Monday, 17 December 2012

Guns - my alter (massive!) ego, Leary Buckarootown, weighs in!

Yup, it’s been a tragic few days ... as the media erupts in an apocalyptic display of outrage and hand-ringing at the senseless murder of 20 children and 6 adults by yet another mentally unhinged individual intent on creating as much havoc, distress and support for gun law reform as possible.

Whatever his warped motives, one thing is clear – he sought revenge on society and his actions were designed to leave a permanent mark on those who had in some way offended his twisted sensibilities.

Chances are we will never know what drove him to wish for the death of fellow citizens or how he came to the conclusion that children could in some way be anything other than innocent in the demons that were tormenting him.

Whether we like it or not, the issue of gun ownership is raising its ugly head, yet again as calls go out for the population to be disarmed. Before I begin the defence of the individual to own a firearm, I would like my readers to understand the very reason that American citizens maintain the right to bear arms.

It is for protection against the State and the right of self-defence.

Most Americans do not own guns to shoot children, gangster rappers or wild bears! They own them in the knowledge that if a deranged lunatic decides to invade your property to settle whatever mental health issues he has with you or society in general, he can quickly and permanently be subdued.

A pistol in the bedside table is standard in many American homes because that is how they choose to protect their nearest and dearest.

Whilst we in the UK debate the legalities of being open to prosecution for merely owning a baseball bat to fend off the drunken chavs breaking down the front door because you dared to criticise them for pissing in your garden, the average American knows that an armed society is a polite society.

Certainly, the ease at which a psychopath can obtain weapons is a concern, but lest we forget, Timothy McVee ended the lives of 168 innocent Americans, including children, with nothing more than fertiliser to form a bomb.

Religious zeal caused four demented bigots to fill rucksacs with chapatti flour and destroy the lives of 54 innocent human beings on the tube, yet calls for Mosques to be closed or chapattis to be banned are strangely silent. The issue is not with the weapon, but with the motivation. It’s like blaming spoons for obesity or petrol for reckless driving – illogical.

Those who cannot obtain guns will simply find other mechanisms to wreak havoc on the society they hate. From a transit van driven at crowds in Cardiff to a machete-wielding fruitloop entering a Birmingham nursery school, or a whooping American GI remotely sending an Afghan wedding party to their drone-inflicted deaths, the means are but a way to an end.

I don’t know about you dear reader, but I and many of my peers refuse to frequent areas after dark for fear of being robbed, beaten, stabbed or maimed by a new type of feral youth out of control on the ease at which they can inflict violence on an innocent public.

Not a day passes without one of us being beaten to death for “looking at someone a bit funny”. Further disarming that public will not result in crime falling, just more victims for the evil and the warped to prey upon.

Sadly, this is not the last massacre we will see because we have not cured the wish of the psychotically violent to inflict terror on others. Until we bridge the gap between the insane, the oppressed and the downright mad and bad, the banning of spoons or cricket bats in a built up area will serve no useful purpose other to facilitate yet more violence against the innocents.

UPDATE: Having had one or two slightly puzzled responses, I feel obliged to append the caveat: Alas, This Is A Parody! I thought the use of "hand-ringing," "rucksac," "mental health issues he has with you," and "the means are but a way to an end" should have made that abundantly clear ... my more po-faced response, which is not dogmatically "pro-gun control," can be read here. Oh dear, perhaps I'd better leave this sort of thing to Posie. (But then I can never be sure when she's being serious!)

Saturday, 15 December 2012


What should "the right to keep and bear arms" look like in modern America? You sometimes hear the glib suggestion that, because the government now has Stryker APCs and M1 Abrams tanks and nuclear submarines etc., citizens need these things too - y'know, scowling proudly on your front porch in your rusty-but-feisty Black Hawk, "Betsy."

This is usually intended as a reduction to absurdity: since citizens can't hope to resist contemporary military, the Second Amendment is more-or-less meaningless. Right? The debate then often drifts into a comparative statistical realm, where the anti-gun movement has a firm case, albeit a case pretty effectively countered with unsubstantiated contradiction. Here's Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker:
After the Aurora killings, I did a few debates with advocates for the child-killing lobby—sorry, the gun lobby—and, without exception and with a mad vehemence, they told the same old lies: it doesn’t happen here more often than elsewhere (yes, it does); more people are protected by guns than killed by them (no, they aren’t—that’s a flat-out fabrication); guns don’t kill people, people do; and all the other perverted lies [...]
If you want to get into the deets, the Harvard Injury Control Center is a great gateway. A gun-toting society is a more murderous one: that correlation is pretty clear across high-income nations. You can "guard with jealous attention the public liberty" (Patrick Henry, 1788) in the abstract, but people - children - are indeed dying today because of it.

So is the Second Amendment really irrelevant, except as a thorny anachronism, a relict legislative tangle that we have to just cut through somehow? Could there be some way of giving America the equivalent of a Black Hawk on the front porch?

In short, if Americans have the right to "keep and bear arms," what should "arms" look like today?

Well, we all also know that military strength is more than just weaponry. Your weaponry is useless if you don't know how to use it. It's pointless if you don't know where to point it. Military strength is also supplies and other materiel, intelligence, infrastructure, doctrine, training, ideology, culture, experience, loyalty, morale, oversight, adaptability, mobilisation, deployment, reputation, procurement capacity, capacity to militarize emergent technologies and technological conjunctures, and numerous other interconnected dimensions of organisational capability. It is true now more than ever that there is no purely military realm independent from its civilian substrate.

Military strength is also relational in the sense that it depends on the degree and type of threats to itself and/or its objectives. Consider the existence of a well-regulated militia equipped with javelins and cowhide shields, and trained in fighting against similar forces. Of course, such a militia is eliminated if it loses its javelins and cowhide shields or various crucial organisational capabilities. But it is also eliminated -- practically eliminated, that is -- if the threats it faces evolve sufficiently. Such a militia effectively ceases to exist when its enemies drive around in Strykers carrying combat assault rifles etc. It becomes immaterial, negligible.

America is armed. But is it bearing arms?

The chief concern of the Second Amendment is a deterrence to tyrannical government, and the intersection of positive law with the natural law right of revolt. So what kind of civilian military counterweight ("militia"?) could exist, even in principle, to a potential USAF-backed tyranny by the US government? I don't know, but I have two strong hunches:

(1) Its protection overlaps with protecting other civil and political liberties which are not typically considered in connection with the rights to arms, in particular law concerning privacy, due process, habeas corpus and freedom of speech. In other words: military operations have changed such that their outcomes increasingly depend on the way they are embedded in contexts traditionally considered non-military, and a corollary of these shifts is a possible Second Amendment rationale for protecting activities traditionally considered "non-militia." I'm thinking, of course, of developments such as Title II Enhanced Surveillance Procedures and indefinite detention under NDAA. (At the same time, I should be careful of defaulting to controversies as they have already been delineated in other debates, simply because that requires less imagination). In short: intelligence is the core of any military operation, so the Second Amendment cannot be separate from issues around privacy.

(2) It couldn't just be about what lies outside the USAF; it would have to be about US citizens' broad participation in, and influence upon, the governance and operations of the USAF itself. The vast resources of the USAF shouldn't ever be dominated by a partisan interest bloc. Nor should it (this in the spirit of the famous Federalist No. 10, against faction in government) be dominated by a broad but non-universal consensus which can afford to ignore minority perspectives. In other words, the Second Amendment requires the broad access (though in what sense "access," I'm not sure) of the nation's citizenry to that which comprises its military strength, even those ingredients which can't be conveniently stashed in a drawer or safe or slipped into a shoulder-holster. Bearing arms is about access to truly democratic institutions, and it's about the kinds of positive social rights that enable true broad and diverse participation in the democratic processes.

Closely connected questions are of course, how should "tyrannical government" be interpreted in the context of privatization and outsourcing on a vast scale? What does outsourced tyranny look like? What does unbundled tyranny look like? How should tyranny, or its threat, be interpreted in the context of Halliburton and other long-term, multi-administration contracting relationships? (Compare Hamilton, in Federalist No. 26, pondering how "Schemes to subvert the liberties of a great community require time to mature them for execution").

I don't have a lot of answers. But should the unlikely occur, and the recent horror in Connecticut, or the next few in-principle-foreseeable similar horrors, transform the pipe-dream of gun law reform into a serious political reality, then these questions need to be at the forefront of the debate.

I'll leave you with Jeremy Scahill's ever-so-slightly sensational account of the atmosphere in certain sections of American society the last time a Democrat president was elected for a second term, which gives one or two hints about the kind of revolutionary militia the USA might realistically be expected to produce, what might regulate such a militia, and the kind of freedom they might be prepared to defend:
In November 1996 - the month Clinton crushed Bob Dole and won reelection - the main organ of the theoconservative movement, Richard Neuhaus's journal First Things, published a "symposium" titled "The End of Democracy?" which bluntly questioned "whether we have reached or are reaching the point where conscientious citizens can no longer give moral assent to the existing regime." [...] A series of essays raised the prospect of a major confrontation between the church and the "regime," at times seeming to predict a civil-war scenario or Christian insurrection against the government, exploring possibilities "ranging from noncompliance to resistance to civil disobedience to morally justified revolution." Erik Prince's close friend, political collaborator, and beneficiary Chuck Colson authored one of the five major essays of the issue, as did extremist Judge Robert Bork, whom Reagan had tried unsuccessfully to appoint to the Supreme Court in 1987. [...] "Americans are not accustomed to speaking of a regime. Regimes are what other nations have," asserted the symposium's unsigned introduction. "This symposium asks whether we may be deceiving ourselves and, if we are, what are the implications of that self-deception. By the word 'regime' we mean the actual, existing system of government. The question that is the title of this symposium is in no way hyperbolic. The subject before us is the end of democracy." It declared, "The government of the United States of America no longer governs by the consent of the governed. . . . What is happening now is the displacement of a constitutional order by a regime that does not have, will not obtain, and cannot command the consent of the people." The editorial quoted Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia saying, "A Christian should not support a government that suppresses the faith or one that sanctions the taking of an innocent human life." [...] Colson's essay was titled "Kingdoms in Conflict": [...] "[E]vents in America may have reached the point where the only political action believers can take is some kind of direct, extra-political confrontation of the judicially controlled regime," Colson wrote, adding that a "showdown between church and state may be inevitable. This is not something for which Christians should hope. But it is something for which they need to prepare." He asserted, "[A] 'social contract' that included biblical believers and Enlightenment rationalists was the basis of the founding of the United States. . . . If the terms of our contract have in fact been broken, Christian citizens may be compelled to force the government to return to its original understanding. . . . The writings of Thomas Jefferson, who spoke openly of the necessity of revolution, could also be called upon for support." [...] Colson stopped short of calling for an open rebellion, but he clearly viewed that as a distinct possibility/necessity in the near future, saying, "with fear and trembling, I have begun to believe that, however Christians in America gather to reach their consensus, we are fast approaching this point."
*   *   *

PS: Of course, my two hunches up there are fairly Living Constitutionalist in spirit, with a dash of Originalism. "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," them's the rules. Hmm. You know, that could also be read as a conditional clause. "So long as a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, then the right of the people to keep and bear arms shouldn't be infringed" ...

UPDATE: They thought of that. The Supreme Court opinion in District of Columbia et al. v. Heller [2008]:
The Second Amendment is  naturally divided into two parts: its prefatory clause and its operative clause. The former does not limit the latter grammatically, but rather announces a purpose. The Amendment could be re-­phrased, “Because a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
PPS: There are Second Amendment concerns other than tyrannical government: to do with hunting, quelling insurrection, the relationships among states, guarding against foreign invasion, etc.

Here's part of the Supreme Court opinion in District of Columbia et al. v. Heller [2008]:
It is therefore entirely sensible that the Second Amend­ment’s prefatory clause announces the purpose for which the right was codified: to prevent elimination of the mili­tia. The prefatory clause does not suggest that preserving the militia was the only reason Americans valued the ancient right; most undoubtedly thought it even more important for self-defense and hunting. But the threat  that the new Federal Government would destroy the citizens’ militia by taking away their arms was the reason that right—unlike some other English rights—was codi­fied in a written Constitution.
The Framers were suspicious of a standing army, even those who broadly supported making provision for one. So the right to keep and bear arms wasn't just or even chiefly a counterweight to official military power, so much as a hopeful restraint upon its emergence: a provision to mitigate the need for a standing army - which for the Framers would probably have implied proto-PMFs like Blacke Death Water and Thrice Canopie, BTW - through reliance on, in George Washington's exasperated language, "Men just dragged from the tender Scenes of domestick life" (1776). But we are where we are.

PPPS: My spellcheck suggests "hallucination" for "Halliburton"! Bliss!

PPPPS: Just for the heck of it, here's a TLDR copy-paste of Hamilton's Federalist No. 29, concerning militias. I haven't checked it out properly yet, he probably thinks Occupy Oakland was one or something. Personally I never trust these pseudonymy types. What are they, zany?
To the People of the State of New York: THE power of regulating the militia, and of commanding its services in times of insurrection and invasion are natural incidents to the duties of superintending the common defense, and of watching over the internal peace of the Confederacy. It requires no skill in the science of war to discern that uniformity in the organization and discipline of the militia would be attended with the most beneficial effects, whenever they were called into service for the public defense. It would enable them to discharge the duties of the camp and of the field with mutual intelligence and concert an advantage of peculiar moment in the operations of an army; and it would fit them much sooner to acquire the degree of proficiency in military functions which would be essential to their usefulness. This desirable uniformity can only be accomplished by confiding the regulation of the militia to the direction of the national authority. It is, therefore, with the most evident propriety, that the plan of the convention proposes to empower the Union "to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, RESERVING TO THE STATES RESPECTIVELY THE APPOINTMENT OF THE OFFICERS, AND THE AUTHORITY OF TRAINING THE MILITIA ACCORDING TO THE DISCIPLINE PRESCRIBED BY CONGRESS." Of the different grounds which have been taken in opposition to the plan of the convention, there is none that was so little to have been expected, or is so untenable in itself, as the one from which this particular provision has been attacked. If a well-regulated militia be the most natural defense of a free country, it ought certainly to be under the regulation and at the disposal of that body which is constituted the guardian of the national security. If standing armies are dangerous to liberty, an efficacious power over the militia, in the body to whose care the protection of the State is committed, ought, as far as possible, to take away the inducement and the pretext to such unfriendly institutions. If the federal government can command the aid of the militia in those emergencies which call for the military arm in support of the civil magistrate, it can the better dispense with the employment of a different kind of force. If it cannot avail itself of the former, it will be obliged to recur to the latter. To render an army unnecessary, will be a more certain method of preventing its existence than a thousand prohibitions upon paper. In order to cast an odium upon the power of calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, it has been remarked that there is nowhere any provision in the proposed Constitution for calling out the POSSE COMITATUS, to assist the magistrate in the execution of his duty, whence it has been inferred, that military force was intended to be his only auxiliary. There is a striking incoherence in the objections which have appeared, and sometimes even from the same quarter, not much calculated to inspire a very favorable opinion of the sincerity or fair dealing of their authors. The same persons who tell us in one breath, that the powers of the federal government will be despotic and unlimited, inform us in the next, that it has not authority sufficient even to call out the POSSE COMITATUS. The latter, fortunately, is as much short of the truth as the former exceeds it. It would be as absurd to doubt, that a right to pass all laws NECESSARY AND PROPER to execute its declared powers, would include that of requiring the assistance of the citizens to the officers who may be intrusted with the execution of those laws, as it would be to believe, that a right to enact laws necessary and proper for the imposition and collection of taxes would involve that of varying the rules of descent and of the alienation of landed property, or of abolishing the trial by jury in cases relating to it. It being therefore evident that the supposition of a want of power to require the aid of the POSSE COMITATUS is entirely destitute of color, it will follow, that the conclusion which has been drawn from it, in its application to the authority of the federal government over the militia, is as uncandid as it is illogical. What reason could there be to infer, that force was intended to be the sole instrument of authority, merely because there is a power to make use of it when necessary? What shall we think of the motives which could induce men of sense to reason in this manner? How shall we prevent a conflict between charity and judgment? By a curious refinement upon the spirit of republican jealousy, we are even taught to apprehend danger from the militia itself, in the hands of the federal government. It is observed that select corps may be formed, composed of the young and ardent, who may be rendered subservient to the views of arbitrary power. What plan for the regulation of the militia may be pursued by the national government, is impossible to be foreseen. But so far from viewing the matter in the same light with those who object to select corps as dangerous, were the Constitution ratified, and were I to deliver my sentiments to a member of the federal legislature from this State on the subject of a militia establishment, I should hold to him, in substance, the following discourse: "The project of disciplining all the militia of the United States is as futile as it would be injurious, if it were capable of being carried into execution. A tolerable expertness in military movements is a business that requires time and practice. It is not a day, or even a week, that will suffice for the attainment of it. To oblige the great body of the yeomanry, and of the other classes of the citizens, to be under arms for the purpose of going through military exercises and evolutions, as often as might be necessary to acquire the degree of perfection which would entitle them to the character of a well-regulated militia, would be a real grievance to the people, and a serious public inconvenience and loss. It would form an annual deduction from the productive labor of the country, to an amount which, calculating upon the present numbers of the people, would not fall far short of the whole expense of the civil establishments of all the States. To attempt a thing which would abridge the mass of labor and industry to so considerable an extent, would be unwise: and the experiment, if made, could not succeed, because it would not long be endured. Little more can reasonably be aimed at, with respect to the people at large, than to have them properly armed and equipped; and in order to see that this be not neglected, it will be necessary to assemble them once or twice in the course of a year. "But though the scheme of disciplining the whole nation must be abandoned as mischievous or impracticable; yet it is a matter of the utmost importance that a well-digested plan should, as soon as possible, be adopted for the proper establishment of the militia. The attention of the government ought particularly to be directed to the formation of a select corps of moderate extent, upon such principles as will really fit them for service in case of need. By thus circumscribing the plan, it will be possible to have an excellent body of well-trained militia, ready to take the field whenever the defense of the State shall require it. This will not only lessen the call for military establishments, but if circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist." Thus differently from the adversaries of the proposed Constitution should I reason on the same subject, deducing arguments of safety from the very sources which they represent as fraught with danger and perdition. But how the national legislature may reason on the point, is a thing which neither they nor I can foresee. There is something so far-fetched and so extravagant in the idea of danger to liberty from the militia, that one is at a loss whether to treat it with gravity or with raillery; whether to consider it as a mere trial of skill, like the paradoxes of rhetoricians; as a disingenuous artifice to instil prejudices at any price; or as the serious offspring of political fanaticism. Where in the name of common-sense, are our fears to end if we may not trust our sons, our brothers, our neighbors, our fellow-citizens? What shadow of danger can there be from men who are daily mingling with the rest of their countrymen and who participate with them in the same feelings, sentiments, habits and interests? What reasonable cause of apprehension can be inferred from a power in the Union to prescribe regulations for the militia, and to command its services when necessary, while the particular States are to have the SOLE AND EXCLUSIVE APPOINTMENT OF THE OFFICERS? If it were possible seriously to indulge a jealousy of the militia upon any conceivable establishment under the federal government, the circumstance of the officers being in the appointment of the States ought at once to extinguish it. There can be no doubt that this circumstance will always secure to them a preponderating influence over the militia. In reading many of the publications against the Constitution, a man is apt to imagine that he is perusing some ill-written tale or romance, which instead of natural and agreeable images, exhibits to the mind nothing but frightful and distorted shapes "Gorgons, hydras, and chimeras dire"; discoloring and disfiguring whatever it represents, and transforming everything it touches into a monster. A sample of this is to be observed in the exaggerated and improbable suggestions which have taken place respecting the power of calling for the services of the militia. That of New Hampshire is to be marched to Georgia, of Georgia to New Hampshire, of New York to Kentucky, and of Kentucky to Lake Champlain. Nay, the debts due to the French and Dutch are to be paid in militiamen instead of louis d'ors and ducats. At one moment there is to be a large army to lay prostrate the liberties of the people; at another moment the militia of Virginia are to be dragged from their homes five or six hundred miles, to tame the republican contumacy of Massachusetts; and that of Massachusetts is to be transported an equal distance to subdue the refractory haughtiness of the aristocratic Virginians. Do the persons who rave at this rate imagine that their art or their eloquence can impose any conceits or absurdities upon the people of America for infallible truths? If there should be an army to be made use of as the engine of despotism, what need of the militia? If there should be no army, whither would the militia, irritated by being called upon to undertake a distant and hopeless expedition, for the purpose of riveting the chains of slavery upon a part of their countrymen, direct their course, but to the seat of the tyrants, who had meditated so foolish as well as so wicked a project, to crush them in their imagined intrenchments of power, and to make them an example of the just vengeance of an abused and incensed people? Is this the way in which usurpers stride to dominion over a numerous and enlightened nation? Do they begin by exciting the detestation of the very instruments of their intended usurpations? Do they usually commence their career by wanton and disgustful acts of power, calculated to answer no end, but to draw upon themselves universal hatred and execration? Are suppositions of this sort the sober admonitions of discerning patriots to a discerning people? Or are they the inflammatory ravings of incendiaries or distempered enthusiasts? If we were even to suppose the national rulers actuated by the most ungovernable ambition, it is impossible to believe that they would employ such preposterous means to accomplish their designs. In times of insurrection, or invasion, it would be natural and proper that the militia of a neighboring State should be marched into another, to resist a common enemy, or to guard the republic against the violence of faction or sedition. This was frequently the case, in respect to the first object, in the course of the late war; and this mutual succor is, indeed, a principal end of our political association. If the power of affording it be placed under the direction of the Union, there will be no danger of a supine and listless inattention to the dangers of a neighbor, till its near approach had superadded the incitements of selfpreservation to the too feeble impulses of duty and sympathy. PUBLIUS.
PPPPPS: See Charlie Brooker on coverage of the school massacre in Winnenden in 2009.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012


Incredibly boring & obvious letter to BBC World Have Your Say!!! YAAAA (crying) WWWWNNNNN!!!!

Dear BBC,

I watched several hours of your US election coverage. I thought it generally excellent, with Dimbleby superb as ever. However I was disappointed not to hear any mention of the third party candidates, especially Stein and Johnson. While no one disputes this was a two horse race, there are plenty of reasons to bring them up:

(1) In a race so tight, third party voting patterns could have had a bearing on the outcome.

(2) Regardless of any direct bearing, votes for third parties can help us form an impression of why a state or county is voting the way that it is. (Of course, making distinctions within the third party vote category would be crucial: the catch-all category "other" tells us very little).

(3) A bit of variety! There were plenty of long stretches where nothing was happening, nor was likely to happen. These shouldn't be exclusively used to reiterate the major themes. Some viewers are dipping in and out, but the lucky ones are in for the long haul. (I lost count of the number of times I heard the phrase, "No surprises there." SO SURPRISE ME).

(4) The BBC can play a particularly strong role in interpreting the US election for an international audience.  For a viewer more familiar with UK politics, for example, it is tempting to make lazy and misleading identifications between the GOP and the Tories, and the Dems and Labour respectively. Talking about third parties is a useful way into a more nuanced and contextualised view of the American political landscape (particularly this time round, when the narrative of voters disliking both options was so strong).

(5) Likewise, the BBC can play a particularly strong role in locating the US election within an international context, and its issues within as broad as possible a spectrum of political opinion, geographically and historically. If some mainstream feature of European political life would appear radical or fringe in the USA, or vice-versa, I'd like that to be teased out. It makes your coverage more relevant, interesting and true.

(6) Even if third parties get little or no discussion, I would count it a valuable service to have the 1% or so of "other" votes further broken down on your infographics. (Perhaps this would be prohibitively administratively complex -- but it's certainly worth investigating, if you haven't already. Perhaps it would be possible on the BBC web site, if it isn't possible on the telly).

(7) Someone close to me who has dual US/UK citizenship, and had just voted for Stein by absentee ballot was similarly dismayed. Third party voters often make the morally difficult decision of declining a tactical vote, on the basis that a vote of conscience may raise awareness, influence debate and help to shape the political climate. But it is less likely to do this if it is ignored by organisations like the BBC.

It was of course not an omission unique to the BBC: throughout election night, and even today, the day after, it is extremely hard to find any discussion whatsoever of third parties. I write to you only because my expectations of you are a little higher.

Kind regards,
Lara Buckerton

Friday, 2 November 2012

A Bestiary of Voters – Voters 8 to infinity!

Okay, I’ll just finish this up quickly. I mean, God, right? God!

Voter 8, THE WE-NEED-THIRD-PARTIES-TO-FLOURISH VOTER. “Third parties are our best shot at creating a more varied and open political landscape. We have to do everything we can to support them.”

Well, okay. So long as there isn’t at bottom a dogmatic dream that somehow Jill Stein is actually going to be elected prez. It has to be part of a broad and detailed strategy which admits its risks and trade-offs, not hand-waving in the direction of raising consciousness, appeasing conscience, and matching funds.

Voter 9,  THE LESSER-OF-TWO-EVILS, FIGHT-THE-SYSTEM VOTER. “Obama’s not really a progressive, in the sense that he’s not facing in the way we need to go. But if you draw a line from where Romney says he, is to where Obama says he is, that line is pointed in the right direction. That’s important. There is value in selecting the candidate who presents, even deceitfully, as the relatively more populist, the relatively less mesmerised by doctrinaire neoliberal ideology; that’s the happier outcome within the long, awful blow-out wrangle that the US’s population is trying to have with itself down the years. Furthermore, with Obama in the White House, it’s slightly easier to see the systemic nature of our present peril – at least, to see that things are complicated, rather than blaming it on the personalities of a few supervillains at the top. And finally, on the balance of probabilities, the pitfalls which Obama would create for real progressive political struggle will be less dangerous than the ones Romney would create, though we mustn’t be complacent in that crude evaluation of less danger, and try to work out how the dangers will specifically be different.”

It goes without saying, I hope, that voting is never enough. We are knight-errants, darlings, born into this world to redress wrongs, and the ballot booth is but a shady grove where we betimes do water our palfreys.

How does this translate into voting behaviour? Vote Obama anywhere with a hint of swing.

Voter 10,  THE SUPER-GENIUS, ITERATIVE-PATH-TO-SOCIAL-JUSTICE VOTER. “Every administration contributes to the conditions under which the next is established (nudged and strafed from the sides, of course, by factors external to this development). If Obama wins the next term” [this is just for example – I can’t really do the super-genius forecast!!!], “disenchantment will be so acute by the end of his term, we’ll get far-right theocrat Republican trolls in the White House for the next two to four terms. Whereas if Obama loses, Romney won’t be much worse than he would have been, and in four years’ time true centrist Democrat candidates will have a real shot at it.”

I’m pretty suspicious of this kind of thinking, because it risks being just a bit mad and self-mesmerisingly idealistic, but we should at least train for it, try it out speculatively – with multiple pathways, flow-chart thingies – and then perhaps borrow a smidge of those results for a more pragmatic, incrementalist, "who-knows-what-the-future-holds" kinda approach. At the very least, we should assume that the 2016 and 2020 elections are probably (hopefully not, and it’s probably worth fighting tooth and nail to prevent it, but probably) still going to Republicans and Democrats, and try to map various pathways of ratcheting real progress which take into account specific shifting patterns of control involving changes within the state apparatus, corporations, capital, the big parties, the media and the electorate, and to the relations among them, pace the non-starter non-strategy of hoping that minimal gains made during a period of Democratic ascendancy will not quite be wiped out during a period of Democratic ebb. I don't know how this would translate into voting behaviour.

Voter 11, THE SUPER-DUPER-COSMOPOLITAN VOTER. “I’m not just concerned about 300 million Americans. I’m concerned about seven billion people, plus those yet to be born. We don’t have time to play the long game, to struggle for a permanent shift in electoral politics. All we can do is hope to elect the enemy who will destroy us more slowly.”

Hmm. How does such a position translate into voting behaviour? Wow, it’s tricky. You’d prioritise aid, trade and war. There’s even an argument (I think a weak one) that once in power the porous Romney could become permeable to ideas from foreign states and transnational institutions. You might be swayed a little by that infographic that’s been doing the rounds, about how practically the whole world outside the US is rooting for Obama over Romney. The exception being Pakistan. No max score for you, because: murder drones? At the risk of excessive anchoring, I think I might focus on the energy policies of the two candidates. So again, if such a voter believes the election hangs in the balance, it should probably vote for Obama if it lives in any state with a smidge of swing. In super-safe Democrat states it should vote for a third party. However, if it’s confident of a Democrat victory, it should vote for a third party wherever it lives.

Bonus (non-) voter: THE I-AM-NOT-EVEN-A-US-CITIZEN NON-VOTER. “For some reason I just write lengthy blog posts about the US elections. LOL.” Yours truly! See the earlier blog post, WHY I AM NOT VOTING.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

A Bestiary of Voters - Voter 7


“I’m not indifferent because I really believe it won’t make any difference, or only a ‘small’ difference, who wins the election. I’m ambivalent because I don’t want to contribute to, or can’t even start to understand, the kind of difference it will make. I’m ambivalent because I’m in an epistemological grapple-hold. It would take all my energies to fight it, and I still might not get out.”

 Hmm, seems a little convenient, but okay. I think it’s still no reason NOT to vote – only a reason to vote for a third party. (Even if you don’t really much like that third party).

Cf. Stephen Squib on n+1’s Election Preview: “Someone once wrote that you shouldn’t confuse the process of writing somebody’s name on a piece of paper once every four years and dropping it in a box with emancipation. Voting has a part to play in political life, but a limited one, small compared to the importance of fostering communities based on mutual aid, deploying direct action, and practicing solidarity. In this respect, those who loudly insist on not voting or proclaim its meaninglessness are committing the old misty-eyed mistake in reverse: not voting will no more free you than voting will. And the energy spent asserting that the two parties are identical is only well-spent if it leads directly into building some further form of institutional counterpower. Voting is not an overly difficult or time-consuming process—neofascist suppression tactics notwithstanding—at least when compared to planning a march, a boycott, or any other kind of organizing. It’s really closer to making an excellent banner or attending a meeting, activities that probably have a similar return on investment, as individual expenditures, as a trip to the polls does.”

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A Bestiary of Voters – Voter 6

God this is dull!


THE GREATER-OF-TWO-EVILS, DEMOCRATS-CAN-CHANGE VOTER. “The Democrats need a wake-up call. They need to lose this election. The next time round, maybe they’ll field a candidate we can believe in.”

Yikes. Sounds suspiciously like a position born of pampered privilege, but from my perfumed palanquin I don’t have a problem with that per se. I’d be interested to hear the details. Presumably the associated voting behaviour would be third party in swing states (“the Democrats need to see they’ve lost the election because their supporters have gone to third parties”), and perhaps even Romney in safe states.

Monday, 22 October 2012

A Bestiary of Voters – Voter 5

Okay, those are the really annoying ones out the way, yippee! Now here are literally millions of voting positions I can just about get on board with. I’ll start with the weaker ones though:

THE LESSER-OF-TWO-EVILS, DEMOCRATS-CAN-CHANGE VOTER. “So the Democrats are a right wing party. But they’re still to the left of the Republicans. And if the Democratic Party can hold the White House for another term, and the one after that, and the one after that, and win back Congress, perhaps it can make the slow crawl from the hinterlands of the right back towards the centre, dragging the Republicans behind them. Perhaps it can start to redefine the language and conceptual and emotional repertoire of American political life, and even start to reconnect it with reality.”

Okay, this was nearly in the other category. I find it vastly implausible, but at least it’s a roadmap. How does the lesser-of-two-evils, Democrats-can-change position translate into voting behaviour? If such a specimen believes the election hangs in the balance, it should probably vote for Obama if it lives in any state with a hint of swing. In super-safe Democrat states it should vote for a third party. However, if it’s confident of a Democrat victory (as if), it should vote for a third party wherever it lives.

UPDATE: For an example of a thorough development of such a position, cf. Christopher Glazek at the n+1 Election Preview. Here's a longish excerpt:

"Frustrating though it may be, this election is about the past four years, not the next four. It’s about ratifying the hope of November 2008, protecting the change enacted in March 2010, and rolling back the counterrevolution unleashed later that year. These goals may appear modest, but the effort has cost billions of dollars and has left almost no room for error.

On foreign policy, could Obama have ended the drone program or brought American troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan with greater haste? Not without blunting the Democrats’ newfound national security edge, an advantage that would have delivered the White House to John Kerry in 2004 if he’d had it.

During the financial crisis, could Obama have nationalized the banks, as he did the auto companies, instead of bailing them out? He couldn’t have. TARP was unpopular enough at the time, but not nearly as unpopular as the government’s purchase of GM and Chrysler. The auto rescue, though, is now bearing indispensable electoral fruit; nationalizing the banks would have risked transforming Romney’s image from greedy financier to hero of the resistance. Could Obama have done more to prevent climate change? In fact, the administration’s new fuel efficiency standards for cars do more to combat global warming than anything done by his predecessors—and the achievement depended on circumventing the legislative process through executive order. Could Obama have done more to transform Americans’ views of social justice? The President can’t flip a switch to end bigotry, but polling suggests he did roll back prejudice in the one place he really could: support for gay marriage has increased among African Americans.

On these and other issues, from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to mortgage modification to Palestine to the Supreme Court, the electoral evidence suggests that the President has pursued the correct priorities with nearly as much vigor and almost as much success as our system allows. If this realization leaves the left feeling deflated after four years, its discouragement may recede after eight, when a new—and probably worse—regime will come to power. We do not live in the best of all possible Americas, but we do live in a country whose politics, despite our disappointments, are getting better with each painful victory."

Saturday, 20 October 2012

A Bestiary of Voters – Voter 4

THE PEOPLE-CAN’T-HANDLE-PARADOXES NON-VOTER / THIRD-PARTY VOTER. “Wake up, fellow Americans. The founding fathers didn’t foresee the rise of mass membership parties. They didn’t count on the domination of elections by money and by modern media technologies. The American Constitution just doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. [Or some variation thereof.] This is true, but it’s hard! It’s a big leap for most folks to believe it! How will folks ever make that leap if the person who’s telling them goes ahead and votes anyway? Me, I put a premium on the exemplary quality of my actions! People won’t believe me that the electoral system is broken, that there’s no real difference between the main candidates, if I go ahead and vote for one or the other anyway.”

Okay, so this is a little better. But I think we all have a tendency to overestimate the wider social power of the norms we apply to ourselves as individuals. If you really are placing a premium on the exemplary power of a certain principle, you ought to consider how those around you may reinterpret and adapt that principle. You ought to consider the implications of that principle moving through myriad minutely-differentiated social, cultural and institutional contexts.

That sounds a bit obscure! Maybe this is better – you ought to ask yourself, “Who, specifically, am I hoping to persuade? Who have I persuaded so far?”

And of course, you have to have interim goals. For example, in the case of a no-vote or a spoiled ballot, and urging others to follow your example, sometimes the strategy seems to be to erode the duopoly’s democratic mandate. Okay, you may admit, the ways in which elections are funded, covered in the media, and finally determined fully demonstrate that there already is no mandate – but perhaps a mass no show, if it were ever achieved, would . . . what, exactly? UPDATE: Well, this is a start I guess!

It wouldn’t stop government, that’s for tootin’. If you need an example of laughingly easeful governance without mandate, examine the UK over the past two years. The Coalition has treated government like some horrid little Oxbridge picnic-cum-swimming expedition, and democratic mandate like the swimming cozzies they forgot to pack on purpose for that extra fruity frisson. With respect to education, for instance, the British public incontrovertibly elected many more MPs promising to oppose tuition fees than promising to support them, and yet the British public now must pay tuition fees. With respect to healthcare, the Conservatives, despite not even holding a half the House of Commons, have managed to do literally the opposite of what they pledged to do during their campaign – and they haven’t even had to rely on some kind of specialist expert mandate (the medical profession has on the whole fiercely opposed the reforms), to plead changed and extenuating circumstances, or to look awkward or abashed.

I don’t mean “what exactly?” as a snarky rhetorical question; it’s a genuine plea for super-specificity. Who stops voting first? At which elections? What happens next? How do the big, well-funded parties understand what’s happening? How do they respond? Who stops voting next? Etc.!

More later!

Friday, 19 October 2012

A Bestiary of Voters – Voter 3

C’m’ere, li’l’ voter, Lara won’t say anything bad about you . . . HA! GOTCHA! THE GREATER-OF-TWO-EVILS, FIGHT-THE-SYSTEM VOTER. “Elections aren’t a mechanism for change. That’s what grassroot movements are for! America needs a wake-up call. We’ve suffered under Obama, but we’ll really suffer under Romney. The worse things get, the stronger our movement will grow.”

I have no sympathy whatsoever for this little voter. It seems to me to rely on a romanticised and uninterrogated idea of immiseration. But immiseration does not encourage solidarity, let alone the growth and co ordination of a mass movement, except under specific circumstances which do not prevail in the US today. That’s obviously a little sketchy and dogmatic but I don’t want to waste too much time on this one! PS: Ya wanna make somethin’ of it, huh buddy? Send me the link & I will endeavour to respond judiciously & with shrewd charm and perspicacity.

UPDATE: Cf. e.g. Marco Roth at the n+1 Election Preview, considering then ditching such a motive: "A little demon of an old leftist located in some attic of my mind whispers to me that a Romney win might, after all, be the very thing needed to galvanize a true socialist revolution in this country. If the non-union white working classes, or white formerly-working classes, who will continue to vote for Romney in flocks could finally be led to some kind of consciousness of how they screw themselves, time and again, through their continued immiseration, it might be better than four more years of Obama’s faux-liberalism. But the “it must get worse before it gets better” argument comes too easily to those who don’t really have to fear they’ll suffer the worst. I’m not on food stamps. I don’t live in a coastal flood zone, or on land earmarked for gas drilling. Instead of the old line, I’m trying to cultivate something I’ve started to think of as “post-democratic” subjectivity: my meaningful political actions will not occur in the voting booth."

A Bestiary of Voters – Voter 2

THE EXPRESSIVE VOTER / NON-VOTER. “I’m not going to take up some kind of instrumental stance about my vote. I’m going to vote the way I vote [/I’m not going to vote] because that’s the kind of person I am. It’s how I roll. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it any other way. [For instance: I couldn’t bring myself to vote for a murderer.] [Sometimes add: witty and irreverent justification for candidate preference.]” I suspect all these people may secretly be assholes.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

A Bestiary Of Voters – Voter 1

Hiya, my apes with apricot eyes!

I’ll start with three four positions I can’t really get on board with:

THE AMBIVALENT NON-VOTER / THIRD PARTY VOTER. “Obama and Romney are both as bad as each other. I don’t want either of them to be my president. So there’s no way I’m voting for either of them.”

See my last post. I think this specimen is all kinds of dumb. Neither candidate is offering to fight for what we deserve as human beings. But who wins has implications for the conditions in which we conduct that fight ourselves.

Preferring one outcome over the other need not undermine fierce opposition to both those outcomes, and to the system which insists on them as the only legitimate outcomes.

Nor should such a preference be conflated with “oh well, at least he’s not as bad as the other guy” defeatism, nor with closing down the imaginative and organisational space in which the really meaningful alternatives ought to flourish. In fact, I suspect the really meaningful alternatives become more meaningful, more minutely concrete, when we develop them in the context of the highly probable triumphs of the status quo in the medium term – when we don’t stake too much on rhetorically downplaying the probability of those triumphs. A kind of simplified, sloganish way of putting all this might be: if I have a chance at influencing who one of my arch-nemeses is going to be, I should take it. More later!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Why I Won’t Be Voting In The Presidential Election

The white dew fallen
on the lotus leaf has sealed
as flakes and hangs fast.

POTUS, shall I cast
a ballot to a light wind
which shakes loose no frost?

Helas! Helas! Helas!
Your policies seem hella similar to the GOP,
what be up with that?

The lotus looks sad.

— @FrancisCrot
(lineated, & hashtags removed)

A+ for effort, @franciscrot, A+ for effort – but here’s what I want to talk about:

Whenever election time rolls around, so does the idea that the Republican and Democrat candidates are basically the same. Is it just me, or does that idea seem much more conspicuous and credible than usual?

One reason is surely that, this time, it is a bit more true. Obama’s record (by historic Democratic standards, or by historic and current international standards) is pretty hawkish, neo-liberal and even drifting towards the totalitarian. Political Compass gives a devastating summary:

“The Democratic incumbent has surrounded himself with conservative advisors and key figures — many from previous administrations, and an unprecedented number from the Trilateral Commission. He also appointed a former Monsanto executive as Senior Advisor to the FDA. He has extended Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, presided over a spiralling rich-poor gap and sacrificed further American jobs with recent free trade deals. Trade union rights have also eroded under his watch. He has expanded Bush defence spending, droned civilians, failed to close Guantanamo, supported the NDAA which effectively legalises martial law, allowed drilling and adopted a soft-touch position towards the banks that is to the right of European Conservative leaders. Taking office during the financial meltdown, Obama appointed its principle architects to top economic positions. We list these because many of Obama's detractors absurdly portray him as either a radical liberal or a socialist, while his apologists, equally absurdly, continue to view him as a well-intentioned progressive, tragically thwarted by overwhelming pressures. 2008’s yes-we-can chanters, dazzled by pigment rather than policy detail, forgot to ask can what?” (Continues).

If only the candidates’ names could be summed into some chilling, malevolent singularity, with a faintly Megacity One type aura.



So maybe it’s a bit more true this time, but it was also kinda true with Obama vs. McCain, Bush vs. Kerry, Bush vs. Gore, Clinton vs. (okay, actually that’s as far back as I go. Dole? Cain vs. Abel?). E.g., the Twitter feed @VastLeft asks charming and noble stuff like, “How’s that voting-for-the-duopoly strategy working out for you?”

Tweeps like @VastLeft and @RuthlessCulture also do an honourable line in lampooning the vacuous trivial disjecta membra which pass for civil polity, and the shallow pseudo-arguments which supposedly contra-distinguish the candidates. E.g. @RuthlessCulture: “Major policy difference between Obama and Romney is that Romney’s like rilly rilly rich and Obama’s kind of not been great.” Or, with the ol’ ‘seal sounds’ critique, ‏@RuthlessCult: “‘I hate to interrupt you senator but awr awr awr’ *Democrats explode into riotous applause while drones strafe the Pakistani parliament*.”

In the UK, “They’re both as bad as the other” was in the air a lot in the days before the last General Election. The corollary was, "Might as well let the other lot have a bash at it." Such feelings were doubtless a factor in the outcome: Nasty New Labour – against whose divisive and dangerous domestic policy, and appalling bloodshed, I obv. had brandished many delightful placards – were usurped by the breathtakingly childish and brutal abomination of the Coalition. Things are complicated, of course, but my hunch is that that was a dark day, another striking instance of dizzy, befuddled humanity ramping up the self-harm.

And what troubles me about the election now underway across the pond is that we could spend too much time exposing false distinctions we hear in the media and from the slack jaws of our more docile, dozy and hope-for-the-best fellow citizens, and forget that it makes a real difference who wins it.

It’s not the difference between anything we want nor deserve. It’s not the difference between two candid and lucid visions of the common good. It’s not the difference between two possible packages of compromises among conflicting interests. It’s not any difference to do with government for the people versus a government for powerful elites. It’s not even to do with a government that wants to make gradual progress towards rationality, democracy, diversity, fairness and freedom, versus a government that wants to turn back the clock. No way.

But it IS the difference between two different contexts in which the real struggles for rationality, democracy, diversity, fairness and freedom etc. may continue to play themselves out. These possible contexts are oblique and complex and should themselves be a focus of analysis, debate and controversy.

Just because my personal disillusionment with official governance has maxed out doesn’t mean that the psychopathic horrorshow of neo-liberal hegemony won’t get any worse. If Romney gets in, Political Compass may well have to build an extension to the right end of their brilliant little diagram. But more to the point, “better” and “worse” are enchanting simplifications which we all need to touch on from time to time, but must be careful of leaning too hard on. Even if in some reductive and abstracted sense Obama and Romney administration would be “each as bad as the other,”  the specific mechanics and distribution of Malevolence O. or Malevolence R. makes a material difference to anyone interested in social justice – scrap that, for anyone who cares about human life.

Of course, Lara Buckerton won’t be voting because Lara is not a US citizen! Bloody unfair, that. If she were, she would definitely be voting! Who would she vote for? Probably GREEN. Yup, GREEN. Jill all the way. Definitely GREEN.

Um, except in Florida and Ohio.

And Virginia.

(Maybe more later!)

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Graeb job!

Another wee plug: Dan Graeber's book Debt is about jubilees, white wampum, numerical promises, homo economicus, "a monomaniacal sociopath who can wander through an orgy thinking only about marginal rates of return" and many other acute pertinences and gently-cambered impertinences. (It rather brilliantly challenges the complacent assumption of the centrality of barter in pre-monetary society, for starters).

There is a substantial review at the LRB and a v. enjoyable little article about anthropology, activism and sf world-building at

 Also: circling the Vultures (in red! ha ha ha!), Jubilee Debt Campaign. And an earlier but also wonderful book by Mr Graeber, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (PDF!). Tribes are weird!

Friday, 14 September 2012

From Elvish to Klingon

Edited by Michael Adams.

I wouldn’t want to jam Zionist anti-Yiddish struggles, radix-happy C17th stabs at Adamic reference, Esperanto’s antecedent Volapük, Burgess’s Nadsat misfits, nor Beckett’s Worstward Ho weirdo between “Elvish” and “Klingon” . . . so this collection really ranges wider than is suggested by its title (although Paul Muldoon is defo a level 4 drow).  It’s a grand ol’ grab-bag, stuffed with eight essays (incl. introduction) plus eight responses (some commentaries, some more in the spirit of “yeah that reminds me”, and some li’l’ baby anthologies in themselves) by editor Prof. Michael Adams.  As Wilyam Shexpir put it “in the original Klingon” (255-6), “mu’, mu’, mu’” (Khamlet, Act II, Scene 2).  
            The approaches are also various – from the rock-solid academia of Arden R. Smith and Stephen Watt, to the more bloggerish, Tiggerish musings of James Portnow.  Though Portnow’s style of thought is apt given his essay’s subject – “From Gargish to |337” (doesn’t Net geekdom have its own ecology of intellectual legitimacy, partly insulated from that of the academy?) – I have a niggle with his Saussure paraphrase.  Portnow gives the guru’s principle of arbitrary signification as: “words [ . . . ] have no bearing on the real world; they mean nothing unless a group of people agree that they do”.  Now to me “no bearing on the real world” suggests confidence in the existence of an extra‑linguistic reality, and “agree that they do” suggests that languages can be thought of as contracts which establish how to communicate about this reality.
            But Saussure’s legacy is largely built on his attack on these connected assumptions – he argued our worlds are segmented and laden with value through languages and other complex systems of interdependent signs; individuals “encounter” these systems as an irresistible fait accompli, without exits, and which they are powerless – almost powerless – to alter. 
            Other essays explore the wiggle room that “almost” affords.  E. S. C. Weiner and Jeremy Marshall delve into Tolkien’s elves, who are “aware of the whole of their language at every moment” (106) and “will introduce a sound change throughout the language ‘as a weaver might change a thread from red to blue’” (106-7).  Could reality be improved by improving language?  Howard Jackson – I mean Womanward Jilldaughter! – proposes “politically correct” vocabulary as a real instance of such a project, prone to undermining itself with its “excesses” (61).  Or could some Big Bad invent an über-malevolent reality?  The same essay tackles Orwell’s notorious Newspeak.  Now, Mrs. Doe-erton didn’t raise no fool – the swift dismissal of linguistic determinism via elision with metaphysical nominalism is a red (threat!) herring.  What Jackson’s really fishing for is whether linguistic regulation could ever be a viable instrument for the state administration of social consciousness.  No, he concludes, quite plausibly.  The officials of Orwell’s authoritarian-totalitarian Party would find it tough to “stand outside the process in order to fashion the language” (63), let alone calculate how subjugated citizens would “consciously reflect about the words they use” (61).  What bureaucracy could cope with something so volatile and copious?  Too many moles, too few whacks.  Jackson even uncovers several places where Orwell’s usage departs – or mutates – from his own invented norms. 
            Still, we musn’t be complacent about centralised linguistic engineering.  Newspeak-style manipulation of social reality may be a tall order, but states do alter social reality, often unpredictably, through linguistic-legislative initiatives.  Suzanne Romaine’s superb finale focuses on revitalised languages – Hebrew, Irish, Cornish, Hawaiian.  Revitalisation, it turns out, demands invention aplenty.  Romaine points out by-the-by that English, French and other languages “whose legitimacy is taken for granted” (213) have been profoundly shaped by deliberate interventions, born of “desire for prominent ideological symbols of shared identity, purpose, and nationhood” (ibid.). 
            Besides, it’s not just language that is various and ever-changing.  So is state power – and new forms come constantly into being.  Could the elven tongues tell us more about elven socio-political organisation – and its autarchic, ecologically-responsive vibe – than all those unpersuasive trappings of patriarchal feudalism?  I enjoyed Weiner/Marshall’s bit about sound symbolism or phonaesthesis – the notion that certain sounds have “recognizable semantic associations due to recurrent appearance in words of similar meaning” (103) – and the question of pleasure in the relationship between sound and sense.  To an elf or a philologist (like Tolkien), such associations could also include superseded semantic systems, plus the reasons they shifted, vanished – the movements of peoples; the judgments of the powerful; conflict and assimilation; prosperity; persecution; disaster; diaspora; division; colonisation; abandonment; war.  Aesthetic aversion (such as to a piece of political correctness as “excess” (q.v.)) and aesthetic pleasure always contain such historical sediment.   But for Tolkien’s immortal elves, it is an information so rich, clear and complete that aesthetic response become inseparable from judgement as though in a public forum.  Feeling becomes a mode of reasoning.  
            Elves aren’t Party draftsmen (as in “linguistic legislation”), nor engineers (as in “linguistic engineering”), nor construction workers (as in “socially-constructed”), but craftsmen and artists, celebrants and mourners.  They don’t redesign their language, they elfvolve it.  Could a RL analogue be imagined?  Luckily that’s a tall, pointy-eared order.  Still, picture a state financially incentivising the general market of cultural production – via Digital Rights Management, automated statistical textual analyses, clickwrap-contracting and billions of micro-transactions, via any number of arm’s-length agencies and private sector partners – to align language use with some desired template.  Where authoritarian statecraft falls short of perfecting totalitarianism, liberal statecraft could conceivably succeed. 

(Review originally appeared in Interzone!!!)

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Don't be afraid everyone, I'm "Buck"!

Mummy this candy tax is a heap of fuck. . . with a little link that amused me:

". . . Now, in the podcast, the health tax accrued no revenue because it completed curbed spending on candy. Of course, we are now two years down the track with a more independent child. The issue with independence is that allows for another thing that often accompanies attempts to collect a tax: under-reporting . . ."

 Over at Game Theorist.