Free speech does not reveal truth

brendan-oneill-450px

Brendan O’Neill is a controversial polemicist whose radical politics are difficult to unpick and fathom. When he wrote about truth and free speech in the March 2017 edition of Spiked, of which he is the editor, I found myself nodding in full agreement with some paragraphs, but recoiling from others as misrepresentation and bad reasoning. I think O’Neill is pushing his own agenda, which has free speech in mind only so long as it serves his own interests.

Here’s my own reasoning, staring with a summary of O’Neill’s argument.

Broadly speaking, his argument is that we are being lied to and censored in the name of truth by ‘what we might call the new clerisy: the insulated, technocratic-leaning political class that has dominated public life for the past 30 years or so’. The term clerisy is borrowed from extensive but tendentious Milton quotes. It is extended by referring to ‘the political and cultural establishment’ as a new kind of church assembly functioning to determine what topics can and cannot be discussed, and what is the truth of them.

Continue reading “Free speech does not reveal truth”

Cosmos: an ideological odyssey

comos-banner-800px

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s script in the 2014 documentary series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, is a relentless defence of science against an always unnamed superstitious barbarism. The vehicle is the explanation of how we came to understand our universe as we do today by scientific investigation standing against shadowy forces of ignorance and ideological zealotry.

Continue reading “Cosmos: an ideological odyssey”

Phantoms of fear and loathing

phantoms-banner

… what the Internet and its cult of anonymity do is to provide a blanket sort of immunity for anybody who wants to say anything about anybody else, and it would be difficult in this sense to think of a more morally deformed exploitation of the concept of free speech.

― Richard Bernstein, New York Times, 27 August 2008.

Why write about Wikipedia again? Because I had more feedback on my last post than on any ten others in the past year… and all of it anonymous. Only one of these already anonymous interlocutors wrote publicly. The rest contacted me ‘below the line’.

It was like being admonished by phantoms. Not really what I’d call stalking, but a backdrop of disembodied voices, with the more menacing ones almost drowning out some other, more nuanced tones.
Most of what the ‘ghosts’ had to say was just pure bile. No problem. I won’t repeat it here. But some of it seemed genuinely outraged. Shame these ghosts weren’t prepared to say what they had to say publicly.

Continue reading “Phantoms of fear and loathing”

Wikipedia on par with Fox News

wikistapo-banner

Go looking for the reasons why users of an IP range can be banned from editing their own user pages on Wikipedia, and the waters become deep and murky really fast. In the end you have to conclude that it’s an American mind-set now so deeply ingrained in many of its citizens that the astonishing crypto-fascism of it is no longer apparent to its propagators.

The journey quickly changes from being a search for coherent explanations of Wikipedia policy to being a an exploration of a mass psychosis in Amerikaner society.

Continue reading “Wikipedia on par with Fox News”

Tinkering with conscience

TTSS-Book-cover

To propose that John le Carré’s zenith was the 1974 novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I have to retrace my steps through his body of work, and my own historical connection to it. Why bother? Because my bedside reading for a couple of weeks now has been a journey of discovery and re-discovery as I make my way through his collected works. And because I realise more clearly now why Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy always seemed so memorable.

In reading some novels for the first time, I realised that my memory is faulty, according le Carré greater status as an influence on me than is merited. It’s really only three novels I was fond of over time: The Spy Who Came in Form the Cold (1963), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974), and Smiley’s People (1979). I didn’t know the earlier Call for the Dead (1961) or A Murder of Quality (1962) until much more recently; they are fine novels in their own right, but not quite as significant.

The Looking Glass War (1965) struck me as bland and aimless years ago, and still does today. I didn’t read A Small Town in Germany (1968) until last week, and though I found it engaging, I thought the agonising about rehabilitated Nazis running West Germany for the Allies was affected, and the accent on a British betrayal of Jews to the unreconstructedly brutish Germans was far too self-righteous to sit well. Though I suppose it might have gone over well at the time, especially as an expression of le Carré’s class-based angst, being increasingly guilt-riddled as they were for the failure of Britain to be a more fitting home for liberal freedoms and its heroes.

Continue reading “Tinkering with conscience”

Call for the Dead

Call-for-the-Dead

In life there are sometimes threads of interrelated synchronicities. A couple of days ago I posted a draft list of my top 40 favourite films in response to a challenge to do so by Randy Resnick. My number two is the excellent Thomas Alfredsen 2011 adaptation of John le Carré’s singular 1974 novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Today I came across some explanation of what it was about le Carré’s characters I found so authentic. But first some nostalgia.

When I was a teenager I consumed le Carré’s novels with a voracious appetite, and to begin with, much to the alarm of my school masters. Being thoroughly British, they thought a young German boy should learn the Queen’s English first from Ladybird readers and approved ‘adolescent’ fiction (they really flipped out when I carried around Peter O’Donnell’s The Impossible Virgin for a couple of days, anticipating the title presaged sordid content!). The subject matter of le Carré’s spy thrillers was considered risqué for entirely different reasons. Le Carré was considered unsound for casting aspersions on the old British stiff upper lip. As if there was a secret conspiracy by which I would be unaware of bullshit British conceits so long as no one mentioned them.

Continue reading “Call for the Dead”

Hot tar, aching memory, Golda Meir, and the Yom Kippur War

A month ago, and thirty-seven years, Golda Meir died, aged eighty.

Golda-Meir-900

Today hardly anyone remembers her name, or never heard it to begin with.

The original ‘iron lady’, but on the other side of the political fence from Thatcher. A Zionist labour activist in the 1910s, a leader of the Jewish people in Palestine in the 1920s. A lobbyist for Jewish refugees in the 1930s. A founder of Israel in the 1940s. A minister of the Israeli government in the 1950s. Its Prime Minister in the 1960s and ’70s. A hero to her people, and in the world.

Continue reading “Hot tar, aching memory, Golda Meir, and the Yom Kippur War”

Underworld USA: America unimagined

Ellroy’s homecoming in three movements

American Tabloid

Look at the Prez … look at the clown car. There they go, pretending to be real people. There they go, pretending to be running the world. Can’t be! Those people? No way!

Rewind.

Waaaaaaay back.

1990s … 1970s … 1950s.

Stop!

Look at them now. No. Not the ones in the foreground. Zoom past them. Zoom below the popular cast. Sharpen the focus on what’s underneath.

See the unfamiliar faces? See them talk and move about. See them hate and love. See them get it right and fuck it up. See them project the shadows that are the familiar faces and events.

That’s what James Ellroy wants in ‘Underworld USA’. Three books. American Tabloid (1995), The Cool Six Thousand (2001), Blood’s a Rover (2009).

American history 1958-1973. Told the way it never was, with characters that never were, who explain the characters we always knew, and how things really were.

Ellroy channelling Will Graham from the Hannibal fiction? Immersed so deeply in the subject he comes out transcribing a Zeitgeist mind-set of that era. Like it’s an unhealthy obsession. Like it’s an alien psychology. Like it’s a sickness?

Continue reading “Underworld USA: America unimagined”

Why Wikipedia is doubleplus ungood

Wikipedia-Goebbels

Searching for wiki software, I came across unrelated links to articles on Wikipedia that intrigued me, if only because as a harsh critic of the confoundingly popular propaganda site I had not seen these items before.

The first is an open letter to Wikipedia by award-winning writer Philip Roth, published by The New Yorker in 2009. It chronicles his arm’s-length attempts to correct a completely baseless assertion about his novel The Human Stain, with all efforts to do so being rejected because the source of the baseless assertion is a secondary source, while Roth himself is the primary source.

The lesson here is pretty simple: a rule decreed and enforced by cretins unable to form independent judgements appropriate to specific circumstances make it more easy for a contemporary Joseph Goebbels, via any kind of publishing outlet, to be cited authoritatively on a great number of topics than any expert, or any subject of propaganda lies.

Continue reading “Why Wikipedia is doubleplus ungood”