Friday, 31 January 2014

Three cheers for pluralism!

Right-wing libertarians glibly argue in favour of pluralism and are against all forms of censorship. The main reason they take this cause is that they prefer 'small' governments. A government which regulates the media is perceived to be intrepid. A government which regulates the market is considered to be worse still. The main reason they align themselves with these causes is that they want all types of business to flourish. They want to advance their own nefarious interests.

It is a shame that the idea of pluralism and free press has been appropriated by this political ideology. More than anything, it is a classical liberal idea advocated by John Stuart Mill. Mill envisioned a pluralist media where all voices, from the most radical to the most conservative, were voiced. There are some problems with this, though, as I will later divulge.

Like many people from the right-wing libertarian faction, I am somewhat annoyed by 'insensitivity.' I still think that all material should have its place in the media. If a certain article 'offends' a certain minority, I still do not think it is just to remove it. If it is a facile attack, then in a truly pluralist society it will be criticised by other more moderate voices in the media.

Recently, a far-right islamist was banned from appearing on television. But, if you think about it more closely, he is the beneficiary. When Nick Griffin appeared on Question Time, there was mass furore. Once he appeared in the programme, he expressed his asinine views and made a complete tit of himself. As a result, he lost his political influence and the BNP has been superseded by other far-right fringe parties. If these bigots are given air time, people can look at them objectively and they lose their political prominence.

The one 'problem' with the society Mill envisioned is that pluralist societies can allow fascism to gain political currency. After the unification of Italy in the late 19th century, there was an initiative called 'Risourgimento' wherein all voices, from zionism to socialism to fascism, were given equal power. As there were no restrictions as to what fascism could say or do, with effective propaganda it swayed millions. (Similarly, the Weimar republic in 1920s Germany was also quite enlightened.) Although pluralism can create the conditions for fascism takeover, once fascism governs it is the polar opposite of what pluralism advocates. It bans and censors. Public discourse only peddles fascist ideology.

The main incentive for pluralism is that a discourse is created wherein everyone can express their point of view. The more division, generally, the better. There should also be room for dissent.  A discourse which is too homogeneous will not be an interesting one.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Political contingencies

Everything is political. Everything is infused by politics. Any decision is a political decision since you are making a decisions which has major or minor outcomes on society. The frequent refrains 'No-one is interested in politics' and 'All the parties are the same' signify a growing disenchantment with the political system. This disenchantment leads people to avoid political media at all costs. They are 'indifferent.' (Both of which are political positions.) If the political and cultural landscape are deemed to be staid, then one ought to try and create a kind of public discourse which, in some way, ameliorates this staidness. Blogs, for us amateurs, are at our disposal to do this.

All events have causes. What led me to write this blog post? Numerous neurons fired around my brain. (It so transpires that cognitive science believes there is no 'self' and that we are comprised of several individual components. But enough on that!) What cause the neurons to fire? Empirical observation. I see phenomena unfold before my eyes which leads me to take certain stances. Following this decision-making, I hastily knock off a blog post. (A blog post which has a limited readership, true. My attempts at changing 'political and cultural' discourse are largely made in vain.)

If all events have causes, this means that the levellers of power - politicians and, maybe more so, bankers - have the greatest causal influence. Since they are capable of bringing about reforms which have a tremendous impact on the rest of society, this means that a leveller of power has a greater causal influence than my local post man in Dronfield. Granted, this post man may well have a greater causal influence than I do. Whereas he delivers the post to several houses of this town in Derbyshire, I generally do useless things. I try to alter the politcal/cultural discourse with this blog, but largely fail. I write stories which hardly anyone reads. I write essays for uni, the grades of which are contingent upon my eventual degree. (And who, apart from me, really cares about that?) Without the post service, and certainly without the post man, no-one in Dronfield would receive their post. But the earnest efforts of the post man are nothing compared to the efforts of the prime minister. He successfully passes a few welfare reforms through parliament and - bam! - thousands of people are jobless.

Political legislature also shapes our essence. It shapes our state of being. If the government has made someone redundant through one of several austerity cuts, then the whole complexion of that person's emotional life changes. His predisposition changes. He might suffer nightmares. Perhaps he might commit suicide. (There have been several following the austerity measures in Europe.)

If we care about our well-being, then altering possible political contingencies can have a say. Public discourse does, to some extent, shape legislation. Sometimes a politician might pass an idiotic reform because it is populist. But if we do create a different kind of discourse, then this might have a (albeit limited) impact on the house of parliament. Political decisions are partly contingent on what we do.

Yet I have come to the conclusion that you have to play the game to some extent. There is a capitalist system. True, it is inequitable. The only solution, to me, is to make it more equitable. This can be done through regulation, market intervention and the nationalisation of several sectors. If we propose different models, we might find ourselves mired with the same problems. But, don't forget, the political landscape is contingent both what you do to change it and what it does to change your own emotional well-being.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Saturday, 11 January 2014

That's revolting!

'Everything human is pathetic. The ultimate source of humour itself is not joy, but sorrow. There is no humour in heaven.' - Mark Twain

Certain subjects are so taboo that they do not seem fit subject for humour. Jibes at minorities, sweeping generalisations and jokes on sensitive topics are deemed imprudent. This is true to some extent, as long as it is treated with irony. Bawdy jokes about gays, rape, race are a crass way to get laughs. It is what Germans call shaudenfraud. a way of laughing at other people's misfortunes. When Bernard Manning makes jokes about 'Pakis' we do not laugh because it is meant literally and conforms to stereotypes.

 However, when you make a joke in the vein of Manning with undertones of irony, it becomes funny. You are not laughing at the victims of such tirades, you are laughing at the type of people who make those jokes in the first place.

For instance, the Peter Cook/Dudley Moore duo Derek & Clive, at its best, is thunderously funny. There are the kind of diatribes you might here at a pub in the heartlands of England. The word 'cunt' is used as punctuation. There are the kind of absurd claims drunken men make ('the worst job I ever had...'). We laugh when a man hits the deck and breaks his fucking neck, when Clive kills a thousand Jews in Golders Green after seeing Nazis on TV, why people don't 'label' things. One laughs, although one may not think one ought to. A laugh is largely involuntary. I still think that D & C is playing around with these type of stereotypes. It turns Bernard Manning on its head.



Likewise, in Mel Brooks' iconic film The Producers we get a musical skit called 'Springtime for Hitler.' Whilst some may think that the horrors of the Third Reich are too sensitive to even be lampooned, once more it is hilarious. A rag-tag of ideas, rather than a coherent ideology, it is revealed for all its silliness. Nazism is demeaned through laughter. Satire attacks fascism with laughter and consigns its subject to ignominy.

Pathos is also funny. Acute suffering - such as a terminal illness - is never funny. Though a more moderate type of pathos, such as falling over, is funny. The subject is clumsy and buffoonish; he elicits laughter. Laughing at this type of minor misfortune can be mean-spirited, but it diminishes staid moroseness. No-one wants to live in a portentous world where everything is taken at face value.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Rare & Racy


Rare & Racy is the ultimate book shop. When I found about its existence back in 2006, I was flabbergasted that such a shop existed in Sheffield. It is adorned with photographs of jazz greats, sells all kinds of literature, social study books, history books, mint viynls etc. etc. It is a cornucopia of delights.

I wandered through there when I was a dreamy teenager and still a frequent customer to this day. I can spend hours there. The architecture of the place is homely. They play strange ambient records, which creates an eerie ambiance. When I first stumbled across it, I was thrilled to find that they stocked John Zorn/Tzadik CDs as no other place in Sheffield did. Even as my tastes have broadened, I still always find something to my liking there.

At first the people who ran the place were somewhat aloof and grumpy. Now they welcome me with smiles! It opened in 1969 - before the sign was a little more on the psychedelic side - and it always reeks of weed.

Sadly, it is closing down soon. The property is been bought and they can't afford to relocate. In an age when everyone shops online through the tax-dodger monolith Amazon, when the written word is becoming digitised and when corporate business outsell local outlets, it makes no sense for this treasure trove to continue to exist. It is a crying shame. I will always remember this place and the innumerable pleasures it brought to me. As my book and viynl collections attest, I am indebted to it.