Homage to Catatonia

Politics, Pulpit

I bet someone else has already used that title. I bet.

Headline for anyone who isn’t interested: Catalonia has just tried to declare itself independent from Spain after the Madrid government stopped it from holding a referendum on independence, which the Madrid government deemed “illegal under the Spanish constitution”.

Some officials across the EU have even said Catalonia’s declaration amounts to the destruction of the rule of law, a sentiment which is basically meaningless. If the declaration of independence has any meaning, it means that Catalonia is now a country and so is no longer subject to Spanish law. Within the new Catalonia, the rule of law would in all likelihood be satisfactorily upheld. But back to the main issue: the referendum’s legality is yet to be decided. It was put before the Supreme Court and they have until May 2018 to decide whether the Constitution allows a regional assembly to hold a referendum on regional independence from the Spanish state. The Court has also accepted the case deciding whether Catalonia’s assembly has committed “rebellion”. So no-one knows yet whether any law has been broken. I mean talking of the rule of law, I remember hearing about something similar. It goes: “innocent until proven guilty”. No? Did I just make that up?

Anyway, the Madrid government prematurely declared the referendum illegal and sent police in to break up voting. This act itself must surely be illegal. While the referendum stands on uncertain or new legal ground, the repression of innocent civilians and state officials is in a well-dug legal trench, surrounded by a concrete bunker, surrounded by a minefield, surrounded by a wasteland that’s regularly bombed: government repression is wrong. Full stop. Well known.

It’s only once the Madrid government has acted illegally that Catalonia officially abandons the law and declares independence, but even then it’s not so much an issue for forces of the Spanish State as it is for the large minority of people in Catalonia who didn’t want independence. If they, for example, openly declare allegiance to Spain against the new administration then, perhaps, the Spanish government could have a reason to send police or troops in pending the result of negotiations and any appropriate mediation by international bodies such as the EU, NATO, or the UN. Once Catalonia is a nation in its own right, it’s no longer bound by the Spanish constitution and enters a new process of awaiting international recognition, while also trying to convince dissenters not to do anything harmful to the new state. This doesn’t have to involve violence, protestation or repression. But of course it does because not enough people in Spain or Catalonia wanted independence to happen. Also I’m sure most people wouldn’t be keen on their (the Spanish national) government acting illegally in the repression of legitimate democratic forces awaiting a court date. But then I’m not Spanish so what do I know?

I’m writing here as a British citizen and I only heard about this issue – by extension – because the UK government has declared its support for Madrid and against Catalan self-determination. Which doesn’t fit what the UK stands for at all. We’re supposed to be saying to the national government “you should have let them hold a referendum and embarrass themselves with the result” and to the Catalan government “we’ll do our best to help provided that you now wait patiently for your court hearing, after which the issue will be fairly conclusively decided”. Instead, May Johnson is imploding as per usual.

So it’s important that I make a distinction between UK and Spanish politics. The main criticism that Madrid is making of the Catalan declaration of independence is that it’s unconstitutional. Spain has a written constitution. The UK doesn’t. This has always made UK politics more technically flexible, because in effect we are not bound by anything save popular perception and opinion. We claim many things with our legislation and our governmental institutions, but at their root there is no higher power than the British people. We have an (almost) all-powerful parliament, whose sole role is to represent and serve the British people in the best way possible. This could readily be extended to mean that the British Parliament should include all of the British people. In other words, full democracy is legally within our grasp and we can take it whenever we have the popular will for it. That’s the beauty of the famously obscure British legal system and that’s why when it comes to Scottish independence, we can’t say a Scottish declaration of independence is “unconstitutional”, we can only say it’s unpopular. Which is in my opinion a far more powerful thing.

It also means that, despite all of its childish tantrums around the time of the Scottish referendum, our government could never do what the Spanish government is now doing, namely: trying to charge the rebel region’s administration with treason. The Habsburgs are long gone and so, supposedly, is General Franco. So tell me exactly how do you get an elected assembly to commit treason? Well, yeah, the Spanish Supreme Court is going to tell us. It’s also going to tell us whether the referendum breached their constitution.

And I don’t take issue with the court being asked to make a decision. That’s obviously what has to happen according to the Spanish Constitution. But I can take issue with that Constitution. Having it written means that it’s (supposedly) established as a higher power than the people of Spain. The Madrid government likely believes this has been done because the people can’t rule themselves and so a strong constitution establishing strong governments must rule for them. But a constitution can’t do that any more than a king or a parliament can. There is no higher power than what people perceive to be righteous. The Spanish Constitution may be interacting with this truth, but it is not recognising the absolute application of this truth. Firstly you can’t word a constitution such that it is not contradictory or uncertain in terms, and therefore unenforceable in law. Which is why it’s better not to try. Accept that the only law that can be maintained must be popular, and govern accordingly. Even if you pretend not to sometimes.

Secondly, and because of this, a constitution is not sufficient grounds to deny people the right to be part of something else. Because it is a flawed document, limited in its application, it cannot govern the movements and behaviours of people who choose not to be members of the Spanish state. And if a whole region within the Spanish state decides not to remain a part thereof, and then successfully begins a peaceful progression into its own nationhood, there is no part of a constitution or popular opinion outside of their new nation that can legally stop them. Except…

Basically, everyone can do what they want. Nations and constitutions were established to minimise conflict and maximise peaceful co-existence. People agree to those nations and constitutions through a sort of social contract. By definition, that contract is not legal. It’s enforceable only socially – only through co-operation. And it can be torn apart by antagonism. No power decides on the status of a social contract, other than the capacity of its “signatories” to co-operate adequately to maintain the contract, sometimes through negotiation, sometimes through horrifically strict enforcement. Depends who holds the larger share of influence. And how committed people are to the overall goal of minimising violence/destruction/instability – we’re usually surprisingly well-committed to that, you’ll be glad to hear.

But what of laws? Laws are elements of the contract under the “nationhood” section that we can negotiate through representative assemblies. Or at least that’s probably the easiest way of putting them in context. They need to seem permanent and unchanging if people are going to believe in them; our administrations believe that they are necessary to minimise conflict and maximise peaceful co-existence, so we kinda accept them also on those grounds. It’s part of accepting a sovereign government in the first place. I mean you do a deal with the devil, you’re probably going to get the short straw. It’s taken a few thousand years for some nations to reach a state mockingly called “democracy”. And we’ve done damn well with that. The short straw carries on until we completely remove sovereign government. But that’s an issue for another time.

The point here is: the social contract establishes the basis for all government, and referendums on regional independence are essentially demands for a new social contract outside of the existing one. However, before citizens leave the existing contract, they remain citizens of that same contract. Which brings about the issue of referendums – each one is a step closer to the establishment of a new social order outside of the old one, but it’s only the decisive referendum that will create a good alternative. You have less than 50% support, or if you use violence, force, at any time, the new order will be based on that: and it will be weak as a result. Because when you’re talking about a whole new order, a whole new contract, 50% really isn’t enough. In fact, only 100%, unanimous approval will really do. Just because we don’t tend to get it, doesn’t stop it from being the standard. Anything less than 100% approval means people leaving, people being angry, depressed, working less, fighting eachother, harming eachother, endless echoes of social discontent. So you really want to minimise the disapproval. This actually goes for all government, all the time – not just referendums to set up new ones.

And as part of maximising approval (so as to maximise social order, therefore peaceful progression) you don’t want to deny any referendums. In Catalonia, in Scotland, heck maybe in Quebec and other places too, we’re talking about a region that’s culturally, historically, often economically and politically coherent. That’s coherent as a region, meaning it doesn’t have to fit the national agenda. In fact it probably won’t. Nations are mostly maintained by the disunity of their separate regional social orders. If you have a united region, organised, relatively uniform, we’re talking the places mentioned above, then that represents active disapproval for the national social contract. Active “rebellion” of the more subtle kind. Of course it’s not really subtle at all, it’s bare-faced and blatant in economic failure, social unrest and decline of any kind. But we’re used to thinking about rebellion only as a violent crime punishable by death or exile. Proper old-fashioned like. No, it’s much more than that. It seems unconscious or irrelevant because it’s only a bunch of individuals consciously doing it. We think “oh they don’t have an army so they don’t matter”. Wrong. Individuals are the entire content of a society. If any of them are unhappy, everyone gets hurt. Not always much, but always some. And the more people are shat on, the more they shit on everyone else. It’s a butterfly effect of shit.

So if you deny an organised group of these people the right to express their wish to form another order, you’re starting a fight with the fire-breathing lizard you’ve hand-reared from egg to man-eater these last 100 years, just after you’ve helped it have children which are now stored safely in its lair. I.e. You’re being stupid.

Taking it back to Catalonia: so long as one faction in the region is powerful enough (if that faction is supported by over half of the region) to reasonably demand a referendum, then that referendum must be called.

We’ve negotiated the 50% benchmark of minimum legitimacy that tends to apply to most if not all law. It’s long established in an expansion of what the UK calls Common Law – i.e. the law as applied by judges over multiple similar but different cases. The last judge’s ruling in a similar case becomes a legitimate legal reference point in future cases. With the 50% it’s that kinda sentiment that again the UK used to call “the man on the bus”. Basically every judge asking “what does the average guy think?”. Average tending to aim for the middle of a range of data i.e. the 50% mark. Mean – add it all up, divide it by how many there are. Median – pick the middle number in a set. Mode – what’s the most frequently occurring number. Most of what you do with averages is about getting or pleasing the most. Same here. Goes back to the ultimate goal of peaceful progression in a dangerous world. The people responsible for applying the law want to know that it fits broad public opinion. And if it doesn’t they know there will be some kind of trouble.

The present events in Spain are the direct result of the Madrid government’s refusal to co-operate not only with the Catalan separatists, but because of the 50%+ majority by which the Catalan coalition government exists, with the entire region itself. That region’s self-determination is guaranteed by the Spanish constitution. In outright denying and actively repressing their capacity to call a referendum, the Madrid government acted contrary to certain key sentiments within the constitution. Which sentiments amount to a central element of the social contract by which the entire region of Catalonia is joined to the Spanish state. It’s this action, not the Catalan separatists, that will bring this conflict to the point of violence and repression, or, potentially, Catalan independence. It’s not just a constitutional debate anymore, it’s about centuries of regional self-determination, well established as a necessary part of a united Spain. And it’s about denying the recent history of Fascism and unfettered repression.

The Spanish State has fucked up.

But then as we’ve discussed, 50% support for a 100% body of people forming a new society isn’t enough. It’s the bare minimum required for the event to happen without civil war and repression being absolutely necessary. So I’m not supporting Catalan independence here, since in my mind Catalonia doesn’t meaningfully support it yet. I’m condemning, in the most righteous terms I can muster, the Madrid government’s latest breach of Spain’s social contract. Cutting out the rights of an entire region – millions of people – will have consequences. And the UK will only lose from supporting such blatant evil.

Now, if you want the flip side of the coin, about what rebellion involves and how bad it is, well that’s another article incoming. Not only on the principles and historical tendencies surrounding revolutions and the like, but an analysis of what the Spanish Constitution gives Catalonia without it becoming a separate nation. Whoever wrote that Constitution realised separatists could be a big problem for the future of a united Spain. I’m just not sure yet whether they wrote adequate defences against that likelihood.

Is Sanity really worth it?

Non-fiction, Pulpit

If you check out the first few returns for a Google search on sanity you’ll find definitions setting a standard that most people – if they were really honest with themselves – wouldn’t meet. [That includes me.]

Wikipedia begins like this:

Sanity (from Latin: sānitās) refers to the soundness, rationality and healthiness of the human mind, as opposed to insanity. A person is not considered sane anymore just if he/she is rational. In modern society, the terms have become exclusively synonymous with compos mentis (Latin: compos, having mastery of, and mentis, mind), in contrast with non compos mentis, or insane, meaning troubled conscience. A sane mind is nowadays considered healthy both from its analytical -once called rational– and emotional aspects.[1] Furthermore, according to Chesterton,[2] sanity involves wholeness, whereas insanity implies narrowness and brokenness.”

My emotional mind is completely wasted. Like drunk, like improperly utilised, like dead, like anything “unsound”. But I have what I like to think is a decent grasp of some analytical and rational processes. Rationality tells me an amount of uncertainty is probably necessary for humans, given the physical limits of our mental experience. I mean I can analyse my way out of a bad place, but I can’t always stop myself from getting into a bad place. So I’m not strictly speaking sane, but I’m not strictly speaking insane either.

I can work out that the world is not arranged ideally or perfectly, not yet anyway. The only sense in which the current state of affairs is perfect is the sense in which it promises perfection, in other words: supposing that the world is developing into an inevitably perfect state. While that would entail a sort of perfection, the process of reaching a more complete perfection would necessitate our not already being perfect.

Enough with the “perfection” already.

The point is, we probably don’t need to be sane.

My rational mind does the best that it can, which is truly impressive given the sharknado my emotional self forms at regular intervals. However, this is insufficient – according to a lot of these definitions – to properly declare myself sane. “I tried real hard” doesn’t make the cut.

But I suspect that I’m not alone in this sort of experience. I suspect that many, if not all of us, suffer from excessive emotional instability. Why? Again, because the world is not perfect, and nor is society. We people, we citizens, don’t have any reason to be permanently emotionally fulfilled. Emotional fulfillment, unless based on lies and therefore vulnerable to the revelation of truth, is a temporary thing. It helps to give the human and probably the animal a more substantial and driving sense of purpose. But it does not give us sanity. Not permanence, not absolute stability.

You can put sanity on a scale and then we all have a bit of it. That seems much more egalitarian than the paradoxical black and white of complete instability versus complete stability. We are human. We are neither entirely chaotic nor entirely ordered. We’re in a state of constant change and flux. We do as well as we can.

I reach a point here where I wonder whether trying to put on that semblance of total sanity is really worth it. Wouldn’t it be better if we all exhibited a tempered level of insanity? Or at least if we stopped pretending that our bullshit is sane while someone’s else’s bullshit is insane? We’re all a bit of both.

I’m not sure what the upshot of this would be. Primarily less worrying. If – in your own mind – you’re less concerned about other people around you being incomprehensibly strange, nor are you worried about them seeing you as the same, then maybe you feel better about the world. This is assuming you agree that other folks are ultimately like you. Not so much in the details, but in certain core motivations that effect everything they do. Plus some fundamental details that are pretty easy to understand and compare.

Motivations: set 1. survival types, eating, drinking, sleeping, keeping away from danger; set 2. seeking happiness, pursuing one’s purpose, drinking a lot, eating a lot of chocolate or whatever, having a family, protecting loved ones; set 3. seeking knowledge and absolute perfection, completeness, the fulfillment of purpose.

Details: well, the almost universal appreciation of some sort of alcohol, some sort of chocolate, some sort of caffeine, a kind of exercise, a kind of clothing style, music genre(s), the big and clear ways in which a lot of people pursue their basic motivations.

You might be a teetotaler, but if you pushed yourself maybe you could still understand the alcoholic falling out of the bar and singing “Death Letter”, because maybe you like blues too, and maybe when you feel sad you run 8 miles instead of drinking 8 pints, or you spend 8 hours on tv shows or video games. You know their feelings, you know the need for a consuming, even dominating distraction from sadness and fear.

Everyone, given the time and comfort to think, can work out how everyone else feels and why.

We’re all in the dubious space between sanity and insanity. We’re all here together, someone dancing on the bar, someone doing tequila shots, someone reading in the corner, someone smoking outside, someone doing coke in the toilet. I mean it doesn’t have to be as sinister as that but I’ve always thought of a bar as quite a homely place so it’s a first port of call for this sort of metaphor.

We, humans, are not going to be perfect for a very long time. We won’t even be humans when we’re done. Humans are by definition not perfect. By definition, not sane. We’re a brilliant species but we don’t have to be everything. We don’t have to pretend that we have it all. We don’t. We have a lot of good stuff, but there’s always more to get. And that’s not a problem. That’s not a failing. It’s just the universe, God if you like, unraveling itself or its plan. [seriously yo, religious or not: that works]

So with sanity, you really can’t expect to be in logician-HAL-chessmaster mode all the time. We’ll go off on tangents, we’ll struggle to maintain composure when someone farts. We’ll get coffee and smoke and drink, even when we shouldn’t, because it feels like we need it, and sometimes feeling just overcomes you. You don’t have to like it, maybe you actually shouldn’t like it. But fuck it’s what your body does and you have to deal with it even as it’s changing you. And that’s not going to go away for anyone until we evolve out of it or die. Until then, it’s the animal side of us saying “remember where you came from – it’s not that long ago you left there”. And damn right it should make us remember. It’s still there. It’s not gone until it’s gone.

Now I just wanted to make myself feel a bit better about the madness in my life at the moment, but the only way I can really do that is if I put a hand out to whoever you are, offer to buy you a pint and talk about the details on your own journey through things too. Writing around the houses, that’s the first step in the process. Maybe you’ll read this and have a good chuckle. Linking a really good selection of Fightclub quotes put out by the Minimalists blog, that’s somewhere in the process as well. I mean at least it gets you thinking. [as though you’ve not already seen that film 20 times, still the quotes do deserve some serious time on their own. The book is good too, if a tad depressing.]

Voting is like being Pablo Escobar

Politics, Pulpit

…in Prison.

Sitting high up in those beautiful mountains: the nation you’ve grown up in. Safe behind the barbed-wire and concrete of newspaper opinion pieces, pub chats and online forums, surrounded by booze and a roulette of ballot counts, polls, lottery tickets, stock prices, hoping that the nation is safely yours – owned by your side – hoping that you’re safe, waiting out a sentence that’ll never end: to be this “citizen”…to live, and live in a country.

We’ve just had a General Election in the UK. Bit late then to be talking about voting?

Not at all. We’ve elected representatives incapable of forming a majority government. Many people are raising eyebrows at this and exclaiming “we’re fucked then”. They’re panicking, they’re wondering in the back of their minds “would a benevolent dictator be better?” and “Why can’t we just leave it all to the market for a change?”.

Many people don’t understand how every vote is a victory, not for democracy, but for the common people, for society. Nor do they appreciate how this vote has produced a more democratic result than most General Elections of the century-and-a-bit just gone.

Last election round, 2015, we had Russell Brand telling the nation not to vote because a vote means nothing like actually having your voice heard. He said this sort of thing for months before suddenly flinging himself in with the Ed Milliband’s Labour Party. It got a lot of people quite confused, not least because a comedian with pretty basic views on the world managed to get so much airtime around what should have been campaign season. In the end it looked more like he was just having a big and probably quite profitable joke at the nation’s expense. Brand buried any questions surrounding our voting system alongside his own chances of retaining any respect in the UK political arena.  Kinda what Trump is doing too, condemning the worth of America’s “common man” with his own brash dogma.

Which brings us – the blogging observers – to that difficult question: what’s the point of voting when every option (even not voting) is something no-one wants to choose?

Clinton the Second or a fart with hair?

Thatcher’s Sith apprentice or a 70s Socialist?

This is what gets people picking up their Plato and wishing for a Philosopher King.

This is where people heckle democracy! Well, voting was never about democracy. Not properly speaking. See we use the term “democracy” pretty casually, mainly because it helps to prevent us from becoming an actual democracy, or a series of actual democracies. I.e. a stateless collection of individuals organising themselves by mutual and unanimous consent.

No, voting is about restricting the power of an oligarchy.

I’m trying to use the term “oligarchy” without context, so meaning “rule by the few” and forget all the associations with Russia and whatever else. (Or maybe don’t, I mean they vote too for all the good it does them.) In the UK we are ruled by an oligarchy that itself technically exists under a Monarchy, but officially and unofficially the British Monarchy has become so weak that we can safely say it is just for show. Although yes the institution remains a disgusting anachronism whose removal we should use in proposing the reform of Parliament and establishment of a proper democracy.

Oligarchy: we are ruled by 650 Members of the House of Commons and a varying number of Lords. They themselves then choose at least 20 from their number (the Cabinet) to rule Parliament, and form a number of committees to make sure this other few – the Cabinet members, the Ministers – are doing their job right.

It all works very historically. We had the monarch, the monarch needed advisers and the Lords of the time wanted power, so an equivalent to the Cabinet appeared to facilitate a method of ruling that would be more or less acceptable to all concerned parties. Certainly not perfect, but given that the main concerns of the time were pleasing God and trying not to die too quickly…it made a kind of sense. Then as society developed more people had more power – money, influence, followers, respect, desire – and so more people wanted in on government. The Monarchy repeatedly proved inadequate to the task of pleasing all of these power-mongers. So the second level of Oligarchy – Parliament – was formed with the notion that it would rule on the principle of representing the common people. At the time that didn’t really include poor people or women, who at rough guess made up 80-90% of the population for most of Parliament’s history, but it was something nonetheless.

That second level is where we’re still at today: the most powerful (legally speaking) branch of our government is Parliament. But we still have the pretense of a monarch and the reality of a Council of Ruling Ministers – a Cabinet. All increasing the franchise did was extend our right to the occasional representative opinion poll beyond the 10-20%. Elections don’t give anyone else a right within government or a right to power: just some promise that they might be listened to once every three, four, five years. Basically whenever the rulers decide they’re looking a little too unpopular they agree to a reshuffle and a rethink: a General Election. The reshuffle and rethink never include the idea that maybe these sorts of people should not be leading in these sorts of numbers. Two parties, 650 elected representatives, and a small cadre to try and give directions. They do try and work out what might be beneficial for the nation, for its future, but always within the very limited boundaries of what they as individuals can command the civil service and the general population to undertake.

So we have an oligarchy whose primary motive is to try and represent the views of the population, largely (but not entirely) excluding those under 18 years of age. It’s so earnest in pursuing this motive that it bases its power off regular nationwide referendums – General Elections – which allow a particular area to decide who they want to represent them in the Oligarchy. Although the area vote is now being bought out by false promises of strong PMs and manifestos. It’s very clever. I mean governments have always tried to establish a solid power base in some sort of common good. God, for example. The perfect and all-powerful truth-giver supposedly selected every King and so they claimed to rule – for many years – by Divine Right. Something the entire population of the time could get on board with. During the Russian Revolution different leaders promised a communist heaven and, at least, that the Tsardom would end. Again, something that could sound very good to a very large number of people…until of course the office of Tsar returned under a new name with a series of dictators, from Lenin to Gorbachev. Many crimes were justified in the name of the people.

The point all along being that for people to agree with the social contract that a nation offers them, they have to believe that they are sufficiently secure, that their leaders do at least a few things that are important to them, that they have a good chance of being able to offer and receive a healthy number of goods and services. A nation isn’t something that you have to belong to. It’s something that you choose. Just because many people live their entire lives without being aware of this choice, doesn’t mean that it fails to exist. There are other countries, there are difficult ways of existing within a nation without meaningfully belonging to it. You can choose not to be part of a nation but still find yourself forced to live within it or an equivalent. But the point is: choice. Social contract. Agreements, consent. We don’t have to do what we’re told, although it often saves us from a lot of trouble if we do.

All power in human society necessarily comes from individual humans. Everything we have socially is built up on collections of individuals living as best as they can. If God exists, God does not make Parliaments nor Kings nor Referendums. People wanting to convince other people to follow them and work for them make these things. Mechanisms of organisation: ways of making disparate individuals with their own motives, preferences and purposes, do something that requires more than one person to achieve. It’s probable that in the early days of humanity’s existence, some of us realised how to utilize our emotions and animal instincts to exploit and command others. These people became champions and tribal chiefs, and the rest follows from there. Like animals we have been too busy doing the vital stuff of life – surviving, finding a measure of happiness – to spend all that much time pondering how good our organisational methods are. And even if one person works it out, how do they show all their workings to everyone else?

So…social organisation progresses at a natural speed that’s “comfortable” (an ironically uncomfortable word to use here I know) for everyone concerned. People are different, have different views, have different motivations, whereas all our major achievements are based on people working together. Voting for our oligarchy is not a bad thing, it’s the furthest the union of peoples forming British Society have come to a really efficient form of social organisation. We’re not at the best yet, we can’t have democracy yet, so this will have to do for now.

The point of my writing is that we should all be able to understand this and not be ashamed of it. We should understand why we are in this prison that we have made for ourselves, full of vices and virtues, laws and lawlessness. We’re looking – consciously or not – at the beautiful picture way down the road of achievements, healthcare, technology, learning, entertainments, all in all a more efficient, a more perfect world, and something that can only be achieved by our communal effort.

We do not need to and should not pretend that we have democracy now, or that we are at the end of history with no-where else to go. We have oligarchy, and on a separate point we have capitalism. It’s so not perfect, but as you’ve seen we do get a voice, we do get a good chance at achieving many of the things we want. There are clear benefits. This is why we want to believe the lie that we have democracy and that this voting is democracy – because what we have already really works for a significant number of people. Works, but again, isn’t quite perfect. No-one’s too keen to point that out though without knowing that the imperfect thing could become perfect: no point worrying yourself about something that’ll never happen right?

Wrong. How can we know where to go, what to do, what more efficient is, what a better purpose would be, if we’re not trying to see what’s wrong here and how we might fix it? It’s much slower to wait for reform to accidentally happen. Much better to discuss it thoroughly and openly, plan it, and then roll it out methodically and with ample consideration for the need for flexibility and change.

Earlier I wrote “this vote has produced a more democratic result than most General Elections of the century-and-a-bit just gone”.

Maybe you’ve been wanting some explanation for why I say that.

We have a hung Parliament. This is at a time when the Conservative Party is clearly struggling to remain a powerful and cohesive popular force. When the Labour Party is also collapsing under the weight of its own out-of-date and war-weary ideology. When the Liberal Democrats echoing the beautiful memory of Liberalism have been stabbed in the back by their own leaders’ decision to participate in government, and their chosen method of promising much and delivering nothing. I’m saying we have a hung Parliament at a time when the very idea of government by political party is ready to be challenged, and is simultaneously ready to collapse.

You’re probably worried that this means what…anarchy?

We’re taught to have the opposite of faith in humanity. Most of what we believe, what we hear about and find in popular culture, tells us to take a pretty hefty dose of cynicism daily. We don’t need that. We need to try – and know that we will fail but try anyway – to be neutral about ourselves. To judge on emotion, reason and motivation without emotion, without bias, simply seeking whatever most closely approximates a truth.

And the approximation following this election is that all the MPs in Parliament will be forced to engage across party lines more than has previously been the case, because the nation has little (meaningful) faith in either of the main parties, because Brexit will be happening and someone has to make it happen well, because of the questions this will raise about Ireland, because of the shit state of the NHS and the British school system, because of terrorism and our failure to adequately integrate the thousands of people from different cultures trying to become part of Britain. And all the rest. And the fact that no-one seems to properly agree on any of it.

The Parties must work together. It happened to some extent in the pre-war National Government 80 years ago. It can happen again, and much better than last time.

Why am I so happy that the parties must work together? Because they will then represent – finally, brilliantly – more than 50% of the population.

So far I’ve focussed on the term “oligarchy” because our government is by definition that, and we need to be aware of that while working on improvements to what is fundamentally a problematic mode of governance. What improvements you ask? Well, first better awareness of what our government actually is. We need informed, public, frequent discussion. Easy enough? Second: our voting system regularly allows popular government without any meaningful popular consent. This is not something I need to prove – it’s widely recognised as a feature of our electoral system, but again it’s neatly ignored. Elephant in the room.

The election has at best a 70% turnout from an electorate that’s already not the total population (think young folk, criminals, infirm…). Then a party gets into power on 30-40% of that turnout. In 2015, the Conservatives formed a majority government on 37% of a 66% turnout. That’s 11,334,920 people getting representation versus 51,846,855 people in the general population (figures based on the 2011 Census) given a government they disagree with. In 2010, it was 36% of a 65% turnout: 10,703,744 people, so what roughly a sixth of the population – 17%! – getting representation.

We don’t even give consent to our oligarchs in the most basic and unrepresentative way – with a universal vote to decide the members of a governmental institution.

Party shares.

Turnouts. 

Imagine something more proportional: every vote counting towards something, every voice being heard at least a little bit.

So maybe you’ll understand my pleasure at not having a majority government – it gives the other 83% (or more) whose vote didn’t matter a little crack in the door through which they can shout suggestions and pass insulting notes. It gives the opportunity for a cross-party group of Brexit planners and negotiators to emerge. It grants the possibility of many good co-operative and communicative developments in British politics. And there’s a slim chance that we’ll actually have demand for that.

Although I’m not sure that a proportional voting system would work that much better than what we have now. Being a democrat, I’d prefer that we just take power away from national government and get rid of political parties. Proportional voting would in all likelihood just give party voting blocks more power. We’d have more terrifying manifestos, the wording of which we cannot change, and the potential for more party leaders – not chosen by us – becoming Prime Ministers and forming governments. But, as mentioned, at least the oligarchy would be tethered by 80% or more of the population, rather than the standard 17% odd.

Government, eh? What’s it like.

I’m signing off on this one all you little Pablos hidden in your plush prisons with your big TVs and internet connections. But I’m hoping to do more in the same kinda theme, giving more explanation, more room for discussion. Headlines: “Patricide”; “How to do a democratic revolution”; “Mass consciousness and you: finding a place in the machinery of the universe” etc.

Anarchy?

anarchism, Pulpit, Style

What is Anarchism? The short answer: anything. No matter how hard anyone tries to define it, anarchism should be a way of talking about belief in the indefinite, in change, in movement, in relativity. That is the only way of turning it into a powerful philosophico-ethical theory. I think.

My vision of anarchism in summary: everything built up parsimoniously from its most basic parts. Not a way of interpreting things so much as an attempt at finding truth. I use anarchism to remind myself not to assume, not to take for granted, but instead to ultimately view everything as a line of creation with a past, present and future, without which the thing would not behave as it does. Only when we see something in its totality do we stand a chance of knowing its Truth.

In this way, anarchism is part reference to the old Greek “chaos” in the sense of formlessness, of building blocks – everything stripped back to its essential contents, each thing linked to those resources and moments that make it. It says “remember where we came from”.

It means I can potentially feel reassured in pursuing anything. It makes infinity accessible, because it asks “what is?” rather than telling “this is”.

At the same time it puts limits on actions without invoking morality. Those acts we previously referred to as evil become unreasonable. In doing such acts, the anarchist should be constantly self-reflective, and thereby eventually realise that the act is simply not the best. That there are other, preferable, truer methods of action. Evil is not disgusting, it is wrong in a deeper sense. In an understandable, comprehensive, near-absolute sense. The closest we can get to the absolute without fallible faith.

What limits there are on the anarchist are only set by their humanity: emotions, rationality. Believing it to be superior, I pursue reason wherever I can, guided by Occam’s Razor – the brilliant principle that “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.” In other words, I content myself with probability. I pursue truth but understand the seeming relativity of humanity. In the melee of life, we can only try to limit our assumptions and maximise the rational and evidence-based compents of our conclusions.

Philosophy, consideration, ultimately communication, is what anarchism is based on. Not bombs. Not guns. Not meaningless revolutions.

Anarchism is a way of talking about that spirit which hovers over the land, be it Marx’s perfect society, or the Christian God. The absolute thing that connects us and guides us.

It is an attempt at Truth.

Why I don’t write, but will.

Non-fiction, Pulpit

My output on here isn’t especially regular. I thought I’d do something to explain that, but also something to address issues around “Writers’ Block” that must effect a large part of the authorial community at one time or other.

The short answer is: we stop seeing the point. Feels like your brain is empty and you just can’t summon anything up or whatever. Well generally it’s acutely expressed for me when belief in my writing fails. I can’t summon up anything because I’ve already decided my ideas are pointless, not worth expressing because they will not be read or they will not be understood. Or maybe they just aren’t good enough. And that thought, that fear, kills the writing process before it starts. You can’t go into a session thinking your work is nothing, because then it will be nothing. Simple enough right?

So how do we break this cycle: well, acquiring belief in the self is a livelong battle for probably most people. Even narcissists can worry that they don’t look perfect enough to fuck themselves. Therefore we have to look outside of the self. Sometimes you just can’t rely on that interior, almost spiritual well of inspiration and knowledge working without outside input. Basically, go and talk to people. Find a friend, find someone in the café or at the bar who looks interesting, or hell go on a forum or facebook. It’s so easy with the internet, we really have no excuse. Start a discussion, start an argument if you have to. Make it about something interesting – trolling is too easy and probably won’t get your inky juices flowing, just those other juices – and try to put the time limit on for around half an hour. The participation of others will probably fill you up with some sort of fervour that you can direct into writing.

Next step that also applies generally: even if you don’t think it’s good enough, write anyway. Editing is a thing. You can modify, correct, improve later. Once you have an idea, how well you write it isn’t important. People say you should plan first, well, with word processors you can write first and then do a plan with your first edit. I think it’s called “drafting”. People forget this, I forget this especially. At the beginning of a piece, if you’re struggling, sometimes it can just be about “content creation”. Not even anything good just something essentially coherent.

I forget that on WordPress you can alter and edit anytime you want. Now, if I had a wider readership that might become more obvious. But I don’t think even then it would need to become a problem. Not if you’re happy to read me anyway. I was worried – by all the “best of so and so…” posts on my reader – that no-one edited after posting. But it’s a function available. We should use it. The world, information, opinions, expressive capacity, change all the time.

This is not a platform of books. This is, surprisingly enough, a very well-built tool for conducting discourse. So many people, even the overlords of WordPress themselves, have forgotten that. We shouldn’t just be prising the perfect posts that make one or a few salient points and have them metaphorically sing like angels. We should also prise posts that spawn other coherent posts in response, ones that spawn huge chains of thought in the comments boxes. We should be encouraging eachother to talk more, discuss more, elucidate our points of view so we can all improve. Surely there’s a way of highlighting those places where actual discussion happens as opposed to the written equivalent of shouting and pats-on-the-back?

I mean if we were all labouring in that sort of atmosphere of interaction I bet it’d be a lot harder to get writers’ block. Admittedly, individual posts could get pretty casual in their vocabu-grammar. But I like to think nuance and careful expression would automatically earn their own respect and approval too. Emoticons and text speak didn’t wipe out language, guys. Posts of singing angels will never die. Unlike Esperanto.

But back to this blog in particular – I’m far too good at tearing apart my own advice and ideas. For years – and I think I’ve actually been on here for years now – that has been the bane of my attempts at producing higher volumes of interesting content. Including pictures. I talk myself out of things before anyone even knows I’ve considered them!

Still, I have some confidence in the method described above. Interaction and an amount of well-placed foolhardiness can break us out of our dark patches. It makes sense. I shouldn’t even have to say it, to myself or anyone. But I do have to remind myself. So this is me reminding you too. And I’ll probably be throwing out some more poems sometime soon.

By the way, in the spirit of the above, I might be editing this (wait and see if I label the edits or not) and I’d love to do some of that discussion thang. Although, after probably a couple months of inactivity, I’m not expecting much.

A Lawyer’s Take on Romance

Poetry, Pulpit

I found half of this in my 41-strong drafts folder. What do you think of the other half?

As the frost settles on their broken bones
Squat in deformity the huddled pair
Clasp hands in perpetual motion
One grey cloak and one green
Both white faces tugging
Eachother’s corrupted
Fingers.
Even
The living
Dead can be beautiful
With a rosy tint to their
Empty sockets and a certain
Pink to their lack of posture that
Crumbles beautifully into fleshy moss –
Even broken bones last centuries.

Love is Animal

Poetry, Pulpit

A quick little poem.

Love is animal
Being willing to beak and be beaked
To curl inside eachother, to scratch in play
To stroke and tend hairs and furs
Flying together
Sharing resting spaces
Pomp and puffiness that comes out in cute
When the other creeps nearby
Love is basic
Essential
A knot of roots that snuff and howl and laugh
Sharp and clear, the bark soft as pig skin
Hairy as sheeps
Because human isn’t love.
Human is appreciation, the better communication
Of animal things, the better understanding and use
of those things. Human is craftiness.
An ability to avoid pain or any emotion at all.
Love is gnawing on a leash.

In Love

Poetry, Pulpit

I found this in my drafts from 2years ago.

I get the funnyfeels these days
Dusting me with darkness on the way home
Threading me with fretty needles
Streaming wavey snake wrigglers come
Cutting me with cold’s scissors
Bonking my billy brain and making
Tiny fissures that look so big down close
When I try and tell wrapped up in cotton wool
Dreams coated in witchhazel
Sniffing away the tears try and explain
How those things I did
Were like only kidding.
I get confused
Which one I did
Because somewhere I
And the Perubird fluttered away
But my smelly wings snapped.
I collapsed into a clucky cloud.
Your pretty face etched on my eyes
Like you didn’t wanted it to be
Because it belonged on my lips
Tingletongue gushing down the gullet
Into the thump bump heart pie
Stretched around my soul
Like a lover’s warm arm.
You printed on me
Pictures of happy things
But I couldn’t see the world for my irises.
Pretty Perubird can’t tell me what to do,
Bubbly Bath,
Singy Smile
Tasty Teeth.
I mistleplaced everything climbing my headtrees
Walking along the wining paths as night fallen on me
Amused the goatsheep like devil dogs
Grass-chewing
Silly soul.
Too far travelled and calling you in mimes to join
This stumbling charge
Home.

I all wealyword.

Please come back.

The Gender Slider

Non-fiction, Pulpit

A nice n’ weird one on sexual identity today. For reference, here’s a recent article by the guy I’ll talk about and on the same topic.

Back when I was in school we had a sort of networking skills club for 17-18yr olds that held regular lectures by various big names. One of these was Peter Tatchell*, an LGBT+ rights campaigner, and I remember him suggesting something like a scale of gender. That’s in fact the main thing I took away from his lecture, the idea of a scale. It made a lot of sense to me at the time. My philosophical mind inclines towards variables and numerous peculiarities: I find a scale’s better for describing most things rather than a supposedly objective categorical divide.

So what does that actually mean?

Well, in the case of gender it’s saying there’s a long line that probably has a hetero female mindset at one end and a hetero male at the other. Everyone is somewhere on that line. They all have a peg on it, like a moving point on a measuring scale, a pointer that focusses the gaze on a particular number of centimetres. Each person chooses – to a greater or lesser extent – where that pointer goes on the line. Everyone is bisexual.

It’s saying that for everyone gender is fluid and changeable. That no-one is set-in-stone hetero, homo, bi-pan-omnio. Actually, although the line doesn’t necessarily say it, that you can make yourself attracted to anything. People fuck sheep and cars, it shouldn’t be so difficult therefore to build enough desire to fuck a human you’d normally ignore.

I’ve not seen whatever science there is on it, but I’m not convinced by the argument that genetics has much to do with gender preferences: that people are born one way or the other. Hetero or homo, it’s usually said. I have good reason to think any science that supposedly supports writ-in-stone gender has been misinterpreted.

Let’s step out for a moment to consider what sort of gender we’re talking about: it’s the progressive, lefty kind i.e. a person’s sense of their femininity, neutrality, or masculinity, and of their sexual preferences. It’s the kind that lets a male adopt character traits and lifestyle choices we traditionally link with females, and vice-versa. A sort where the description “A broader statement of gender identity, rather than simple statement of sex organs.” makes sense.

I think any science that says gender is not usually variable in this way is wrong because, basically, if genes aren’t smart enough to stop men ejaculating when they’re just having a wank, why should they be smart enough to stop a man enjoying sex with another man, or having his prostate massaged. If the clitoris doesn’t shut off just because there’s no penis nearby, why should it shut off because of a woman’s tongue, or a foreign finger? There’s nothing biological about it except that the pleasure-providing parts of our organs are the biggest prostitutes ever. They’ll accept anything for a bit of release.

We stop them with our minds. You know, like with either sex having a wank, it’s a matter of what stimulates you. What gets your blood going. And that isn’t something particular. I mean if you want proof, take a trip over to 4chan /d to see all the weird shit to which people have acclimatised their libido. Pretty sure you’re not born with an inclination towards hardcore porn too. Like when you’re a baby or a kid, I imagine most would be pretty disconcerted by what they’d see. Not really born a fan. It’s all what you tell yourself you like.

Now there are clearly some areas where sex organs and chemical balances – the biologically male and female factors – can effect behaviour. Menstrual cycles and pregnancy would be obvious examples of things men generally just won’t and can’t go through, no matter how feminine they feel. And women generally won’t have everything associated with being able to impregnate maybe 30% of the humans you come across. So those are parts of being a biological female or male that sets a line of objective difference between the two. But people can take hormones to acquire the chemical balance of other genders, and it’s only in the most extreme biological sense in which there can be the near-unchangeable difference of organs. Even there people can choose neutrality – they can have all but their pleasure-givers shut off or removed.

Perhaps more importantly however, it what we’ve already said: sexual desire and stimulation can come from any direction, and you can learn to be stimulated by certain people, objects, activities. A lot of human brain activity is about connection and association so it’s not that difficult to imagine we can re-wire ourselves along what you might call ‘unusual’ lines. Again I mention there are people who have sex with their cars, amongst other things.

The human mind is an incredibly powerful thing: it can exercise control over its emotional responses to given stimuli. The only problem is, once it’s developed a selection of emotional responses to something, it’s going to be pestered by those same responses when trying to change them. This is how we get people so devoted to certain causes, they just become so caught up in the emotional cycles related to their ideas and preferences. This is how we get alcoholics and drug-users. I mean scientifically it’s all chemicals anyway, right? It’s no major news that we can influence how those chemicals move, when they move, which ones move.

I’m saying it’s still the scale. I’m saying we can build whatever mental structures and landscapes we want. In that sense, you know, there’s no major difference between a human with one physical set-up and another. Obviously the physico-biological make-up influences things. Losing legs for example is still relevant and will result in a change of your emotional responses to things. But we’re creative. We are allowed to build alternatives. We can construct false breasts and balls as much as false legs and blades. We are allowed to make these changes to ourselves, because at our core there is no religious or scientific rulebook that tells us what we’re allowed to do. The only limitation is literally what we can imagine and force into our realities.

Do you think a medieval horseman could ever have imagined a hovercraft or a plane? Barely, in unfulfilled fevre-dreams. And yet here we are, a thousand or so years later, with those fevre-dreams fulfilled.

So I’m saying let that quite legitimate idea of a gender scale fill your mind with possibilities rather than anger or whatever. It still gives you all the control. It still gives you the ultimate decision at any and every time. Fear of the possibility that you could become…well, whatever you want, probably isn’t a good thing is it? I mean it’s still what you want – it’s not like you’re one of Douglas Adam’s ultra-evolutionary beings that randomly changes it’s fundamental nature and structure roughly every ten minutes. You know, in comparison to being one of those things, being able to work to become more or less whatever you’d want sounds pretty good. No?

Anyway, I obviously came to believe in this scale thing and it’s done wonders for my, well, life. Let’s not get any more specific than that.

Sounds like bullshit but it’s gold, honestly. Check it out.

*to be honest he seemed and seems like a bit of a twat, but given his life experiences and the sort of campaiging he does, it’s probably acceptable. We need some twats to have the absolute confidence to push socially strange subjects into the public consciousness http://petertatchell.net/

Sunken Astroboy

Poetry, Pulpit

This is a poem I’m working on to debut my re-entry into the London open-mic circuit. Talking about it to no-one in particular helps me work out where it’s at. Usually I talk to myself, because that’s easier, but being as I’m trying to spool back up into writer mode, I thought I’d write to you instead.

I’m supposed to read it in a JCC-esque vocal range: think steady pace, bass and a bit of blocky nasal influence.

Wilful postulations around the subject of farts
Bring an ellerdine tranquility to the dereliction
Of home comforts and fanny flaps, smells of fish
And excrement, alternately bringing me
Conclusions of the wandering sentiment
That I’m your fast pedal Fuzzbox, your gilt hyena,
Your Quodrophenia, your Swedish Astrodoll in the long cold night –
These niche incantations and silverthread joy:
Like a suckling bottleneck.

I want to touch your hoodie.

Down by the canalside on rubber dinghies
Among the paraphernalia of incontinence
We have the shining glass shards from nearby
Office towers cowering in booze from the babies
On the bank, demanding rubber thingies
And sugarpills of inheritance, they sing a wordless
Melody of near-vomit hiccups extolling life’s
Flambouyant virtues: it comes through the window
And shits down my earholes.

I think of past lovers and friends.

Turning to your feet with their thin film of city dust
Clinging like fine shading to your textured sole
My hands are already fingering and kneading
Your tread, the phalanges in metatarsal embrace,
They are ten tongues speaking to your essential skin,
Reverberating in body parts while you drift, as though
Sea-bound and meanwhile murmuring known songs
With the tickling tide, it’s points at my fingertips.

Something quivers amid the elastane blend fabrics;
Your hands engage it like tongs considering a lump
Of metal that might, eventually, be called sword
But only after furnacing in a sheath of fire: you
Never liked my medieval metaphors; and the balloon
Goes up, the skyrocket inclines toward the moon
In banal American movie symbolism of misogynistic
Idealism, which idea lays me out on the bed early,

Bubbling canal passing by while you’re left unsatisfied
I think I remember a phrase from somewhere dank
And pleasant: I will go to the Cellar Door, the most
Beautiful phrase in the English language, tongue
Those words with their pink stalactite detailing,
Mouth the whole phrase into you with a seething cultured
Joy that moustache tickles round the edges…So lapping up
The canal I sink into the Cellar Door more meaningful
Than skyscrapers, more loving than rockets.

*************

At the moment it’s about men, or a man, and alienation. About drifting from the traditional discourse on gender, but specifically the discourse on relationships and conventional love.

Sunken Astroboy: his immature dick “Astroboy” sinks early and so he goes to the vagina which we usually link to cave/water/earth imagery. Sunken Astroboy is meant to be the poem in summary: the moment a sub is created by the powers that be.

I’m trying to do this properly for a change, hence the attempt at breaking it down/analysing it. I need to see what it is to properly work on it, so I thought I’d let you people in on the “creative process”.

My main issue right now is that it sort of fades out in the last two stanzas, which I kinda want to do because it reflects what I’m trying with the narrative, but I’m worried that it’d just piss people off.

I have Eddie Izzard in mind when he says “I like to finish my shows with a sort of ‘oh’. And I think I’ve achieved that”.

It’s like the narrator gets bored because he’s finally dropped out of the dream and is literally face-first back in physical reality. He switches to the other extreme: the thought drops away and he’s all about the moment’s sensations. But is that asking too much focus from the audience?

I mean I probably wouldn’t look that deeply into a poem I’d just heard at an open-mic. I kinda want to do it like this anyway though, specifically for that “oh” feeling. Like a secret I can keep from everyone to laugh at when I get back to my seat.

Not sure. I’ll keep at it.

Headlines Breakdown:

Stanza 1: the male narrative voice philosophises about relationships and love vs lust; it’s trying to get a sort of hot, hazy afternoon effect. The fairly dead-pan delivery will reflect this.

The hoodie: in his near-dream world, the smallest contact becomes a huge act of commitment and intimacy. A simple statement of the complexity/depth/stupidity of his feelings.

Stanza 2: the wondering takes him out of the window to the canal, either next to or below him. Drunken weekend warriors of the alcoholic world float around, mocking life.

Lovers and friends: I needed something to bridge the gap between the shit and the tenderness. I actually invoke names of certain people when I’m stuck in a bad place. Like making a spell of positive experiences. I wanted to include that somehow.

Stanza 3: he runs from the sadness outside back to his partner. He goes to her feet because he’s a knowing and wilful sub. It’s hopefully starting to suggest some sort of intimacy.

Stanza 4: he gets an erection and sex happens with awkward and weird metaphors. The meta sentiment is about how he holds this knowingly outdated relationship ideal: medieval romances. At the same time he’s struggling to fix this alongside the role that and modern love gives the woman.

Stanza 5: having cum prematurely he follows his instincts and either deeper or almost sexless desires to express a more important love in cunnilingus.