23 May 2013

Sometimes I just…

Well, despair of my own Church. Recently, in Curaçao, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church USA Katharine Jefferts Schori delivered a homily on the Acts of the Apostles in which she said (and I am not making this up, though I dearly, dearly, dearly wish I was):
There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it. Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God. She is quite right. She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves. But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness. Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it. It gets him thrown in prison.
I’m sorry, I don’t usually resort to using animated GIFs to express my reactions, but:


Well, yes, the girl had a demon in her which was oppressing her, and two cruel, callous and greedy slave-masters which were using the powers of this demon to make money off of her. St Paul was doing the poor girl a favour setting her free, and the reason the slave-masters complained of St Paul to the authorities was because they lost their exploitable source of money! What, is our Presiding Bishop trying to be an apologist for slavery here? I don’t even--
That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so! The amazing thing is that during that long night in jail he remembers that he might find God there – so he and his cellmates spend the night praying and singing hymns.

An earthquake opens the doors and sets them free, and now Paul and his friends most definitely discern the presence of God. The jailer doesn’t – he thinks his end is at hand. This time, Paul remembers who he is and that all his neighbors are reflections of God, and he reaches out to his frightened captor. This time Paul acts with compassion rather than annoyance, and as a result the company of Jesus’ friends expands to include a whole new household. It makes me wonder what would have happened to that slave girl if Paul had seen the spirit of God in her.
...


Really, Bishop Katharine? A demon is actually the ‘spirit of God’, St Paul (who apparently doesn’t ‘share in God’s nature’ as much as this demon does) actually got what was coming to him from the Roman authorities, and is actually an amnesiac who forgets the presence of God at the drop of a hat and recovers it again when it suits the Bishop’s pre-read narrative? Right. Keep going, there, Kate, don’t mind me, I just have to drop into the next room to make a call…

Thankfully for my sanity and that of other Episcopalians, the reaction to the homily have been roundly negative. One of the comments on the homily, from Susan Raedeke, sums it up best:
Am I to understand that the PB believes that Paul, in a case of mistaken identity, was able to make the Holy Spirit take a hike? That’s one powerful apostle. Or maybe there are little-bitty good spirits that possess people so that other people can make money off of them? Bizzaro.

21 May 2013

Pointless video post – ‘Nocturnal Wings’ by Forever Storm


Serbia’s Forever Storm rank very, very high on my list of favourite power metal bands, even though they are relative newcomers working on their second album. Their debut album, Soul Revolution, definitely struck the ‘sweet spot’ balancing epic melody with sheer crunch and groove, blending traditional, tried-and-true heavy metal structures with progressions which sneak up on you. That said, that album also demonstrated that they have a marked emphasis on slow, mellow, balladic constructions, and if this video is any indication, that emphasis is likely to continue on their forthcoming album Tragedy from which this song comes. I’m greatly looking forward to this album coming out - it should be awesome! Please do enjoy, gentle listeners!

20 May 2013

Quotes from two Orthodox ‘social justice’ Christians


For it is lawful to be rich, but without covetousness, without rapine and violence, and an ill report from all men. With these arguments let us first smooth them down, and not as yet discourse of hell. For the sick man endures not yet such sayings. Wherefore let us go to this world for all our arguments upon these matters; and say, Why is it your choice to be rich through covetousness? That the gold and the silver may be laid up for others, but for you, curses and accusations innumerable? That he whom you have defrauded may be stung by want of the very necessaries of life, and bewail himself, and draw down upon you the censure of thousands; and may go at fall of evening about the market place, encountering every one in the alleys, and in utter perplexity, and not knowing what to trust to even for that one night? For how is he to sleep after all, with pangs of the belly, restless famine besetting him, and that often while it is freezing, and the rain coming down on him? And while thou, having washed, returnest home from the bath, in a glow with soft raiment, merry of heart and rejoicing, and hastening unto a banquet prepared and costly: he, driven every where about the market place by cold and hunger, takes his round, stooping low and stretching out his hands; nor has he even spirit without trembling to make his suit for his necessary food to one so full fed and so bent on taking his ease; nay, often he has to retire with insult.

[...]

What wild beast would not be softened by these things? Who is there so savage and inhuman that these things should not make him mild? And yet there are some who are arrived at such a pitch of cruelty as even to say that they deserve what they suffer. Yea, when they ought to pity, and weep, and help to alleviate men's calamities, they on the contrary visit them with savage and inhuman censures. Of these I should be glad to ask, Tell me, why do they deserve what they suffer? Is it because they would be fed and not starve?

No, you will reply; but because they would be fed in idleness. And thou, dost not thou wanton in idleness? What say I? Are you not oft-times toiling in an occupation more grievous than any idleness, grasping, and oppressing, and coveting? Better were it if you too were idle after this sort; for it is better to be idle in this way, than to be covetous. But now thou even tramplest on the calamities of others, not only idling, not only pursuing an occupation worse than idleness, but also maligning those who spend their days in misery.

[...]

And these things I say, not because riches are a sin: the sin is in not distributing them to the poor, and in the wrong use of them. For God made nothing evil but all things very good; so that riches too are good; i.e. if they do not master their owners; if the wants of our neighbors be done away by them. For neither is that light good which instead of dissipating darkness rather makes it intense: nor should I call that wealth, which instead of doing away poverty rather increases it.
- St John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians

And therefore, in light of this:
If your earnings are higher, consequently, that increases your moral responsibility to society, too; it follows that you can afford to pay more taxes to help those who can’t earn their own bread.

Society shouldn’t be a place where wolves chase rabbits; even a wolf pack has a certain amount of mutual support. If society refuses to support its weaker members, of necessity, it surrenders to the ‘law of the jungle’. This isn’t vacuous moralising; all of human history validates these things.
- Fr Vsevolod Chaplin, Proshchenoe Voskresen’e, 2011

It should be noted that Fr Chaplin’s policy prescriptions, for a progressive taxation scheme, are quite modest indeed. St John Chrysostom was much more strident. The wealthy people who claim that they are entitled to what they have merely because they have earned it, and who say the poor deserve their lot for being lazy, put themselves in real peril of their souls.

18 May 2013

My love-hate thing with anarchy

Cross-posted from Solidarity Hall:

Let me just begin by saying that I love anarchists. Some of my profoundest intellectual influences are anarchistic in their political orientations: Kierkegaard, Berdyaev, Maurin, Day, Hennacy and Cavanaugh. Via folk singer-songwriter and fellow Wendell Berry fan John McCutcheon, Gerrard Winstanley and Joe Hill became big early influences on me, and from there, so did Big Bill Haywood and Mother Jones. I love V for Vendetta – both the comics and the movie. Much of the heavy music (metal, crust punk, grindcore) I listen to – Motörhead, Kreator, TotenmonD, DRI and the Exploited, to name but a few examples – is to a greater or lesser degree politically anarchistic. I share completely the anarchistic distrust of the nation-state, the corporation and the investment bank, particularly in recent years as all three have grown much more powerful at the expense of those of us outside those institutions. So, to any anarchists who happen to read this, please read as it is meant: as admonition from an admiring friend, not as denunciation from a devoted foe.

Anarchism is a political philosophy far too nuanced to reduce to political slogans, naturally, but that is not to say that they do not have them, among which the most popular is ‘question authority’. A common riposte to this slogan, ‘so then, I should question why you tell me to question authority?’, to some degree misses the point, but it strikes at a deeper problem within anarchist theory. It misses the point in that what your average anarchist most often tends to mean when they say ‘authority’ is some position of cultural, political or economic power (within, say, a nation-state, a corporation or a church) maintained by physical force or the threat thereof. But it gets at a deeper problem within anarchist thinking, in that it exposes the conflation of this definition of ‘authority’ with one held by many people unfamiliar with anarchist theory, which is simple ‘authenticity’, or ‘trustworthiness’.

Anarchy is most likely to be wrong precisely where it is the least anarchistic. For beneath the main family tree of anarchist theory (the inheritance of Proudhon, Bakunin and Stirner) there lies at the root the same gnawing serpent of fear, violence and control which undergirds the nation-state. Indeed, the conception of the nation-state by which such anarchists define themselves negatively shapes their thinking at a number of different levels: they cede the nation-state too much power over them from the beginning! Any hierarchies of values articulated by the governing organs of the nation-state are immediately suspect, and very rightly so… but all too many Proudhon-Bakunin school anarchists flee from any and all assertions of one value over another, and adopt as their credo ‘an it harm none, do what ye will’, as though they are already in retreat from their own highly admirable convictions.

The suspicion, arising from the unfortunate conflation of ‘authority’ with ‘authoritarianism’, that behind all articulations of right and wrong lies violence (or the threat thereof) is a fatal one for anarchy, because it upholds the very same reasoning the nation-state uses to justify its own existence. That suspicion relies on the conjecture that there are many modes of being human, which are irreconcilable with each other, or within themselves, without violence. This is ultimately the reasoning which leads many anarchists to reject religion – but, tellingly, it is also the reasoning, beginning with The Prince and finding its full flowering of expression in Leviathan, which the state uses to control public expressions of value which it deems (sometimes rightly, sometimes not) ‘harmful’. After all, the nonsense of the Treaty of Westphalia was that dukes and presidents are more to be trusted with res publica than priests or preachers.

But that is all in the past, as they say. What does it matter now? Now here is where we get to the interesting part. Nation-states are inherently ‘progressive’ entities, and are structured in such a way that they are always seeking growth for growth’s sake, always seeking power for power’s sake, always seeking technical mastery for technical mastery’s sake. Proudhon-Bakunin school anarchists, even if they do not call themselves ‘progressive’, are nonetheless motivated by the same sort of assumptions which undergird the actions of the state: stagnation is an evil which must be overcome, and tradition and custom per se are to be subsumed in some greater and more glorious end. (As an aside, there are some highly interesting exceptions to the rule, like anarcho-primitivism.)

In this it must be seen that the most steadfast bulwark against an overreaching nation-state is the miniature voluntary society of the nuclear family. The nuclear family’s native priority and orientation is its own continuance and stability, rather than power or wealth for its own sake. It is the transmitter of narratives and the caretaker of each new generation. Construed rightly, it is perhaps the greatest force for social equality between men and women, and the greatest crucible for raising children into complete and competent human beings fully able to examine themselves and question their social contexts. Construed rightly, it has also been among the longest-lasting and thus most successful experiments in communal property.

Thus, it always puzzles me why many such anarchists, beginning with Bakunin, seem hell-bent on compromising this institution most favourable to their purposes – to wit, the critique and ultimate transformation of the nation-state into something more humane and egalitarian. The mushy amorphous idealism which informs all too many of Bakunin’s intellectual heirs with regard to their critiques of love and marriage is all too useful to the purposes of corporation and state. After all, the current state of affairs stands thus: no longer is the decision to have a child an (ideally) equal accord between a woman and a man; it is an increasingly unequal agreement between a woman and Pfizer or Merck or Johnson and Johnson (one of which makes a nifty profit off her and her partner, or off the state-mandated insurance plan which foots her bill, and allows her to feel ‘free’, within the context of employer and government, in the meanwhile).

Think of it this way. We’re not at the point of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World quite yet. But note that in Huxley’s fictional-but-penetrating critique of modernity, the World State maintains effective control over every aspect of human life – economic, personal, spiritual – by severing love from sex, by severing sex from procreation and by severing procreation from parenting. These breaking points are where a truly intrusive nation-state and the truly intrusive corporate manager can put down the deepest roots in the lives of their ‘citizens’ and their employees.

Coincidentally, these are the breaking points where Proudhon-Bakunin school anarchism seems to forge ahead with the most gusto: behind the endurance of eros they fear there lurks a patriarchal desire for possession and oppression; behind procreation they fear lurks the enslavement of women; behind parenting they fear lurks the continuation of the norms of violence they reject. The nation-state is much more clear-eyed about the direct threats it faces from each link: eros is a distraction from loyalty to the nation-state; procreation is to be trusted only insofar as the nation-state can control it (as through birth-control technologies); and parenting is to be discouraged where it gets in the way of the nation-state’s enculturation and indoctrination of its young.

Simply put, anarchism likes to posit itself as the implacable adversary of the hierarchical, technocratic and managerial nation-state, but in the realm of the social, in spite of their wildly divergent purposes, anarchism and the hierarchical, technocratic and managerial nation-state find themselves working toward the same ends. In rejecting the persuasive sense of authority, they leave the field open for the unchecked authoritarian exercise of power.

Anarchism has very much to recommend it, not least in its deep critiques of capitalism’s excesses and its willingness to explore theoretically political, smaller-scale alternatives to the nation-state. But it needs to be tempered with a high- or red-Tory suspicion of institutional change and its effects, some of which, rather than being easily predictable, may in actuality be detrimental to the cultural, political and economic equality they desire. Relatedly, Proudhon-Bakunin school anarchism requires a deeper critique of authority which distinguishes between the exercise of power and the pursuit of truth.

I love Pope Francis!

And here’s why:
Ladies and Gentlemen, our human family is presently experiencing something of a turning point in its own history, if we consider the advances made in various areas. We can only praise the positive achievements which contribute to the authentic welfare of mankind, in fields such as those of health, education and communications. At the same time, we must also acknowledge that the majority of the men and women of our time continue to live daily in situations of insecurity, with dire consequences. Certain pathologies are increasing, with their psychological consequences; fear and desperation grip the hearts of many people, even in the so-called rich countries; the joy of life is diminishing; indecency and violence are on the rise; poverty is becoming more and more evident. People have to struggle to live and, frequently, to live in an undignified way. One cause of this situation, in my opinion, is in the our relationship with money, and our acceptance of its power over ourselves and our society. Consequently the financial crisis which we are experiencing makes us forget that its ultimate origin is to be found in a profound human crisis. In the denial of the primacy of human beings! We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.

The worldwide financial and economic crisis seems to highlight their distortions and above all the gravely deficient human perspective, which reduces man to one of his needs alone, namely, consumption. Worse yet, human beings themselves are nowadays considered as consumer goods which can be used and thrown away. We have started a throw-away culture. This tendency is seen on the level of individuals and whole societies; and it is being promoted! In circumstances like these, solidarity, which is the treasure of the poor, is often considered counterproductive, opposed to the logic of finance and the economy. While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good. A new, invisible and at times virtual, tyranny is established, one which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules. Moreover, indebtedness and credit distance countries from their real economy and citizens from their real buying power. Added to this, as if it were needed, is widespread corruption and selfish fiscal evasion which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The will to power and of possession has become limitless.

Concealed behind this attitude is a rejection of ethics, a rejection of God. Ethics, like solidarity, is a nuisance! It is regarded as counterproductive: as something too human, because it relativizes money and power; as a threat, because it rejects manipulation and subjection of people: because ethics leads to God, who is situated outside the categories of the market. God is thought to be unmanageable by these financiers, economists and politicians, God is unmanageable, even dangerous, because he calls man to his full realization and to independence from any kind of slavery. Ethics – naturally, not the ethics of ideology – makes it possible, in my view, to create a balanced social order that is more humane. In this sense, I encourage the financial experts and the political leaders of your countries to consider the words of Saint John Chrysostom: "Not to share one’s goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs".
Perfect. Simply perfect. The Holy Father is, much as his predecessor in that office was, a voice of sanity and good sense in a truly insane world. Please do share his full speech; it is being heavily and wilfully misinterpreted already by those who say that simply because the Holy Father does not use the words ‘capitalism’ or ‘the free market’, he is not critiquing either (even though he does directly critique market logic and the modern economy). But more than that, please do share it simply because it is a brilliant piece of Catholic social thinking in its own right.

14 May 2013

Pointless video post – ‘From Outer Space’ by Alpha Tiger


Meet Alpha Tiger, a German traditional heavy metal band which apparently enjoys nothing so much as rocking out like it’s the ‘80’s all over again. (And given the kudzu-like proliferation of re-thrash, a subgenre which I also listen to as something of a guilty pleasure, who can blame them?) They are unashamed of flaunting their NWoBHM, glam and power-metal influences, the most prominent amongst which are Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Riot, Loudness and (particularly) Fates Warning. They play with speed, but more importantly, they play with conviction. That said, they are not just another covers band (or a band which brings nothing new to the genre): their musicianship is excellent, and they have a je ne sais quoi which makes their music both enjoyable and relistenable. ‘From Outer Space’ is from this year’s album Beneath the Surface; please do enjoy, gentle listeners!

13 May 2013

Mencius on neoconservatism

Dr Sam Crane and I have had our disagreements in the past, but I am in total, unreserved agreement with him on this point in particular (and my apologies for having had to play catch-up with his posts at this late date; it originally came out two months ago):
From a Confucian perspective, “carelessness and callowness” can be taken as expressions of inhumanity: a lack of concern for the human toll of war. Mencius tells us:

“You defy Humanity if you cause the death of a single innocent person, and you defy Duty if you take what is not yours.” (Hinton, 13.33)

That pretty much sums up the Iraq War: killing innocents and taking what is not yours. But Wolfowitz compounds the inhumanity through his denial, as Mencius further suggests:

“But in ancient times, when the noble-minded made mistakes, they knew how to change. These days, when the noble-minded make mistakes, they persevere to the bitter end. In ancient times, mistakes of the noble-minded were like eclipses of the sun and moon: there for all the people to see. And when a mistake was made right, the people all looked up in awe. But these days, the noble-minded just persevere to the bitter end, and then they invent all kinds of explanations.” (Hinton, 4.9).

Of course, in acting that way, in dissembling and denying, the so-called “noble-minded” of today are not really noble-minded at all. They are reproducing the original inhumantiiy that caused so much suffering to begin with.

Stop inventing “all kinds of explanations,” Mr. Wolfowitz, and just accept responsibility for an avoidable strategic error and a terrible human tragedy.
The Confucian-Mencian political philosophy may or may not have a more expansive notion of ‘just war’ than the Pauline-Augustinian one, but by any reckoning which relies as a first rule upon classical virtue ethics, the Iraq War (to reverse Talleyrand’s indictment of Napoleon, with all due credit to Mr Mehdi Hasan) was worse than a blunder; it was a crime. Many thanks for this, Dr Crane.

11 May 2013

Despatches from The Religion of Peace™

No, not that one. The other one. Aye, that one - the one whose problems white Westerners don’t like to address seriously, possibly because it’s item number two on the list.

The redoubtable Tariq Ali writes for the London Review of Books, on the problems Sri Lankan Muslims and (largely Hindu with a sizeable Catholic minority) Tamils have faced from the officially-Buddhist government:
Four years after the killing of between eight and ten thousand Tamils by the Sri Lankan army, which brought to an end a civil war that had lasted for 26 years, there is trouble on the island again. This time the army isn’t directly responsible: instead it’s the Buddhist monks from Bodu Bala Sena, the most active of the fundamentalist groups that have sprouted in Sinhalese strongholds. Three-quarters of Sri Lankans are Sinhalese; most of them are Buddhists. The monks’ target this time is the small Muslim minority. Muslim abattoirs have been raided, halal butchers attacked, homes targeted. The police merely stand and watch, and Sri Lankan TV crews calmly film the violence. A few weeks ago, Buddhist monks got some hoodlums to attack a Muslim-owned car showroom. One of its employees was going out with a young Sinhalese woman and her father complained to a local monk. The Sunday Leader reported that ‘an eyewitness saw a monk leaving one of the temples … followed by a group of youths, mostly under 25 years of age. The group carried stones and, people were later to discover, kerosene.’

A BBS blogger recently explained the ‘reasoning’ behind the targeting of Muslims:
Muslims have been living in this country since seventh century and now only they want to have Halal food in Sri Lanka. Population wise they are only 5 per cent. If we allow Halal, next time they will try to introduce circumcision on us. We have to nip these in the bud before it becomes a custom. We should never allow the Muslims and Christians to control anything in Sri Lanka … Hijab, burqa, niqab and purdah should be banned in Sri Lanka. The law and the legislature should always be under the control of the Sinhala-Buddhists and our Nationalist Patriotic president. After all, Sri Lanka is a gift from Buddha to the Sinhalese.
Difficult to imagine how circumcision could be ‘nipped in the bud’ even by a Buddhist, or how the percentage of the Muslim population could have fallen from 9.7 per cent in the 2011 census to 5 per cent today. It has undoubtedly dropped, however, as a direct result of decades of unchecked harassment and persecution, by Tamils as well as Sinhalese Buddhists.

It isn’t just members of the BBS who spout this nonsense. Many in the Sinhalese political-military mainstream share these views. In the town of Pottuvil, where the Muslims are the majority, soldiers have been helping local monks erect Buddhist statues and allowing loudspeakers to blare out Buddhist hymns morning and night. Local women who own land are being driven off it: the monasteries then steal the land, with the army providing protection.

Buddhist hardliners hate the suggestion that the island was not a gift from Buddha to them alone, but the earliest architectural finds reveal Tamil as well as Buddhist objects, which is hardly surprising given the proximity of South India to northern Sri Lanka. Who came first was a burning issue throughout the colonial period. Ever since independence in 1948, Buddhist fundamentalism has been the driving force behind Sinhalese intransigence on the Tamil question. A Buddhist monk assassinated S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the country’s fourth prime minister, in 1959. He was said to have made too many (in fact too few) concessions to the Tamils. After this, politicians began to pander to the monks’ prejudices and anti-Tamil discrimination was institutionalised.
Just keep in mind that, as the actions of the Japanese government in the past century and the actions of the government of Myanmar in this one have shown, Buddhist fundamentalism is not merely confined to Sri Lanka, and should be faced with our scrutiny no matter where it appears.

09 May 2013

Silent accomplices to incipient genocide

Andrew Doran has an excellent, and damning, blog post on The American Conservative, regarding the impact of the Iraq War on the Christian community of that country. It is utterly stunning to me, in light of all of Bush’s supposed piety, how utterly and brazenly uncaring these people were about the dangers to Iraq’s native Christian community. The Bush Administration refused to heed warnings from the Catholic Church about how a war would come at a massive cost of life, particularly to sectarian violence against religious minorities; and it refused to issue guarantees of freedom of religion in the newly-‘liberated’ country.

As a result, Orthodox and Catholic priests and bishops in Iraq began being targeted as scapegoats. They were kidnapped and often decapitated or otherwise brutally murdered. And the US military, in spite of clerics coming to them for assistance, stood by and watched as Christian churches went up in flames and clerics were butchered. Chaldean and Assyrian Christians who sought asylum in the United States were almost always denied it, instead being detained in prison-like conditions and then deported. Likewise, the United States refused to give any aid to the Kurds to help with the refugee crisis when they took in Christians fleeing from the south of the country.

Another refuge of choice for Iraqi Christians was - you guessed it - Syria. And now it is a case of déjà vu for them as Syria’s rebels fall into the same pattern of persecuting Christians and kidnapping priests. And once again, these rebels against Assad are committing these acts with the aid and tacit blessing of the United States government.

Please do read Mr Doran’s article in full. And please pray with me that the US government does not decide to get any more involved in Syria on the side of these religious extremists than it already has.

08 May 2013

Dockworker strike ends; protests with colonial flags

David Lindsay writes:
The striking dockers and other demonstrators in Hong Kong, increasingly one of the most interesting places in the world politically, are waving flags from the Colonial period "as an act of provocation".

Provocation of whom? Hong Kong was never British territory, being only ever under lease. Therefore, neither independence, nor the status of a British Overseas Territory in perpetuity (like all of those which still remain), was ever going to be an option there.

To our shame, we put in place far too little in the way of representative democracy, ordered liberty, workers' right or social welfare provisions in order to make the place a beacon for their eventual extension to the whole of China. Clearly, though, we put in place enough to light the spark.

If the waving of the old flags means anything, then it means that. And the eventual extension of representative democracy, ordered liberty, workers' right and social welfare provisions to the whole of China will be more than a fair exchange for the British acquisition of a love of Cantonese food.

Mr Lindsay, as ever, is bang-on about this, in my humble opinion: if the strikers were waving British flags it is not out of nostalgia or a desire for a reinstitution of British colonial government, but rather as a reminder of what Britain had promised them but not delivered, especially in the way of worker rights and social welfare. After all, why else would Coeng Mou, the leader of the Social-Democratic League (Se-Wui Man-Jyu Lin-Sin, 社會民主連線) political party, throw plastic faeces at CY Leung for criticising the protesters whilst wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of Ernesto Guevara (of whom, whatever else might be said of either of them, it can hardly be claimed that they pine for the British Empire)?

The strike has ended; the results were decidedly mixed, though there is reason for hope in the future. The redoubtable Ellen David Friedman has sent to the riseup mailing list this translation of a letter from the HKCTU:
On 6 May, UHKD received a written confirmation jointly signed by the four contractors of HIT, Everbest, Comcheung, Lem Wing and Pui Kee via the Labour Department. The four companies confirmed the new salary plan of 9.8% increase in the basic wage for all their employees at different works in the Kwai Chung Contrainer Terminals, effective for one year from 1 May 2013. In the workers’ meeting called by UHKD in the evening, members considered the written assurance by the four contractors with the Labour Department a step forward compared to the verbal, unilateral announcement these companies made on 3 May. Although the strike has not secured a collective bargaining agreement with the employers, the 40-day industrial action has broken the “tradition” of unilateralism and succeeded in forcing the contractors to seal a written confirmation about the pay and working conditions. UHKD believes that this is the first step towards building a mechanism of communication and negotiation between the employers and the union representing a large section of the contractual workers in the Hong Kong terminals.

The four contractors’ written confirmation also gives details committing the employers to “improve the occupational safety and health protection with the terminal companies”, as well as providing the crane operators the right “to stop the machine to take lunch freely”, and “leave their workplace for toilet”. Members of UHKD decide that these concrete commitments are important basis for the union to continue the engagement with the contractors and HIT in good faith in the future.

While calling an end to the strike, the union is now working to assist the re-employment of its members, particularly the hundred crane operators employed by Global Stevedoring which announced its closure on 18 April. The union is pressing the Labour Department to negotiate with all the contractors for the soonest possible re-employment of these members.

UHKD will see to the end that the contractors abide by their promise of non-retaliation; and that none of its members will be penalized in the future for having taken part in the strike. The union will follow up to demand the contractors and HIT for a mechanism to schedule the rest and lunch breaks, enforce the safety and health provisions, review the salary regularly and eventually establish a collective bargaining mechanism that includes the contractual workers in the terminals.

The passionate support and generous donations of the Hong Kong community, the international trade unions and organizations have helped us to sustain the strike for forty days. On behalf of our members, UHKD is thankful to all of you who have been giving us unwavering support. Together with you, we have demonstrated again the importance of workers’ unity in fighting not only for reasonable pay, but also our dignity and our future.

It is the time for Hong Kong SAR government to re-table the legislation on collective bargaining, scrapped by the government in 1997, in obligations under the ILO Convention No98. The working people in Hong Kong must have an internationally recognized mechanism on collective bargaining to ensure the right to fair negotiation of their working conditions and protection of the unions they belong to.

--

蔡泳詩 Wing Sze, Choi 統籌幹事 Project Coordinator 香港職工會聯盟 Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions

Godspeed to the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions in keeping up the struggle and pressing for more protections for the working people of Hong Kong, who have a really tough break at the moment.

Swift and sure


Cross-posted from Solidarity Hall:

The products of the modern American public education system cannot help but gain at least a passing acquaintance with the figure of Jonathan Swift, the Hibernian master satirist who could very well be considered a spiritual predecessor to Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central fame. Swift had a keen sense of the absurd, and could easily inhabit the positions and reason of his targets, subtly turning them outward or applying them in different ways to show the absurdity of their consequences – this he did most famously in his Modest Proposal, which skewered both the cold-hearted Malthusians who believed the ‘Irish problem’ to be the result of their own shiftlessness and carnality, and those who would hear of no remedy to the problem which would deliver the slightest inconvenience to wealthy Englishmen and -women. Of course, his ‘modest proposal’ to solving the problem of Irish vagrants in England is to use them as breeding stock and slaughter the children for meat, a delicacy to be enjoyed by the English landed class – but he so deftly uses the language of the ‘political economy’ of the time that the fact that he is savaging it from within becomes apparent only once you’re well into the thick of the essay. In this, it seems, Colbert took quite a few leaves from Swift’s book in cultivating his on-screen persona.

A Modest Proposal and Gulliver’s Travels are very well-known in the English literary canon, but Swift’s life and career are perhaps not as well-known. Swift received a clerical education and became the secretary to Sir William Temple (a Whiggish nobleman in good odour with the 1688 Revolutionaries and their new King William of Orange), but desired a career in the (Anglican-affiliated) Church of Ireland, which caused a falling-out with his patron. He lived as an Anglican vicar in northern Ireland for a couple of years before reconciling with Temple and returning to his household. Here he fell devotedly in love with Esther Johnson, his young playmate and pupil during his first stay with Temple, and also began his career in writing satire.

Swift was a political satirist – although his first inclinations were toward the Whigs (following Temple, his patron), most of his better-known work (including Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal) was written after he had completed his transformation into an ardent Tory. His first and strongest inclination was always to the Church of Ireland, and by extension the Church of England with which it shared communion; for this reason he supported the Whigs and the establishmentarian William of Orange against the Catholic James II. However, when the Whigs began associating with the Dissenters and curtailing the privileges of the established Church, Swift quickly severed his links with the party to join the opposition. After the Whigs rose to power in 1714, Swift was essentially thrown out of the country and returned to Ireland in disgrace; he would not put pen back to paper for five years after that. However, even in his earliest Whig-era writings (Battle of the Books particularly), we can see the foreshadowing of his Tory turn: he sides against the intellectual fads and innovations of the elites of his time in favour of tradition and of the ancient ways of thinking and doing.

Battle of the Books pits the books of ancient thinkers (Homer, Aesop, Plato and Aristotle) against those of a set of modernist critics, joining a controversy in which his patron, Temple, asserted the centrality of the ancient authors and philosophers in Western learning against the moderns. The centerpiece is a dispute between a spider (representing the moderns – never leaving his corner of the world and spinning elaborate, mathematically and architecturally ‘ingenious’ webs out of dirt and poison) and a bee (representing the ancients – visiting many places out of curiosity and using what he finds there to create honey and wax, or ‘sweetness and light’). Aesop points out the parallels, provoking the moderns to battle; it is joined by the horrid goddess Criticism, ‘who’ (as she describes herself) ‘ha[s] deposed wit and knowledge from their empire over poetry, and advanced myself in their stead’, and who intervenes on behalf of the moderns (giving particular aid to Temple’s critics Richard Bentley and William Wotton). It is unclear who wins the battle, as the piece was left deliberately unfinished.

What is clear, however, is the critique of the contemporary mania for empiricism as a method for gaining power. The disconnected accumulation of unrelated ‘facts’ which is the project of the hyper-specialised spider is a send-up of the work of the newly formed Royal Society, and it is against their radical Baconianism and in favor of a more moderate Aristotelian approach to science that this portion of the satire is directed. Read in this way, Battle of the Books anticipates some of the critique of Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver’s lambasting of modern missteps in philosophy. The Baconian heresy that Swift rejects here is clearly descended from the nominalism of William of Ockham, with its rejection of coherent universals in favor of an addiction to disconnected particulars.

Through this critique we can gather that Swift possesses a keen sense of order, and a sense of aesthetics which will not permit place to any new form of thinking which degrades the highest aspirations of human dignity and art, as understood and championed by the Church of which he was a part. It is often difficult if not impossible for the average present-day American reader, inclined to mistakenly read ‘Tory’ as ‘conservative’ in the current sense of the word, to understand that the very same priority upon order and orthodoxy and classical thought (over-against ‘modern’ thought) which moved Swift to lampoon and castigate moderns, ‘free-thinkers’ and Dissenters, also led him to rail in undisguised outrage and bitter mockery against England’s ruling class, predatory colonialists and political economists on behalf of the degraded and exploited common people of Ireland.

When we read Drapier’s Letters, or A Modest Proposal, or Gulliver’s Travels, we are faced with a much angrier, much more direct, much more caustic Jonathan Swift than the one who penned Battle of the Books, Meditation on a Broomstick or Tale of a Tub. But there is more continuity between Swift’s first period of political writing in England and his second in Ireland than is often assumed. Swift was contemptuous of the way in which the Irishmen allowed themselves to be led into ignorance and squalor, but even more so he was indignant at the Englishmen who led them there for no other reason than their own convenience. He decried the Whig-legislated destruction of Ireland’s manufacturing sector and trade in wool, and Drapier’s Letters further exposed the use of privately-minted base coin to defraud the Irish public. The state of affairs in Ireland elicited his compassion for the widows, the orphans, the penniless and the starved; the rebellion, mass emigration and resentment amongst the Irish which the economic condition of the island portended deeply offended his love of order and his desire for political unity; and the strains of thought he knew justified this exploitation at each and every step – Malthus, Hobbes and Locke – served to whet his pique.

In the end, Swift’s later satires, pamphlets and letters nucleated an Irish national feeling. Though Swift was no friend to the Catholic Church, and showed (to say the least) no particular affection for Ireland or its people, the concern to which his Anglican conscience provoked him, and the written fruits of that concern, turned him into a seminal Irish patriot. More importantly for our purposes, Swift’s satirical writings provide a window back into Anglophone history, by which we can look at the ‘wrong steps’ made by the dominant tradition of modernism even in its infancy and by which we can re-imagine an alternate modernity bypassing those colluding ideologies of state and market which have ever served as the handmaidens of violence and fraud.

07 May 2013

Sex sells… but who’s buying?

With all due apologies to Megadeth.

To answer the rhetorical question, though: why, of course, the little people who play Candy Land and the little people whose parents buy them Disney paraphernalia, who are too young to be able to think critically about what such corporations as Disney and Milton Bradley tell them about their bodies. This is one issue on which I agree wholeheartedly and unreservedly with mainline feminism - or, as Mark Shea (who is incredibly good about linking these stories; many thanks t’ ye, Mark) notes, ‘show me a culture that despises virginity, and I will show you a culture that despises childhood’.

I have an infant daughter, who is half-Chinese and has Chinese relatives and roots, and thus is already doomed to identify at least in part with a culture whose feminine ideal body image is already, if you will excuse the grossly litotic usage, on the petite side. From her dad, her genetics will practically ensure that she inherits a Bohemian body build, which is neither small nor fashionable. In addition, she will undoubtedly be exposed to globalising sexual culture which informs both boys and girls, through lifestyle pseudo-leftist ignoramuses like Li Yinhe (to give but one local example) working hand-in-hand with marketers of everything from lipstick to clothes to deodorant, that there is something intrinsically wrong with them if they can’t ‘get laid’ early or often enough. Thus, the commodification of sex is incredibly worrisome to me for a number of very personal reasons; the more so when it is targeted expressly and directly at very young girls!

As Peggy Orenstein writes:
There's ample evidence that the ever-narrowing standard of beauty creates vulnerability in our girls to low self-esteem, negative body image, eating disorders, poor sexual choices. Not to mention the negative impact fat-shaming has on overweight kids. I think a lot about something that Gary Cross, a historian of childhood, once told me: that toys traditionally have communicated to children our expectations of their adult roles. What are we telling girls we expect of them with this?

06 May 2013

A conservative American Catholic takes Pope Francis seriously on free trade

Surprising, no? Well, perhaps not so surprising when the conservative American Catholic I am here referring to is named Patrick Buchanan:
"This is called slave labor," said Pope Francis.

The Holy Father was referring to the $40 a month paid to apparel workers at that eight-story garment factory in Bangladesh that collapsed on top of them, killing more than 400.

"Not paying a just wage ... focusing exclusively on the balance books, on financial statements, only looking at personal profit. That goes against God!"

The pope is describing the dark side of globalism.

Why is Bangladesh, after China, the second-largest producer of apparel in the world? Why are there 4,000 garment factories in that impoverished country which, a few decades ago, had almost none?

Because the Asian subcontinent is where Western brands — from Disney to Gap to Benetton — can produce cheapest. They can do so because women and children will work for $1.50 a day crammed into factories that are rickety firetraps, where health and safety regulations are nonexistent.

This is what capitalism, devoid of a conscience, will produce.
Please do read the entire article; it is a brilliant demonstration of a conservatism that actually seeks to conserve things of real value: people and communities and traditions. And it is a conservatism which, unlike so many other conservatisms in the United States, is clear-eyed about the threats capitalism and ‘free trade’, freed from any consideration of situated ethics, pose to all three of the above. Speaking as a left-winger, I believe we could stand to have more Pat Buchanans in this country.

EDIT: The death-toll in the Dhaka factory has risen to 580, with no indication of it being a final figure. A terrible tragedy, but a preventable one: we needn’t continue running in this ridiculous race to the bottom.

01 May 2013

Pointless May Day video post - ‘The Almighty Power’ by Chinchilla


An oldie, but a goodie: churning, kinetic power metal with uniquely gritty tenor vocals courtesy of Thomas Laasch, and a distinctly working-class / anti-neoliberal / anti-greed lyrical bent - quite fitting for May Day and the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. Gotta love Udo Gerstenmeyer on this one - please do enjoy!