I’m reticent about contributing to a subject for which commentary, one could say, is plentiful; nevertheless, I’m made uncomfortable by the style of the debate so far. Currently, battle engages a proud, reigning pro-Thatcher faction against an anti-Thatcher one and whose output features an dangerously large proportion of resentment and poor form. It is counter-productive, also – if their faction is outclassed they could alienate the perplexed, leading to an unnecessary prolongation of the current neo-Thatcherism.
Taking a lead from Norman Mailer, you don’t, Dear Reader, have to read the whole of this post. If you’re bored by hard politics, skip to the indented paragraphs and a brief discussion of Thatcher’s personality; if you don’t think that you have time to read the whole post, please read the last four paragraphs.
Thatcher’s policies divide quite neatly into two groups: that which was malicious and that which was necessary. The first is self-explanatory. Within the second camp, are policies most of which were in some way historically inevitable but for which her government found a way to accomplish them either poorly or maliciously.
Poll tax was a policy which colourfully represented her government’s malice. Poll tax was charged per individual (or ‘poll’) meaning that a family of four would pay tax for every family member, with only a single adjustment for income. The previous system of ‘rates’ taxed a household according to the size of their property. One could fill a daily newspaper with decent arguments on tax, though I move that a solid governing principle is: tax should be levied according to the ability of a person to pay; poll tax made it so that those who were struggling had to pay proportionally more than those who were comfortable. Thatcher claimed to represent the free-market, which is laudable, though this was economic cruelty, not freedom.
Another expression of this cruelty was what is known as Section 28, a part of local council reform which prohibited the promotion of same-sex relationships and the idea that they were a family relationship. I’m sure that some are tempted to say that this rule is harmful only by a peculiarity of its enactment; conversely, it is an affront to personal and vocal freedom in itself. Same sex relationships and family relationships of a homosexual nature do not harm anyone, they are a lively component of a nation of liberty and, as such, there should be no prohibition against promoting them. Historically, this rule meant that support groups which had been helping young people to understand their sexuality stopped or reduced their activities so as to avoid breaking the rule – as a result, a generation of young people who experienced non-heterosexual feelings were subjected to the wisdom and equity of the playground and their teachers. Recall that it was only in 1967 and under one of my favourite Prime Ministers, Harold Wilson, that homosexuality was made legal.
Nevertheless, some Thatcher policies were inevitable, some of which were actually prudent. Section 28 was a policy of malice, while many of her free market policies were derived originally from ideas of individuality and freedom. The universe, I suppose, wouldn’t tolerate a situation in which the Thatcher government enacted good policies – rather, anything sensible had to be done with an element of brutishness or incompetence. To be clear, I’m open about economics – I’m content for people to vote themselves into the free market or into socialism; centrally however, maintaining the economic system of 1979 would not have produced the economic vibrancy which followed, or an economy like Sweden’s. Change was needed, though an obsessive and an enthusiast like Thatcher was one of the worst executives to do it.
First an example of cruelty. Contemporary British industry was archaic and wasteful and a sensible and productive future required change, and the unfortunate closure of certain mines and docks. Nevertheless, the speed, the extent and the nature of the industrial change was unnecessary and unnecessarily cruel, most notably because of the brutality with which dissent was suppressed.
For incompetence we have BT. The purpose of the free market is to allow competition: to give business people a free chance at making money, to give customers choice and to lower costs through customers’ purchasing power. With the colours of the free market, the Thatcher government privatised British Telecom but, rather than splitting it into entities which could compete, they produced a private monopoly which has led to hilariously poor service and high costs.
These are important steps. Undoubtedly this process means that these two great organisations of the English-speaking democracies, the British Empire and the United States, will have to be somewhat mixed up together in some of their affairs for mutual and general advantage.
For my own part, looking out upon the future, I do not view the process with any misgivings. I could not stop it if I wished; no one can stop it. Like the Mississippi, it just keeps rolling along. Let it roll. Let it roll on full flood, inexorable, irresistible, benignant, to broader lands and better days.
This was Churchill, speaking on August the 20th, 1940 to the House of Commons.
I have always known that that task was vital. Since last week it has become even more vital than ever. We close our Conference in the aftermath of that sinister utopia unveiled at Blackpool. Let Labour’s Orwellian nightmare of the left be the spur for us to dedicate with a new urgency our every ounce of energy and moral strength to rebuild the fortunes of this free nation.
If we were to fail, that freedom could be imperilled. So let us resist the blandishments of the faint hearts; let us ignore the howls and threats of the extremists; let us stand together and do our duty, and we shall not fail.
This is Thatcher, Speaking to the Tory conference in Brighton on October the 10th, 1980. People often praise Thatcher’s tenacity and ability, especially in becoming the first female Prime Minister. But Thatcher was, in that respect, a monoculture – without nuance, with nothing of the imagination and imagery which Churchill offered. Diverting attention from her ludicrous abuse of Orwell, Thatcher’s speech is monochromatic and has a disregard for proportionality and measure; using language of an apparently stronger nature than Churchill did when he faced one of the most terrifying dictatorships of history. She presents a Tory-centric universe, in which they can all be messiahs; Churchill, with inestimably more imagination, knew that the river of history would flow without him and without the Tory party; there are no saviours, only actors.
My fingers hovered over the keyboard for a moment, about to write ‘Despite’. However, there is nothing ‘despite’ about the relationship between the above and my discussion of those who celebrate the death of Thatcher.
Foremost, the death of an individual is cause for sobriety, especially with reference to those who have lost someone who was important to them. There are some cases in which death may mean the end of suffering, in which case it can be embraced; in addition, it might be relevant to celebrate the death of a brutal dictator. Nevertheless, it is not death from which people attain freedom and safety, it is the end of tyranny. The people of the UK are no freer, healthier or greater as a result of Thatcher’s death, all it means is that she will no longer be alive for people who loved her, which is cause to be sombre. I have encountered people who are celebrating her death for reasons which include her support of the war in Iraq and because she continued to voice her convictions – being this offended by the views of an elderly woman is pitiful, not indicative of the personal and moral strength which is necessary to maintain a great nation.
This quality reaction is peculiarly poor form on a gross scale, which is unforgivable in itself. Moreover, it marks a dangerous tendency in some of those who are anti-Thatcher and on the left – of being coarse and loud, of holding grudges and generally incubating resentment. This is tiresome but, more urgently, it will bore people with limited time and will offend people of taste, as such, this death-love is love for electoral death.
The left and the anti-Thatcher camp can do better and classier – people deserve better from the left and the anti-Thatcher camp. Crudeness or resentment will not enable those who oppose Thatcher’s policies to take power and install useful and fair policy; decency, humour and imagination will. More urgently, Thatcher’s death means the reanimation of discussion over her policies, and if the left act like Yahoos, the right will win the day.
Yesterday a friend of mine and I walked to Sefton Park. The park emotes the English one-sided smile of civil and municipal generosity — it also means that, within a short walk from our halls of residence, students from this part of town can access a botanical garden, the Palm House. It is a tall structure, white cast-iron and glass, constructed by patronage with the approaching terminus of the 19th century; to be shattered by a German bomb during the second world war and restored twice since then. One can encircle the Palm House, passing the benches presented as offerings of thanks or as memorials to deceased relatives and the statues of great men: Captain Cook, Linnaeus, Darwin and others.
The garden features many beautiful and fascinating specimens from around the globe. I’m a remarkably poor botanist and really should have taken notes on the plants which interested me. Suffice it to say that I was astounded by the variety of the plants, while being able to note now these divergent forms had been produced by natural selection: the plants whose flowers are intelligible as coloured versions of leaves — their petals sharing a closer relationship with their predecessors than, for example, a tulip. They own a magnificent tree which, rather than growing upward with a main trunk with new bows branching off (like an oak), had thick fleshy stems which grew in all directions and, as it grew upwards, the lower stems would fall off, leaving a hard desiccated trunk as a record. This variance, which I find outstanding, means nil to natural selection — these two practices are just ways of seeking the sun. One tree presented, on a bowed branch, surrounded by leaves and protective bodies, a colourful, plump and large seed-pod, like a child timidly presenting a newly discovered treasure or an artist drawing back the curtain to show an unfinished creation.
In some ways these plants are unfeeling, in other ways they can be considered heroes. They don’t feel compassion or consider any questions of altruism or wellbeing, at the same time they will fight to produce and nurture their offspring forever, given that they live and there is air, sunlight and nutrients. In a way they are like the first machines which humans created: utterly earnest and selfless, but now humanity wants to create AI, machines which are more like us.
I met another friend later that day. She had been upset by specific stresses, and required companionship. I can say quite seriously that most men, under those stresses, would not have been in the state she was; the corollary is true for her powers of empathy, allowing her to mediate certain social states which most men can’t. Depending on one’s expectations I can be not much of a man — nevertheless I was the necessary male-concrete which she required.
Try to quantify how much time is spent considering issues which are relevant to or which arise due to gender? In how many areas of one’s life is gender a fundamental consideration?
Later I went into town to have some food with friends, they took the bus home afterwards and were surprised that I would be walking from Liverpool town centre to Mossley Hill; I reminded them that I had an overcoat and Radio Four. As I climbed Bold Street I did up the buttons and donned the headphones, arriving part way through a programme on gender, a Brief Natural History of Sex. It explained how a female Komodo Dragon, if alone without males, can produce a clutch of eggs of all males. I learned how crocodile eggs are gendered by the temperature at which they are incubated. I learned that for many types of fish their anatomy means that gender changes are very simple, for some species the largest individual is male and when he dies the largest female will start acting as a male almost immediately and will, after a few days, start producing sperm.
The most interesting feature of the programme was their investigations into the origins of gender. They theorise that the first genders were developed during the inebriated evening which followed the dawn of eukariotic life — this dawn involved certain cells incorporating other living cells, the incorporated parties are now organelles like mitochondria — scientists have found that if two cells which both contain mitochondria are combined the resulting cell will die, meaning that for sexual reproduction to work only one gamete can contain mitochondria; the female.
So I courted a curious feeling as I walked; considering how much attention I and others pay to gender: Female-only shortlists, the Drones, Vogue, GQ, the Virgin Mary, Jesus; how does it feel, in that all this is just a function of Natural Selection, of reproduction? The Sixties, the battle of the sexes, religion, the contortions which we experience over members of the other or our own gender — do you feel manipulated by evolution, or freed?
Coda: The Media
I heard on the news, on the same day, that there are campaigns in operation which hope to even the ratio of men to women as they appear on the radio and on television. To me this goal is nearly as fatuous as the idea that women should be made to wear a burqa. I move that the principle that women or men can be treated en bloc is a fallacy, when considering media and employment, the functioning unit is the individual and our goal should be to create a system where the individual is treated fairly when applying for a given job. The blogger and YouTube presence Aurini, in his video ‘How to Defeat the Left’, identified a popular narrative: a certain group has a grievance (usually to do with equality) and demands action, usually through law or policy. In many cases the group itself is irrelevant and the form of equality is a construct, leading to inverted priorities. The way in which we can create a better media in Britain will be by giving all individuals access to the best education and training, by inspiring confidence in their own talents, and by creating a truly fair selection process. The actual percentage of women or men who appear on screen or on the radio is irrelevant, why should we care? One’s target should be, simply, to be the best one can.
Many things which are dear and opportune have an interesting dual potency, like in-built responsibility or side-effect which accompanies them. Of course I’m not sure whether this observation is original, but I observe that people have a tendency, when presented with something of this nature, either to manage or destroy.
I think that the most visible example of this is the hijab or burqua as it is exists as a compulsory or prescribed practice. This, I propose, is the action of men who experience the effects of the male libido but wish not to have to manage them — the response is to destroy (or in this case to make invisible) that which affects them: female beauty. Men (and women, of course) understand what it is to find a woman attractive and for it not to be appropriate, prudent, acceptable or desirable to go and introduce oneself. In societies in which women go unveiled, one must simply live with the impropriety and the physical impossibility of talking to every attractive women which one sees, it is expected that we manage our desires. Another approach is to destroy the issue.
This is one of the multitude of matters which are a case of priorities: is the tragedy of encountering and seeing so many women and not being able to approach them a worthy trade-in for living in a society in which both sexes are permitted to expose their faces? The British and my answer is yes. This is not to deny that this approach causes angst, it causes complications (many of which are owned by women) and we have to deal with them.
Ayn Rand, in the speech of John Galt from her book, Atlas Shrugged, notes that many of the totalitarian ideologies which torture humans are a denial of our nature and amount to the wish for a destruction of a certain part of the human person. Galt summarises: Mystics of Spirit, such as religious leaders, wish for the destruction of the mind; Mystics of Muscle, such as Marxists and Fascists, wish for the enslavement of the body. Of course I disagree with the dichotomy, but I accept her axiom; in the case of theistic religion, she identifies how reason can be a painful and complicating capability, forcing us to discard fond beliefs and face reality, something which requires effort — the Mystics of Spirit allow people to destroy their reason to be free of these complications, promising eternal pleasure in an imaginary paradise. Galt moves that these ideologies will claim Utopia, perfection, but that they obscure a wish to alleviate the convolutions of life, through death.
One can observe this desire in Buddhism, where Nirvana, peace, amounts to non-existence, also where Buddhists, rather than managing their desires, destroy them. This is a free choice (given that one adopts Buddhism freely) and is personal. But the tendency can be political, such as when Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council or when Brown dismissed David Nutt; at its most disgusting it is responding to the presence of female sexual pleasure and libido through genital mutilation, at its most inane it is the occupation and dulling of interest through voyeuristic television.
The Destruction-Wish manifests itself in unexpected places, also. In reading the Lucy Poems for university, and his Prelude, I’ve noticed how Wordsworth delights in freedom from of consciousness:
‘No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.’
Wordsworth, A Slumber did my spirit seal, ‘The Lucy Poems’
If the reader will have to forgive a popular reading (among innumerable) of this stanza: Wordsworth speaks of how Lucy, his mysterious inamorata, is incognizant and inanimate; at peace one might say. Lucy is dead, having died in another poem, our poet upholds her peace and stillness because in death she cannot be hurt or betrayed. Wordsworth realises that by loving her and wanting her he must game with nemesis, there will be a chance that she could be attracted to another, they could come to hate each other, she could become someone else as she grows older — by destroying her, Wordsworth can avoid all these complications.
My own addition to this interpretation may be strange (or unoriginal, if so, my apologies) I suggest that Lucy represents a sort of perfect-Romantic or Übermench of the natural world. This kind high level of integration with nature would require a massive surrender of personality — Lucy has to die in order to achieve this, or that which Wordsworth is describing is indistinguishable from death.
Faranheit 451 is a polemic literary example in which the annihilation of something is warranted by it’s complicating factors. For those who haven’t read it, the book depicts a future Britain in which the firemen, rather than saving people, their houses and property, are called to the houses of people who own books (which are illegal) and burn them.
‘These are all novels, all about people that never existed, the people that read them it makes them unhappy with their own lives. Makes them want to live in other ways they can never really be.’
And this is why books are so potent, yet so reviled by dictators, and shunned by those who would rather have their mental faculties appeased than challenged.
Yet, one must observe that most of us opt for the close cousin of this destruction every night; at least for me, to lay my head and sleep is to experience what Lucy did for her consciousness. And, when I lay my head and it fills with failings, considerations, wishes and problems as if they were draining from the rest of my body because of my prostration — when sleep is denied — I realise why some people choose to destroy something which possesses an arbitrarily large quotient of large power and nuance; to, as Ayn Rand said, choose not to think.
Drugs are a curious consideration within this subject, mostly because their affects are so disparate between the users. Alcohol is an empirical candidate for a destroyer of the cognitive faculties, though one should find it difficult to make that claim having heard Christopher Hitchens speak while redolently drunk. The best candidate for a categorical drug in this aspect is heroin, which, from the accounts which I have heard and read, is a substitute for life; I recommend Junkie by the astounding William S. Burroughs. Burroughs, however, was a productive and an astoundingly inventive writer — the question being whether he was like this during or outside his periods of addiction; Naked Lunch, he claims, was written while semi-conscious during a junk-stupor. Hunter S. Thompson never used heroin (as far as I have read) but mixed elephantine quantities of depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens like he would lemon juice, tomato juice and vodka; his case was tragic in that the fundamental drugs of his creative process are reckoned to have, ultimately, blunted his creative edge. Contrarily, of the two men it was he that avoided the artificial-life drug that killed himself, Burroughs lived to 87 — however, Thompson was suffering from serious illness and pain when he shot himself.
‘I would feel real trapped in this life if I didn’t know I could commit suicide at any time.’
Speaking of pain; when one is aware of an injury there is no function in feeling more pain than one has to. But, pain is there for a reason — one can imagine what it would be like to live without pain forever, or even to take painkillers preemptively; this is rather similar to what happens to a society which burns its books, or to people who do. Reason delivers the pleasures of poetry, but reason can hurt – and do you know why it hurts? For the same reason as humans feel hunger; when it pangs one needs sustenance. The result of not eating for long enough is clear, and it is the fond acquaintance of what happens if people and societies treat reason in this manner.
Live adventurously. So much which is true about life exists with displeasure or inconvenience as an associated possibility, so much which is astounding or ingenious is also dangerous. This is true for free speech, democracy, empiricism — some examples, like free speech, are now heroic and stout pillars of civilisation; others, like ‘degenerate art’, are piddling foibles in the atrophied mind of a censor. Distrust those who tell you that faith or will can counteract the pronouncements of reason; the attitude is sanguine in the hordes who’re pacified by television, to those who would tell people in benighted parts of the world that polio-vaccine will make them infertile — to choose to live like this is to choose death. Death (so far as we can tell) is inevitable, to waste a second is to die for a second. Choose life.
So Telemachos spoke, and the broad-seeing Zeus sent him
Two eagles from above the crest of a mountain flying.
They for a time flew down along with the blasts of the wind,
Stretching their wings out close to one another.
But when they came to the midst of the many-voiced assembly,
Then they whirled about and beat their wings rapidly.
They went to the heads of all and destruction was in their look,
As they tore each other’s cheeks and throats on both sides with their claws.
– Homer, The Odyssey: chapter 2, lines 146-153
27/IX/12 4:04 – So, I decide to head, after a look at another bookshop, to the library for another campaign against The Odyssey. As I walked I noticed a friend of mine in conversation and I carried on, then decided that I should speak to her, stopped to talk to another friend who was also in the area then lent against a tree until she arrived. We decided to get a coffee in the library cafe, which I was owed (in her words), and we sat down to discuss national identity and music.
Suddenly she shrieked, got up and embraced a man who entered the venue and they spoke rapidly together – it was a moment of unabashed and unconditional gratitude, two friends who were pleased to see each other after my friend’s long stay abroad. The new arrival bought us all a coffee (my third in the last four hours), they caught up, and we discussed sexism and other important topics.
Then the new arrival left to seek a train. I looked at my friend; When you said to me that we should have a coffee, was this what you expected? I said, indicating the multitudinous cups on the table. Not really, she said, it was rather a lot. I considered; Ah, the occasional act of excess is beneficial. She then followed the trend and left too, to meet another of her friends– I decided that it was time for me to leave, to find the venue at which I was due at five with generous time to waste in getting lost.
* * *
12:23 – I’m sitting in the Egg Cafe, Liverpool, overlooking the sundry skyline; with a cappuccino and a slice of cake large enough to choke a horse – from where I sit, choosing to look away from the purple and florally-painted joists and the other inmates, I can see out to the metropolis, the glass Anderson-shelter of Liverpool Central Station, the courts, banks and businesses; buildings which look to the future or lament the past, and the occasional monstrosity which seems to lament nothing and look nowhere.
I’m a student now, of English, the novel and freelancing will have to fit in. Beside my laptop is a copy of Homer’s The Odyssey – a work of literary brilliance alongside almost an impenetrable density when presented to a moderate Classics-novice such as me. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that the edition which I am borrowing from the Sydney Jones Library imposes the verse form in which the original was written in Ancient Greek upon the modern translation. I’ve always been in favour of setting ambitious targets, and can testify for their occasional efficacy: yesterday I set myself the target of reading fifty pages of the tome, I got to seven. This is not to say that I only read seven pages, more that I read the pages up to that point several times before I felt that I was actually digesting the book with my literary ectoplasm. Something gives me the impression that this venue will be a good one in which to begin my second attempt, I shan’t add another fifty pages to yesterdays target – the relationship between ambition and suicide is close, subtle and dangerous.
I shouldn’t say that I have explored this city to any great extent, but I think that I have caught the feel of few of it’s quirks; the bookshops are certainly of fine quality. Today I visited News from Nowhere – the name suggests, existentialism, Nihilism or Dada? the opposite is true (I know, now, that the name is taken from the book by the socialist William Morris, as displayed in the shop – in the story he describes a society with no war, no private property, no crime, no class and without many other ills of this type, which, to lean on Christopher Hitchens, sounds like Nowhere, to me). Some bookshops don’t label their shelves, some alphabetise, some organise according to genre, and News from Nowhere categorises it’s wares according to an exhaustive and partisan system: LGBT, Banker Bashing, Benefactors of Capitalism, Arab Spring etcetera; I located the second-hand shelf and bought two books by Orwell, for which I tendered the princely sum of two pounds sterling to the bespectacled woman on the till who gave the impression that she was the most kindly individual within a three-kilometre radius.
Yesterday I patronised some other bookshops. Reids of Liverpool is an establishment of quality, I walked in and approached the desk; seeing a man who looked like a version of Lemmie from Motorhead with the gain turned down a little. When he opened his mouth to address me he spoke with a kindly mid-American accent, telling me that he was just watching the shop for it’s owner and that he could not take me to the hemi-obscure titles which are required for my English course.
Henry Bohn Books has a impressing vibe associated with it; as I enter I see a round faced man in conversation with the proprietor concerning classical music, specifically with reference to particular recordings of Mendelsson concertos; two men wearing suit-jackets and mackintoshes stand together and, as is the birthright of any man, talk about war. I list the titles for which I’m looking to the owner and he charges off to the shelves, shredding his finger across the backs of books, commenting rapidly about the additions and the tomes which he doesn’t have or which he has but which are ‘in a box upstairs’. I asked whether they had any William S Burroughs, but they he said no, very few people have Burroughs. I secure a copy of the Marlowe which is required, settle up for the Norman Mailers which I located on the discount shelves and pass the gentlemen – now talking about tank-battles in North Africa – on my way out.
The sun rose up, leaving the beautiful water,
Into the bronze-covered heaven, to shine for the immortals
And also for mortal men upon the grain-giving earth.
– Homer, The Odyssey: chapter 3, lines 1-3
We don’t write like this anymore, do we? It’s an interesting consideration: to imagine a narrative in which the gods so readily stop by for a drink, in which the mortal an immortal worlds so readily collide. I’m sure whether I’m correct in saying that these gods, the gods of Homer, are unashamedly anthropomorphic, like proles with supreme powers; while the gods of the monotheisms (deities of lucid, terrifying and often hilarious human tenets) stake a claim to perfection, abstract divinity and perhaps even the platonic absolute morality. I’m not qualified, and I suppose that few are qualified, to act as arbiter between the civilisations which are affected and produced by these systems of belief, but it should be an interesting difference to split.
That which I think is important, however, is that the monotheistic gods wish to occupy the territory of perfection but behave like monsters, children, humans and heroes; the gods of the classics behave, speaking crudely, as one would expect humans with supreme powers to behave. One might be able to claim that the more dangerous belief is the one in which it is claimed that an entity and it’s doctrines are perfect when actually they’re human; as compared to an imperfect being and doctrine accepting imperfection or even not making a claim. The more mature activity is to look at ourselves – the first increment of progress is diagnosis – rather than creating creators and controllers who are really ourselves, just disguised beneath a thin veneer of infallibility. News form Nowhere tells us that a place of perfection is a nowhere, Nirvana is nothingness; the belief that perfection is in possession is the end of the line.