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Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Response to Rob Hopkins

This is a response to Rob Hopkins of Transition Network's response (deep breath) to a booklet called Rocky Road to a Real Transition published by Trapese Collective. Rob's article can be found on his blog. The Trapese booklet is here.

First they came for the migrants, and I did not speak out because it’s a very complex issue and we are a small island and we can’t just let anybody in, although I don’t agree with the detention centres, but they don’t talk about those in the Guardian very much, and it’s not an environmental issue.

Then they came for the anti-vivisection activists, and I did not speak out because if I started thinking about all that stuff I’d probably have to become vegan and that would be too much hassle and I like cheese, and medicines do save lives and those animal rights activists are a bit dodgy and intense and scruffy-looking, certainly not smart polite people like me.

Then they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out because it’s an oppressive monotheistic patriarchal religion and maybe some of them actually are terrorists, otherwise why would there be so much on telly about terrorism? And I don’t know how to cook those funny vegetables they sell in Whitechapel market.

Then they came for the anarchists, and I did not speak out because all that confrontational activism is so outdated and if you think too much about the negative then you just give energy to it and if you don’t want to get battered and arrested then you shouldn’t go on demonstrations in the first place – what do you expect if you don’t do what you’re told?

Rob, although I do not agree with everything in the Trapese booklet, I found some of your response to it chilling in its refusal of solidarity. I’m not suggesting that the Transition Network should engage in activist tactics, and I do agree with you that what we might call the positive and negative aspects of all this are two sides of the same project. However I do believe that this discussion has revealed some serious flaws in the way the Transition Network is conceived and organised.

Anyone who is thinking about how we will live in the future needs to take into account all important factors about how that future will look. Clearly climate change and peak oil are two of the most important and will totally change the way the human species lives for the rest of our (possibly short) future. But in my analysis there is a third factor, which is at least equally important and is fundamentally connected to the other two. That factor is the ever accelerating rise of global imperialism and fascism. The US / corporate imperial war is already directly affecting the lives of vast numbers of people. If you were living in Iraq now, you would not be waiting for the apocalypse. You would be living in it.

Now, fascism. That’s not a word I use lightly, but with some historical knowledge of what classical fascism is. Three of my grandparents and other family members were survivors of Nazi extermination (their parents did not survive), so I have always considered it my duty to understand this phenomenon, to be aware of oppression, and to watch out for the warning signs. Of course today’s fascism is not in the same form as that of Nazism or of Spain and Italy around the mid-20th century. The techniques of control have become more sophisticated in some ways, at least in the wealthy regions of the world. In much of the world it’s exactly the same old fascism. Look what happens to trade union members in South America or environmental activists in Nigeria. Look what’s happening in Colombia. And these local third-world fascisms are absolutely connected to the global empire. But in North America and Europe, another, more sophisticated fascism is rapidly appearing, based on overwhelming mass mind control rather than ubiquitous overt violence (although that balance is shifting). The mind control techniques of the mass media work in various ways. One is through unsophisticated knee-jerk reactions like the racist ‘immigration’ agenda; another is through sophisticated knee-jerk reactions like the dizzy New Age peace-police refusal to recognise the existence of oppression and struggle.

Here are some of the basic ideological concepts of classical fascism, drawn from the Italian version: expansionist militarism; nationalism, often with explicit or implicit racism; conformism; nationalist class collaboration; and corporatism – the ‘union of state and corporate power’ (Mussolini), all of which are now dominant ideologies of Western governments, often so dominant that they are implicit. The liberal rule of law has already been fundamentally undermined. A few pointers to watch out for are: a change in the balance of the relationship between the state and the individual so that it is no longer a question of what you’re not allowed to do but of what you are allowed to do; attacks on habeas corpus; movement away from the rule of law towards executive government; more political laws; creation of a national security agenda; hysterical myth-making about a sinister national threat; emergency powers that allow suspension of the constitution; a cultural hardening of conformity, intolerance and self-policing. All of these things have already happened. The minimal state theory of classical liberalism has effectively been abandoned for an escalating authoritarianism built on terrorism hysteria painstakingly constructed by the state / corporate media. It’s an absolutely classic manoeuvre. I’m not making prophetic predictions for the future here. All of these things have already happened. The reason hardly anyone has noticed is that most people are already so hypnotised and obedient that they are doing what the state wants them to do anyway.

Now, Rob and his followers: you may not personally value the relative freedoms of political dissent allowed under the liberal model of government, because you (conveniently) choose tactics that do not bring you into conflict with the state. But you should be alarmed at what is happening to those who do choose to follow their moral convictions even when it involves personal risk. Even if, secure in your New Age corporate motivational-management clich├ęs, you do not feel solidarity (a lack of compassion despicable in itself) for those you consider deluded by outdated paradigms of struggle, you may consider us a political barometer which is giving you some serious warning signs. If you want to know what direction things are going, look at what happens to animal rights activists. They are getting years in prison just for attending demonstrations. Yes, yes, I know going on demonstrations is so 1970s and no doubt they have unresolved issues about their parents, but surely that doesn’t mean you can just look on smugly and allow them to be viciously repressed by the state. Ah, but the state doesn’t exist. That’s alright then.

Isn’t it ironic, by the way, that it always seems to be anarchists who end up trying to defend the liberal rule of law against the (former) liberals?

The state clearly does exist. It has armed, coercive institutions with clearly identifiable personnel and buildings. Certainly it requires the hypnotised obedience of masses of people in order to continue existing, but it still exists. If you only behave within the boundaries it sets, you may not notice that it exists. You can decorate your prison cell very nicely, and you can even philosophise it away if you like. But if you follow through the logic of certain ethical principles, you will find that the state violently prevents your actions. Or is that just because I want to fuck my mother, Louis? The chilling logic of the smug New Age refusal of solidarity is that the Transition Town movement would be quite happy for all the Muslims, anarchists and other scum to be wiped off the face of the earth because that won’t interfere with its project at all and they were so troublesome and wrongheaded anyway. And it would be quite happy to function as a sector of a future fascist government. I don’t see anything in TT ideology that rules out collaborating with an authoritarian government, or with a racist-nationalist government for that matter.

There are different kinds of police. There are the hard police who wear uniforms, carry weapons, beat protestors, protect vivisectors and arms dealers, enforce deportations, illegally evict squats, harass homeless people and so on (maybe you don’t believe they exist but I think there are photographs that will prove it). Then there are the soft police who ideologically support and defend them in various ways. One of those ways is to philosophically finesse your way out of recognising the existence of oppression so you end up in a ‘love the oppressor, hate the oppressed’ mentality, with the help of a few sickly catchphrases pressed into service from a vicious and fanatical perversion of personal spirituality corrupted to serve the interests of greed and vanity (i.e. New Age management-speak). I prefer the hard police. At least I know where I stand with them.

Of course the slide into violent authoritarianism is not inevitable. But it can only be avoided by mass resistance against it. And that resistance can only begin when the existence of the problem is recognised. Ignoring it will not make it go away, just as ignoring the warnings of ecological catastrophe in the 1950s and 60s did not make it go away.

W.H. Auden, by the way, went to Spain in the 1930s to aid the Republican struggle against fascism. He also stood up against nationalism and other oppressive beliefs in his poetry. So I’m afraid you can’t rope him in. And the Zapatistas? Dear me. The Zapatistas are Marxists. Their entire philosophy is based on struggle. Yes, of course all they want is to live peacefully in their autonomous communities – that’s what we all want. But they have had to fight a guerrilla war against the Mexican army to get there! Try telling them that the state doesn’t exist! (I can see it now. Subcommandante Marcos in a positive thinking seminar: “So do you realise that when your family were slaughtered in front of your eyes by a right-wing paramilitary death squad trained, funded and armed by the Mexican and US governments, it wasn’t state oppression but a manifestation of your negative thoughts?”)

But how about this: what if, after a few more years of escalating repression and conformity, the non-existent state decides that all environmental campaigners are a threat to the corporate conquest of the world? What if they’re not too happy about people organising themselves autonomously in any way whatsoever (going back only to the mid-19th century, there were times when all public assembly was banned)? What if Rob Hopkins becomes an enemy of the state? What will you do then? Transition Camp X-Ray?

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Compassion and anti-compassion

I am studying Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) at a college in London. I was aware before I started that there is a certain amount of prejudice against vegetarianism and veganism in TCM circles, but I was not prepared for the depth, aggression and overwhelming irrationality of the prejudice.

From my experience of treatment at the college’s student clinic, it appears that the nutritional knowledge of the practitioners consists of two statements, which are applied in a blind, absolute fashion: 1. Eat meat; 2. Don’t eat raw food. On the basis of these six words of nutritional information, practitioners are giving advice from a position of assumed authority to people who have come to them for help and compassion.

There is a concept in TCM called ‘blood deficiency’, which describes a certain conditions of the body’s bioenergetic systems. This concept is used as a weapon to attack vegetarians. Every practitioner I have seen so far, except one, has been desperately trying to diagnose me with ‘blood deficiency’, although according to my research I do not have any of the clinical signs of the blood deficiency pattern. The most extreme example of this was when one of them, after having examined my tongue and written ‘slightly purple, swollen, wet, toothmarked’, all of which is true and would indicate a condition of qi stagnation and qi deficiency, which I consider correct, noticed in my notes that I am vegan, asked to look at my tongue again, and wrote ‘pale-ish’, which would in some circumstances (although not those of a wet, swollen tongue) indicate blood deficiency. She had convinced herself that I must be blood deficient because I’m vegan, and so there must be some signs of blood deficiency, even though there weren’t. This is irrational in the extreme and indicates the strength of her emotional reaction against veganism, which she was repressing, or disguising with non-existent theory. It’s also important to reflect that knowing I was vegan told her almost nothing about my dietary habits. I could be living on sugar and white bread like her, or I could be eating a carefully considered wholefood diet, which in fact is the case. Whether a person eats meat or not is hardly the most significant factor in their diet, from a nutritional point of view. A meat-eater could have a similar diet to me with the addition of a small amount of meat (although in my experience it is very rare) or they could be living on pork pies; a vegan could be eating a high-quality wholefood diet or they could be living on refined vegan foods. In the case of this particular practitioner, who I can probably safely assume lives on toxic waste like almost all the rest, I had to give in to her ignorant assertions to avoid an argument. I was forced into the position where I had to accept her supposed authority even though she was obviously wrong, or assert myself and be regarded as aggressive. For a person who is supposed to be professionally tuning into my energetic nature and treating me with profound respect and compassion, this was hardly a good performance. The interview, and equally the eventual treatment, were more of an assault than a healing experience.

Whenever someone asks a vegan about protein, or, God forbid, calcium (a piece of nutritional wisdom I believe originates with a TV advert for Kraft Cheese Slices), they are unknowingly revealing that they know absolutely nothing about nutrition. This is entirely innocent in day-to-day conversation as it is based on a simple lack of knowledge which can easily be corrected with information. However, when it comes from someone who is claiming to have nutritional knowledge, to be giving nutritional advice and to be in a position of authority and trust, it becomes somewhat sinister. Another practitioner asked me whether I was getting enough protein in my diet. I replied that protein is not really an issue as almost all wholefoods contain protein. She insisted that she was correct, and again I had to back down. Again she was using assumed authority against me, and again on the basis of no knowledge whatsoever, whether of nutritional theory or of what I actually eat. There is no way she could have believed that she did have nutritional knowledge. She was not behaving rationally, but was insisting that she was rational. Again this was simply a prejudiced reaction against veganism. She was on a power trip, attacking me because I have different values to her. I’m not against her because of her values. I accept that some people have conservative and conformist values. The problem here was that she was not asserting her conformist values openly but was disguising them under a claim to authoritative knowledge that she did not have.

In other circumstances, I have received expressions of naked fear and hate from practitioners. One asked me if I was vegan for ‘health reasons’ (clearly praying I would say yes so she could still regard me as a human being because I would have the same bigoted values as herself, though deluded by faulty nutritional theories that contradict TCM culture’s 6-word theory). When I said I was vegan for ethical reasons she looked at me like I’d slapped her in the face, puckering her lips in that characteristic dog’s arse expression that certain extremely small-minded people make when they realise that they are forced to share their world with a person they regard as filthy scum who should be killed and probably will be when this country gets the strong leadership it needs.

Yet another very unpleasant reaction I have experienced (usually from the more experienced practitioners this time) is a horrible, sickly, patronising mock-sympathy. The poor boy has been so deluded, but we can help him. In a way this is a nastier attack than any of the others, as it is disguising hate as compassion, or rather as pity, which is a very different thing.

I accept that most people are not driven to change their behaviour by compassion for animals. This is not the problem. They have their values and hopefully we can discuss these issues at a philosophical level. The point where I find it unacceptable is when someone is actively opposed to veganism in an aggressive and irrational way because it reveals to them that there are people around who have a very different value system to them. I suppose they perceive that as a threat. Someone who has lived their entire life exposed only to mainstream, conformist values may get a shock when they realise that there are a few people around who do not share those values at any level. It’s rather different for someone who has values that differ significantly from the mainstream. We are constantly forced to face up to people who have opposing values to ourselves, because we are in a small minority, and because mainstream values are constantly reinforced by the mass media and advertising until they become implicit. Non-mainstream values have to be made explicit, whereas mainstream values are assumed as default. This means that non-mainstream values are much more open to attack than those which are ‘normal’. Veganism, for example, almost always has to be justified in some way, whereas meat eating does not because meat-eaters very rarely have to say “I’m a meat-eater”. In the same way, people who believe in mainstream political values very rarely have to say explicitly, “I believe in nationalism, Western technocratic supremacism, militarism, authoritarian government,” and so on, because those values are implicitly built into almost all discourse in the mass media.

Not only do these so-called healers have a deep, hate-driven, irrational prejudice against veganism, but they also abuse their position of assumed authority and trust to make political attacks on vegans and vegetarians. I have seen this on many occasions. I believe that the relationship of healer to healed is a sacred contract that must involve profound respect on the part of the healer, and a desire to deeply understand the person who is being healed. You do not understand me by dismissing my deeply experienced ethical and spiritual principles as a silly error or an offence against patriotic values. Perhaps it would do you good to realise that there are people who consider deeply the ethical consequences of every action, maybe even of every word and thought, and to ask yourselves why you have such an extreme irrational response to the existence of such people. It would do you good to have your hardened conservative beliefs thrown into contrast. I am forced by these experiences to question your motivation as healers. Is it compassion or is it money and power?

This has been an angry piece of writing. I can only say that my anger comes from frustrated compassion, but the power-seeking healer’s pity comes from hate.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Politics: aphorism

Two effects of propaganda: to deceive the stupid and to demoralise the intelligent.

Police don't want me to visit my gran

I'm staying in my dad's flat in Bethnal Green at weekends. Yesterday I went to visit my gran in Redbridge, a simple few stops on the Central Line.

Now, last time I tried to visit my gran was after I had been at the Gatwick Camp for Climate Action for a few days, mostly helping with the cooking. I thought that by staying on site and cooking food I could avoid the usual hassle from the police. I've had so much unpleasantness and violence from police over the past few years that I can't really stand it any more. My nerves are wrecked. Unfortunately I had to leave the site to visit my gran. I was searched once on the way out. I knew the stop and search was illegal as there were no objective grounds to reasonably believe I was carrying any illegal items. But I decided to give in to it - which is a big ethical compromise for me - because I knew I would be arrested otherwise and my gran would get worried. The police on the gate did a superficial check on my bag and let me go. I didn't bother to get a receipt because I just wanted to get away. Foolish. Walking into the centre of the village towards the railway station, I started feeling a bit warm as the sun came out and stopped at the end of the road to change my boots for sandals. As I was doing this, a young woman came along, pointing a video camera at me, and asked me some questions about the climate camp. I was quite happy to talk to her about it. Afterwards she told me she worked for the film company that made the McLibel film. She continued towards the camp and I finished changing my shoes. I was just fastening my boots onto my rucksack when a Metropolitan police officer came up to me. Another officer was with him. I was sitting on a low wooden railing. Standing over me, he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was changing my shoes. "Oh!" he said sarcastically, "so you're changing your shoes, are you?" as if this was an extremely unlikely thing for someone to be doing, and I was obviously up to something highly dodgy that involved sitting on a low wooden railing and attaching hiking boots to a rucksack. I was already feeling nervous at this point after many experiences of police lawlessness and aggression. "Yes, I'm changing my shoes," I said, "it' got warm when the sun came out. These are the boots I took off and here are the sandals I put on."

"Oh! I see!" he spat, with a sarcastic sneer. I felt rather exasperated as I had told him what I was doing although it was none of his business. "Well I'm going to have a look in your bag," he stated. No explanation, no attempt at politeness. Being involved in political activism I was automatically defined as scum with no legal rights, not even worth being polite to, a non-citizen. It's almost always like that these days. "What for?" I asked. I have a legal right to know what legal power the police are using to detain me, and their objective grounds for using that power. "Take your hands out of your pockets when you're talking to me!" he ordered. "No, why should I?" I said, "You can't just order me around like that." He grabbed hold of my right wrist. "Please don't assault me." I said. He and his colleague grabbed my arms, twisted them straight, lifted me to my feet and pushed me towards a tree.

By great fortune, at this point the film-maker came back along the street. I shouted to her to come over and film me. A third police officer turned up and made a show of patting me down, taking the opportunity to push his hand up my bum and fiddle about with my waistband. On the video it looks like the start of a uniform fetish gay porn film - "These two bobbies thought it was an ordinary night on the beat til they saw what Manog had stashed in his pants..." Actually it was extremely disturbing. I knew they had total power over me and could do whatever they wanted. They already knew they were acting illegally by detaining me in the first place, so what's to stop them. What could I do - call the police?

It is this understanding of the lawlessness of the state that makes me feel alienated from most people. We are brought up with some kind of vague idea that the state is basically benevolent and that the occasional error will be sorted out and justice will be done. As an activist I have come face to face with this naked, gleeful evil and violence over and over again and I am thoroughly disillusioned of the idea that the state is there to protect us and that there is always some authority we can appeal to to get justice. Actually the police are above the law, they know it and they revel in it. But this does not disturb me unduly. That is the nature of states and governments. That is what they do. What really upsets me is that the relative and limited freedoms of the liberal state have been rapidly dismantled over the past ten years and that hardly anyone seems to know or care. "So what if you don't have the right to protest. Why would you want to do that anyway? If you don't want to get pushed around by the police, don't go on demonstrations."

There is a nihilist, selfish philosophy that has given up on the idea of social responsibility or of taking any interest at all in what's going on in the wider world, or indeed in the deeper self. Fair enough. If someone believes that, then that is their belief system, and I can argue against it at the philosophical level. But it is a very dangerous fallacy to jump from this opinion to a further belief that the destruction of the right to political expression does not matter, just because someone does not choose to exercise that right. The loss of liberal freedoms and the undermining of liberal ideology by racism and fear propaganda is extremely dangerous and worrying. Any perception of the patterns of 20th century history will reveal warning signs of incipient totalitarianism, and I must say that a few lights are flashing on my totalitarian-ometer these days. Of course we are not there yet, and history will not repeat itself in the same form. The propaganda system is infinitely more sophisticated, producing not only a violent and nonsensical belief system like the old totalitarianisms, but a whole mindset, personality types, a late-capitalist structure of consciousness - or better, unconsciousness. States and corporations in the rich world have almost totally succeeded in making people do what they are told without the crude violence of Hitler and Stalin. Of course the violence continues on an unprecedented scale outside the borders of the rich nation-states. But within their borders, the imperial world war is just one of many phenomena that can be used to create the basic psychic splits of mass consciousness - the split between what is known and what is admitted to everyday thought and discourse, or alternatively the split between what is known and the individual's actions in the world.

So, after the Climate Camp, I ended up being a good 2 hours late for my gran. I was feeling pretty shaken after being pushed around and insulted by three big men carrying weapons who are effectively immune from prosecution. Of course I couldn't expect any sympathy from my gran. She's a convinced Daily Mail reader and a fanatical Zionist, like most of my relatives apart from my immediate family. She feels threatened by Arabs and squirrels. I've tried to tell her about the Daily Mail's anti-semitism and their support for Moseley and the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, and I've tried to point out that the hate propaganda against Muslims now is exactly the same as the hate propaganda against Jews when she was growing up in Nazi Germany, but she thinks it's all different now: it wasn't true that time, but this time it is. I find this infuriating. And, she believes, if anyone gets pushed around by the police it must be their own fault. This is the logic: Britain is a democracy; therefore the police do not repress political activity; therefore anyone who is repressed by the police must have been doing something a bit dodgy; therefore the police do not repress political activity; therefore Britain is a democracy. How on earth can I think about trying to extricate an 86-year old from a mind trap like that? It's totally impossible. Anything I tell her that does not fit in with her bigoted world view, she will not accept. A few years ago I had the mind-boggling experience of her telling me that my eyewitness report of a riot could not be true because she had read about it in the newspaper. This is an intelligent woman and a close relative. Not only that, she is a refugee from Nazism and saw her own parents taken away to be killed by a modern nation-state ruled by an elected government.

Ironically, it is her experiences and those of others of my relatives who escaped the Nazis, and my thinking about my great-grandparents and others who were murdered in the death camps, that first informed my political thoughts and convinced me of the duty of every individual to keep a careful watch on the actions of the state and to take responsibility for their own actions. At what point does a person say 'no'? When they are routinely carrying out illegal stop and searches to intimidate demonstrators? When they are ordered to attack a group of people sitting down in a road with batons and pepper spray? When they arrest people who are suspected of no criminal offence and lock them up for years in conditions worse than prison, with no clear legal status? When the army sends them into an imperial war to massacre civilians? Or when one day in the future they find themselves bulldozing corpses into a pit in England's green and pleasant land? Once this process begins it is very difficult to draw the line.

So, yesterday I was stopped and searched by the British Transport Police Counter-Terrorism unit in Bethnal Green Tube station. According to them (I haven't checked the law yet) Section 44 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act gives them a permanent stop and search power on London Transport. They stopped me because they "have to be seen to stop a cross-section of people" - i.e. I was the token white guy in an Asian area, so that they don't look like the racists they are. I don't suppose they will be doing stop and searches at stations in rich white areas like Hampstead or Kensington. Most people seeing this authoritarian pantomime will assume that because they're doing it, it must be necessary, which justifies them doing it (Muslims will probably not believe this as they know what's going on better than anyone, having been at the sharp end for so many years, but they're mostly too scared to speak out about it). So the security state tautologically justifies itself. If there are terrorist attacks, it justifies security. If there are no terrorist attacks, it justifies security because it proves that it works. Does anyone remember the ricin plot? How could anyone forget after the weeks of hysterical newspaper headlines? But where were the weeks of headlines when it turned out to be a load of old nonsense made up by the security services, no-one was charged, and the various supposedly suspicious substances were various harmless household products? Where were the weeks of hysterical headlines when a white racist was arrested with a massive stash of explosives and a rocket launcher in his house, and where were the earnest newspaper editorials agonising about the contradictions of white culture and encouraging white community leaders to watch out for extremism? In the mass media in general, and almost everywhere in London, there is a contant bombardment of panic and suspicion. The posters read, "Be suspicious..." this is terribly damaging to the social fabric. I feel that we are on the brink of a social catastrophe that will see the Western nation-states descend into a storm of totalitarian killing. Given the hypnotised and self-alienated depths to which mass culture has descended, it may be too late to stop it. My worst nightmare may be coming true in my lifetime.