It has been a long time since I have written here but I have been writing elsewhere:
- For Quillette on open borders and the Classics.
- For Areo on poetry.
- For Arc Digital on censorship and nosiness.
- For Bombs & Dollars on immigration.
It has been a long time since I have written here but I have been writing elsewhere:
One thing I will give Sam Kriss is that he can write. His prose can be elegant; his phrases original and his invective perversely amusing. Take this passage from his pre-election article endorsing Jeremy Corbyn…
Britain is not just sliding into fascism; we’ve landed. This has become a deeply ugly place. Our Prime Minister – gurning, grimacing, parochial, incompetent, rhadmanthine, segmented, arachnid, and inhuman; the Daily Mail letters page given chitinous flesh; a zealous ideologue for the doctrines of smallness and stupidity and dumbfuck blithering hatred; a vicar’s daughter distilling all the common-sense peevishness and resentment from the dingy grog of the English national spirit; a leader who doesn’t so much impose austerity as embody it, in every word or gesture that seeks to foreclose on all possibilities and draw the furthest boundaries of the sunlit world no further than your respectable lace curtains – instructs the public to give her more power, to paint over a divided country with a false unity in Parliament, so she can exercise her supreme will.
Gripping stuff. And yet this avalanche of adjectives cannot distract one from the fundamental ludicrousness of his claim. Britain is not even remotely fascistic. Its large ethnic, sexual and religious minorities have almost exactly the same rights as everybody else; its free speech is constrained mostly to silence people who resent its liberalism; it has a free press; it has active trade unions; it offers benefits to the disabled and the unemployed; it has academic and artistic classes that enjoy state subsidies while opposing the government. It could be a lot more conservative – as some of us wish – without being remotely comparable to Franco’s Spain, never mind Hitler’s Germany.
Kriss is a man whose ranting never quite coheres with the universe. (How else could he mock Nick Cohen’s “strange remnant of a haircut” as his hairline continues to retreat?) The anti-fascist paranoia is at least amusing. The communist apologetics are not. Elsewhere in his pre-election piece came a tentative, qualified defence of the Soviet Union. He wrote…
…whatever its failings, the Soviet project was our project. Socialism is not an abstraction or a negation; it’s the real attempt to build a better world in this one, and it demands our fidelity. It won’t be possible unless we’re prepared to do more than oppose the evil. Demands are made on us for the sake of a liberated existence, and the first is that we be prepared to make ourselves vulnerable, and that we accept that our faith might be disappointed.
Kriss, living in English freedom, has not had to make himself “vulnerable”. People who were “vulnerable” to actual socialist projects risked far more than disappointment. They risked their lives, and often lost them. Kriss knows this. He hardly cares. In a perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek tweet two years ago he wrote…
in revolutionary china landlords were made to self-criticise kneeling on broken glass and frankly mao was a big softy who went easy on them
A bit tongue-in-cheek, perhaps? Is it? Well, not wholly. When a girl responded that during the Cultural Revolution her dance teacher had been forced to work on a farm, Kriss sneered, without a trace of humour, that…
all these denunciations of the great proletarian cultural revolution resolve into “but they made RICH PEOPLE do POOR PEOPLE work!”
Kriss did not mention the girl’s second tweet, where she added that if the woman did not work quickly enough her legs were cut as punishment. This posturing ideologue, who is paid well to write in freedom about how we live under a fascist government, sneers at forced labour and torture as if it is nothing, while congratulating himself on his willingness to make himself “vulnerable” to “disappointment”. No elaborate similes or florid insults can obscure how pathetic and obnoxious that is.
Each morning is a shock.
I wake alarmed and watch
The birds fly lazily.
It is a blessed day.
A blessed day for me.
Pray for me, Father. Pray for us.
Pray for our bullets and our guns.
Pray for Nil, Szary and Harnaś.
Pray for my wife and for my son.
Pray for the tuber and the grain.
Pray that God will absolve our sins.
Pray that the Russians will feel pain.
Pray for the dead boy. Pray for him.
There is no light beneath the ground.
Brystygier burrows like a rat.
Humer, in absurd eyeglasses,
Infests like filarial worms.
Badecki lurks, that fat old slug.
Śmietański slithers snakily.
The darkness is a thick, dry soil
That fills your insides as you scream.
I have been fighting for so long
I barely think of victory.
It is a haze of jokes and songs
And half-imagined history.
I walk, sometimes, in Krasnystaw
Through streets as quiet as a breath
And think of times that we shall have
In freedom or, my love, in death.
I had a new piece and a newish piece published yesterday. The first was for Areo magazine and was titled “Why Your Friend’s Politics Shouldn’t Make You Mad”…
Think twice, then, before lowering your opinion of a friend based on whatever policies they happen to endorse. Their ideas on healthcare should not be half as important to your friendship as their willingness to help you if you get sick. Their beliefs on law and order say much less about them than how much they will stick up for you if you are being intimidated. Their attitude towards a politician matters less than their attitude towards the people they know. Actions, as the durable phrase informs us, speak louder than words.
The second was an updated piece published at The Gerasites called “The Vicar of Glibley”…
I mention this because it illustrates Fraser’s habit of plastering quasi-theological, cod-philosophical rationalisations on his moral and aesthetic instincts. Floating in a kind of spiritual self-righteousness he rarely analyses their complexities and contradictions, or attempts to find his place in a coherent tradition.
We are not truly brave.
Not yet. Around the graves,
We gather up the leaves
And let ourselves believe
In good orderly death.
Savouring Beckett’s breath
We think are the trees,
Which quaver in the breeze.
Three more pieces for Bombs and Dollars:
*Cross posted from Bombs and Dollars*
Owen Jones is one of the most successful writers in Britain yet he does not actually like writing. “I never wanted to be a writer,” he has written, “I don’t particularly enjoy writing, in lots of ways I’m not a very good writer.” The honesty is endearing. Still, how grim to see one of our most renowned columnists admit that writing is “a means to an end”. Where is the love of language that inspired such commentators as Mencken, Waugh, Hitchens and Cockburn? What does it say about the reading public that a man for whom writing is a mere propaganda tool has reached such heights?
Jones appeared almost from nowhere, with a slim, fresh-faced appearance and cheerful, down-to-Earth style that earned him a following above of that of wordier, angrier leftist commentators. His books Chavs and The Establishment became bestsellers and he is one of if not the biggest attraction of The Guardian with his videos and columns.
The honesty that I mentioned is real and admirable. The problem is that it exposes weaknesses that – well – are not. The greatest of these is a shallowness of reflection. In one column that addressed religion, Jones offered familiar prejudicial criticisms of theistic truth claims before admitting that while these were “questions that the more patient Christian has time for”, “it wasn’t simply he couldn’t believe in God; he didn’t want to either”. That is true for many people. It takes self-awareness to admit it. Yet the fact remains that it displays unreflective bias and incuriosity that should embarrass any influential public figure.
The same column went on to address “Islamophobia”, a theme that Jones has returned to many times over the years. Why, he asked himself, was he not a more voluble critic of political Islam? Well, “polls show that support for political Islamism is tiny among Britain’s Muslims”. What is “political Islamism”? That is like “imperialist colonialism”, or “adult pornography”. Still, even bypassing this rhetorical quirk, Jones was wrong. In a 2006 poll as much as 40% of British Muslims supported sharia law. A 2016 survey found similar results. “Terrorism is being dealt with by the security services,” Jones continued, “And a few articles by me isn’t really going to contribute very much.” Well, articles don’t contribute very much. That is true. But would he say the same about white supremacist terrorism? Of course not.
As terrorism has left a bloody trail across Europe, Jones has shifted to writing on the foreign policy blunders that have made it worse. He admits, almost from the corner of his mouth, that there is “a murderous ideology” that inspires ISIS but prefers to focus on material conditions that, he claims, enabled its growth. He would have no respect for anyone who reacted to the spread of neo-Nazism with commentary on unemployment and political correctness, with no analysis of its supremacist, annihilationist ideas. Why is it acceptable here? Because, for Jones, the world is the people against the Establishment and apart from a few terrorists and despots Muslims are firmly on the former side.
Jones is a revolutionary. A polite, well-dressed, well-spoken revolutionary, of course, but a revolutionary nonetheless. His progressive fervour became insufferable after the surprise success of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Schadenfreude was to expected, but Jones’ gloating was absurd. “In your face, Enoch,” he tweeted after an African Caribbean Labour candidate won Powell’s former seat. In a world where liberalism has become the norm, progressives are reduced to insulting the long dead. “Britain’s social order is bankrupt,” he wrote this week, “And will have to be replaced.” This would sound almost entertaining if his preferred candidate was not leading the polls.
The problem is that Jones’ judgement offers us no reason to believe that his “social order” would be preferable the status quo. He was an enthusiastic advocate of the government of Hugo Chavez – claiming that the nation showed “you can lead a progressive popular government” – yet has grown quiet on the subject since Venezuala slid into poverty and unrest.
Well, everyone makes mistakes. But I fear that Jones does not have the intellectual tools to stop making them. There is that incuriosity. That unwillingness to explore that which he does even want to understand. In one column, for example, he complained that when he had debated Nigel Farage on why poorer children tended to worse than “their more affluent peers” in school the UKIP man had suggested that genes “might play a role”. “I winced,” Jones wrote. This was apparently “political poison”. Well, the interplay of genes and poverty on intelligence is a complex subject. Anyone claiming that inherent or environmental traits are singularly influential is ignorant and presumptuous. But the mere suggestion is “poison”? Who can know what Farage actually said but Jones’ phrasing is downright anti-intellectual.
Then there is the question of loyalties. Jones is one of many leftists who have tried to build a vague form of patriotism on “a great tradition of struggle and dissent” that includes such minor movements as the Diggers. What his politics have to do with a small group of Protestant agrarians who thought that Britain should be reclaimed from Norman conquerors is unclear, but when he lionises the “sacrifice of our ancestors” without mentioning men who fought and died to protect Britain from, say, Napoleon or Hitler it is obnoxious. Such events, firmly supported by kings and prime ministers, would undermine his anti-establishment narrative. Beyond such fantasies, Jones has that romantic universalism which projects a mirage of sameness and solidarity from his personal experiences and personal preferences. He also has the left.
I do not hate Jones. Indeed, it would surprise me if he is not a good son, friend and neighbour. He seems nice, open and honest. But he is a tribal thinker who internalised leftism as a self-proclaimed “fourth-generation socialist” and appears to have never questioned its creed. He is more faithful than a religious believer.
In one column he mentioned a professor of literature who “hopes that she has brought up her two sons as feminists but…realises that there is countervailing pressure in the playground, at school, on the football pitch”. The idea that there is any kind of intellectual alternative did not occur to him.
Britain is hurting. It is hurting as it feels the pinch of austerity. It is hurting as it feels the blows of terrorism. It is hurting as it looks on the incompetence and cowardice of government. I understand why people have looked to the left as an alternative. Yet I fear that it is selling them a bill of goods; one that seems appealing but is empty and destructive. Owen does not like to write. That is not the gravest sin. What is worse is that he does not seem to like to think.