The Early Days of a Better Nation

Friday, November 06, 2009

Battle of Ideas

Last Saturday I took part in a panel on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and the 'designer babies' controversy at Battle of Ideas, an annual festival of discussion organised by the Institute of Ideas (IoI). The panel, 'Frankenstein's Daughters: from science fiction to science fact?', sponsored by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and the Wellcome Trust, was chaired by Science Media Centre director Fiona Fox. Leading fertility specialist and practioner Dr Alan Thornhill opened with a presentation on the realities of PGD. Mark Henderson, science editor at The Times, argued that regulation must be based on what's possible, without 'straying into science fiction'. I agreed, but pointed out that science fiction has debated some current real issues decades in advance. Sandy Starr, of the Progress Educational Trust, added that science fiction, and bold speculation generally, keeps us in mind of the 'big picture', future possibilities, and moral arguments.

The audience response came from several different points of view, and a stimulating dialogue developed. Ann Furedi of BPAS, from the floor, questioned the widespread idea of ethics as being about what we shouldn't do, rather than about what we should - a point that turned my closing response into a little rant about just what a change there would be if more of us started thinking in terms of what we bloody well should be doing.

I stayed for the weekend (as a speaker, my hotel room paid for by the IoI, for which thanks) and attended as many events as I could fit in. They were for the most part just as interesting. I'm well aware that the IoI is controversial, and I don't agree with everything that they do and say, but I'll say this for them: Almost every knot of conversation I encountered, over two days and two long evenings, was a group of people arguing about ideas. You don't come across that very often, even at SF conventions.

Labels: , , ,


Oh, I'd never noticed that Frank Furedi is the exact midpoint between Jon Wilde and Dave Reid.

Neither had I, but - nice one!

You do here Ken. Ideas are the staple of Uppsalafandom. It's great to be here. What a change!

the Revolutionary Communist Party - it's alive, it's alive!
(well, sort of)

"Oh, I'd never noticed that Frank Furedi is the exact midpoint between Jon Wilde and Dave Reid."

Ex-RCP myself ( do ask- I will tell, with a-lacrity!), I always think of Frankie as buck-toothed gnome with a hint of Daffy Duck's speech impediment; so I just don't get this? ;)

Reid=Moved from the hard left to the cynical right. wilde=academic who builds a libertarian/stalinist think tank funded by corporations to deny climate change etc as a platform for ill-defined political power base building.

Thanks for the link to the audio of the panel Frankenstein's Daughters: from science fiction to science fact? which I listened to last night and recommend. Lots of thought provoking ideas and well worth a listen.

JMcL63 - yes, do tell about the RCP.

Yes, I'm also an ex-RCP man! Though I have redeemed myself by being a CPGB/Weekly Worker man for the last 18 years ...

Danny, this is like saying you used to be a Cathar, but have redeemed yourself by having been for 18 years a Bogomil.

Not that I'm the Spanish Inquisition, you understand.

Thanks Ken, I've always - naturally - been a big fan of the Bogomils, a lot cooler than the Cathars. I see that the CPGB/Weekly Worker group comes under the category "Other Revolutionaries" - I presume that's a good thing?!?

a should could exist without the should spoken or maybe even inferred, something like or exactly as this could do...remember....honor...
should nots, or shall nots, like a wish, a prediction, and for some the same as, or almost a command.
even can sound like a request. perhaps just a language barrier or snafu, could depend on a 'state of grace' or a lack of one, a mixed meddling of influence, or what it was that was response. left with so many 'devices', what would/should.couls expect?

Mo chreach, a Choinneach! I'd have thought you'd have given up on the RCP/LM a long time ago. I know you had some sympathy with a few of their ideas, back in the Usenet days, but it's difficult to discern any ideas at all in them these days, other than reflex contrarianism and an eye for the wind-up. The only 'ideas' Furry Frank and his faithful acolytes have are those of the RCP/LM going back to the 90s, namely:

* unrestricted human material and intellectual progress
* 'Culture of Fear' [TM]
* deep loathing of the Left and all its works
* crude Leninist anti-imperialism ("Victory to Serbia!")
* negative freedom

And, err, that's it. Not much to build an 'Institute of Ideas' on, eh? Whereas you plainly show, in your books, imagination and ideas. I can see why they'd want you there, but not why you'd want to give them legitimacy. Still, it's a day out in the Smoke, I suppose.

Those ex-RCPers who want to share their reminiscences of Uncle Frank's Happy Family can do so at the RCP Watch blog (

If these are their ideas, Gerry, I heartily agree 4 out of the 5, and the exception, 'deep loathing of the Left and all its works', I would go part of the way with. All of these were expressed in my first novel, The Star Fraction, and in a great deal of what I've written since.

There are necessary corollaries to the base RCP positions:

unrestricted progress
- opposition to all environmentalism
- denial of anthropogenic climate change
- opposition to all political, legal, cultural and economic restrictions on capitalist enterprises

Leninist anti-imperialism
- "unconditional support" for regimes under attack from imperialist powers
- denial of any criticisms against those regimes from whatever quarter
- in the case of the Bosnian War, complete denial of all atrocities committed by Serb forces ("[Srebrenica] never happened" - Flude)
- uncritical promotion of atrocities ascribed to imperialist powers and their allies

I could go on, but won't. The simple point is that the seemingly bland base positions of the RCP/LM generate some pretty "controversial" corollaries. Having read your Star Fraction series (nice testing to destruction of 'anarcho-capitalism' IMO) and your latest two efforts, it's hard to believe that you concur with these positions. Do you?

These are not necessary corollaries of the base positions. I do not agree with any of them, except '"unconditional support" for regimes under attack from imperialist powers', as long as that is understood as defending these regimes *against imperialism*, and not necessarily against internal opposition.

If you think I am going to get into a debate with a pseudonymous or anonymous person about positions ascribed to another pseudonymous person many years ago then you have another think coming.

Sorry, Ken, I'd hit post before changing the name settings on the last 'anon' post, which was indeed mine. Anyhoo, the RCP/LM certainly consider these to be necessary corollaries to The Thoughts of Uncle Frank. Unrestricted material and intellectual progress necessarily means that all any any impediments to such progress must be opposed. Environmentalism, whether a local community or a major NGO like Greenpeace, is necessarily an impediment to material progress, and must be opposed. Hence the infamous series Against Nature which we both know was RCP/LM from start to finish. Hence the more subtle (in that the hands of Uncle Frank and his colleagues weren't actively cited, as in AN) but as polemical The Great Global Warming Swindle, which again was the RCP/LM's work - this 'polemic' has had a long-lasting, permanent and highly damaging impact on the effort to mitigate anthropogenic climate change.

We both know that the RCP/LM is very pro "progressive capitalism" and opposes all restrictions on its actions from any quarter.

A Leninist or Trotskyist might argue, in theocratic angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin fashion, about the interpretation of Lenin's dictum on "unconditional but critical support" to countries under attack from imperialism, but we both know very well that the RCP/LM interpreted this very crudely as "unconditional support", a phrase their Usenet reps (Dale, Flude, Webb and others) used repeatedly in the context of the Balkan Wars to demand that revolutionaries either support the Serb forces or support imperialism (quotes can be supplied on request). So their "unconditional support" for Serb forces meant the denial of any and all criticisms of Milosevic, Mladic, Karadzic, Arkan and the rest. Including the explicit denial of the Srebrenica massacre by Justin Flude.

You know all this, because you were active on alt.politics.socialism.trotsky in the 90s and regularly argued with the RCP/LM reps, who treated you as a critical ally. Yet you hobnob with the sect knowing that its core personnel and policies remain the same as the 90s, and thus help give it legitimacy. You may have got an expenses-paid day out in the Smoke, but they got yet another high-profile and highly-respected fiction author to lend legitimacy to their sect. You really should dine with a long spoon, Ken...

Like I said, Gerry, if you think I'm going to rehash arguments from that accursed newsgroup (that were a waste of time in the first place) you have another think coming. On the other hand, if you'd like to argue about what was actually discussed at this year's Battle of Ideas - which, for the record, I found worthwhile and stimulating and relevant, unlike revisiting arguments from the 90s - go right ahead.

Some details on Frank and all his works, past and present, are here:

We think the world ought to be warned!

Do please send in any corrections and additions.

Post a Comment