Sad Old Man Syndrome…

I’m perversely fascinated with the Twitter biography of leave.EU communications director Andy Wigmore.


Where to start? I thought only ageing masochists called themselves “bad boys” – and if he thinks Trump feels anything more than vague insecurity about his hair loss when he hears the word “Wigmore” he is fooling himself.

The British right suffers from SOMS (Sad Old Man Syndrome), a curious disorder that makes grown men crave attention, bicker petulantly and, in general, behave as if politics is a giant playground. UKIP is imploding like a 5-a-side football in which every each spotty goon wants to be the next Lionel Messi and I think it will spread more and more to the Conservatives. Politicians are especially vulnerable to this because politics attracts people with complexes about power.

Posted in Britain, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

NLSJ, Motherhood Edition…

One aspect of the neoliberal subsumption of feminist ideas is the demeaning of motherhood. Raising children, it is often argued or implied, is not enough for one’s existence to be meaningful. One must also work.

That is true for some people, of course – and many other have no choice in the matter – but for everyone? No. The idea that work need more be meaningful than family is so ludicrous that it crumbles on inspection. Families, after all, are something many people pay enormous sums of money to maintain. Work is something we are paid to do. Even if, like me, you are blessed with enjoyable and fulfulling work you expect money in return. No one is so mercenary about their children. Why? Well, there’s no money in them. But they are also more meaningful.

I almost admire Sarrah Marquand, of the Australian Daily Telegraph, for being so blunt about the monetary motives behind her idea to ban stay-at-home motherhood. It causes “potentially large losses to the economy” she says. So, get women out of their homes, away from their kids and into offices. Think of how much more fulfilling their lives will become. And think about the rise in the GDP!

Posted in Family, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Neither Forgiving Nor Forgetting…

Sinn Féin, under the leadership of Adams and McGuinness, pulled off a neat trick, earning praise for their role in ending Northern Irish violence while escaping blame for having caused it in the first place. It makes a lot sense for politicians to accept this little game now decades of appalling violence have ended. But what is politic can also be disingenuous.

To be sure, this picture is by no means black and white. Republicans, and Catholics in general, had faced grave abuse, at the hands of loyalists and of the British army. (In the Falls Curfew, for example, four civilians were shot for doing nothing more than being outside.) I can understand why alienated Catholics were attracted to the IRA, and admire their courage, ingenuity and selflessness. They were daring, dedicated, romantic and wrong. Their goal of a united Ireland was arrogant and absurd as a minority within a minority, and their methods, which included bombs in restaurants and pubs, and murders of young women and old men as well as British soldiers, were abonimable.

Adams and McGuinness earned themselves some credit by accepting negotiations, and dragging their comrades towards a peace settlement. Even if they thought the IRA was doomed militarily, at least Britain was spared the horrors of its death throes. Still, the credit one deserves for ending violence is limited if one has caused it. How much thanks should you give me if I stop punching you?

What disgusts me, even if I respect their political gifts, is the extent to which they have avoided blame. Adams, especially, behaves as if the IRA were always saints and never sinners. Sinn Féin still lament the shooting of IRA members in Gibraltar, which, in fairness, might have been unjustifiable. But no one denies that the IRA men and women were planning to bomb the weekly parade of a military band. Would that have been more legitimate than their killings? I propose that it would have been less.

In one article, in 2012, Adams referred to an event where “two armed British soldiers attacked mourners” but were “overpowered and killed by the IRA”. Corporals Howse and Wood had blundered into a funeral procession when IRA members, enraged by an attack on a funeral three days before, pulled them out of their car, stripped, punched, kicked, shot and stabbed them. A priest who intervened was told to stop or be murdered as well.

I understand why McGuinness is being praised, having died, after a longish life, of natural causes. But I hope we do not forget the people who died young, in violence, for no good reason.

Posted in Britain | 4 Comments

Poundshop Patriotism…

In some ways, the idea of a Royal Yacht is an effective metaphor for Britain. We have all but given up on the Royal Navy, once a symbol of British innovation, adventurousness and power, but we might invest in a Royal Yacht: a pretty, quaint and rather pointless little plaything for the rich.

I will give Boris Johnson a little credit for suggesting that it could be funded by donors and not the state. But, regardless, this could be the clearest case of what I call poundshop patriotism: a nationalist attitude that is less concerned with the health of our institutions that with little novelties: a Royal Yacht; a Blue passport; a poppy that demands and signifies less than a handkerchief. It might play well with the papers but it’s useless.

Posted in Britain | 4 Comments

On Inevitablism…

The socialist author and academic Mark Fisher, who died earlier this year, wrote an engaging little book called Capitalist Realism which argued that neoliberalism has sustained itself by propogating the belief that there is no alternative to its ideas and institutions. Of course, I don’t think there is an alternative to capitalism – but capitalism can take different forms and I agree that Western culture has absurd conceptions of what is and is not thinkable. Preemptive war, for example, is always on the table, but rail nationalisation is an eccentric idea.

Thinking about Fisher’s book, after his tragic death, it struck me that inevitablism is one of the more powerful weapons in our rhetoric. It entails a sly shift from what is desirable to what is unavoidable; disheartening one’s opponents with the thought that resistance is doomed. Liberals use it, with their “wrong side of history” rhetoric. Emmanuel Macron, for example, claims that Europe “must get used to” mass immigration. But he means that it should. Hiding the should-must gap is what makes inevitablism work.

Posted in Politics, Rhetoric, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Hitchens, Hell and Hashish…

I am a big admirer of the Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens. He helped as much as anyone to make me a conservative. I read him, as a progressive, to be outraged by his opinions on gays and immigrants, and was taken aback to find a member of the hated outgroup opposing the Iraq War and defending civil liberties. As I read him more, as well as others on the right, I realised there was more to their opinions than I had assumed.

Some things frustrate me about his ideas. One is their pessimism. He thinks he is an “obituarist” of Britain for Britain will become “Hell” in a matter of decades. It will, in all likelihood, become an “Islamic country”. Young people should emigrate. “If I were young enough to seek a new life abroad,” he claims, “I would be busy doing so.”

I am not going to counsel optimism, but I think his despair is somewhat hyperbolic. Do we face an “unstoppable adaptation…to Islam”? Muslims are not even 10% of Britons. There is time for prominent columnists to oppose this “adaptation”. Even if there was no chance of salvaging value from Britain it would be noble to try. “Do not go gentle into that good night,” as Thomas wrote.

Yet what inspires the most energy from Hitchens? Marijuana. He is Britain’s lonely advocate for criminalisation. I do not smoke weed and am no expert on the consequences. It might trigger mental illness and that is a point worth making. But if Britain is going to be Hell is it a vital stand? If your country is doomed and you have no choice but to flee abroad you might as well get high. (That is a joke, yeah, but a small one.) Advocating war on drugs is just as much of a lost cause as any other Hitchens has. Why does he care so much?

Because drugs are his thing, I suppose. Because he has a lot of opportunities for arguments. Because he might convince a few young people not to hit the bong. There are worse things to do. But if one thinks one’s country faces its demise it is a peculiar hill to die on.

Posted in Britain, Media, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

How French Intellectuals Lost Their Faith…

My new piece for Quillette

As the Socialist government of François Hollande slumps into obscurity, the favourites in this year’s French presidential elections are a liberal, Emmanuel Macron, a conservative, François Fillon, and a national conservative, Marine Le Pen. Amid the usual corruption scandals is the smell of what the French call “le declinisme.“

France is a country ill-at-ease with itself. Mr Hollande plumbed record depths in his approval ratings and while Ms Le Pen is predicted to lose the elections, it is astonishing that she has so much of a shot. Populism has spread across America and Europe, of course, but what distinguishes France is the extent to which its artists and intellectuals have expressed the same concerns as its electorate.

Posted in Europe, Literature, Uncategorized | 4 Comments