“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, February 17, 2006

Rouze up o young men of the new age!

Lovely. The NYT doesn’t even put the condemnation of the U.S. for torture by the U.N. on the front page. It isn’t as big a deal, apparently, as the non-breakup of Times Warner. No, that the United Nations condemns the torture of the young men who, from every study done of them – the latest by the National Journal – are largely innocents sold to the Americans by villagers with a grudge in Afghanistan and kept in appalling Pit and the Pendulum conditions because the leadership of this country has fallen into the hands of a unique combination of moral idiots and feeble intellects – no, that is not news. For heavens sake, let’s not hear about reality in this world until reality drops on our heads.

Well, as Blake put it: “Rouze up O Young Men of the New Age! set your foreheads
against the ignorant Hirelings! For we have Hirelings in the Camp, the Court, & the University: who would if they could, for ever depress Mental & prolong Corporeal War.”

That about sums up the syncophantic press in the age of the great Rebel-in-Chief.

Speaking of depressing mental war, we are also witness to the spectacle of Britain’s P.M., a man who should quietly have taken the message (adios! leave! go!) from the last election but has instead decided to put the stamp of his claustrophic self righteousness on the decline and fall of the Labour party ramming through a law, rejected in an access of mental clarity last year by the House of Lords, against “glorifying terrorism.” Louise Christian’s article in the Guardian makes the case against it:

“In the original draft of the terrorism bill, glorification of terrorism was a new stand-alone criminal offence. After widespread condemnation and ridicule that it would be unworkable the government did not abandon it, but tacked it on as part of another new offence of indirect encouragement of terrorism. It is part and parcel of the over-the-top government approach to legislation in this area that vague new transgressions which are not viable on their own are being stuck on to other offences to shore them up.”

And further
“We already have offences of incitement to murder, and the Terrorism Act 2000 specifically created a new offence of incitement to terrorism. Abu Hamza was prosecuted under the existing law, and it is to be hoped that the jury trying the case were rigorous about whether there was incitement, as opposed to only encouragement. If indirect encouragement is to be prosecuted as well, it is not going to be used just for those who incite but for the relatively powerless who are not inciting but making remarks which are simply foolish.
The very wide definition of terrorism espoused in legislation since the Terrorism Act 2000 means that an offence of indirect encouragement - with its glorification add on - can attach to support for all kinds of foreign resistance movements and causes, from Hamas, the democratically elected main party in Palestine, to the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe. Many of these movements are part peaceful and part engaged in violence of which one may not approve while still approving the cause.”

All of which reminds me of the quite un-Blakeian conservative, Henry Maine.
Maine is not a well known figure outside of the esoteric precincts of legal anthropology. He was a wizened Tory who, in the 1870s, contributed, along with Fitzjames Stephen, to create the intellectual structure of modern conservatism as a mixture of laissez faire and imperialism. Maine had an almost French reactionary’s distaste for democracy. The many – by which he meant the unwashed, such as moi – struck Maine as a sort of flood, washing away the monuments of civilization. But given that perspective, he was able to see truly on many points. One thing he was quite clear about: much of politics is entertainment. That isn’t a bad thing, or a good thing – it is simply characteristic of politics, and a thing that must be calculated upon when discussing political orders. So – when discussing the democratic order, one must look towards the aspect of popular entertainment in politics. One of the populace’s perennial delights is to give itself a good scare. In political terms, the political entrepreneur should always remember that the horror show, the pumped up moral panic, is one of the easiest ways to gain power, even though the power thereby gained is as precarious as the terror is ephemeral.
Maine made a point about legislation with which LI is in complete agreement: there really isn’t a need for a lot of it. This is one conservative principle that should be evoked any time congress is in session. But it never is.

“It is not often recognised how excessively rare in the world was sustained legislative activity till rather more than fifty years ago [Maine was writing in 1880], and thus sufficient attention has not been given to some characteristics of this particular mode of exercising sovereign
power, which we call Legislation. It has obviously many advantages over Revolution as an instrument of change ; while it has quite as trenchant an edge, it is milder, juster, more equable, and sometimes better considered. But. in one respect, as at present understood, it may prove to be more dangerous than revolution. Political insanity takes many forms,
and there may be some persons in some countries who look forward to " The Revolution " as implying a series of revolutions. But, on the whole, a Revolution is regarded as doing all its work at once. Legislation, however, is contemplated as never-ending. One stage of it is doubtless more or less distinctly conceived. It will not be arrested till the legislative power itself, and all kinds of authority at any time exercised by States, have been vested in the People, the Many, the great majority of the human beings making up each community. The prospect beyond that is dim, and perhaps will prove to be as fertile in disappointment
as is always the morrow of a Revolution. But doubtless the popular expectation is that, after the establishment of a Democracy, there will be as much reforming legislation as ever.”

Many, many are the laws that merely repeat laws already made – and often, in that repetition, glide over prudent restraints in the former laws, extending the power of the state insensibly – and with that spider like creep, the state comes more and more into our private lives.

The moral panic about terrorism has long been about anything but terrorism. While, of course, the terrorist group that we all know about practically has an email address in Pakistan where you can complain about your Osama bin Laden tape if it doesn’t come with the special features, terrorism as the bugbear that can prolong the horrid rule of Tony Blair, and our own Rebel in Chief has become one of the abidingly depressing features of the current political landscape. They are addicts of fright, but my sense is that the population they have successfully frightened is beginning to come out of it – and may even ask, one day, why the real, small core that is frightening is allowed to exist and flourish, while these paragons of national security attack windmills and imprison the innocent.

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