A Budding Love Affair With Anarchism

I must admit it, I am beginning to grow rather fond of Anarchism. I’ve always found myself having a fairly heightened dislike for authority – my father being a head master may have something to do with this – and the fact that the word anarchy is derived form the Greek word Anarkhia, meaning contrary to authority or without a ruler is all rather fitting.

Reading Emma Goldman’s Anarchism and Other Essays the last few days has left me feeling elated. I know I’m far behind the eight ball, but it’s like reading words from an old friend. One that knows and loves you. One that has seen you through those hard times and understands what it is you’re about. The one that possesses the eloquence and will power to put into powerfully simple words that which you have been unable, or even unwilling to. In the preface to the book she writes of the transient power of the spoken word and its inability to truly affect minds in the long run, and gives over to this notion;

“All claims of education notwithstanding, the pupil will accept only that which his mind craves. Already this truth is recognized by most modern educators in relation to the immature mind. I think it is equally true regarding the adult. Anarchists or revolutionists can no more be made than musicians. All that can be done is to plant the seeds of thought.”

Being an educator for several years now I have always known the above passage to be true and have been subject to it myself many times, yet I oddly enough persist in trying to show others a way. “Lead by example” they say, and they are right. But this doesn’t deter me from attempting to bend an ear or a heart in an attempt to influence; in an attempt to wake another from their slumber, in a sometimes desperate attempt to plant that seed.

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Image care of: autonomousactionradio.com/

This is just one reason why I’m admitting to a fledgling love affair. I’m only knee deep and If I were to count the ways I already feel fond of thee, this would be more than a mere post on a blog, it would be a lengthy book. The proponents of anarchy state openly that one of its soul purposes is to engage and lift the veil of ignorance that has fallen upon the masses. Openly acknowledging that each individual has the right to personal freedom. This freedom is not a tokenistic freedom, the likes of the free-market; freedom to buy, freedom to compete, yet still subservient to a binding and oppressive law, but the freedom to choose the course of ones life without hindrance of preordained or harshly fought economic and social positioning.

From all I have read in previous years, from the great educational emancipator Paulo Freire’s praxis of conscientisation, to Leo Tolstoy’s take on the dreariness of a privileged life lead by the character Ivan Illich, anarchy, for me, nods its head knowingly. To the real life philosopher Ivan Illich and his take on the deschooling of society, the convincing diatribes from the likes of Mohandas K Gandhi, Garry Leech, Ian Angus, David Suzuki and a thousand other brilliant restless minds not content with this lot, all coupled with a questioning spirit that has always disallowed me to be content with that which the dominant paradigm has served up, anarchism appears to fit very snuggly.

One should therefore bare in mind that they are entitled to a change of heart in future, myself included. Therefore if someone, anyone can show me where and why this mode of thinking cannot and should not be the answer in as convincing and beautiful prose as Kropotkin, Proudhon, Godwin and Bakunin, then I will gladly step down from my new found love and follow your noted lead. Until then:

ANARCHY

Ever reviled, ne’er understood,

Thou art the grisly terror of our age.

“Wreck of all order,” cry the multitude,

“Art thou, and war and murder’s endless rage.”

O, let them cry. To them that ne’er have striven

To them the world’s right meaning was not given.

They shall continue blind among the blind.

But thou, O word, so clear, so strong, so pure,

Thou sayest all which I for goal have taken.

I give thee to the future! Thine secure

When each at least unto himself shall waken.

Comes it in sunshine? In the tempest’s thrill?

I cannot tell – but it the earth shall see!

I am an Anarchist! Wherefore I will

Not rule, and also ruled I will not be!

John Henry Mackay

Review of Smells Like Human Spirit’s Edward Bernays pod Cast

I’ve always been a fan of audiobooks. I do of course prefer to read but if I’m busy with some form of manual labour, or am not in a position whereby holding a book is viable, then having an eloquent, easy-on-the-ear voice read you a book you’ve been gagging to read but haven’t had the time, is a pleasure to say the least.

Guy Evans of Smells Like Human Spirit does just this and more. He adds an in-depth explanation of Sigmund Freud’s nephew, ‘The father of PR’, Edward Bernays’ hugely influential book Propaganda. This is a book which, if you’re even remotely interested in beginning to comprehend how it is we’ve gotten ourselves into our current mess, is essential reading. Yet of course if you’re too busy to read, then Evans provides a well spoken reading with accompanying analysis between paragraphs to allow Bernays’ relevance and complexity to really sink in.

I had been made aware of Bernays via reading Noam Chomsky, who refers to him and his much lauded ideology/methodology of ‘engineering consent’ near on relentlessly. So I did a little study of my own and looked into some of the things that he directly and seemingly, quite proudly engineered. One of the first I came across was the fact that he converted many suffragettes to smoking through his use of clever branding, something the world is still reeling from. When I found the time, I ordered a copy of Propaganda from my local bookstore earlier this year and read it cover to cover in my spare time. To say the least it was revelatory.

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Edward Bernays – Propaganda

Knowing the context of what Bernays is writing and what it is his writings have come to validate would be like reading Mein Kampf during Nazi occupation of Europe. As I type this I realise this is a very heavy comparison, but as Evans notes in his detailed study of the book, it has been used to justify imperialism, and mass societal manipulation in general for close to a hundred years. The book is basically a ‘how-to’ guide to mass mind control.

If you think you’d like to know about Bernays without having to go and order yourself a book and read it cover to cover, or would like to know more about the engineering of consent among other things head to Smells Like Human Spirit and follow the links. Happy reading/listening. Though be warned, once you’ve entered this realm of understanding, it’s unlikely your paradigm will ever be the same.

 

Football & Staff Meetings

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I feel the gravel entrance crunch under my feet. I remember a scene from a Hollywood film my wife and I have watched enough to recite lines to each other at any given moment, “I think I step on fortune cookie”. A stymied chuckle passes through my nose. I open the foyer doors and nod a knowing nod to Karryn the receptionist and walk through to the staff room.

“Morning Papa bear!” Trumpets Wayne in his usual overbearing manner. A forced smile creeps onto my face. Jenny and Peter are both there too along with a handful of other faculty members. I receive a “Damien!” here and an acknowledging raising of the eyebrows there. I shuffle over to the walled cabinet with the bench underneath where they keep the instant coffee, the mugs, sugar and other bits provided by the faculty. I join the small line that’s formed. Opening the end cupboard, I reach in and take a hold of my cup with “No. 1 Dad” printed on it in garish cartoon colours that’s beginning to fade. As I move further down the bench the same old thought regarding the fact that I don’t actually like instant coffee all that much bounces into my mind. “It sticks to my teeth and often leaves an ache at the back of my throat by the end of the day. Why do I do it to myself? Force of habit I guess.” I add the highly processed white sugar to my cup and take a seat.

I sit through the meeting in the same way I always do, positioned comfortably in the grey and brown striped arm chair from nineteen-seventy-something at the end of the room. As always I’m sure to not fall right back into it as I need to look as if I genuinely care about what’s being said. I add the occasional quip to let it be known that I’m there and am listening. These events are becoming more and more like a challenge to see how many alternative thoughts I can entertain whilst still maintaining a professional facade.

My mind wanders from the goal I saw repeated umpteen times on our plasma screen last night. Not the greatest of goals. Quite sloppy really. I retrace the movements of the ball in the air, the camera angle is such that you can see the faces behind the ball of the people in the crowd. They’re blurred but they’re there. Are they all there to cheer on their favourite team? Or have some of them been dragged along by their old, new and prospective wives,girl friends, boy friends, friends in general? Do they understand that while they’re watching that game there’s an untold number of deeply moving and compelling things happening all over the world? Babies are being born, unjust wars are being fought on their watches, due to their vote. Why do we waste so much time impassioned by such fleeting trivialities? Don’t we realise that these games almost act as a distraction, like the Colosseum of old? Drink beer, lots of it, stay tuned, for as long as possible. Is that not what we’re all being told in one way or another? What was that quote from the book that Mrs. Thompson made us read when I was 17? Something about the Prols never attaining…

“Damien. What do you think?” I’d been caught out. Yes Damien what do you think? What I was just thinking no one would understand. What’s wrong with me?

“Ah, well, these things take time of course.” I slightly stuttered.

“So what do you suggest?” The deputy principle was probing as usual.

“I’m not wholly sure, I know Wayne usually has great ideas regarding these issues.”

“Yes, he does. But this is your specialisation. Do you want Wayne to step out of Workshop and take History?” Varying levels of laughter rippled around the room.

“No. I just… Give me the afternoon and I’ll come back to you on that one. Ok?”

“Sure Damien. Try and have your recommendations on my desk for this afternoon. Ok, so, moving on…”

Direct Action: A Beginners Note

Of late, in any spare time I have between work, being a father, a lover and a friend, I’ve been trying to hip myself to alternative futures. I began with a study of urbanisation and it’s effects on our daily existence and where we – as a collective mass – might likely head if we’re to get out of this mess. (I didn’t publish these findings, though I am now tempted to). I’ve been researching social and political theory in an attempt to, firstly gain a deeper understanding of how it is we got here, and to hopefully find an answer or at least a direction with which to take our/my contemporary woes with a view of lightening the load.

Within this search spanning about 5-6 months, I have of course stumbled upon numerous approaches, and have had to attempt a broad sweep so as to obtain a historical reference point, and be sure that I was on the right track. Some of my favourite potential futures relating to society and politics in general are, and have been Direct Action, Direct Democracy, Socialism and Anarchism. These are all very appealing to me, as I’m sure they are to many others. I would therefore like to begin a short referential directory for those also seeking similar outcomes and those wishing to ponder potential new/rehashed directions. As a small disclaimer; I see myself as a philosopher, so in light of new findings and sound reasoning against any of the above, below and future methodologies I may present I will gladly hear them out and allocate sufficient time to entertaining said alternatives.

So, with that in mind I will note that it’s very rare for me to take a large quote and post it to Paradigm Stretch. I will however as I feel it sheds some light on the direction I wish to take some of these blogs, as well as my own life and it may well help a few others in gaining a deeper understanding of a few of the principles of the systems and/or ideologies acknowledged above. Without further adieu, I’d like to refer you to a quote from Rob Sparrow’s Anarchist Politics and Direct Action, taken from David Graeber’s Direct Action: An Ethnography:

Direct Action aims to achieve our goals through our own activity rather than through the actions of others. It is about people taking power for them­ selves. In this, it is distinguished from most other forms of political action such as voting, lobbying, attempting to exert political pressure though industrial action or through the media. All of these activities… concede our power to existing institutions which work to prevent us from acting ourselves to change the status quo. Direct Action repudiates such acceptance of the existing order and suggests that we have both the right and the power to change the world. It demonstrates this by doing it. Examples of Direct Action include blockades, pickets, sabotage, squatting, tree spiking, lockouts, occupations, rolling strikes, slow downs, the revolutionary general strike. In the community it involves, amongst other things, establishing our own organizations such as food co-ops and community access radio and TV… Direct Action is not only a method of protest but also a way of “building the future now.” Any situation where people organize to extend control over their own circumstances without recourse to capital or state constitutes Direct Action … Where it succeeds, Direct Action shows that people can control their own lives-in effect, that an Anarchist society is possible.

The Age of The Masses

neoliberalism

Introduction

Within this short essay I endeavour to take a look at how our mottled political history has helped foster liberal democracy. It will be a study of some of the pitfalls, the criticisms as well as the potential strengths of what has come to be the dominant political ideology of our age, liberal democracy, and more broadly, the age of the masses.

The Pathology of the Mass
To understand how it is we got ourselves into our contemporary position we need to first delve into history to begin to comprehend the complex issues at hand (Ferguson, 2012). Governments within the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty first century have directly incorporated the masses. They have done so through the growth and application of the ideals of liberalism or more broadly the Enlightenment; that of all men being created equal, and the dominant concern being that of the liberty of the individual (Losurdo, 2011). The major ideals of liberalism grew so fervently over the course of the last century, due in large part to the global consequences of decolonisation, industrialisation, democratisation, urbanisation and universal suffrage, among other things (The Struggle Over Democracy, 2012). This growth and the marrying of the factors contributing to it lead to the point whereby the founding principles of liberalism were reinterpreted, or even misinterpreted and in turn transmogrified into a mishmash of distinguishable and not so easily defined political entities.

One of the notable functions of liberalism was that it proclaimed to see all humans as equal. This in itself can be seen as one of the primary determiners of the major forms of government throughout the twentieth century, as it gave most political thinkers the idea that a widening of the vote would inevitably benefit democracy and equality at large (Paxton, 1998, p. 2). This meant that if humans as a collective wished to create any far reaching change they could do so by acting together as a group (Hobbhouse 1911). Though to be truly effective it would need to be done with more precision and with a common understanding and a common object (Hobbhouse 1911). This however gave birth to the “accession of the masses” (Ortega y Gasset, 1964, para. 1), which saw the public rule. This became a major formative issue. The manner in which this became deleterious is best expressed by the highly influential French psychologist and sociologist Gustave Le Bon;

“However great or true an idea may have been to begin with, it is deprived of almost all of its greatness by the mere fact that it has come within the intellectual range of crowds and exerts and influence upon them” (1896, p. 37).

This observation by Le Bon goes a long way to explaining some of the political phenomena over the last one hundred years. Fascism being, as noted by Robert Paxton, “an authentic mass popular enthusiasm and not merely a clever manipulation of populist emotions” (1998, p. 3). Or more succinctly referred to by Furet as a “pathology of the national” (1999, p. 29). While communism, the pseudoscience which was converted into a pseudo-religion manifest in a rigid political regime (Pipes, 2001), is more a “pathology of the universal” (Furet, 1999, p. 29). After World War I, or The Great War, it became clear what could result from the national spirit (Furet, 1999), yet it appeared not to be wholly heeded as less that 20 years later the masses again came to dominate.

As is noted by Ortega y Gasset (1964) “The mass is the average man”, and when the masses come to rule the dominant ideology becomes that of the average man. This in turn often lays waste to any minority or divergent thinking, resulting in the amalgamation of individuals into a homogeneous mass (The Struggle Over Democracy, 2012). Whether it be in fascism, nationalism, communism or even modern liberal democracy this is where the validation of some of the philosophies of Walter Lippmann (1930) take root in regards to the inability of the masses to determine their own fate beneficially. This issue becomes particularly irksome when coupled with Foucault’s notion of panopticism (1991), and the application of the mode of propaganda espoused by Edward Bernays (1928) both which can be said to give explicit explanations of the implications of mass control.

Modern propaganda can be seen as an elaborate ritual used to forge a semblance of oneness among disparate people (Migdal, 2001). In this sense it is often seen as an integral part to any democratic society (Bernays, 1928), though as with any great power, when it falls into the wrong hands its effects can lead to an oppressive hegemony. Yet in liberal democracy it is the public which needs to be held responsible, if we can all cast a vote and are autonomous then we are all complicit, we cannot simply blame public relations. It is indeed deeper than that. It has been noted that, “the type of temperament belonging to the dominant ethnic element in any community, will go far to decide what will be the scope and form of expression of the communities habitual life process” (Veblen, 1899, pp. 66-67).

This creation of community is addressed by theoreticians Benedict Anderson and Partha Chatterjee (1993) who account the growth of mass media, education and more loosely propaganda as major tools with which nationalism and its particular ideals have been able to spread. Benedict Anderson’s hypothesis on print-capitalism accords nationalism with a “spontaneous distillation” and complex melding of distinct historical factors which create the “imagined community”. Once these factors had set in within a given society they had a tendency to become “modular”, or separate entities compounded by the use of a particular language, that of the home country. He even goes so far as to say that nationalism would be better understood if was to be associated more with the ideas of kinship and religion than with the prevailing ideas of liberalism or fascism (2006, pp.48-9).

The failings of fascism as represented in both Italy and Germany specifically, were seen in a new light following the end of World War II, with only Western liberal democracy and communism left standing as the major forms of governmental power in the Western hemisphere. Towards the end of the twentieth century the Soviet Union fell, for numerous reasons, including it’s unwillingness to adjust theory to experience (Pipes, 2001), and left the USA as the sole global power. This resulted in Francis Fukuyama’s now famous lecture proclaiming it to be “the end of history”, in the sense that now that communism had faltered there was to be no more dominant ideological clashes, and that Western liberal democracy would become the “final form of human government” (1989, p. 4). This final form of ideological evolution would set in motion an irreversible and irresistible globalization of our economy and our culture (Hardt & Negri, 2000). Which leads me to a succinct study of the pros and cons of liberal democracy and all that comes with it.

Liberal Democracy: The Cons
Liberalism, when it was first conceived was ridiculed for it’s hypocrisy, some critics noting that those who espoused the ideas of equality the loudest were often the ones who owned the most slaves (Losurdo, 2011). Today, under neo-liberalism, hypocrisy is still very much evident. Furet uses the term “the bourgeoisie” as a synonym for modern society, a society which he says, “produces inequality unceasingly” all the while proclaiming the ideals of equality and the notion that this equality is an “inalienable right of man” (1999, p. 6). This point is made quite comically by Slavoj Žižek, “Today the old joke about a rich man telling his servant ‘Throw out this destitute beggar-I’m so sensitive that I can’t stand seeing people suffer!’ is more appropriate than ever” (2002, p. 206).

Our modern democracy is often simply defined by the existence of some form of a representative system, yet one of the major draw backs is that it too mutates a little like other forms of mass populism due to the fact that it “tends towards democracy only in the extent that moves nearer to the power of anyone and everyone” (Ranciere, 2006, p. 72). Within this modern society the economy has a tendency to rule, as a system of barter or exchange (in this case capitalism) takes a hold; he who wields the most items, or money, finds themselves in the position of wielding the most power which gives birth to the manipulation of democracy by oligarchs (Ranciere, 2006). The oligarchs and financial institutions at large have been granted a privileged status within this global system and their influence has seen them tilt policies of many governments in their favour thereby becoming an obstruction to liberty and genuine equality (Underhill, et al, 2010).

One of the greatest concerns about liberal democracy as it is now implemented is that of an ecological nature. Within some of the more critical groups about today it has been said that money becomes all that counts within a misconstrued liberal democracy, one that has been lead astray by the promises of the free-market and the misapplication of the term freedom in general, which leads to a structural violence inherent in capitalism (Leech, 2012). This misinterpretation will sacrifice species, entire continents “who add too little to the great march of surplus value” (Kovel, 2007, p, 152), and that any system that permits and perpetuates such atrocities does not deserve to survive (Angus, 2008).

Less intense vitriol about the nature of our our modern system is poured on by Hayek, who notes that it is part of the economic liberal attitude of capitalism to assume market forces will self-regulate and will themselves bring about the desired changes needed to address inequality, “although no one can foretell how they will do this in a particular instance” (1978, p. 400). Others who draw our attention to the linkage between economy and liberalism suggest it is far more complex than modern democracy often affords it, and even go so far as to say that it is dangerous to assume that one will encourage the other (Ottaway, 2003). Yet there are elaborate studies which suggest that democracy itself does indeed bolster socioeconomic development, although it’s benefits are most felt within those countries higher on the OECD list, the ones that are literate, well fed and sheltered (Diamond, 1992). Which, sadly within our current climate immediately excludes about a sixth of the population or the “bottom billion” (Collier, 2008).

I think it appropriate to tie up the criticisms of our modern democratic state with a quote form one of, if not, the most famous critics of it, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guavera:

“In capitalist society individuals are controlled by a pitiless law usually beyond their comprehension. The alienated human specimen is tied to society as a whole by the invisible umbilical cord: the law of value. This law acts upon all aspects of one’s life, shaping its course and destiny” (1965).

On a Lighter Note
The advancement of liberal democracy has brought to the fore a myriad of issues, one of the more important may be those addressed by former Singaporian diplomat Kishore Mahbubani (2009). He notes that the West has a tendency to be Western-centric, or unaware of the impacts our deep-seated assumptions and decisions have on the world at large. American philosopher Martha Nussbaum notes that if we are to move forward in a positive and fruitful manner we need “global planning, global knowledge, and the recognition of a shared future” (1994, part III, para. 2). This idea of embracing global communication and interaction and seeing it as a positive can loosely be defined as cosmopolitanism, which is in many ways the up side to modern liberal democracy and globalisation.

Jurgen Habermas (2003), being the pragmatist that he is, laments that since the end of the World Wars advanced industrialist nations have not benefited our ecology, in fact their activities have worsened it. Yet Habermas has hope that if the liberal democracy espoused by the global North is to ever avoid the perpetuation of social and ecological pitfalls, a cosmopolitan approach is needed. If indeed we did implement liberal democracy universally and its documented goals were actually adhered to, it may bring about a world which is more in tune with what Nussbaum (1994) notes as a belief of the ancient Stoics. This belief ties in quite nicely with many of the modern concepts of cosmopolitanism, which was that we should not give our loyalty to a single government, or an earthly power, but “to the moral community made up by the humanity of all human beings” (1994, part II, para. 2).

It has been found that through organised effort, groups of ordinary citizens have been able to steer global authorities in a direction that is more accountable and transparent, sometimes bringing to the fore issues faced not just within the West but more specifically that of the Rest who often face exclusion and silencing (Scholte, 2011). If we can do this, get organised, communicate effectively, and influence the implementation of a form of international governance that is empathic, accountable, transparent and even altruistic in its scope, it is likely that the global atrocities encountered in the last century may not repeat in this one. In conclusion, may I use the words of the late great British economist E.F. Schumacher:

“our most important task is to get off our present collision course. And who is there to tackle such a task? I think every one of us, whether old or young, powerful or powerless, rich or poor, influential or uninfluential. To talk about the future is useful only if it leads to action now” (1973, pp. 8-9)

References

  • Anderson, B., 2006, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London, pp. 48-59.

  • Angus, I., 2008, “If Socialism Fails: The Spectre of 21st Century Barbarism”, in Socialist Voice, 27 July 2008.

  • Bernays, E., 1928, Propaganda, Ig Publishing, New York.

  • Chatterjee, P., 1993, “Chapter 1: Whose Imagined Community?” in The Nation and it’s Fragments:Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, Princeton University Press, Princeton, pp. 3-13.

  • Collier, P., 2008, The Bottom Billion: Why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it, Oxford University Press, Oxford & New York.

  • Diamond, L., 1992, “Economic development and Democracy Reconsidered” in American Behavioural Scientist, 35, 4/5, pp. 450-499.

  • Ferguson, N., 2012, The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die, Penguin Books, London.

  • Fukuyama, , F., 1989, “The End of History?” in The National Interest, Summer, 1989.

  • Furet, F., 1999, “Chapter 1: The Revolutionary Passion” in The Passing of an Illusion, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 1-33.

  • Habermas, J., 2003, “Toward a Cosmopolitan Europe”, in Journal of Democracy, 14.4, pp. 86-100.

  • Hardt, M., & Negri, A., 2000, “Preface” in Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. Pp, xi-xvii.

  • Hobbhouse, L.T., 1911, Liberalism, Williams & Northgate, London, [online], <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1911hobhouse.html> viewed 21st April 2014.

  • Kovel, J., 2007, The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or The End of The World?, Zed Books, London.

  • Le Bon, G., 1896, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, Batoche Books, Ontario, [online], <http://socserv2.socsci.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/lebon/Crowds.pdf> viewed April 11th 2014

  • Leech, G., 2012, Capitalism: A Structural Genocide, Zed Books, London & New York

  • Lippmann, W., 1930, “Chapter 1: The Unattainable Ideal”, in The Phantom Public, Macmillan, New York, pp. 22-39.

  • Losurdo, D., 2011, “Chapter 1: What is Liberalism?”, in Liberalism: A Counter-History, Verso, London & New York, pp. 1-34.

  • Mahbubani, K., 2009, “Part 2: The West and the Rest”, in Can Asians Think? Marshall Cavendish, Singapore, pp. 54-96.

  • Migdal, J. S., 2001, “Chapter 5: Why Do So Many States Stay Intact?” in State and Society:Studying How States and Societies Transform and Constitute One Another, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, pp. 135-169.

  • Ortega y Gasset, J., 1964, “Chapter 1: The Coming of the Masses”, in The Revolt of the Masses, W.W. Norton and Company, New York.

  • Ottaway, M., 2003, “The Challenge of Semi-Authoritarianism: An Introduction” in Democracy Challenged: The Rise of Semi-Authoritarianism, Carnegie Endowment For International Peace, Washington DC, pp. 3-27.

  • Paxton, R., 1998, “The Five Stages of Fascism”, in The Journal of Modern History, 70.1, pp, 1-23.

  • Pipes, R., 2001, Communism: A Brief History, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.

  • Ranciere, J., 2006, “Chapter 4: The Rationality of a Hatred” in Hatred of Liberal Democracy, Verso, London, pp. 71-97.

  • Scholte, J.A., 2011, “Introduction” in Building Global Democracy? Civicil Society and Global Governance, Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 1-7.

  • Schumacher, E.F., 1973, Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered, Vintage, London.

  • Seneca, c. 5 BC-AD 65, On The Shortness of Life, Translated by C.D.N Costa, Penguin Books, London, (1997).

  • The Struggle Over Democracy, 2012, video recording, The Great Courses, [online] <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1Z1XessTGc> viewed 2nd May 2014.

  • Underhill, G.R.D., Blom, J., Mugge, D., 2010, Global Financial Integration Thirty Years On: From Reform to Crisis, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

  • Veblen, T., 1899, The Theory of The Leisure Class, Dover Publications, New York.

  • Žižek, S., 2002, Revolution at the Gates: Žižek on Lenin, the 1917 Writings, Verso, London.

 

An Open Letter to Australia

Dear citizens of Australia,

I am writing to inform you/us that we’re quickly becoming, or rather already have become, an international laughing stock. An in-joke for the majority world; The other 7 something billion outside of our 20 something million are coming to think of us as the big fat country with too much, that’s giving too little, that isn’t able to look outside of it’s self imposed exile, unwilling to step from it’s soap box to see the world for what it is; a web like community made up of billions of small but vitally significant links. It’s no longer those who are politically conscious that are aware of the disgrace of the group of humans that have been granted power to make overbearing decisions on behalf of our nation, it’s the majority. So, before I try and vent and release the deep scar that is being created due to recent and not so recent happenings, I must assure you that I am indeed what some may call True Blue, as it is, of course, a subjective term. Yes I too have loved the smell of gum leaves since I was in a Pram, I love a sunburnt country, I’ve been around the world a couple of times or maybe more, I say g’day, g’day and how’s it goin’, and I still call Australia home. But to be completely honest, all this, it’s really beginning to hurt. Like that awkward hurt you can’t quite put a finger on, and if you try and explain to ya mates down the pub, they begin to look at ya funny.

I’ve waited months to attempt to compose this letter. I was waiting for a time when my emotions weren’t running too high due to on one thing or another our current government has perpetuated, implemented, slashed, withdrawn, torn down, disrupted, damaged or simply ignored. Yet as the time has oh so slowly passed, and every week, near on every day I have been confronted with another daunting disgrace, I have realised that time is not likely to come. So I’ll try and ease into it a little and go easy on the hard data and “facts” and just try to keep it “real”.

To begin with, I want to know how it is we let ourselves be led by such a group? I like to think I know very well why, and to a large extent it has a good deal to do with a caustic mix of social condition and what some call the manufacturing of consent. However I would love for you to ask yourself why. Have you taken the opportunity to look at alternatives? Have you dedicated even a small amount of time or effort to comprehending policies that are due to be implemented and begun to fathom their diverse effects on not just yourself but all those around you? Or did you just take for gospel the words of one of the many media outlets controlled by a minute few? Did you stop to question whether or not these people may not only not have your best interest at heart, but in fact the whole system is rigged to favour them, and that within this rigged system you’re merely a pawn in their game? I know, I know, it’s a very hard pill to swallow. In fact you’re quite likely to throw it by the way side, not the pill I’m attempting to offer you but this entire piece and likely anyone for that matter who may be deemed a voice of dissent; One of the many voices that is forcing you to stretch your manufactured paradigm more than it’s been programmed to stretch.

I’m really struggling to put succinctly what it is that so frustrates me about our current position. But it’s something to do with our lack of Stoic behaviour (You know, the great philosophers of old, the ones who could see beyond wealth and material privilege?). Our inability to see that we’re sitting on a litteral and metaphorical gold mine and still complaining about it. Our inability to see the forest for the trees, to see that the policies being put in place are not only deleterious to us, but are to the whole planet.

“Oh come on, that’s alright isn’t it?” Sure. So long as you get your long weekends, and the mining trucks get their petrol for a few cents cheaper, the boat people are being kept out and there’s little to no real societal change. Because who likes change anyway? Especially when we’ve got it so good? Who cares if someone who has English as a second, third, fourth language or in fact can’t speak it at all can’t get into your country? So what? It’s likely they don’t deserve to be here. That’s the beauty of an international meritocracy isn’t it? The people who are wealthy and have all the power have got there because they deserve it and that’s how globalised liberal-democracy works dummy!

So, I’ve thrown eloquence out the window, I’m currently unable to type in a buzzy and fun filled manner. I feel like screaming but that’s not going to help anyone or anything. This is, of course, part of the problem. Unless I’m the mainstream news or the pretty/wealthy majority (who is of course a minority) there’s a large chance you won’t hear it. Granted there’s not too much above for a greater insight, just more mild vitriol amongst a few million other voices of descent. But please Mr and Mrs Australia, put down that newspaper, stop watching that mind warping excrement on television. As it’s become increasingly aware to me that you’re unaware that it’s actually doing you and the world a great deal of harm. Take the opportunity to look outside your paradise. Try and stop believing the lies. Ween yourself off the crack that is modern, conservative, comfortable, mainstream life and live.

The fact we’re one of the most urbanised nations on the planet speaks volumes about us. We’ve all this space yet we prefer to be insular, we’ve been forced into cities to work jobs we hate so we can buy things we don’t need. Break the bonds people. Cease buying into it. Stop debating whether the kettle on the stove is black with silver speckles or its silver speckled with black! Try to understand that the very kitchen which contains the kettle is within a house that’s very foundations are built not only on shaky ground but on skeletons, blood and for the most part on some of the most morose things man is capable of!

I dream that one day you’ll wake, and see this letter for what it is; A letter from someone who has arisen, and sees the destruction wrought by this somnambulist society trying desperately to shake you. If indeed you’re being roused from your slumber, you may ask, as many have; “I am only one person what can I do?” Plenty. Take your head from the sand and begin to demand more. You deserve it. We all do. You can start by asking simple and pervasive questions. These questions will likely be uncomfortable at first, but you must persist. Soon you’ll see that the vast majority of what you’ve been told is highly processed feces sold up stream, and that what you have been lead to believe is not only the truth but is the only way of thinking and comprehending the world.

Until then. Just turn it off. Seek your information elsewhere. Those bickering about what one party should or should not be doing are at least on the right track, but I dare say they’re still far from it. When you start hearing from those who are discussing the foundations, then you’ll know. When you begin to interact with those who are shaking the foundations, you’ll be home. Once you’ve started shaking those foundations yourself, then you will begin to know freedom.

Yours most sincerely

Fionn Napier Quinlan

Preparing For Work, the Banality of it All – II

Once I’ve made a breakfast of mashed Bananas, from a country I’m pretty sure is in Central America, and porridge from a packet with a picture of a burley man in a kilt on the front of it is eaten by my daughters, it’s time for me to run through my obligatory routine to get ready for work. As always I run the shower, standing naked on the cold tiled floor with one hand in the recess waiting for the water to get hot. I never can determine just how long it will be. Never too long, but always long enough to make me second guess whether or not I’ve actually turned on the hot water to begin with. And proceed with the feet to head scrub with whatever shower gel my wife has bought me in the preceding weeks.

“Today”, I begin thinking, sniffing the air, “today it’s the usual Vanilla and Jojoba. What is Jojoba anyway? Doesn’t seem important enough to even google, but I put it all over my body. Funny that.”

Once I’ve toweled and fettered off a little voice or two trying to get into my wife and I’s ensuite I shave off any remnants of hair from my face that may have surfaced over night. It’s always the same face greeting me. That, not too tired but no where near as young as it once was face. “The inevitable decay of the comfortable working man” I think. I try not to linger for too long as there’s been times when I catch my own eyes in the mirror and wonder what it is I think I’m doing with all this. These kind of circling, venial thoughts can be dangerous and have at times distracted me for almost an entire days work, feeling like a dozen cans tied to the back of my mind like a Just Married car of old. So today I skip past the mirror once I’ve shaved and move straight into the bedroom to slip into one of about 17 different suits of varying unoffensive colours I’ve accumulated over the years, affix my tie, slip into my old faux-Italian leather shoes and hop down the stairs holding the hand rail.

“I’m supposed to be in early today as we’re running through the updated curriculum. Jenny, Peter and Wayne will no doubt be there early too and I hate it when they beat me to the punch.” I said slightly unnervingly to my wife as she jostled with the girls school uniforms.

“Again? When are you going to take the girls to school? I’ve been wanting to get out for the 8am palates class for weeks now.”

I sort of heard the last part of what my wife was saying. I mumbled something like, “Oh yes, I know, sorry.” Gave her a blasé kiss, grabbed my little suitcase with the near-worn out corners, grabbed my keys and my wallet, pushed the door to the garage with my shoulder and stepped into the sagging seat of my Peugeot.

Driving down the road, I began to think about where I was headed and what it was I was doing, running through the things I had to do that day; being a teacher is pretty easy, not too challenging, just the right amount of intellectual stimulation and emotional reward to make it seem worthwhile. There are days when I wish that something a little more dramatic would happen though. I butt the indicator with my right hand to get ready to turn onto the highway. When I saw that there were planes that had crashed into the Pentagon and New York, I had imagined that something like that had happened near where I work and live. I didn’t mean it in a morbid way, I more felt that I had wanted it to happen just so there was something happening. Anything. Something more to talk about than, well, than what’s known, what’s expected. It’s not that I want people to die in a horrible accident, no not that. Just that, well, it’s boring, and besides the joy of seeing my daughters grow and the occasional sexual jaunt with my wife, life’s very predictable. And wouldn’t that be an interesting way to shake things up?

I’ve arrived at work, I’m parked and can barely remember the highway or the several turns and round-abouts I went through to get here. A deep sigh somehow passes through my teeth and I feel it on my upper lip. I check my face in the rear-view mirror. “Don’t look.” I mutter.

A Reason to Mourn, A Reason to Celebrate: Money-men in, CSG out (for now)

In fairly recent Australian news, the Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared Australia “Open for business”. By this he means Australia is no longer for Australians, whatever being Australian means these days. This proclamation has openly (no pun intended) redefined Australia as a corporate nation. A nation of monied bullies, and blunt state interventions.

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Image care of wattsupwiththat.com

We are no longer living in the nation of the “fair go“. We are a nation, just like many of our more powerful allies to whom we all too often play lap dog, of oligarchs and money-men. A perfect example of this was that very recently, I mean in the last week or two our government was ready to use public funds to fly, feed and shelter several hundred police men and women to the Northern Rivers of NSW. Why? Because they were to be watching over, and arresting protesters – protesters which have the overwhelming majority of the surrounding communities on their side, (a mayor included) and at a few thousand strong it’s a large portion of this community – These police have been flown in because large corporations, metgasco and santos, have managed to convince one poorly educated farmer that it is a good idea to drill for gas on his property. Who wins out more often than not in these situations is not the vast majority but the corporate entity. Open for business indeed.

Our social well-being as a nation is being under-rug swept and replaced with a sick pecuniary fervor. This started back in the 80s when our governments towed the line and began implementing the Reagan-Thatcher model of privatisation and austerity. And those not in the top few percentiles know all too well what that has lead too and exacerbated. Fat Joe Hockey, Australia’s Treasurer has also recently told all Australian’s that they need to do some “heavy lifting” in regards to our budgetary requirements, all the while he’s slashing and burning social services and pension entitlements. Thankfully to this there has been quite the uproar, not just from the usually vocal left, or from those directly affected by these cuts but by the traditionally conservative who may actually be beginning to wake up to this nonsense. All this conducted in the stunning and relative silence in regards to our expenditure of over $12.4 billion on a handful of fighter jets purchased from the US . We’re reassured that we ‘need’ these things if we are to uphold our position as the “Great -now elitie- Southern Land”.

So now the good news. This morning as I awoke, and stumbled to check my emails re. work etc. I received an email that made me so happy I could cry.  I found an email from the Lock the Gate Alliance, it read: “NSW Energy and Resources Minister Anthony Roberts has announced that Metgasco’s approval to drill at Bentley [a little inland from where I grew up] has been suspended, and the company has been referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.” What a morning! I was singing dancing, and understandably happy. So much so I donated my days wage to the cause.

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Frack Free Community

This of course is only possible because of the work of a number of very dedicated and hard working people. Remember:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. In fact it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Tonight I drink to Lock the Gate.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/margaretme100502.html#9so9g1A4pa2TIBC1.99

The March for England

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Brighton March for England
Photo courtesy of theargus.co.uk

I’m known amongst my friends to have a rather vocal disdain for limited thinking, so when the march for england (intentional lower case) came to my home town a few friends asked me how I felt about it. One particular friend asked me in a off the cuff manner, “did you manage to raise the middle finger to this lot as they passed by your gaf?” So I wrote a small rant in reply to this friend of mine and I’ve revisited it here, slightly revised.

I think I will refer to The Simpsons here as I’ve always found them humorous, but in this instance it almost sums up my feeling about these human’s limited empathy, intellect and global comprehension (which really is the problem if you take a look the base line relation of those who choose nationalism over, say, cosmopolitanism or more simply thinking).  So, do you know the episode where the big advertisements come alive and roam through the city destroying Springfield? No, well that’s basically what happens, advertisements come alive and not only live on being seen but thrive on it. Yet as soon as they’re not seen, or being paid attention to they begin to crumble. Once this is realised Bart and LIsa call in the services of Paul Anka and he writes a jingle to get everyone on board, telling Springfield residents simply, “Just don’t look, just don’t look”, and of course the Simpson kids win the day. Here’s a link in case you need clarification. And this is essentially what I’m trying to say. “Just don’t look”.

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“Just don’t look…”

Not that I believe that simply “not looking” is the answer, but looking in the way a large number of decent well meaning people tend to only creates more attention. And in some ways validates their march. What is more unfortunate is the way in which the anti-fascists (as they’ve been called, more often than not they’re simply deeply concerned and active citizens) behave, it gives them, the nationalists, the fascists, the ignoramuses, the people marching for England, still more recognition, and for some a sick form of kudos rises to surface. They’re receiving undue press due to the large number of people in attendance and creating a fuss, which sadly exacerbates the issue. What really we should be doing is ignoring them for their idiocy. Have you ever had that moment when someone just completely ignores you? That feeling of frustration and anger, the sometimes despair that can set in? Maybe when you were younger you did something you knew was bad, but you did it anyway and your parents said to you “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed”, and that was what made it so much worse. “Smack me! Yell at me! Respond! Do anything but ignore me!”

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The EDL?

Maybe you didn’t have that particular experience, so allow me to delve just a little more into something else. This unenlightened chest beating done on behalf of those wishing to Save England, and the ensuing minor incident, reminds of the story I once heard of the Nazis in Holland. The invasion itself was obviously a hindrance to say the very least, and what greater insult to afford anyone than to ignore them? I don’t know the full story and if anyone can dig it out for me it’d be much appreciated, but after a while the Dutch just stopped paying attention to them; Ignored them on the bus and in the street, didn’t make eye contact, if they entered a bar or cafe people either left or everyone went quiet. After a while the officers that had been stationed in Holland lost all moral and they even tried to implement new laws to make the locals interact with the intervening soldiers. This is my rendering of the story of course, I do not pertain to be a historian, just someone who enjoys history, or versions of it anyway.

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Poor little Nazi…

So I really feel that by giving them even the finger raises their hopes and makes them feel like, “yeah we’re gettin’ under their skin! Fuckin’ keep at it boys! Those Pakis (or whomever it is they’ve selected to arbitrarily hate at that particular time) are on the run!” In short, they’re sorely misled fools. These people are led astray by their own inability to truly comprehend larger societal issues which is compounded by the counter-knowledge espoused by psychologically weak-men posing as psychological strong-men who are protected by the physical strongmen used to herd a flock of, as I said earlier, men and women, but mostly men who have simply never had the privilege to think for themselves, and we should treat them as such! The anti-fascists however, well, they should know better…

Disclaimer: I do of course understand that by writing this article I may be drawing still more attention to their cause.

The Dreams We’re Sold: Introducing Damien

Every morning, just as I’m waking up, I make a great effort to hold onto that half-asleepness, hold onto it before my world becomes an aching reality, before my wife or my children wake, before I begin to feel the world pressing in. This is the time of the day when I can dream largest, when whatever it is I feel and think can become as close to being real as it ever will. For these brief moments I ignore the passing sirens, the clatter of the helicopter, the vibration of trucks in the street and the stereo’s of passers by turned up so loud I can feel their bass “Barmp, barmp barmp…” in my pillow. If I sit in this dreamy haze for long enough and compose a thought just right, I can will them all away. It’s my moments peace. It’s a little like meditation, but it’s not quite that as I’m not trying to attain nothingness. There is certainly something I’m trying to envisage. I’m trying to reach for my ideal world. A world where I don’t have to rush about, a world where I can go to work, but it doesn’t feel like work, it feels more like an honourable commitment. A world in which we’re not running about making no sense of ourselves and each other. A world where I can sit in the grass without worrying about the glass that may or may not be there, or how much longer I have until I have to go back to work, be it my lunch break or the beginning of the weekend.

This in itself sounds quite ridiculous. Naïve even. I’ll grant you that. But until you really know, or at least feel you’re on the path of really knowing, it always seems silly, childish, and utopian to reach for something that seems vague and unobtainable. Some things, like childhood dreams of super stardom and mass recognition, do, for some, become a reality, and oddly enough it would seem, if they ever attain this super-stardom they all too often come undone; end up with a broken soul, lonely and confused and wonder what it is they’ve been chasing this whole time. “Why is that I want to be famous? Why is it that I want to be rich?” Some may ask, but rarely dig too far into understanding why these things are. Some may even retort “Because it’s awesome! You can get whatever you like! People adore you!” But I wonder what form of adoration they have in mind, and whether or not getting whatever you like is necessarily a good thing, especially when a large chunk of those things you want are simply trinkets , consumables, disposable, and momentary.

This world I see has no need for these things. There’s more than enough to go around, and there’s no way that one person can unduly have more than another. As there’s really no need to have more when you’ve got all you need. Your soul is fulfilled, and you’ve never been told to want more, never been trained to believe that if you get that suit and car then you’ll get the girl, never been told you’re dumb, ugly, or poor. I recall the words of Tony Montana in the Scarface film, how his dream and vision has inspired countless persons seeking the power that money and influence will bring. There seems to be a great exaggeration of Tony, he completely loses it, he slams his face into piles of cocaine, abuses his friendships, has piles of money, influence and a trophy wife to boot. In the end he gets it, he’s killed in a scene that’s been played over so many times, falling form his upstairs balcony of his mansion into his fountain where his bullet riddled body turns the water red. He’s a gangster, a man that is obviously on the wrong side of the law; someone whom we can easily paint black and or white, good or bad, someone we can label. But what happens when there’s people just as nasty, or even nastier than Tony Montana who can’t be so easily defined? And what if these larger than Tony’s are in complete control?

I try not to think about it for too long, my wife will wake up soon and I’ve been unable to fully see and breath the aspects of my world which I promise myself every morning. I don’t get to see it all, I never have and I don’t think I ever will. But there’s fleeting glimpses of it. From the mundane, trivial aspects of it, to the grand sweeping narratives of realisations of a unified people, individual and together, supportive and independent. This morning I see… What do I see? Strain. No, don’t strain. Think. Feel.

I’m walking through suburbia, or what was once called suburbia. A long street with crests and dips as far as I can see. Old street signs tell the names of the streets, and the guttering is crumbling in parts. At first it almost looks apocalyptic. Some of the houses are burnt out with trees growing up through their roofs, forest animals can easily be heard, and there’s not a car in sight, well none that are immediately recognisable as cars anyway. I start to listen and I can hear soft low singing, not coming from a stereo, or music player, but a real voice, a beautiful, hard worked, long soulful tune runs down my spine. There’s a house that I can see which has big raised beds for growing vegetables out on what was the lawn, it seems to spew over into numerous other lawns. Children are tending to the small crops while a few elders watch over and sing that song I hear. There not unhappy, but they’re not plastic happy, they know what needs to be done and are happy to do it.

“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” It’s gone. I open my eyes to see my beautiful daughter in her pyjamas jumping up and down by our bed. The lights are on, and there’s a stale stillness in the air that I didn’t notice before.

“Hello, beautiful.”

“Come on Daddy! Breakfast, breakfast, breakfast!”

“Ok, come on mama” I rouse my wife. “Let’s get this little one some breakfast. Now where’s your sister?”