The Tyranny of the Majority

‘Tyranny of the majority’ is an interesting phrase. I’m going to throw out my thoughts on it, without saying anything particularly profound or complex. In particular, I’m going to talk about the role this concept sometimes plays in anti-democratic ideologies or in suspicions of democracy – where ‘democracy’ is defined as the ideal of collective self-rule that representative political systems such as are now fashionable claim to offer but don’t.

So I think there are two sorts of things that people often have in mind when they speak of majoritarian tyranny, two sorts of ‘victims’. One sort is the ‘deviant’, those who are, for whatever reason, in violation of society’s norms, such as nudists, schizophrenics, asylum-seekers, transsexuals, baha’is, etc. The other sort is the rich person who falls foul of ‘the mob’, and has their ‘freedom’ taken away when the baying crowd strip them of their property.

Now I think the first of these is a valid fear, while the second is not – but that the first, valid, fear, doesn’t require democracy and indeed thrives on its opposite.

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Girls (Scream) Aloud: Hypersadism, Obscenity and Sexuality

The UK’s obscenity law is a history of attempted prosecutions that have failed or been reversed. The latest such attempt has just been dismissed from court – it was the attempt to prosecute a man for putting online a story (titled ‘Girls (Scream) Aloud’) about the erotic kidnap, rape, torture, mutilation, and murder of the five members of ‘Girls Aloud’.

The coverage has been varied – the commonest line has been that the story is very offensive and very unpleasant, and the author ‘sick’, but that nevertheless – perhaps, and this is the question posed – does even a sick man have the right to publish obscene and terrible material? I had various thoughts reading this story, and so I felt that I should perhaps write a post about this kind of sexuality – what I’ll call hyper-sadism, the erotic fascination with, not just inflicting pain or exerting control, but with mutilation and murder. Read the rest of this entry »

In Defense of Robots

They are inherently evil and must be destroyed.

They are inherently evil and must be destroyed.

In the ‘Terminator’ franchise, as well as the ‘Matrix’ franchise, not to mention the film of ‘I, Robot’, the ‘Dune’ books, and ‘2001, a Space Oddessey’, humans invent robots (which I here define as ‘artificial beings with a mental life’) who they then find themselves at war with. The rise to consciousness and thought by robots is a mortal threat to humanity – one or the other must be destroyed.

This isn’t the only presentation of robots that can be seen (or, more often, read). But it’s a recurring theme that strikes me as rather odd and deserving some questions. There are two sorts of unhappiness I have with this motif: firstly, the supposed emnity between humans and robots, and secondly, the way that robots are presented as thinking.

So on the first question, you have to ask – what are we extrapolating from? Have robots ever killed or performed any hostile act against humans? Of course not – none exist, in the sense I’m using the term here. And obviously it’s more exciting for an action film to have hostile forces, but that doesn’t quite seem like a full explanation. Figures of fear have to have emotional resonance, they have to connect to something in the viewer – but if there’s no experiences of fear associated with actual robots, what is this?

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Sunday Mammalfest, Episode 7

The teeth of the landwhale

The teeth of the landwhale

This landwhale is still in the water. But for how long?

This landwhale is in the water. But for how long?

Apologies for skipping a week. But there is amazing news! Scientists have documented the existence of – the landwhale!

That’s right: long ago, the ancestors of whales split. Most of their descendents became entirely aquatic, losing their legs and becoming incapable of movement on land.

But not all. Some whales can still move on land. And guess what – they can move faster than you. And when they catch you, they will destroy you. Utterly.

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Who Won the Sexual Revolution? Patriarchy vs. Fratriarchy

The last century saw probably the greatest change in attitudes towards sex and gender in history. By its end, almost every government on earth officially declared the equal right of men and women to choose their own roles in life; at its start, almost none did. The idea of equality between men and women has gone from being a fringe position to being global received wisdom. The fact that those official declarations are often insincere, or that received wisdom is often substantially ignored, shouldn’t obscure the magnitude of this change; if the 19th century (or rather, 1789-1917) was a century of economic revolution, the 20th was a century of sexual revolution.

But what was that sexual revolution? Who made it? Who benefited? What does it leave still to do?

I don’t want to suggest that the answers I’m going to give are definitely true, or anywhere near complete. They’re in a way the drawing together of material I’ve already posted at various times into a comprehensive analysis.

In summary, I would argue that this grand sexual revolution was a revolution led by the sex-class of men without established and guaranteed access to sex, against the sex-class of men with it, in which the most class-conscious layers of the female sex-classes, led by feminists, played a crucial role, but were ultimately betrayed, just as the revolting peasantry and proletariat have been betrayed by the leaderships of the revolutions they’ve made.

This revolution replaced the old system of male dominance, characterised by the rule of older, family-heading men, with a new system of male dominance, characterised by the rule of younger, unattached men.

In a word – it replaced patriarchy with fratriarchy.

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…53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73…

I can definitely identify with this:

The Family and the State: Banning the Burqa

The French government has announced plans to make the wearing of burqas or other face-coverings in France; a good discussion (and factual overview of different forms of islamic modesty-clothing) is here with the Apostate. I think this issue shows up a lot of interesting issues about authority, control, and power. I think the ban itself should be opposed, but different measures in a similar spirit might well be useful.

To start with some background – the view of statehood taken by class-struggle anarchists is in a way a combination of the qualified pro-statism of liberals and the unqualified anti-statism of anarcho-capitalists. Like anarcho-capitalists, the state is seen as an immoral force of violence and control; like liberals (going back to Hobbes, who is philosophically a liberal even if his politics are very authoritarian), it is also seen as a necessity to re-integrate and stabilise a conflict-ridden society always at risk of disintegration.

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For Revolutionary Moderation: How to Make Socialism Appealing to the Public

A recent survey by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has sparked comment on a few blogs. It investigated what a sample of the public felt about economic inequality in British society. There are various points that will both hearten and dishearten the left, and I won’t go through all of them. The Left Luggage, as is their wont, have expressed a feeling that socialists need to adjust their message to win broad appeal. I’d like to argue that the adjustments involved are actually to some extent prefigured in Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme.

Some of the key findings were

1) People strongly support the idea of earned or fair inequality – that those work harder or contribute more should receive more;

2) People tended to position themselves in ‘the middle’, even when they weren’t, and to feel most sympathy for those in ‘the middle’;

3) People tended to be quite hostile to any perceived wrongdoing by the very poor – in particular, to those seen as ‘parasites’, claiming benefits while refusing to take a job – showing a similar, though lesser, hostility to the very rich when they were perceived as benefiting unfairly.

4) People supported the general idea of progressive taxation and redistribution, and a large majority supported the recent increase in the top rate of tax.

5) People were generally quite worried that inequality in Britian was much too high, and that this was related to social cohesion and crime.

6) People didn’t seem to endorse the idea of ‘equality’ as a general principle as much as they endorsed ‘fairness’.

Now what this suggests to me is that the left-wing proposal that might get the most public support would be what in the Gotha text, Marx calls ‘the early stage of communism’, and what has at other times been called ‘socialism’ as opposed to ‘communism’.

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News from the Frontlines

As a break from high theory, I present a collection of stories, and comments, on moves in what the Centre for Anarchist Strategy (which sadly seems to be defunct) calls

“The global chess match between anarchy and misery”

In Peru, the government has substantially backed down over its plans to impose corporate-led ‘development’ on the rainforest and its indigenous inhabitant, repealing 2 contentious pieces of legislation (though others remain). This move was forced by persistent roadblocks by indigenous activists who recently faced down an attempt to violently break their blockades. The president is now suffering from a major loss of public support and political authority. Let us hope he loses whatever he has left.

Incidentally, this case illustrates how communists need not be opposed to everything that can be labelled ‘property rights’. What the indigenous activists were asserting, the demand to have a say in what happens to somewhere you and your community inhabit and have inhabited for a long time, is a perfectly just demand. It is, crucially, a political demand, and so one which must be brought together with competing legitimate demands from others in a just political process of negotiation, but where such a just political process does not exist, and has been replaced by a state hierarchy, it is the kind of demand that can be justly asserted against that state by whatever means appropriate.

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Speaking of Pervasive Sexualisation…

Cross-posted at Vegans Against PETA

A recurrent theme in animal-rights rhetoric is an attempt to connect with other struggles against oppression, to present the abuse of animals as similar to the abuse of different sorts of humans.

Now, for many people, the leftist revolutionaries of Latin America, from Fidel Castro to Evo Morales to Salvador Allende, are a key example of that struggle against oppression. So if you were an animal rights group and you found that the granddaughter of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was a vegetarian and was willing to work with you, it would seem that you have a campaign ready made.

You might, for example, have her in an outfit and posture that echoes famous poses that Che Guevara often held. You could use a slogan like “Join the vegetarian revolution”. It’s a brilliant plan. It’s got a striking image with a lot of resonance, and it’s also got a point that can be backed up (the connections between different forms of oppression, the need for revolutionary change in human-animal relations, the willingness to endorse militant tactics, etc.)

It’s controversial, sure – Guevara is a controversial figure, hated by some and loved by others. But let’s suppose you have no problem taking controversial stances. And perhaps your main plan is to run the campaign in Latin America, where Guevara’s very popular.

But now, imagine that you’re also PETA. Now a problem emerges. There’s a woman in your poster, but there’s nothing sexual about it. Nobody’s going to get a boner out of simply seeing someone in an inspiring pose of resolute defiance. What can you do?

I guess you’ll just have to make her semi-naked. Get her tits out, yeah? Cover them with an ammo belt of carrots, sure, but make sure that she’s clearly in a state of undress. After all, she’d rather go naked than wear fur, amiright?

Never mind that there’s absolutely no reason for a sexualised image in a poster themed around Che Guevara and revolution. He is hardly famous for having posed nude while storming Havana.

And never mind that it introduces a completely conflicting message that is liable to undermine the actual point – that will encourage viewers to look and think ‘I’d like to do her’ rather than ‘I’d like to aid her in doing something revolutionary’.

Never mind that you’re sending the message that women must always be sexual, even when the subject at issue – political relatives – has nothing to do with sex at all. Never mind that you’re encouraging a culture where every bit of the media features soft-core porn and women are pervasively judged in sexual terms.

That’s all beside the point. This campaign might get more attention now, and that’s all that matters. Nice one PETA.