Is Love Blind? Or is Love the Only Clear Sight?

One of the most interesting aspects of the society in Brave New World (henceforth BNWS) is the way it deals with human relationships. The essential idea is to dilute and so moderate all emotional attachments, under the mantra “everyone belongs to everyone else”. There are no parents (children are grown in factories and reared together) and no monogamy: instead, tepid friendship and, not just promiscuity, but a social pressure in favour of promiscuity. Those who focus too much on sleeping with a single partner are worried about and considered unhealthy. Words like ‘marriage’, ‘mother’, and ‘father’, are embarassing and hilarious. Solitary pursuits are frowned on and aloneness is rare.

The result, planned for and openly declared, is to abolish strong feelings and individuality.

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Ruddy and Long-Nosed

Ruddy Mongoose

The last two species to showcase are the long-nosed mongoose (Herpestes naso) and the ruddy mongoose (Herpestes smithii). The long-nosed mongoose, not to be confused with the common kusimanse, also called ‘long-nosed mongoose’, is another of the species that inhabits west and central Africa, dwelling in the forests of Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, etc. It is also a relatively rare and little-known species, and there consequently appear to be pictures of it on the interwebs.

The ruddy mongoose, on the other hand, inhabits India and Sri Lanka. There are plenty of pictures of it (like these two), which show both its resemblance to the more common and slightly smaller indian grey mongoose, and its even greater resemblance to the indian brown mongoose. Like the indian brown, it lives principally in forested rather than open areas, and the main difference seems to be the slightly more reddish colour of its fur, and the black tip on its tail.

Thoughts on “Brave New World”

I recently read Aldous Huxely’s famous ‘Brave New World’. It wasn’t quite what I had expected – having the model of 1984 in my mind to compare it to, I was anticipating a fairly unremittingly dire and hideous dystopia. What I found was something much more ambivalent.

Putting the matter very crudely, BNW presents a society in which happiness has been secured at the cost of freedom, dignity, and various other things. Halfway through, a ‘savage’ character who hasn’t gone through the extensive and finely-tuned conditioning of the other individuals is introduced, who finds the whole society despicable. But this character is himself, ultimately, pathetic – neurotic, delusional, self-loathing, and, ultimately, able to be at peace only through endlessly repeated self-imposed suffering. Through him and his outrage at ‘civilisation’, we see painted a picture of the present, of what has been given up, which is no more inspiring.

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I Don’t Really Know What I Think About Pornography

This is a confession. Pornography as an issue confuses me. I’ve been trying over the last few days to write a post on it, after being involved in a public debate over Hustler. But I keep losing track of my point.

One of the things I am sure of is that there’s a problem, that misogyny and objectification are prevalent and arguably becoming ever more prevalent. But to what extent, and in what ways, does misogyny in porn relate to wider social problems? As cause or effect? The empirical evidence is confused and contradictory – but what sorts of effects should we be looking at? Extreme sexual violence, low-level sexual violence, discrimination, or something else?

Similarly, I’m fairly confident that it makes sense and is useful to challenge and draw attention to the misogyny that’s widespread in a lot of porn (not to mention racism), such as that with which Hustler drips. But beyond that, questions of what to do about it confuse me. Is a legal ban really the right sort of measure? Would it do more harm than good? How can the ‘right’ subset of pornography be defined and picked out, without targetting things that don’t need it and leaving legitimate targets untouched?

I’ve been reading various views on the matter from different camps of feminist, but they leave me still roughly in the middle. Anti-porn radfems are persuasive, pro-porn sex-positives are persuasive, so, blah.

So this post doesn’t have a point or an answer. What it does have is some rather disjointed reflections.

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Stripe-Necked and Crab-Eating

Stripe-Necked Mongoose

Stripe-Necked Mongoose

Today we look at two very similar mongooses, the stripe-necked mongoose (Herpestes vitticollis) and the crab-eating mongoose (Herpestes urva).  These two closely-related species are both quite large (around 3 feet long) with short legs and a short tail. They both also have a stripe on their necks, although the stripe-necked mongoose has a black stripe, while the crab-eating has a white one.

They also qualify as somewhat badass for killing and eating deer. Now that’s not quite true. They kill and eat ‘mouse deer‘, deer-like creatures which are themselves only around 3 feet long. So that’s not hugely impressive. I retract the badass comment.

The crab-eating mongoose, as one might imagine, is the most aquatic species, swimming confidently and often eating, um, crabs. It inhabits various wet and foresty areas across all of south-east Asia, northern India, southern China, and western Indonesia. The stripe-necked mongoose, on the other hand, is confined to Sri Lanka and the southern tip of India.

We are nearing the end of this year’s Mongoose Month. Over the next two days we will round off with ruddy long-nosed mongooses.

What Are Border Controls For?

I haven’t posted any much in the past on the subject of migration. So to rectify that, this is a post to explain why any sensible person should support international freedom of movement, i.e. ‘open borders’. This discussion will focus on immigration to developed countries – immigration to developing countries has a whole different set of issues involved.

Let’s start by explaining why I put that phrase in quote marks. It carries with it a picture: the picture of borders between nations as more or less permeable, and us asking ourselves, hypothetically, how many people we should allow through them. One position would be to let through anyone who wishes, as currently happens within the European Union or within countries (at least those that follow the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, unlike, say, Israel or China). The opposite, the ‘closed borders’ position, would be to not let anyone through.

Now this is I think a somewhat misleading picture, for the basic reason that countries have very limited ability to control who crosses their borders. Even if we ‘closed’ all of our national borders (this is a non-specific ‘us’) if people were trying to get in, a lot of them still would. What different immigration policies change is not so much how many people enter the country, but how they are treated when they are inside.

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The 25th of February: Kruschev, Lincoln, and the Dockworker

De Dokwerker

De Dokwerker

Today is the anniversary of any number of things, two of which I’ll focus on.

One is the Dutch strike of 1941. This was a mass action against anti-semitism in Nazi-occupied Holland. In response to the increasing segregation of jews, and the sending of more than a hundred to extermination camps, a strike was organised by the banned communist party. Though it was ultimately suppressed, it rallied a large number of workers and is annually celebrated in Holland. It is also commemorated by the pictured statue, in honour of the dockworkers who led it.

Yet despite the central role of communists in resisting Nazism, a brief increase in their popularity after the war was short-lived. This was largely related to the other event that happened on the 25th of February: Nikita Kruschev’s secret speech of 1956. This speech denounced many of the actions of Stalin during his rule, while praising Lenin – it was the first time that many aspects of Stalin’s tyranny had been publicly admitted.

The speech seems to be to bear a certain comparison with the American civil war (although obviously less bloody). It was the time when the initial and most unrestrained butchery that accompanied the setting up of the revolutionary government (I feel that life as a slave can be called a ‘butchered’ life) was denounced by the highest echelons of that state – but not denounced so far as to bring and end to it, merely to make it milder and more stable. The civil war didn’t end racism, nor did Lincoln, the great emancipator, want it to end racism. Similar, the one-party state and the repression of dissent against it was not ended by Kruschev. Indeed half the point of his speech was simply an excuse to attack his rivals in the party.

I say that speech is connected to the lack of benefit that the Dutch communists drew from their resistance to Nazism – not because the speech itself produced that effect, but because the political character of the USSR which it discusses was one of the great forces holding back the spread of communist ideas. Except among aspiring military juntas, of course.

Though it draws this post rather onto a different random topic, I thought I’d share a thought I had about some statements by Abraham Lincoln that I just looked up. He was quite adamant that

“I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races…

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Mongooses of Indonesia

I’ve already discussed one mongoose species that inhabits some of the islands of the malay archipelago, namely the small indian or small asian mongoose. But there are three species that live exclusively here – Hose’s mongoose (Herpestes hosei), the collared mongoose (Herpestes semitorquatus), and the short-tailed mongoose (Herpestes brachyurus).

However, these mongooses are very little known. In fact the only photos of any of them which appears to exist on the internet are these two, which show a mutant short-tailed mongoose. You might think it has supernormal powers of healing, but that’s wolverine, who is a mustelid, not a herpestid – i.e. a dog-type, rather than a cat-type (this is explained a little more here).

No, the mutation here is just the colour – though not technically an albino, this zoo-dwelling specimen is white.  Normally, short-tailed mongooses are a very dark brown, while collared and Hose’s mongooses are sort of reddish-russet-brown. That, of course, is if the Hose’s mongoose exists, which, since it is known only from a single specimen, it may not do.

The key point to take away is that this white mongoose is cute and someone should make a lolcat out of it (I say lolcat advisedly, since mongooses are virtually cats anyway).

Official: Thai Prime Minister Full of Shit

“They have to respect the law.” Abhisit said in a speech to foreign business leaders yesterday “We’re hoping to show that we can handle political differences.”

This makes my blood boil. The Prime Minister of Thailand has denounced protesters who are planning to disrupt the ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) conference held soon in Thailand. He says they can protest as much as they want, but they mustn’t do anything illegal.

The last decade of Thai politics has been endless repeats of the following pattern: a certain party (whose name keeps changing, but may be called the red party) wins elections because the poor majority vote for it, due to its promises to provide them with things like credit and healthcare. The opposition, middle-class urban conservatives (the yellows) make it impossible for that government to function. Then the courts or the army, who support the yellows, remove the red government from power and get it replaced by a conservative yellow one.

So prime minister Abhisit is the direct result of illegal and unconstitutional methods – though technically having the support of sufficient elected MPs, he is in effect a dictator, a front for the vested interests that dominate Thai society. And now he turns around and says that his opponents, who are justifiably fucking angry, must respect the law.

I have little respect for the law in general. I find this case infuriating simply because it makes so clear the absolute hypocrisy of its application.

I also don’t have all that much respect for the red politicians – they combine economic redistribution with generalised authoritarian abuse of minorities (Myanmar refugees, Muslims) and killed a lot of people with their own ‘war on drugs’. But the yellow government seems little better on most of these issues, quite possibly worse, and economically is much less favourable to the majority.

Anyway, this is hardly an insightful or penetrating post, just a register of disgust at the hypocrisy of the Thai leaders in their ongoing struggle to deprive the masses of their electoral voice.

Does Universal Power-Hunger Make Hierarchy Rational?

It’s sometimes said that people have an innate love of aggression and power and dominance and all those things that anarchists are against. It is then sometimes suggested that anarchism doesn’t ‘recognise’ this fact and that, on the contrary, only hierarchical societies do justice to ‘human nature’.

Now there’s two ways to take this. It might mean that people are unchangeably irrational in  this – that they will, in overwhelming numbers, strive for whatever offers them the momentary promise or prospect of satisfying it, whatever the cost. Or it might simply mean that the desire is there and is strong.

I won’t here give an answer to the first. If humans are so foolish that they can’t seek their own good, then that is indeed a good route towards authoritarian thinking. But I happen to have a certain optimism that people are rational enough, ultimately, that they can recognise what causes them suffering and work against it.

The second, though, I will try to tackle: the idea that, independently of rationality, people innately and always love power. I would suggest that if this is true (which it may be) the case for anarchism is not one whit diminished. That is because if one accepts the arguments that non-hierarchical societies are good, then those arguments will imply, fairly unchanged, that non-hierarchical societies are the most rational type of society for a power-hungry species.

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