Survivors – Comparing the TV Series, Covid-19 & the Future Part 2 ‘Law & Order’ 

Survivors_LogoReviewed by Tim Bragg

Law & Order

Spoiler Alert: the following talks generally about ideas from the series, with specific information related to ‘Law & Order’.

Law and order will be key to any major crisis. During current times we have virtually imprisoned ourselves in order to stop the spread of Covid-19. In China the Government used and continues to use draconian methods to control movement of people and the spread of the virus. The Government monitors Chinese people through their mobile phones (which appear ubiquitous) and phone users now have to have their faces scanned and their devices linked to their real identities (which are also monitored through their national identity cards). There are nearly a quarter of a million face recognition and surveillance cameras throughout the country. In the UK and France we have seen some ‘heavy-handed’ policing operating alongside quite ‘laissez-faire‘ attitudes. In France we have ‘attestations’ to fill out if we move from our homes (to exercise, shop, work etc.) and some places have had curfews installed. In the UK, alongside drones hunting down lone or small groups of folk walking in rural areas, it seems a ‘blind eye’ has been turned to certain communities who have carried on as normal. Along with some police acting as if their new ‘apparent’ powers have gone to their head: insisting on ‘social distancing’ in parks – other folk have carried on travelling in overcrowded public transport. In France some local governments have instructed the CRS (the riot-control police) NOT to enter certain unofficial ‘no go zones’.

Most people are complying with the emergency measures governments have introduced and, it seems, have enthusiastically embraced the wearing of masks and gloves. In France (as currently in other countries such as the Czech Republic) mask wearing will soon become compulsory. It’s certainly an odd situation to find oneself in. Humans are social animals where most communication is non-verbal – but we find ourselves isolated and masked. We find ourselves complying with every governmental decree – partly I would argue because it is our natural inclination to protect others and partly because we readily seem willing to obey. As I discussed in Part 1 the mortality for Covid-19 is running very low – maybe 0.34% – but maybe we neither know the true figures at one end or the possibly manipulated figures at the other. We just don’t know. Where I live in France we have the lowest death rate (as I write) – these include folk transported into this area as we have vacant hospital beds. It’s likely you could count the poor local souls who have died on one hand. And yet I see people acting with palpable fear. It’s likely our department will seal itself off (as all others) while the borders around France are closed for exit but open for entrance. It’s all a tad odd.

In Survivors the first real brush up against Law & Order occurs in Episode 2. Abby arrives at a house (and small commune) run by an ex-Trade Union official called Arthur Wormley. He has effectively declared himself ‘Protector’ of the surrounding area. Wormley also hints that he has, or has had, some insider knowledge of the pandemic through government contact. This seems an attempt to give him legitimacy. While Abby is there she witnesses a ‘Kangaroo Court’ and a man taken to be a threat to the commune is summarily executed. Wormley’s men are encountered in Episode 3 too when they lay claim to the goods in a supermarket which Abby, Greg and Jenny are taking food from. Apparently they would be allowed to take what is ‘fair’ if they first obtain ‘official chits’. On the one hand we could argue that this is a reasonable attempt to manage resources and distribution – on the other it appears more as if Wormley is setting up as a ruthless and authoritarian ‘Chieftain’.

Again – I’m not attempting to re-write the plot of this first series but to highlight certain issues. It is obvious that Wormley will become both an active and an existential threat. His dictatorial regime is one manifestation of government. This idea has a volt-face in the Episode; ‘Garland’s War’. In a sense this episode looks at a Feudal System of government, with a twist of course. The main character, Garland, has found himself evicted from his ancestral home by a chap named Knox and his followers. Garland is waging a one-man guerrilla war to get his place back. At one point we have the idea that Knox is the reasonable alternative to how he sees Garland – as a despotic feudal baron. A few twists of the plot later and it’s clear that Knox is the ‘bad guy’ and Garland – though still an outcast – has an old-fashioned, patriarchal but also benevolent and romantic idea of how the estate should be run. There’s a definite spoiler possible here for you – so I’ll quickly move on!

There are a few clashes between groups as one would expect, with independent groups, militia-type groupings and even a small settlement with a tank! But the main episode for Law & Order is interesting and a defining moment, perhaps, of the first series (for a number of reasons). It has been decided within our group of survivors that they need some entertainment – and those of us under lockdown in 2020 can readily relate to this. There’s dancing to Greg’s guitar and singing (not bad at all in fact and realistically portrayed in the way these scenes most often aren’t) but also alcohol freely flowing. Price, the Welsh chap, has defected back to the group and has struck up a relationship with Barney (who is simple-minded but has useful natural skills). Price also has his eyes on a young woman called Wendy who joined the group with an old Jewish woman she’d been staying with.  Barney leaves the festivities and main hall first, obviously drunk. Wendy goes to bed soon after and Price follows her. It’s obvious what he wants and in her bedroom she is knifed to death by Price – presumably as she struggles against his advances. The next day when Wendy’s body is found Price manages to frame Barney as her killer – who is unable to articulate his innocence. There follows a form of trial where Barney is incapable of defending himself. He is found guilty of the murder and it is decided he should be killed (as opposed to ‘banishment’). Which he is. This is quite startling and unexpected (in these Hollywood-ending times). Price in fact finally owns up to his guilt but in a discussion between Greg and Abby, Greg states that they can’t admit they have killed the wrong person to the group and they can’t afford to kill another man. Thus there is a secret between Price, Abby and Greg. (Without giving the game away further this IS resolved.)

As a result of this episode the actress playing Abby had a massive barny (no pun intended) with the director and effectively left the series (with a further four episodes remaining to which she must have agreed to continue acting as Abby). I also noticed that the writer of this episode didn’t write any further ones! This episode being discussed is actually called ‘Law and Order’ and set a dark and most realistic tone, in many ways. It made me question the whole procedure of guilt and innocence. Some thoughts:

  1. How reliable can evidence be?
  2. How can a man without full faculties be tried for a crime?
  3. How responsible would that person be with ‘diminished responsibilities’?
  4. How else were the group to respond to what seemed like ‘overwhelming evidence’
  5. Would ‘banishment’ have been a fairer sentence? (It was presumed Barney would have died alone once away from that commune.)
  6. Could he have had an alternate form of punishment – such as working longer and harder for x amount of time to ‘repay his debt’? But could they continue to trust him – might ‘he’ not strike again?
  7. Had they the right to execute him?
  8. Had they the right NOT too? (There would always be the apparent chance of him doing something like that again and if he were ‘rescued’ from banishment might he not do the same to a girl from another group? In that case they would have to share some of the guilt for letting him free!
  9. Greg became the ‘executioner’ by lot. Was it fair for any of them to be so?
  10. How would a New World Order re-create laws and justice? In a new situation what would the laws be based on? The Bible? Common-group-sense? Biased-group-sense? The Old Order?  ‘Might is Right’?
  11. An innocent man was executed having been ‘tried and sentenced’. What precedent would that set for the group and other communities?!
  12. A guilty man effectively went free. His ONLY redemption being that he confessed – albeit too late.

The fewer the people and the greater the existence of ‘strong men’ (or violent men or psychopathic men) would mean that, as with Wormley, the greater the chances of summary execution. Again there would have to be a correlation with maintenance of law and order and the amount of people LEFT in society. For us ‘here and now’ law and order is largely maintained – but not completely. People that think differently – ACT differently. People who think differently or live their lives under different mores won’t see a situation in the same manner.

I usually say: the more people there are the greater the laws needed to control us (well, I paraphrase) and with fewer people, of course, there might possibly be: fewer laws, concentrated laws or specific laws. In response to an epidemic such as that found in ‘Survivors’ it would seem that laws have been put into place, such as they are, in a piecemeal fashion. Thus the laws are concentrated in certain areas where certain groups either have, or wish to have, control. The laws we are experiencing at the moment across the globe often reflect the nature of our existing governments – with the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) coming in the hardest. The dangers for freedom/liberty are that the extended powers given Western governments (such as the UK and France) will not be wholly rescinded. Further, there is always the danger of tyrannical measures arriving on the coat-tails of disaster.

We have therefore two opposites: next to no law (and certainly no national, coherent law in ‘Survivors’) and a kind of emergency regime in democratic nations with more hard-line governance in dictatorial regimes. And with some countries taking a more ‘relaxed’ approach to the virus (re ‘social distancing’, wearing of masks, etc.). I imagine that differing amounts of people would reflect in the nature of any imposed law and order – perhaps a certain balance between government officials and number of survivors would bring in even MORE draconian measures. If a million folk, say, were to survive in a nation then the Government might try hard to keep these folk ‘together’ under their preceding law and order regime and in so doing might well resort to heavy-handed military force.

In the last episode of the first season of ‘Survivors’ (which I have only recently watched) Greg says: we are all out for the best for ourselves. By the end of the episode he has begun to communicate with other groups with the idea of creating a Federation. It’s going to be interesting to see how these pockets of Law & Order either coalesce or separate like oil and water.

Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of ‘Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help; Notes for a Better Life’ available from Amazon

survivorsboxsetSurvivors

  • Starring: Denis Lill , Lucy Fleming , Ian McCulloch and Carolyn Seymour
  • Directed by: Pennant Roberts , Terence Williams and Gerald Blake

You can buy Survivors – Series 1-3 Box Set [DVD] [1975] here

 

Leave a Comment

Survivors – Comparing the TV Series, COVID-19 & the Future Part 1 ‘Introduction’

Survivors_Logo

Reviewed by Tim Bragg

Spoiler Alert: the following talks generally about ideas from the series, with specific information related to Episode1.

Survivors was a successful TV series first broadcast on television in 1975 (with further series in ’76 and ’77). The episodes I have re-watched thus far have been mainly written by Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks (from Dr.Who) among many other credits. When the series first aired I was a youth discovering life and this had an impact upon me. We would wait from week to week to discover the unravelling fate of the eponymous ‘survivors’. I think all (or most episodes) of the series are available on YouTube – I’ve seen a playlist containing 24 episodes, though that would be two short for series one and two (both 13 episodes respectively). Regardless, I shall deal with each series generally and maybe hone in on the themes of particular episodes. Throughout I shall try to marry the narrative of the 70s survivors with both the reality NOW and how we might have responded to a similarly exaggerated situation. In the fictional account, only 1 in 5,000 people have survived – rendering the UK’s population to around 10,000. We are probably looking at a contemporary COVID-19 death rate of between, say 8 and 17 per 5,000 of those WITH the disease. Thus against the survival of ONE per 5,000, we have something like 4,990 – it’s hard to be accurate as we don’t know how many have had (or will have) the virus. The figure could well be closer to 4,995 plus survival rate. Currently, we only have stats for those dying from the virus and even these figures are questioned. In the area I live in in France the death-rate is roughly equal to our previous year (we seem to have the lowest rate of infection in France). Okay – its current speculation set against a fictional creation. But you get the idea. ‘Survivors’ REALLY IS about surviving.

The flavour of the series is interesting in that it marries prescience with a now almost achingly old-fashioned and nostalgic sense of England. For instance, the virus has come from China and is a pandemic/epidemic (as far as is known). The Government response seems incompetent with deliberate lies about the extent of the effects of the virus. Everything we are experiencing now seems to have been considered but obviously highly exaggerated because of the death-rate. The infrastructure of the whole of the UK seems to have quickly shut down, with no electricity and faltering public services. As I respond I’m going to relate my ideas to this fictional account with what we are currently experiencing – and how we might deal with a virus such as that NOW. How would we modern humans cope compared with those fictional mid-70s characters?

The main figures I have encountered thus far are Abby – a middle-class married woman whose young son is at boarding school. She contracts the illness but survives, whereas her husband dies. At least the first half of Series 1 is structured around the search for Abby’s son (who isn’t among the dead boys at the school and is apparently part of a group of healthy students sent camping into the countryside). Contrasted with Abby is Jenny – a young working woman from London. Most of the characters speak with middle-class accents. (On a side note – have a listen to musicians from the 1970s and you will be surprised at how ‘well’ they speak, Roger Waters springs to mind but remember should you watch any music documentaries). The final main character (thus far) is Greg. Greg is resourceful and ‘handy’. Another adult character that crops up and is intertwined throughout is Tom Price – a Welshman. He adds an element of ‘humour’ and represents, perhaps, a typically useless (as well as devious) survivor. Though full of seeming bravado his only real skill is in ‘wheeling and dealing’ and the ability to ingratiate himself into any situation or with any company. I’ll introduce other characters as they occur.

Abby responds to the death of her husband by leaving their house after burning it down. This seems both extreme and odd. This would surely be the place her son would head for if he has survived (and she finds out later that there is such a chance). Though we are constantly, and rightly, told that the chances of ANYONE surviving are extremely low. Abby is later framed as a leader, though I am yet unconvinced. Jenny walks out of London to find herself in the countryside where Abby is from. I’m not going to re-write the plot, but the first major idea of the series is presented in this episode: that society must start again. Everything must be re-learned and that though there is plenty to go round for the moment all of that will be gone in one or two further generations. At that point, humanity would have to stand on its own two feet and not rely on the spoils of previous generations. In this case, Greg is a very useful figure but not the most competent as we later find out when other characters’ skills become apparent. But he is useful and can turn his hands to most things.

My thoughts on what might happen as a virulent virus scythes down a population and how best to make initial responses will be compared with both the series and a modern highly lethal variant of Covid-19. If you were to find yourself surviving amid utter carnage with the collapse of everything around you – what would or what MUST you do? The responses will be as varied as the survivors themselves of course – with both cool heads and crashing emotional reactions. I found Abby to be quite cold emotionally but maybe she was stunned by the lightning changes brought about by the virus. Whereas we have experienced an abstract response perhaps to Covid-19 (unless we have lost someone close or are working on the ‘front-line’). I do recall the gradual sense of ‘awakening’ to what was happening as elements of normal life were shut down and civil liberties curtailed in quick succession. In a quick and total collapse, there would be NO government and NO law. This is something I will discuss later.

What do you do? Where do you go? With dead bodies everywhere diseases would soon spread. Do you get away from humanity as fast as possible or should you attend to local things first? Should you look for babies or children in the neighbourhood who might have survived? Or anyone else? Or as society disintegrates, and people are freed of any moral shackles – would there be an interim of utter lawlessness, chaos, and danger? How would ordinary people behave? The reaction in a village would surely be completely different to that in a metropolis. Jenny is ordered out of London by her doctor friend (who knows exactly what’s going on and the effect of the virus). She encounters some youths on her escape. I found this moment almost touching. The youths were like I was back then – bell-bottomed jeans and long hair. They were not particularly aggressive. Today it might not be quite the same. We have lost the hegemony of culture and depending upon where we live – the surrounding society might not be so ‘high trust’. What we have NOW – low numbers dying but a great degree of fear leading to initially appalling scenes of people fighting for toilet rolls and general looting in certain areas – might have been much worse. In ‘Survivors’ there would have been a brief time of immediate danger – but as the numbers rapidly thinned then the danger would – for that moment – have been different. In other words – the death rate of a virus will mirror both how folk respond and the real danger of immediate groupings. How quickly would some of us turn savage?

Ideally, bodies would be disposed of – but if the numbers became overwhelming the remaining few could do very little. Would pets be kept, or killed (the latter as an act of mercy)? In ‘Survivors’ there is a fear that roving packs of dogs could well be rabid. Would folk remain in their own areas or run? Either way, they would need the wherewithal to note where food could be obtained and petrol – especially if traveling on foot or by car (perhaps ‘stolen’ cars. Jenny had to walk from London as the streets were either congested by folks fleeing or blocked by abandoned cars).

With the whole environment opened-up as it were – then survivors would need clean water (or the means to boil or purify); wood stoves or Calorgas stoves and heating and – though this might not pop into the head of a survivor in a state of absolute shock – to know where a library was and get as many books as possible on HOW to survive. I imagine many would think ‘help was at hand’. In one episode Tom Price goes on about the Americans or Japanese helping – to which he is abruptly shut up. There is no-one to help. All this makes me wonder about the numbers of folk required to survive to maintain any notable infrastructure and I will talk about this later. The first generation of survivors would be the ‘lucky’ ones. Food shops, chemists, cars, petrol, goods of all sorts readily available. Seemingly. Garden Centres might be prized as they contain tools/clothes/poisons etc. as well as plants and seeds. The transition from modern to medieval would be extremely hard. But at least those plunged into darker ages would have modern knowledge.

Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of ‘Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help; Notes for a Better Life’ available from Amazon

survivorsboxsetSurvivors

  • Starring: Denis Lill , Lucy Fleming , Ian McCulloch and Carolyn Seymour
  • Directed by: Pennant Roberts , Terence Williams and Gerald Blake

You can buy Survivors – Series 1-3 Box Set [DVD] [1975] here

 

 

Leave a Comment

 Fully Automated Luxury Communism by Aaron Bastani – A Defence

fullyautomatedluxurycommunismAlthough Karl Marx and his key collaborator Frederic Engels were politically engaged, active participants in the class struggle as well as being the theoretical founders of Scientific Socialism, neither of them had much to say about what a future Communist Society might look like. It is not true to say, however, as some critics claim, that they gave no indication of how society and the state might function in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of capitalism. In his book The Civil War in France, Marx made it clear that he saw the form of Direct Democracy exercised by the Communards in the short-lived but heroic Paris Commune, as an indication of how the working class might exercise State Power in a socialist society, a society that he saw as the transitional stage between Capitalism and Communism. The ideas Marx expressed here were later developed by Lenin in his pamphlet ‘The State and Revolution’ as a model for the future Soviet State, although in reality, for reasons that need not detain us here, very few of them were actually put into operation once this state was established.

That neither Marx nor Engels were willing to speculate on how Full Communism might look, once the concentration of power in the hands of the Proletariat under socialism had been long enough established for the state to, in his own terms, ‘wither away’, was more than anything else an indication of how far away such a prospect seemed at the time that they were writing. One thing that they were clear on however was that Communism, a society where class rule, and hence the repressive apparatus of the state had ceased to exist completely, could only arise in a situation where the application of scientific theory and praxis had created an ‘abundance of goods’ that were accessible to all, rather than to a small pampered elite that lived off the wealth creation of others. Once established, such a society would free individuals from the necessity of dedicating the bulk of their lives to maintaining the barest of existences through their work, thus enabling them to take part fully in the running of that society, as well as being able to dedicate themselves to such noble pursuits as Art, Philosophy and Science. An example of how such a society might function was perhaps given, in somewhat primitive form, by the Ancient Greek City states, where those who were fortunate enough to enjoy full citizenship were freed from the prosaic needs of survival by the existence of large numbers of much less fortunate slaves, thus enabling a flowering of creativity and thought that remains influential to this day. Marx and Engels were of course not agitating for a return to slavery, and indeed strongly supported the abolitionist North against the Slave owning South in the American Civil War. Rather, they saw in the rapidly advancing technological marvels of the Industrial Revolution, the outlines of a future world where mechanisation would allow full citizenship for all, and through that developments in the finer elements of human endeavour that would make the achievements of the Ancients, and of the Enlightenment, seem like a mere prehistoric prelude to history. Under Full Communism, every man would be a Renaissance Man.

Marx and Engels resided for a long period in Victorian Britain, which was then the citadel of world capitalism, as well as the birthplace of the industrial revolution; and it was a through a study of this society that much of what we have come to know as ‘Marxism’ was developed. Here, even in the most developed nation on Earth, they found conditions of extreme poverty afflicting the developing working class, as described most graphically in Engels ‘The Conditions of the Working Class in England.’ Given such appalling conditions, speculation about how a future communist society might look once all such poverty had been eliminated, along with the system of class exploitation itself, would have seemed just that: wild speculation best left to utopians and dreamers, and best avoided by those who based their analysis on the application of the scientific method to the study of politics. Of course, It was also axiomatic to the founders of Scientific Socialism that a society of abundance could only be built from the starting point of the highest forms of capitalism. That is why, the clear expectation of both Marx and Engels was that the first socialist society would be established in one of the most developed capitalist nations, most likely in Britain or Germany. The reality, of course, is that the first state in the world that proclaimed itself to be a Socialist State in the process of advancing towards Communism arose in backward, semi-feudal Russia, a fact that has had a great bearing on the development of socialist thought both East and West.

Those who have called themselves ‘Socialists’ or ‘Communists’ in the West since the Russian Revolution of 1917, have tended to place themselves at either one of two extremes: Firstly, those who follow Marx in insisting that the society of the future is almost unimaginable to our puny, capitalist indoctrinated brains, and therefore such speculation is best avoided; and, secondly, those who say that such a society is already in the process of being created, in the Soviet Union, China, Albania, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea et al. Both of these approaches have their weaknesses. The former has led to many activists seeming to do little more than ask people to continue to fight the good fight and to have trust in a brighter future, in the way that religious zealots might demand faith in a future paradise that can bring about through good works and/or devout faith. The latter group is all too easily, rightly or wrongly, portrayed by the defenders of the status quo as apologists for Totalitarian Dictatorship and mass murder.

It is to these historical weaknesses in the case for Socialism/Communism that Aaron Bastani’s book Fully Automated Luxury Communism is addressed.

His essential thesis is that a future of material abundance is now far from unimaginable. The technological advances made since Marx’ time, and particularly in the period since the Second World War, have been literally astonishing, calling to mind the dictum that ‘if technology is sufficiently advanced it becomes indistinguishable from magic’. Marx was around at the time of the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell: what would he have made of our modern mobile phones, devices through which we hold in our hands virtually the sum total of all human knowledge? The primary mode of transport in Victorian London at the time of Marx’ period of residence in our capital city was the horse-drawn carriage, and the world’s first Railway network was still in the process of being created through the brute labour power of overworked and underpaid itinerant  Navies, the ‘precariat’ of their day. Today, the motor car is king, human beings have walked on the Moon and have developed the ability to send crafts, albeit unmanned, well beyond the confines of our own Galaxy.

And yet, as Bastani shows in clear, easy to read, accessible prose, our astonishing technological advance has been and still is used in the service of a tiny elite, rather than utilised for the benefit of the many; and to make this state of affairs even worse, the ceaseless pursuit of private profit by a few techno-corporate giants threatens, even sans nuclear warfare, to destroy our planet, our habitat, our home, the environment upon which our very survival as a species depends.

Bastani is able to show that a society of post-scarcity is both possible and necessary, as well as to give an indication of how such a society might be achieved and might look. Those of us who are actively engaged in the struggle for a radically different, fairer world, whether we call ourselves Communists, Socialists, Anarchists or Ecologists, be we Trade Unionists and/or campaigners for peace and climate justice, need to absorb, to treat with seriousness, and to make use of the kind of analysis and agenda that Bastani and his co-thinkers are currently advancing. If we don’t, if we ignore such developments and merely implore activists to stick to a study of the classics of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Enver Hoxa, Kim Il Sung, mix and match as you see fit, and if we continue to re-fight the battles of the past rather than becoming proselytisers for an incomparably brighter and entirely realistic future, then we will confine ourselves to perpetual life on the political margins. The revolution will remain, as one wag put it, ‘just around the corner, the same place it has always been.’

Sadly, too many on the political Left have decided to dismiss Bastani’s work as worthless ‘hipster communism’, often it seems to me without having even bothered to read the book, let alone to engage seriously with the ideas put forward within its pages.

Here, in defending Bastani from his ‘Leftist’ critics, I will confine myself to two main points.

The first of these is the contention that FALC is essentially a ‘Reformist’ project. This is a point that is easily dealt with. Of course, the ideas in the book are indeed reformist, reformist in the sense that it contains a set of proposals to be implemented by a future radical government. That is, it is reformist in the same way that Labour’s 2017 and 2019 Election Manifestoes were reformist, in the same way that the 1945 Labour government was reformist. Reforms are important. Reforms, before Thatcher and Blair between them made the word ‘reform’ mean the opposite of its former political definition, have given working people much. But the reforms contained in Bastani’s book, if implemented in full, would amount to a revolution in the way we live more radical than anything ever previously seen.

In one badly argued ‘Left’ critique of FALC, from John Sweeney of the Communist Party of Britain (Morning Star, July 1st, 2019), Bastani’s assertion that the revolution won’t come about through a storming of the Winter Palace was written off disparagingly: why? Leaving aside the point that there was a lot more to the Russian Revolution than the storming of the official residence of the Tsar by an armed detachment of the working class led by the Bolshevik Party, how many on the Left in Britain today seriously believe that the British revolution will come about through a storming of Buckingham Palace? Does Sweeney himself believe this? If he does, then that is indicative of a very narrow understanding of the form and meaning of the socialist revolution.

One of the most exciting ideas that Bastani advocates is that of using technological development in order to advance towards a society of ever-increasing free Universal Basic Services, or UBS, a method he prefers to that of Universal Basic Income, UBI, (UBS rather than UBI), the latter which he rejects as little more than a trick to further enhance the capitalistic notion of ‘personal responsibility’ at the expense of the socialist imperative of collective security, as well as a way of further shrinking what remains of our actually existing Welfare State. Even at the present level of technological development, Bastani argues, it would be possible, once the capitalist class has been dispossessed, to rapidly advance to a system of UBS in the provision of energy, of high-speed broadband and other means of communication, in transport, in housing as well as in education and health care.

As well as UBS, Bastani advocates worker’s ownership of the means of production, to be administered in differing and varied forms (e.g. state ownership, municipal ownership, cooperatives), and the virtual abolition of all intellectual copyright and patent laws, so that the fruits of the sum total of human knowledge truly become the property of all.

Contrary to the impression given by Sweeney and many other ‘Left’ critics, Bastani doesn’t shy away from the need for political struggle if such a radical overhaul of society is to come about. The Red-Green Populist mass movement he calls for might not in and of itself be sufficient to bring about the changes he advocates. But is it really any less realistic than the idea of a shrinking industrial working class being led to power by a ‘vanguard’ party of the type Lenin first advocated in his ‘What is to be Done’ pamphlet way back in 1903?

This leads me to my second main point: the idea that Bastani is a Techno-Determinist who believes that Full Communism will emerge naturally through technological advance, without the need for political struggle at all. In reality, this is a weak caricature of Bastani’s thought, about as accurate as the common misconception that Marxism is an ideology of Economic Determinism which believes that socialism and communism are inevitable, whatever we as human beings do or don’t do.

In fact, the main thread that runs throughout the pages of Fully Automated Luxury Communism is that the potential for modern technology to liberate the whole of humankind from the evils of drudgery, poverty, and alienation, as well as to reverse climate change through ending our dependence on the rapidly diminishing supply of oil, is severely and quite deliberately limited by the physical and intellectual ownership of this technology by a tiny corporate, globalist elite. In short, Bastani’s work is wholly compatible with the Marxian analysis that under capitalism the capacity of the Forces of Production to liberate mankind will always, so long as capitalism exists, be limited by the Relations of Production, the ownership of the means of production by a tiny elite who then use that ownership to enrich themselves rather than to benefit the many.

A single quotation from the closing pages of the book should forever refute the idea that Bastani believes that political struggle is unnecessary in order to bring about revolutionary change:

‘There is no necessary reason why they (scientists and corporations currently leading technological advance – T.G) should liberate us, or maintain our planet’s ecosystems, any more than that they should lead to ever-widening income inequality and widespread collapse. The direction we take next won’t be the result of a predictive algorithm or unicorn start-up – it will be the result of politics, the binding decisions on all of us that we collectively choose to make.’

I am by no means a Bastani fan-boy. I have my own criticisms of his book. I’m not keen on the use of the word ‘Luxury’ for a start, a word that to me conjures up images of indolent decadence rather than of the unleashing of the creative potential of the masses that I believe would arise in a society built on abundance for all. There is also a strong case for dispensing with the word ‘communism’, a word that has, again rightly or wrongly to have much more negative connotations than its original Marxian meaning.  And I agree that Bastani doesn’t say enough about the form that the sort of movement he believes needs to be developed should take: for instance, a new political party, work through the existing parties, a Gramscian long march through the institutions, mass street protest, Trade Union action, or all of the above? Would such a movement, and/or a government committed to implementing Bastani’s ideas be prepared to use violence in order to defeat resistance that would inevitably be mounted by a threatened ruling elite? I would also add ‘Democratic’ and ‘National’ to Bastani’s ‘Red-Green-Populist triptych. ‘Democratic’ because, contrary to the sectarianism that has plagued the Left since the time of Marx himself, it really would be better if we let as many flowers bloom as possible, and ‘National’ because the political struggle is still fought primarily at the level of the Nation-State, and I believe that history has demonstrated that the Nation-State remains the largest form of political organization possible for the operation of a truly democratic culture. In addition, I wouldn’t be as quick as Bastani to dismiss the revolutionary/reformist potential of UBI, dependent on how it is implemented and by whom. There is no contradiction between the ideas of UBI and UBS. The two are twins, not opposites.

But at the very least FALC offers a hopeful vision of a future worth fighting for, and of how that future might look, something that, as I have already suggested, has been sorely lacking from Socialist discourse from its inception. Admittedly, I’m no scientist; and therefore, I’m not in a position to comment on the feasibility of asteroid mining, of nano-technology, of quantum computers, to give but a few examples of the many technological wonders of the future that Bastani believes can lead to a life of meaningful, healthy leisure for all. Nor do I know if the capacity of renewable energies can be expanded to the point that everyday energy usage can be made free for all, whilst at the same time making a huge contribution to reversing climate change, as quickly and as easily as Bastani suggests. But I doubt that many of the True Communist critics of the book are in any better position as regards such matters than I am.

Aaron Bastani advances a vision that inspires me, and can I believe be used to inspire others, to show the disillusioned and the dispossessed that, contrary to the fatalism and pessimism that is deliberately fostered by the ideologues of capital, that another world, a world for the many, not the few, a world that sees nature as a home in need of repair and protection rather than as a resource to be exploited,  is indeed possible.

It is time to leave our self-constructed Far Left ghettoes; time to dream; time to allow the imagination to take power.

Anthony C Green. Anthony C Green is a social care worker, novelist, Trade Unionist, and political activist living in Liverpool. His latest novel Special, based on his experiences as a social care worker, is now available: https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/contemporary/special/

Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto Hardcover – 11 Jun. 2019
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Verso Books (11 Jun. 2019)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1786632624
ISBN-13: 978-1786632623

 

 

  • Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto Hardcover – 11 Jun. 2019
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Verso Books (11 Jun. 2019)
  • ISBN-10: 1786632624
  • ISBN-13: 978-1786632623

Leave a Comment

Co-Void 19 Thoughts From a Rural Location Part 3

countrysidewild-geese-3379677_640As I was walking down the slope into the small valley I could hear voices ringing out and the heavy sound of machinery. This was unexpected. Gradually the sounds quietened. It got me thinking about what a surreal dream we all inhabit – bordering on a nightmare. I’ve mentioned this before but it came to me so clear. What exactly is going on? I was thinking about how we are becoming afraid of our fellow beings. Mind forged manacles indeed – now we are not simply ‘isolating’ ourselves but imprisoning our minds. I carried on and dropped still further to a stream. There stood a man, alone, looking at the waters flowing. It was an encounter. Briskly I continued and as he turned and walked to me I gave him a wide smile (the only form of ‘reaching out’). He seemed perturbed. Maybe this was just my interpretation – but it felt awkward. I said ‘hello’ (‘bonjour’) and he replied in like. After crossing the stream I watched him climb the slope I had previously come down. His trousers were salmon pink in colour – I have this fanciful idea that he came from the stream and took human form! What better time for another species to tread warily into human society. They must never have witnessed us so scared and vulnerable.

The way from the stream is a fair climb – but with rocky outcrops on the path to aid the ascent. I could feel my heart beating and my lungs filling with breath and subsequently exhaling. My legs moved with the will of my mind – thankfully they have the strength to do my bidding. We are physical as well as mental creatures. We need to move. It’s inbuilt. By the time I reached the top, I was panting but I could see back down towards the valley. The trees are clothing themselves and soon the ‘clear-season’ and its sights will be fully clothed and veiled. Dare I say it, masked! From the heights, I felt stronger – mentally and spiritually. But what is going on? What is happening to us? Will this nightmare become but a thing half-remembered, to haunt us only in future fears and anxiety?

Everything we think we know comes to us through a screen. Even if others speculate upon this theory or another, their information has also come from a screen. Well, I suppose there must still be some of us reading non-virtual newspapers! It is speculated that the virus might have come from one of Wuhan’s infamous wet-markets (which apparently are beginning to re-open!); others maintain it has come either deliberately or by accident from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (manslaughter or mass-murder); others think that the problem lies with 5G (and its towers/masts) and that the coronavirus is simply – dare I say it again – a mask. As a result of the virus there are others who point out possible dangers via enforced vaccination (that might well carry a chip too – so all of our movements would be tracked not simply car journeys); the linking up of our minds (and bodies) with A.I.; a cashless society – whereby we all become slaves of the banking system. The latter reminds me of the proposed UBI (universal basic income) – maybe that will be used as a ‘sweetener’ to gain our compliance? But it might also mean that everyone is reduced to a slave wage with JUST enough to survive. I mean if you tie all these in together – it’s harrowing reading. The image of humans linked in to an artificial web – food for thought, or food for an emerging spidery elite?

  • Maybe this ‘Strange New World’ we find ourselves in will herald a bright future for us and our fellow creatures. It’s entirely possible. Isn’t it? That would mean altering our relationship with SCREENS and our fellow humans. For the moment it feels like reality is processed through a screen. Can we be as brave as Alice and step through the looking-glass? Do we need to live our lives through screens? Surely this dream we are living through has shown us the potential of a different way of life – if only viewed askance. It surely must have prompted many of us to ask basic (and not so basic) questions, such as:
  • What is REALLY important?
  • What is the true nature of REALITY?
  • Who (or what) provides us with our apparent reality? 
  • What will give us real and deep happiness?
  • Where do we belong and what do we belong to?
  • Do we need to constantly complicate our existence?
  • Can we be happy with less?
  • Is it more important to have silence than noise?
  • Are we being manipulated by the media?
  • Who can we trust?

Is it more important to share and live a spiritual rather than materially based life?

I could go on. But I’ll spare you. You get the drift.

So – what’s it to be folks? Or is it a question of ‘wait and see’ (hopefully not followed by ‘hide and seek’)? Is it a question of looking at the chessboard and guessing our opponents next three moves? Or are we all on the same side? And this is where I can only re-iterate: reality presents itself through screens! I really don’t know anything. Absolutely nothing for sure. I wait. I watch. I listen. I think. I ready myself. This spectacular BLIP in the history of ‘Our kind’ might just be that – a BLIP! A nasty blip nevertheless. Once we’re through the looking-glass and then back again into ‘reality’ it might be as if it were all just a bad dream. No technocracy; no crashing of the economy; no mass unemployment; no One World Government – but rather families, extended-families (and Nations) getting on with their lives anew. A major spiritual change moving across the still, silent oceans and passing over the towns and sprawling cities of the World. A return to deeper and simpler ways of living. Can we be trusted with FREEDOM?

Time will tell.

By Tim Bragg
Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help Notes for a Better Life available from Amazon
Image by Antonius Ntoumas from Pixabay.

 

 

Leave a Comment

The Vanishing Futurist by Charlotte Hobson

The Vanishing Futurist by Charlotte Hobson

• Paperback: 320 pages
• Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (2 Mar. 2017)
• ISBN-10: 9780571234875
• ISBN-13: 978-0571234875

Reviewed by Anthony C Green

thevanishingfuturistThe Vanishing Futurist is a novel that I stumbled upon by accident whilst browsing in Liverpool’s excellent News from Nowhere left-wing bookshop. It is set in Russia in the period immediately prior to, during, and after the revolution of 1917.
The story is told from the perspective of Gerty Freely, a young English governess who works for a wealthy Moscow family. It is told in the past tense, from an unspecified point in the future, although it is clear that it is a point at which the Soviet Union is still in existence. References to a Soviet film of The Vanishing Futurist being made in the nineteen fifties, and other snippets of information, make it appear as though we are dealing with real, historical events. The appearance of real-life individuals such as the great Constructivist architect, designer, and artist Vladimir Tatlin and early Soviet Commissar for Education Anatoly Lunacharsky add to this sense of realism.

As the revolutionary upheavals of 1917 intensify, the Kobolev family by whom Gerty is employed, decide to leave Moscow, for the warmer and safer climate of the Crimea. Finding it more and more difficult to support herself through the teaching of English, and also partly out of ideological commitment, Freely ends up becoming a member of the Institute for Revolutionary Transformation (IRT), a small community which is established in order to practice a radical form of collectivist living, where all goods, including clothes, are held in common. The Communities increasingly meagre supplies of food are all shared equally, all work is collectively undertaken without distinctions of gender, and all diversions from the inner and outer struggle to reinvent oneself as the perfect Socialist Man/Woman are either frowned upon or banned outright.
Sex is regarded as one such diversion, though the proscription on physical relationships between commune members is tested early in the novel when Gerty falls in love with an avant-garde artist, scientist, and fellow IRT member Nikita Slavkin.

It is Slavkin who is the hero of the novel, and the Futurist referred to in its title. He brings his sexual relationship with Gerty to an end not long after it had begun, although his claim that he has done so for ideological reasons is strongly undermined when he quickly becomes physically involved with Sonya, another female member of the commune.

Life in the IRT mirrors developments in the world outside as the young Soviet Worker’s State battles for survival against the combined forces of Imperialist intervention, internal counter-revolution, and endemic poverty and backwardness which has been worsened by the wasteful brutalities of the First World War. Thus, as the original revolutionary spirit of experimentation in art comes up against the austere and harsh requirements of War Communism, a split emerges within the commune itself, between the radical followers of Slavkin on one side, and those who side with Fyodor, an IRT member who stresses the importance of discipline and efficiency as the key to the building of socialism. The original radical impulse of the IRT is further weakened when the leadership of the local Soviet decrees that in order to help cope with the acute housing shortage in Moscow it must open its doors to people who do not necessarily share the ideological fervour of its founders.

This aspect of the novel can be read as an analogy for the way that the revolutionary spirit of Russia’s small but class conscious industrial working class was severely diluted by an influx of more politically and culturally backward elements from the countryside, who were needed to replace workers who had joined the newly established Red Army in order to fight the White Counter-Revolutionaries and imperialist interventionists. This struggle also mirrors the tensions within Russia between on the one side the Slavic/conservative/traditionalist elements and the Westernised/ liberal/modernisers, a tension that dates back to at least the 19h century and is still unresolved within today’s Russian Federation.

It is on two of Slavkin’s radical inventions that the novel hinges. The first is called the PropMash, an abbreviation of Propaganda Machine, which is a form of sensory overload capsule that, by bombarding people with sights, sounds and smells designed to promote socialism, can supposedly rapidly break down individualistic conditioning and raise political consciousness to the required level of the new revolutionary man or woman.

The PropMash has mixed results, and Slavkin’s attention is soon diverted to an intense study of the newly emerging theories of Quantum Physics. These studies lead him to adopt what has become known as the Many Worlds/Multi-verse interpretation of quantum reality, essentially the idea that every decision we make creates a new universe; that an infinite number of parallel universes therefore exist, and that within this plurality of worlds everything that can possibly happen has happened, is happening, or will happen. Although seemingly straight out of a Philip K Dick novel this scientific theory, first postulated by the American Physicist Hugh Everett in the late nineteen fifties, has now become almost mainstream.

Slavkin’s logical deduction from the Many Worlds’ theory is that although Communism, the highest and final form of socialism and thus of human development, may not be possible here and now in the conditions of the backward and impoverished Russia of 1918, there must exist an infinite number of alternate universes where Full Communism has already been achieved. This revelation leads him to invent the Socialisation Capsule, which is essentially a vehicle for the transportation of individuals, beginning with Slavkin himself, from the harsh reality of his own material existence into a dimension where one of these utopian, communist parallel realities exists.

Slavkin’s public questioning of the possibility of achieving communism in present-day Russia quickly brings him to the attention of the local Cheka, the forerunner of the KGB. When he disappears from the experimental laboratory where he has been taken, a disappearance that apparently occurs after the facilities’ housekeeper had heard his new device whirling into action, the central mystery of the novel is posed: has Slavkin actually disappeared into one of the alternate communist futures that he believes must exist or, more prosaically, have his radical scientific theorising and experimentation led him to pay the ultimate price under the increasingly harsh excesses of Soviet Communism? It’s a question that Gerty, who has by now found that her brief physical relationship with Slavkin has left her pregnant with his child, sets out to discover the answer to.

I was not entirely satisfied by the ending to the book, but that may be no more than saying that, as a writer myself I would have chosen to conclude it differently. That aside, I thought The Vanishing Futurist was excellent. it is part Historical Fiction, part Science Fiction, and it deals with big questions, about how we should live, about our capacity to imagine different, better worlds, about high ideals, and how such ideals often come into conflict with the material practicalities of brute survival.

If that makes it sound as though it might be hard going, it isn’t. Its light and easy to read style make it a novel that is accessible to all reasonably intelligent readers. I would, however, add the caveat that although prior knowledge is not essential to the enjoyment of the book, the readers who will get the most from it are those with some background understanding of the main events and themes of the Russian Revolution, and perhaps also of the artistic movements that came to prominence and flowered briefly during this period of history, movements such as Futurism and Constructivism. The writer has clearly done her own homework in these areas, and her novel is highly recommended.

Anthony C Green is a social care worker, novelist, Trade Unionist, and political activist living in Liverpool. His latest novel Special, based on his experiences as a social care worker, is now available: https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/contemporary/special/

Comments (1)

SPECIAL by Anthony C Green 

  •  SPECIAL by Anthony C Green  special
  • Matador £7.99
  • ISBN 9781788033 442

Special is essentially the fictional biography of Annie Carter, born in Liverpool to a white mother and Jamaican father, told from the (her own) perspective of someone with an IQ of 70. The author uses his own experience of working within the field of Social Care for more than 20 years to reconstruct her life-story seen through her eyes. It provides an authentic insight into what is often a largely hidden world.

Annie was born in 1963 a (not “in the late 1950s” as stated on the back cover). The distinction is important. Philip Larkin`s poem Annus Mirabilis rings true to anyone who lived through the period:

“Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles` first LP”

The Chatterley ban ended in the autumn of 1960 and the Beatles` first LP came out in the spring of 1963. Larkin`s point is that there really were enormous changes in social attitudes between 1959 and the mid-1960s. In 1959-60 I taught children like Annie, from families who had moved from the Manchester slums of Collyhurst and Harpurhey to a nearby overspill housing estate. They were designated E.S.N. (Educationally Sub-Normal) but were taught in the lowest stream of Primary Schools. Special is set in Liverpool only a few years later, in an environment I found almost unrecognisable from my own experiences.

That said, the book is a gripping read. Jennifer, Annie`s mother, was only 17 when Annie was born. Two siblings arrived at intervals before her father was murdered in a racist attack (the racial element, although apparent throughout the novel, is largely incidental to its main theme) when Annie was 6. Two years later she was sent to an institution some 20 miles away from home. Her mother was an infrequent visitor. The heart of the book is Annie`s reaction to her new situation and how she coped with it. She was always aware of what was going on, unlike some of the other inmates who lacked her level of intelligence. She was sexually abused by staff and even, on a home visit, by a step-father. She ran away when she was 15 and worked as a prostitute in Wigan before being “re-captured”.

The author recounts these experiences with great sensitivity and understanding. He succeeds in the difficult task of empathising with Annie`s situation without either being patronising or under-stating the problems she sometimes caused for others, even for those she instinctively liked. He made one feel sympathetic both to Annie and to her mother Jennifer, who was torn between her love and responsibility for Annie and her need to serve the interests of her other children. And maybe if Annie`s father had not been murdered her life would have turned out differently. Her father doted on her and would surely never have acquiesced in her being sent to Mandlestones, the institution to which she was sent when she was 8. She clearly treasured his memory. I recommend the book warmly. It made me feel on Annie`s side throughout all of her difficulties. In describing the pitfalls which could befall a vulnerable child and adolescent in the 1970s he pulls no punches. Kindness wasn`t absent, but neither was exploitation. In that sense, it is also a piece of social history, the reality of which we have become increasingly aware. It also chronicles an increasingly progressive and humane approach on the part of the authorities.

The Prologue also serves as an Epilogue and should be re-read if its contents have been forgotten during the course of the book.

Reviewed by Henry Falconer

Leave a Comment

Buried Lives: the Protestants of Southern Ireland

buriedlivesBuried Lives: the Protestants of Southern Ireland

Robin Bury, The History Press Ireland, Dublin 2019.  20.00

ISBN: 978-1-84588-880-0

Robin Bury, a member of the Church of Ireland, who grew up in East County Cork in the 1950s and 60s, has examined the long and troublesome experience of the Protestants in what he calls ‘Southern Ireland’. He uses this term rather than the ‘Irish Free State’, or the ‘Republic of Ireland’ as he covers the period from before the foundation of the independent Irish state until the present day.

What was it that turned the once strong and thriving southern Irish Protestant community into an ‘isolated, pacified community’ living an isolated parallel existence from mainstream society?  How did the section of Irish society that produced some of the nation’s greatest writers; Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde, WB Yeats, J M Synge, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett; international brands like Guinness, Jacob’s Biscuits and Jameson whiskey decline from 10% of the population in 1911 to less than 3% in 2011? What happened? Was this decline natural, or was it helped by human intervention in some way?

The decline began to accelerate in the period 1919 – 1923. Bury examines carefully the statistics from this period in his first chapter taking into account the number of people directly or indirectly connected with the Royal Irish Constabulary and the British armed forces, those who died in the Great War and the postwar Spanish flu epidemic and natural decrease.  Excluding the approximately 64,600 people included in these categories, Bury estimates that 41,856 southern Irish Protestants left the country; whether by direct intimidation, or their own apprehension and fears of being trapped in what was quickly becoming a conservative, Catholic, Anglophobic state.

The newly formed Irish Free State certainly had no policy of driving the Protestants out.  This was certainly not the case with the IRA ‘irregulars’ who – in east Cork at least – targeted a large number of Protestants; small farmers, businessmen, shopkeepers and one Church of Ireland clergyman. They were seen as the enemy; ‘land-grabbers’, ‘landlords’, ‘Freemasons’, ‘Orangemen’, ‘Imperialists’, ‘informers’; all to justify their killing.

Things got so bad, that the Archbishop of Dublin and two other leading southern Protestants had a meeting with the Free State leader, Michael Collins after thirteen Protestants were murdered in the Bandon valley. They wanted to know if the Protestant minority should stay on in the county. Collins assured them that, “the government would maintain civil and religious liberty”. However, Collins wasn’t in much of a position to do much to help. IRA irregulars assassinated him a few months later.

This is a period that many people, especially in today’s modern Ireland would wish to bury; hence the title, Buried Lives. The author is meticulous in his documentation of this tragic, overlooked, and often deliberately ignored aspect of Irish history. The second chapter records some survivors’ harrowing stories; many given as evidence to the Southern Irish Loyalists Relief Association and the Irish Grants Committee to try to win some compensation for their loss. These personal stories show the genuine terror these survivors experienced.

Bury shows how southern Protestants adapted to life in DeValera’s Free State by living quiet, but largely separate lives, rarely socialising outside their own communities; they ‘kept their heads down’ and got on with things in a virtual parallel universe. Until recent times, the mainstream Irish attitude in the South was deference towards the Catholic Church and a romantic rural nationalism. The Protestants survived because they became an insignificant minority.

Bury also looks at the influence of the infamous Ne Temere decree issued by Pope Pius X in 1907.  Before 1926, only 6.1% of Protestant brides were marrying Catholic men; by 1971 the figure was 30%. Today, it’s closer to 50%. Children of couples married since Ne Temere are brought up in the Catholic faith, further contributing to the decline of the Protestant communities in the State.

Bury looks at the notorious Fethard-on-Sea boycott of 1957 where all Protestant-owned businesses, farms and even individuals were boycotted after the marriage of a local couple broke down and the Protestant wife, Sheila Cloney, took her children away from the Co Wexford town. The boycott was organised by the local parish priest, Fr William Stafford and lasted for nine months.

Happily, the Southern State has changed a lot in the last sixty-odd years since the Fethard-on-Sea boycott. This is not due to the silent minority – the marginalised Protestants – but people, mainly women, brought up in conservative, Catholic Ireland – who said, we’re not going to put up with this anymore.  Strict censorship has gone; Article 44 of the constitution, which gave a special place in society to the Catholic Church, was removed, divorce and contraception were legalised, homosexuality was decriminalised. There is still a long way to go, people are still assumed to be at least culturally Catholic, but perhaps the Southern Protestants may yet find a place in the sun. The rise of Sinn Féin electorally in the Republic may stymie this; it may not. Time will tell.

This book is a useful introduction to a difficult and painful period in Irish history. It has an appendix on the victims of the Bandon valley massacres and extensive notes and a bibliography for further research for any reader wishing to examine the author’s case in detail.

Reviewed by David Kerr

Comments (1)

The Poetry Pharmacy and The Poetry Pharmacy Returns; William Sieghart

poetrypharmacyAre you ever out-of-sorts, grieving, or broken-hearted?  Have you regrets, a fear of the unknown, or are you having to deal with problems in your life? A time may come when you’re bored, or anxious, or perhaps you are bereaved or unlucky in love.

Quoting Alan Bennett, the editor of these two compilations of verse says, “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

The reader identifies with the sentiments in the verse; you’re no longer on your own. Somebody else has experienced the same thing and bared their soul in print. It speaks to you. You have made a connection. You’re NOT the only one who feels like this.  Sieghart believes this can be therapeutic, hence his titles, The Poetry Pharmacy and The Poetry Pharmacy Returns.

For comfort, reflection, delight and inspiration, Sieghart offers poems to deal with most of our problems together with little individual introductions to explain why he considers them apt to the appropriate situation.

I love this poem by the fourteenth-century Persian poet, Hafez, which speaks to us all in a time of rancour, discord and division. It reminds us, that whatever path we take, we are probably working towards the same final goal as our neighbour who goes a different route; understanding, not fear, is the key.

I am in love with every church

And mosque

And temple

And any kind of shrine

Because I know it is there

That people say the different names

Of the One God.

These collections have delighted and inspired me and encouraged me to look into further poems by authors who spoke to my condition. I am likely to share some of them with the rest of the congregation the next time it’s my turn to give a reading when Sunday morning services eventually resume.

The Poetry Pharmacy; Particular Books 2017. ISBN978-1-846-14954-2

The Poetry Pharmacy Returns; Particular Books 2019. ISBN978-0-241-41905-2

Reviewed by David Kerr

 

 

Comments (1)

Hail Satan?

Baphomet“Hallowe’en is coming
And the goose is getting fat.
Will you please put a penny
In the old man’s hat?
If you haven’t got a penny,
A halfpenny will do,
And if you haven’t got a halfpenny
Then God bless you,
And your old man too.”

That’s the wee verse my sisters and I used to rhyme off at this time of the year, annoying our neighbours in Rathcoole as we went from door-to-door in homemade costumes made from bin bags. We carried Jack o’Lanterns which our mother had lovingly hollowed out of turnips. That, believe me, was no easy task.

This was long before the coming of the commercial Americanised imported ‘trick or treat’ fashion and the appearance of readymade costumes from Asda or B&M. As we counted our pennies, bobbed for apples and hoped to get the slice of apple tart containing a silver sixpence we were just having some fun.

We never thought of it as a celebration of the triumph of evil, or devil worship or of horrible things. We were not conjuring up demons; not a bit of it. It was part of our inherited traditions; every bit as much as the Eleventh Night, The Twelfth, St Patrick’s Day, Easter or Christmas. To hear some religious people talk; you would think that devil worship is what it’s all about. Not at all.

Still, the season we’re in reminds me of a recent documentary I saw at the QFT. Penny Lane has made a hugely entertaining film about a recently formed religious group that is beginning to attract public attention. It’s growing quite fast in the US where it began, and in some parts of Europe.

This new religious group has published its Seven Fundamental Tenets. Let me share them with you…

  •  One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
  •  The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  • One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  • The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
  • Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.
  • People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.
  • Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

By and large, with a quibble over a word here and there, that sounds like something you might read in The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Magazine or in The Inquirer; it sounds like faith guided by reason. It wouldn’t be out of place in one of our churches.
Doesn’t it all sound grand?
Doesn’t it all seem reasonable?
Doesn’t it sound ethical?
At first glance, I’d say yes.

So, what is this new religious movement and where is it based? Well, significantly or otherwise, it’s based in the town of Salem, Massachusetts. Yes, that Salem; the group calls itself The Satanic Temple. Wow!

For a moment, when I read these Seven Tenets, I thought to myself, “My God. A lot of this sounds quite reasonable. Have I been batting for the wrong team all these years?” Not only is the devil reputed to have all the best tunes; it now looks like he’s beginning to run away with the best principles too.

In fact, however, the Satanic Temple does not worship the Christian devil. They don’t actually believe in a literal Satan; for Christians, Jews and Muslims the personification of evil and hatred and the adversary of truth. The Satanic Temple’s symbolic ‘Satan’ is based on the literary heroic character of John Milton’s Paradise Lost; the wannabe challenger of arbitrary power and self-styled champion of the dispossessed.

They use their status as a recognised religious body to challenge conservative right-wing Christian theocrats in America who are trying to impose their own religious principles on others in violation of the US constitutional amendment separating church and state. They demand equal status for their own ‘deeply held religious principles’. When such groups try to place Crosses or Nativity scenes or stone tablets of the Ten Commandments on public property; TST then demand equal treatment in the courts for statues of Baphomet; their goat-headed symbol. Rather than allow that to happen, the Christian theocrats usually take their symbols down.

So, in the interests of peace, justice, empathy, mercy and equal treatment for all, should we prepare to ditch our Hallelujahs and start singing Hail Satan? Well, I’m sure (or, at least I hope) you’ll not be surprised to hear me saying, No.

John Milton’s literary Satan is not all he seems. He is not a man looking out for the common good of all humanity. He is a self-seeking immortal animated by a grudge against God to prey on humanity’s innocence.
Milton wrote at the time of the English civil wars. He thinks the common good is the most important thing about society. His opposition to kings is based upon his strong conviction that monarchies, being fatally vulnerable to the power held in the hands of one flawed individual, cannot benefit nations. To Milton; the only flawless king is God, therefore no human being should usurp God’s empty throne. That’s why he agreed with Charles I’s execution for treason and excoriated the Presbyterians of Belfast who protested against it.

He believed that republics, with their checks and balances, are a much better option; but Milton knew how naked ambition can pervert republics, too. He knew what happened to Rome and Athens. He had read his Tacitus, his Plutarch, and his Suetonius. From this, and his personal experience in the English civil wars, he concluded that the heart of tyranny is individualism.

Milton’s Satan personifies this individualism. Satan cannot bear to put the common good before his own personal desires. He exemplifies all that is dangerous about personal charisma, charisma, and his rhetorical dominance is bound up with that charisma.

When Satan makes speeches to other people, he is always manipulative, always instrumental. He uses people for his own ends. He lies. He is not a champion of the oppressed at all.

We might applaud the probably well-intentioned folk behind the Satanic Temple for the fine ethics in their Seven Tenets. Following them may indeed make them better people and good neighbours; but their champion has feet of clay.

As non-subscribing Presbyterian Christians, our champion is Jesus of Nazareth. I realise that some forms of religion can be a sly way for people to feel superior to others (we’re the chosen, God’s elect; you’re a reprobate sinner).

But we have no magic formula;
no Seven Tenets;
no 39 Articles;
no Westminster Confession;
no Four Spiritual Laws;
no Five Points of Calvinism.
We reject the insistence many professing Christians have, of insisting on doctrinal correctness, and concentrating on the afterlife and avoiding hell above all else.

We seek to nurture a deep and living faith in the goodness, grace, forgiveness and unconditional love of God as embodied in the life, the teachings, the death and the vindication of our Elder Brother, Jesus the Christ.

Hail Satan? No thanks. Instead, my cry will be
Kyrie Elieson. Lord have mercy. Alleluia and Amen.

This article was first delivered as a sermon in First Presbyterian Church, Belfast by David Kerr the Sunday before Hallowe’en 2019.

Picture: Eliphas Levi’s image of Baphomet

Leave a Comment

Co-Void 19 Thoughts From a Rural Location Part 1

countryside-2175353_640Earlier today (as I write) I finished reading Colin Wilson’s second postscript to his book: ‘The Outsider’. This work has been with me before, and now during, the current pandemic. I think Mr. Wilson was probably something of an ‘outsider’ too. This was his first book and, for a young man, propelled him into some unexpected fame, the like of which had probably not occurred since Lord Byron and his ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’. It seemed both men woke one morning to find themselves famous (to paraphrase Byron).

I have a few books ‘on the go’ as they say, but browsed my untidy bookshelves and picked out Isabel Colegate’s: ‘a pelican in the wilderness — hermits, solitaries, and recluses’— it seemed fitting (and no capitals in the actual title!). There’s a bookmark just over half-way in so it seems I’ve been here before — but I am either blessed (as in ‘peak experience’ blessed) or cursed by being able to read a book/listen to music or watch a film as if for the first time on each occasion.

The sun was shining (I’m in France so we get it here first) and the cat was lying down next to me fast asleep (plus ça change) and as I was reading the introduction, I felt the shadow of indolence pass over me. It wasn’t just indolence though. I was content. It felt like a partially drug-induced soporific state. As if I wasn’t quite in the real world. It could have been an experience where I shifted into another reality or received a visitation. But neither. Yet it was perplexing. Here I was — like so many of us — in forced lockdown with so much TIME on our hands. ‘Eternity in an hour’ — well not quite but with such autonomy (apart from geographic constriction) we could/can do anything. I have a whole pile of books ready to be read. I have songs ready to be recorded and I can compose, play, record (each part), mix and master songs from home. I can write to my heart’s content. And yet, back then, I simply slumped in my chair.

It’s like being in a sci-fi ‘B’ movie (forgive the Americanism) but not quite ‘The Walking Dead’. On the latter, I really enjoyed most of the series though I gave up at one point as it seemed to have morphed into something quite different. That original ‘something’ was the essence of the series that appealed so much — the existential angst; the amoral threat of the zombies. The zombies weren’t even important — it was simply this uncontrollable (well, near uncontrollable) threat. In fact, a threat that HAD to be controlled in some fashion. In this current sci-fi film, I find myself in it’s all rather perplexing. The threat of the virus seems very abstract and that’s probably because I live in a foreign and rural community. Shopping is becoming more and more surreal but not at the stage of the UK. So — how do I guard myself against something that is an abstraction? In shops, folk are gloved and masked and cashiers are goldfish like, wrapped in perspex or polythene (or something similar which I haven’t identified). I don’t wear gloves or a mask — I find that faintly absurd. Perhaps I shouldn’t — but in my ‘bit-part’ in this unfolding ‘movie’ or ‘mini-series’ that’s how it feels. I’d feel very odd clapping at my doorstep too — it just isn’t me. I have expressed my appreciation to friends who are nurses ‘on the front-line’, besides no clapping in rural France — yet. Maybe this is just my misanthropic side. I remember in 1997 when the UK went mad regarding the death of Diana. It was an odd feeling for me, I was bewildered and unsure why I wasn’t (or hadn’t) been caught up in the hysteria. How should I have felt then and how should I feel now?

For the moment (as I shall keep these thoughts fairly short) I too am an ‘outsider’. I look in. I’m at the wings of the stage. Who are the actors? Who’s in the audience? Well, back to me slumping in the chair in the calming rays of the sun — something eventually stirred me and I went off on a walk (I’ll share a link at the end of this of some words I wrote, photos I took and music played and composed of this particular walk I enjoy.) While walking, ideas came to me and one of the ideas was writing — well THIS. Walking, like any form of exercise, often needs to be prompted — it needs to become a habit and so it is with writing. Writing has its own muscle. I’m flexing it now. Tomorrow I might well slump in the chair again — but I have got my guitar out a few times now and firming up those fingertips (ouch!). I’m playing a lot of bass too but am currently unmotivated with other instruments or recording. (In fact, I have recorded music for a brace of poems and some drums for — just about – ‘on-going’ projects.) One step at a time, eh? So if you feel yourself nodding off and sliding down the cushions of your chair — make a mental note and give yourself a start! There’s much to do in these (for me and perhaps you) idle times — you can be busy doing nothing or can shake off the automaton-skeleton and come alive. Zombies come in all shapes and sizes so prepare yourself!
Tomorrow — I shall take out my chair and read. Maybe play some guitar too. You never know. I’ll try and go on my walk and let ideas flow, then share it with you.
(Here’s a link to my new writing channel – with the aforementioned ‘rural walk’: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEw98UVm8HXamMj0NWsOgLg…

By Tim Bragg
Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help Notes for a Better Life available from Amazon
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay.

Leave a Comment

« Newer Posts · Older Posts »