Sunday, January 24, 2016

More . . .

Spanish Erotica: Someone in Spain has unearthed an X-rated treasure trove which illuminates the public emergence of feminism, gay love, cross dressing, psychoanalysis, masturbation, sex manuals and hardcore porn. More here, if by any chance you're interested.

Which reminds me . . . Are you - like me- wondering where all the victims of transgenderism have been up until very recently? And why they've suddenly become the cynosure of all the UK's media outlets? Well, here's Christopher Booker on the alleged number of sufferers. If that's the right word:- The latest topic to join the BBC’s ever longer list of “party line” obsessions is 'transgender. Scarcely a day goes by when they are not interviewing some chap with a deep baritone voice telling us that he now wishes to be called “Ruth”, or reporting excitably that MI5 is now the most “gay, lesbian and transgender” employer in Britain, or that a committee of MPs has warned that the “650,000 people” in Britain who are “gender incongruent” are facing “high levels of transphobia”. But I’m not sure how those MPs found that figure of 650,000 so convincing. Even in America, with a population five times larger than ours, it is only claimed that 700,000 people are “non-binary”. Another figure given for Britain cites the last UK census showing the number of people ticking both the “male” and “female” gender boxes as fewer than 5,000. While we may well have sympathy for those who, for genetic or other reasons, are confused as to which gender they belong to, the truth presumably lies somewhere between these two figures. But probably much nearer the lower end than is justified by the BBC’s obsessive interest in this problem.

A declining language?: English has borrowed words from over 350 other languages, and over three-quarters of the English lexicon is actually Classical or Romance in origin. Plainly, the view that to borrow words leads to a language's decline is absurd, given that English has borrowed more words than most. More on this here.

I read yesterday that millions of UK broadband customers suffer 'dire' internet speeds and that British MPs are demanding that BT be forced to improve the situation. I wonder if anyone in the UK has a more dire speed than my 2 megas, only recently upped from 0.5. Perhaps I should ask my MEP to raise this in Brussels.

A British Historian - Simon Sebag Montefiore - has written about the repulsively violent Romanovs, rulers of Russia between 1613 and 1918. One reviewer has noted that: The first 200 years of the Romanov dynasty was, in general, a difficult time to be a dwarf in Russia. They were forced into all manner of humiliating scenarios (usually naked) for family entertainment. Anna’s favourite dwarf delighted his patron by cavorting in bed with a lactating goat in a nightdress. 

Finally . . . Have we finally arrived at de facto mob rule in the Anglosphere? Here's the estimable Janet Daley on this question:

Take heart - the silent majority trumps the mobocracy.

This is the way to “win” in politics now: you just shout at your adversary until he falls silent in acquiescence or despair. The shouting can be metaphorical rather than actual, of course. It can take the form of a mass bellow on social media or a tidal wave of headline-grabbing outrageousness. This phenomenon, the ascendancy of noisemaking as an electoral tactic, is being used on both extreme ends of the political spectrum.

In Britain, it takes the form of Left-wing bullying in social settings, or mock-social ones such as Facebook, the object being to make any friend or family member who does not subscribe to your Corbynite (or north of the border, Scottish Nationalist) views an unspeakable pariah. There are not various potential paths to take on any question of public policy. There is just a Manichean division between Evil (Tory scum) and Good (socialism). So don’t waste time arguing with the incorrigible: just scream abuse until your benighted opponent is cowed into giving up. Except that he won’t actually give up – he will just go quiet. I shall return to this point.

Who is making the rules here? Answer: a peculiarly confident subclass of wealthy urban poseurs

In the US, the Great Noise is being made on the (sort of) Right by a hugely successful publicity machine run by Donald Trump. He has discovered that shouting louder – and more outrageously – than anyone else is the way to dominate the news. His new sidekick Sarah Palin has her own version of this, which consists of shrieking a stream of disconnected catchphrases thus creating a spectacle so startling that its very weirdness is of huge public interest. And in a celebrity culture, media coverage is everything. However absurd your belligerent mouthing-off may be, so long as it creates enough of a din, you will become the central fact around which everything must revolve – even if your position is politically so confused as to be unidentifiable. Noise wins, even when it makes no sense.

Have we finally arrived at Plato’s hellish depiction of democracy as mob rule, in which everything that is supposedly enhanced by representative government – enlightenment, genuine debate, serious thought itself – ends up being lost? Not really. What has happened is less calamitous but just as sad. Sensible choices and reasonable thought have not vanished: they have just gone underground. They are the democratic virtues that dare not speak their name. Lots of people can see what is wrong with the diatribes that confront them at London dinner parties, or in their workplaces (especially if they are employed in the public sector), or on their Facebook pages. But there is little point, they decide, in taking on the fulminating aggressors – who almost always travel in self-affirming packs – so they go silent. But then, when the time comes, they vote as they truly believe – just like they did in the last general election. In the sanctity of the secret ballot, they get their unexpected revenge.

Labour politicians are now trying to blame that famous election defeat on the misleading polls: it was the incorrect forecasting or the fearsome prospect of a Labour-SNP coalition that drove voters to the Tories, they say. What they should be asking themselves is why the idea of a Labour-SNP government was so repugnant that it pushed people into the arms of the hated Conservatives. In fact, according to the official inquest, a critical factor that led to disaster for the polling organisations was their failure to make contact with sufficient numbers of older voters who were both more inclined to vote Conservative and less likely to be online. (Telephone polling proved, until just before the end, much more accurate than online results.)

This observation is important on two levels. First, it suggests that older people are far more likely to stand up to coercive social pressure – and are thus an invaluable repository of independent-thinking. And second, that the online digital revolution is pushing this growing cohort of people out of the public conversation, and therefore distorting our understanding of political reality. The IT industry’s failure to develop computer devices that are not so perversely complex and off-putting as to be inaccessible to a large proportion of older people is now much more than an annoyance. It is socially irresponsible, rendering invisible as it does a large tranche of the population who are, as it happens, peculiarly conscientious participants in the democratic process. It is only just beginning to dawn on the grown-up governing class that the geeky under-thirties who dominate digital consumption – and run gleefully amok on Twitter – do not represent the real world.

So noise can only get you so far. It might distort the public discourse. It might even succeed in steam-rolling the impressionable few. But the vast numbers who think their own thoughts and come to their own conclusions are not daunted. Which is not to say that this is a satisfactory situation. There is something very wrong when no rational argument can be conducted – even among friends or colleagues – about the major issues of the day. It degrades a nation when every public platform – every broadcast discussion in front of an audience, every community or workplace meeting – takes on the mores of a school playground: when the views of what are, in fact, the majority of voters cannot be uttered freely. (Never has the term “silent majority” been more apt.)

It is possible for the strong-willed to hold out against this, but why should they have to? Who is making the rules here? Answer: a peculiarly confident subclass of wealthy urban poseurs. The British noise-machine is in the hands of what a private study for the Labour Party on its own changing membership has described as “high-status city dwellers living in central locations and pursuing careers with high rewards”. Such people, said the report, which was leaked last week, are “highly over-represented” in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Under-represented in historical Labour terms are “young singles/families who rent properties on a short-term basis and require financial assistance”, as well as the sort of families “who have to budget to make ends meet”.

You get the picture. A coterie of rich, self-congratulatory London elitists are imposing their born-again Marxist credo on a party that used to have real roots in working-class life and a genuine understanding of what working people wanted – which, as often as not, was not socialism but just a fair chance to get the advantages that those smug north London Corbynites take for granted. But from within the noise-making machine, this sort of absurdity is not visible. That is another aspect of the mob-driven political mind-set: it is inevitably enclosed and self-referring. Because it does not engage in open debate, it is sealed off from the world beyond its peers.

Mobocracy, with its vocabulary of infantile insult, is ugly and demeaning, which is presumably why the sensible do not deign to take part in it. But think what we are losing. I realise that it takes preternatural social confidence to confront an antagonist whose accusations are so frenzied and implacable. But as often as not, posing questions can, at least momentarily, stop the flow of invective. Next time you are faced with a ranting interlocutor, try asking him (or, quite frequently, her) who he believes that he is speaking for? What he thinks most people want from life? Why he thinks most voters are inclined to reject his solutions? Ask anything that might bring a pause to the cacophony.

Over in the US, the problem is rather different: there really are two American electorates who despise each other. Trump has unleashed the triumphal fury of the one to the despair of the other. This is a national identity crisis that is being carelessly whipped up by incoherent noise. That makes it even more dangerous than our passing political problem.

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