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December 2008

Insufficiently Sensitive

In November 2008, Keith John Sampson, a student-employee at IUPUI, was accused of “racial harassment” for reading a book on the KKK. The book in question, Notre Dame Vs the Klan, celebrates a notable defeat of the Klan by students and is available in the university’s own library. Mr Sampson initially regarded the accusation as a minor misunderstanding and, when summoned to the university’s Affirmative Action Office, he assumed the matter would be resolved with little fuss: “I had no trepidation about going there. I brought the book with me. I thought: these are educated people; they will know the difference between somebody that is in the Klan as opposed to somebody who’s trying to educate themselves on what the Klan stands for.”

He was wrong

The behaviour of the sensitivity guardians is, as so often, quite illuminating.


Guy Dammann is pondering parenthood in that wonderful Guardian way

Parentitis is the well known if scarcely documented condition that transforms polite, environmentally-aware, socially co-operative adults into pushy bigots who, when they’re not making innumerable short journeys in their 4x4s, are to be found at home amassing toxic nappy mountains, cooing noisily over waste matter and £500 pushchairs… Parentitis is natural, of course, but its nature is exacerbated and contorted by the collapse of trust in extended family support structures, the “us against them” axis of corporate culture having become mirrored in the domestic sphere.

Given that the most notable features of parenthood are apparently bigotry, a “collapse of trust,” 4x4s and “toxic nappy mountains,” it’s not terribly surprising that Dammann’s article is titled Am I Fit to Breed? Such sweet moral agonies are, after all, not uncommon in the pages of the Guardian. Nor is it shocking to find an ambivalent mention of VHEMT, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, whose website bears the slogan “may we live long and die out,” along with an assertion that, “phasing out the human race by voluntarily ceasing to breed will allow Earth’s biosphere to return to good health.”

Dreams of a planet unblemished by humanity are in fact remarkably common, at least in certain quarters. The “biocentric” conservationist Paul Watson is happy to describe humanity as a “cancer” and tells us that, while vegan diets are a good thing, “curing the biosphere of the human virus will require a radical and invasive approach.” Readers may recall another environmental crusader, Dr John Reid (mentioned here), whose plan to save the world from human beings entails putting “something in the water” – specifically, “a virus that would… make a substantial proportion of the population infertile.” And while the good doctor is happy to share his view of all human life as an extraneous infestation of an otherwise pristine Earth, he’s also insistent that “affluent populations should be targeted first.”

Last year, the Optimum Population Trust published a briefing paper, A Population-Based Climate Strategy, in which it was argued that couples having two children instead of three would reduce that family’s carbon dioxide output by the “equivalent of 620 return flights a year between London and New York.” The OPT regards population growth as a “failure of courage and leadership” and mulls, albeit hesitantly, on the need for “intervention by the state… in individual freedoms for the foreseeable future.” OPT co-chairman, Professor John Guillebaud, claims: “The greatest thing anyone in Britain could do to help the future of the planet would be to have one less child.”

Mr Dammann isn’t entirely disapproving of such notions:

The followers of [VHEMT] take to its logical conclusion the observation that the population growth of the human species is unsustainable. Rather than waiting for nature to extinguish us by itself, which process will almost inevitably involve the destruction of many other species besides, we should initiate proceedings ourselves by refusing to have any more children… [T]here is something magnificent about the thought of an entire species simply switching itself off, without violence or force of anything other than will, to make way for something more lasting. It is unthinkable within the system of nature, unless as the conscious, involuntary corollary to a process that may be occurring anyway. But the absurdity lies not in the aim, which is in many ways laudable, but in the idea that the compassionate motivation in which it originates could possibly see the project through.

The problem, then, is not the premise of voluntary self-eradication, but merely its impracticality.

Most Merciful

Despite the festive cheer, which I hope you’ve all enjoyed, it’s important to remember that goodwill isn’t something one should extend to all men.

The Taliban have ordered the closure of all girls’ schools in the war-ravaged Swat district and warned parents and teachers of dire consequences if the ban is flouted. In an announcement made in mosques and broadcast on radio, the militant group set a deadline of January 15 for its order to be obeyed or it would blow up school buildings and attack schoolgirls. It also told women not to set foot outside their homes without being fully covered. “Female education is against Islamic teachings and spreads vulgarity in society,” Shah Dauran, leader of a group that has established control over a large part of Swat district in the North West Frontier Province, declared this week. […] The militants have also prohibited immunisation for children against polio – claiming that the UN-sponsored vaccination drive is aimed at causing sexual impotence – causing a sharp rise in cases of the disease.

They’re freedom fighters, you see.

Gripped by the Passion

Several readers have steered me towards a recent, bewildering article by Jeanette Winterson that had somehow escaped my attention. It’s a strikingly unhinged piece and has been noted elsewhere, so I’m mortified to have missed it.

However, Ms Winterson’s descent into madness hasn’t entirely escaped my notice. Radio 4’s The Food Programme is usually relatively sober and free of the tacit leftist bias that informs so much else at the BBC. The broadcast I happened to hear featured a panel of guests choosing their food books of the year. This genteel routine was interrupted by several prolonged and incongruous tirades by Ms Winterson. The particulars of the tirades are difficult to recall due to their disarray, but each outburst relied heavily for its effect on loud repetition of the words “corporations” and “multinationals”. According to Winterson, these unspecified corporations and multinationals are controlling consumers’ dietary choices in ways that are intimate and fiendish though curiously vague. (Those of you familiar with South Park may recall an episode in which the children encounter a group of college hippies, whose boilerplate “insights” they immediately assimilate and repeat. It was much like that.) Such was the vehemence and incongruity of the outbursts, I half expected one of the other guests to throw a damp towel over Ms Winterson’s head in the hope she might calm down.

But back to the article. In it, a great many things are asserted in a dense rhetorical barrage. Among the gems on offer are:

We have created a society without values that believes in nothing. Reviving the god of the Philistines - Baal, the flesh-eater - human dignity has been eaten away by the relentless drive to make money at any cost and to spend money at any cost; especially money you don’t have.


We laugh at the primitive religious idea of human sacrifice - but whatever fancy words and theories you want to play with to describe this present spectacular collapse of global capitalism, it is human sacrifice on a scale undreamt of at the altars of idols.

These lurid claims have been addressed elsewhere, most notably by Norm, who observes:

Here is a woman enjoying every advantage vouchsafed by the rights and liberties of the country she lives in (the institutional expression, these, precisely of certain important moral values) lightmindedly opining that the society has no values.

Indeed. Ms Winterson is yet another well-heeled leftwing novelist and commentator – a member of the media elite - affecting to disdain the secular, capitalist society on which her livelihood and status depend. Regular readers will note how closely Winterson’s claims follow the rhetorical trajectory of that other Handmaiden of the Apocalypse, Madeleine Bunting, whose warnings of “hyper-frantic consumerism” entertained us so. I probably don’t need to point out how Winterson, like Bunting, is eerily sure that “we” share her anhedonic passion and tolerance of hyperbole. But I will, just in case. It’s important to remember how psychodrama works.

Friday Ephemera

Jason Tozer’s water droplets. // How to make soap from bacon. // Burger King cologne. Because a man should smell of cheeseburger. // DIY surgery. // A sea of piety. // Assorted spinning tops and dreidels. // Albino animals. The pygmy hedgehogs we like. // Donald, deconstructed. // Herb and Dorothy are art collectors. // An appetite for vinyl. // A Betamax Xmas. // Festive cards. // The 12 days of Christmas. // Seasons greetings from Soviet aerospace. // All I want for Christmas is… // A set of ninja star fridge magnets. // A safe made from Lego. // The Concept Ice Vehicle. // SAM. It’s a car, just about. // Alphabet blocks for the mad scientist of tomorrow. // Return of the Uniqlo Grid. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Ms Annette Lajon.

Elsewhere (8)

David T on the credulous “partnership” between the Metropolitan Police and the Muslim Brotherhood: 

Azad Ali’s post entitled Defeating Extremism by Promoting Balance is a good example of how Islamists think about these issues. In the post, he argues that the only way to ‘deradicalise’ Muslims is to promote the thinking of an Al Qaeda related theoretician: Abdullah Azzam. Azzam’s slogan was “Jihad and the rifle alone: no negotiations, no conferences and no dialogues.” However, Islamists urge us to accept him as a good role model for British Muslims: because in later life he argued that global jihad should not be carried out against civilians in their own countries. You might think this is crazy. Who would give such a man the time of day?

But Azad Ali is a founder member of the Muslim Safety Forum - where apparently he “leads on the Counter Terrorism work-team for the Forum - working with the Home Office, ACPO and Security Services.” He is a National Council member of Liberty, President of the Civil Service Islamic Society. He sits on the Strategic Stop & Search Committee and Police Use of Firearms Group with the Metropolitan Police, and is a member of the IPCC’s Community Advisory Group and the Home Office’s Trust and Confidence Community Panel.

These are the sort of people who [former anti-terrorist officer] Andy Hayman thinks we ought to be using as our secret weapon against jihadism. But many of the people with whom the Metropolitan Police were partnering in the Muslim Contact Unit are very close indeed, ideologically speaking, to the jihadists. What is the rationale? [Former Special Branch detective] Bob Lambert appears to have believed that the only way to get through to would-be British Muslim suicide bombers is for the police to say: “Yes, we recognise that blowing yourself up for God, and taking as many other people as possible with you, is a truly glorious and noble ambition. You’re right to want to do so. But don’t do it on the No. 30 bus in London, please.”

Kenan Malik on learned dishonesties and other emasculations: 

In 1989 even the Ayatollah’s death sentence could not stop the publication of The Satanic Verses. Rushdie was forced into hiding for almost a decade. Translators and publishers were killed, bookshops bombed and Penguin staff forced to wear bomb-proof vests. Yet Penguin never wavered in its commitment to keep it published. Today, all it takes for a publisher to run for cover is a letter from an outraged academic. In the 20 years between the publication of The Satanic Verses and the withdrawal of The Jewel of Medina, the fatwa has in effect become internalised. […]

Twenty years ago, most liberals defended Rushdie’s right to publish The Satanic Verses despite the offence it caused many Muslims. Today, many argue that whatever may appear to be right in principle, in practice one must appease religious and cultural sensibilities because such sensibilities are so deeply felt. The avoidance of ‘cultural pain’ is seen as more important than what is regarded as an abstract right to freedom of expression. But such a policy creates the very problems to which it is supposedly a response. […] The lesson of the Rushdie Affair that has never been learnt is that liberals have made their own monsters. It is the liberal fear of giving offence that has helped create a culture in which people take offence so easily.

Regarding the above, readers may recall the obliging contortions of Jakob Illeborg, whose cowardice and dishonesty define what I’ve come to call The Guardian Position™.  

A Mighty Intervention

Readers may recall our last encounter with Extensions: the Online Journal of Embodiment & Technology. Contributors to this publication include that mistress of mangled language, Professor Caroline Guertin, and Headlong Dance Theatre, whose Thrash: Physical Responses to the Bush Administration is forever seared into our memories. Another, no less daunting, contributor is Bettina Camilla Vestergaard, a Danish artist whose work “explores how collective identity and personal narrative engage one another using a variety of mediums.” Vestergaard’s artistic approach is described, by herself, as

Conceptual and research based. She works with photo, video, sound, drawing and installation. Her latest projects concern identity and gender with a focus on how this is constituted in public space.

The Online Journal of Embodiment & Technology is no doubt honoured to host a Vestergaard original titled Free Speech on Wheels, Let Your Opinion Roll, and which takes the form of

Intervention in public space, writings on car, photos and video.

I can tell you’re intrigued. Vestergaard obliges us with an account of how this “intervention in public space” came to pass:

I had been awarded a stipend from the Swedish government that enabled me to live and work in L.A. for 6 months.

But of course. And why not? Artists do endure hardship for the betterment of all mankind.

I had high expectations of the city’s complex cultural diversity, so it was quite frustrating that my first three months primarily consisted of passing time in quite residential Hollywood, sitting alone in my car, shopping and getting fuel for yet another round.

As I said, hardship.

I had a feeling of involuntarily being trapped in a fixed pattern that repeated itself: like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, my life had begun to revolve around itself, slowly but surely reducing my mental activity to a purposeless series of meaningless events. I conceived Free Speech on Wheels as a means of short-circuiting this experience.

For the betterment of mankind.

The basic idea was to muddle the barrier between public and private, by creating a space where the many and varied identities of L.A.’s communities could be expressed. I began by parking my car where a large group of people were wandering about and proceeded to put up a sign with the following text: “Free Speech on Wheels – Let your opinion roll.”

Of course some artistic interventions need a little nudge:

In order to kick-start the process, I asked the first volunteers the question: “What does being an American mean to you?” I received a lot of different responses depending where I had parked. For example, there was intense writing activity during a downtown student demonstration and at Earth Day, while it was absolutely zero at the Santa Monica Beach promenade.

Fortunately, things soon picked up dramatically.

Continue reading "A Mighty Intervention" »

Unrequited Love

A while ago, I posted some extracts from Alvaro Vargas Llosa’s article on Ernesto “Che” Guevara:

In April 1967, speaking from experience, he summed up his homicidal idea of justice in his Message to the Tricontinental: “Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective and cold-blooded killing machine”... In a letter to his mother in 1954, written in Guatemala, where he witnessed the overthrow of the revolutionary government of Jacobo Arbenz, he wrote: “It was all a lot of fun, what with the bombs, speeches, and other distractions to break the monotony…”

With the above in mind, readers may be interested in Ted Balaker’s short film on the suckers who fellate this “social justice” icon.

“Rock and roll as well as jazz was what they called ‘imperialist music’… He hated artists, so how is it possible that artists still today support the image of Che Guevara?” Paquito D’Rivera.

Related: Harry’s Place versus defiant fellators, the chic of concentration camps.

(h/t, Daimnation!