Butchery in Sri Lanka/Tamil Eelam

It is probably a pity, but as reactions to the G20 protest policing show, images often matter. So for example the analysis of new images may work as an important confirmation of “the persistent verbal testimony…from doctors, aid workers and civilians fleeing the area” – the Sri Lankan government is massacring civilians.

I’m reluctant to set much store by the category of ‘war crimes’, since very few crimes are as serious as the crime of starting a war itself, but for what it’s worth, this government is committing war crimes. That government is of course also, for what it’s worth, an authoritarian and racist one, even by the standards of modern governments.

I don’t have much to add personally, it just felt like something that could do with saying. It is of course interesting how little coverage and how little protest this conflict has prompted in the West, especially compared to the Israel-Palestine conflict, to which it bears many resemblances (apparently the governments involved recognise this, and do a lot of business trading weapons with each other). There has been protest, of course, some of it involving very brave hunger strikes, but it seems to have mainly been carried out by Tamils themselves, with less of the shouty lefty students.

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Will the left Take Over the World now, please?

dont-worry-we-can-take-over-the-wor

As this post says: This should be a great time to be a socialist. The same idea was put to me recently by a certain arch-reactionary of my acquaintance, who said, in essence, “well I suppose you must be over the moon at the moment, what with the impending collapse of civilisation and everything”.

But of course crises in capitalism are only half the story; the other half is something that can take advantage of them, and at the moment that’s not very visible anywhere. Without a capable revolutionary movement – a movement which would, let’s bear in mind, be different from and bigger than pretty much anything ever before seen – this crisis will simply result in a period of depression and then a subtly changed form of capitalism – quite possible a worse one.

Dave Osler writes here about the idea that ‘the left blew its big chance’. As he sees it, there should have been, and could have been, a movement of left-wing intellectuals and groups preparing the ground for this moment, building up a rival ‘common-sense’, so that as soon as neoliberalism collapsed, the obvious alternative was before everyone’s mind.

I think there’s perhaps some truth in this, but what it leaves out is that, at least for dirty revolutionaries, the point of socialism is a shift not so much in the ‘what’ but in the ‘who’: a change of agency. Of course this can be caricatured by speaking in cliches of the proletariat rising “up” and over-“throwing” capitalism, but the point is that the sentence begins with a noun phrase like “the proletariat…”, rather than something like “the government…”.

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A Socialist Reading of Nietzsche’s “Genealogy of Morals”

There’s a lot that any socialist would want to reject in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche; but there is also much that they might find useful. In this post I want to take a famous work of his, the first third of The Genealogy of Morals, and offer an internal critique of it; even accepting its main claims, it contains resources for attacking and even reversing its own conclusions.

Awesome Tache

Awesome 'Tache

This work can be be quite easily summarised: morality as it has come down to us from history displays two quite different and opposed origins.

The first, expressed in the words ‘good and bad’, stems from warrior-aristocrats identifying themselves and everything strong, beautiful, and happy as ‘good’ and the lower classes, everything ugly, weak, and miserable, as ‘bad’. After Nietzsche this has come to be called ‘master-morality’. The second, expressed in the words ‘good and evil‘, stems from priests and ‘the herd’ identifying those first warrior-aristocrats, and everything destructive, overpowering, and happy as ‘evil’, and then by contrast identifying themselves, and everything weak, humble, patient, and passive as ‘good’. This has come to be called ‘slave-morality’.

Now this work is a bit crazy at times, and also contains a lot of casual racism, an identification of the tendencies he discusses with ‘noble races’ and ‘slave races’. There’s a focus on Judaism/Christianity as the historical representative of ‘slave morality’ which is both Eurocentric and bordering on anti-Semitic. And Nietzsche is, in political terms, essentially someone who thinks there aren’t enough joyfully-butchering dictators around, imposing their mighty penises wills onto the world – and endlessly critical of democracy, socialism, egalitarianism and humanitarianism.

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Machinists Revolt Against the Machines

Good article here about Bangladesh. As well as being the most corrupt country in the world, its textile workers are paid the lowest wages in the world. And their work is very similar to the sort of stuff that was going on in early industrial capitalist Britain: mainly female workforce, producing textiles for export, paid almost nothing. And getting restive.

Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution

I’ve recently been reading some of the work of Eric Hobsbawm, focusing on the Industrial Revolution in Britain and its causes.

Now, there’s an idea which is widespread both among ardent defenders of capitalism and among many of its Marxist and Marxist-inspired critics, that the industrial revolution, and the worldwide technological transformation which it initiated, is intimately involved with capitalism – we have capitalism ‘to thank’ for it. Mostly this is presented as a good thing, and I would overall concur with that analysis, although the environmental consequences have not been brilliant.

What Hobsbawm argues, though, is that while the industrial revolution emerged along with the growth and strengthening of British capitalism, and while the two were certainly connected, capitalism was not actually a very ‘fertile’ ground for industrial revolution, because profit-oriented production tends to be actually quite conservative. He writes:

“It is often assumed that an economy of private enterprise has an automatic bias towards innovation, but this is not so. It has a bias only towards profit. It will revolutionise manufactures only if greater profits are to be made in this way than otherwise. But in pre-industrial societies this is hardly ever the case.

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Torture and Vivisection

A final post on torture. The fact which the use of psychology for torture brought home to me, but which I was already nominally aware of, is the ethical ambiguity of science.

That is, increase in scientific knowledge is not a straightforwardly good thing, because there is no unified ‘humanity’ to make use of that knowledge – there are a collection of self-interested cliques and groups with structurally opposed interests. Any piece of new knowledge can thus be put to both malign and benign purposes.

What this relates to is then the ways that we get that knowledge. For example, the research on learned helplessness and depression – how was that acquired? By torturing dogs and seeing what mental injuries resulted. I’m not throwing in ‘torture’ as an emotive word for rhetorical purposes here; it’s a perfectly accurate description. Pain was inflicted specifically so as to cause permanent mental harm – the experiments were successful because they fulfilled that goal.

Now it’s commonly argued that animal experiments are needed because the knowledge they give us is of such value. Well certainly, to those concentrations of power backing the experiments – for them, any new piece of knowledge is an unqualified good. But for everyone else, it has the ambiguity that comes from the fact that it can be used both to refine and improve procedures of therapy, and also to refine and improve procedures of torture.

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Mind-Body Dualism and Torture

I talked a bit yesterday about the recent release of a lot of documentation regarding the American torture system. In this post I want to make a more general point about torture .

Before doing so, I felt it should be emphatically pointed out that ‘ticking bomb scenarios’, and torture as the tragic but necessary last resort to save lives, is fantasy – in particular, the main point of torture in this case was to gain evidence to support the invasion of Iraq, whether or not that evidence was true.

Anyway, the conceptual point that interests me is that I think there is a tendency to think of torture as a temporary thing – unlike, say, amputating a hand, the purely ‘mental’ nature of torture means that although it’s incredibly unpleasant while it’s going on, after it’s finished the victim is basically the same as before.

For some lucky people this will be true, but in general I think this approach is too ‘Cartesian’, too prone to seeing the mind as something floating above and unlike the body. But minds can be cut into and dissected just as much as bodies.

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