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”

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””

‘True Spies’

‘Honest, Guv – we ain’t no subversives’

Sadly, that’s the truth.

Last night [written 28 October 2002] on BBC2, True Spies, the first in a series on the extent of the infiltration by state agencies of organised labour and the Left from the late 1960s. We were told that the State realised in 1968 that its intelligence was inadequate as a result of the ferocity of the demos outside the American embassy against the Vietnam War. One response was to establish a special unit whose members went into deep cover for years on end, with new IDs – they were known as the ‘hairies’ because they would grow their hair long in order to ‘go native’. The programme consisted of contemporary news footage and interviews with activists, ex-infiltrators and an ex-Special Branch senior officer.

Tariq Ali – then leader of the International Marxist Group, a leading force in the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign – was told that someone who must have been a close friend had copied his keys to burgle the offices of the IMG. His comment was:
‘A form of fundamentalism – you are prepared to use all your energy to further your political aims .. This is amazing, I just felt betrayed.’
This struck me as a stunningly naïve remark, as at that time Ali was a proponent of Lenin’s theory of the revolutionary party, whose cadres would behave in precisely that way. A common term for an infiltrator is ‘mole’ – the name of the IMG’s paper was The Red Mole. I wonder how the name-change from earlier The Black Dwarf came about, I wonder if the infiltrator had a sense of humour. Continue reading “‘True Spies’”

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”