Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Little system-serving kindness on this unloving island

Having limited knowledge of Caroline Flack, her life or latter state of mind, I feel little inclination to comment on the particular circumstances of her sad passing.   

But it does prompt some more reflective observations on the questionable context within which such matters are aired, and the selective notions of 'love and kindness' it helps sustain.      

It needs to be said, at the outset, that the idealised TV 'place' behind this story is certainly no Love Island. 

It's the latest variant of a deeply-exploitative, fantasy-as-reality genre. And the superficiality of such branded 'locations' reflects a deeper and wider set of truths about what we're conditioned to understand as our 'base desires' for physical and emotional gratification. It's a microcosm of the sad, lonely and often tragic process that passes for escape, happiness and love.

But this actual country, the place where so much discussion of this story is being conducted, is no island of love either. 

It's also a place of peddled illusions and false hopes, offering little means of true emotional well-being or meaningful escape, a place built on a system that's actually incapable of projecting, nurturing or cultivating authentic ideas of compassion, empathy or love. 

Indeed, this is a system that stands for the very antitheses of these virtues, a system predicated on competition, acquisition, consumer status, greed, vanity, envy, low-esteem and the actual promotion of unhappiness; a system that relentlessly pushes market ideals of enterprise, fame and material success as capitalistic versions of - never-to-be-realised - fulfillment, harmony and contentment. 

Between the fantasy and the real, no wonder so many vulnerable souls succumb to the pressure, the rejection, the deception, the dejection, and the final act of tragic self-abandonment. 

But we're concerned not only here with lost celebrities. We're talking of all those more anonymous souls lost to this unkindly place and unloving system.

In the last six years alone, at least 69 people (a figure very likely to be far higher) have been lost in suicide tragedies over fear of having their paltry, Dickensian-level benefits removed. 

Millions more live in perpetual poverty and fear of premature death.  

A recent UN report has cast damning light on the UK's "draconian sanctions regime" and poverty-driven deaths of its 'own people', including evidence of what likely led to such multiple suicides. 

Those kind of tragedies and anxieties receive no such headline or celebrity attention. 

Their loss, the pain for their families and friends, falls under the much less loving rubric of 'political decisions' and 'government policies', Orwellian language used to make respectable, even 'kindly', the wanton wickedness crafted and executed to persecute and kill poor people on this island. 

Where's the public sadness or outrage over this level of human desperation, absence of care and preventable loss? Where's the revulsion over the corporate media's failure to spotlight the extent of this human tragedy? And where's the media's self-examination of its own deeply complicit part in it?

When the poor and unknown fall into poverty and depression, their lives cut brutally short, they are rendered effectively meaningless, the 'natural fallout' of an all-prevailing market system.

When a celebrity 'product' of that same market system comes crashing down - after being propelled up by that very system - we see outpourings of media grief and concern, all wrapped in the worst forms of hypocritical projection.

How readily media notables rush to be part of the great 'be kind' meme when a celebrity passes away.

And with this comes the familiar 'mainstream' media agonising: what can we do to stop this social media menace, this trolling, this hounding of such exposed and vulnerable people? 

Yet, while social media is certainly part of the issue, consider the vastly greater influence and impact of the 'mainstream' media in such matters.  

Of course, the Sun, Daily Mail and other shameless rags have their scabrous prints all over such cases. Hopefully, they'll be shown more of the 'Liverpool response'.

But what of the seemingly 'respectable' media?

From its distinctly unkind part in taking down 'dangerous political celebrity' Jeremy Corbyn, to its craven silence over the UK's distinctly criminal part in bombing the 'unpeople' of Yemen, the BBC and other 'mainstream' media is responsible for far more damaging forms of intimidation, silence and all round service to state villainy.  

For outlets like the Guardian and BBC, willingness to cover and expose the true system-based misery inflicted on the people of this island, and so many others beyond it, should be the real test of how we measure media adherence to principles of love and kindness.

How, thus, might we judge the Guardian over its 'burned at the stake' treatment of admirable journalist Julian Assange? Where's the compassion, support and pledge here to 'be kind' to this persecuted, suffering and fragile man?  

Might we ever, in this regard, see a BBC journalist given prominent space to lament the killing of an unknown Palestinian, breaking down as they urge Israel, our own state and others to 'be kinder' over the treatment of a brutalised people? 

Many might even just be content that they meet their basic remit of being fair and impartial. 

This latest 'mainstream' castigating of social media is merely a continuation of the whole 'fake news' blame game, a convenient deflection of its own sins and complicity.  

Yet, there's one sense in which all such human losses are more 'commonly regarded' - or even disregarded. 

Subjected to the media's own corporate-establishment narratives, we're conditioned into thinking that, from the poorest to the more famous, such people are all just inevitable, collateral victims, the weak and unfortunate who, for whatever reason, just couldn't manage to survive and deal with the 'real world' of competitive, zero-sum capitalist society. 

All subsequent responses are predicated on our fundamental acceptance of the unkind and unloving 'reality' of the prevailing order itself. In short, the brutality of the system is unconsciously assumed, taken for granted, understood as an intrinsic, 'common-sense' part of our daily existence. 

Grasping for rationalisations or kinder ways of seeing, we resort to varied speculations over the poor mental state of the victim, their susceptibilities to hostile treatment, and their inabilities to cope, while paying little or no such critical attention to the pathology of the very system that drives people to such states of fear and despair. 

While 'failing aspects' of the system may be identified, prompting calls for 'remedial treatment' - let's all be a little more careful and kinder on social media - the real systemic issues remain conveniently unseen or overlooked.

And so, following 'decent intervals' and more gushing tributes, the whole false process and emotional exploitation resumes, fantasy-fueled Love Island and other fetishised formats helping to keep us distanced and distracted from what's happening on this real island of loveless capitalism. 

So, yes indeed, be more actively kind and loving: by bearing true witness to this unkind and unloving system, the propaganda and false memes holding it up, and in truly caring support of all the lost, silent and suffering souls laid waste by its ruthless depravity.                        

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Indy people beware: there's no political comfort or progressive promise under the EU flag

What crimes and illusions lie behind the flutter and creases of a flag? Far too many for this limited space to document. But here's a short reflection on the enduring villainy of one and the deeply problematic embracing of another. 

It would be great if schools and other places of 'learning' could shed serious educational light on the dark deeds of the British Empire, and how it still wraps its active criminality in the Union flag.

As historian Mark Curtis calculates, the British state has been responsible for or complicit in the deaths of around 10 million people across the globe since World War II.

Lamentably, this little island is still singing Rule Britannia and waving that ugliest of emblems while continuing to invade, bomb and use every other nefarious means to 'civilize' foreign others.

Look no further than the UK-backed Saudi bombing of Yemen to see how Britain flies the flag for its brutal arms trade and in support of heinous regimes. 

I wonder whether the RAF 'fairs' now sneaking their way into schools and other public places might tell children that their bombs and assistance are blowing thousands of other kids to bits in that now devastated country.     

But beyond the sins and blood of the British Union cloth there's no comfort to be found in the blue and starred insignia of the European Union.

And, in the wake of Brexit, it's been strange and jarring to see so many Indy-supporting people in Scotland using it as a kind of adopted love emblem.

This is a flag which has flown atop Fortress Europe, dumping goods, imposing tariffs and locking the continent of Africa into generations of economic servitude. It's the flag of 'securitisation' that's been planted on Europe's beaches to block, cage and abandon desperate refugees. It's the flag of 'economic stability' which the EU's central bankers used to decimate and punish Greece for daring to think it could deviate from its rigid neoliberal rules. It's the flag under which member state Spain has been allowed free EU reign to brutalise and imprison protesting Catalonians. It's the 'freedom' flag that continually protects, promotes and militarily assists the murderous, apartheid state of Israel. It's the flag of an 'egalitarian' EU that turns a blind eye to Macron's relentless battering of anti-neoliberal street protesters, as well as France's banning of any public protest in support of Palestinians. It's the flag of a parliament which aligned itself with Trump to support an illegal coup and effort to impose a Washington-approved pretend leader on Venezuela. It's the flag still being flown by member state Hungary, dismissing token EU warnings to its rampant fascist leaders. It's the flag flapping in enthusiastic partnership with that of Nato and its militaristic hawks, in joint support of neo-fascist forces in Ukraine, and as a supposed 'bulwark' to the 'Russian menace'.

In short, this is a flag which, after even a few decades, is deeply stained by economic oppression, political brutality and military aggression. A flag of empire in the making.

What progressive person, in Scotland or elsewhere, would want to be wrapped in that kind of emblem?

The SNP's Euro project

This latest EU flag-bearing spectacle in Scotland reflects the seriously questionable political priorities of the SNP leadership.

At the outset of the 2016 EU referendum, it appeared that the SNP's eager part in resisting Brexit was neat tactical positioning: look, they could say, we've played our dutiful, responsible part in showing we care about the negative impact for the wider UK in leaving Europe. Now that we've demonstrated our respectable credentials and fitness for moderate politics, we can now move seamlessly on to our own fully-safe version of independent governance.

And recall all the brownie points Sturgeon collected in the process from voters outside Scotland: 'if only we could have Nicola down here'.

Yet, it became increasingly obvious that Sturgeon's obsession with resisting Brexit wasn't just about having a star part in that long-running Westminster production and living in the political glow. 

It said much more about the SNP's own signature politics as a party now deeply-wedded to EU-sided neoliberal continuity.

And, of course, Sturgeon was always on safe electoral territory here, in reflecting a very authentic Remain majority in Scotland.

But rather than use that majority, the material change of Brexit, and the repeated political/electoral mandates it offered for securing Scottish independence - the SNP's supposed reason for being - Sturgeon and her tight hierarchy have continued to play the European card in order to sideline, marginalise and actually relegate Indy as a foremost cause.

And wrapping itself in the EU flag and 'leave a light on for Scotland' emotionalism has all helped keep that political deception from real public scrutiny.

Default identities

One can readily understand why many in Scotland, including progressive Yessers, have defaulted to a 'We're Still European' line in intuitive rejection of Little Englander Unionism.

But this is still a false dichotomy. Over 17 million Leave voters - many in Scotland itself - can't all simply be boxed as flag-first narrow British nationalists. 

Beyond much visceral liberal hatred of working class Brexiteers, Corbyn, at least, still understands the more complex grievances, motives and mood of the Leave electorate.

How easily we disparage the whole Farage, Mogg, Widdecombe ensemble with its puerile paeans to 're-found and restored Britannia'. Yet, what higher enlightenment in its ridiculous replacement 'I love Europe' motif?

While seemingly more egalitarian, the EU flag-embracing 'Ode to Joy' response in Scotland is itself a kind of self-consoling delusion, a comfort blanket, a faux 'setting us apart' form of identity politics.

Passing disclosure: this writer has little regard for the very idea of flags or any other state/nationalist insignia. So much of it is elite-composed identity, jingoistic exhibitionism and an artificial compartmentalizing of humanity.   

However, a flag can still act as a valued expression of progressive identity, defiance and resistance. Which is why a Scottish Saltire at an Indy march or gathering still has more resonance than any EU regalia.

The flying of a Palestinian flag is a more particular act of open solidarity, helping to express common opposition to the relentless murder and subjugation of a people. It's a visual statement to an occupied and besieged population that, whatever Israel and its complicit allies do to shield their suffering, people around the world won't abandon them.

The contrivance of 'I'm European'

How does that kind of solidarity-raising act compare with the imagined belonging to a powerful European monolith?

Aside from the convenience of middle class residence, careers and study in Europe, what makes people supposedly feel European - or more European even than British or Scottish?

Is much of this 'I'm European' insistence really anything more than an assumed 'tourist identity', a conceit of the 'EasyJet generation', with its ready passports to 'the continent', a 'holiday nationalism' bound up in vacation experiences - the romance of Paris, the allure of Amsterdam, the charms of Venice, the ex-pat bars of Spain?

Many in Scotland will, of course, invoke deeper ideals of a continuing Scottish-French 'Auld Alliance'. 

But this seems more like recourse to ancient stories of crown alliances, chess-board wars and Jacobin romance than being of any real relevance to modern political identity or/and sense of radical feeling. 

Scottish Enlightenment figures may have owed much to the great icons of French and European thought, gifting us some valued political-cultural legacies - as in Scotland's strong and enduring rejection of Thatcher's 'there is no such thing as society'.

Yet, do present day notions of 'EU Europeanism' - supposedly ‘founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights' (Lisbon Treaty 2007, Article 2) - really offer any comparable intellectual, political or humanitarian inspiration? 

If so, why are human needs and social well-being, the climate emergency and wider global justice, the truly higher principles that should occupy an EU community, so routinely relegated to concerns and discussions over competing supranational powers, trading bloc interests and territorial militarism?

So much of the current 'I'm European' cry is not only a populist-emotional prop, but passive and conditioned adherence to elite-serving narratives.

Moreover, it luxuriates, albeit subconsciously, in an imagined European identity that hides its own kind of racist exceptionalism; an 'inclusive Europeanism' that effectively excludes any more common identity with a wider, much poorer, non-white world beyond Europe's privileged shores.

Civil-cultural incorporation

Perversely, the SNP has been a leading force in projecting that imagined 'inclusiveness' via its 'Scotland in Europe' project; in essence, a politically-packaged copy of 'social democratic Europeanism' and 'free movement' ideals, all duly adhering to the 'imperatives' of 'common-sense' neoliberalism.

That narrative has, in turn, been adopted and enabled by a 'new liberal-left civil establishment' in Scotland.

It's been instructive to observe its formation over the recent devolution years as the SNP became politically entrenched, giving rise to the possibilities of independence.

From business figures to lawyers, church leaders to media editors, the civil landscape has been shifting and adapting to the new political terrain. 

And with this has come a whole new field of civil agencies, social enterprises, NGOs, social media platforms and a 'critical' commentariat, what Gramsci would have understood as a proto 'intellectual class', the surrounding, coalescing and supporting cultural elements of an emerging hegemonic order.

Increasingly, discussion, output and activism on independence has been guided, encouraged and framed around that 'defining' SNP 'ambition' of 'Scotland among other independent states of Europe'.

The heightened emotionalism behind this could be seen as Brexit approached, for example in the lamenting 'don't forget us' and 'we'll be back' speeches in the EU parliament by departing SNP MEP Alyn Smith, and in the parliament's own goodbye renderings of Auld Lang Syne.

Again, it was a lament largely endorsed by an SNP-sided commentariat and chorused by much of the Indy liberal-left.

Yet, such has been the hubris around Brexit that the SNP's intensified branding of itself as a proto-European entity has only diminished its supposed primary goal of independence.

Which has left much of the Indy street standing redundantly in the street holding EU flags rather than engaged in ready, productive campaigning for any date-stamped referendum.

Beyond all expectations from 2016 of seeming referendum certainty, that's a serious fall for the Indy movement, clinging on to any hope now of a poll even beyond 2021 and the SNP's pitch for yet another Holyrood 'mandate'.

That's all despite opinion polls now showing a clear and healthy majority of voters in Scotland supporting a Holyrood-legislated consultative referendum without any UK Section 30 permission.

This has now prompted some other senior elements of the SNP into supportive recognition of that more legal-sided option, all adding to the pressure on Sturgeon. 

Beyond her calls for 'patient deliverance', it's becoming increasingly clear to many Indy supporters that there is no serious party leadership plan, and that "the path to independence and Sturgeon's career path are not the same path."

Process matters

As the signs of disenchantment towards Sturgeon and her circle grow, a brooding Indy street is realising that it must now assume its own autonomous direction.

The essence of that task should be to re-set its campaign focus on the Indy process proper, on how it secures an actual break with the British state, rather than this futile 'keep holding' line and facile engagement of the SNP's Euro narrative.

Drilling down, it's not difficult to see the distracting purpose and flag-bearing superficiality underlying that agenda. 

Instead, there has to be a clear re-stating of the urgent and beneficial case for dissolving the British Union, rather than holding on to forlorn and uncertain hopes of progress via a re-entered European Union.      

Real progressive independence for Scotland isn't about rejecting others in these isles. It's about enhancing social bonds and solidarity while working actively to break up the British state, its coveted Union and all the archaic insignia locking us - and others - into that repressive structure.

By the same logic, progressive independence for Scotland can be about maintaining fair connection and solidarity with peoples in Europe and beyond, while resisting the need to be tied into an all-constraining EU superstructure.

Any contemplation and decision over that latter issue will, of course, have to await another democratic day.

But whatever people in Scotland ultimately decide vis-à-vis their post-independence 'place in Europe', they should be deeply circumspect about resorting to any kind of flag-waving European nationalism, either as a current comfort blanket or as an imagined future emblem of any truly inclusive, fraternal and progressive community.