form of state-driven radicalism, there is no great enthusiasm for a dull set of 'managers' either. This leaves the Tories boxed in and looking increasingly like a curiously sad bunch too busy starring in their own film to realise that everyone else has stopped watching. Getting the Brexit process to the end of its initial phase and basically 'not being Jeremy Corbyn' has given them a temporary reason to exist, but this is little more than life support and the passing of time simply illuminates their irrelevance.

Whatever you might think about Margaret Thatcher, it is beyond dispute that she and her key influencers shaped and moulded the discourse of the 1980s and into the following decade. Unfortunately, that same government was not merely divisive, but actively set out to be so by rewarding and punishing 'groups' within society based on their voting habits. Its shocking record of conflict with minorities and 'people of difference' on all levels, wrongly attributed to some sort of inherent bigotry, was actually politically motivated. For example, if gay people had overwhelmingly voted Conservative then there is no way on earth that Section 28 would have happened.

Everyone was 'one of us' or 'the enemy within' and in that sense Thatcher and her chums were 'Toddler Right' some 35 years before you first heard the term on these pages. In a liberal democracy which respects pluralism, there has to be some attempt made to govern in the interests of those who did not vote for you as well as those who did, whether that means toning down the rhetoric, embracing gradualism and/or making compromises. That the Tories of the 1980s in particular constantly antagonised, picked fights with and sought to punish their 'enemies' through the law and economic policy is the single biggest reason for their 'poison brand' status in much of the Uk.

While her shadow continues to hang over them, the destruction of the Conservative Party might well be Thatcher's ultimate legacy.

However, there is something else worth pondering:- where would we be had we taken the opportunity we had in the 2000s to finish the Tories off for good? This slide towards irrelevance did not occur in the span of fifteen minutes, but probably first became apparent during the dismal Hague/IDS years - in fact the only thing keeping them alive during that period was the distant prospect of returning to office, which they eventually did in 2010. Another couple of heavy election defeats and that would have been the end of their activists and significant donors. Replacing them with something fit for purpose and non-toxic would have been worth enduring 10-15 years of 'the other lot', surely?

My concern is that their inevitable death (a question of when and not if, seeing as its membership is literally dying) will see them replaced not with a broad church of small-state paleos and classical liberals, but a truly ghastly 'blood and soil' Toddler Right outfit. Think UKIP circa the 2015 election, but then given a two week course of steroids, a 'charismatic' new leader who makes Farage look like the Easter Bunny and the status of 'default right' party with all of the automatic media coverage this would entitle them to. Britain needs intelligent, imaginative and yet sensible conservatives to stop this very real prospect from happening in 10-15 years. The question is...where are they?

This is worth repeating over and over until it finally 'clicks' with enough of our readers - the madness of 'the other side' is not your issue as there was never any activism, money or votes for you to withdraw from that madness in the first place. In the two-horse race that invariably develops under a first past the post electoral system and adversarial parliament, the key question is whether the side you deem 'least worst' is fit for purpose (or close enough) and actually worth voting for. In the case of the Tories the answer has to be no, and the constant threat of 'the other lot getting in' simply serves as an ad infinitum roadblock to the sort of renewal that we all know is necessary.

We just have to be mindful that the possibility of them being replaced with something far worse also exists. 'Change for the sake of change' is an unnecessary throw of the dice.

Anyway, I might be back later today (or tomorrow) with a quick piece about the suffragettes. Short and sweet but pertinent given the media coverage of the last week or so.

Anyway, I'll leave you somewhat amusingly with the Riot Squad - catch you next time.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Telltale Signs of an Authoritarian

Evening - it's Saturday night, just hope everybody is alright for fighting.

One of the key subjects I cover on here is the ongoing battle (currently being lost) between libertarianism and authoritarians of both the Toddler Left and Toddler Right persuasion. It is important to understand that both, far from simply being political/philosophical ideas, are manifestations of wider mentalities, mindsets and ways of life. What follows is a short and sweet breakdown of the 'bill of materials' for that classic authoritarian mindset - if you notice an individual engaging in too much of this stuff then be sure to ration your contact with them as authoritarianism is indiscriminate and, by its very definition, no respecter of your individual wishes.

So...let's crack on with it as I have a radio show to catch in less than two hours. Here are some of the telltale signs that will confirm you're dealing with an authoritarian arsehole. Eyes wide open.

Obsession with rules/authority - authoritarianism is about rules, it is about ruthless and unquestioning obedience. More than anything it is about authority that should not and indeed cannot be challenged at any time, for any reason. Anyone asking 'why?' is a dangerous maverick for whom the course of action is 1) re-educate and 2) if that fails, exterminate - you've been warned. Look out for someone who changes their mind several times over in perfect synchronicity with 'the leader' changing theirs. Speaking of which...

Seek messiahs/great leaders (or indeed believe that they might be one) - subservience by its very nature requires somebody to be subservient to. Authoritarians worship 'strong leaders' (known as demagogues or dictators to the rest of us) and place them on the same altar as the divine. Indeed the authoritarian worldview is a 'religion substitute' to many who subscribe to it. If you see someone who identifies ostensibly as atheist but preaches their political values with quasi-religious zealor then this is exactly what I'm talking about. For your own well-being, run like hell.

Logical inconsistency - typically an authoritarian will claim his or her own rights and fight for their continued preservation. It's the rights of other people that are dispensible in the name of some contrived 'greater good' and not theirs (authoritarians typically support capital punishment as a result of this formulation). For reasons that we'll go into later, authoritarians are breathtakingly inconsistent on the 'logical' level, all dependant upon which 'group' in society you're dealing with. Individualists (who of course don't deal in groups at all) tend not to have this problem.

Advocate group rights - those of us possessed of a functioning brain are aware that groups cannot and therefore do not have rights. However, Toddler Left authoritarians believe in 'group rights' based on historical oppression whereas their Toddler Right equivalent advocate collective rights based on race, where you were born or simply being in the majority (see tyranny of the majority, aka mob rule). This means society descends into a battle between 'groups' bitching at each other, competing for what they see as scarce resources, validation and control of the narrative.

Preoccupation with the past - often as a way of justifying the actions of the present. Toddler Leftists will invariably point to some act of oppression from four score and ten years ago, using the strapline "we cannot let this happen again" to justify their latest draconian measure. The Toddler Right typically believe in a golden age that only existed in their own heads, an era in which everything was so much better and the nation possessed a sort of collectivised 'glory' that it has since lost (see 'Make America Great Again' or 'Take Back Control'). Both are quite literally backward.

Nosy, judgemental, have a poor grasp (or none) of where their opinion of something is (or at least should) be of no value - very much a 'real life litmus test' which authoritarians fail. People may have opinions on the choices or lives of others, but the sane amongst us temper that with a recognition that these are their choices to make, that our point of view should (and hopefully does) count for precisely nothing. Authoritarians are typically nosy, want to know intimate details that are none of their business and gossip relentlessly in 'real life'. They also fail to respect the right of others to view the world differently to them, frequently using 'changing social attitudes' as a paper thin smokescreen for the policing of thought they don't agree with.

Everything is black and white, right or wrong - the presence of 'grey area', nuance or context is never acceptable to an authoritarian, whose palette has precisely two colours within it. We'll go into the detailed reasons for this very shortly.

Divide the world into 'sides' that are for or against - society is in a constant state of warfare when viewed through the authoritarian lens. They demand to know whose side everyone is on, including you and me, while holding no more regard to those of 'no side' than they have for those stood hurling bottles from across the proverbial road. They are Winston Churchill circa 1939 and everyone who disagrees with them is Hitler (see how often 'the Hitler insult' is wheeled out by authoritarians to shut down argument). This ridiculous analogy has also been used on many occasions to hoodwink well-meaning but gullible people into supporting our latest foreign invasion. It's true enough that one lesson from history is that we never learn the lessons of history.

Have designated 'favourite groups' who can do no wrong - the authoritarian lens is not set towards objective reality, but views events through the prism of oppressors vs oppressed and good guys vs bad guys. Toddler Left authoritarians will not hear a critical word spoken of any individual belonging to one of their 'historically oppressed groups' while the Toddler Right reserve special treatment for majorities based on race and/or nationality. This inability to see 'their own' as capable of wrong drives the logical inconsistency described earlier.

Have designated 'scapegoats' on the same basis - the Toddler Left's 'good guys' are the Toddler Right's 'bad guys' and vice versa. Nobody is an individual, everybody belongs to a 'group' and that 'group' has its place on the hierarchy. If you're in a designated 'bad group' then redemption is possible in the eyes of the authoritarian, but only on the basis of perpetual shame around gender, race, class etc. 

Support 'free speech' which is actually 'licensed speech' - and guess who decides which of us can and cannot have a license? We are all familiar with the political correctness of the Toddler Left, with its microaggressions, misuse of the word 'violence' to describe challenge or criticism and obsession with 'Hate Speech'. The Toddler Right state that they oppose this, but are actually intent on creating and imposing their own version on the rest of society. Neither support genuine free speech which is especially for the offensive, and people who disagree with them. No other form of free speech is worth fighting for or bothering with, surely?

Preoccupied/obsessed with violence and/or sex - just an observation. Socially conservative authoritarians are particularly bad for this.

Are possessed of 'common sense' and live in the 'real world' - what this typically means is that authoritarians have come to their wordlview 'in the moment', rather than distancing themselves from the emotion of their own situation and taking an abstract/birds eye view of things. Authoritarians are typically suspicious of philosophy, the pursuit of an objective truth and answering hypothetical questions (which are a fantastic example of how abstraction gets you further than talking about a 'real life' scenario you have an emotional stake in). Part of this is because they regard their issues not just as important, but altogether more important than everybody else's.

Are generally deadbeats/losers - people usually come to worldviews from which they benefit personally, then do the rationalisation later. In the case of authoritarians, collectivism gives them the chance to claim resources or 'glory' based on 'group membership' that they know they could never get near in 'real life' solely on the individual level. Most entrepreneurs, for example, are broadly libertarian in outlook and reject collectivism as the envy-driven bullshit that it is.

Typically hypocrites who live by a double standard - people very rarely live their own lives in absolute accordance with their stated worldview, but in the case of authoritarians this would effectively mean living a highly unnatural and austere existence. Speaking of which, evangelical preachers in the Bible belt are a particularly humorous example of this, banging out a socially conservative message while enriching themselves at the congregation's expense and filling more holes than a JCB in their own personal lives. See also the scores of Tory MPs caught up in scandals during the 'Back to Basics' campaign of the 1990s.

Might be libertarian on individual issues for cynical/self-interest reasons - i.e. an authoritarian who takes drugs might support drug legalisation, but this is basically meaningless.

Will deny they are authoritarian until they are blue in the face - funnily enough, authoritarians reject the label in a way that is the polar opposite of libertarians' enthusiastic acceptance of the diametrically opposing one. The paradox is that although when push comes to shove 'most people' are authoritarian to some extent, this is absolutely not how the majority of those same individuals perceive themselves and/or wish to be perceived by others. Everybody is for 'freedom' and 'empowering people' in rhetorical terms, but these concepts can and do exist solely on the individual level. The second somebody advocates 'collectivised' or 'group' forms of freedom or liberty then you know what you're dealing with. And it's about as pretty as scabies.

I hope this serves as a useful rough guide, although by all means feel free to add anything you think I may have missed in the comments.

On a brighter note, let's have some music for those of us who deal in, see and speak sense.

See you tomorrow and thanks once again for reading.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Phoney Bones of Contention - it's...Questionable Time

Evening - first up thanks to Richard D Hall for inspiring the title of this.

A few years ago I used to spend the early part of most Thursday evenings having a few looseners with a work colleague of mine. As it got to about 10pm I'd make a statement to the effect of "four pints is plenty on a schoolnight and besides which, I'd best get home for Question Time". It became a running joke between the two of us, his wisecracks on the subject reaching their zenith when he speculated that I had a picture of 'my hero' David Dimbleby on my bedroom wall. For the record I stopped having 'heroes' in the true sense at some point in my late 20s and will speculate that no such poster exists. If I'm wrong then the owners of this poster have my deepest sympathy.

Question Time is packaged to the viewer as a sober, serious and high brow political discussion programme which seeks to explore 'issues of the day' and, through a wide range of opinions on the panel, present the various angles, perspective and points of view from which an answer to that question can be approached,  while hopefully touching upon some of the nuances and 'grey areas' along the way. Audience participation and the presence of journalists, authors, actors, musicians or comedians on the panel give the show an 'everyman' feel, presenting it as a live and dangerous form of real pluralism, a 'democracy in action' sort of thing.

Regular viewers will be familiar with the format but just in case you aren't:- a member of the audience (which is supposed to represent 'the general public') asks a question relating to something that has been in the news that week, be it Brexit, something to do with the health service, a political scandal or whatever. The (usually five) panelists then take it in turns to wax lyrical on the subject, sometimes with them interrupting and arguing with each other. This is interspersed with comments from 'the public', with Dimblebore sometimes asking specifically for contributions 'for' or 'against' the motion if the collective response is becoming somewhat one-sided.

Now I used to watch this show with some regularity, but not because I find it interesting or come away from it with a greater understanding of any issue than I had previously. Seeing strong and independent-minded good panelists are as rare as rocking horse shit, the useful function of Question Time is to tell us what our lords and masters have decreed we should all be talking about, as well as how apparently intelligent, sensible and reasonable 'mainstream people' are tackling these issues. It's worth asking whether Question Time is genuinely the sort of open and informative piece of broadcasting it pertains to be, or something altogether more limiting and dull.

The first thing to consider is that the audience for the show is not a cross-section of the public at all but a highly stratified, deliberately filtered crowd consisting overwhelmingly as it does of political activists and card-carrying party members. Anyone who has ever been a member of a political party will know that as a general rule, 'politically active' people approach most questions from a completely different starting point and use a lexicon that would be unrecognisable to someone like you chewing the fat with someone like me over a beer. The 'informed apolitical' are typically dangerous mavericks, and the BBC's application process for the show deliberately flushes them out.

But leaving that aside, once the question has been chipped up what follows is a sort of intellectual free-for all, with nothing off limits in the couldron of ideas, right? Er...hardly. In reality two rather predictable and bland 'sides' emerge on a 'by numbers' basis, with it typically being 3-2 or occasionally 4-1 on the panel in favour of one 'side' or the other. As a result, panelists regularly repeat or spend copious amounts of time agreeing with each other, with the audience being no better and very frequently even worse. A typical QT 'discussion' that lasts 20 minutes could very easily be nailed in about one tenth of that time with precisely zero value lost.

While this appeals to the 'Punch and Judy' element that many viewers tune in for, this format is by nature highly restrictive on any sort of intellectual level. The show sets a) the questions we are all 'supposed' to be interested in the answers to, b) the sides/arguments in relation to those questions and c) the parameters within which discussion is allowed to take place. Dimblebore might ask for an 'upper' or 'downer' from the audience but have you ever heard him request the thoughts of someone who disagrees with the premise of the question, thinks the whole thing is a phoney bone of contention or that both 'sides' are wrong in their own way? Of course not - that would be dangerous.

Wondering what the hell I'm on about? Let me give you two really good examples, namely LGBT 'issues' and drugs.

The parameters of the LGBT 'debate' have prohibited the expression of any view that might be construed as homophobic for many years now, so the 'anti' view typically takes the form of promoting something else in its place, namely male-female marriage with a view to raising 'stable families' and 'traditional values' as a foundation of society - you know the drill. Equally the 'diversity' side of the argument is not exactly a googly either with its appeals for new laws against homophobic 'hate crimes', some new 'right' that probably isn't a civil right at all, the championing of LGBT in 'competing rights issues' and a desire to 'change social attitudes', by force if necessary.

Now anybody possessed of an independent and functioning brain can surely dismiss this as a phoney bone of contention. The long and short of the issue is that it's no business of the State which consenting adults are going out with, marrying or having sex with each other, nor is it a legitimate function of the State to 'manage' the reaction of person C to the lifestyle choices, marriage, civil partnership or whatever of Person A and Person B (if that reaction crosses the line into violence, incitement to or threats of then this has always been illegal). Both 'sides' on this feed a highly disempowering notion that without the approval of others for our choices, we are basically nothing.

With the drugs question, the two current 'sides' can best be summed up in a word as criminalise and medicalise. The 'criminalise' side are effectively the real life manifestation of Mr Mackey from South Park, constantly reminding us all that "drugs are bad m'kay?". Meanwhile the current mainstream ostensibly pro-drugs stance is to regard all drugtakers as 'poor addicts' and their vice as a 'medical issue', for which potential treatments might include 'shooting galleries' at which the 'addicts' would be given subsidised heroin on demand. I can see it now - the National Smack Service, free at the point of use, based on need and not your ability to pay. Beveridge would be proud.

And the voice of sanity? Look, I couldn't care less which mind-altering drugs you take and am also aware that the overwhelming majority of drug users do not become addicted, dependent or anything resembling either. They aren't 'ill' by any stretch of the imagination and people suggesting otherwise should knock it off. While anyone should be free to get mashed however they want, they are also individually responsible for not committing crime to procure drugs or while on drugs (criminalisers often conflate drugtaking itself with crimes committed to raise funds or while under the influence). By this reasoning "I'm a poor addict" or "because I got high" will not be accepted as an excuse.

And...who on Questionable Time have you ever heard pushing that rational argument?

One of the reasons I started listening to rather than watching the show was because I got tired of screaming at the television upon realising that yet again both 'sides' were full of it. Whether it's just lazy 'television by numbers' or a more sinister form of brainwashing, there's an overt stroking of the ego allied to a subtle numbing of the mind, the invitation to the viewer of this 'high brow' stuff to believe themselves more well-informed than the average punter while passing tired conventional wisdom off as genuine insight. Opinions outside this 'safe range' presented by the mainstream can then be dismissed as mad, bad and dangerous with a smug, warm and all-knowing glow.

There is a place for the exploration of serious issues amongst all of us (certainly beyond the realm of the political establishment), but something as limited and limiting as Question Time has surely outlived its usefulness, assuming it ever had any at all. Funnily enough I was recently watching some old episodes of 'After Dark', a late night discussion programme on Channel 4 in the late 1980s and early 1990s. 'After Dark' comprised mainly of journalists and people from the public eye but was an open house with nothing off limits, no 'set arguments' and no 'upper' and 'downer' sides - hell, it didn't even have a specified time limit and went into some real depth about serious issues.

Unsurprisingly it was canned - but I would welcome something like that back in a heartbeat.

Anyway, feel free to use the above as a rough guide in your navigation of tomorrow's Question Time - just try not to get too excited if you can avoid it.

I'm off to apply to be in the audience (under an assumed name, naturally) so I'll leave you with some music and catch you next time - thanks for reading.