Archive for the ‘Uncategorised’ Category

This blog will take prolonged hiatus for reasons largely described in this post. Essentially, I am seeking new forms to discuss radical, political and historical matters and to see what cultural consciousnesses might emerge from this creative exploration. I will be aiming to undertake a varying display and examination of my own poetry as well as reviewing works of literature that I believe have profound effect on our identities: both national and individual. This choice has been sparked by my general preoccupation with my studies and my new job but I have felt a growing degree of disillusionment with modern day journalism and it’s unwillingness to inform the public on worthy and truthful matters. I will most likely become active on this blog in the future when I feel more settled politically and philosophically however I feel that discussion of these matters requires a level of creative nuance that is better served in the realms of literature and poetry. For anyone who wants to continue that journey with me, follow this blog.

When I first created this blog four year ago; it was simply to discuss the nature of how our (British and its devolved counterparts) conception of national identity were in ultimate flux. Jeremy Corbyn’s victorious campaign to lead the Labour Party looked to reshape Britain’s historic relationship to socialism as well being a very different interpretation on what it would mean to be an internationalist.  The Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 demonstrated how fragile the United Kingdom was and still is, and just a few months earlier –  UKIP accumulated the highest amount of votes in the European Elections with their best result in the party’s history. And this is all without even including the seismic shifts across the Atlantic with the political rise of Donald Trump. This was 21st century populism finally getting its breakthrough on to a platform where it could deliver substantial influence. Many of those on the left stood in shock as the tide would increasingly lurch to the right. Whilst I consider myself to inhabit left wing principles, I didn’t and still do not consider myself to be “on the left”. On this blog, I’ve attempted to express my disillusionment with left wing politics by contextualising some of the political events of the last few years and have stated that any attempt to reverse the populist right will need to be a met by a firm stance of social responsibility, political innovation and critical thinking which is independent of partisan wrangling (the latter of which I will discuss later). To a great extent, I still believe much of this, however in my blogging haitus –  I have started my Master’s Degree and changed job, both of which have altered the way I perceive resistance and the way in which I think it should be articulated.

Populism

What will the historians say in relation to years of Trump, Brexit and Corbyn?

Goldsmiths University, a self-identifying left wing university which has been my second home for the last year, has been a great source of enlightenment for myself. It has reminded me of the importance of philosophy and its guidance in helping to continue interpreting the world in a nuanced way, free from absolutes. Goldsmiths’ relationship with its students represents the ‘Postmodern Condition’ in a very subtle way. The postmodern condition in regards to the social bond is explained by the Philosopher Lyotard as such:

  • “No one, not even the least privileged among us, is ever entirely powerless over the messages that traverse and position him at the post of sender, addresse or referent. One’s mobility in relation to these language game effects is tolerable, at least within certain limits, it is even solicited by regulatory mechanisms, and in particular by the self-adjustments the system undertakes in order to improve its performance. It may even be said that the system can and must encourage such movement to the extent that it combats its own entropy [disorder].

  • Over the last decade, Goldsmiths has embraced strong left-wing values, in part to offer an inclusive space to students who feel marginalised within society, but also to raise its reputation as a progressive and ‘forward thinking’ institution within academia. Whilst other universities often attempt to stay neutral and politically balanced, Goldsmiths has ‘solicited’ and remains ‘tolerable’ to external leftist rhetoric or language game effects as Lytoard prefers to state. It has occasionally made what it felt were necessary self-adjustments (often through LGBT supportive measures) to embrace a wider sense of leftist movements to sustain it’s progressive identity. For Goldsmiths, change is a crucial and consistent tool to survive above the ‘entropy’ that can often result from uncontrolled change.

This sense of institutional radicalism is admirable in that it demonstrates an organisation that wishes to offer something different and politically challenging to its intellectual clientele. However, it can also be interpreted as a sign of virtue signalling –  an attempt by a large and influential group to pander towards its ‘less-fortunate’ subjects in order to appear righteous and morally just. It appears that Goldsmiths’ radical stance on student rights appears to backfire as it was accused of being silent and non-committal on the institutional racism that was allegedly ‘rampant’ within the campus. This even led to an occupation by GARA (Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action) on university owned town hall building. This type of radical political action could have only occurred at Goldsmiths, although many other universities have been reported to harbour elements of discrimination and prejudice (many to an even greater extent than Goldsmiths), it is Goldsmiths that has distinctly encouraged its students to be more reactive and responsive to matters of injustice.

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Do UK universities understand the meaning of progressivism?

Arguably, Goldsmiths’ has become a victim of its own success, only a few months ago – Goldsmiths reached a settlement with the GARA in which the Goldsmiths’ SMT (senior management team) have pledged to do more to right racism within its institution. But this incident does not reside in isolation with the wider political situation in the UK; for large chunks of 2019 Climate Change activists have successfully pressured the UK parliament to declaring a climate emergency. This was achieved by widespread coverage of protests held by Extinction Rebellion and the condemnation by key figures in the field of ecology and science. This sort of collective action has been a powerful demonstration of political responsibility, exemplifying the power of grassroots action to push for change. Philosophically, this is certainly interesting as it appears that we are moving in to an era where political agency is treated as an instrument for genuine resistance –  much of this can be evidenced in the rise of the Swedish student activist Greta Thunberg. Her ‘choice’ to truant from school to actively protest for more action against climate change is seemingly an act of defiance against forces of bureaucracy. However, her volition must be questioned here, is she independently displaying an act of resilience or is she just being manipulated by international organisations to exude a level of virtue in a similar vein to that of Goldsmiths? Perhaps, when it comes to radical action, it is possible  for one to simultaneously hold varying levels of agency and free will –  the existentialist philosopher Nietzsche did once comment that

The desire to bear the entire and ultimate responsibility for one’s actions oneself, involves nothing less than to be a precisely casua sui (a thing in of itself)

Essentially, we as human beings are not truly free to act as radically as we wish. We most certainly have the ego and the desire within ourselves to conceive of our actions as independent, this idea of freedom however is just a figment our imagination.

Having said this, the real political innovation does lie somewhere in the realm of agency.

The model of artistic agency –  has a certain primacy for Nietzcshe, it precisely because he acknowledges the point that it is part of the ethology of human beings that they are cultural beings and consequently, recognises that what we are instrincally bound up with how we reflect and act on ourselves

To elaborate, this artistic agency operates in slightly more fluid way then the conception free will, in that we can enact powerful consequences in our quest to prove ourselves as subjects of free will. Therefore, although there are limitations and restrictions on the sort of political choices that we can make, we have enough artistic agency to make an influence on our environment despite the futility that this may have. In a speech last year, Greta Thunberg surprisingly embodied some of these thoughts in relation to the decisions that she makes towards her political behaviour.

“We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come to let you know that change is coming whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people”

GRETA

Is Greta Thunberg just a puppet of the virtue-signalling elite?

It appears here, that Greta is attempting to maximise her political agency whilst recognising  that the volition/free will of herself and her other climate activists has been too dependent on the action (or inaction) of her world leaders. I believe her assertion that “change is coming whether you like it or not” is deliberately vague, we are left to wonder whether that change alludes to the climate or something some politically related akin to a rebellion? Unsurprisingly, a year later from this speech, little change has been enacted in regards to environmental policy with many political leaders choosing to maintain – to a certain extent – the structural processes in regards to our relationship with technology and nature. Perhaps, the reason why change is so hard to enforce is because we don’t understand how and where it originates. I sympathise with Nietzsche’s conviction that our free will is often overstated, but I believe this provides even greater incentive for collectivist action. If our volition is the consequence of external cultural norms that are reflected upon us, then we should consolidate our ambitions to increase our agency. One could argue that this runs the risk of groupthink, where our quest for harmony supresses our independent ability to think critically. This critique has been levelled at the Climate Change Activist group Extinction Rebellion, and it is a legitimate point to consider, particularly when you consider that political protest can become a fashion instead of a genuine cause, unfortunately; social solidarity can just be another catchphrase for “I want to fit in!”. If Collective vs Individual responsibility seems to be at the philosophical crux of any attempt to enact any meaningful change, then perhaps we should attempt to use language that can represent both individual and collective mindsets. Greta seems appears to side with the collectivist angle in her words that “power belongs to the people”, and while I believe this to be an admirable statement of civic duty it also quite problematic, especially when we look at varying and contradictory conceptions of “the people”.

This difficult notion of “the people” is neatly and insightfully outlined in George Orwell’s book ‘Coming Up for Air’. This is a story that tries to explore the nature of society through a portrayal of the individual. The essential premise is set just prior to the onset of World War 2 and is built around an English Middle class Salesman called George Bowling. On the surface, it can be perceived simply as a story about a boy who attempted to swivel his way through the social ranks of English society – gaining a modicum of respect whilst simultaneously losing one’s innocence. Much of the story is set in George’s childhood, often filled with whimsical tales of boyhood nostalgia in rural idyll, it then progresses to George’s later years as he tries to recapture some of that sense of wonder but always falling one step short. Often, it can seem like this a just retelling of a grumpy man going through a mid-life crisis. But it is so much more than that. ‘Coming Up for Air’ reveals some of society’s complex class divisions that are ever so present in Animal Farm as well as presenting the tyrannies and corruptions of authorities that exist in 1984.

The story jumps between memories of Bowling in London and his rural hometown of  Thames Valley, often contrasting the metropolitan atmosphere in London with regions in England that attempt to resist that. This narrative of a London that is culturally distinct from the rest of country, has many contemporary parallels as 21st century Britain is still struggling to integrate London in to the wider social network of countries towns and regions that have been left behind by neo-liberalism, globalization and a Financialized elite. In previous blog posts I have spoken about the use of federalism as a possible solution to this, but interestingly in Coming Up for Air, George Bowling does not want any political solutions –  he feels that things are pre-ordained   – free will is almost non existent. He is part of a natural and inevitable sway towards mundanity. You could argue that in Bowling, Orwell has constructed a character of an almost perfect existentialist crisis. Bowling understands that the fundamental elements of his life can not be changed; his children, his job and his wife are rooted in this middle class urban life that he has inadvertently forged for himself, but his trip back to the Thames Valley is a simple – and perhaps a sad – attempt to recapture a sense freedom and wonder that inhabits a child who plays in the marshes and ponds.

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This book is often seen as providing the political backdrop to 1984 and Animal Farm. Do you agree?

The nostalgia, flashbacks and memories often give off this veneer of a passionate environmentalism.  Which is interesting, given that the first book to really spearhead environmentalism in the “western world” was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (more on that in a future blog post). But Bowling’s sentimental attachment to the marshlands of Thames Valley don’t quite echo the fury of injustice voiced by the Extinction Rebellion Protestors, instead they speak of a deeper importance, a bond to nature that is not incapsulated in the language of safety, health or survival, but one that invokes a sense of belonging, home and identity.

For all of their fervour and passion, I find that many modern protests are unable to deliver a story of their struggle that can be easily translated to the masses; those who campaigned strongly to remain within the European Union often failed to articulate what a such a European Identity meant to those industrial heartlands who felt “left behind”. This failure of political communication has been commentated to quite a large degree in the media, but I still don’t see where any real efforts to make progress on this. Whenever I see our coastlands ravaged by storms and floods I hardly ever see protestors on the streets campaigning for action on climate change. Why is that? Why is our sense collective agency so broken? Human beings are built to be self-interested, but does this mean that our efforts for collaboration are caged in our regional and cultural identity? Perhaps. However, our nostalgia to return to a beautified past will be crushed with sudden disaster if we don’t respect the scientific urgency to alter our everyday lifestyles. Additionally, whilst many of us protest on the streets arguing for more decisive action to protect our planet, we must understand that we often have the privilege of a home that won’t be destroyed by natural disasters.

I once wrote a poem about the need for an apocalypse, or some action that would purge the world of it’s impurities, it was written partially in jest, but I was trying argue that radical action is needed if we are to fundamentally change the way we live our lives. Is it simply enough to reform a few measures here and there? We had a European renaissance in the 1500s, this reminded people of the beauty and wisdom of the classical age whilst urging people to merge innovation with traditional values. But ere we as humans in 2019 still capable of this? The internet made a considerable difference to the way societies interacted with each other but it didn’t fundamentally change who were, it simply gave us a new vehicle to exploit one another, perhaps in more illusory ways. Can we change our brutalized natures or are condemned to that human character in our mortal lives? Maybe we should look for different heroes, the men and women of the renaissance era often looked to classic Greek and Roman Gods for inspiration –  heck, our Marvel Cinematic Universe encourages to do the same thing – but perhaps we need to refocus our efforts on the unsung heroes and less glamorous legends of the past. We’ve tried this with less than savoury characters such as pirates and Vikings, but this often falls victim to Romanticism. Perhaps we need to look towards the “salt of the earth”, those at the very bottom of society’s barrel. For it is their strife, their historical struggle, that forces them to find new ways to cope with a world that offers no rewards for glorious reminiscence.

 

New Poem.

“In spite of all darkness, you have spluttered a light that pierces through my harshness.

We have both shrank under the weight of our glory.

Destined for something, but it wasn’t greatness.”

Bolstered progress to bleak process.

We were consistently meticulous to a work that is now fruitless.

Our victories..historic? Our beliefs, stoic?

This is some form of mundane madness, but it doesn’t feel tragic.

We sought not pleasure in one another,

but only hope, honor and heraldry.

Are we the heretics now?

Clinging on to a notion of justice,

but descending into a crescendo of barbarity?

I had hoped that our partnership would be immortal,

Enriched with the beauty of both combat and compassion.

Together, our hand should have transcended time,

With all pain to be purged, leaving peace as our only fashion.

Our marriage of lunar skies and sunburnt trials,

illuminated all that was hidden, all that was strange.

Dormant demons now stroll the land,

But we grovel at their mercy,

for it is they who are grand.

How did we conceive of greatness, but give birth to Kratos?

Why did I imagine a future that had already been lost?

What did you permit to, that had already been forsaken?

We sit on a throne, fit for execution.

The curtains have been drawn, our future has already been written.

Our prophecy drifts hopelessly between truth and imagination.

But the delicacy of my oracle is just a matter of perception.

Deceived into believing that we could reform the world.

Our coalition of interests was nothing but a fools gold.

Logic is redundant in this land of sinners,

to flight and not fight is to hide among the smoke and mirrors.

When the conspiracy runs its course and the clock strikes its final hour,

who will crucify our memories?

Lest the precious moments can not be saved.

The ‘utopia’ that I walk through, glistens because of you.

In your destruction, in your elegance, in your hope.

It was all in your view.

So with our mirage of lost fortunes,

We shall strife through despondent darkness

For the rule of peace does not reside in exhaustion.

No nation may bow to us,

but our bond is resilient.

For the density of our union, not a single empire is equivalent.

So shall we relinquish our reign?

Make free the pillars of power?

Slither away from our sovereignty?

All that we see now is solitude,

and an empty eternity for us to devour.

Back to University |The 21st Century Renaissance?| Modern Day Coup d’etat

I’m often told how I should be appreciative of my freedoms and liberties, my forefathers supposedly fought for a world where we could live in relative harmony and peaceful coexistence regardless of our thoughts and opinions. And in some respects, I am. I recognise that the privileges I possess aren’t necessarily afforded to a large section of the population. The Banned Books Festival – that was held in many libraries a couple of weeks ago – should be a celebration of that, it was good chance for most us of ‘Millenialls’ to reflect towards a time when freedom of expression was simply just a dream. But what happens, when the cherished values of liberty and tolerance are under siege without you even knowing it? What happens when our freedoms are being stealthily eroded because of “convenience” and luxuries? This is a future that I’m beginning to envisage and I’m not sure whether I should feel scared, helpless or both.

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Are there any recently published novels which could be banned in the near future?

I’ve spoken many times about the lack of freedom of speech and the relationship between liberty, extremist politics and political correctness. But I feel as if this problem is expanding beyond people like Trump and issues like Brexit. This is not just about “having enough of the experts” or “fake news”, its about destroying the creative space that helps to heal divisions and build compromises. Instead, we are entering a digital world, where information is not delivered, but shoved in your face with a ferocity that doesn’t allow the mind to rest, reflect or rationalise. The public’s reactions have always been the supreme force in a political sphere, but it seems that our social institutions are now more concerned with gathering the mood of that nation as opposed to the genuine needs of it. Social media has a large part to play for this, but I feel as if we need to take responsibility as a society for this dangerous path. Difficult questions are often asked of us and we have failed to restrain ourselves from choosing the simple answer.

Interestingly, this pattern is not new. Authors, writers and poets have possessed the same fears as we do now, only 50 years ago. As part of National Libraries Week, I feel it is only fair that we touch upon some of the authors have provoked and inspired us, despite writing in such dangerous conditions.

One novelist – Ray Bradbury, highlighted themes of paranoia and freedom in his book: Fahrenheit 451. It wasn’t perceived as a ground breaking piece of creative writing at the same time, although it has now been revered as an important piece of prophetic fiction. It was not radical in what it proposed, but extreme in the vision that it had outlined. Bradbury created a world where the reading and possession of fictional books were forbidden throughout America. Only technical and statistical books were allowed to be read, and even then there were special restrictions. The book has been coined for envisioning a world where books were banned, but I perceive it as a novel demonstrating the end of ‘humanities’ and the censorship of creative writing itself.

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This novel was published during a tumultuous time for American geopolitics, the Cold War was at its peak and both Soviet and Anglo-American forces were consistently demonstrating their military might, either through the testing of Nuclear Weapons as the US did in Nevada 1953, or when China shelled Taiwan just a year later. A sense of fear and panic had infected the American people and this contributed to a fundamental altering of American society. Because of the paranoia during daily life, American institutions protected themselves against ideologies that were deemed to be sympathetic to the ‘communist cause’ or principles that undermined American solidarity. A common method was for educational bodies to censor material that was classed as harmful, the State of Georgia created its first literature censorship board in early 1953. It proved to be a very active and busy commission – (despite lacking a clear definition of was defined as ‘obscene’) given that it by April 1960, distributors had agreed to pull more than 119 publications from sale to avoid such actions or lawsuits from the commission.

Although it is clear that it must have been very challenging and proactive for Bradbury to publish such a controversial book during this period, what really interested me were the different coping mechanisms that American citizens used to deal with the paranoia and narrowing of american culture. This is most evident during an airing in 1953 of the once popular sitcom I Love Lucy, which garned a viewership of 71%, higher than the 67% of President Eisenhower’s inauguration which was televised the following day. Of course it must remembered this is during an era where there was no Internet, Cable TV, video games or smartphones; to attract such a percentage may have been unprecedented but it wouldn’t be an absolute shock given the limited means for entertainment. However, the fact that it surpassed the inauguration of the higher position in political office is a surprise. Perhaps one could argue that the escapism and distraction that a popular sitcom could offer is seen by many as being more worthy than engaging in political affairs, no matter if the event is actually there to build national solidarity. Bradbury touches upon these new cultural processes – as I will discuss later -, but it is worth mentioning that these cultural changes are not to dissimilar to the way that celebrity culture of the 21st century has replaced the concern and awareness of present day domestic civil affairs.

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How have sitcoms managed to maintain their positions on Prime Time TV?

Most dystopian novels today resort to an Orwellian conception of society, where the government has a firm and rigid control over all institutions and enforces this hold on society through a methodology of fear and punishment. Fahrenheit 451 represents an earlier trend for sci-fi authors to represent a totalitarian system that is enforced by the people themselves as opposed to the government directly. Huxley was a chief architect of this idea, which was expressed in his novel Brave New World (another a banned book). These sort of books conceive of a notion where pleasure can be used as a form of tyranny, especially when human emotions can constrain people to think or act in a particular way.

One particular excerpt highlights this theme when a character (Beatty) explains the reason for the prohibition of books and the purpose this serves for the human spirit.

Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well?read man? Me?

The ‘book’ is conceived as a weapon that only emphasizes the divisive elements of human nature; arguably people are naturally paranoid towards each other as part of the tribal element of ourselves. So although this ‘Race towards the top’, that is so often spoken about today – is considered to be a natural contributor towards societal inequality, Beatty claims this can be reversed if can just remove the objects and resources that encourage the competition between ourselves. Although the character argues that is a progressive measure because it creates a sense of unity and solidarity, it is ultimately regressive because it is creates a nation of people that are ignorant to their true reality. Judgment is an essential part of human evolution and innovation, although it is often used in an unfairly discriminatory fashion, it can protect us from making fundamentally bad decisions either as an individual or as a society. It is the reason why we have elections, why football clubs buy and sell certain players or why listen to different genres of music. These choices help to establish any sense of democracy that exists in the world, but by choosing to ban books or libraries as method of censoring judgment, we simply eliminate our freedom.

Currently, social media and the internet provides us with a dopamine-esque hit to keep us satisfied with our current lives, but in Fahrenheit 451 an important use is made of the Household TV parlour and the influence it plays on keeping the characters occupied and distracted.

Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave. They just might stop us from making the same damn insane mistakes! I don’t hear those idiot bastards in your parlour talking about it.

God, Millie, don’t you see? An hour a day, two hours, with these books, and maybe…”

The telephone rang. Mildred snatched the phone.

“Ann!” She laughed. “Yes, the White Clown’s on tonight!”

Considering how important the ‘sitcom’ was as a staple of American entertainment during Ray Bradbury’s age, its quite radical for him to make such a mockery of the system itself. But the satire does have some interesting comparisons about our culture today. People do have the tendency to seclude themselves on the internet as a sort of bubble to protect themselves from the harsh realities of the world. But increasingly, we are witnessing stagnating levels of literacy in children and their overall intellect because of the dependency on technology to facilitate our mental process;

The converter attachment, which had cost them one hundred dollars, automatically supplied her name whenever the announcer addressed his anonymous audience, leaving a blank where the proper syllables could be filled in.

A special spot? wavex? scrambler also caused his televised image, in the area immediately about his lips, to mouth the vowels and consonants beautifully.

The way in which the Fahrenheit 451’s TV parlour integrates personal identity with entertainment, is eerily reminiscent of how Facebook, Google and other social media companies utilise information to personalise advertisement as well as to push and pull certain political/social material that is deemed inappropriate for particular audiences. The TV Parlour’s advanced grasp of phonetics and linguistics is also prophetic in the way in which technology now operates as a teacher and guide to support children in their comprehension of literacy further reinforcing our reliance on technology.

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An image from the 1966 movie adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 (Depicting the Tv Parlour). Has anything really changed?

The novel also emphasises that the idiocy of society operates so well because it provides an opportunity for citizens to feel as if they are intelligent.

Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non? combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely `brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a
sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy..

Objective information for these citizens is manner of security, the process of problem solving as well as creating innovative solutions is dangerous to these people because it encourages their minds to wander in unknown waters. The methodology of challenging oneself to think critically and to place yourself to think ‘out of the box’ threatens their sense of identity; subjects like philosophy and sociology are greatly concerned with the fluid nature of ethics, principles and values. If these issues are not a concrete element of a persons life it could provide a fleeting nature to their moral code. In some respects this corresponds to a modern day perspective which asserts that liberalism is too open, thus allowing extremist ideas to be tolerated. It’s easy to imagine a world where the fear of liberalism can exacerbate in to a full-scale authoritarian attitude to culture and recreational activities.

The entire novel isn’t just doom and gloom, it does highlight some interesting ways in which we perceive books and the lessons that could be offered for the future. A character in the novel stresses the subtle importance of reading that people could easily

“The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not. No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”

This shows that reading a book in and of itself is not the answer to a more intelligent society. It is the patterns, arguments and languages that formulate the beauty of a book. Knowledge can be gained anywhere in any format, but books force people to develop a level of patience to understand the meaning behind the words and the way in which they are organised. To simply believe that novels could themselves could raise the intellect of a nation is to reinforce the myth that facts are essential to the educational upbringing of any child. It reminds me of how people often claim that learning History is only about remembering the dates and times of when important people behaved in important events, but this ignores the “why” of how certain situations arise and the different patterns that could affect the probability of these events occurring. The emphasis on memory in school exams if often used as a criticism of the current UK national curriculum, and it is interesting to see a similar concern voiced in a novel from 70 years ago.

In one section of the novel, a character attempts to get around the prohibition of books by reading a novel and attempting remember all the chapters inside of it, instead of withholding the book permanently in one’s possession. This is not simply about preserving the knowledge within the book but about developing a sense of personal responsibility.

Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.’ Most of us can’t rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that
many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.

As the quote implies, one can not simply rest on an assumption that your information will be given to you in a fair and accurate manner. Bradbury was commenting on his own period, but he inadvertently prophesied a future era where we would also need to be responsible for ourselves. During the 1950s Print Media operated in fast and hectic urbanized environments, nothing much has changed in comparison today’s society. The rush for information has led to journalists and news agencies providing simplistic information that is often vulnerable to manipulation and propaganda, the rise of social media has only increased the likelihood for this to happen. Therefore one must take it upon themselves to research for their own knowledge and understanding and not to simply rely upon other people. Although, people have other responsibilities and it may be difficult to achieve a higher level of understanding that we often expect of ourselves, we should at least make the attempt. If we fail, than perhaps another person could adopt a similar approach but in an improved way, which at least will not leave our actions in vain.

It might be clear now to understand how Bradbury’s novel was deemed radical enough to be banned in some literary educational circles in the United States; it advocates a culture that can think independently and critically. It also protests against the superficial nature of digital entertainment that so often distracts us from the truth. I think it’s also important to touch upon a running theme throughout the book which is the decline of intellectualism and the erosion of academia. It is often said that a key symptom of the totalitarian system is the censure and removal of intellectual discussion and debate, this was witnessed during the Nazi era and the Chinese Revolution of 1949, with the closing of universities, banning of books and the execution of intellectuals. Fahrenheit 451 alludes to a similar sort of action

” The old man admitted to being a retired English professor who had been thrown out upon the world forty years ago when the last liberal arts college shut for lack of students and patronage.”

But what I found particularly interesting was that towards the end of the novel, the government issues a televised program to seize a suspected (but not convicted) criminal.

“Police suggest entire population in the Elm Terrace area do as follows: Everyone in every house in every street open a front or rear door or look from the windows. The fugitive cannot escape if everyone in the next minute looks from his house. Ready! “

It is often said that the first step of a totalitarian state is the use of paramilitary forces or to encourage the public to engage activities that would often be reserved for law enforcement agencies. Despite the claims by many that we live in a fascistic society, the missing elements are those paramilitary forces that wreaked so much havoc in the early twentieth century, however it could be argued we are indeed moving in that direction. There has been resurgence of militant far-right and far-left groups that occasionally clashed during protest marches and demonstrations but dangerously, we have seen them congregate online and harass members on social media for displaying opinions contrary to their own. They operate with a sort of mob mentality by barraging online users with death threats and comments to incite violence. Twitter, Facebook and Google have implemented measures to clamp down on hate speech, but this has only endangered free speech and forced those hate groups to operate unnoticed in darker parts of the web. It is well known, that governments across the world use a divide-and-conquer approach to weaken the unity and solidarity of the people, so it would not be a surprise if the government were to take a lackadaisical approach to these extremist groups in order for them to flourish and cause discontent within society. The quote above from the book might seem like a far-fetched future reality but it captures the way in which a government can mobilize its citizens for unsavory purposes.

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Different era, same mob?

If Libraries week and Banned book Week is to commemorate the material that challenges us, develops us and creates us, then Fahrenheit 451 is a good example of a book that can be provocative yet educational. During one of my recent university seminars, we discussed the Italian Renaissance and it’s impact upon society, it revitalized the cultural world of the Italian city states by discussing and teaching the importance of the classical ideas from the Roman and Greek Era. I feel that if we are to protect the intellectual world of the Anglo-sphere we need not to glorify our past – as the populists often tempt us towards – but to remember, cherish and protect the freedoms we currently possess, as our ancestors did not have the luck or entitlement to operate in such radical circles.

This is another installment in my poetry series Glitzy (Glitchy) Paradise. My attempt to delve in to science fiction, radical politics and history.

Some stories need to be told.
I’m not saying this has to be an ode…but you need to recognise the path we are on.

We were miles away, deep in to something bleak and unforsaken.

Such strides have been made, objectives surpassed, promises fulfilled.
We must be close now, surely?

I have nothing beautiful to offer.
But, my honesty and truth? It will have to suffice.

When we get there, if we get there.
You’ll understand how worthy this will be.

I’ve made too many sacrifices in the name of my own delusions.

But the world we’re approaching, it will give us our honour, integrity and purpose.

We can reclaim what is owed to us only if we have the courage to seize it.

For opportune moments are only grasped by the righteous.

But wait, hah! I’m getting ahead of myself. Woe betide, we will self-destruct if we follow these traits.

We have belittled ourselves for too long. Believed in a transformation that arises only out of luck and leisure.

But this path that we stride on, relies not on hopeless devotion or desperate pleas.

For when we arrive on that evergreen hill and the gateway beckons us in, we will be released from this world of resentment and recklessness.

From a world that prizes it’s destruction as something pure and organic.

“Here he goes again”, they say, “chasing falsehoods and foolish dreams”.

But I did not squirm my way through the Lancastrian workhouses to tell you this. Nor did I swim through the murky Celtic seas to face your scorn.

For when my journey is finished, we may not have our truth.

An alternative will be offered, with a chance to return to our youth.

We’ve all seen our reflection, but none of us know what we look like.

Could we right our wrongs and restart our failed chapters?

Or will my path end like all the others, in a dark but final rapture.

The Catcher in the Rye & Ginger and Rosa

Ginger and Rosa & Catcher in the Rye

Following on from my previous post on existentialism, I’ve been interested in the concept of paranoia and have been questioning our individual purpose and sense of duty in society. Something which has attracted me in particular is a rising notion of fear amongst our youth, this can manifest in many different ways. It could be a fear of a political leader – or the system that encompasses it – , a more precise sort of fear like a phobia, a wide-ranging fear like depression and anxiety or a fleeting but powerful fear that can be easily triggered by our environment such as the fear of loneliness in our social media age. This is not an exhaustive list of fears that exist but it covers the fears I have either witnessed or encountered at some point during my working, academic and personal life.

I believe that many of these fears have been stimulated by a renowned sense of political duty amongst our youth. This can be interpreted as a sort reawakening of social purpose and responsibility, something which is not unprecedented if we look at rebellious nature of the 60s and 70s but can be relatively startling to “babyboomers”, people in their 40s and 50s or those who are more withdrawn to political protest and debate. It is admirable that important subjects are now on the front-line of policy-making decisions and that controversial topics like the extension of LGBT rights, freedom of speech and immigration are now firmly on the political agenda. These debates may not always be articulated diplomatically or even fairly, but we should appreciate the courage it has taken to bring these difficult topics to the surface. My concern, is that we are possibly burdening our youngsters with such challenging topics about the world, to the point in which they end up questioning their position in society and thus begin to undermine their influence on the world. I imagine this in a scenario where a person encounters a interesting subject, is fascinated by it, attempts to challenge the injustices surrounding the subject, experiences failure in their quest for justice and then begins to feel a sense of eternal frustration at not being able to change the world but still with an ever growing desire to make a positive influence on the world around them. I do not believe that we should isolate our children an teenagers from the harsh realities of the world as I believe that an exposure to political debate helps to develop a sense of individualism and creative thinking – characteristics that are so easily lost in this regimented world. However, I do believe we run the risk of our youth feeling like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders, this is especially important with the rapid development of social media and the constant bombardment of sensationalism and fake news. When you consider how social media technologies are designed to echo the sort of news and information that one responds passionately to, its easy to understand how one can be surrounded with negativity and confusion, given the tendency for new agencies to exaggerate and promote stories of division and chaos. This whole process thus generates a sense of paranoia and insecurity, feelings that could be particularly harmful for those who are still dealing with the psychological pressures of adolescence and puberty.

Ginger and Rosa[Film] – Politics, Paranoia and Puberty

The Movie Ginger and Rosa, captures this conflict between personal turmoil and political division very neatly. Although, set before the digital age, it tells a contemporary story set in 1960s London about the psychological effects of the Cold War on children.

The synopsis is as follows

London, 1962. Two teenage girls – GINGER & ROSA – are inseparable. They skip school together, talk about love, religion and politics and dream of lives bigger than their mothers’ domesticity. But the growing threat of nuclear war casts a shadow over their lives. Ginger is drawn to poetry and protest, while Rosa shows Ginger how to smoke cigarettes, kiss boys and pray. Both rebel against their mothers: Rosa’s single mum, Anoushka , and Ginger’s frustrated painter mother, Natalie . Meanwhile, Ginger’s pacifist father, Roland seems a romantic, bohemian figure to the girls. He encourages Ginger’s ‘Ban-the-Bomb’ activism, while Rosa starts to take a very different interest in him. As Ginger’s parents fight and fall apart, Ginger finds emotional sanctuary with a gay couple, both named Mark, and their American friend, the poet Bella . Finally, as the Cuban Missile Crisis escalates – and it seems the world itself may come to an end – the lifelong friendship of the two girls is shattered. Ginger clutches at one hope; if she can help save the world from extinction, perhaps she too will survive this moment of personal devastation.

While it is easy to acknowledge the exceptionalism of Ginger’s story, I feel it reveals some of the common depths to which mental illness can bury itself. Ginger’s devotion to “Ban-The-Bomb” is seen as admirable to many of her adult figures, although as her relationship to her friend Rosa and her parents begin to breakdown, she decides to seeks salvation in political protest and rebellion. Instead of the maternal/paternal protection that should be offered to her, Ginger finds surrogacy in the noble but unstable political mob. It is no wonder that Ginger descends in to a state of anxiety, as she cries out ‘that the world is going to end, but no one seems to care’. Ginger’s paranoia about the world ending is just a subconscious metaphor for the derailment of her own personal life. The political world that Ginger is exposed too, begins as a useful distraction from her problematic private world, but it soon transforms in to a dangerous occupation of Ginger’s mind as she fails not only to rescue what little sense of family she has, but she fails to recognize the lack of influence that the movement of nuclear disarmament is achieving.

How can we stop politicians and ‘politics’ exploiting our youth?

Ginger’s mental breakdown can thus be attributed largely to the hostile environment in which she resides. Although her mental illness is not chronic we can use our 21st century scientific perspectives to recognize that she is suffering from a form of Anxiety. But its important to understand that during the 1960s, the public perceptions around mental illnesses were considerably misunderstood.

Many people considered mental illnesses to be a mainly ‘private’ matter and that it was down to the local community to provide their own sort of treatment (religious groups and the wider Christian infrastructure within each community offered their own methods with varying (and unreliable) degrees of success . This dis-institutionalized system of mental health care in Britain often meant that the public at large were simply not aware of people with mental illness. Diagnosis from medical professionals was a rarity and so recognition and support from the public was all but non-existent. Due to the popular demand for extended human rights in the 1960s, hospitalization of mental health patients was hailed as a progressive moral necessity. But in the 1970s, the stories of ill treatment towards mentally ill patients illustrated the ignorance and incompetence that doctors and medical practitioners had held about the field of mental health. Therefore, the failure of many of the adults in the movie to recognize the deterioration in Ginger’s mental state is somewhat part of a larger societal problem about the perception of mental health.

The Catcher in the Rye[novel] – Emotional Repression & Fighting Societal Oppression

The Catcher in the Rye also displays themes of societal rebelliousness and paranoia but in a much more overt way. The story operates as a coming of age novel, but also acts as a cautionary tale in regards to adolescence and isolation. The summary of the novel is as follows

Holden Caulfield is a seventeen- year-old dropout who has just been kicked out of his fourth school. Navigating his way through the challenges of growing up, Holden dissects the ‘phony’ aspects of society, and the ‘phonies’ themselves: the headmaster whose affability depends on the wealth of the parents, his roommate who scores with girls using sickly-sweet affection.

Set largely during 1950s New York and Pennsylvania, the story is driven from a first person perspective that attempts to portray the protagonist having an adventure but without the journey that often comes with it. Holden does experience something of a spiritual exploration in which he understands the freedom and the strength of his own individual will, but he soon recognizes that ‘phoniness’ around him is too deeply ingrained in the institutions and people that he engages with; including his friends and family and with strangers on the street.

Is Holden’s cynicism evocative of our youth today?

Holden is not an activist in the strictest sense, but he spends much of the novel on a mission to probe and challenge the ‘defective’ norms in society, his struggles and failures do not arise from a fierce institutionalized resistance that Ginger encounters when she marches for ‘Nuclear Disarmament’, but from a repressed trauma during Holden’s childhood. The death of his little brother and his inability to grieve for him makes Holden deeply sympathetic for the weak and vulnerable in society (mainly children) and thus Holden’s desire to question the entrenched values in his world is part of a subconscious (and somewhat existential) attempt to create a better world for the generation that will follow him. Holden’s ‘activism’, whilst direct and purposeful, slowly begins to eat away at his psyche because of his unresolved inner turmoil.

Holden is very much a product of a conservative, prosperous and rising upper middle class in post-war America, but like the 1960s of Ginger and Rosa, Holden suffers from being in a world that does not properly understand what it means to be mentally ill. Towards the end of World War 2, America was overwhelmed with the amount of soldiers with varying degrees of mental health problems, this required a greater deal of investment and legislation towards treatment. The 1946 Mental Health Act was first real law to address mental health But the methods of treatment still contained the ignorance and misunderstanding of previous decades, as lobotomies and electric shock therapies were still considered to be legitimate ways of tackling mental health problems. Nevertheless, Catcher in the Rye makes a poignant statement about the symptoms of suppressed trauma and how ‘teenagehood’ can offer a path of exploration, but exploration with a sense of isolation and alienation can lead to devastating effects for ones own psyche.

What about the youth of today?

Although Catcher in the Rye and Ginger & Rosa are both ‘historical stories’, they are not trapped within their time. They provide a subtle understanding as to how the positive intentions of trying to make the world can often be too much for a young generation that is coupled with their own difficult personal affairs. Political and social activism can often be too much to bear for some people even though their heart may be in the right place. The lack of investment in regards to the mental health of our citizens is deemed as a national crisis and we are often told how roughly one in four of us will suffer from a mental health illness during our lifetime. If we combine these facts with the reality of an energized and politicized youth, it does not bode well for psychological development of the next generation. Social media is often blamed for disturbing the minds of our youngsters, but as the stories of Holden and Ginger demonstrate, Mental illnesses can strike anybody regardless of their ‘connection’ to the outside world. Perhaps we need to acknowledge that it is our responsibility to build an environment which allows for free expression and resistance but offers more protection to the mentally unstable within our youth.

New Poem – Existentialism

Posted: 29th Jun 2018 in Uncategorised

I’ve been delving in to a bit of philosophy lately; mainly through the existentialist works of Dostoevsky. After reading his novel and novella: Crime & Punishment and Notes from the Underground, its interesting how Dostoevsky was able to reflect – with such detail and veracity-  a sense of paranoia, hyper consciousness and an erratic level of self-esteem that was existent amongst some Russians in the 19th century. His theme of the human psyche being a natural flaw of creation is something that resonates very closely with our current crisis regarding mental health and how to treat it. Plus, the way in which he uses the adolescence of his characters to portray psychological development in turmoil reminds me of the current debate about teenagers and social media addiction.

I am no expert of Dostoevsky and his works, but the poem I wrote tries to reflect the contemporary problems that humans have with their social identity and how our notion of goodness is in conflict with our notion of freedom.

 

Can you hear the Jury grumbling as they take their seats?

The Judge cracks open the session with his bulletined order of events.

Like a tombstone of structured emotion, the prosecution states their case with a cackle of arrogance and bitter assumption.

“We are defending “the liberty of love” beckons the defence, but the patronising scoffs of despair and horror are normalised in this world of systematic tabling.

 

But I….feel nice here.

In my pot of soil.

On my patch of mud.

Withdrawn from production line patriotism,

And isolated from the sounds of their rules,

their reasons,

their judgements.

 

This pot gives me plenty of space to run,

I can feel its walls, but I can see freedom in the darkness.

And the silence echoes with a special…

“Thump, Thump”. Order! Order!

This striking sound of ‘justice’ deafens my minds(s).

One fails to recuperate such tranquil thoughts with the murmurs of an enlightened mob above them.

 

I do not infringe upon others movements,

The thought of asserting my morality gives me no amusement.

I have not relinquished my citizenship for a hovel of an existence.

But simply rekindled my sovereignty so that I could have independence.

 

I can hear the defendant interrogated and accused of a love based on guilt.

As if the prosecutor understands.. ,

Oh what castle of lies they have all built!

 

You see, in these worlds, grands delusions reign supreme.

Call whatever Witness to the stand.

They will testify to their own hypocrisy.

Offering perceptions born out of the fog and mist.

 

But in my dwelling, I provide no blurred convictions.

The love I hold, is not hollow but honest.

I am not swayed by unrelenting passions.

No bleakness can consume me,

because I have freed myself from my own harsh reality.

 

However, it seems that sentences must be carried out.

Children must be punished.

And yes, we must learn from our mistakes.

People need to have regrets,

and so we must control our own heartbreaks.

 

Though I live for the eternal, I can not forsake my liberty.

For my truth is powerful because it can shift.

It sustains my wriggle room in a life that constricts.

So when the jury makes their call, I will cackle in my chair.

For the courts can’t influence me, and their verdict is insincere.

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The British national newspapers today speak of Russian officials and members of the EU conspiring to create Brexit for private financial gain. This portrayal of a secret Russian lobby working to undermine our political system has been an ongoing theme for the past couple of years despite recent investigations proving otherwise – the Cambridge Analytica Brexit Scandal revealed a close connection between Cambridge Analytica and the United States Department, not the Kremlin. But recently I have become increasingly convinced, that a separate undermining of democracy is taking place, not necessarily by Brexiteers but by Remainers as well. The Italian political sitution is particularly disturbing for anybody who has respect for the political process in a “civilised” nation.

populism

Can populist governments make their citizens prosperous?

To be brief, following the newly announced right-wing coalition of the Five Star Movement and Lega, the Italian President Sergio Materrella prevented the legitimate appointment of FSM Paolo Savona as the Finance Minister. His reasoning was based on a notion that the political intentions of the new Finance Minister would jeopardise the market relationship between Italy and the Euro, which could lead to severe Italian economic decline. After much public/political pressure, a compromise was reached between the new Italian government and the President, but in my opinion the political ramifications may be devastating. The President’s actions demonstrate that the Italian constitution or perhaps all the constitutions of Europe are dependent on external economic affairs. As the historian and political commentator David Runciman said last week “In Italy, the Markets are sovereign”, if it is the markets sovereignty that is being rejected by the European people then why is the Italian President so willing to prop them up. Furthermore, it should not matter how Eurosceptic the Italian parties may be, they have earned their democratic right to hold office and to follow through their political programme. Much has been made regarding the xenophobic profile of the Lega and the FSM and perhaps the accusations are justified, but this does not mean you can ignore the strong mandate(60% combined vote) that they received in the general elections this year. To uphold the civil liberties of the Italian people, one must also respect the constitutional liberties of the Italian politicians, for representative democracy is only true gateway for progressive politics. We have all witnessed the tyranny of our dictators throughout history, from Stalin’s shady manourevering of political figures to the uprisings and coups that led to the Spanish Civil War; no one wants a return to an era where our political representatives are dismissed because of power and privilige.

italian president

Should the Italian President be impeached for violating the nation’s constitution?

The Act of Brexit was considered to be radical political decision, but the movements by the political parties to suppress Brexit is an undemocratic act with levels of regression that must be considered to be also politically radical. It was announced earlier today, that a Scottish Judge has rejected the call from a cross-party group to examine whether the European Court of Human Right can legally cancel Brexit. As the Judge mentioned, the very idea that a British parliamentary group is appealing to a European body to overrule a British decision is not only troubling for lawmakers, but it begs the question…at what level is democracy exercised? Which probably triggers the other underlying question, why is democracy so isolated within our political system? I was not in favour of Brexit, purely because I supported a movement for a Reformed progressive EU with some British contribution, but I was aware of its shortcomings; particularly its implementation of austerity throughout Europe and its excessively bureaucratic/undemocratic nature. But it now appears as if our own representatives are adhering to the Great European Project with little consideration for what Brexit could mean to this country. I had hoped that Brexit would be an opportunity to reshape our “unwritten” constitution in to something a little more beneficial to the country, perhaps a reformed relationship with the Single Market and Customs Union(that would reshape level and type of immigration we enforce) or perhaps a tweaking to some of the trade regulations for the coastal communities. But I realise this is a utopia that our government never aimed to enforce, instead our ministers are more concerned with ensuring that we are still tied in to the most corrupted parts of the European Union without having a voice in the European Parliament. Brexit (in my opinion) was never going to be an exciting prospect, but it did not have to be the failure it is turning in to. With a government that is more concerned with prosperity for its privileged elite, it is leaving its subjects dejected and without a truly democratic system through which to voice their frustrations.

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