The Early Days of a Better Nation

Thursday, July 17, 2003

From Shock and Awe to Night and Fog

Recently, on being asked if I intended to visit the United States some time soon, I indulged in the admittedly cheap crack that 'I'm staying in the free world until America rejoins it.' Trivial and theoretical though the risk may be, I just didn't fancy being in a country where you can in theory be disappeared, interrogated and executed without any trial other than by a military tribunal. It wasn't something I said lightly, because I really enjoyed all my past visits to America.

This difficulty has now been

If the point about fast-track extradition is correct, British citizens can be shipped off to the Guantanamo prison camp without any hearing in a British court. We're in the same happy position as American citizens, who can be disappeared, held incommunicado, and finally allowed to plead guilty to planning to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch - which, frankly, strikes me as about as credible as those famous Russian confessions to putting ground glass in the workers' butter.

Sartre said somewhere that fascism was not defined by the number of its victims, but by the manner of their killing. The same applies, I think, to a Yezhovschina - a period in which the secret police really believe that they are rounding up and despatching members of a terrorist conspiracy. (Even the people they arrested believed in it - they just knew their arrest was a terrible mistake.)

In this sense we have a small but central aspect of terror already in place. We now live in a country where citizens can be executed without trial, and by a foreign government at that. Anyone who thinks that because, for now, this possibility exists only for a handful of people is missing the point entirely.

On the bright side, however, I have no reason for not going to America.
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Monday, July 14, 2003

Fairground Attraction

Yesterday Carol and I drove a few miles to see the
Falkirk Wheel
, one of the engineering wonders of the world. It's a rotating boat lift, and very hard to describe, and very big (35 metres across). It connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal, replacing several of the old locks, and makes it possible to travel by boat all the way across Scotland. A marvel of elegant design and brute-force solution, it uses very little power - a few hundred watts, I think - to lift one giant trough of water plus boats and at the same time lower another. The helpful and informative visitor centre (which is free) is shaped like a giant slice of melon with a glass side and contains plenty of working explanatory models. Because of Archimedes' Principle (it says here) the troughs (or 'gondolas') are perfectly balanced no matter how many or few boats are in each. The site is well laid out with gentle sloping paths so you can walk from the lower locks to the upper canal (and more locks) very easily, and watch the Wheel in operation. The upper canal passes under a railway line and the remains of the Antonine Wall through a tunnel 180 metres long, with a path along which you can walk to emerge beside a basin whose surrounding slopes are covered with giant daisies, crowsfoot, and clover.

Naturally hundreds of people were there and all the boat rides (the Wheel's main source of income, I guess) were booked, but it's a place we'll go again. Come the 2005 Worldcon in Glasgow I expect it to be over-run with fans.
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Saturday, July 12, 2003

More on the F Word

I realise that what I said below sounds completely bonkers. Of course I didn't decide what I thought about feminism from one conversation with one not particularly representative feminist. And, of course, I don't seriously think that many unknown such conversations created the current widespread impression of feminism.

So I want to try to clarify what that in itself trivial conversation crystallised for me, and still does.

That is: that there are (at least) two usages of the term 'feminism'. One of them means opposition to a particular kind of injustice, namely the oppression of women. The other means opposition to a particular kind of people, namely men. They are often coincident, but they are not the same.

One is equivalent to a recognition of, and a struggle against, women's oppression (i.e. systematic social injustice suffered by women on the grounds of sex).

The other is equivalent to a belief that the interests of all women, as women, are in conflict with the interests of all men, as men; and that feminism in the first sense - of winning justice for women - is entirely and exclusively the business of women, or of the women's movement, and that men are its enemy.

Men who agreed with the latter tied themselves in deeply unproductive and unnecessary knots. Men who agreed with the former included J. S. Mill and V. I. Lenin, to name but two, and whatever else may be said about them they were not ineffectual in this regard.

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Friday, July 04, 2003

The F Word

The recent report by the Equal Opportunites Commission, showing that people at least in their focus group regarded feminism as man-hating and outmoded, has given rise to lots of discussion. This is a small contribution to it.

When I was an ignorant but enthusiastic Trot, back in the 1970s, I did some work in support of the National Abortion Campaign with a friendly radical lesbian feminist, and (as I recall) we got along well. At a party I had a long and serious conversation with her, in which she explained that all relationships between men and women were oppressive, that there was nothing men could do about it, if men wanted to help they would stop having relationships with women, and that ideally, men and women should live in separate societies. I decided that if that was what feminism meant, then it actively didn't want any support from me and it wasn't going to get any.

Something like this conversation must have gone on up and down the country, because that is exactly what all too many people now take 'feminism' to mean. Over the years I have met a lot of women, and heard of a lot more, who are feminist in every aspect of their beliefs and attitudes but who firmly insist that they are not feminists. The reason they give is always the same: they don't consider themselves feminists because they don't hate men.

Imagine if the left had taken the most hostile caricatures of what socialism was and what being a socialist meant, and proceeded to live up to them. Lots of people would now be saying things like, 'I'm not a socialist, but I think capitalism sucks and should be replaced by a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by and in the interests of the whole community.'

Oh, wait ...
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Another Country

The 80s political thriller Edge of Darkness is getting a rerun on BBC4. If the first episode is anything to go by it has gained in strangeness with the passing of time. It combines conspiracy theory with the Gaia hypotheses and strange but (when you think about them, and some moments take some thinking about) believable reactions to bereavement.The recent past the series recreates is already another country. We did things differently there. Bob Peck's Lada-driving policeman Jack Craven doesn't get counselling after his daughter is shot in front of him and dies in his arms. He gets compassionate leave. He sees ghosts and hears voices. He goes forth to seek answers and revenge.

Post-counter-revolution people are wimps.
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Democratic Centralism Update:

The liberal tendency insists it consists of doctrinaire party members. The Control Commission's hounds have been hauled back to their dank kennels beneath its brooding edifice. Meanwhile, the liberal tendency has got married, to my great delight.
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