Posts Tagged ‘History’

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.

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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.

When we think of the essential services that the public rely and depend upon such as the health sector, firefighting service, education system police industry and the transport network, they are all perceived to be integral forces that support the safety and welfare of the British people. Regardless of the emergency, whether it is a protest, a national disaster or an act of homicide, all the victims, perpetrators and bystanders involved are entitled to an equal and fair treatment from the emergency services.

However it seems as if we are in the midst of making fundamental changes to one of our essential services. A new privatised police force called MylocalBobby will be rolling out their services across the nation after the “successful” trial period in three London boroughs (Kensington, Mayfair and Belgravia). Customers will simply have to pay roughly £200 per month and this will enable the client to hire a “police officer” who has the ability to make citizen arrests, investigate thefts and other matters of anti-social behaviour. I can understand how some may regard this as credible alternative to the corrupt and bureaucratic state police force, but I can only see this as the marketisation of the police and the encroaching two-tier system between the rich and the poor and their access to police.

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MyLocalBobby – Could this be the future of British Policing?

A privatised police not only challenges the notion about equal access to emergency services, but it also raises questions about the principles regarding equality before the law; a concept that is meant to underpin our British constitution. If our police officers are enforcing the law based on a quality of service that you may or may not be able to pay for, then we will not have “equality before the law” but “wealth before the law”.

I also think that politically and historically these changes can be perceived as regressive step back to a more lawless, uncivilised and unstable period in history. When a public police force was created in 1829 it was under a backdrop of violent riots over political reform and rising crime in a densely populated London. It was initiated under the principle of fairness, equality and apolitical behaviour. The architect of the police – Robert Peel – stated that “The police seek and preserve public favor, not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating…friendship to all members of society without regard to their race or social standing“. But this is being overturned by an emerging private police force that is being supported by an idea of exclusivity, as the chair of the police federation has claimed ” “Policing is not a consumer or lifestyle issue. Nor should it be the exclusive domain of the wealthy. When Sir Robert Peel introduced the first full-time, professional and centrally-organised police force in the 1820s, that was not what he had in mind.”

However, with deep financial cuts to the police service and a clear loss of police officers, the resort to a privatised police force is becoming more attractive to the Establishment and the wealthy in society. One must take considerable caution at this growing trend, as history has proven how the lack of an organised public police force can cause chaos. The Peterloo Massacre occurred during a political demonstration in 1819 when the local magistrates ordered the military to arrest a radical orator and to disperse the crowd, but due to the intensity of the moment, the undisciplined nature of those armed forces and the confusion around the situation, 15 civilians were killed and many were injured. This was one of the defining events which motivated Prime Minister Robert Peel to create Metropolitan police force in 1829.

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Peterloo Massacre – Is this something we could witness in the future?

Now, I am not suggesting a diminished police force will result in a standing army willing to hack at anyone who causes disruption, but there are growing reports that local authorities are relying upon a militarised security force instead of standard police officers on patrol. We are told that they are there to prevent terror attacks, but with a growing unstable political climate and a society that is gaining the confidence to openly demonstrate against controversial measures, the potential for dangerous and violent confrontations is growing by the year. Our right to protest and to resist is seen as a fundamental right in British society but without the necessary measures and tools to ensure that demonstrations are carried out peacefully, we are thus denied the protection of a potentially rational police force and offered the unpredictability of a militarised one.

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Is this the path to a new standard of policing in Britain?

The police are designed for the public safety of all citizens and our historic right to protest, but if our government is weakening the the police’s ability to enforce those principles then it runs the risk of leaving us deprived of an essential emergency service.

They often say that a week is a long time in politics and that has certainly been the case for the past week. The government has had to apologize for its role in the Windrush Scandal in which hundreds of immigration documentation relating to migrants from the West Indies and beyond was purposefully deleted and additionally the government has to defend itself over its decision to bomb Syria over its “alleged” use of chemical weapons.

In my opinion, both of these events characterize the way in which the British government betray our historical tradition and the citizens that inhabit it.

I’ve just finished reading, “The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution 1640 -1660” which illuminated the foundations for English influence across the world and explained the fluid nature of British identity. I feel as if this book is especially important and relevant to discuss and review, particularly in an environment when the military and civil prerogative of our government is being questioned and challenged with such frequent ferocity.

The English Atlantic is essentially a study that seeks to challenge our notion of transatlantic culture and the various political and social norms that have evolved over time. The author – Carla Gardina Pestana – links the so called “English Revolution” between Charles I and Parliament to the growth and development of the Americas. She purposefully mirrors the demise of monarchy in Britain to the rise of modernity in America. She eloquently explains – through the use of migrant testimonies and official accounts – how new forms of worship and religion were allowed to prosper throughout the continent, Carla neatly juxtaposes this religious freedom with the rise in restrictive trade barriers. The growth in restrictive trade was part of movement towards a centralised system of governance: enforced by Cromwell’s new republic in Britain. Carla actually goes further than many historians and actually asserts that this process of centralisation was the birth of the global network known as the British Empire. Interestingly but not surprisingly, as the republic grew in solidarity it relied upon illiberal labour sources like slavery and indentured servitude to strengthen the connections to its various colonies. Carla importantly explains that this turn towards centralisation affected its foreign policy, as the British republic sought to eradicate their European competitors (militarily and politically) to ensure they had unfettered access and influence over the regions they dominated.

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This study underlines the importance of the “English Revolution” to the the evolution of the British Empire.

The essential element from The English Atlantic is that it outlines a transatlantic world whose liberty is transformed by the rise of an centralized power, this provides some interesting parallels and precedents for today’s political and social climate.

If we first explore the Ongoing Windrush Scandal there are some interesting comparisons. The Windrush Generation have consistently stated their wish to self-identify as British Citizens. James Green who was born in the West Indies but migrated to the UK in 1958 when he was 15 months says “Sixty years, it’s a long time. I’m an Englishman” and Nick Broderick who also arrived in the Uk as a baby in 1962 “always thought [himself] as being English.” and indeed another member of the windrush generation has spoken in astonishment: “It was a shock because I have always thought I was legal, I was British. I have been here from when I was eight. I didn’t give it another thought.” There appears to be a consistent and accurate theme where these citizens do not perceive themselves as solely West Indian but as British Citizens first and foremost: they could have easily used the term ‘Commonwealth citizens’, but their self-identification as British is an expression of their allegiance and of their informal citizenship to Britain.

Like the Windrush Generation, English migrants to America in the seventeenth century envisioned themselves as British citizens first, however the central authorities in England did not interpret this identity in the same way. Although the Windrush generation arguably faced greater injustice – seeing as the British government are responsible for eroding their British status in the first place – , the seventeenth century migrants to America were also treated as subordinate members of this new British Empire even though they considered themselves to be English. As The English Atlantic notes “Given the unprecedented intrusiveness of the state…it might seem that the colonists who envisioned a more egalitarian Empire based on shared Englishness lost their battle…..“, this was despite the fact that colonists believed that their political and social sovereignty had been inherited upon their English citizenship, one Barbadian colonist often “considered it the liberty and privilege if the free-born English-Men to have an assembly election”. This denial of basic civil rights to seventeenth century colonists has similarities to the Windrush Generation and their inability to access subsidized healthcare and employment opportunities, it also demonstrates a historical trait for the British government to neglect the rights and liberties of their citizens regardless of their ethnic origin. There is also an element of irony in this situation if one considers the fact that when Cromwell created the idea of a Commonwealth in 1653, it was designed with a vision of improving the “wealth” of the “commons” (people) across the Transatlantic Empire, and today we are witnessing citizens who are facing unjustified discrimination and deportation despite being born in a commonwealth nation. Furthermore, I believe this could also undermine the constitutional changes regarding immigration and the European Union. If EU migrants can see a history of injustice relating to the British State’s treatment of citizenship, why should they trust British government to give EU nationals the rights and liberties that they deserve post Brexit?

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In the wake of the missile strikes by America, France and Britain on Syria, there has been lots of debate regarding the legitimacy and the legality of the decision to attack the Syrian state for their alleged use of chemical weapons. Jeremy Corbyn argued for something similar to a ‘War Powers Act’ that could possibly hold future governments to account when they perform a military action that might jeopardize the credibility and safety of the nation, however MP Jacob Rees Mogg responded by stating that any sort of policy to change Parliament’s influence over military affairs will require either an appeal or an amendment of the Armed Forces Act. The act does actually state that the power rests with the Prime Minister to put the armed forces in to combat and it doesn’t actually provide a mechanism for Parliament to intervene in military action. However, Corbyn should take Mogg on this suggestion and encourage the Labour Party to amend the Armed Forces Act as I believe there is historical precedent for Parliament to have a greater say in foreign policy. If we stick with Britain in the seventeenth century, there was was great turning point in 1653, when Parliament declared their sovereignty over the Monarchy when it came to dealing with military and foreign affairs. When Charles I was eventually defeated and executed in the Civil wars, Parliament legislated a new constitution which included one important clause:

When Parliament was sitting, the ordering of armed forces by sea and by land, for the peace and good of the three nations’ must be by the consent of Parliament”

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When Cromwell (Main) defeated the King in 1648, he established Parliamentary sovereignty over Britain. How much power does today’s parliament really have?

Even though Oliver Cromwell was the defacto leader of this new parliamentarian regime, there was an essence of democracy which reflected the importance of wide-ranging consent and approval from the nation’s “representatives”. Unfortunately, this Instrument of Government was eventually repealed when the Monarchy was reinstated in 1660 and the King resumed his position as head of State. However the seventeenth century rhetoric surrounding the armed forces, parliament and domestic affairs is very relevant for the decision making process in present day British politics. In 1654, Cromwell desperately tried to fund his military campaign against the Spanish in the West Indies with parliamentary approval. He failed to get consent based on the weak economic condition of the country, it was stated “whence shall the means of it come? Our nation is overwhelmed with debts”. This has a striking resemblance to the argument that many present day MPs make about our government which seems to find the funds for military campaigns but is simultaneously refusing to invest in to vital public services because of “austerity”.

Labour MP Ed Poole stated

“Notice how everyone wants to know how Labour will fund free buses for under-25s but no one asks Theresa may how we are going to fund bombing Syria”

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Why do we so often prioritize our military affairs over our domestic ones?

This demonstrates that Parliament should have a much more considerable influence not simply on whether it is legitimate to punish a foreign state for their alleged war crimes, but based on whether those resources could be better invested in the British public services that are known to be underfunded and under supported. Parliament has a historic record of challenging sovereign political authority for the benefit of the nation, this was proven in 2013 when Cameron lost a crucial parliamentary vote to send missile strikes on Syrian soil. That result came about because of the suspicion surrounding the rebel forces in Syria and their ambiguous legitimacy to overthrow the Assad government. Currently, we have encountered the same stumbling block as there is apparently lack of official evidence from the OPCW regarding the Chemical Attacks in Douma. It may be time for Parliament to increase its ability to scrutinize the government over the military decisions that they adopt. Obviously the intelligence that the Prime Minster and the cabinet holds is vital to the decision making process but the government must also take in to consideration the mood of the nation and whether engaging in military conflict is in the population’s best interests. And here it must be noted that Parliament – in its entirety – is the only institution that has the capability to represent the population’s best interests.

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Has the Alternative Media become as manipulative as the Mainstream News Outlets?

As someone who has grown to be quite disgusted with the corporate and elitist nature of mainstream media outlets (MSM), I have found myself drawn to sources of alternative news. It wasn’t simply because they discussed subversive and thought-provoking topics, it was also because they exposed the blatant lies that MSM outlets espouse on a daily basis. It became refreshing to learn about subjects on politics, history and the economy that the MSM wouldn’t even dare to mention. It wasn’t necessarily the “sensationalist” conspiracy theories about Lizards that I was attracted to; as it was enlightening stories about international banking cartels, deeply suspicious foreign policies and the stealthy attacks on our democracy that drew me in. And one of the great things about the Alternative Media was that they operated outside of the LeftvsRight paradigm whereas the MSM are persistent in their divisive propaganda and bias to serve their establishment agenda.

But this once thriving community of alternative opinions and well researched journalism has transformed into a toxic environment that is full of hate, a lot of virtue-signalling and full of “headline-grabbing” material. Intelligent and rational discussions on immigration have descended into xenophobic and racist ramblings, important questions regarding security at Mass homicides has turned into ludicrous discussions about ‘dummies’ and ‘fake blood’. Some of these news outlets have even become gradually reluctant to discuss the financial and political scandals that occur at the very highest echelons of the elite society. These Media outlets such as Infowars, Milo Yiannopoulos and  Paul Joseph Watson’s YouTube channels are a blatant example of this, as they often tap in to the negativity of a situation and bring out the darkness out of it without offering any clear solutions. It is unclear how this transformation of the alternative media has come about, I think it is too simplistic to blame this entirely on Brexit and Trump. Perhaps this is closer to our human desire to be controversial and to change ourselves into enemies rather than to be reasonable allies. History has shown a tendency for society to fabricate the truth in order to gain attention and popularity, back in Seventeenth century England a newspaper called Mercurius Bellicus tried to improve their readership by reporting on the execution of Charles I in 1648, a year before his actual death. This was done to stoke interest and create controversy at time when the transmission of information was slow and people were desperate to for any sort of new on civil unrest. The modern era still offers some credible alternative news outlets that provide well researched and open minded conversations. The activist/writer David Icke and the Journalist – Richie Allen seem to offer balanced and insightful debate that does not rely upon the ‘cult of the personality’, I don’t always agree with their viewpoints but they always use critical thinking as an essential element of their reporting. Unfortunately both of these outlets have suffered from demonetisation on YouTube and have even faced smear campaigns based on unfounded hate crimes. 

The demise of the Alternative Media presents a bad path for the future of radicalism. The writer Asbjørn Wahl has recently claimed, that to solve our current social crises “any party of the left will need to have more radical alternatives, visions and solutions – very different from the political centre or the right“. How are we meant to deliver a true radical programme for the people, if our ‘alternative’ media have resorted to the same regressive and divisive rhetoric that is characteristic of Mainstream media outlets like The Daily Mail or the Daily Mirror? Being confrontational is something which should be encouraged for journalists, academics and politicians alike, as it allows us to challenge the status quo instead of being afraid to touch upon difficult topics. However this does not legitimatise the Alt-right(or the Alt-Left) to falsify information and to make the style of your reporting more important than the substance. If we have lost our grip on making Radicalism an ideology of integrity,  then it is down to us to ensure that our alternative, unorthodox and independent media does not fall down the dangerous path of the Mainstream Media.

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This is actually a poem that I wrote a little while ago, it was my first attempt at mixing Science Fiction, History and Radical Politics together in a captivating way. I plan to make an entire saga of poems in the future based on Glitzy (Glitchy) Paradise. Whilst it is difficult, it is important to try and broaden our horizons when we write creatively; the process often make us stumble across something wonderful, disturbing or intriguing. In a world where people are often afraid to challenge their own principles or values, this can prove to be a valuable tool.

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Can an historian be objective whilst also being politically active?

My previous blog posts have often mentioned the need for people to accept more political and social responsibility if they are to genuinely subvert a system that oppresses us. But more specifically, it is the idea of academic responsibility that needs greater evaluation. In the wake of a series of political “rebellions” (Brexit and Trump) in which the ‘expert’ was no longer to be trusted and that all sovereign power should be naturally diverted to the people, it is important to provide some brief clarity as to how this has come about. Much has been made about our political culture operating in a post-truth world but I see it only as a post-trust world where evidence and facts are either withheld, suppressed or falsified. In my opinion, this means the obligation for clarity and truth rests on the professionals who have the ability to inform the wider public about the knowledge they currently hold. Unfortunately it is these same academics who are have been accused of dictating their knowledge in a manner that can appear arrogant, self-righteous and elitist. It is no wonder that professors and universities are seen as tools of the establishment rather than tools of the people. The assault on intellectual behaviour does not stem from a resentment of an academic work ethic but from a belief that academica has withdrawn itself from the ‘working man or woman’.  Secondly, with the ongoing reports of universities clamping down on freedom of speech only emphasises the greater obligation for academics to give a better representation of academic life. My experiences with universities have mostly been positive, it was only 2 months ago that I had a good conversation with a university lecturer at Goldsmiths about the need for academics to expand their intellectual reach. We are starting to see this in video games and television shows, but much more work is required.

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Is our Judicicary accountable to the people? Could we even regard them as academics?

There was an inspiring story in the news last week about an historian called Mark Curtis who is digitally publishing hundreds of declassified documents regarding the government’s shadowy international dealings from the mid 20th century onwards. These documents are already available for the nation to access but unfortunately the public are widely ignorant of this. Curtis is not doing anything groundbreaking. But by making the public more aware of this country’s history,  he is arming the people with weapons of information to attack the establishment. Whether, people will be receptive to Curtis’s efforts is a different matter entirely. (the media will certainly stifle any attempts for people to unite against injustice) But in an era where censorship is beginning to override political liberty we need to convince citizens that universities and academic insitutions can be our allies not our enemies.

Lately, I have been thinking about the sort of cultural advances we as species need to make if we are to overcome some of the global hardships we face right now. Since I decided to renew my poetic endeavours, I have recognised that there is an emotional and intellectual vacuum in our society. We have become a race that seeks quick solutions to deeply complex historical problems, a race that wishes to ignore the grey moral areas and rushes to the blacks and whites, a race that believes in replacing subjectivity with defined rules about how the world should be run. Writing poetry again has reminded me that there are few things in life that we can fundamentally reject; it has allowed me to recognise the fluidity of language, nature and history that resides beyond politics and foreign affairs. This is not to say that we should live in a world of little to no boundaries, but that we should embrace a world that believes in challenging unquestionable truths.

I also feel that this flexible world will be encouraged by the works in science fiction, I am not necessarily talking about the big blockbuster Hollywood movies we watch from time to time (most of those films end up reinforcing the same societal stereotypes that have led us to this position), but the sort of science fiction that considers what a truly radical future could do for humanity. More importantly, it is this sort of literature that could encourage us to envision a world where political structures operate far differently from ours, it also emphasises the value of discovery with the way it can interact with controversial scientific subjects without the moral weight that a scientist may carry. Finally and vitally, it is this sort of creative endeavour which inspires the reader to imagine a future that breaks with conventions of the past. This process of questioning, challenging and tackling unknown realms has positive repercussions when it comes to our attempt to be politically radical; history has shown that some of the most momentous changes occur when people have the willingness to break down their socio-political barriers. But one of the most interesting aspects is how a certain revival in fantasy and science fiction can motivate people to envision new possibilities. I have always felt it is easier to break down structures and deconstruct systems than it is to build futures, this is especially relevant in a world where revolution and reform has become fashionable and little thought is given to the actual process of change.

Politics: Fiction, Non Fiction & Depends on Point of View.

Could Science Fiction teach us something about Political Science?

Politically and historically, new visions and prophesies were used often used a method to break down traditional social barriers.  There used to be a time in politics when our political representatives use to believe in far-reaching possibilities for the future. The Fifth Monarchists (who were also MPs) of the 1640s and 1650s were the perfect embodiment of a how a hostile political period could produce such grand imaginations for the future. As the Civil war in Britain and Ireland raged on. They prophesied that in 1666, Christ would make his return and bring forth his fifth monarchy (the first four being the Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman retrospectively). By modern standard, these views may seem slightly outlandish, but this was an ideology that was genuine and committed. I do not particularly wish for a revival of this sort of religious zeal but I do no think it is too much to ask for politics to include a similar level of principled integrity.

The novel Three Body Problem is an important example of how science fiction (and science itself) can help us to envision new futures whilst we go through the motions of revolution.

To provide a brief summary; The book begins with the Character Ye Wenjie and the devastating way she witness’ her father’s ( a leading professor) persecution during the 1974 Chinese Cultural revolution. Having been born into an academic and therefore bourgeois family, she faces the brunt of the revolutionaries’ wrath: her own mother betrays her father for the survival of her position and her life.  Because of Ye’s scientific expertise she was luckily recruited into a top secret military base which gave her a chance to redeem herself politically. Whilst monitoring the air waves in Aerospace Ye encounters what she believes is alien communication. She then proceeds to send a response as an invitation for the aliens to invade earth and reform human society. She also manages to meet with and persuade a billionaire environmentalist to invest in the preparations for the aliens to visit earth. The novel then fast forwards to the future through the life of Wang; a nanotechnology professor. The professor then has some very strange experiences including hallucinations of glowing numbers and strange coloured atmospheres. He ends up working with a police officer called Da Shi to investigate the mysterious recent deaths of some scientists. He come across a mysterious virtual reality game called Three Body, and decides to participate. The objective of the game is figure out how to create a stable weather atmosphere on the fictional planet called Trilosaris; Wang eventually develops a theory based on the orbit of the three suns around Trilosaris called the Three Body Problem. Wang’s reward for reaching the objective is an inviation to a Three Body Society meeting which is led by our initial protagonist Ye Wenjie. The Three Body Society was developed the virtual reality as a sort of playful experiment based on research from corresponding with the aliens. When Wang attends the meeting it is broken up by the police officer Shi and Ye is thrown in to custody. As Ye gives her testimony, the reader begins to understand the moral breakdown of Ye as she reveals how she callously killed her husband and colleague to suppress the knowledge of alien correspondence – we also reveal how her disturbing political past became the main motivation for her to invite the alien invasion. For the final section of the story, the novel switches to the aliens’ perspective as they first receive Ye’s transmission. They decide to meticulously destabilize Earth’s technological advancement for the next 400 years through the release of certain protons towards earth. This is done in order to ensure that when the aliens arrive on earth, they will face no detrimental hostility as they look to sustain their superiority over humanity. The final chapter of the novel features a reflective Ye as she admits that the world will never remain the same.

I felt that the book was a fascinating exploration of how humanity could actually respond to the prospect of alien intervention. The way in which the book contrasts the radical societal changes from the Cultural revolution with the psychological prospect of cosmic intelligent life is entertaining and stimulating. It examines the way in which historical legacies can make a drastic impact on how one perceives the world. Whilst this book was a great piece of creative work that broadened my mind I want to try and demonstrate how this sort of book is especially relevant in a politically unstable world that struggles to enter new ways of thinking.

There is prominent historical methodology called Whiggish History which asserts that humanity has been following a path of political, social and economic progress from its very inception to the present day. This book essentially challenges that mode of thinking, this is demonstrated when Ye decides to invite the Trilosarians on to earth because  Humanity has hit a huge obstacle which has ceased in its ability to advance as a civilisation. Ye’s reasoning may be considered to be slightly extreme by some, especially if we consider the technological advances we have made in recent years, however many current political commentators have stated about the cultural regression of society and how we have reentered the ideological arenas of the 70s, 60s or even the 30s and 40s.

The upheaval that preceded World War II and the need to to avoid repeating mistakes have cast a long shadow since Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected in September with no obvious coalition partner. While no-one is predicting a return to fascism, the unexpected threat of instability at the heart of Europe’s biggest economy has alarmed business and political leaders alike.

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The German election of 2017 is eerily similar to the one in 1933. Is this really a mark of political progress?

It is true that fascism has evolved in complex and sophisticated ways but it is important to recognise that it is a regression to a political idea which has shown to be morally defunct and politically ineffective (in the long term). Furthermore, although Germany has attempted to break away from its the horrors of its political past, they still suffer from the ghosts of their national failures. In a way this has some semblance with Ye’s belief that humanity has reached the point where it will eventually become prone to repeat its historical mistakes. Her belief may stem from witnessing the human rights violations that existed after the Cultural Revolution, but it may also resonate with an idea that perhaps humanity has already peaked in its progress.

Popular Culture in terms of block buster television shows are increasingly portraying a world where our new machinery will eventually lead to our own demise. Sci-Fi films like GeoStorm and Tomorrowland have already explored the difficult relationship between human responsibility, technology and the environment. I once heard in a lecture from Alan Watts(dated 1970) that humanity’s ignorance with the spiritual/natural and their adoration for the technological is akin to self harm, he once claimed that this age is for “The Misuse of technology for the violent subjugation of man’s natural environment and consequently, its eventual destruction”. It is important to recognise that the advance of science can radically expand to our world for new possibilities, but we must also be aware like Ye Wenjie of Mankind’s tendency to revert back to a state of such primitive thinking.

Another important and thoughtful aspect that Three Body Problem touched upon was the ever-changing relationship between the subject and the state. Although Ye Wenjie was given the opportunity to work in her profession without political prosecution she was still effectively a political prisoner who was forced to abandon  her family. It could be argued that these suppressed feelings of shame, anger and injustice eventually exploded in her drastic decision to invite the Trilosarians to Earth. I have often felt that Ye Wenjie is the embodiment of the modern day populist; the subject who has felt ignored and deserted in a world that rapidly evolved around them. In many cases this could result in fear or docility, but it could just as dangerously lead to rage, resentment, the emboldened rise of the Far Right in Europe and the persistent/ continued support for Donald Trump is strong example of what cultural isolation can do for a nation.

Furthermore, this also has repercussions for political radicalism. Many activists and commentators acknowledge that a huge moral awakening is needed if we are to bring about genuine progressive change. However, due to the fact that humanity has been in the dark for so long about the corruption and unethical standards of our political framework, are we in any actual shape to bring about the sort of large scale revolution that our society so desperately craves? Perhaps the political awakening of the last few years is too big of a shock to the human core for us to enact any sort of rational yet extreme challenge to the status quo. I think it is fascinating how The Three Body Problem uses a science fiction plot to unpick the entangled influence of political shocks on the human psyche, to discuss how our political history affects our capability to maturely confront society and also to explain our inability to morally comprehend our own political achievements.

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Ye Wenjie at Red Coast Base. Is Ye Wenjie’s political suppression symbolic of modern populism?

Finally, I believe there is a great sense of political irony within Three Body Problem. Ye initially calls for aliens to come to Earth and reform society but her movement eventually splits in to two groups. One that despises human nature and wishes for the aliens to eradicate mankind, and another groups that worships the aliens in some sort of godlike manner. The two groups eventually became symbolic of mankind’s desire to idolise everything or for its tendency for self-loathing. The Aliens were never meant to be some sort of political Tyranny but a race that could guide and raise the human intellect, the fact that the movement evolved into such a simplistic divisions was the Author repeatedly trying to show humanity’s lack of creative ability and its wavering sense of integrity given the fact that the movement had made such a big departure from Ye’s initial principles. Could it also demonstrate that sometimes our we have tendency to try and achieve revenge for political injustices that happened in the past without remembering the contextual included. For example, one might resent human society during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for its global complicity in the Transatlantic Slave Trade whilst also forgetting the organised and persistent abolition campaign that led to its end or the creation of the British welfare state in 1940s and the nationalised institutions that sought to protect the British populace should another world war ever occur. The humans that wished the Trilosarians to overrule them are just symbolic of that selective political feeling that resides in all of us, it is the knee jerk reactions that seeks quick solutions to complex problems.

Three Body Problem is a great work that draws from different philosophical, historical, scientific and political perspectives and attempts to use these to challenge our sense of primacy and superiority in this world. But I believe that the secret strength of the novel is its support of the art of discovery and the joy of possibility. We live in a world that attempts to be progressive but ends up being inadvertently regressive and we also face groups that use the rhetoric of change and revolution to mask their aim of restoring outdated and failed ideology. Change is necessary. But it must be meaningful and refreshing. Humanity has continuously displayed its ability to create new ways of thinking, interacting and surviving. We must continue this trend or face a path of stagnation and self-destruction.

Future Blog Posts

I am going to continue in this strand of thinking by discussing the concept of futurology and more specifically people in the past who attempted to predict the future. Some these predictions were politically motivated whilst other tried to be in their clinical in vision based on the contemporary state of science. I will try and examine all of these futuristic ideas and assess how accurate they were and what relevance they hold for our unstable political and social culture.

The discussions around Brexit, the remerging secessionist movements in Europe and Asia (Mainly Catalonia and Kurdistan) as well as the simmering feeling of socio-economic unrest that exists across the world has made me wonder at the sort of future people are envisioning for themselves. I feel that the minds of certain individuals are conflicted between several things, mainly; What we deserve, what we want, what we need, what we are entitled to, and what we actually receive. Once these factors have been harmonized, I believe we may move closer to the sort of peaceful utopia of solidarity that many people seem to crave for. Of course, the underlying question being, is this actually feasible? People may be asking the same questions of what we deserve and what we actually need, but the answers seem to differ greatly according the various political and economic groups that people belong to. Furthermore, there is a general feeling that citizens have been told by tyrannies of what they should and should not desire, this sentiment seems to be shared across the political spectrum; several so called “liberal left” institutions and “neo-conservative” governments have been at the spotlight of these accusations. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I believe that communication is central to addressing these concerns. This does not just mean just articulating your perspective clearly, it also means listening to others carefully so that debates and arguments can led to constructive outcomes. This may be a simplistic analysis of the current social mood, but perhaps the first stage of dealing with complex dilemmas is to begin with basic and accessible approaches.

Several historical episodes show that the creation of political utopias have often failed because there has been a fundamental misunderstanding of what people have been trying to achieve. One only needs to look at the successful and unsuccessful Russian Revolutions of the early 20th Century, or the English and French revolutions of the early modern era to see the lack of a coherent strategy after the ruling power was toppled. Our utopias will not succeed based on how beautiful or how great they look, but on our ability to compromise and interact effectively.

“It’s wrong to deprive someone else of a pleasure so that you can enjoy one yourself, but to deprive yourself of a pleasure so that you can add to someone else’s enjoyment is an act of humanity by which you always gain more than you lose.” – Thomas More – Utopia – 1516

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