De omnibus dubitandum
13 Nov 2013
It’s hard to overstate the profound ignorance of the tabloid-reading masses that are responsible for this exceptionally misguided expression of putrid hatred. Unfortunately it’s endemic of a growing trend in the UK to worship everything military and to uncritically accord the armed forces with heaps of respect.
I believe that’s a dangerous cultural phenomenon. The military is not something any country should take a great deal of pride in. A nation’s ability to kill and destroy is not something to boast about. At best, a country should view its military as a necessary evil, something that is an unpalatable requirement for engaging in international affairs.
A country that worships its military is a country that often shows little restraint in flexing that military muscle. In fact, the more a country praises its armed forces, the more likely it is to use those armed forces in the pursuit of their own economical and political goals. That used to be something solely associated with so-called ‘banana republics’, but since the 1950s it’s actually been a staple of western Realpolitik.
Here in the UK, the military is worshipped on a level that borders on a fascist ideology. Even people who are nominal pacifists say that soldiers deserve respect, and that on Remembrance Day we should honour those fallen in service of their country, regardless of the reasons for the war they died in.
I vehemently disagree with that. I do not believe we should separate soldiers’ deaths from the reasons they fought and died.
In fact, I believe we should closely scrutinise exactly why these soldiers were sent in to battle, and pay a great deal of attention to the reasons that are given for that.
Because when we do that, when we analyse exactly why we send armed troops to countries halfway across the planet, we quickly realise that the vast majority of soldiers who’ve died since the end of World War II died for no good reason at all other than to serve the interests of corporate profits and imperialist politics.
If Remembrance Day was purely about commemorating those who died in the first and second world wars, then I’d be perfectly fine with it. But that’s no longer the case. Instead Remembrance Day – and, by virtue of being its symbol, the poppy – has become about commemorating and idealising all soldiers who have died in all modern conflicts.
And that is nothing to solemnly commemorate. In fact, that’s something to get infuriated by. Countless thousands of lives lost because of political egos, corporate oil profits, and international trade rights. And that’s just counting the UK military – civilian casualties are orders of magnitude higher.
‘Defending democracy’ had fuck all to do with most of the wars fought since 1945 – it was nearly all greed and political face-saving.
Those are piss-poor reasons to send young men to their deaths. In fact, any life lost in the pursuit of those sinister goals should come with a powerful backlash against the corporate & political forces that caused it.
But that backlash is entirely absent, of course. Instead the UK population has bought in wholesale to the pro-military hype peddled by the politicians and eagerly supported by a cynical profit-chasing media, to such an extent that even an expression of neutrality – such as not wearing a poppy – is met with outpourings of hatred and bigotry.
That is profoundly sad, and deeply disturbing.
22 Jul 2013
News broke today that the UK government wants to force all internet service providers to block pornography by default, forcing users to ‘opt-in’ before they can visit sites that are deemed to contain pornographic content.
This utterly deranged policy has a great many problems associated with it. I’ll list a few:
First and foremost, in describing this new policy PM David Cameron commits the grave and unforgivable error of conflating porn with images of child abuse. This is probably a deliberate and highly cynical move – a common political sleight of hand known as “think of the children” – intended to position the porn-blockade as somehow being aimed against child porn.
This is of course utterly farcical. Child porn is already highly illegal and actively blocked and deleted whenever it is found. There’s no need to introduce another law or policy to fight it. On top of that, most of the sharing of child porn imagery happens in the ‘dark net’; usenet groups, private forums, peer-to-peer services, all of which are beyond the scope of ISPs to identify and block, and whose users are technologically savvy enough to make a mockery of any attempt at blocking.
Second, a nationwide blockade of porn would depend on a self-selected group of politically motivated civil servants to decide what is pornography and what is not. As we have already learned, what one person calls artful erotic imagery, another person would classify as hardcore porn. It’s hardly a clearly defined category.
As a result, a porn blockade will leave a lot of forms of art and personal expression on the wrong side of the filter.
Third, at its root this is simply an attempt to censor the internet. Censorship is anathema to free expression, and free expression is the essential foundation of an open and inclusive democratic society.
In light of the highly questionable recent conduct of the UK government and its various agencies, it’s very easy to imagine this porn blockade to be expanded to other forms of content the government finds ‘objectionable’, and to create a list of all people who have decided to opt out of the blockade for ‘intelligence gathering purposes’.
Fourth, such a blockade is easily interpreted as a method to absolve parents from their responsibility to educate their children about safe internet usage.
This is not a good thing. Parents should talk to their children about the good things and bad things to be found online, and parents can very easily install all kinds of content filters – on their computers as well as enabled via their ISPs – to prevent their children from viewing porn, if they so wish.
That is what parents should be doing (there’s literally no excuse not to), and it sure as hell is not the government’s job to step in where parenting skills fail.
Fifth, David Cameron is showing staggering amounts of hypocrisy by wanting this blunt force porn filter, but not acting against the blatantly sexist Page 3 phenomenon. This truly reveals the porn block for the mind-bogglingly cynical point-scoring move that it is.
By not acting against Page 3, Cameron shows he genuinely doesn’t care about the objectification of women and sexist attitudes in his country, and simply wants to appease The Sun so it’ll say nice things about him.
By acting in favour of the Daily Mail’s anti-porn crusade (itself an endeavour of truly epic levels of hypocrisy) Cameron shows that he is eager to pander to a misguided foaming-at-the-mouth rant from the newspaper so it’ll write in favour of him.
In short, Cameron cares only about votes. When it comes to genuinely helping fight sexist attitudes, his ‘fucks given’ meter stands firmly at zero.
This is just a sampling of reasons that make this horrifically misguided porn filter a bad move. Truly, the UK is steam-rolling towards totalitarianism where any whiffs of freedom are rooted out and everything put in service of the capitalist superstate.
22 Oct 2012
It’s no secret that I’m a fierce defender of free speech, and that I resist any and all attempts at censorship.
Criticism in all its guises is, I believe, an absolutely vital aspect of a progressive modern society. And in a society that jails people for what they say, free speech is a particularly fragile right.
Fortunately this is not a fight waged by a small minority. In fact, free speech in the UK is a grave concern for many of us. Activists have started the Reform Section 5 campaign which presses for reform of section 5 of the Public Order Act.
This reform is highly necessary, because section 5 allows police to arrest people for “insulting words or behaviour”.
The fact that insults are punishable by law is laughably ridiculous and no country professing to be free should even remotely consider such a farcical law. But nonetheless there it is, in the UK law books. Which is why this law desperately needs to be changed.
Rowan Atkinson puts it rather well in this speech:
Free speech includes the freedom to insult. No one has the right to never be offended.
11 Sep 2012
Tomorrow’s parliament elections in the Netherlands will be the first Dutch national elections that I won’t have voted in since I became eligible to vote at age 18.
I used to be one of those shrill democracy-thumpers proclaiming that if you didn’t vote, you had no right to complain about politics. Arrogant with conviction, I figured that the Dutch multi-party system always gave someone the chance to vote for a political party they mostly agreed with, and that every citizen had a duty to exercise their democratic right.
So I’m slightly surprised at myself that in this case, I genuinely don’t think I should vote in these elections. And I’m trying to understand why I feel that way.
First of all, I don’t live in the Netherlands any more, and I have no intention of returning to my homeland any time soon as anything other than a temporary visitor. It’s not that I hated living in the Netherlands – quite the contrary, I loved my life there and the country has given me much.
It’s just that I don’t miss it. I miss my family and my friends – I miss them tremendously and I really should keep in touch with them much more often than I actually do – but I don’t miss the country. There are some rather unpalatable aspects of the Dutch national identity that have become much clearer now that I have the luxury of an external perspective. I won’t go in to specifics here – maybe at some stage I’ll write about it in a separate post – but suffice to say that I no longer wholeheartedly embrace my Dutchness.
Combined with the fact that I don’t have a significant personal stake in the outcomes of Dutch elections, and much of my reluctance to vote is explained.
Secondly, the direction the Dutch political debate is heading towards is one that I vehemently disagree with. In years past, it seemed that Dutch politics was more or less a rather stately affair. Politics wasn’t vicious, debates weren’t full of personal attacks, and parties were not personality cults.
None of that is true any more. And I think that’s a Very Bad Thing. The Americanisation of Dutch politics is, frankly, revolting. And worst of all, on the whole people think this is a commendable trend. ‘It makes politics more accessible‘, they say, ‘it encourages public participation‘.
It probably does, and that’s the problem. For public participation in politics to be commendable, it requires an informed public. A public that understands the issues and uses reason and empathy to guide its electoral decisions.
Unfortunately, the Dutch public is, on the whole, dreadfully misinformed. And that means that, as a people, the Dutch make horrendously bad decisions when it comes to electing politicians.
Additionally, I don’t think wild-eyed propagandists are necessarily the right type of people to govern the country. Foamy-mouthed critics are fine on the sidelines, but that’s where they should stay. You just shouldn’t give any real power to someone whose raison d’etre is finding the nastiest populist sentiments – racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia – and capitalising on them. That’s a recipe for national disaster.
As a counter-argument, I can think of one reason why I should vote in the Dutch elections: my family and friends live there, and I care a great deal about what happens to them. I want nothing but the best for them, and I should vote for a party whose policies I feel would benefit them most.
But, thanks to my indecisive musings, the election ballot is still sitting on my kitchen table, 30 hours before it should be at the international electoral offices in The Hague. Barring a very expedient (and expensive) FedEx courier, it’s simply going to be too late to be counted.
16 Apr 2012
I am increasingly convinced that I’m living in the wrong country. My current status as a resident of the United Kingdom means that I could potentially go to jail for nothing other than speaking my mind online.
Those who know me know that I tend to have very vocal opinions that are often expressed with an abundance of profanity. I rarely hold back, and I swear often and loudly.
Apparently that is enough to get me sent to jail, should the wrong person choose to take offence and make a case of it. That is not an exaggeration. There are abundant examples of people going to jail for nothing more than saying something rude on Twitter or Facebook. Some prominent examples:
Facecook riot sentences: Two men are sentences to four years(!) in prison for posting messages on Facebook calling for riots. As those riots never materialised, these two men are effectively jailed merely for saying something online.
Twitter Joke Trial: Paul Chambers is convicting for making a bad joke on Twitter.
Offensive tweets: Student Laim Stacey is jailed for 56 days for posting offensive tweets about a footballer.
Olly Cromwell: Blogger Olly Cromwell faces prison for indirectly insulting a councillor with the c-word on Twitter.
All these cases are examples of a growing – and very worrying – trend in the UK to criminalise people’s opinions. What you say online can and will be used against you. All it takes is for someone to take offence and get the litigation ball rolling, and before you know it you’re behind bars for merely speaking your mind.
I fiercely believe that no one has the right to never be offended. I believe that everyone should have the right to speak their mind, just as everyone else has the right to disagree and to reply with criticism, mockery, and ridicule.
So for someone like me this criminalisation of opinion is an almost unbearable state of affairs. The UK is simply not a free country. A nation where citizens cannot speak freely because they fear being jailed for what they say is nothing short of a fascist police state. There is no other conclusion possible.
10 Aug 2011
I want to write about the riots currently raging throughout many major UK cities, but my point of view on the matter is expressed much more clearly in the following opinion pieces:
The UK riots: the psychology of looting (The Guardian):
“Between these poles is a more pragmatic reading: this is what happens when people don’t have anything, when they have their noses constantly rubbed in stuff they can’t afford, and they have no reason ever to believe that they will be able to afford it. Hiller takes up this idea: “Consumer society relies on your ability to participate in it. So what we recognise as a consumer now was born out of shorter hours, higher wages and the availability of credit. If you’re dealing with a lot of people who don’t have the last two, that contract doesn’t work. They seem to be targeting the stores selling goods they would normally consume. So perhaps they’re rebelling against the system that denies its bounty to them because they can’t afford it.”"
Caring costs – but so do riots (The Independent):
“How, we ask, could they attack their own community with such disregard? But the young people would reply “easily”, because they feel they don’t actually belong to the community. Community, they would say, has nothing to offer them. Instead, for years they have experienced themselves cut adrift from civil society’s legitimate structures. Society relies on collaborative behaviour; individuals are held accountable because belonging brings personal benefit. Fear or shame of being alienated keeps most of us pro-social.”
London riots: the underclass lashes out (The Telegraph):
“This is not a gospel of determinism, for poverty does not ordain lawlessness. Nor, however, is it sufficient to heap contempt on the rioters as if they are a pariah caste. One of the most tragic aspects of London’s meltdowns is that we need this ruined generation if Britain is ever to feel prosperous and safe again. If there are no jobs for today’s malcontents and no means to exploit their skills, then the UK is in graver trouble than it thinks.”
13 Apr 2011
Since a few weeks I’ve been helping the Belfast City Airport Watch organisation with their online stuff – updating their website, posting on Facebook, doing some tweets, and sending out the odd email now and again.
I signed up for this because I live very close to the Belfast City airport, and the noise pollution really is quite impressive.
It’s funny how when you don’t live near an airport, you are quick to judge people who complain about aircraft noise. “They shouldn’t have moved close to an airport then!” is an often heard rebuttal, as is the claim that these regional airports have enormous economic benefit and the comfort of a few residents in the area is a small price to pay.
I used to be one of those naysayers who dismissed people who complained about aircraft noise. But my perspective changed radically now that I’m personally submitted to noise pollution on a daily basis.
It’s hard for people who don’t live near airports to understand how incredibly overwhelming aircraft noise can be. For a few seconds when the plane passes over you have to stop your conversation, put down your drink, stop watching TV, and in the case of big jets even stop thinking for a wee while. The noise is more than just sound reaching your ears – you feel it in your bones and it scratches at your brain.
Unsurprisingly, noise pollution is actively harmful as a recent WHO study has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.
In the case of the Belfast City airport, their rebuttals can easily be, well, rebutted. As if the dangers of noise pollution wasn’t sufficient reason to lobby against expansion of the airport (what price do you put on the health and well-being of tens of thousands of local residents?), the economic value of the airport is limited. It employs only a handful of local residents, and with a perfectly fine larger International airport just a few miles outside Belfast (in a rural area where noise pollution is not an issue) flights and jobs can easily be moved without having a negative impact on the local economy.
And the people affected by the noise didn’t choose to live near a busy airport. The City airport has seen enormous expansion in recent years. When people first moved in to their homes in east Belfast and Holywood it was perfectly quiet. Not so now.
The first thing that struck me when I started helping out the Airport Watch residents association – which is a purely not-for-profit organisation run by volunteers – is that this is a dirty fight. The City airport has powerful backers and deploys sneaky tactics.
For example, from the moment the BCAW twitter account was launched, it was being harassed by ‘egg’ accounts – Twitter accounts without a proper avatar and thus showing only the default egg icon – who were protesting about what the BCAW tweeted, casting (baseless) doubt on facts tweeted by the BCAW, even going as far as tweeting blatant lies about the BCAW.
Also in the comments of articles on news sites like the Belfast Telegraph, certain commenters always applaud the City airport and criticise the BCAW every chance they get – using the same lies and distortions. It’s nothing short of a social media smear campaign, intended to make the BCAW look bad and cast the City airport as a saviour of the Northern Irish economy.
It is also all done in quite an amateurish fashion. Egg accounts on Twitter have no credibility, as they have no history and are easily recognised as the spammers they are. The comments on news sites are always posted under the same usernames, and they only comment on airport-related stories and always with the same anti-BCAW pro-City Airport message. They’re transparently obvious PR spinners with zero credibility. I even managed to retrace one account back to an actual City airport employee.
But despite this ineffectiveness, it does demonstrate that the City airport and its backers – lobbyists and politicians with fingers in relevant pies, no doubt – will and do play dirty. Truth is the first victim of any conflict, and this is no exception. The City airport is deliberately polluting the debate (pun intended) and using dirty propaganda tactics to oppose valid criticism.
And that’s pretty sad. The quality of life for tens of thousands of people is at stake, and the greedy money-grabbing capitalists behind the scenes of the City airport care only for their own continued enrichment. The welfare of people doesn’t matter, and every dirty trick is allowed to ensure that the rich get richer and the poor stay poor and uninformed.
This is not a surprise, of course. This is what capitalism does, this is how it operates. It’s a zero-sum game, with winners and losers.
But sometimes I wish that I wasn’t being confronted with such blatant evidence of moral bankruptcy and unbridled greed quite so often. Sometimes I wish people would just be nice to one another and stop polluting and abusing the world for their own temporary and ultimately fleeting gains.
I’m afraid that’ll always be just wishful thinking.