Why Maggie Won’t Have a Respectful Send-Off

Perhaps the United States once really was “the land of the free” – but I see no historical evidence that it deserves this label (unless it refers simply to the freedom of white people to grab land, in the early, pioneer days). An illustration of the power of US corporate propaganda is the way in which Ronald Reagan, a global terrorist and domestic criminal, who redistributed large chunks of the US economy to the super-rich, is today seen by many Americans as a hero; or at least, a nice old man. He even has a provincial airport named after him. This Stalinist-style rewrite of history is an American speciality. The truth is dead – long live the propaganda.

Reagan’s loyal sidekick, Margaret Thatcher, died last week, and the right immediately tried to begin another rewrite of history; the media has pushed a largely establishment view, and the old lady has been given a state-funded funeral, with military escort, to take place this Wednesday. The British establishment is trying to airbrush one unfortunate fact out of history: Thatcher is widely loathed by much of the British public – probably by more people than ever supported her. Unfortunately for the Conservative party, right-wing media and wider establishment, the British people have less of a tendency towards amnesia than our American cousins, and, it appears, less of a tendency to lie down and let the state roll over us.

Thatcher, I commented on Twitter, was the most hated Briton of the 20th Century. I only received one dissenting reply, which suggested Ian Huntley (the murderer of two young girls) as an alternative. Perhaps he was right – but reaching for a child killer underlines my point rather than destroying it.

The point of most of the protests, blogging and anger is deadly serious: to prevent Thatcher from getting the Reagan treatment. It’s important that the long series of tragedies that marked the Thatcher era is kept in the public memory. Even the combined might of the right-wing media has failed to hide that Thatcher is hated by millions of people.

Some clever person thought up a way to reveal the extent of Thatcher-hate: by suggesting that people buy the Wizard of Oz song, Ding Dong the Witch is Dead. The single rocketed up the iTunes chart to number one (before mysteriously settling back to second place in the hour before the count closed on Saturday night); the right, still failing to comprehend the truly mass nature of the anti-Thatcher feeling, tried to replace it with a pro-Thatcher song, “I Love Margaret Thatcher” (which was actually satirical – there are no known pro-Thatcher songs). This effort was promoted by the right-wing media – and still flopped dismally, reaching a pathetic 35th position. Despite what the media was telling us, there was no groundswell of pro-Thatcher feeling to rival the anti-Thatcher feeling.

The BBC and Capital Radio both decided to censor the charts. You see, it’s fine for the mass media to tell people what tunes to buy, but when the public choose the top single for themselves, to make a statement? That’s dangerous sedition. We now have an established precedent: when a fact (in this case, the extent of hatred for Margaret Thatcher) is inconvenient to the British establishment, the media can and will impose censorship.

Anti-Thatcher banners were displayed at football matches. Plans for a minute’s silence at stadiums were shelved, because football fans would have refused to stay silent. Every attempt to paint a picture of a nation in mourning failed.

The right resorted to snivelling: “An old lady has died… Think of her family.” But then why is such a hated woman awarded a state-funded funeral that is bound to generate anger and protest? Why is there a military presence, and why are the chimes of Big Ben to be silenced? Because then future generations can be taught that she was a national heroine; that her vindictive and deliberate destruction of Britain’s social fabric was actually done in the national interest. The fact of the funeral itself can be used to write history – how different is this from the state-sanctioned worship of North Korean leaders? These tyrants can prove how “loved” they are by showing videos of cheering, flag-waving crowds. Tomorrow’s event is made-for-TV. The pictures will show the burial of a loved woman, not a hated one. Millions can express their hatred for Thatcher on the streets, online, at football matches, by buying singles; but the final story that the establishment wants to tell is a different one altogether.

This is why the protests this week have been important. This is a battle for memes: a struggle to control which version of history goes into the history books. Because for all the praise over Thatcher’s legacy, the British people have not forgotten:

  • Thatcher’s “economic miracle” never happened: British GDP has grown in line with Germany and France – and this happened at the time of a North Sea oil boom in the UK.
  • Thatcher therefore didn’t create wealth with her policies – she merely redistributed it, from poor to rich, as shown by the Gini coefficient.
  • And the long-term economic legacy? According to Thatcher fans, we now have a country of opportunity for hard workers. Yet Thatcher actually made it harder to succeed – social mobility fell, and is among the worst in Europe, with only Portugal lagging behind us. This fact, more than any other, destroys the central myth of Thatcherism.
  • Thatcher’s one true economic achievement was to turn London into a global financial centre; but this happened at the cost of losing Britain’s position as a manufacturer, leaving Germany to soar ahead; and the 2008 crash showed that the City boom was far less valuable to the nation than had been previously assumed. It had been built on sand.
  • Some “libertarians” have declared Thatcher a fighter for individual liberty – these people clearly don’t remember the most authoritarian regime of the post-war era, probably even beating New Labour’s control-freakery after 9/11. The police were given a blank cheque by the Thatcherites: as a result, police corruption and violence soared. Deaths in custody were ignored. When young people turned away from politics and embraced rave culture, the police were even there to stop them dancing in fields. Thatcherism did not approve of dancing. “Free” people must consume, not dance.
  • Despite the rise in brutal policing (or more likely, because of it) violent crime rose throughout the 1980s, peaking in the mid-90s before starting to fall again (see “Trends in Crime” graph in this BBC article).
  • Thatcherites spread the myth that privilege is now about hard work, not birthright; yet when Thatcher’s moron son Mark attempted to engineer a coup in Equatorial Guinea and was arrested, strings were pulled on his behalf, and he was fined and released.

So Thatcher’s death is being used by conservatives to reinvent her life. Don’t these people have any respect for a frail old lady who has died, or for her family? Despite a torrent of media lies and censorship; despite the police acting to prevent peaceful protest; despite the tabloid wailing about “leftie extremists”, the British people have acted to stop history from being rewritten. The British love of free speech wasn’t given to us from above; it’s deep in our culture, and it’s the people who claim to defend it who most want to take it away.

Posing As Progressives

Gail Dines: The New Mary Whitehouse
Gail Dines: The New Mary Whitehouse

It’s been one of those weeks when I fall out with some of my, usually friendly, followers. When you’re a leftish political blogger, there are safe things to write about, and things you shouldn’t mention. Social equality, fairness, child poverty, saving the NHS, racism against non-whites, attacks on women’s rights, climate change, corporate power; these are all things that I know I can tackle without dissent from others on the left. There will be, of course, attacks from the right, but those are bread-and-butter. We can all unite and enjoy rebutting those. Career tip: if you want to become a Labour parliamentary candidate, and you write the occasional column, but don’t want to ruffle feathers? Stick to these subjects (no names mentioned).

Then, there are the subjects that confuse many on the left – so they generally don’t mention them, for example: racism by non-whites, domestic violence against men, use of the word “cunt”. And of perhaps most of all, sex. Sex, being the subject that raises the most primal feelings in us – whether negative or positive – divides all parts of the political spectrum. The left has a series of simple check-boxes to guide it through this minefield: Gay rights? Approved. Abortion rights? OK. Rights for sexual fetishists? Erm… Union rights for sex workers? Sounds of left-wing heads exploding.

Now let’s turn things around for a moment. If you were a social conservative ideologue, in Britain, in 2013, how would you go about popularising your ideas? This would be easy enough in America: you say that public nudity is immoral. Because the Bible says so. You say that Muslims are bad because… well, they’re not Christians are they? But things aren’t so easy for the British reactionary. The British have largely abandoned religion – at least, the type you actively believe in. So what would you do? You’d do what clever reactionaries do: adopt progressive camouflage.

Both sexual morality groups and racist bigots have successfully adopted this approach, and in doing so, have blended into the liberal mainstream. The last well-known sexual morality group was Mary Whitehouse‘s National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (now known as Mediawatch UK). This made some headway in the 80s, before being laughed off-stage in the more relaxed 90s. Taking note of this, the new moralists took a leaf from an American lawyer called Catharine MacKinnon. MacKinnon came from impeccable right-wing stock – her father was a right-wing Republican Senator. In the 1980s, MacKinnon (with her sidekick Andrea Dworkin) took a sexual conservative message, wrapped it in superficially feminist language, and succeeded in fundamentally splitting the feminist movement in two – a divide that has existed ever since. The MacDworkinites did more damage to feminism than any misogynistic man ever could.

The MacDworkinites are going from strength to strength. MacKinnon’s natural successors are Gail Dines – a deeply reactionary anti-sex activist who campaigns for media censorship and a ban on sex work using feminist and Marxist language, and a number of conservative groups, self-labelling as “feminist”. The best known MacDworkinite groups in the UK are Object and UK Feminista – who will be familiar to regular readers of this blog. The latest to appear on the scene is the current campaign against the topless photo on Page 3 of the Sun.

It’s amazing what a small shift in vocabulary can do. Because the MacDworkinites refer to themselves as “feminist”, then anyone who opposes them must be against feminism, right? It’s sad that sections of the left are so easily fooled, but indeed, the strategy has worked impeccably. Are these groups actually a conservative offshoot of feminism, or conservatives who have infiltrated feminism from the outside? It doesn’t matter – that’s a simple matter of classification. You can call them anti-sex feminists or anti-sex “feminists” – either way, they are reactionary. The early second-wave feminists implored women to abandon their bras. These new groups beg women to put their bras back on.

The same methodology has worked wonders in demonising Muslims in secular Europe. Far-right pundits like Pat Condell attack Muslims – not from a religious perspective, but from an atheist one. Muslims are, (they say) “less civilised” than we, secular European are. They chop off heads and run kebab shops in London (of course, the Muslims cutting off heads aren’t the same ones selling kebabs to drunk Brits – but who’s counting?)

Such gullibility on the left saddens me. Both left and right have become riddled with conservatism, and well-meaning people have swallowed this reactionary propaganda. Meanwhile, Object’s attacks on women sex workers continue – supported blindly by middle-class women who think sex work is common and icky. And atheist fascists like Condell convince atheists that attacking minorities is OK – if it’s done in the name of Enlightenment.

The alternative is what I’ve labelled Social Libertarianism: social democracy combined with an unshakeable commitment to free expression, free speech, freedom of religion and sexual freedom, and an equally tenacious opposition to all forms of censorship. It’s not new – it’s what the left used to stand for.

Video: How Bitcoins Work

Earlier this year, I blogged about the Silk Road, an online marketplace for illegal drugs. The Silk Road requires a number of technologies in order to anonymise both the buyer and seller; one of these is the Bitcoin, an online currency for making online cash transactions in which both parties remain anonymous and secure.

I was recently contacted by the producers of a cute two-minute video on Bitcoins (for OnlineMBA.com) which I’m sharing here. Please watch and share. The producers can be contacted by email.

I Never Left The Left. The Left Left Me

Clenched fist
Power to the… white, middle-class puritans!

Richard Herring is a favourite comedian of mine. He enjoys causing controversy (as, in my opinion, all good comedians should), and is funny with it. He recently caused a stir on Twitter by writing the following in his regular Metro column:

At one gig, a  woman was loudly  and unamusingly commentating on everything that happened. I said to her: ‘You’re a bit talkative, aren’t you? You’re loquacious. It’s annoying. You’re the one woman in the world where a man would put Rohypnol in your drink and then leave you in the pub.’

Funny? I’d say so, as heckle put-downs go. The people it offended were not my usual targets; they were some of the better known (along with many less well known) voices of the British left. Not only was the joke attacked, but the very right to refer to rape within comedy itself was questioned. I joined in the discussion, defending Herring’s right to free speech (the quality of the joke itself is down to personal taste). To me, there’s only one question that may affect his right to joke about rape: did his comment, in any way, put women in more danger of being sexually assaulted? I would say not.

The tendency for the left to attack free speech in this way has grown hugely since my flirtations with left-wing activism in the 1980s. How did it become so humourless, censorious and (from the perspective of someone who used to feel at home on the left) downright embarrassing?

It’s pretty normal, in my Twitter encounters, for right-wingers to label me a commie or some other meaningless “leftie”-type label. It’s certainly true, as should be clear to regular readers, that my political roots are on the left, and in many ways my views still remain there. MoronWatch arrived on Twitter expecting to find a wealth of deeply stupid right-wingers, and I haven’t been disappointed in that. In my observation, the IQ of the right is undoubtedly below that of the left – and research backs that up. But on some occasions when I tangle with left-wingers, I’m left surprised and disappointed with the lack of thoughtfulness and intelligence that I’d once have associated with them.

The left began from a powerful intellectual base: the progressive philosophers and activists of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The progressives analyzed and understood Capitalism better than its defenders did – after all, if you benefit from the status quo, there’s no need to understand the system’s strength or its flaws; you defend it without requiring intellect. Furthermore, and (I think) even more importantly, the left developed the modern foundation of individual liberty that underlies so much political thinking today.

Yes, you read correctly: the early left was the standard-bearer for political and individual freedoms. This will confuse many morons-of-the-right, because that’s not the story they’ve been told. The Cold War entailed the telling of a simple story by the US propaganda machine: The Free World vs. The Evil Communists. The loss of the Russian Revolution to Stalinism added weight to the claims that capitalism=freedom and communism=repression. But it wasn’t nearly that simple, then or ever. The first person to call himself a Libertarian wasn’t some tax-hating rich guy, but a 19th century French Anarchist Communist called Joseph Déjacque. The Russian Revolution, destroyed in practise by Stalin and then in memory by Cold War American propaganda was an explosion of freedom in one of the world’s most authoritarian countries. Among many other acts, the revolution legalised homosexuality, with leaders declaring “homosexual relationships and heterosexual relationships are treated exactly the same by the law” – decades before the “Land of the Free” got around to doing the same thing. And even during the Cold War, while the US could boast of better freedom of speech at home than in the Soviet Union (although the differences were exaggerated), it was simultaneously responsible for a massive, global attack on democracy and free speech (one strand of which came back to haunt the US on September 11 2001).

By the post-war period, the left had split into three broad sections: the social democratic, moderate strand that had gained power in western Europe, the authoritarianism of the Soviet Union and its communist supporters, and a libertarian strand led by the Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky. Perhaps the Trotskyists were ready to build a global, libertarian left, but Trotsky was murdered in 1940 by an agent of Stalin, and his fledgling movement fragmented into multiple, feuding splinter groups, brilliantly satirised in The Life of Brian. When the Soviet Union collapsed, so did the remnants of Communist parties worldwide. The formerly social democratic parties embraced “the market” (in other words, the rights of corporations were enshrined above the rights of individuals) and simultaneously became more authoritarian.

What remained of the old left had become conservative, authoritarian, unintelligent and dogmatic and, as I mentioned above, downright embarrassing. In place of free debate, political correctness now rules various subjects unacceptable for discussion, and you can expect lefties to shout you down if you try to talk about (or joke about) Forbidden Subjects. The British left has lost its working-class roots; its commentators are primarily middle-class professionals with no links to urban youth. It’s of no surprise then that the left had no more idea than the right as to why young people rioted last year.

To make up for the lack of non-white faces, the left has spent the past three decades fast-tracking black people into key roles; the result has been that some of the leading black political figures of the left have been incompetent and often self-serving. Their appointment makes the left look more mixed, but leaves it as far removed from racial minorities as ever. The left’s painfully PC views on race have suppressed, rather than enhanced discussion on so many important issues.

Examples of the moronic left-wing attitudes and ideas I frequently encounter include:

  • Karl Marx is no longer a progressive thinker of his day, but a deity whose every word is sacred. In a recent debate about sex-worker rights, I was told that Marx didn’t support them. So therefore it’s not left-wing to support them (what could be more conservative than freezing your ideology in the mid-19th century?)
  • The market is always evil (neatly mirroring the right-wing morons who think the market is always right).
  • Every problem in black communities is caused by racism or is a legacy of the slave trade or colonialism (this pleases afrocentric thinkers, but does nothing to understand or fix real-life problems).
  • Only white people can be racist, because if non-whites people are racist, it’s not their fault – we made them do it by being evil to them. Note the colonial attitude here: apparently black and Asian people are simple creatures who learned everything from us.
  • While women can (of course) hold opinions on everything, female issues are the preserve of female discussion only (I was recently told by an apparently liberal person that I couldn’t judge whether a woman was a feminist or not – presumably because I’m male, although the person refused to clarify).

The left no longer values science as it once did – indeed, its loudest spokespeople appear to overwhelmingly consist of non-science graduates. The irrational hatred of genetically-modified organisms (because they are made by evil corporations) is one example. Never mind that GMOs have the potential to lift millions of people out of starvation; the fact that they were created for profit makes them evil. The PC-left castigates modern society for its environmental destruction and wars, but often idolises primitive “tribal” societies as being “wiser custodians of the planet”. In reality, many primitive societies destroyed their own environments (and sometimes themselves); and violence is probably lower today than at any point in human history. Idolising an imaginary golden past is the definition of conservative, not progressive; today’s left is often deeply conservative.

While attacks on sexual freedom used to come from the right, now they largely come from the left, using the intellectually-vacant excuse of “objectification” – effectively meaningless, but giving so-called liberals a cover to attack the baring of flesh, just as right-wing religious types used to do.

Although I have some nostalgia for the old left, it seems best to put it out of its misery now. Authoritarianism is on the rise, and I see no more sign that the left is deeply opposed to this than I do on the right. A new Social Libertarianism is needed, resting on twin pillars: social justice and individual freedom. Social justice isn’t just a “nice to have”, and neither is liberty; I’m convinced that neither can possibly exist without the other, and that both are vital to prevent a coming economic and social collapse resulting from today’s corporatocracy. The dangers to our freedom today come from an intertwined dual menace: corporations and the militarised state. Like fairness and freedom, corporate profiteering and the police state go hand in hand. The enemies of freedom were once largely found on the right; now they exist across the entire political spectrum. The new political battle-lines are drawn; those who attack a man’s right to involve controversial subjects in humour are the enemies of free speech, however “progressive” or “liberal” they may appear on the surface.