Friday, April 19, 2024

The 'Right" of Return

 “The United Nations is about as useful as the Eurovision Song Contest and about as corrupt.” Ho Ho. Surely the basis of some common ground there. 

Anyway, there is no cognitive dissonance in what was said by Lipman in that clip, but the retweeter would possibly like to sow some.

Indeed there’s a fallacy being proposed here and it’s such a crucial one that it is worth unpicking in detail, as. it exposes how the pro-pal mindset and related propaganda messaging works.

The right of so-called Palestinian refugees to ‘return’ is enshrined in international law via a UN Resolution which was then attached to the foundational charter of UNRWA. It is not dependent on the prior signing of a conclusive peace agreement.

This is utterly unique. No other discreet displaced refugee group has ever enjoyed this right. The Arabs fought hard and rather deviously for it, so they need to be called out when they appear to want to have it both ways.
Also, when they fail to mention the in-built caveat that comes with this right, an associated obligation to live in peace with Israelis if they do go back there. (Para 11, Resolution 194.)

600,000 Jews were simultaneously displaced from around the Middle East, expelled in effect, as the 1947-8 war ended. Unlike the Palestinians they had not turned on the communities they had inhabited for centuries with violent, genocidal intentions, yet nobody ever granted them a ‘right of return’.

At the end of the war they also started and lost, 10m ethnic Germans were sent packing from eastern Europe. These refugees spent more than a decade demanding what they saw as an inalienable right to return to the Heimkehr, in effect insisting that whole areas of Poland east of the Oder-Neisse line should again be part of a ‘Greater Germany’.

But nobody granted it to them. Germany, naturally enough, had a grown up debate on this thorny matter even as lip service was often paid to the refugees’ demands. By the end of the fifties it was understood that turning the clocks back would only compound the apparent injustices, especially for Poles, and would allow an unpleasant geopolitical threat to fester.

So they chose to assimilate and economically rehabilitate the easterners, just as UNKRA did for North Koreans in the south. There are many other notable examples from a comparable period: China, Vietnam, India and Pakistan. And the UN has an agency, UNHCR, explicitly tasked with assisting refugees, but the Arabs made sure that the Palestinians alone were excluded from this remit, and it is important to understand why.

The other Arab nations have always had only a nominal humanitarian interest in the wellbeing of the people forced to leave their homes in 1948. The refugee issue and the ‘right of return’ has always been a strategic one, with the so-called Palestinians used as political pawns in a game that the Arabs long hoped would lead to a terminal undermining of the Jewish state. For many this continues to be the sole objective.

For they have always known that having to re-assimilate hundreds of thousands (now millions) of potential enemies, even if they promised to be on their very best behaviour, would place an almost insurmountable political and economic burden on Israel, not to mention significantly augmenting the existential threat that it has always faced.

UNRWA was founded in 1949 at a moment that the US and the wider international community were aiming at the tried and tested rehabilitation and resettlement approach following a report made to the American government by a man called Chapp. But the Arabs started twisting and diverting the mandate in order to perpetuate their own special sense of injustice, directed very specifically at the UN for the attempt at partition, and to secure a source of funding that would also continue ad infinitum as the problem remain unsolved - unsolvable in fact, given all the restrictions applied.

The original name was to have been NERWA but the Arabs wanted the UN’s initials in there, to emphasise how they believe the whole situation was the UN’s fault and not say, the consequence of rejecting the partition plan and starting an unnecessary war, which they duly lost.

And so this singular and perverse situation has gone on and it is entirely legitimate for anyone to question whether it should be allowed to.

Even in 1948 it was known that of the half a million or so original refugees, a proportion of them were a) not refugees and b) not Palestinians (The latter mostly seasonal workers from other parts of the Middle East that the Arabs refused to take back, because it boosted UNRWA’s numbers and the implied threat posed to Israel of the ‘right to return’)

Now the numbers have swelled to 5m, reflecting both the desire to overwhelm Israel with returnees and the financial scam at the heart of the UNRWA mandate. Western governments really ought not to have awaited suggestions of UNRWA complicity with Islamism, indoctrination and terror before halting or adjusting the funding.

Jews emigrating to Israel are rather obviously a different case entirely, not so vastly different to Indians from the global diaspora heading back to India after independence. Or say, US-born Guatemalans, deciding to go back to the motherland in order to escape the coming Trump dictatorship up north.

Even if they’d never been before or can barely speak Spanish it would hardly be appropriate to refer to them as colonists. That would only make sense in the case of Jews if they had a native motherland somewhere outside of Israel, and if there were no Jews at all living in Israel before 1947, something the Arabs love to suggest to the gullible, but which if of course untrue.

(PS: As for ‘Zionism’, it really ought not to be used a blanket rude word to describe every single thing the pro-pals hate about Jewish self-determination and any affinities non-Israeli Jews might have with it. )

Hobbesian Revivalism

Thomas Hobbes is creeping back, mulishly, into the contemporary mainstream discourse.

This has to be in part to do with the seeming success of the Chinese super state which embodies many of his central ideas, and perhaps also because of our own local Leviathan, Nayim Bukele, with his own oh-so-slightly mafioso state-level protection racket.

The funny thing about the state of nature is that the people who perhaps exist closest to the edge of it are those who have long lived within the most apparently ordered societies, as this clip from contemporary Cuba appears to illustrate.

In my formative experiences in this region (not so contiguous), nations like Costa Rica, Belize and Cuba appeared to have found ways of lifting themselves out of the morass.

The first two now number amongst the most violent in the hemisphere. As for Cuba I remember a rather painful experience at the end of my maiden visit. The moment I was back in Guatemala I felt profound existential pangs from what I had left behind: apparent social solidarity and an absence of some of the most toxic collective pathologies which prevail here, like envy and the self-defeating kinds of faux individualism.

Belize in the 80s was a former British crown colony with high levels of literacy and apparent social cohesion, “comfortably badly off”, I used to say without intent to cruelly patronise, but even then there were early signs of how the state of nature might eventually re-assert itself.

I vividly recall spotting a fairly primitive Mayan dwelling in the north where a family were gathered within viewing content delivered via the dish on their thatched roof. The superhighway and smartphones would perhaps finish the job.

Just being literate and relatively sophisticated in a place with material limitations easily revealed by insistent global media would never be enough. And so it has also been with Cuba, in spite of the desperate efforts of the state there to choke off access to all other imagined communities and resentments.

Immaculate (2024)


Lately there has been a spate of blood-soaked Nun films. (Spately?)

Initially this was more "here we go again" than "this is the one we have been waiting for", though the latter exclamation would have tied in nicely with the plot.

I guess Immaculate's USP is that it is far more likely to leave devout Catholics nunplussed. 
It also seemed to fit inside that odd Hollywood sub-genre within the Horror and Thriller categories (to which the likes of say Hostel and Taken clearly belong), that could be summarised as the Old World or Europe-phobic premise.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Word Pictures

When it comes to the perverse use of language for political gain Orwell is the most oft-quoted author in English, perhaps a little over-quoted, as his observations do not necessarily encompass all aspects of the problem we face today.

One wonders what he would have made of "Trans women are women", an apparent statement of fact grounded in a rather obvious counter-factual.
Might he have said "calm down, it rather depends on the human social context" or was he a bit too invested in calling out these distortions? I'm sure the purity of it would have impressed him. 
Anyway, my own quotees would be these. First Joseph Conrad: "Words, as is well known, are the great enemies of reality."
And then Arthur Miller: "Words are undervalued as a means of expression. Pictures tend to trivialise experience." Not as contradictory to the above as it might at first seem.
Living in this society which relentlessly trivialises experience with images, it is hardly surprising that a certain amount of effort goes into turning language into a co-conspirator. 
In Academia and certain professions (though less so on the scientific side) there is a new form of false precision in ascendancy, taking the form of what we might call "word pictures". These are words that are loaded up with extra meaning before insertion into a sentence, such that hearing them delivers an almost visual experience. And although they have a bit extra inside them, their real purpose is to restrict what can happen outside their 'walls'. 
They make ignorance feel like knowledge, which is also handy in today's democratised discourse. 
I witnessed some high end deployment of this linguistic toolbox on X yesterday in the form of a "rapport" by Francesca Albanese at the UN. A lawyer by training and an antisemite by instinct, she can barely open her mouth without letting slip one of the pictorial buzzwords of her ideology: apartheid, genocide, colonialism, occupation etc. Have those bingo cards at the ready. 
The purpose of such words is to take us outside of language, outside of reality as Conrad might have it. 
There are some other little ironies worth noting. The term colonialism lends itself to an emotive over-simplification of a complex situation even in its original context, let alone the contemporary Middle East. 
And Albanese's partisan argot also represents a kind of clandestine translation from another set of formalised and aggressive grievances and chauvinisms, those of the Islamists, to another. 
It's as if the word pictures we are being saturated with are like a set of symbols which have been touched up to appear as if they belong to one faith tradition when in fact their origin is alien to it. Rather like the Mezquita in Cordoba: a mosque which is now dressed up as a Catholic cathedral.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

3 Body Problem, first impressions

The top show on Netflix in Guatemala right now is Bandidos, deservedly awarded a second season. The action kind of floats, driven by half a dozen likeable characters and a plot which is cleverly structured yet never feels anything other than light.

And then, in second place, we have this, 3 Body Problem ("from the makers of Game of Thrones') possibly not the ideal follow-on choice after all that enjoyable Mexican triteness. At the end of episode one I was already referring to it as the Cheesy CGI problem (though Bandidos had a bit of that too).

Not having read the original Chinese 'hard' sci-fi series by Cixin Liu, I was not immediately aware how the modern-era main protagonist in the book had been split into five different TV characters, suggesting an updated gag: 5 Body Problem.

I'm now four episodes in and I still find them a completely non-credible group of former Oxford Natscis, but the low levels of likeability I experienced in the opener are easing just a bit.

It says much that the better parts so far have been those set 40 to 50 years ago in Communist China, apart from the really unnecessarily violent opening scene.

A Generational Conflict

One thing is clear: the defenders of Hamas don't want to talk about what Hamas is, what Hamas did.

Instead they'd much rather lock you into a seemingly self-contained side debate about the human costs associated with eliminating Hamas for good where, even if they are losing the intellectual argument, they can lay permanent claim to the moral high ground, falsely. 

At the very least they will attempt to contextualise something which ought never to be contextualised.

If I learned something from my parents' generation it is this: When faced with the need to put a proper end to a geopolitical cancer, the time for recriminations over whether one is responding 'proportionally' and indeed whether the human cost, to the enemy's own civilians in particular, is usually after the malignant growth has been removed.

Those who fought in WWII for the Allies, in a war started by enemies that had few visible red lines, did not subsequently carry around a large share of the burden of blame for the slaughters in places like Dresden or Hiroshima.

For it is self-evident that just because one supports the goal of one's own survival and the long-term removal of a systemic threat, one does not become morally complicit with every instance of callousness in the manner in which the conflict ultimately progresses.

War can be both absolutely horrible and yet necessary. Oppenheimer made the bomb, Truman ordered it to be dropped, twice. The Japanese were largely to blame, and in a very real sense, collectively. 
This is a profoundly uncomfortable truth, but it seems true to me today nonetheless, even though I long struggled with it as a younger person.

If you fall for Hamas's rhetorical counter-strikes with mortality statistics, it's possibly because you don't appreciate the existential danger or because you think it's someone else's problem, someone you may not care about all that much.

You are probably deluding yourself however. Fascism knows few natural boundaries. To my parents' generation the opportunity costs could not have been clearer. 

Israel has been obliged to wage a definitive war it had ducked for over a decade in order to eliminate an antagonist it can no longer afford to rub up against, a loud and proud nihilistic nemesis which has promised to repeat the atrocity of October 7 at every available opportunity.

This may not seem to be your fight just now, but do everyone a favour and think before you sit in judgment on those given little alternative but to fight it.

Civilians are dying, in their thousands. This is probably at least partially down to Israelis not caring (just like my parents' generation stopped caring in analogous circumstances), but it is also a consequence of Hamas caring, but in entirely the wrong way.

Still, there is no reason to believe that this war is any more monstrous than others, unless of course you have become convinced that all Jews are innately monstrous. Then you are part of the pathology.



Friday, March 15, 2024

Anatomy of a Fall (2023)

Winner of both the Palme d'Or and the Palm Dog, this extraordinarily well scripted and well CAST movie (practically an advert for the Academy's decision to add a new statuette category for this skill-set), presented me with a key dilemma (not the one the writer-director intended I think) which I never fully resolved: did I believe in the trial as anything other than a storytelling means to an end.


For the story here is not really about a crime or potential crime, but about human relationships, and very well told, yet I never quite understood why the French state would have taken a gamble in providing the mechanism for developing it.And amidst all the truthful insights into couples and masculine vulnerabilities there is one dominant and ultimately decisive suggestion which struck me as a little irresponsible for current times: "If you don't know...just decide"


Thursday, March 14, 2024

“Better be pruned to grow — than cut up to burn”

Every so often one comes across a statement like “The Muslim world lacks the equivalent of the Reformation”. Those who repeat it seem to have been misdirected by all those virgins in paradise and the predisposition for child marriages into forgetting that, from the get go, Islam was a highly puritanical religion. 

As the Arab empire took shape and began to rub up against the Roman Empire in the eastern Med, so-called westerners made some decisions which would lastingly affect how they themselves thought about the correct approach to the big issues. 

Early Christianity in the Middle East under Greek tutelage had largely consisted of a plethora of coexisting sects. Under Arab rule all but the state-sponsored Orthodoxy of the Emperor himself were effectively extinguished, but that permitted a rebel tendency, puritanical and iconoclastic, to emerge and threaten the core, even to the extent of declaring the veneration of the cross a form of idolatry. 

The fact that at this point primitive Christian and Islamic underlying attitudes were barely distinguishable must have set up an 'Aha!' moment for the ecclesiastical authorities. And thus the official church’s solution was to surrender their own puritanical rabble to Islamic control. 

Rather than fight them, they simply offloaded them, permitting them to become Muslims. (In this they became like the ‘useless third’ of society — the telephone sanitisers and so on — which Douglas Adams had dispatched into deep space on an iffy colonising venture, or indeed the right-thinking passengers of the Mayflower who, as luck would have it, somehow initiated the socially beneficial project of founding the United States.)

Meanwhile the Orthodox church maximised its own fancy image worship and overall grandeur, seemingly liberated from the priggish and the abstemious. 

‘The West’, might feel existentially threatened by Islamic teachings today, but it only ever took the shape that it did because it learned how to put them to practical uses. 

This plan seemed to be working well at first, but there would be a period of iconoclastic reaction and relapse within Byzantium itself, yet once this was over the authorities went back to actively persecuting those who rejected the finer things of worldly life. 

Meanwhile, further to the still comparatively light-starved west, under the authority of the Bishop of Rome, a work-around had been found, whereby individuals of uncompromisingly ascetic bent were walled off and made socially useful within monasteries and convents where they were much less likely to become a nuisance. 

Later on of course, there would emerge new religious orders which got out a bit more, and as these became commercialised, the conditions for a Reformation and a society-wide re-emergence of puritan nutjobbery were once again established.

In parts of the affluent world today we see an analogous development whereby the rebel extremist tendency within our own cultures is either being offloaded or perhaps self-offloading onto Islam in a manner which might otherwise seem unlikely to the historically ignorant. 

Only time will tell if this will again result in a handy purge of these cultish cranks, or whether in fact they are all coming to sweep away the rest of us.

Monday, March 11, 2024

The Evil of Banality

There were no terrorists hiding in tunnels beneath the city of Hiroshima, nor indeed underneath Mariupol's drama theatre, yet once again last night it was the IDF response to 7/10 that drew facile comparisons from people in fancy formal wear with one very specific part of the murderous, ethically complex inferno that was WWII.

Yet the thing about the Holocaust is that it stands apart from everything else that happened between the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the dropping of the second of Oppenheimer's atrocious new weapons on the citizens of Nagasaki, and deservedly so. And it in no way preserves this status as a result of some sort of process of 'selective empathy'.

Those who would have us lose sight of this are, in my recent experience, morally moronic, morally degenerate or both. Not so much the banality of evil as banality and/or evil. 



Sunday, March 10, 2024

Argylle (2024)

A not entirely un-entertaining 007 pastiche targeting immature audiences (by age or otherwise).

Like the aforementioned off-ness in Foe, audiences are distracted from the crap-ness of Argylle by tge rather cunning inclusion of the decoy variety in the ludicrous opening sequence involving Dua Lipa and a Mini Moke, with such terrible haircuts and CGI that there just HAS to be a kind of punchline, which there is, and Matthew Vaughn's early twist is just enough to dispatch thoughts like "hang on though, the CGI for Alfie the cat really is shonky..." for the remainder of his movie.

Foe (2023)


Aside from its central pair of talented, nice-to-look-at thesps, perhaps the most engaging thing about this movie is the way many of the scenes making up at least the first two thirds of its running time feel strangely off, predominantly in an uncanny way.
And yet, upon reflection, there's a good deal of off in Foe which cannot have been so deliberate, like Irish actors unconvincingly cast as rural Americans, Australia cast as the MidWest and a whole rather flimsy backdrop-as-Macguffin about space stations and environmental apocalypse, which does little to to distract the audience from noting that this is essentially a low budget three hander set in an old wooden house.

The intentional part of the off-ness might have been used to better effect had the director not delivered a spoiler, or at least a very large hint, in the opening textual prologue.

This places expectations at the Phillip K. Dick or at least Black Mirror level, but these are bound to be disappointing because this is not a movie about the existential crises of artificial consciousness, rather an examination of what happens to the affections of wetware when presented with an edges-off, slightly unworldly facsimile of the love object.

This distinction between real and fake would have worked a whole lot better if all the real characters did not come across as so fake.
And the reason why Phillip K Dick's variety off-ness remains the touchstone for these AI narratives is that he was confronting something seriously off in his own lived reality when he wrote his stories, and so any binary doubts quickly segue into universal incertitudes bordering on paranoia, which become available for vicarious participation by audiences.

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Tools...of empire

This X-pleet would be funny for its total lack of self-awareness if it wasn't so dumb. (Morons with zero self-awareness are rather less funny in the Trump era than they ever used to be.) 

It starts off well enough I suppose, helpfully explaining why many members of the Pro-Pal mob have acted like morally degenerate, antisemitic morons, not exactly censuring them for this, but pointing out that it is probably damaging the noble cause. In effect an impassioned call for greater care in disguising their racist bile as progressive concern.

Yet then it goes full moronic itself, conflating Zionism with a supposed western settler-colonial ideology, before basically saying that all worldviews (though presumably not hers) are innately relative.

I guess she might agree with Sartre that none of it ultimately matters, the only important thing is one's 'commitment' to one's own ideological compulsions.

And given that this worldview of hers was using the misleading term 'genocide' very actively even before the events of 7/10 — which breached the ceasefire they now want rather imperiously reimposed — one has to conclude that it has always been deployed in this context as a form of not very indirect Holocaust denial/rebuttal by the Jihadis (and their 'apologists').

And if genocides can be 'active' (i.e. they manifest potentially even before they meet the agreed criteria), then raping freshly-made Israeli corpses and burning Israeli babies alive possibly also counts, you'd think?

The post was shared by an individual who reposted it saying it was "important...urgent", having only just shared a shameful image combining the Star of David with a Swastika. It was that urgent.

Anyway, there's more than one empire in play here, if that's how you have to caricature the geopolitics. Uncle Sam and the 'West' share the field with Russia, Iran, China and Islamic Jihadism.

Plenty of ways to act like a total tool. 



Flow My Tears


Around the time of my infancy Phillip K. Dick determined that his favourite composer was John Dowland

Then on November 17, 1971 the music in his life was abruptly muted when his California home was broken into, his stereo stolen and his steel-plated filing cabinet relieved of its contents via the use of dynamite.

When he reported this rather brutal burglary to the police, their immediate response was like the title of this book, but in the sarcastic register. Treating him as a troublemaker, they advised him to leave town rather than open an investigation.

Dick immediately wondered what dangerous truths he might have inadvertently stumbled upon. Eventually he concluded that the problem was this very novel, which he had abandoned.

He recalled having recently discussed its premise with a random bloke who’d crashed at his place, this man having confided that the CIA were indeed looking into a pill that would catapult users into a reality in which they were completely disconnected.

When he’d started Flow My Tears…the author had thrown his celebrity protagonist Jason Taverner into a new day in which he found himself utterly forgotten. The mechanism for moving across to this alternative, authoritarian reality would turn out to be a rather nasty narcotic, but as Dick picked up where he’d left off, he was starting to think that the flip-side world had actually been hiding in plain sight. He might indeed have stumbled upon an alarming insight.

In their native environments totalist societies do ‘exactly what it says on the tin’. But in order to gain traction within the ‘liberal’ world, they tend to have to make use of cunning subterfuge.

‘Queers for Palestine’ is precisely the kind of absurdist role play which only makes sense in this export grade idiom of inversion, tailored for gullible westerners. Outside that protective bubble, it would be an open invitation to oppression. It’s more a trick of perspective than an acid trip.

Dick duly concluded that that Nixon was probably a communist sleeper agent.


Government by the party, for the party...

We live in an age where nuance suppression is an industry, which makes them all that more important.

Take Belize here. Up until 1862 it was effectively an independent territory under long range British protection, not a Crown colony.

This anomaly is poorly understood even in Belize itself today, where contemporary arguments for a republic feed off a narrative whereby the British monarchy was complicit with the condition of African slaves there (with fairly constant murmurings about reparations), yet by 1862 both the trade and institution itself had long been abolished.

An alternative, feel-good caricature would have the British monarchy as the first imperial power in history to have dispensed with slavery.

This means it would be hard to pin the blame for the presence of people of African descent around the Bay of Honduras on the Windsors, in particular because a very significant minority of this demographic — the Garifuna — were never in fact enslaved outside of Africa and turned up in the region originally as part of a mechanism for avoiding European rule.

Anyway, these nuances are no luxury right now, because it has become questionable whether republican government in the Americas can remain wholly commensurate with the preservation of the core values of democracy.

One can point to El Salvador, Mexico, the USA and lately Guatemala, where the lack of a properly independent arbiter (however symbolic) within the state, immune to corrupt, party political packing is posing a severe threat to the system of popular suffrage.

So, beware Belize. Change made largely for the sake of historical misconstructions can lead to all kinds of places one does not really want to go.

Monday, March 04, 2024

Nativier than thou...

One of the more spurious arguments one occasionally hears from the Pro-Pals is that so-called Palestinians are descended from ancient peoples who inhabited the Levant.

They may well be. But the point is spurious because almost all historical-nationalist polemics derived from DNA analyses are notoriously dodgy, and 'nativier than thou' is generally considered an essentially racist proposition in most other contexts. 

Indeed if I were to make a show for political purposes of how much longer my ancestors had spent on the island of Britain compared to newcomers of any kind, I would soon be designated a knuckle-dragger and scheduled for ostracism.

And one is also obliged to remember here that many of those who big up these statements are otherwise inclined to aggressively play down biological factors compared to cultural ones in the other situations which matter to them.

I would also suggest that the argument is being used rather blatantly in bad faith, because the peoples who have long opposed Jewish self-determination, have done so precisely because they have closely identified with the culture and geopolitical objectives of their own later colonisers, the Arabs. 

It is this adopted Islamic identity which means the very notion of going Dutch with non-Muslims is broadly antithetical to them, and this means that there is something extremely cake-and-eatey about the DNA narrative.

In 1948 roughly 120,000 non-Jewish inhabitants of the Mandate decided that they could coexist with the Jews, assuming Israeli citizenship, while as many as 600,000 chose the path of violent 'resistance', which they have followed ever since.

The numbers of the latter have swollen to millions — that great inverted genocide — suggesting that any ancestry test result is likely to have been significantly diluted. Yet the continued 'resistance' remains grounded in another highly spurious, historically-blinkered line of argument, that it is the Jews who are all newcomers to the region, occupiers or settler-colonialists no less

If it is really anti-colonialism that you support, be careful what you wish for…

Even Yemen was a Jewish kingdom pre-colonisation.

The truth is that the modern world should not rely on any kind of regressive territorialism, based on race, religion or uncompromising irridentistism. Everyone has to come to the table with dotted lines in their heads based on actuality.

This applies to all significant actors in the current situation, yet in saying that, one must never lose sight of the fundamental dynamic of the conflict, which has always been an attempt by Islamists to eradicate the only Jewish-identifying polity from this earth. They dress up this objective in all sorts of borrowed fineries, but nobody should ever be fooled.
There have been immoral behaviours and attitudes all around since 1948, but until that urge to smother all alternatives to the Islamic way is put on the back-burner, there is unlikely to be any real peace in the region.

Self-representation deficits...

I was recently reading a fascinating essay about Buenos Aires in the 1920s and 30s, at the time one of the most self-consciously modern urban spaces outside of Europe and North America. (And perhaps the only one of such that had no direct experience of the world wars. Additionally, even though the conditions for long term decline might have already begun to crop up, Argentina also had a very mild experience of the Great Depression.)

One might contrast Antigua, which has self-identified as 'old' in recent times.

Yet like all cities with a well-defined image for both the outside world and its own denizens, there ought to be more open and diverse debate here about the meanings and appropriate uses for the streets here, socially, politically, culturally — and the Alcalde ought to assert for himself a key role in marshaling these as well as articulating his own vision.

The obvious immediate danger, as we have seen, is a vacuum into which step those whose own project is largely limited to using Antigua as a lure for leeching off high-end transients. The outright cynicism one can detect here is likely to result in a gradual augmentation of the phoney-ness of the environment, with the city ultimately converted into little more than a boutique mall.


Friday, March 01, 2024

Wholeness and its discontents...


Theodicy is the name given to the discipline which aims to explain the presence of evil in our reality. We can call it theo-idiocy when it stands for the conclusion that it’s all just a matter of perspective, and that if we could only see the big picture…

Mani's position was that Good and Evil are there from the start, unconnected. Darkness, rather counter-intuitively, spills over into the Light, effectively causing a cosmic level environmental disaster which has to be cleaned up using spiritual ‘mestizo’ beings such as ourselves.

This soteriology was odd, because the salvation going on has more to do with cleaning up the system level evil-spill than with individual salvation.

St Augustine was into Manichaeism first and never really shook off the dualism. His swerve towards Christianity was influenced by an important ‘pagan’ precursor, the Enneads of Plotinus.

In this neo-platonic system there is only one true being, self-identical and unchangeable. Us lot live on a sliding scale below this absolute One, removed from full participation in Being by degradations like the need to think, move and engage with matter.

The more we collaborate with the external world, the more we slide downwards. Evil is thus the final notch on this scale, the furthest distance from perfection — but we possess a native buoyancy arising from the innate tendency of our inner being to lift itself up towards full reunification. (Sin and Grace are notably absent from this game of snakes and ladders for souls.)

Yet like Augustine after him, Plotinus struggles to explain precisely why these degrees of imperfection and multiplicity in general might exist, albeit contingently. He talks of it all starting with an overflow of Good, resulting from a superabundance, but fluid dynamics of this sort require the presence of Time to make proper sense.

Augustine comprehended that his God cannot precede His universe, nor can it have come about as a result of creative thoughts (or potentiality) in the deity, for cognition would encumber Him with the knower-known duality of our own intellectual experience. An Absolute creator is thus a bit of an oxymoron.

If Gnosticism feels like a 'work around', the term 'cop-out' comes up more readily with Christian theodicy. Augustine ultimately settled on the idea that it is "fitting” for God to be associated with good things, such as making universes. 

Slightly more appealing is the notion that without us, goodness would ‘always’ remain virtual rather than actual. It's the only way the One could be said to have had needs. Materialisation has a few negative outcomes, but maybe they were always factored in as acceptable.


The Goggles

As an historian it would never occur to me to don the googles of moral righteousness before analysing events in the past, so it is a mystery to me why people seem so determined to do so before commenting on events in the present.

There are of course situations in all periods which are located in close proximity to what we could describe as absolute wrong. But possibly not as many as today's Twitterati (X-twats?) seem to presume. And applying a filter which removes all the grey from one's black and white images is a horrendously lossy process. 

Take one example. Consider Bullfighting as something done within an ancient cultural milieu as opposed to one which persists into our own world. 

We are far more likely to judge it in overtly moralistic in the latter instance, in part because we tend to believe that it is within the powers of our free will to make a change. We innately prioritise suffering experienced in the present moment, that forever moving point with hints of a dotted line extending into the future.

However, in doing so today we open ourselves up to a couple of avoidable hazards. 

Firstly, we get such a buzz from this militant sense of virtue that we do indeed start to apply it in retrospect, dispatching forthwith into hellfire all kinds of historical actors living at some temporal distance from our own culture and its shibboleths.

Secondly, the righteous mentality has a way of mis-reading and ultimately perverting relative goods (or even relative bads) which historically has led inevitably towards some of those rare cases of absolute bad. 

In both cases we end up with a dogmatically unified, totalist perspective shorn of all shade and sometimes also of useful complexity.

By squeezing all nuance out of the exposition, it becomes like a cliff-face with no hand-holds.





Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Sin Bin


“According to a Gnostic legend, a war broke out in heaven among the angels, in which Michael’s legions defeated those of the Dragon. The nonpartisan angels who had been content to look on were consigned to earth, in order to make there a choice they had not been able to determine on high, one all the more arduous in that they brought with them no memory of the combat or, indeed, of their equivocal attitude.

“Thus history’s commencement can be traced to a qualm, and man resulted from an original...vacillation, from that incapacity, before his banishment, to take sides. Cast to earth in order to learn how to choose, he was condemned to action, to risk, and was apt for it only insofar as he stifled the spectator in himself. Heaven alone permits neutrality to a certain point, while history, quite the contrary, appears to be the punishment of those who, before their incarnation, had found no reason to join one camp rather than another.” 
>>> E. M. Cioran, Drawn and Quartered
That reality exists as a kind of sin bin for fence-sitters is a deliciously silly idea, yet also somehow makes so much sense.
It's actually an improvement on the 'solution' proposed by Mani, whose Christianity, like that of St Augustine, emanated out of Zoroastrianism. 
I will simplify rather ruthlessly. In the beginning there was Light and Darkness. They had both always been there. Then Darkness acquired an urge to spread, seeping into and polluting the perfect.

So a buffer zone was set up, two walls on either side, rather like we now see either side of Gaza. The beings born into this no man's land (actually 'man's land') have a spark of the Light in them which has to be distilled and restored to the good side of the wall so that it may be absolute once more. 
Upon completion of this historical process, the formal separation between the Light and the Dark will have been restored, and 'evil' put back in its box forever. 
The reason for the original leak is never fully explained. 
What is rather striking about this cosmogeny is that human existence is not conceived of as a primary end in itself, but rather a means to an end. 
A kind of cleaning package.

Bare Bones Republics

Over the past few years I have had some first hand experience of the Guatemalan justice system and this has permitted me to observe a set of fundamental discrepancies which may not be all that easy to solve, because they reflect an increasingly universal deficiency in the practice of Republican government in the Americas.

Judges here like to deliver sermons. If you listen carefully to these you get a sense of the intellectual and moral underpinnings of their worldviews, and in most instances you would be forgiven for concluding that their education largely lies on the foundation of codified law and the Bible.
In other words, almost everything they come out with betrays a lack of what, for want of a better term, we Brits would call a broad ‘classical education’.

Jewish and Christian morality is certainly a key component within the western concept of justice, but it seems to function optimally when tethered to the wisdom of the ancients as well as the contributions of more modern thinkers.

And the very notion of Republican government took hold in this hemisphere in an era when the classics were being actively rediscovered and propagated, most notably up north by the founding fathers of the USA.

Yet nowadays there would seem to be a growing cadre in positions of authority within American republics who rely almost wholly on scriptural perspectives, and I would argue that that is like putting diesel in a petrol car.


Monday, February 26, 2024

The Cadgers' Chorus

I’m starting to experience a degree of miffedness with all this moaning about the Sunday visiting vehicle moratorium during Lent.

First up, it’s just Sunday. And only a handful of such Sundays during the whole year.

Secondly, the majority of the people doing all this griping are doing it from within sectors of the local economy which are almost ludicrously over-saturated (beer, pizza, coffee etc.) and which almost anywhere else would be subject to superior year-round regulation.

Frankly, if your business cannot cope with a reduced footfall for half a dozen days per year, you are in the WRONG business. You are in effect operating at the rather iffy margins, like people who build homes on cheap land close to collapsible hillsides (...or indeed, ancient Mayan civilisation.)

Indeed, and this might be painful to hear, if you are not doing something significantly different (and better) than everyone else in the sector, you are little more than CLUTTER, not a vital ingredient in the lifeblood of the community.

Antigua really ought not — or at least need not — depend so wholeheartedly on tourism, and especially not the over-saturated sort. When I first came here there were relatively few transients present and the city was doing just fine.

This much-mentioned economic dependency today is largely limited to the enterprises which have been drawn in to exploit — and in many cases over-exploit in a notably parasitical manner — what they perceive as the opportunity offered by the host location.

“Antigua is for all” is their deceptively egalitarian mantra, which would in effect put a stop to any attempt at regulation. What they really mean is that "Antigua is a free for all", and that their right to make a living here trumps everyone else’s right to enjoy a reasonable quality of life or indeed occasionally pursue goals which are non-commercial.

We saw much the same petulant outpouring of grievance just a few months ago when the political protests and associated blockades were seemingly reducing inbound traffic, and a near identical mob of over-privileged whingers started up with a sob story they falsely assumed to be all-embracing and ubiquitous.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Ambiguity at the edges...

Extremism, left, right, racial and religious, and any combination of the four, now uses cosplay and carefully packaged ambiguity in the message, to avoid censure in western democracies.

Nobody waits for the full moon any more to release their inner wolf, because there’s a whole range of sheep costumes on the rack.

Ambiguity used to to be the preserve of the Centre, a spur to rational compromise, yet now it has become a key tool in the hands of zealots and the unhinged in general, half of whom were always a bit too dumb to ever fully understand it, but nowadays those that make use of it with practiced cynicism, do so in the knowledge that that is no bad thing...for them. Stupidity becomes the covert to their overt.

And now the compromise the Centre has to make, is ceding ever more airtime to the fanatics.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024


It's fascinating to me how many interesting themes this book had which didn't make it into the film, yet could easily form the conceits for alternative adapted screenplays. 


For example, the androids (replicants in Blade Runner) are produced on a Mars colony, not simply to provide labour, but also to serve up the semblance of human social bulk and a more complex society. Dick has a word for this in his fiction: simulacrum.

So, you could buy a package of neighbours: two adults, two kids and maybe a dog. Their presence nearby would be comforting, as would the knowledge that one could safely ignore them.

The other theme which is so on the mark for our present moment is the cult of empathy.

In the novel this is called Mercerism and adherents have an 'empathy box' at home which they use to observe and emotionally participate in, the tribulations of an individual who is pelted with rocks as he attempts to push his own large rock up the steep flank of a mountain, seemingly on a loop.

Later on in the story Mercer's situation is exposed as a phoney production, but this does not seem to be any kind of deal breaker for the believers.

Merleau-Ponty once said of Socrates that he "reminds us that it is not the same thing, but almost the opposite, to understand religion and to accept it," thereby demonstrating what both the French Existentialist and the Greek moral philosopher did not really understand about religion — how blind faith often advances willy nilly in the face of contrary evidence.

This is certainly true of the religious/political empathy cults which have taken hold of western society in recent decades, which operate on the basis of an unshakeable conviction and moral narcissism, and often tend to focus on subjects which can be observed through what my parents' generation called 'a set' (my father even referred to his laptop this way), which further reduces the need for engaging with facts, and thus understanding.

Dick's own understanding of how these belief systems work, how his own tended to work, was along the lines of "the Truth is out there, even when it's not".