(incorporating "World of Decency")
On the rare occasions the NHS is forced to defend pandering to ignorance, it says that large numbers of people believe in complementary medicine, which is true. It adds that an aromatherapist or dispenser of Bach's flower remedies can at least offer patients the herbal tea and sympathy which busy GPs haven't the time to deliver, which is also the case. We're a democracy and the public likes to have its superstitions treated with respect; where's the harm in giving the punters what they want?
The answer is that the government is dealing in deceit. It may be a harmless deceit most of the time, but it can be cruel and occasionally fatal deceit when the quacks are set loose on the seriously ill. A government which is prepared to deceive about medicine will deceive about much else besides.
Nick Cohen sometimes veers into Hitchens territory ("I am the columnar expression of the World Spirit and the Universal Will To Power and anyone who disagrees with me, including me five minutes ago, is a miserable amoral wretch who must be crushed"), but Aaro is straight up and down a salesman. The only constant in his columns is sales; the only variation is whether this week's special offer is on overseas adventurism, domestic authoritarianism or holidays in Brunei.
Thomas L. Friedman: The Enabler
In some ways, the well-known New York Times columnist doesn’t ﬁt with the others on this list. A neoliberal rather than a neoconservative, Friedman never drank all the Kool-Aid. But he was a vital -- perhaps the vital -- enabler of the war, because from his Times perch, he convinced many a reader (elite and layperson alike) who never would have been persuaded by the likes of Kristol that the war needed to be fought.
Aaro may be on holiday, but he still manages to pop up on Normblog’s “Writer’s choice.”
The [Just William] books are also one long poem of praise to anarchism and the unfettered human spirit. I am a supporter of Asbos in general, but if ever there were a literary candidate for one, his name was William Brown.
Thus writes a professional journalist. Perhaps my memory is a little misty, but I can’t recall him doing anything which even merited a clip round the ear from the local bobby, let alone the involvement of a court. William Brown’s spirit did not need fettering as anti-social, because it was mostly harmless. Still one can’t be too careful with kids, so give the little brat one anyway.
Otherwise his choices are anodyne and uncontroversial — to me, anyway. There’s a fiction writer trying to get out of David Aaronivitch:
…but his [Marx’s] description of how the classes behaved during the French crisis of the mid-19th century, and how the bourgeois revolutionaries were — in the words of The Who — fooled all over again, is more than compelling.
Where did The Who sing the words “fooled all over again.”?
And finally, arrived at late because Communists didn’t read Orwell, there’s George.
Dave has listed Tolstoy and Dostoevsky: when did Communists read them? I like his pride in “because Communists didn’t” therefore he didn’t. Worth noting when he rails at whoever he chooses to rail at.
It’s the clarity of the writing, the complete lack of obfuscation, the demolition of convenient intellectual hidey-holes, the absence of bullshit, the intellectual fearlessness.
It would, of course, be hasty to dismiss all unclear discourse as bullshit. [G. A.] Cohen [a fellow of All Souls College] adduces a more precise criterion: the discourse must be not only unclear but unclarifiable.
So Orwell is clear, he is clear, he demolishes “convenient intellectual hidey-holes” (I’m trying to think of an example of this), he is clear, and he is intellectually fearless, which sounds like a good thing to be, and reminds us, should we have forgotten, that he was an intellectual.
Anything more different from current fashions among the academic, post-modern ultra-lefts is hard to imagine. No wonder they hate him so much.
Well, spiders are things and are very different from “current fashions among the academic, post-modern ultra-lefts” and I can easily imagine them, especially as one seems to be caught up in my hair as I type. Likewise, sunsets, hangovers, MRSA, diminished thirds, sauropoda, and Croydon facelifts, are all things which are different from academic fashions. This wouldn’t be a criticism by David Aaronovitch, former Communist who didn’t read Orwell because Communists didn’t? Whatever would he know about “fashions among the … ultra-lefts"? Who hates Orwell so much? Perhaps David has confused the ultra-lefts with his parents. Paging Dr Freud. (And don't forget Orwell hated fad diets too.)
Update: I’ve been reading some of Orwell’s essays since I posted this, and I still like Orwell’s style. (This is what infuriated me, and moved me to post, for I am a "post-modern ultra-left" — what David Aaronovitch seems to mean by the term, anyway. I’m a Foucault-admiring Stopper.) Here is George on Swift in Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels:
Swift approves of this kind of thing because among his many gifts neither curiosity nor good-nature was included. Disagreement would always seem to him sheer perversity. “Reason,” among the Houyhnhnms, he says, “is not a Point Problematical, as with us, where men can argue with Plausibility on both Sides of a Question; but strikes you with immediate Conviction; as it must needs do, where it is not mingled, obscured, or discoloured by Passion and Interest.” In other words, we know everything already, so why should dissident opinions be tolerated? The totalitarian Society of the Houyhnhnms, where there can be no freedom and no development, follows naturally from this.
I think David sees a higher clarity in Orwell than Orwell would have been uncomfortable with. In the same essay, Orwell lets himself down toward the end. He is a very good literary critic, but he falls into the Hellalump trap of analysing the writer rather than the text. On Swift (and, somehow, also Tolstoy):
Such people are not likely to enjoy even the small amount of happiness that falls to most human beings, and, from obvious motives, are not likely to admit that earthly life is capable of much improvement. Their incuriosity, and hence their intolerance, spring from the same root.
I’m not happy with the first sentence. If happiness is not enjoyed, in what sense is it happiness. But if Orwell had meant “good fortune” he would doubtless have written that instead. Then he sticks his head into the hunny pot for good measure.
To-day, for example, one can imagine a good book being written by a Catholic, a Communist, a Fascist, pacifist, an anarchist, perhaps by an old-style Liberal or an ordinary Conservative: one cannot imagine a good book being written by a spiritualist, a Buchmanite or a member of the Ku-Klux-KIan. The views that a writer holds must be compatible with sanity, in the medical sense, and with the power of continuous thought: beyond that what we ask of him is talent, which is probably another name for conviction.
Orwell the literary critic was familiar with Byron and Christopher Smart, not to mention the great crazy Russians, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. He had probably heard of Jean Genet. Even if he were to answer that the first two are poets, whose wits from madness are by thin partitions divided, the second two only joined the Battersea Dogs Home chorus after their best work had been written, and the last was not crazy, more determinedly anti-social, he'd still have to explain the movies. I’ll judge Orwell guilty until proved innocent.
Listening to Pack's incandescent critics, I couldn't help feeling sympathy for him. Anyone who has heard the herd of editors, publishers, authors and critics mooing their political and cultural cliches at a London literary party and not felt the urge to reach for a baseball bat is less than human.
It's down with multi-culturalism and can't we all unite under good decent (white) British values. Oh and anyone who talks about anti-racism is just in it for the money (unlike Nick who writes as a community service)
At first glance, it looks like our various predictions about Nick’s latest were wrong. Instead of leaping rightwards, he swerves instead into inanity:
If you want a society that is really welded together, there are certain things that unite us because we are British,' said Hazel Blears in her clumsy way. Indeed they should.
So, yay Hazel Blears and rebranding. But this is just a rather weak hook on which to hang something a little more rancid. Nick starts his piece at the London Islamic Centre, where he attends a conference of women in business. The women in business, and Nick, are subject to a video of a speech made by a local imam who tells them to drop the laptops, get back in the kitchen, and rattle those pots and pans.
Nick doesn’t tell us how the women who were actually there actually respond to this. He tells us that in the basis of this speech, the whole conference was pointless. This is because, I presume, women who happen to be muslim never make any decisions contrary to the opinions set forth by imams.
Nick goes on from this to make various assertions, to wit: A) All people are now officially categorized by their religions. B) That this is important because all kinds of public funding depend on such official classifications and c) Liberals are responsible by promoting segregation. Moreover, they did it intentionally. We know this because Nick says they did it with “the best of intentions”.
In response: A) People are classified by all sorts of things. The census has me, for instance, down as a jedi knight. B) Religions have always been part of the general architecture of public funding. This is because they pursue various projects considered worthy of public funding. No religion in
Back in February, Nick discovered the world of blogs and told us that he’d been keeping company with people “he’d normally cross the street to avoid. “ He seems to have taken quite a lot on board from his new mates. There’s a certain similarity in technique. Find something you consider undesirable. Take it as given that liberals are responsible. Construct a theory that takes you from point a to point b. As a kind of ill-grace note, there’s also the idea that any project designed to deal with the particular problems of a group within society promotes segregation, and the implication towards the end that saying the BBC is pro-Israeli is de-facto evidence of extremism or even anti-semitism.
Broadly, this is the process described by Tom Frank in What’s the Matter with
The Rioja Kid
Which, once again, infuriated Shami Chakrabarti, of Liberty. “If Friday was intended as Mr Blair’s ‘fight them on the beaches’ moment,” she wrote yesterday, “I am afraid that he blew it.” Great wartime leaders, she implied, don’t mess about with cherished liberties.
Except, of course, that that is exactly what they do do. As David Blunkett likes to point out, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in September 1862 and in 1940 Winston banged up over a thousand Mosleyites under the famous Defence Regulation 18b, their only right of appeal being to an advisory committee, which would rule on the basis of an intelligence assessment that the detainees never saw.
Liberty is reputedly laden with Hampstead liberals, but increasingly right-wing libertarians recognise the value of an organisation which was once monitored by MI5 as subversive (in the days when Patricia Hewitt was involved). Liberty is not really a twenty wonk strong think-tank, its more a human rights organisation. Something worth supporting whatever your party allegiance.
He [Tony Blair] knows, because this is what he is good at, that people wonder why the French can take action when we apparently can’t, and yet no one suggests that Paris is at the heart of an authoritarian state. Or that the German interior minister, Otto Schily, can demand whether it is “really unthinkable that they (rogue preachers) should be isolated for a period of time” without being denounced as a born-again totalitarian.
Meanwhile Britain has still failed, after a decade, to extradite Rachid Ramda to France on charges of having financed the group behind the 1995 Paris Métro bombing campaign. Imagine how we would feel if the situation were reversed.
The hunt is on, it seems, for Nick’s conversion moment. I have it!
The only time I realised I was charging up a blind alley was when I read Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism. I didn't see a blinding light or hear a thunder clap or cry '
!' If I was going to cry anything it would have been 'Oh bloody hell!' He convinced me I'd wasted a great deal of time looking through the wrong end of the telescope. I was going to have to turn it round and see the world afresh. The Labour would involve reconsidering everything I'd written since 11 September, arguing with people I took to be friends and finding myself on the same side as people I took to be enemies. All because of Berman. Eureka
Now the date isn’t given, but since that date Nick left active politics as we know it and entered theology. It’s as if an old friend suddenly discovered evangelical Christianity. He seems nice enough, but he’s convinced you’re going to hell. Before he had a framework of beliefs within which he interpreted facts, and these interpretations helped in turn to develop his framework of beliefs. But now it’s all been explained. Berman says…and the rest is simply doctrine. Hence paragraphs like this:
Wars are usually worth opposing, especially capricious wars advocated by a slippery Prime Minister in alliance with a repellent
President. But arguments have their own dynamic. If you start by refusing to look Baathism or Islamism in the face, the logic of blaming everything on Tony Blair and George W Bush pushes you into making ever more excuses for the extreme right. US
I don’t think anyone who went on or sympathized with the big antiwar march would be capable of refuting this, but only because they wouldn’t be in a position to understand as a description of their motives and beliefs. They may have thought that an aggressive war was a bad idea that would lead to lousy unintended consequences and that the people who proposed to conduct it merited a certain degree of suspicion, even hostility. But the Bermanite theology has a different explanation into which the facts must be made to fit. It’s a position that also tempts our Nick into certain dishonesties:
Who is going to help the victims of religious intolerance in
's immigrant communities? Not the Liberal Democrats, who have never once offered support to liberal and democrats in Britain . Iraq
"Sir William McPherson's inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence ought to have given the Met the perfect reply to accusations of racism. One of the McPherson report's main recommendations was for police to formalise and generally clean up the way they used stop and search. Had they followed McPherson's recommendations, the Met could now have answered 'Obviously, a search for Muslim fanatics is going to spend most of its time looking at Muslims. But we have taken on board the findings of Sir William and all searches will be conducted courteously. Reasons will be given and senior officers will monitor operations'
"Unfortunately the Met can say no such thing. A dunderheaded campaign by the Police Federation, the Tory Party and the press and that unteachable opportunist David Blunkett led to Sir William's sensible recommendation being treated as the ravings of a demented bleeding heart, determined to tie officers' hands behind their backs. The number of searches shot up.
"The fact that Sir William was a keen golfer, former member of the SAS and, all in all, the world's least likely Hampstead liberal in no way restricted the venom which was spat at him.
"Yet for all the abuse he was right. It's not who you stop and search but how you stop and search that matters. If accountable officers treat the public with respect then there will be few problems. If they don't, there we're in for more trouble."
Now I know I'm in a minority, but I like David Aaronovitch, and I like him even more for having had the guts to bare all on the cover of the Guardian's Weekend magazine. The headline, "How fat camp saved my life", sat on top of his naked, Santa-like stomach and butted his breasts. His critics say it takes a great ego to expose oneself in this way. I think it takes great courage, at more than 18 stone.
Minor factual courtesy of AW: actually he kept his pants on.
Update And thinking about it, unless the photo was taken a long time ago (pre fat-camp), Aaro actually weighed about 17 stone.