Friday, September 29

On punching Nazis.

The problem with Fascism is not political.

There's been a lot of debate (well, "debate") lately about whether it's OK to punch Nazis, because apparently that's the kind of world we live in now. Those lovely people in Antifa, of course, say that it is — and, helpfully, define "Nazi" as "anyone I've just punched". Saves a lot of confusion, that. My experience in the mires of the Web tells me that plenty of people who are nowhere near as extreme are still staunchly in the Nazi-punching camp. I despair.

Such people are well-intentioned, of course. Who wants to see the rise of Nazism again? What decent person doesn't wish someone had killed Adolf Hitler in, say, 1928? Surely beating him to death before he really got stuck in would have done the world a favour. Surely.

There are a couple of problems with this. Firstly, and most obviously, punching Nazis isn't a new idea. Some Germans actually thought of it in the 1920s, and gave it a go. In other words, the only reason we're even discussing whether punching Nazis works is that punching Nazis didn't work.

But it's the second problem I want to talk about.

The problem with Nazis was not their antisemitism. It wasn't their economic policy — as a free-marketeer, I'm full of criticisms of it, but nations are often run by people who are wrong. Hundreds of nations had bad economic policy at the time, but most of them were not problems in the way Germany turned out to be. The problem with the Nazis wasn't their social policy, or their nutty racial theories (I say "nutty", but they were shared by rather a lot of the planet's respectable scientists at the time), or even their invention of [shudder] the communal holiday camp. The Nazis could have believed everything they believed and just been bastards. That's not a compliment, but it's not one of history's greatest evils either. Bastards are with us always.

What tipped the Nazis over the edge from bastards to... well, to fucking Nazis was their belief in the rightness of the use of violence against their enemies. Antisemites who use the word "yid", who complain about the International Jewish Conspiracy™, and refuse to have Jews round to dinner are annoying in all sorts of ways, but are not on remotely the same planet as slaughtering six million innocent people.

In the alternative universe where European Jews systematically round up and kill six million innocent Aryans — even Aryans who believe they are the chosen master race and Jews are inferior and the root of all the world's problems — the Aryans aren't the bad guys, and the Jews aren't heroes. That universe's Holocaust is every bit as wrong as our own. The ongoing argument about whether National Socialists were really Socialists is immaterial: what they did would still be evil if done in the name of Liberalism or Conservatism or David Icke's lizard people or preferring The Stones to The Beatles. The underlying reasons don't matter. It's the replacement of civilized argument with violence that matters.

Now, I'm not a pacifist. I'm not anti-war — especially not the war fought to defeat and destroy Nazi Germany. The proud Nazi-punchers like to compare themselves to the Allied forces who stormed Normandy and claim that they're just doing the same thing: using violence against Nazis. Apart from their bizarre aspiration to turn our societies into Omaha Beach, I wonder how far they're willing to strain that logic. If you burn down a house with a family inside, aren't you just doing what the RAF did when they dropped incendiary bombs on German cities? Surely, as long as the parents are on the wrong side, it's OK to incinerate them and their kids. Right?

Well, there are wars and there are wars. War has reasons and it has aims, and it is by them that we must judge it. The aim of the Allies in World War 2 was pretty clear: to prevent the wholesale destruction of European civilization and its replacement with the Fourth Reich, accompanied by the mass slaughter of hundreds of millions of humans. We like to tell ourselves that we fought the Nazis to defeat their ideology, but did we, really? All of their ideology? Well, no, obviously not. The Nazis gave food and shelter to the unemployed and the homeless. They opposed Catholicism. They opposed global trade and Capitalism. They believed private enterprise should work for the good of the community, not for profit. They believed the state should provide healthcare. They controlled food commodity prices through a quota system, just like the EU. The Nazi policy of "creating" employment through massive state-sponsored infrastructure-building schemes is popular with Labour, the Conservatives, and Barack Obama. Antisemitism is, sadly, a bit of a vote-winner these days. Even the improvement of the race via the forced removal from the gene pool of inferior specimens is a horribly popular idea to this day, and involuntary sterilisation of the mentally unfit was state policy in Sweden into the 1970s. You may note that, deplorable though that was, no-one went to war with Sweden over it.

There are people on the Right who delight in producing lists like this to draw attention to the myriad ways in which the Left agree with the Nazis, and thus to imply that the Left are Nazis. I am not one of them. The point I'm making is quite the opposite: that a lot of Nazi policies were actually OK, and that agreeing with them on some of these points is perfectly respectable. I disagree with most of them, but not enough to go to war over. Most of it was just wrong or misguided or inefficient or a matter of opinion, not evil. Most of it. But the small core that was evil, well... it was everything.

The reason we had to fight the Nazis, the reason that they represented an existential threat, was not any one of their preferences within the realm of politics, but their belief about what that realm should encompass, about what politics itself should be. They didn't just reject democracy — which is bad, but not necessarily all that bad. They didn't just reject the principle that the strong have a duty to protect the weak — a principle with less of a historical pedigree than we might like to think. No, they inverted it: they embraced the principle that the strong have a duty to destroy the weak — and, of course, that the good should destroy the bad. Once they'd done that, the definitions they came up with for "strong" and "weak", "good" and "bad" were immaterial: the results were going to be just as evil regardless, and any society they built was going to be a hell. In their early days, it was street brawls; once they got power, it was genocide; but they're just two points on the same continuum: if you start with the principle that the former is right, you're on the path to the latter. Of course their target was the Jews — it's always the Jews — and of course it wasn't only the Jews — it never is. But the Nazis would still have been evil, and it would still have been necessary to destroy them, had they picked on someone else.

If, for instance, they'd taken to the streets to punch Nazis.


Wednesday, May 24

Nothing changed yesterday.

I've seen a lot of claims that what happened yesterday in Manchester represents some sort of new low.

It doesn't.

Mark Steyn wrote this in 2004, after Beslan:

When your asymmetrical warfare strategy depends on gunning down schoolchildren, you're getting way more asymmetrical than you need to be. The reality is that the IRA and ETA and the ANC and any number of secessionist and nationalist movements all the way back to the American revolutionaries could have seized schoolhouses and shot all the children.

But they didn't. Because, if they had, there would have been widespread revulsion within the perpetrators' own communities. To put it at its most tactful, that doesn't seem to be an issue here.

Tuesday, May 23

Apparently, we need to explain the difference between Jeremy Corbyn and John Major.

Brendan O'Neill, a man who usually talks a great deal of sense, has ceased to do so:

Corbyn and the IRA: an infantile scandal

O'Neill has been saying for months that one of the great things about Brexit is that, now our political class are having their scapegoat taken away, our politics is now much more about proper issues that matter. And he's right about that. But now he's annoyed that people might care whether the Prime Minister of a country supports or opposes the murdering of that country's citizens. What issue could be less infantile?

Right now, nothing better sums up the moral infantilism of the opinion-forming class than its obsession with Jeremy Corbyn and the IRA.

Nothing, he says: nothing is more infantile than this silly little concern over murdering people. Not even mobile phone roaming charges, presumably.

You don’t have to be a fan of Corbyn to find this incessant IRA talk childish and irritating. It captures the media and political class’s preference for gotcha moralism over serious debate about the important issues of today, in Brexit Britain, 20 years since the Provisional IRA last detonated a bomb.

They murdered Adrian Ismay with a car bomb just a year ago. They blew up Newry Courthouse seven years ago. But sure, let's leave the splinter groups conveniently to one side and say O'Neill's got a point. So what does he say to the victims of the Omagh Bombing whose case against the last suspect only collapsed last year? "It was nearly twenty years ago so get over it"? Breda Devine and Maura Monaghan were only one year old when they were blown up. I'm betting twenty years doesn't seem like water under the bridge to their families.

Anyone who knows anything about the Troubles, which started in 1969 and ended with the first Provisional IRA ceasefire in 1994, knows British officials were talking to Sinn Fein and the IRA in the same period Corbyn was meeting with them.

O'Neill is particularly adept at calling out politicians' bullshit, which makes it so much more disappointing that he's helping spread Corbyn's disingenuity here. No-one's accusing Corbyn of talking to Sinn Fein. He's accused — correctly — of supporting the IRA: supporting both their strategy and their tactics, and wanting them to win.

John Major himself okayed these discussions between officialdom and the IRA’s Army Council. If Corbyn is a nutter unfit for public life because he talked to the IRA before it stopped its campaign, so is John Major.

Is there a single person anywhere on the planet who genuinely believes that John Major commenced negotiations with the IRA because he was a keen supporter who celebrated their killings? Really?

The talks between the Major Government and the IRA were fraught, because they were between opposing sides — enemies, in fact. The talks were very difficult and took many years, because the two sides disagreed with each and largely hated each other fundamentally. Corbyn's "talks" with Sinn Fein were not fraught, because they didn't disagree about a single damned thing.

The Queen shook hands with Martin McGuinness, IRA man turned first minister of Northern Ireland. Ah, but that was in 2012, not 1988, and that makes the world of difference, say Corbyn’s haters.

Firstly, yes, obviously the time makes a difference, just as there's a teensy bit of a difference between meeting the President of Turkey in 1916 and in 1930. McGuiness clearly disagreed with O'Neill here: there's no way on Earth he'd have shaken the Queen's hand in 1988.

Secondly, this sort of thing is the Queen's job. She has to shake the hands of some truly awful people. If Recep Erdogan visits the UK, she'll probably have to shake his hand. That doesn't signify that she or anyone in the Government supports him.

Is Mandela beyond the pale, too? Should we take down his statue in Parliament Square? Will Arlene Foster attack him in her next speech? Of course not. He isn’t Corbyn, and they’re out to get Corbyn, not to be consistent or principled.

Is Nelson Mandela standing for election to be British Prime Minister? What is O'Neill suggesting here? That we can't criticise someone who is standing for election without also criticising every historical figure with comparable views? Needless to say, O'Neill doesn't follow that rule himself.

Then there’s the warped moralism of the constant demand that Corbyn should condemn the IRA ‘specifically’.

Yes, obviously, since it is specifically the IRA that he has actively supported. O'Neill is being disingenuous again. No-one has ever suspected that Corbyn might be a UVF fan, so there's really no need for him to clarify his position on them. Similarly, no-one is asking him for his views on nun-beating. And?

If Corbyn is ‘pro-IRA’ for refusing to single out the IRA as the worst group, are these people pro-UVF, pro-UDA, pro-the Shankill Butchers for refusing to single out loyalists, and even worse for effectively saying: ‘Stop condemning loyalists, just condemn the IRA alone’?

See, the trouble with starting with a bit of rhetorical sleight of hand is, before you know it, you've followed your own logic and wound up talking complete bollocks. (And I should know.)

Because really, what on Earth is O'Neill on about? Is he suggesting that the Conservatives support the UVF? They don't. Is he suggesting that mainstream British political parties have a history of failing to condemn the UDA? News to me.

There was official recognition, both in the UK and Ireland, that the Loyalist paramilitaries wouldn't have existed without the Republican paramilitaries, and that therefore stopping the Republicans was the strategic priority. And one can have legitimate problems with that position, sure. But I don't remember a Tory leader ever praising the UVF's bravery or supporting their tactics. Maybe it slipped my mind.

DUP officials did more than whip up a climate of violent contempt for Catholics. Some of them had links with groups that worked with loyalist death squads.

O'Neill's point about various DUP bigwigs' dodgy history is well taken, but is again disingenuous. The point of a peace process is not that it magically turns bastards into nice people but that it ties the bastards up in constitutional politics long enough for a couple of generations to get out of the habit of violence. Those of us living in Northern Ireland have to put up with having some murderous hateful bastards in government for a while, which, it seems, is a price most of us are willing to pay for the peace. But Corbyn isn't a part of that. He's a Londoner. We don't have to put up with a terrorist-loving leader of the British Labour Party in order to preserve peace. There's no trade-off there: he just supports terrorists, and in return we get supported terrorists. Arlene Foster, whatever you may think of her, is not Corbyn's counterpart; Theresa May is. And, unless Brendan O'Neill is sitting on the scoop of the century, I don't think she has a history of torturing Catholics to death.

Jeremy Corbyn didn't negotiate with the IRA. He didn't even — as O'Neill claims — merely talk to them. He supported them. Alex Massie has a handy list:

No-one who was seriously interested in peace in the 1980s spoke at Troops Out rallies. The best that could be said of those people was that they wanted ‘peace’ on the IRA’s terms. In other words, they wanted the IRA to win.

If that had not been the case, if they had been interested in an actual settlement, they would not – as Corbyn did – have opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. They would not have denounced John Hume and the SDLP as craven sell-outs. They would not have insisted that the armed struggle was a vital part of getting the Brits out of the northern Irish statelet.

But these people did do that. All of that and more.

....

[In 1993], Corbyn was a member of the board of Labour Briefing, a fringe magazine for diehard leftists that unequivocally supported the IRA’s bombing campaign. Corbyn organised the magazine’s mailing-list and was a regular speaker at its events. In December 1984, the magazine “reaffirmed its support for, and solidarity with, the Irish republican movement” ... “Labour briefing stands for peace, but we are not pacifists”. Moreover, “It certainly appears to be the case that the British only sit up and take notice when they are bombed into it”. That being so, discussions with the SDLP and the Irish government were, at best, a distraction. Only Sinn Fein and the IRA spoke for Ireland. Labour Briefing explicitly opposed the SDLP, preferring instead to endorse the republican terrorist campaign.

This was published a few weeks after the Brighton bombing. ... Condemning the bombing showed that the Labour party had lost its ‘political nerve’. The Corbynite left, however, was made of sterner stuff. As Labour Briefing had previously written: “We refuse to parrot the ritual condemnation of ‘violence’ because we insist on placing responsibility where it lies…. Let our ‘Iron Lady’ know this: those who live by the sword shall die by it. If she wants violence, then violence she will certainly get.”

That, for the avoidance of doubt, is what Brendan O'Neill is referring to when he talks about

the time [Corbyn] took tea with the leaders of Sinn Fein and said a few critical things about Britain’s actions in Northern Ireland.

Tea.

You can take the boy out of the Revolutionary Communist Party....

Wednesday, January 11

Trump derangement syndrome.

In the light of the latest completely unhinged accusations against Donald Trump — accusations so utterly hingeless that even I won't dignify them with a link — I have this to say.

Donald Trump is not only an easy target; he's an easy legitimate target. He genuinely and obviously is so bad in so many ways that it should be really really easy to criticise him. And yet the Left keep coming up with these stupid convoluted and often false accusations, which both help Trump by making his opponents look insane and him reasonable in comparison, and force me and anyone else who may not support him but does value truth into the position of having to defend him.

Stop it. I don't want to defend him. He's a wanker.

Thursday, November 17

A conflict of interest.

The news was on in the background, as it always is at work, and I saw that a committee of MPs are calling for the RSPCA to be stripped of the right to prosecute. Why? Because, they claim, for the RSPCA to prosecute cases of animal cruelty is a conflict of interest.

I admit to having been utterly baffled by this. What conflict of interest? Do the RSPCA somehow make a profit out of prisons or something? So I looked it up.

The Commons environment committee said there was a "conflict of interest" between the charity's power to prosecute and its role in investigating cases, campaigning and fundraising.

A conflict of interest between investigating cases and prosecuting them? What the what? Couldn't we say the same about the criminal justice system?

But read on a bit and suddenly this nonsense all jumps into focus.

Last year the RSPCA spent £4.9 million on legal fees and cases. [David Bowles, the RSPCA's head of public affairs] said that represented about 3% of the charity's budget.

....

The charity's prosecution success rate is 98.9%, according to 2014 RSPCA figures

Ahhhh, so the CPS are moving to stop the RSPCA from prosecuting criminals because they're so damn good at it they're embarrassing the hell out of the CPS.

The RSPCA is a charity, supported by private donations. With a mere 3% of its budget, using independent solicitors rather than professional Crown Prosecutors, it is achieving a 98.9% success rate in prosecutions. And our MPs want this stopped?

I have a better idea. Let's let the CPS continue to handle the incredibly important cases of people being obnoxious on Twitter, and hand the responsibility for prosecuting assault, rape, and murder cases over to the RSPCA. The country should be crime-free by Christmas.

Thursday, November 10

Win-win.

Over the last couple of days, I've realised that an election in which both viable candidates are absolutely fucking awful is absolutely the best kind of election. I'm really happy that Clinton lost. She deserved to lose. But, if she'd won, I'd have been really happy to see Trump lose. He deserved to lose too.

Course, one of them had to win. And that was bound to be a bit of a problem. But then it always is. Every bloody election, no matter what happens, we end up with a politician in charge. It's an annoyance, but one I've got used to over the years.

And there's just so much more pleasure to be derived from seeing a politician lose than there is misery from seeing one win, it's not even close. Truly, in an election like this, there is really very little downside.

Mind you, if you're one of those people who believes that one of the human calamities on offer deserved to win, that the world would be a better place if they won, that they're even a nice person, I can see how the wrong result might be upsetting.

But that's just crazy talk.

Upbringing.

I keep reading accounts of children being distraught and crying about the election result. And that makes me wonder, what the hell is wrong with their parents?

Your job as a parent is, yes, to prepare your children for the world, but also not to needlessly frighten them. I live in Northern Ireland. We have politicians who are literal murderers, who have ordered the kneecappings, torture, and deaths of innocent people in cold blood, sometimes even doing the deeds themselves. And I'm not telling my kids horror stories about that so that they can lose sleep over it. We'll explain the history of the Troubles and the Peace Process to them one day, when they're ready for that kind of information and capable of dealing with it. To tell them before they can deal with it would simply be cruel.

Yet apparently there are Democrats in the US, and left-wingers across Europe, frightening their kids so badly the poor things are in tears, and for what? Because a murderer has seized power and declared martial law? Because a terrorist has performed a coup d'├ętat? No: because a politician was elected who's quite rude and a bit of a buffoon, and — horror of horrors! — is a Republican.

If you are frightening your kids over a fucking election result, you are a bad parent. Grow up.

Wednesday, November 9

Hey, it's a theory.

Thomas Frank in The Guardian:

Maybe it’s time to consider whether there’s something about shrill self-righteousness, shouted from a position of high social status, that turns people away.

Maybe?

Corruption.

They were both truly awful options. But the blatantly corrupt one lost. And I do like to see corruption lose.

Of course, Trump is probably corrupt too. He runs a casino-cum-strip-joint, for God's sake (though if he were properly corrupt, perhaps it wouldn't be going bankrupt). But he isn't blatantly corrupt: he recognises that corruption is supposed to be hidden, so makes some attempt to hide it. Clinton's attitude to the public has been one big "Yeah, I'm lying to you and taking massive bribes, and what the fuck are you going to do about it?" She didn't even attempt to make her lies believable:

"Did you wipe your server?"
"What, like, with a cloth?"

At least, when you try to fool people, you accept that they are worth fooling. When you make your lies so obvious that it's impossible to believe them, you ask your listeners to join you in the deceit. You're telling them up front that they're as bad as you are and you know it.

I'm cynical enough to accept that there's bound to be some corruption and indecency at that level of politics. But I also believe that the public's refusal to accept that corruption when it's discovered is a necessary check on its extent. That was the thing about Clinton: not just the corruption, but the blatancy. I'm sure Trump has taken and given a lot of back-handers in his time. Clinton turned them into front-handers.

Probably my favourite political speech of all time.

Sadly, this doesn't seem to be on the Net anywhere. I heard it on the radio, on the morning of the 2nd of May, 1997. John Major would go on to make a proper — and perfectly decent — official concession speech later on, but his impromptu one was better.

You could hear all the assembled Tories had been drinking through the night. Much rumbling and kerfuffle and laughter. Then a lot of ssshing because the now-ex-PM was going to speak. Everyone quietened down. And Major said, quite cheerfully — even over the radio, you could hear his smile — "Well, we lost." And the assembled throng of Tories immediately burst into drunken cheering.

He then went on to give a rather good speech. But it is that excellent beginning that stuck in my head, and the cheering of the losers that greeted it. At the time, I just thought it was fun. In retrospect, it turned out to be an all-too rare example of how to lose decently.

If you've just lost, and you want to look good, and perhaps you fancy persuading people you're not a narcissistic tosser, have a drink and a laugh and celebrate.