Memes and the ‘alt-Right’

I despise my generation. I make no secret of this- although  I realise that my aspirations to be a great writer are largely scuppered by this, as all the greatest writers usually embodied the spirit and mood of their time.

The one subject on which I believe I can speak for them, however, is memes. An internet phenomenon that largely goes over the heads of the now middle-aged millennials that dominate the mainstream media, memes speak to the human condition in a way that other forms of literature cannot; or at least our catharsis is of a more compact, easily digestible form- perfect for a generation weened on electronic light, and nauseated by silence.

Since the late 2000s, memes have moved away from their nativity -embarrassingly Kitsch to us now- as pictures with some standardised caption on them, and have branched out delightfully into a whole oasis of irony and absurdity, capturing with sometimes genius precision the contradictions, pretensions and absurdities of our time- and yes, our time has a bucketload of those, just like any other human age.

There is something about the usual, clichéd teenage brew of sexual frustration, loneliness, despair and identity crisis that has mingled with the pressures of the 21st century to make an art form that is almost entirely misunderstood by anyone over the age of 20, and yet speaks truths about our world which can be appreciated with a great deal less effort than reading Shakespeare, or something else, you know, written down on paper.

This communication breakdown has spawned a political phenomenon: the MSM has been shocked by the “sudden” emergence of a “political movement” called the “alt-Right”.

“Alt”, of course, being a clever double-entendre between “alternative” and the computer key- given that this “movement” is seemingly contained within the internet’s dark, bodily-fluid-stained walls. Now middle-aged journalists seem keen to describe frustrated teenagers composing ironic, inappropriate (“edgy”) and offensive jokes as the heralds of a new political philosophy; connected somehow to the rise of Donald Trump, the prominence of right-wing ideologues such as Milo Yiannopoulos, and even Katie Hopkins. What connects these disparate parts?

They crave attention, and the society’s rules of conduct for dialogue (political correctness) don’t apply to them: either because they can hide behind their computer, and when that defense is breached hastily decry that it was “only a joke”  and/or because they thrive by breaking those rules. In fact, if it weren’t for their breaking those rules, they would cease to exist. If we didn’t find Katie Hopkins so appalling, she would have to get a real job.

The same is largely true of meme-page admins: if the outrage generated by their posts didn’t pull in more traffic, their position would become untenable. They too, would have to get a real job. Their position is better than Katie Hopkins: their minds can understand the concept of irony, which gives them another defense against the judgement of the outside world.

Which is not to say that meme-culture is definitely, empirically speaking a dangerous thing. But my gut tells me it must be: for all its comforting, cleansing hilarity, I can’t help but feel that something has been let out of the box, that will never climb back in. The cottage industry of wide scale, faceless outrage is here to stay, and I believe we will all, in the end, suffer.

James Delingpole at the Edinburgh climate march

 

I recently read James Delingpole’s book: ‘Watermelons, How Environmentalists are killing the planet, destroying the economy and stealing your children’s future’. This is a book that (in the second half at least) deals almost exclusively in deranged rhetoric, dubious theories, and half-baked conspiracy theories, which instead of taking the form of a quaint children’s novel, instead take the form of hilarious ejaculations every several lines regarding the attempts of “Nazis” and “Communists” and “Stalinists” to destroy our way of life, due to their silly ideas, and not so honourable intentions.

(Of course if true, this would be quite an extraordinary alliance, but let’s come back to that.)

Since Delingpole’s book deals more with fantasy than with fact, I’ve decided to write a little story of my own to inform, educate and entertain.

On a frigid mid-winters morning, a crowd of barbarians were gathering to shake the gates of Rome. Several hundred Teetotal Trotskyites, Feckless Fabians, Silly Socialists, Sinister Stalinists, Murderous Maoists, and filthy, filthy hippies were gathered: reeking of Eastern philosophies, with ingrained dirt beneath their scabby fingernails, and with the utopia of cleaner energy sources burning like madness in their eyes.

The wind ghosted eerily through the naked trees whose bare branches extended above us like the embrace of an awakened skeleton, no doubt a dire harbinger of a ‘day of reckoning’, sure to be included in the Corbyn manifesto. The trees seemed to be shivering, not from cold, but from the unwarranted embraces they were receiving from the hippies below.

Edinburgh’s open spaces, ringed by ugly, modern concrete buildings were like a terrifying window into a future of low-energy light bulbs and sustainable industrial practices.

I, James Delingpole, WW2 hero, Cold War Spy and most recently Telegraph blogger, stood frozen with fear that I might catch germs, and lost no time in beating off with a trusty truncheon any hippy that came too close.

This mob carried hundreds of banners aloft, declaring allegiance to one crazed death cult after another: The Woodland Trust, Iona Community Group, the Fife Green Party et cetera.

My ears twitched back flat against my skull, and my quivering hand at once dropped my truncheon into the mud. The drums had started.

A sickening, indomitable rhythm filled the park, and the barbarians around me began to pulsate, a common energy running through them all, rising and rising, into a frenzy of stomping feet, clapping hands and gap-year dreadlocks flying through the air.

To my terror, it soon spread to me, and I felt a primal energy rising to the fore, something long hidden and repressed, longing to break free.

I began clapping my hands, stomping my feet, and rolling my head round and round, with eyes swivelled to the back of my head and my tongue gargling demonically.

“Right on, dude!” one of them said to me, and I just smiled, letting the love run through me.

The drums were reaching fever pitch now, and an unspoken desire unified the whole crowd, which now surged forward as one, over the muddy fields, and as it reached the first buildings by the edge of the park they broke like waves against a rocky cliff, filtering into every nook and crevice of this once great city.

Shop fronts were torn out, hard-working entrepreneurs dragged naked through the streets, and British values trampled upon repeatedly in some kind of sick leftist ritual.

Soon the virus spread all over these islands, consuming every last inch of this sceptered isle in blood, fire, and a soft, warm, fuzzy communitarian feeling, propagated by endless tax rises, and a concerted effort to regulate things.

It was made law for every garden to carry a wind turbine, especially in those places where it ruined the view.

The cabinet was done away with, and replaced by a round-table council formed of Rowan Atkinson, Emma Thompson, Richard Curtis and others.

At the head of it all, driving every mass recycling initiative, and every rich person-hunt, was our Supreme Leader, James Delingpole.

Wherever he went, he inspired confidence with his revolutionary fervour, and impressive physical demeanour made of his warlike face-paint, his army boots, full camo, dragon tattooed arms and a cigar that seemed permanently lodged in his mouth.

And the people hailed him.

Having said all this, it would be remiss of me to skip over the first 5 or 6 chapters, which I can say, in all seriousness, challenged my views and forced me to question issues that I considered resolved. I came to the realisation that the science behind man-made climate change is not quite as solid as it might be; the book overall shook me out of my intellectual complacency and laziness, and made me look things up for myself, and if it did the same for others of my political persuasion, then I consider it to be a worthwhile effort.

But the author should know that I took this book on almost as a public service- I thought it my duty to challenge myself, and to give those I disagree with a fair hearing. He should also know that I was impeded in this public service by the his unstintingly childish and partisan style of writing, which doesn’t so much tend towards hyperbole as cling to it.

There are a great many people who might of read this book, and indeed should read this book, but didn’t or won’t because they are immediately put off by the author’s dogged refusal to see his adversaries as anything other than Bond villains.

Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

How to deal with ISIS

 

There is no doubt: ISIS are barbaric, murderous, stupid, infantile and ultimately doomed. Despite this, all of the responses to last week’s horrendous events in Paris have lacked a full clarity of the situation- unsurprising given the confused web of intersecting sectarian and geo-political alliances that have found their bloody intersection in Syria.

What so desperately needs to be pointed out is this: as long as we don’t know who our enemies are, who are allies are, and what we plan to accomplish in relation to either of those, any large-scale military intervention is unlikely to be constructive, and may well make matters worse.

Questioning what drives people towards radicalisation is not the natural human reaction to being attacked: understanding rarely comes before anger and a desire for retribution, whatever the consequences. And I’m not saying we should invite ISIS terrorists to a counselling session to talk about their feelings; I mean why is ISIS able to recruit from Muslim populations all over the world? And why is it able to launch attacks all over the world?

That Western foreign policy is to blame is always a tough sell at times like these, but it is never the less vital that we should continue to involve historical context in the way we react- to ignore history simply because we don’t like it is dangerous folly. A line often trotted out by Tory commentators is this: “The foreign policy blunders that you claim alienated the Muslim community happened after 9/11, so really, they have nothing to complain about”.

To suggest that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan are the only grievances the Muslim world has against us shows a shocking ignorance of everything. Which makes it even more shocking that this isn’t countered more often.

After the 1st world war, Britain and France (acting through its diplomats Sykes and Picot) divided the former Ottoman holdings in the Middle East between themselves, with France taking northern Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, and Britain claiming Transjordan, Palestine and the rest of Iraq. By drawing imaginary lines in the sand we divided ethnic groupings and traditionally bonded peoples and made artificial nation states to make things easier for ourselves. Much the same thing happened in Africa.

These borders are behind a lot of modern conflicts. As Robert Fisk points out in his interesting article in yesterday’s Independent: ISIS thrives through its proud disregard for these Western-imposed borders. The Sykes-Picot agreement is reviled throughout the Arab world.

But that doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface of our crimes in the Middle East, which usually involved hoisting dictators onto artificial nation states in order to ensure a continuing flow of oil to our Western economies.

Despite ISIS’s success at publicising its brutality through the internet – which is, of course, in their interests – they have killed far less people than Assad’s regime, who has made a murderous habit of barrel-bombing his own people in order to stifle dissent. Just a few years ago we were discussing toppling Assad: what has changed? He is still the murderous Tyrant he ever was: are we now going to ally with him as the less of two evils simply because the other side started killing Europeans?

On the face of it, that seems a natural reaction, but it also demonstrates our readiness to impose double standards on Western lives and those of Arabs, Africans, South Americans and Asians. It shows a tendency to think that our borders are sacrosanct (and thus to express haughty outrage when refugees flood across them) and that the borders formed of imperial self-serving ignorance in the Middle East are weak, flimsy, not to be taken seriously. As Fisk says: Arab leaders have always lacked respect for these borders because they don’t believe in their legitimacy.

Why is ISIS able to launch attacks all over the world? It probably isn’t. But we know that news outlets are very fond of being the first to declare links that don’t exist, and we know it is in ISIS’s interest to claim responsibility for things they have actually had no centralised control over. This is a standard procedure for terrorist groups: to exaggerate their influence, power, and global reach; all too often Westerners are happy enough to oblige, and give themselves to fear.

Let us be crystal clear: ISIS is not the challenge of our generation, it is not a threat to humanity. By exaggerating their threat you are only doing them a favour. Fear should not be our reaction. And I disagree with Zoe Williams , hide your fear with manful bluster if you need to, it has served Britain well for centuries, and I find her classic Guardian-style take on the human psyche to be irritating.

And finally, to continue living your life with happiness and tolerance is the ultimate insult to ISIS, to refuse to be afraid the ultimate weapon. Bombing ISIS in Syria is exactly what they want, but that doesn’t mean it will be good for them. Clearly, they are counting on a long, drawn out war (very much a possibility) and on the chance to demonstrate Western aggression towards Muslims (again, very much a possibility), thereby radicalising Muslims all over the world. Our strategy, if we do bomb Syria (and it seems likely that we will: just leaving them there to get on with butchering more people, living off the revenue of oil, is not exactly a prime strategy) must be to avoid both those things.

That means having a plan, and being careful not to alienate the Muslims who had nothing to do with the attacks in Paris, any more than I hold responsibility for Michelle Bachmann. The only thing that could polarise the world in the way ISIS would love to see happen is if those people believe they don’t have a place here.

It is our duty to make sure that they do.

 

 

 

 

 

DAILY POLITICS SKETCH: 17/11/2015

Yesterday’s Daily Politics opened with the ever-lovely Jo Coburn sitting beside Nazir Afzal, who, we were told, was not only the former Chief Prosecutor for the North-West of England (be still, my racing heart) but would also be with us for the whole programme.

Then Jo winked at us, as if to say: “You lucky dog”.

The chief stories of the day were the furore surrounding the latest meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Cameron’s push for bombing in Syria and better funding for intelligence services, and the somewhat off-message announcement that another round of cuts were in the pipes, including, erm…the jobs of 5000 police officers in London.

First was Yvette Cooper, bearing her usual look of some kind of affronted poultry, descending into incessant head-wagging with every syllable as she grew more at ease. As far as disagreeing with every Jeremy Corbyn stands for, and yet avoiding directly disowning him, she did a terrific job. I feel I may have misjudged her during the leadership election.

The producers of the show presented a trio of troublemakers on the screen: three circular frames with the grim earnest face of Dan Jarvis, the stretched avuncular beam of Hilary Benn, and the concerned Yvette Cooper. All had challenged Corbyn at the latest meeting of the PLP; in what many MPs had called the most “discontented” session they had ever witnessed. Now, I’m no more than a political babe, but it amazes and shames me that the meeting of the PLP that discussed the Iraq war was apparently more amiable than this one: which after all was focused on a single comment Jez had made, regarding his discomfort with the shoot-to-kill policy.

Yvette Cooper told us that it was not politicians’ business to interfere in the work of the police. This is alright, I suppose, but it’s not a rule that can be extended very far. Parliament can, always has been and God-willing alwasy will be able to legislate on the methods of the police force. To introduce an “anything goes” policy now seems rather weird, and certainly more deserving of controversy than Jeremy Corbyn’s discomfort at police shooting to kill.

Yvette touched on the need for solidarity and unity, although apparently didn’t feel the need to extend this principle to her own party.

More ridiculous than anything was Jeremy Corbyn’s assertion that the killing of ‘Jihadi John’ was illegal- that really, if you’re going to do it properly, he should have been arrested.

We suddenly had an image of a crack team of out-of-work Metropolitan police officers, parachuting into war-torn, Isis-held Iraq and detaining Jihadi John with as little violence as possible, “You do not have to say anything…” they would intone, as JJ’s blood-crazed friends simply stood by and let justice take its course, like the good British chaps we all know they are.

Next we had a clip of George Osborne at GCHQ, discussing the threat posed by ISIS cyber attacks, and contrasted the use of the internet to spread liberal values (he was grinding his teeth here) with the use of the internet to spread terror, propoganda and brutality (here he was visibly aroused).

The Chancellor had announced his latest round of cuts, on what departments they would fall, and alluded to vague details about where the money would come from; as usual, based on his unshakeable faith that wherever there is public endeavour, there is waste, profligacy, and barbarians at the gates. So nothing new there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time for a funny

Sometimes the news is too ridiculous to approach with any sincerity: only a light hearted approach will do. Ben Carson is a name that keeps popping up. I thought Trump was a satirist’s boon- but he was only the start. Dr Carson offers endless scope, not just as an example of an idiot, but of what’s happened to American politics. Where’s the “bull moose” Teddy Roosevelt today, who was shot before a speech, and then simple carried on? He has been replaced by Donald Trump, with a face like a pompous, stay at home cat who inherited a “small sum” of 1 million dollars from his father, and who seems permanently constipated; whose answer to every question is to shout boyish assertions, screwing up his face into new levels of infantile frustration with every strange, spluttered syllable, and who apparently can’t remember in which foot he had bone spurs to such a degree he couldn’t serve in the Vietnam War; and then there’s black jesus: Ben Carson, a man who bases his platform for the presidency on “Hey, it’s hardly brain surgery”.

Creds to: http://aattp.org/ben-carson-says-evolution-is-a-myth-because-god-is-a-time-lord-or-something/
Creds to: http://aattp.org/ben-carson-says-evolution-is-a-myth-because-god-is-a-time-lord-or-something/

He allowed photographers to go around his house – which is a brave gesture for such a weirdo, but apparently not a wise one: they discovered walls covered with magazine clippings about his own successes, almost a kind of shrine to the wisdom that is Ben Carson’s to hold and cherish, but also to spread, around the world, like a benevolent virus, so that we too may one day peer with widened, amazed, enlightened eyes onto the truth behind such weighty topics as the real construction of the pyramids (that’s right- I said the real story- don’t believe what the political establishment tells you, idiot.)

This Bill Maher video’s quite funny.

The Tea-party/whackjob/is the earth round contingent are truly amazing: it’s astounding how a movement which, if it were to succeed, would completely rework what social contract exists in the US in favour of even greater wealth and power for meglamaniacs like Trump, manages to portray itself as a “people power” movement, against what it says are “vested interests”. American politicians bandy this phrase about like it was their favourite dildo, in the same way that Boris Johnson did in his Tory conference speech.

It takes a certain kind of stupid to consider nurses’ unions as vested interests, and the press barons, asset-stripping hedge funds and meglomaniac millionaires (to name but a few) who back the Tory party as the brave warriors of progress fighting against such “vested interests”.

Which brings me on to another thing: there seems to have been an upsurge in polls conducted with the dubious intention of finding out the moral character of certain groups of people. These have been held up as proof by delighted left-wingers that they do tip waiters as well as Tories, if not even better. This is ludicrous. I do not need a shabby poll, conducted in a sample group of fewer than 5,000 people in a country of 60 million, and ungracefully flaunted by the Huffington Post, to tell me that I’m morally superior, cleverer, and better looking than Conservatives.

Secret service agent looking away on black background

I know that in my bones.

And apparently bacon causes cancer. Someone should really tell this guy:

An American hero- doing a terrific Donald Trump impression.

Picture the package

It seems lately that the government’s standard response to any attack on its policies is to highlight their “package”- as in: “this policy might be crap, and in fact, all the others might be crap, but together they make a lovely little package – just imagine it wrapped up with string, next to a kitten”. When tax credits are criticised, we are pointed towards the benefits of the new National Living Wage: very much a polished turd I’m afraid, in that it is only a living wage in so far as it is called a living wage, will not affect under 25s, and will not compensate for the tax credit changes for thousands of families in poverty.

It’s a principle of political showmanship that has become more and more common in Cameron’s response to almost anything: displayed abundantly during Prime Minister’s Questions, interviews, or indeed any situation where he is challenged. He is asked about one thing, and points towards another, allowing him to sail though PMQ’s as unmolested as a pastry hors d’oeuvre that has been unthinkingly imbued with coconut essence.

There was much talk of his so-called “honeymoon” following his election victory: but the reality is that he enjoys something of a honey moon everyday. Our media manages to totally fail in it’s seemingly simple job of pointing out his failures. There are looming examples of his failure everywhere you look, on everything from the economy to attempting a semblance of morality.

Blatantly lying is something we flatter ourselves happens very little in our politics, but the Tory party has managed to weave it effortlessly into their speeches. Their only real defence is that they didn’t know any better. But that’s hardly an excuse when you’re running a country.

This government lurches from blunder to blunder, shielded from the consequences of their policies

The angry former Tory voter’s interjection on this week’s question time was a rare example: it doesn’t happen often. For the first time I can remember, a Tory minister was genuinely confronted by someone at the receiving end of one of their policies; their anguish was honed, their message was blunt, and their anger totally justifiable and impossible to compare to the whimperings of Labour MPs or guardian columnists. Nothing can be substituted for the effect felt by a politician, having their fantasy-imaginings of how the world should work shattered so mercilessly and with such passion by exactly the kind of person whose vote they need.

I have no personal dislike of Amber Rudd, I think she’s a fairly good MP, it just do happens she’s been put in charge of her party’s indefensible policies regarding renewable energy. Although the subsidies for nuclear energy and fossil fuels will remain, the subsidies for renewable energy are being slashed, leading to a general collapse of the industry.

It’s all very well to have free market principles; the trouble comes when those people find themselves in government. Because economic reality seldom reflects the imaginings of Friedrich Hayek. When jobs are threatened, politicians have a moral duty to do all in their power to protect those jobs, it is not just their role as representatives, to do otherwise is electoral suicide. Besides this, despite the Tory pontifications of individual freedom, once in power those ideals are rarely carried with them into ministerial offices: given the chance, they are just as keen as their statist rivals to “change lives”, and use their power to remake the world in their ideological image. The only real difference is that in the case of Labour, that ideological image is an image where community spirit blossoms; the Tory image is one of naked self-interest and primitive, Darwinian struggle, which to them is not just a fact of life, it is something to yearn for.

It’s one thing to say that self-interest is an unavoidable aspect of human nature – most people would agree – it’s quite another to relish the prospect of hunting benefit claimants from their hideouts in Shinewater with bugles and hounds. Equally, it’s one thing to say that renewable energy is a costly way of dealing with climate change – it’s quite another to say that you’ll cut funding for it, whilst prioritising funding for those industries that will kill the planet.

Tax credits will be the downfall of this chancellor. I think history will remember him as one of the cleverest political operators in British history, but if it has any sense of justice, it will not remember him as a committed public servant. Time after time he has outmaneuvered his Labour rivals, humiliating them with political traps like his fiscal charter (which has no worth as an article of law, and further degrades the respect politicians of any party have for the nonsense they decide to burden the statute book with) but he has also damaged the British economy – and the livelihoods of millions – by inflicting his hardcore Thatcherite ideology on a country that clearly doesn’t want it. When, in 2011, after his omnishambles budget, he realised that austerity wasn’t helping the British economy, we can identify a change in thought at the treasury. He abandoned austerity as a driver of the economic recovery, but retained it as a political message.

And so the policy that made him so hated that he was booed at the olympics became his badge of honour. He had made the hard choices, (as Tories always do) and as a direct result, Sky News says there has been a slight improvement in the economy, and major falls in inflation. Never mind that his economic recovery has been dragged out over five years of his political maneuvering and five years of daily misery for millions; never mind that the drop in inflation is entirely down to a fall in international oil prices, as far out of George’s control as was being born a Gideon. Sky news isn’t saying that. And neither is the Telegraph or the Times.

And so you begin to see how elections are won, and political legacies made, by sleight of hand and the success of soundbites, faithfully relayed by a media with such double standards that it’s astounding they haven’t gone cross-eyed like Mayan babies.

That’s all for now.