Notes on Conspiracism

Peter Knight’s, Conspiracy Culture – From the Kennedy Assassination to the X-Files

This asks the question as to how the prevalence of conspiracism relates to the Postmodernish sensibility. This is not so much as a review, but a few notes on conspiracism.

Richard Hofstadter’s ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’ (in The Paranoid Style in American Politics – and Other Essays) written just as the modern version was really taking off (1963) takes the clinical notion of paranoia and uses it as a lens to examine the practice of conspiracist thinking. A rough summary of his thesis is that major sections of the American population had come to feel dispossessed of a nation forged in the two great struggles of a democratic-popular revolution and the war against the slave-owners. The ‘paranoid’ response to the feeling of dispossession has been that, rather than attempting a serious analysis, it constructs: ‘conspiracy as the motive force in historical events. History is a conspiracy, set in motion by demonic forces of almost transcendent power’. It’s a good read and points out things which, once pointed are obvious (but certainly didn’t occur to me), such as that ‘a fundamental feature of the paranoid style is the imitation of the enemy’, eg the Ku Klux Klan’s taking on aspects of Catholicism. Continue reading “Notes on Conspiracism”

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Marx ‘Wins’ a Vote


Marx Comes First, And Looses

 

So, Marx has come first yet again. Marx has been voted ‘The Greatest Ever Philosopher’ for a BBC Radio 4 show In Our Time, following an online poll taken over five weeks. The show, one of the most respected intellectual shows on radio, offered the public an open vote on the 10 greatest philosophers. Marx polled 28% of the vote, easily outstripping second-placed David Hume with 13%, followed by Wittgenstein (7%) and then Nietzsche (6.5%). This has clearly excited a lot of people on The Left, with commentators being trawled out to bear witness to Marx’s relevance, his insights into globalisation, or why philosophy should take Marx seriously. In all cases an air of jubilation presides: what better proof of his importance, that Marx wins the BBC poll for the greatest philosopher. Continue reading “Marx ‘Wins’ a Vote”

Raphael’s Relativism

Raphael Samuel Capitulates to Relativism

 

The late Raphael Samuel, formerly of Ruskin College, is a revered figure on the Britsh Left, one of the founders of the ‘history from below’ movement, of the influential History Workshop Journal, and a key influence on the ‘public history’ historiography promoted by Ruskin College. It is surely significant then that this figure publically declared – at a conference in 1987 to discuss the New Left of thirty years previous – that he had no wish to live in a socialist society, and that what socialism meant to him was the ‘community’ of what might be called ‘the actually existing socialist movement'(see http://www.livejournal.com/users/david_murray/1451.html). Surely it is also unsurprising, as his own historiography is founded on the denial of any disticntion between history and myth, and thus deprives the present of any critical purchase on the past, and thus on itself. This is how he capitulates to rampant relativism: Continue reading “Raphael’s Relativism”

On “Political Correctness”

Letter to a Friend who Bandies this Term

I think that you would strengthen your case (whichever one it happens to be) if you refrained from using the ridiculous phrase ‘political correctness’. I know that I’m not the only person whose first feeling on seeing this is that I will not bother to read whatever text contains it. Because the use of that phrase usually signals a voice which, comically, echoes that victim-stance of which it so often complains and whines that ‘white, het, middle-class  men can be victims too’. This usually boils down to the speaker pretending to feel  oppressed because of disapproval of sexist comments re women, and use of words like ‘nigger’ and ‘shirt-lifter’. Its use is so often prefaced by ‘I’m sorry, but …’; followed by something like ‘I know it’s politically incorrect to say so, but there was slavery in Africa  long before Europeans got there’ – as if the speaker were being a brave heretic, whilst actually mouthing a commonplace (which also obscures the main point). I choose this example for you because of your odious apologetics for slavery. However, I do feel somewhat as you do regarding this sensibility which this phrase tries to capture –  what follows is a first attempt to try to work this out.

What seems not to be noticed by people who use the phrase is the bizarre fact that ‘politically correct’ is the only political label which is solely used pejoratively of someone else. All of the following may be used neutrally, pejoratively, or accepted as self-identity: liberal, socialist, communist, stalinist, trotskyist, nationalist, anarchist, fascist, national-socialist, racist, feminist, masculinist, conservative, reactionary, pacifist … and doubtless others which don’t come to mind at present. But no-one will say, except ironically:  ‘I’m Politically Correct’. There is surely something very strange about this asymmetry. Continue reading “On “Political Correctness””

Picnic in the Ruins

Ruskin College and Fascism

 

The text below was written for publication in The Trumpet, the Students’ Union journal of Ruskin College. Though this journal had previously published a pro-Hitler article it only published the first half of this reply, omitting any reference to the fascist propaganda they had published. Whether this had anything to do with one one of the editors of the journal being a Pagan is something I will not comment on

The word ‘ironic’ is, we’re told, overused – likewise for ‘surreal’. But I don’t know what other words to use about one aspect of the Burford Levellers’ Day, 15 May,2003. There were a number of men dressed in the uniform of the Parliamentary army of the English Civil War carrying replica period muskets. The irony .. or whatever .. is that many people in the political culture which created Levellers’ Day would wet themselves if working people armed themselves in order, as a community, to suppress muggers, twockers and vandals; or, as a political class, formed militias to defend the transition to a post-capitalist society. Indeed, one of the stalls at Burford was from Amnesty calling for the control of firearms. By whom? By nation States ! So the people are to be unarmed? Because of crime? Not quite. The major UK restrictive legislation on the ownership of firearms was in the 1920s, out of fear that the British working class would follow the example of the Russian Revolution.

This political culture will defend the ‘armed road’ in the past, but now thinks entirely within the framework of the capitalist state. It is wallowing, or rather is drowning, in Heritage. Continue reading “Picnic in the Ruins”

Gaysex in The Bible

For the first time an openly gay priest is to be ordained as a bishop in the Church of England. Why it is so much worse for him to be a bishop than a priest is not clear to me.

So far, by my reading of the media (admittedly, not very extensive), the quality of discussion on the issue has been very poor. The liberals are talking about changes in society, the virtues of tolerance and the scriptures as subject to interpretation. The traditionalists refer to the word of God in The Bible and the danger of a split over this issue. This morning on the radio, a Canadian priest argued that the consequences for the C of E in Africa would be disastrous, as it will accentuate the perception of the West as decadent.

What strikes me about the discussion is how little attention is paid by anyone to what is actually written in The Bible. Perhaps this is because there is actually so little on it – considering the fuss which the crissies make of it. Continue reading “Gaysex in The Bible”

Zikek on Lenin

Unpubl. Letter to The London Review of Books on Slavo Zizek.

‘Lenin and Lacan eh ? wot a pair – fnaar, fnaar!’: as a Viz character might say. Indeed, Slavo Zizek’s review of d’Encausse’s book on Lenin reads like a parody out of an upmarket Viz. He offers a classic hack defence of Lenin, spiced up with references to various bourgeois cultural dissidents whom Lenin himself would have despised (Bataille, Junger, Oshima, Lacan).

It is clear that, for Zizek, Lenin figures entirely as a symbol. He tells us, following d’Encausse, that Lenin destroyed the ideas of his opponents, but not the opponents themselves. The anarchists murdered by the Cheka, and the Kronstadt dissidents slaughtered by the Red Army might well disagree. Continue reading “Zikek on Lenin”

Jenny Dahling and History

The Archers and the Suppression of the Temporal

It is, I suppose, a fairly obvious observation to say that one of the constitutive features of soaps is the absence of history: In that events occur but there are no changes to the framework in which those events occur

It seems to me that The Archers is an exceptionally good machine for the suppression of history, in the sense that so much is about the essential continuity of the central family and its relation to the land. In each generation there is a crisis over the manner of the succession, but it is always amicably resolved. In other words, the Archers’ farm lives in the sensibility of tradition and rurality. It is the Burkean moment of Conservatism. Now Brian’s outfit is seemingly quite different in that Brian goes out of his way to see his role as making profit and emphasising that farming is no different from any other business. Brian is always one for the latest thing. He is the Hayekian moment of conservatism. If Simon (Debbies’ ex-, who lectured the local college) had ever read to him that wonderful passage from the Communist Manifesto on ‘the constant revolutionising of production … all that is solid melts into air’ he would surely have approved – until he realised that it came from the pen of Old Charlie. Continue reading “Jenny Dahling and History”

Hills and Mountains

Hills and Mountains, and ‘The Social Construction of Reality’

Movies in certain categories I avoid on a prejudice beyond argument:

  • Anything with Hugh Grant .
  • Anything set in Wales.
  • Comedies of village life.
  • Edwardian period pieces – actually it’s set in 1917, close enough; and I’ve just realised that no period in the UK after 1911 is characterised by the name of a monarch.

This movie is all of these. And it is just wonderful and brilliant.

The story, on the face of it, is stunningly silly: A couple of English cartographers arrive in a South Wales boarder village, take some measurements and announce that the local ‘mountain’ is actually 16 feet short of the 1,000 feet which is the official definition of a mountain – it is merely a hill. The villagers respond by a series of ruses to detain the cartographers in the village, meanwhile they carry bucketfulls of earth up the hill in order to make it into a mountain. Continue reading “Hills and Mountains”