Jeremy’s Magical 1970s Nostalgia Tour

Having a drink with a left-wing friend of similar age recently, he pointed out what is so exciting about the current impetus behind Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign: the left just simply isn’t used to winning. Nobody under their mid-50s can remember a time when the strength of the labour and trade union movement could be rallied to bring down governments and force employers to their knees.

For those of us a few years younger, the left-wing experience is one of endless defeat. I was part of the generation of teenagers mobilised into political activity by Thatcher’s unexpected victory in May 1979. Our first experience of politics was a shock swing to the right, and from then on our only political experience has been to see left-wing ideas and movements in continual retreat.

I joined the Troskyist organisation, the Militant Tendency, which as an entrist movement, deliberately embedded itself inside the Labour Party, and rapidly took over the youth section, the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS). We expected the revolution to come any day now, and confidently awaited the backlash against Thatcher’s brutal economic policies. So we reeled in shock when Thatcher won again in 1983. However, our leaders were confident: the far-left has always quietly relished poverty (while pretending to hate it), because they believe it will mobilise the workers to join the revolution. Under Thatcher, mass unemployment grew and grew, and so (we expected) would the pressure for revolutionary change, as capitalism unravelled.

1983 also saw the election of the Labour MP we in Militant considered closest to our position: Jeremy Corbyn. Comrades confidently told me that he expressed sympathy with our policies: though that was quite likely exaggerated: Corbyn took care to distance himself from the far left, for obvious reasons. Corbyn had been active in Labour and trade union activism during the glory days, and like us, waited impatiently for their return.

Our belief in the proletarian revolution took its most severe knock two years later, when the mighty miners were defeated in their year-long strike, and returned to work. That was the point when many of us began to drift from the movement. We weren’t just losing elections: history was clearly not moving in our direction. In 1986 came the battle of media unions against Rupert Murdoch, as he built a brand new plant employing new, computerised print technology, and broke the might of the print unions, which had resisted technological change for so long. By now, I was working and supporting a family, and politics seemed increasingly irrelevant. Not only was Thatcher winning the battles, but the public was increasingly supportive of her brave, new world.

Although my views hadn’t changed much, I had become alienated by the dogmatism and authoritarianism of the hard-left. One of the breaking points for me was when a comrade reported me for smoking a spliff at a party, and I was threatened with expulsion. “Normal” young people who liked sex, drugs and partying were not at home among the hard-faced socialist puritans, who insisted that such behaviour was detrimental to the revolution; and we drifted away. Those who remained active were increasingly unrepresentative of the youth: humourless, dogmatic, authoritarian; so convinced by their own beliefs that they were prepared to trash democracy when it gave the wrong answers.

There were two final, crushing defeats for those who believed in state ownership and control of the economy: first, the various experiments in socialism were exposed as useless. The Soviet Union’s economic model didn’t work. Communist Russia, it turned out, was largely propped up by exporting expensive oil to capitalist countries. The USSR unravelled, not (as the idiot US right likes to believe) because of Reagan’s bloodthirsty wars, but because it went bankrupt when the oil price crashed. China had already begun switching to a market economy in 1979. Cuba, apparently an economic island miracle, also collapsed when Soviet welfare vanished. It was later rescued by Chavez’s Venezuela, but that country is now the world’s worst performing economy, thanks again to an oil price crash. Socialist economics, it turned out, only worked for countries with lots of expensive oil. Even Fidel Castro, quietly in 2010, accepted that Cuba’s socialist model had failed, and slowly opened the door to markets.

So the 90s began dismally for those of us on the left. Now, we believed, global capitalism could sweep the world uncontested, bringing dictatorship and poverty everywhere it went. “Globalisation” became a scary new buzzword for the left, as did “neoliberalism”. The latter didn’t really catch on, but has now been successfully resuscitated as a general-purpose bogeyman by the new left.

And here was the second great defeat for our thinking: the world got richer. Much, much richer. Not only that, but the greatest falls in poverty happened in the poorest parts of the world. None of us, in 1990, would have predicted the meteoric rise of the Chinese, Indian and Latin American economies; less still the incredible, ongoing economic progress in much of Africa. China’s current financial meltdown is worrying, as well as overdue and long expected; but it is a blip compared to the past 3-4 decades of global economic progress.

Here’s the one, hard fact that destroyed my faith in state ownership: between about 1990 and 2014, the prevalence of world hunger fell by 42 percent. This took place at a time of soaring global population. To admit we were wrong may be difficult; but to try to turn back the clock, and risk reversing progress on global hunger based on a refusal to change our world view would be an act of sheer evil. We were wrong. I was wrong. The “system” that we hated – whatever you want to call it – has filled empty bellies.

So, for most of us once on the hard left, our socialism evolved into social democracy. I still believe strongly in redistribution of wealth, and that poverty can and should be eliminated in a rich society, but we have learned that socialism can’t create wealth, but international markets coupled with social democracy can. We have also learned that experiments in socialism inevitably come with authoritarian attacks on free speech and democracy. The extremes of politics, left or right, are populated by bullies that believe any suppression of liberty is acceptable in pursuit of The Cause.

Jeremy Corbyn, protected by an MP’s salary from having to notice that the world was changing, clung in there, voted with his conscience, and was largely ignored by everyone. He is for sure a genuinely good and principled man; but a possible Prime Minister? No. There are good reasons why he has not been anywhere near an influential position since being elected to Parliament. But he appears to be set on one thing, and one thing only: the reconstruction of his 1970s left-wing dreams. To wipe out the past four decades of defeat and start again. A return to the long-discredited ideas of his youth. A look at his politics reveal him not as a progressive, but as somebody who has had his fingers in his ears and his eyes shut since about 1983.

One danger warning came when he talked about the possibility of reopening Welsh coal fields. At a time when environmental activists rail against fracking (which is far cleaner than coal mining), this is absurd. At a time when global warming is the greatest threat to humanity it is borderline insane. But for those who haven’t moved on, Thatcher’s defeat of the miners must be avenged. Screw climate change, we need coal mines, like the good old days, when we were young and chips still came wrapped in newspaper. Anybody with a hint of environmental understanding will know one thing when it comes to fossil fuels: we need to leave them in the ground. Sure, he pays lip service to solar power: in fact, he wants a panel on every roof (sadly, solar doesn’t work too effectively north of the Midlands, but doubtless this policy excites green-thinking technophobes). But without googling, I can guarantee that Corbyn is anti-nuclear. Nuclear power is the only known way to cut fossil fuel use drastically in the very short term; but nuclear was seen as bad by the left in the 70s (when climate change wasn’t around to complicate things), and so it must be bad now, too.

The environment isn’t the only area in which Corbyn and science part company. His voting record includes support for the junk medicine of homeopathy, as well as for “herbal remedies”. This would once have worried some on the left, but today’s left has also, in large part, parted company with science. So our new messiah believes in discredited Victorian “medicine”? Who cares?

But if his environmental and health ideas are exactly where they were four decades ago, his economics are idiotic. We had nationalised industries in the 70s, therefore we must have them today. Never mind that nationalised industries were inefficiently run, created crap (but expensive) products and services and cost the taxpayer a fortune. In the 80s, we protested loudly as government-owned organisations were sold off, one after the other. But the catastrophe we predicted never came. Privatisation became a swear-word for the left, but in practise, it improved many services beyond recognition. The idea that we would have to go to a government monopoly for electricity, gas or a phone line is just silly now. And yet, Jeremy’s magical 1970s nostalgia bandwagon requires it. And so, he plans to nationalise the energy industry: he refers, incorrectly, to the current energy market as a “cartel”. But a state monopoly is a big step worse than a mere cartel. And the projected cost of letting Jez take us back to his youth? A snip at £185bn.

Jeremy also wants a national investment bank, to be funded by printing endless new money (or “quantitative easing for people”, as he calls it). These plans have been shredded by the press – even the Guardian’s economics editor gently dismissed the idea. We know from long, hard experience what happens when endless money is printed to buy things for the masses: see Zimbabwe for more details. One needs to understand the hard left mindset to understand where this comes from: to them, state ownership isn’t a tool for improving things, but a religious mantra. To accept that state ownership just doesn’t work very well is to admit that the socialist experiment has failed. And the true, starry-eyed believers can never do that. Jeremy grew up surrounded by nationalised industries, and he wants to die with them, dammit!

To take economic insanity a step further, Corbyn proposes the popular – but discredited – tool of rent controls. While these sound nice, they are the ultimate lesson that economies don’t tend to do what you tell them. Rent controls have several problems: to begin with, they disincentivise investment in house building, which leads to rapidly worsened housing shortages. They also disincentivise landlords from investing in improvements, which means rent-controlled properties become run down and ghettoised. Rent controls discourage people from moving to smaller properties as their families leave home, which means that over time, old people end up living in places that are cheap but too big, while young people are squeezed out by the lack of property. Rent controls favour the incumbent over the newcomer, which makes them a very effective tool against young people and immigrants. Unwittingly, Corbyn’s policies would be as effective at keeping immigrants out of London as Farage’s. But hey, he’s nice, and Farage is nasty, so who cares if immigrants end up homeless and squeezed out of our city?

Oh, and did I mention he’s a semi-closeted Eurosceptic? The moron-left, having screamed at Farage, is happily rallying around somebody who believes in basically the same thing. I really don’t care whether the EU is unravelled by stupidity from the left or the right. It has brought unprecedented peace and prosperity to Europe. It is fundamentally a progressive project. While the left has been obsessing about the right-wing nationalism of UKIP and the BNP, nationalism has crept in and infected the left too, and this is potentially far more dangerous.

Jeremy Corbyn is doubtless a good, moral man. The same could probably be said about Chairman Mao, whose Great Leaps Forward starved tens of millions of Chinese people while trying to feed them. It says something that Corbyn’s support appears to concentrated among two groups: those of his own generation who remember the 70s as a time when their knees didn’t creak (sorry Mum!) and those too young to realise that everything he proposes has been tried before, and didn’t turn out well.

Will he wreck Labour’s prospects, as so many are saying? That’s by far the most likely outcome. He has no base of support within Parliament, and would be a disrespected and divisive leader. Electing Corbyn almost certainly means George Osborne or Boris Johnson will lead another Tory government from 2020 to 2025. But there is a small chance that his populist messages could attract a groundswell of support and drain votes from UKIP as well as the SNP and the Greens. And if you think another ten years of the Tories sound bad, wait till you see the rise of authoritarian nationalism in both left and right varieties. Like the 70s? No – more like the 30s.

MOTW: Slovakia Rejects Muslim Refugees

Slovakia has “generously” offered to accept 200 refugees from Syria (Turkey, by comparison, has 2 million). However, this comes with a major condition: it will only accept Christians, on the basis that Muslims would “not feel at home”.

Someone might point out to the the Slovakian government that “not feeling at home” is pretty standard for refugees, by definition, of all races and religions. However, Slovakia’s fascist attitudes don’t stop with foreign Muslims. Slovakia’s own Roma population apparently doesn’t “feel at home” very much either, due to relentless discrimination and harassment.

We are reminded ever more frequently of the long history of savagery underlying Europe’s civilised surface. Stories like this are sent to remind us that, without the EU, Europe has invariably been a very dark place. Euroscepticism – whether in the “evil” Farage or “nice” Corbyn varieties – is a danger to watch closely.

Original story via BBC.

MOTW: The Guardian, Kate Winslet, and Other Sex Work Hypocrites

The first in (what I hope will be) a regular moron-of-the-week feature.

History has just been made. The world’s leading human rights organisation, Amnesty International has finally, belatedly, accepted that sex workers are people with rights, and has called for their trade to be decriminalised.

For liberals, this kind of decision would once have been a no-brainer. But liberalism has become infested with puritanical, authoritarian ideas, and many liberals are highly illiberal when it comes to core issues of individual liberty – most of all, when sex is involved. Almost 4 years ago, I began to wake up to this, and wrote a piece about the Guardian’s sexual hang-ups. My observation that the secular left and the religious right had almost blurred into one entity was one of the catalysts that ended my Guardian subscription, and began my growing disenchantment with the increasingly conservative political left.

It was unsurprising then that the Guardian, so often a flag-waver for human rights, could not bear to apply its regular principles to the yucky issue of prostitution. In the run-up to Amnesty’s vote, a Guardian editorial implored the organisation to focus on other things. The piece was dishonest, suggesting that Amnesty was calling for some kind of global libertarian-inspired, unregulated free market in sex, which it most certainly was not.

The editorial almost reached self-parody, suggesting that Amnesty should pay heed – not to sex workers who were overwhelmingly in favour of the move – but to Hollywood celebs: “The letter signed by film actors who are normally reliable allies of Amnesty shows how damaging it is.” Don’t listen to the dirty hookers, listen to Kate Winslet!

The idea that actors know more about prostitution than prostitutes was widespread, and seemed to form a key part of the case against decriminalisation. But in this Internet era, sex workers can (for the first time) organise en-masse and speak for themselves. So we had the wonderfully named article Sex workers tell Lena Dunham, other celebs, to STFU about shit they don’t understand. And this was capped by an even more perfect tweet from the pornstar Stoya:

Stoya's tweet of the week!
Stoya’s tweet of the week!

Given that the workers themselves wanted to be decriminalised, and that the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that this would make life better and safer for them, the Guardian and other opponents were reduced to relying on the dubious link between trafficking and sex work, and the accompanying implication that sex workers are largely the powerless “trafficked” victims of global patriarchy. The left’s favourite nonsense-word-du-jour, neoliberalism, often appears in this false argument: IT’S THE NEOLIBERALS MAKING WOMEN DO TERRIBLE THINGS! Replace “the neoliberals” with “Satan” and you effortlessly switch between the “progressive” and the fundamentalist argument.

In fact, the trafficking argument against sex work is often a cover for anti-immigration attitudes (yes, they exist on the left too, just a little better hidden). When police raid brothels in the name of “saving trafficked women”, they often arrest those without valid papers and send them off for deportation. And thus, we have supposed progressives and feminists supporting anti-sex, anti-immigrant policing activities. Where do the liberals end and the far-right begin?

As if to underscore its own hypocrisy, the Guardian’s front page was yesterday dedicated to people who had truly been trafficked and exploited: Lithuanians who had been trafficked into the UK and exploited in the egg industry. There was no Guardian call for eggs to be banned. Illegal immigrants who take on low-paid agricultural work are allowed to have employment rights. Those who take on higher-paid sex work are not.

The decay is widespread: the trade union Unison has also vociferously opposed decriminalisation. And so we have, possibly for the first and only time in history, a trade union refusing to support workers in need of representation, and instead calling for the shut-down of an entire industry. Imagine if unions took this approach wherever they encountered workers being exploited: it is about as far from trade unionism as one can imagine (not all unions have followed this strange lead – the GMB for one has a branch for sex workers).

Amnesty’s decision is more than symbolic. It is a part of a tide that is slowly, finally, turning. It’s just a real shame that, rather than champion members of the world’s oldest profession, so many supposed liberals as well as supposed Christians have chosen to turn their backs on them.

Greece, Syriza and Conspiracy Theory as Politics

I’ve attracted some anger from Twitter and Facebook followers for my scepticism over Syriza and the mess in Greece. This is an attempt to clarify why I believe the left has been misled by Syriza and the supposed anti-austerity movement, and become increasingly nationalistic in the process.

With yesterday’s referendum (supposedly) rejecting austerity, the long-running Greek tragedy seems to have come to a head. But the events also highlight two longer-running and more worrying tragedies: the seemingly unstoppable rise of European nationalism, and (regular readers will know this is a recurring interest of mine) the intellectual collapse of the political left.

Without some understanding of the economics behind what has happened to Greece, one is left with empty slogans, applied in a childlike fashion. Austerity bad, banks bad, people good, elite bad, Syriza good, Germany bad. Where the reality of the situation comprises a long string of corruption and errors, instead we’re presented with idiotic conspiracy theories: They want to bring down Greek democracy; They want to punish Greeks for electing Syriza. In terms that a 5 year old would appreciate, we have heroes and villains, goodies and baddies.

From the moment of the financial collapse, Greece has been a tricky one for the left to explain, as we tried to find a way to blame capitalism for the disaster. While the crashes in America, Ireland and Spain were largely due to market overreach and a frenzy of property speculation, Greece’s problem has always been the state. Before the financial crash even took place, Greek governments had run up eye-watering levels of debt, which had become freely available because of the decision to allow Greece to join the Euro – a decision that, in hindsight, pretty much everybody accepts was a mistake.

Now the left attempts to blame shadowy ‘neo-liberal’ forces for the creation of the debt: ‘the banks’, ‘the elite’ or ‘the establishment’, implying that ordinary Greeks did not benefit from the spending spree. But ordinary Greeks did benefit, and once the money taps had switched on, they insisted they stayed on. For any political party to attempt to end the fiesta would have been political suicide. The money was spent on creating public sector jobs with little purpose other than to spread wealth downwards, on early retirement and on generous pensions. Furthermore, many ordinary Greeks decided that paying tax was tiresome, so didn’t bother.

Having joined  the Euro, Greece had become a third-world economy pretending to be a modern, European one. Like a teenager winning the lottery, the outcome was never going to be pretty.

None of this was ever secret. Economic commentators would express amazement at the way southern European countries happily trampled the Euro rulebook, and some predicted eventual disaster. So the financial crash came, and as Warren Buffett amusingly told us, when the tide goes out, you find out who is swimming naked.

And so the immense bailouts began. Vast amounts of money were pumped into Greece, and enormous debts were forgiven. So it’s puzzling today that the left should be whining about the need for ‘solidarity’, or the need for something like the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Germany after WWII. Here was solidarity on an unprecedented scale. Taxpayers from rich countries pumping money into a poorer country to keep it from the brink of collapse.

Of course, this money was injected out of self-interest; but then, so was the Marshall Plan, and so is aid to Africa. Collapsed economies threaten instability, and create economic ripples that weaken other economies. But still, the action demonstrated the inherent liberalism of the EU project: wealth was being redistributed from rich to poor on a huge scale.

And naturally, the bailouts and debt write-off came with strings. There would be no point trying to save Greece without its conversion to a more dynamic, self-supporting economy. Greece has almost no exports. Without a massive economic restructure, Greece would simply come back for more, over and over again. So the demands for austerity and economic reform did not come from a position of neo-liberal anti-democratic evil, as so many on the left have convinced themselves.

But still, the depth of the austerity measures was misguided, and prevented economic recovery. Although the left seem to think that they alone have been saying this, in fact many commentators have said this since the start of the bailouts. Given Greece’s economic infantilism, and the prospect that they would be permanently supporting the nation, nobody can blame the EU or IMF for distrusting the ability of the Greek government to take the nation off welfare, or trying to force its hand.

The accusations that the austerity was some kind of punishment, or an attempt at a coup, are beyond ludicrous. The very people demanding austerity were those who lent the country money, and most certainly wanted their money back. So the austerity, however misguided, was not the result of a conspiracy, but dual forces: a pigheaded approach from the lenders, coupled with Greek bureaucracy, corruption and ineptitude.

Ironically, the economic signs were cautiously beginning to improve in 2014. Then politics intervened to destabilise the situation again. Nobody can blame the Greek people for being angry or exhausted, and so the election of Syriza in January was unsurprising. Syriza came to power by peddling an attractive lie: Greece could both reject austerity and stay within the Euro. This could only be possible if the electorate of the Eurozone countries were prepared to subsidise the nation forever. And no electorate would ever do that. The governments of Germany and France had been subsiding Greece despite the will of their electorates, but would eventually be overrun by nationalistic forces if they continued to do so indefinitely.

Greece’s new leaders have behaved like overexcited children, and have burned bridges with the very bodies keeping Greece afloat. The (now ex) Finance Minister Varoufakis built a reputation for sweeping into meetings and giving lectures on economics to some of the world’s top economists. Then finally, with a new deal almost agreed, Greece’s government abrogated their responsibility to make hard decisions, and instead called a referendum.

Yesterday’s vote was unbelievably misguided at multiple levels. It asked ordinary people to answer an incredibly complex economic question; the proposals voted on were no longer on offer anyway; criminally, the effect of the one-week delay on the Greek economy was catastrophic, estimated to have cost Greece €1.2bn: money that the country hardly has to spare, and which must be added on to any new bailout package.

But most of all, the vote repeated Syriza’s core lie. The people were told they could reject austerity while remaining in the Euro. So of course, they did. But regardless of Prime Minister Tsipras’ reassurances, this was essentially a vote on Euro membership. Without understanding what they were doing, the majority of Greek people voted yesterday to leave the Euro. Tsipras, of course, now says he has a strengthened mandate to negotiate, but those days may be over. Syriza has blown the chance to negotiate for the past 5 months, choosing instead to call their lenders ‘Nazis’ and make revolutionary speeches – it’s highly unlikely they can do any better now.

Greece will probably have to leave the Euro, possibly beginning this week. It’s estimated that this will lead to a further 25% fall in the economy, on top of the 25% already lost since the crash. This will be catastrophic, and seriously threaten Greek democracy. Syriza and the European left will, of course, present this as further evidence of a neo-liberal coup; but it’s simply further evidence that the left has lost the plot.

The greatest tragedy of all this is that nationalism wins. The anti-austerity left suddenly finds itself in bed with an anti-EU right, from Greece’s Nazi Golden Dawn party to our very own UKIP. Nationalism is the order of the day in Europe, and we’ve learned twice over in the past century what that can mean. The right rails against the free movement of people; the left rails against the free movement of goods, services and capital. But these are two sides of the same coin.

While I no longer subscribe to many of the Marxist ideas I once did, I am still as strong an internationalist as ever. The embrace of nationalism across the political spectrum is sad indeed. Sadder still, that the left has mostly abandoned internationalism altogether, and that the libertarian right is now the strongest bulwark against nationalism.

This is the end-game of the collapse of the progressive left, which began 30 years ago. If there is a liberal, progressive force in European politics today, it is hard to identify it. Left and right increasingly morph into one, nationalistic blob. With Syriza about to be discredited by a total failure to deliver, it’s likely the far-right will rise again. Vote Syriza, get Golden Dawn.

Racism and “Cultural Appropriation”

I only encountered the bizarre new concept of “cultural appropriation” within the past 2-3 years. I remember the moment well: a black Facebook friend posted a picture of some white, middle-aged women dressed in traditional African clothing. It was a sweet photo, so I was taken aback by the commentary that accompanied it: apparently, here was an example of white supremacy, once again stealing from Africa. The women were guilty of “cultural appropriation”, apparently. And that’s bad.

Here was a new and puzzling idea. The left of old was insistent that Africa was victim to the exact opposite problem: something we referred to as “cultural imperialism”. We thought that culture could be imposed by those with the money and the guns. It was a superficially obvious idea: but we failed to understand what culture is, or how it works.

There are genuine moments when a culture has been forced onto an African population: the South African attempt to teach children in Afrikaans was one example. This policy prompted an uprising by school students who demanded to be taught in English, and led to the Soweto uprising, and the famous 1976 massacre of school students. The imposition of Islam in the Sahel by the Arabian empire was, one suspects, not done entirely peacefully.

Suppressing culture for the sake of it is simply expensive and pointless. This doesn’t stop politicians, police and control-freaks from repeatedly trying.

An attempt to suppress black American music
An attempt to suppress black American music

Culture doesn’t flow by force, nor does it necessarily follow the money. The story of black American music is the ultimate proof of that. Even in pre-civil rights segregated America, black music found widespread popularity. Recording fuelled the rise of jazz, swing and rock & roll. The racist white establishment attempted to suppress this, but were unable: when something is good, people will find a way to get it; this is as true of “dangerous music” as it is of illegal drugs. For sure, it was easy (prior the civil rights era) to suppress black artists, by refusing to record them, banning them from radio and from live performances. But this couldn’t prevent white artists – Al Jolson, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly – from helping to popularise black music.

The dominance of black music, dress and language over white culture was undeniable. The African diaspora filled vacuums in Western culture: music, rhythm, dance, spoken word, new styles of humour. African culture also brought a more straightforward approach to discussion of sex; this fact alone might explain much of the resistance to black culture from conservatives.

Culture is neither imperialised nor appropriated: it flows where it is welcome, usually because it fills an existing gap. It is the self-appointed job of conservatives, racists and small-minded bullies to prevent the flow of ideas, but they will inevitably fail, in the long run.

The significance of “cultural appropriation” is that it marks the shift of racism and conservatism from the right to the left of the political spectrum. Rather than exhort people not to buy “NEGRO RECORDS”, the neo-bullies tell people that black culture is for black people, and must not be appropriated.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen black racists and their confused white “liberal” cheerleaders use cultural appropriation as evidence of how racially oppressed they are. Apparently, wearing African clothes, listening to hip-hop or making soul music is today’s evidence of just how much white people still hate black people. Which is weird, when you think about it.

This idea is the work of a racist minority, and certainly doesn’t reflect the views of most black people. In fact, many older black art-forms still only exist because they’ve been adopted by white people. The dub reggae scene – which I’ve frequented for many years – was once mostly black, and now mostly white. The same applies to many other music scenes, from soul to traditional African music. With the exception of current Nigerian pop superstars like Wizkid, who can fill large London venues with young, black Brits, African music is largely ignored by black people in the UK. Senegalese friends of mine are currently touring Europe, playing to appreciative white audiences. Without this appropriation of (i.e. love for) their culture, these African musicians would never get to leave Africa.

Most Africans love to see whites wearing their clothing, and would be bemused to learn that some angry black people in America and Britain see this is a symbol of racism. Furthermore, there is no such thing as “African clothing”. If I wear Nigerian clothes in Senegal (as I’ve once done), the locals don’t see the clothing as theirs, but as foreign.

One can also note that Africans and western blacks themselves have happily appropriated foreign culture. Today’s most enthusiastic flag-wavers for Christianity are found among Africans and the African diaspora. Although konscious black Christians will angrily point out that Ethiopia was an early Christian society, Christianity (and its European-made book) was brought to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa far more recently by Europeans, not Ethiopians, beginning with the Portuguese explorers of the west coast. Islam, likewise, came overland from Arabia. Just as African rhythm and spoken word filled a void in the West, so Islam and Christianity provided what sub-Saharan Africa had never before encountered: complex, stable religions, with their own books.

Sections of today’s left are continuing the work of the white supremacist right of last century.  They try to define rules that only apply to certain racial groups. Blacks can “appropriate”, whites cannot. Black culture must be left alone, white culture can go where it chooses.

The difference between the person who rails about “cultural appropriation”, and the person that organised a boycott of “negro records” is wafer-thin. The language has changed beyond recognition, but the ugly, bullying, divisive intent is the same.

The Great Unfriending

It’s official: I’m a very rare breed of social media user.

A scientific study of Twitter interactions on climate change discovered that almost all people who tweet about climate change are only listened to by people who already agree with them. Or to put it another way, they’re probably wasting their time. The people who bridge the gap between the two sides are so unusual that some are listed by name. They include Richard Betts of the Met Office, New York Times environment writer Andy Revkin, “… and an account named @moronwatch”.

This isn’t to say that I’m ambivalent on climate change: I’ve often taken the piss out of climate change deniers on this blog, as well as on Twitter and Facebook. So I was very proud to learn that I’m one of the tiny minority that has had the opportunity to change minds on climate change.

But beyond my personal little triumph, the finding is profoundly depressing. Increasingly, and globally, people on social media are building themselves tight little echo chambers. After May’s general election, I saw a spate of updates from Facebook friends, proudly boasting of unfriending Tory voters. Then, following the historic and wonderful Supreme Court decision last week that finally brought gay marriage to all 50 US states, it happened again. People who should have been overjoyed (and magnanimous in victory) instead showing off that they had deleted friends who expressed concerns over the judgement.

But why? What purpose is served by deleting someone with opposing views? If one holds a view strongly, surely one also wants to influence other people’s views too? That, after all, is why I blog, at times, about climate change: because it’s an important issue, and it’s important to change minds.

And likewise, I want to challenge homophobic, racist and other views I encounter. I have many black friends on Facebook, many of whom are religious; black Christians (in my experience) are far more likely to express homophobic, or at least anti-gay marriage views (it’s debatable whether these are the same thing or not). Last week I witnessed anti-gay marriage comments from three Facebook friends – all black Christians. In each case I could have unfriended, or just ignored. But this issue matters to me, so in each case I responded, and made similar points: 1) I disagree with you, 2) I respect (and will defend) your right to hold your views, 3) I’m open to further discussion and would like to change your mind.

In interacting with these three people, I believe I did far more for the cause of combatting homophobia than did any person that decided to delete “homophobic friends” on the basis of their own supposed “tolerance”. In fact, if anybody turned back the clock on gay rights, it was those people who witnessed homophobic views, and decided to ignore them.

To delete “homophobes”, “racists” and other evildoers is to create a childlike view of the world in which every person can be stamped with a simple label of either good or evil. It denies the existence of shades of grey, or the fact that good people can be flawed. It is the action, not of a liberal or tolerant person, but of a self-centred and selfish individual. It expresses a simple belief that so long as MY view of the world is shiny and nice, then the world is a shiny and nice place. It is an abrogation of responsibility to improve the world. I’ll go further: by burning bridges, it makes the world a worse place, building up walls between increasingly hostile tribes.

Ironically, most of the people I personally encounter expressing racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, sexist, transphobic or homophobic views are black. To selectively cleanse my friends would be to make my circle whiter. Most of the “liberals” I see deleting friends have almost exclusively white, middle-class social circles. What kind of liberal doesn’t extend their social networks beyond their own narrow social and racial groups?

How do you tackle racism, if your world-view says you must unfriend anyone expressing what you consider to be a racist view? How do you deal with homophobia if you won’t talk to homophobes? By deleting friends, you reveal yourself as intolerant, closed-minded and apathetic. You show yourself incapable of, and disinterested in, making the world a better place.

In 1984, Orwell wrote about doublethink, which twisted the meanings of words beyond recognition. Aptly, this was a creed of English Socialism – INGSOC – which had taken left-wing values and twisted them to mean the exact opposite of their original meaning. An INGSOC slogan was: “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength”.

Let’s add one more to that: Intolerance is Tolerance. By turning on the minority opposed to gay marriage, today’s mob is no different from any other majority that hated any other minority. In this case, the mob is more likely than the average to be white, middle-class and well educated. A white, privileged mob shunning and marginalising a poorer, darker minority. Ring any bells? Same shit, different era.

Did The Government Just Ban Cheese Sandwiches?

Last week’s Queen’s Speech contained the standard Tory fare, and prompted the usual, largely justifiable anger. Yet the interesting stuff was tucked away at the bottom of the 21 point list. Undoubtedly, the outright weirdest point on the list was at number 20, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which promised to outlaw all “legal highs”.

The tabloid press has done a good job of convincing people that legal highs are a threat to humanity, and the standard “hang ’em all!” comments can be found on social media. But in reality, legal highs are just drugs that haven’t been banned yet. Coffee, alcohol and tobacco are all legal highs: and two of those substances are responsible for around 99% of all known drug deaths, both legal and illegal.

Government after government, Labour after Tory after Labour, has banned legal highs for no reason whatsoever. In 2005, the last Labour government banned magic mushrooms. This, despite the fact that the drug has probably been used for thousands of years, causes no known harm, and probably has multiple medicinal uses. Labour also banned mephedrone for no particular reason other than media outcry: as I blogged here, it was later discovered that legal mephedrone availability had led to a steep decline in cocaine use. This has now probably reversed. Substance after substance, often more beneficial than harmful, has been banned. Among all the bans, other potentially important substances have been attacked, notably cannabis, LSD, ketamine and ecstasy. This kind of act is simply cultural vandalism, and is our reward for electing puritanical dullards to represent us.

Science has made a mockery of all these bans. For every banned substance, a dozen new ones reach the market. The legal process can’t keep up with the technology. So, some Baldrick-like Tory policy-maker came up with a cunning plan! Why not just ban ALL recreational drugs? That way, anything that reaches market is instantly illegal by virtue of being a drug. Somehow this piece of outstanding idiocy made it into the Queen’s Speech, and probably soon into law.

Why is this thinking so stupid? Because we are chemical beings, and infinite substances have a “psychoactive effect”, including our foods. Try fasting for a day then eating a piece of dry bread: your mood will be rapidly uplifted as the starch reaches your system and is metabolised. Starch, our main source of energy, is a drug – as is its faster-acting sister, sugar. And that’s just the beginning. Cheese contains opiates – substances related to morphine and heroin. Did the government just ban cheese sandwiches and cheeseburgers?

Worry not! The new law will, apparently, make exemptions for drugs already in daily use, including caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and foods: these exemptions merely underline, rather than do away with, the ludicrous nature of the law. Now, if one puts one’s pills in a cheese sandwich, do they count as food?

And, of course, existing medicines will also be exempt. But if I use paracetamol as a hangover remedy, am I using it medicinally or recreationally? If I take Viagra for a sex party rather than to remedy impotence, is it now a legal high? Hilariously, the drug at the forefront of this ban – laughing gas – is also a food additive (it’s used to whip cream) so is still freely available on Amazon.

Here’s the thing: virtually everything we put into our bodies is a drug, and many drugs have recreational as well as other uses. This is why the entire anti-drug narrative has always been nonsensical: it simply attacks mankind’s chemical nature. We’re all drug users, every one of us.

This legislation does, at least, do away with one big lie: every drug that’s ever been banned to date has been labelled dangerous, whether it really is or not. The new law at least finally admits that our worthless drug laws are not based on harm, but on morality. They don’t measure a substance based on its ability to hurt us, but on its potential for being enjoyable. Finally, some honest politics!

One wonders why they didn’t go beyond drugs and ban everything fun. But then they would have ban their own creation of idiotic laws, because one suspects certain politicians get a masturbatory thrill from trying to micro-manage our private lives so carefully.