Thursday, 26 November 2015
Another sheaf of notes has been found under the floorboards of Lewis Carroll's room in Oxford.
Alice heard some singing and chanting. She turned to the Blue Queen and said that she wanted to find out more about it.
'Excellent,' said the Gibblet, 'excellent'.
The Blue Queen took Alice to a darkened room and showed her some magic lantern slides. Alice looked at them with amazement. She saw people standing with their eyes shut, she saw people kneeling. Sometimes it was just men, sometimes it was men and women together.
'That's very interesting,' said Alice.,' and are there people who don't do any of this sort of thing?'
The Blue Queen and the Gibblet went very quiet.
'Are there?' said Alice.
'Children like you,' said the Blue Queen, 'need to prepare for life. That's why we showed you lantern slides of different kinds of people.'
'Yes, I know,' said Alice, 'but are there even more different kinds of people who don't do any of this sort of thing? If I knew about them, wouldn't that help me prepare for life too?'
'Don't answer her,' screamed the Gibblet, 'she doesn't need to know. I'm not even sure it is knowledge, anyway.'
The Gibblet opened a huge book called 'The Big Book of Knowledge'.
'No, it's not in here,' he said exultantly, and closed the book very quickly. 'If it's not in the 'Big Book of Knowledge', it's not knowledge,' he added.
'Who wrote this 'Big Book of Knowledge'? asked Alice.
'The Borogove,' said the Blue Queen, her voice trembling with emotion. She shut her eyes.
'The Borogove, the Borogove,' sang the Gibblet in a high pitched lyrical voice as he kneeled down on the floor.
'Have you got the Borogove on one of these lantern slides?' asked Alice.
'One day...one day...' said the Blue Queen in a mysterious way.
Alice walked on.
Wednesday, 18 November 2015
1. All that stuff we used to say about 'PC gone mad' - suspend that for the moment.
2. All terms like '*loony* left' remain really, really, really funny. We don't want to be ruled by 'PC gone mad'.
3. We're really pleased that Livingstone has made a faux pas. Don't worry about consistency about language.
4. Carry on with terms like '*loony* left'. No one will pull us up for that one.
5. Carry on.
Tuesday, 17 November 2015
Obviously the media will keep going on and on for months about the Stop the War 'reaping the whirlwind' tweet. Anyone, all of us, apart from the terrorist groups involved, worry, care and mourn for the people killed. Of course we do. They're us. These bombs and guns are directed against the likes of us, going to footy matches, sitting in cafes and going to concerts. In one terrible ironic aspect of this episode, the people doing this stuff must know that the people who they regard as the enemy (the politicians and generals) won't even be in the places where they've bombed and shot. It'll be us. You can bet that some of the people they kill, are even people who've said that they're against our rulers sending troops to the middle east. We really don't need lectures about how it's us who are disrespectful to the dead. The dead are us. As are the dead of Ankara, or in all the other places that have been targeted by these bombs. What is going on is that our politicians aren't protecting us. The bombs hardly ever reach the politicians and generals. Perhaps they're not targeted. Perhaps they've protected themselves much better than they've protected us. So don't tell us when we start to make connections between what politicians do and what bombers do that we aren't regretful enough or sad enough, or bitter enough. It's us, not you who are getting it.
In fact, when historians come to write up this period of history, (long after rows about the tweet), giving readers a picture of what Britain, France and the US were doing in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria...when they go back to the 'great ideas' earlier of how to 'solve' the 'problem' of Iran, how they happily allied with Saudi Arabia, how they pumped billions into Israel which never took seriously any 'peace process', how the western powers regard the middle east as some kind of fiefdom that should be run for our benefit....and when these historians look at the growth of groups that at one moment appeared to oppose the despotic powers of the middle east, and the next bombed 'soft' targets all over the world, when they look at how wars provide the context for paranoid, vindictive, vengeful, indiscriminate murderous ideologies (why wouldn't wars offer this kind of fertile environment? men sit for hours and hours in terrible conditions trying to kill each other, trying to kill anything or anybody they have been told is their enemy, whilst being in a permanent state of fear that they themselves are going to be killed...) when all this is put together by historians, will they say the converse of that whirlwind tweet? Will they say there was no connection whatsoever, not even the tiniest connection? Will they say that these terrorist groups had no connection whatsoever to the wars and interventions of the last 50 years or so? Will the historians say that the only way to understand these terror groups is to examine the sacred texts of Islam? The answer to it all lies in the books? Will they say that the big mistake the western powers made was to not bomb and kill more and more and more?
Maybe when the last drop of oil has been wrung out of the soil all across the territory, the oil-wealthy dictators and kings will have emigrated to New York and London, leaving millions in destitution, utterly un-enriched by the spent oil wealth, one lone historian will ask, 'What was that all about then?'
Monday, 16 November 2015
This evening in someone else's car, I had the experience of listening to Iain Dale on LBC. He hosts an evening phone-in. He set up the session by saying that we had moved into a new era as a result of the Paris deaths which meant that we had to take some kind of new action. The big question was whether the British people had 'the stomach for it'. He said that people might accuse him of being a 'warmonger' but so be it.
The first three calls that I heard were opposed to him each from different perspectives. One was Crispin Blunt MP who made it clear that he thought there was no action (in Dale's meaning of the word) that made sense so long as the civil war was going on in Syria. Whatever else happened, that had to be solved first. I surmised that he comes from a kind of pax britannica perspective, that he thinks that the UK still has some kind of useful role to play, acting as a referee in the middle east in order to protect 'our' interests, but as a realist he could see that saying 'we will bomb' made no sense.
Iain Dale ignored everything he said.
Then a caller came on who said that hadn't the French and the US been bombing for the last two years. so what had they been bombing and why hadn't it worked?
Iain Dale seemed to be saying: but that didn't disprove the point that we should go on bombing.
Then 'Raheem' came on and Raheem said that he worked with young Muslim men and he could see that many of them became radicalised by Western policy of backing dictators in the region and then bombing civilians. He gave the example of Cameron greeting the PM of Egypt.
Dale said that he didn't like the word 'radicalised' he said that he preferred to say 'brainwashed'.
Raheem said that every time he talks to these young Muslim men they mention western policy. Iain Dale said: but that doesn't explain the rapes and murders of Muslims wherever Da'esh are.
Raheem faltered a bit here (and I found myself willing him to say that a radical, authoritarian, militarised group will always have more than one objective: often one towards the outsider enemy (in this case the West) and another towards people perceived as collaborators, quislings and apostates. What's more: radical, authoritarian groups often have some male-led, male-based ideology about sex in which women only have the roles of handmaiden and child-makers. So, 'hating the West' and killing or raping fellow Muslims are not in contradiction with each other for a group like ISIS.)
Anyway, Raheem didn't say that.
He said that Iain Dale didn't understand the problem.
Iain Dale then repeated exactly what he said at the beginning of the programme as if he hadn't heard the previous three calls, said 'Did we have the stomach to take what action was needed..?'
And I got out the car.
Sunday, 15 November 2015
Human events may or may not proceed according to physical laws of cause and effect (e.g. I let go of a stone, it drops). I tend to think that human events proceed according to a more complicated process in which human behaviour is in a permanent state of 'influencing each other' (mutual influence, or reflexive influence). We see this in language. When I speak to you, part of the reasons for what I say and how I say it is in my awareness of who you are. My behaviour, then is already reflexive. Then you reply, being aware of who I am, whilst being affected by what I said. Cause and effect doesn't describe this fully.
Why am I saying this?
Because the terrible events in Paris raise the spectre of cause and effect thinking. I don't believe that either saying 'ISIS caused the events' or 'the wars caused ISIS' are sufficient explanations of the processes that led to those men massacring those people. We should even be wary of saying that e.g. because a particular interpretation of Islam is a necessary condition for the ISIS mentality that this is a sufficient one. Same goes e.g. that because the wars are a necessary condition for the growth of ISIS that they are sufficient.
In other words, clearly we have lived in a time of 'reflexive influence'. Aha, say some, but this reflexiveness is not symmetrical. That's to say, one side of the question has more power than the other: so, some have implied that 'Islam' is the most powerful side of the process. Not so, say others, it's the wars and the might of the West. I agree, we have to get our relative powers sorted out in this too.
Perhaps, the most telling comment of all was Hollande saying that it was an 'act of war'. Somewhere in the reasons for him saying this, was an awareness that this deed was part of a long war in which many parties over the long history of relations between 'the West' and the 'Middle East' have justified their actions for many different reasons. But at the heart of it is the use of weapons to kill other human beings. In a terrible way, Hollande clarified that. Surely he entitled us to review this matter as a piece of terrible military history, in which for the most part the greater power was, has been and still is in the hands of the West.
War is a classic case of reflexive influence, ('arms race'), and surely now, after Hollande's words, no Western leader can pretend that if ISIS kill again it isn't part of this war being waged by both sides. In military terms, it really doesn't matter very much what ISIS say to justify what they're doing, or what the West say to justify what they're doing. We can notice it, but we shouldn't be too seduced by it.
Once we have that in our heads, we can ask 1)is either side's war justifiable? 2) millions of people have been killed in this long war, so it's urgent that we find a way to stop it going on...so does it look as if either side killing more people will stop more killing? (and yes, we have noticed that the great majority of people killed in this war are civilians).
To leaders now and in the past:
when you ask us to choose you,
you say you will protect us
and millions believe you.
When you command guns and bombs
to kill people
you say you are protecting us
and millions believe you.
But some of the people
who receive the guns and bombs
have figured out
they can come to the countries
where the guns and bombs came from
and do the same.
When you ask us to choose you,
and to believe that you will protect us
will you tell us
that the guns and bombs you command
have no more chance of stopping
people coming here to bomb us
than they have done so far?
Or will you say,
Is 'how to sell crap that no one needs' subject knowledge?
Is 'How someone gets and tries to hold power over you' a subject knowledge?
Is 'How to spot that someone is deceiving you' a subject knowledge?
Are ''how I teach' and 'how I learn' forms of subject knowledge?
Who decides which subjects and which parts of subject knowledge are the subject knowledge to be taught?
Does the subject 'How to find things out' count as a 'subject knowledge'?