Tuesday 17 March 2009

On Orwellian nightmares.

This week, I have mostly been re-reading George Orwell’s 1984.

Perhaps unsurprisingly to those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while, 1984 was one of the formative books of my childhood and adolescence. I read it on a yearly basis until I was 17. Between the ages of 15 and 17 I edited a clunkily subversive student rag that was called, not entirely without irony, Newspeak. I haven’t revisited the book since 2004. I’d been planning to do so for a while, and this weekend I saw that Penguin have just brought out a super-sexy new red and black edition done up to look like a Stalin-era circus poster, and I was persuaded to part with seven of my hard-earned pounds.

It's been too long. Somehow, sixty years after it was published, this book is once more at the linguistic core of the zeitgeist. Words like doublethink, Big Brother, Thought Police are used by all political factions, indiscriminately and with tongues only half in cheeks. I was struck by the way that terms like ‘Orwellian Nightmare’ were flung around at Saturday’s Internet For Activists conference, at which I was speaking- flung around with a quiet, numinous resentment that I found deeply frightening.

1984 is claimed by both the left and the right, but by far the most urgent message of the book for the modern age is one of paranoia. 1984 is the definitive paranoid novel. Not only is the shadowy state watching our flawed protagonist, all the time, every single second, but nobody really has a clear idea of what the state is watching for, or how far their remit extends – only that the mere act of thinking against the party line, whatever that party line happens to be, is enough to ensure inevitable extermination. The creeping horror of being watched, the loathesomeness of life in a paranoid state, was never more viscerally expressed.

British democracy, as Orwell himself noted in his essay ‘The Lion and The Unicorn’, functions best when it respects the deeply private nature of the British national character. Nobody does curtain-twitching like the British, and accordingly, noone resents intrusion into their private lives more than we do. It may come as a surprise that most nations, including the majority of the developed world, have had comprehensive ID-card systems of the type that groups like NO2ID so vocally exist in place. They’ve had them for years. Their governments are used to the idea that their people’s loyalty is not to be taken for granted, and their people are used to their governments not quite trusting them.

Not so on these weird little islands. In Britain, more so than anywhere else, a paranoid state is a dysfunctional state. British society breaks down when the government does not trust its people: when it suspects that the way to maintain social order is to track our movements, file us on databases, install cameras at every street corner and deny us the right to public protest. In many other countries, the first sign of social breakdown is a population that doesn’t trust its government ; even in the United States, civil war was a real possibility as little as thirty-five years ago. Not so here. We have had a stable, gradually evolving system of government in place for three hundred and fifty years. The last time we fucked up badly was the last time we had a really carpet-chewingly paranoid leader, of the regressive-tax-raising, ignoring-parliament kind.

We built a wooden stage in the capital, we called the people in as witnesses, and we cut off his head on a cold January morning in 1649.

It is no accident that, as recent studies have shown, paranoia has become the national disorder of 21st-century Britain. It’s not an accident, not when we have been let down too many times by governments that just didn’t listen, governments that justified their indifference claiming that they had our best interests at heart, governments that then screwed us all over just as the previous regime had, only worse this time. Now, when a high-profile columnist writes they do what they want, these people, that call is repeated – not because it is astute, and certainly not because it’s responsible, but because it expresses something we feel in the meat gristle of our political hindbrain. Big Brother is watching us. Down with Big Brother.

And this is why the leaders of this country need to listen very carefully when the public starts adopting the language of 1984, however ironically. Because quite frankly, the British will put up with a lot. Frantic hardships. National indignities. Terrible dentistry. Rubbish weather. Jeremy Clarkson. In fact, we’ll put up with pretty much anything if we are asked to do so with honesty and respect. But the moment you start really consistently lying to us, the moment you start going back on all your promises and treating us like delinquent children, that’s when you have to remember that we don’t take this crap forever. We are more than the queue-forming, forelock-tugging, tea-sipping, biscuit-eating, pet-shop-boy-listening people of popular mythology. We are, at the root and bone, a nation of king-killers. I think they’d better watch out.


If you made it through all of that self-conscious literary bean-flicking, please be rewarded with Jon Stewart eviscerating Jim Cramer on The Daily Show, one of the finest pieces of monstering I have ever seen. If I grow up to have even a tenth of the style, journalistic integrity and sheer nailbiting sense of justice that Stewart has in his index finger, I may die happy. No, I probably won't die happy, but I'll definitely die smug, and as anyone who went to private school knows, that's the important thing in the end.


  1. "The last time we fucked up badly was the last time we had a really carpet-chewingly paranoid leader, of the regressive-tax-raising, ignoring-parliament kind."

    Ahhhhh...you mean Charles I NOT Margaret Thatcher? ;-)

    I smiled when Davina McCall was on the Comic Relief 'Mastermind' competition the other day and was asked what the "omniscient, totalitarian dictator of George Orwell's 1984" was called.

    And she didn't know.

    It's a shattering book on almost every level. What we see of our world in it, and what we don't but fret about by implication...

    Beyond the rhetorical use of the political analogies come the social insights too. The Novel Writing machines. The conversation Winston has with a colleague in which the latter proudly comments on a new reduction of words in the latest Newspeak dictionary, the aim being to eventually destroy the ability of the human mind to embrace conceptual thought.

    "Just think Winston. In a few years time, we won't be able to have a conversation like this".


  2. I think this illustrates the difference between our philosophies quite well: I, too, love Nineteen Eighty-Four. I, too, worry that our current government treats it s a blueprint rather than a warning.

    But I see the character of we Brits as slightly different. I see us as tolerating the government enacting any rule they like, so long as they don't mind us quietly ignoring it when we feel like it. It's when they expect us to ABIDE by their increasingly silly diktats that we start to grumble... But then, I'm a Liberal ;)

    You're such a Vimes, all angry and righteous - and necessary - whereas I'm still Nanny Ogg. You can have whatever rules you like, but they don't apply to ME... Now where's my brandy?

  3. Yeah, good book. Nice piece.

    I must say I'm a bit baffled by the Jon Stewart interview (and his cretinous opponent) though - the activities of traders and shorters don't actually have anything to do with this crisis - the authorities banned the shorting of financial stocks last year and it did nothing to prevent a collapse in the price of those shares (why would we wish to keep the price high anyway).
    The problem here is not shorters, who are used as a bogeyman to explain away the failure of bad investments.
    The problem is a lack of control over the actions of management (both political and business). In my opinion, greater government regulation will eventually be counter productive, since what is really neccesary here is greater individual responsibility.
    We should never have allowed our money to be used in a system which provides golden parachutes for those who have destroyed a business - and in exactly the same way the Labour government should not have won a massive majority after Iraq. The means to prevent these abuses of power already (still?) exists if people have the will to do so, no fundamental changes neccesary.
    So, rather than railing against the financial sector, or hedge funds, we should, as stakeholders in society, be examining our own role and taking greater responsibility for our failures.

    And in exactly the same way - forcing those who have made good decisions to support those who have been prolifigate with their spending is no way to build a responsible or functional society.

  4. Take a look at Jim Cramer's MSFT recommendations over a 2 year period. You can see that he flip-flopped quit a bit and likely lost viewers money.


  5. The viewers lost their own money.

    I'm sure almost nobody has absolute faith in the advice of televisual cockwafflers and if they do, losing vast amounts of money will serve as a useful lesson not to do so in the future.

  6. 1984 is massively over-rated. Didactic, relies too heavily on an invented jargon (without it successfully transporting us to another world as is the case in eg Clockwork Orange), only one character with anything approaching more than one dimension.

    Some of Orwell's work is quite good. I really like Keep the Apisdistra Flying. It's a shame that 1984 and Animal Farm are heralded above his other work, and probably something to do with the misinterpretations fostered by the CIA. They were probably necessary works given large parts of the left's promotion of Stalinism, but they're hardly great literature and as political commentary on a situation which no longer exists they have no relevance to today.

  7. Unfortunately, I have at times cringed at the the lazy references to Nineteen Eighty-Four found in some commentary, from the left or right, when it comes to the state and personal freedom, the usual brickbat of The Authoritarian Left seeking to curtail "freedom", however that can be defined, but not so well in the comment to a blog post. There possibly is a viable alternative to capitalism, just it won't be a probable thing any time soon. People see the failed, old and globally dominant Soviet model, and conflate its faults with all manner of other socialisms. The top-down Stalinist concept of collectivism within a powerful national framework... Which has less to do with Marx, than a despotic Russian political culture of which Bolshevism absorbed in its fight against it, and the exporting of this culture through the international Communist movement. Bolshevism promised the key to unlocking socialism, but the above aspect of its nature was very much underestimated at the time. In the here and now, it has been said that "liberalism" has taken successfully some of the things which could have sold socialism to people in another time now gone, stolen some of its clothes, but now these things, which have brought some benefit in the past are increasingly seen as some form of cultural control carried out by an elite, which it is to be frank, although not for what I would consider "socialist" purposes. It's going to be difficult for those with a pro-working class outlook to persuade and convince people who have been doing "quite nicely thank you",or just holding on like me, to make that jump into something which might not bring anything better. As for Nineteen Eighty-Four though, I do like the rebellious moments where Winston Smith and Julia the dark-haired girl from the Fiction Department enjoy clandestine trysts in the prole district, hiring a room above a junk shop for their regular afternoon bonking sessions. The 'owner' of the shop, Mr Charrington, unbeknown to them, is an agent of the Thought Police, eventually ruining their gesture, their two fingers to the establishment, expressing itself in the form of exchanging bodily fluids.

  8. So, rather than railing against the financial sector, or hedge funds, we should, as stakeholders in society, be examining our own role and taking greater responsibility for our failures.

    There's a couple of problems with this. One: it's not my failures that broke the economy. There's a very small group of people, maybe ten thousand world wide, who bear that responsibility, and I'm not one of them.

    Two: I had no role in taking greater responsibility for the financial markets, because the conscious and protracted effort of every single plutocrat in the military-industrial complex since 1956 has been directed towards ensuring that I have none. You and I recently argued about my analysis of our economic establishment as a machine for moving money from the edge of society to the centre, and thus concentrating power in the hands of the fewest number of influences possible. I would argue that the course of both the sub-prime market collapse, and also the equivalent (buy-to-let boom) over here, demonstrate my argument ably.

    The John Stewart interview makes this point clearly; Kramer, and everyone else on the inside, knew perfectly well a bust was coming. That's the whole point. The way you win at this system is to move money from investors (normal people's investment accounts) into your own bank account via liberal bonus and reward schemes during boom years, then make sure you're out of the room before the music stops. Everyone else takes the loss, you bank the money. A machine for moving money from the edge of society to its centre.

    The sub-prime finance system is beautiful to behold. They first leveraged debts as if they were assets, at 12% (in English: people were allowed to use 12% of money they didn't in fact have to buy other money from people, because if they sold it fast enough they'd make a profit which they got to keep). Then the music slowed and far too many important people realised they were going to miss out on a chair, so they did it again. So now, 24% of money they don't have can be used to buy real money with. And then they did it again. Fractal accounting is a distressing concept anyway, but when what you're doing is recursively dividing by zero, there's only so long you can get away with it.

    All they were buying was time. No actual things were made; nothing was produced, and given current tax haven law the relevant governments will see almost no revenue from it: said governments, however, were absolutely expected to pump rescue packages into the pockets of Fred the Shred and his ilk. Certain people got to keep a lot of money they had never actually earned, while millions lost. And the only method proposed so far for fixing it is to increase the powers of bailiffs to include lethal force.

    The thing that seems obvious from my side of the bar is that the problem with a market economy is not an ethical one but a practical one. Market economies can work fine, but not when they're engineered: I'll say that again, engineered, into ever-increasing boom and bust cycles. To claim that no financier who was in business during the Nasdaq crash could have predicted that overheating a purely-fictional finance bubble would lead to another is disingenuous at best.

    Lest you claim that a freer market would operate better than one in which there is a bare modicum of government oversight; the whole point of this economic crisis is that the US financial market was systematically deregulated to the point that this was possible.

    You state that "In my opinion, greater government regulation will eventually be counter productive, since what is really neccesary here is greater individual responsibility."

    I'm bewildered. Precisely where, since 1929, is there any evidence that individual responsibility has any meaning in business? Quite literally the only responsibility any individual has in business is to increase their own capital value: i.e. build a higher pile of cash as quickly as possible and defend it against all comers. That's what Capitalist Society means: society dominated by the ability to acquire and retain capital.

    The only responsibility which exists in business is 'get richer'. All the others we now take for granted: health and safety at work, employers' duty of care, the concept of pensions, the concept of sick pay, all the responsibilities placed on business have been enforced at judge-point by "the people" through liberal, enlightened political representatives.

    Hmm. I think the idea of plutocrats suddenly becoming 'responsible' is in trouble, cos we're really short on enlightened, liberal political representatives these days...

    The only places I see 'individual responsibility' happening in business is at the very edge, the dreaded grass-roots where the people running businesses actually have to make something, and have to be able to look their employees in the eye every day and retain their respect. I see small business owners, alternative lifestyle co-operatives, charity volunteers, students, new technology incubators. They're being run by people who're exercising social and personal responsibility while under immense pressure from the capitalist oligarchy to abandon their principles in favour of a quicker buck, which makes the economy better...

    This recession is the direct outcome of short-term thinking. Bush had a war, and needed money. He'd already spent the budget surplus he'd inherited and everyone could see that something had to happen fast or he'd run out of cash and the neo-con revolution would founder. So they permitted the second and third rounds of the sub-prime bubble to happen. Had the bubble crashed after the first, it would have screwed some financiers (and Bush!) but would not have dominoed the economy. Short-term thinking will typically sacrifice someone else's sustainability for my quick profit.

  9. "it's not my failures that broke the economy. There's a very small group of people, maybe ten thousand world wide, who bear that responsibility, and I'm not one of them."

    It is exactly right that the recent management of our financial institutions have been bad, but it is entirely wrong that we (not neccesarily you) are not responsible. We're the ones who elect the political leaders we have - we're the ones who thought that Community Reivestment Act was a good idea - we're the ones who give *give* these guys our money to spend. We are the owners. This is not a result of capitalism leading to the concentration of ownership in the hands of the few, but rather the complete opposite - ownership is too spread out - amongst individual investors, those who have deposited with banks and those who have insurance - and because of this nobody feels any responsibility or ability to reign in the excesses of management. Unfortunately, people must be more proactive and interested in the activities of their banks and insurance providers. Inside a competitive market and armed with a healthy interest in the financial system there would be nothing stopping us voting with our feet. I think Gordon Gekko was talking about a similar problem when he said "greed is good". We must be more interested and more greedy and care more about our selves, because nobody is ever going to do it for us - not management with free reign and certainly not politicians.
    And why should we trust government to look after us when we can't trust business? If we disagree with what a business does, we are free to avoid their products and services or quit our job. If we don't like what government does, they have a nasty tendency of demanding payment anyway and putting you in a small room with bars on the window if you don't comply. There is a role for government, but it should be as small a role as possible, since it is the least elegant and most dangerous way possible to organise our affairs.
    Cadbury and John Lewis...? They were alright types.... Anyway, the people win improvements in workplace conditions and the government is probably the best way to enforce regulations which directly impact upon safety - but really - if a worker understands the risk that he is going to take, should we stand in his way?

    As for your point about 'individual responsibility' occuring at the 'edge' (not too sure that Waitrose is really the edge) with cooperatives, charities and small business - exactly right. But what we need for these alternative forms of ownership to flourish - for the most effective forms of ownership to flourish - is less government regulation, not more -- because from where I sit it is the government (oligarchical or not) which is doing its utmost to crush independent action through draconian regulation at every turn.

    Finally, what makes you think that a system of ownership based upon direct choice is more likely to corrupt our souls than one based upon the dictats of our representatives? Are we really that fragile? Do you really believe that it is business which corrupts rather than power? Because nothing I have ever seen or read leads me to believe the same.

  10. If the public cared about Big Brother they'd vote for someone who wasn't Big Brother. Instead, they generally don't vote. The big story in British politics at the moment is apathy, not paranoia.

    P.S That article in the Guardian about how 25% of people are paranoid? Total rubbish. I've been writing a post about it actually.

  11. A cynical view of mainstream politics can be mistaken for apathy. People not voting doesn't necessarily translate as them being indifferent. I am sure there is a lot of anger out there, impotent as it is right now.

  12. "If I grow up to have even a tenth of the style, journalistic integrity and sheer nailbiting sense of justice that Stewart has in his index finger, I may die happy."

    Why die at all, Ms. Red?

    Just because you think they're out to get you doesn't mean that they're not!

  13. Personally, especially looking at America, I reckon Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" is more prophetic vis-a-vis the way our decadent occidental societies seem to be evolving than 1984. To me the most plausible future, barring ecological catastrophe, would be a totalitarian state where the people are controlled by chemically induced pleasure, media and promiscuity, plus, at a later date, physiological and biological manipulation. Huxley's Savage Reservation might not be too different from a British Council Estate in fifty years time the way social housing has been starved of investment by governments of all complexions since the days of the deranged Lady Thatcher.

    Governments are only as good or bad as the people in them, in which case, as we scan the parties and notice the conspicuous absence of a single man or woman or any moral fibre, honesty or integrity from every one of them - just consider Brown, Darling, Straw, Milliband, Purnell, Flint, Cameron, Osborne, Grayling, Fox, May et al - no point differentiating between the "left" and the "right" any more since, as Peter Mandelson himself stated in a rare instance of unpremeditated honesty, "We're all Thatcherites now..." - we are forced to conclude that we are destined to be repeatedly gang fucked in all of our orifices. Whoever you vote for you're going to get screwed!

    Before I go what about Anthony Burgess' novel "A Clockwork Orange" as a model of the future?

    With a grin like the Cheshire Cat I'm gone...

  14. "We are more than the queue-forming, forelock-tugging, tea-sipping, biscuit-eating, pet-shop-boy-listening people of popular mythology. We are, at the root and bone, a nation of king-killers.

    And I think they’d better watch out."

    The problem with this line is that the general public are - as far as I know - quite keen on most of the Big Brother aspects of New Labour policy.

    I think about 80% support ID cards.

    And as far as I know there isn't a mass movement against having CCTV in every conceivable setting (and some inconceivable ones).

    I don't really get your point on accountability. Particularly this:
    "Their governments have a reason to be wary – they are used to the idea that their people’s loyalty is not to be taken for granted, they expect to have to earn public trust, and they expect be held to account if they abuse it."

    I can't really say what they expect to happen but the politicians of, for example, France and Italy tend to be fairly laissez-faire about the whole earning public trust issue.

    A recent example of this, far from being held to account over allegations that he took real live backhanders - not the relatively trivial stuff Mandelson and co. have been accused of - Jacques Chirac invoked Presidential immunity to avoid investigation and the French public promptly re-elected him as President.

    Mr Chirac continues to deny all allegations.

  15. Interesting from Tim F. I love Keep The Aspidistra Flying too. But I like Coming Up For Air best.

    Orwell & Huxley are both authors whose obscure works don't get the attention they deserve. Their less famous fiction & their non-fiction should be read widely.

  16. Jacques Chirac invoked Presidential immunity to avoid investigation and the French public promptly re-elected him as President.

    Wasn't that the "Vote for the crook, not the Nazi" election? I'm not sure that's a valid comparison, really!

  17. You may have gone to private school but did that school award you a full scholarship and pay ALL your fees for you because your IQ was off the scale and you had already achieved pre-teen academic excellence?

    If the answer is "yes" feel lucky, if the answer is "no" you have no reason to feel smug since you were just another fee-paying pupil in no way different from all the other helots in the halls.

    Nyah, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah.

    Cover your head with a shawl to hide your shame, ring a bell as you walk and as you approach others repeat the word "Unclean" to enable them to avoid you.

  18. This is funny Penny. I finished reading 1984 again the other month.

    I've read all Orwell's books apart from The Clergyman's Daughter. His best book is Keep The Aspidistra Flying.

    Your post makes me laugh because I recoginse in your logic the same logic I had a few years ago.

    I almost think I may have said these exact words...

    "It is important, first, to understand that what IngSoc satirises is not socialism itself but the horrifying pastiches of socialism that Orwell saw springing up across Europe and the world."

    However this idea was knocked out of my head -- eventually -- by Dr Paolo Palladino

    See here http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/history/profiles/Paolo-Palladino

    He's a Foucaultian I suppose -- no right winger at least.

    Anyway I went to visit him one day and we got onto the topic of the socialism and I mentioned Orwell. At which point he looked up at me and said "Orwell he was no socialist". And that was the end of the debate.

    At first I thought this quite a shocking idea. But really it wasn't. Orwell was a typical middle-class liberal. He valued freedom above pretty much everything. And he also knew that the market system was a natural one that you couldn't escape from (See Keep the Aspidistra Flying).

    Also his satire of the capitalists in top hats suggest he wasn't completely opposed to capitalism.

    However like his contemparies (See Mosely, etc) he had a belief that something had to be done to help the common man. Which is why he was a Labour supporter. However it is unlikely that today he would have been one.

    My personal view is that had he lived longer eventually his ideas would have culminated in something similar to Hayek's.

    And that is my feeling on you. I don't think you're going to last a socialist. They'll be something that triggers it off -- for me it was John Gray. I don't know what it will be for you.

    You should also read -- if you haven't already -- 'We' by Zamyatin. It was Orwell's inspiration for 1984. It's a very good book.

    Anyway, thanks for making me chuckle. Have a good evening.

  19. Well, if and when Prince Charles ascends to the throne, I'd be up for separating the ugly head of that indolent jug-eared bastard from his body and no mistake!

    Viva La Revolución!

  20. The year 1984 is only twenty five years old. It is a late starter as years go but with a little extracurricular help this prodigal may yet be able to make something out of itself against all expectations and against all odds.

    Today unemployment will exceed two million for the first time since 1997 and may rise to 3.2 million towards the beginning of 2011; approximately 10% of the country's working population.

    The two greatest engines of the British economy over the last decade, i.e., banking and the housing market, are in ruins and not set to recover to their former levels of activity in the foreseeable future, possibly even ever.

    With manufacturing virtually non-existent what action is left in Britain's economy that has the potential to power us out of recession into a buoyant and sustained recovery?

    Erm... hum... well... ah... mmm...

    Call me paranoid but do you ever get the feeling that you're being watched?

  21. @ TBR.

    Are you admitting that John N. Gray was the prophet who inspired your rightist damascene epiphany? Is that really something you want to admit to in public? Wouldn't this revelation be better suited to one of the more restrained and confessional editions of the Jeremy Kyle Show or similar?

    Mind you, TBR, judging you by your comments, I could easily believe that you are from Mars or at least from some planet other than the one that the rest of the human race evolved on. Evolution?! Are you a creationist by any chance? Your antique hoary old views might indicate this latter possibility.

    Hey grandpa! It's easy to pontificate from the safety a bath chair but millions of us are doomed to live in the "real word" for scores of years yet and still hope for a better tomorrow.

    And, no, I won't respect my elders!

  22. Of course the author of this blog won't last as a socialist, TBR. It might be snakebite now but a few years down the road it'll be pink champagne! You know it and I know it! Hell! She knows it too!

  23. @TBR er, Orwell took a bullet during the Spanish civil war while fighting on behalf of a Trotskyist militia. He also frequently writes about being a democratic socialist. He is attached to freedom of speech, but that is ABSOLUTELY NOT incompatible with socialism.

  24. Orwell was dead nuts against totalitarianism wherever it reared its ugly head and whatever its ideology or basis. Right wing or left wing - it doesn't matter.

  25. The Finger...

    My word aren't you a clever and funny person. No... Wait... My Slow... Old... Brain... Is... Coming... To the... Conclusion... That you're not.

    I'm quite happy to admit I'm a fan of Gray. I don't regard it as anything odd to be an anti-utopian. I'm sorry that we can't all be little, naive, socialist dreamers like you.

    And I'm not quite sure what you mean by the real world. Does that mean going to work everyday to try and earn a living. Or does that mean sitting on your arse like I imagine you do?


    I assume you've read the Road to Wigan Pier and Coming Up For Air? If so you'll know that in both books Orwell attacks and satirises what we might describe as modern lefties. Or what I believe he calls vegetarians.

    Also in Homage to Catalonia you'll be aware that he was hardly jump for joy by the end of the conflict and I believe he had to flee Spain as well.

  26. John Gray? He gives anti-Utopianism a bad name. Burn John Gray's books and read Burke by the light of them, best use for 'em...

  27. Let most elderly people you are jumping to conclusions, TBR. Whatever makes you think I'm a socialist? About the only thing that's accurate vis-a-vis your assessment of me is my vegetarianism. I have read Orwell's "The Road to Wigan Pier" which amused me, but then I'm not thin skinned enough to take everything personally, al la your goodself! At least I didn't make a trip to Wigan looking for the aforementioned structure but I'm minded to think that you might well have made the excursion based on your previous exhibitions of gullibility and poor judgement. I've never been one to give in easily to peer pressure myself!

    (Wigan hasn't got a pier by the way.)

    Now calm down and treat yourself to an Ovaltine or mug of Horlicks Malted Milk. Try not to overexcite yourself and try to remember to be mindful of your blood pressure. Queen Elizabeth is still our monarch... Elizabeth the Second that is... not Elizabeth the First... and I regret to report that we have pretty much lost all of our colonies so there's no point in trying to get me sent to one as a punishment for my insolence.

    Way to go Neuroskeptic!

    I'm with you!

    Say it like it is!

  28. Strike out "amused" in my previous comment and replace it with "absorbed". Perhaps you're not the only one showing some symptoms of early-onset Altheimers, TBR.

    Sod it!

  29. The Finger...

    Altheimers -- yes I believe I've been suffering from that for a long time. It's a condition that impairs the spelling function of the brain.

    If you're going to make a joke about me being some sort of old c**t just because I don't hold your uber-modern, new-wave, trendy ideas at least get the condition right. Otherwise, how is my frail old mind going to work out that you're calling me an idiot?

  30. TBR, you´re a boring old scrote, aren´t you?

    And all that education seems to have been wasted on you, as you know nothing of Orwell.

    In this regard, you´re at least in sync with those "trendy" people on the internet, who appear to venerate the ludicrously inaccurate caricature of St George of Orwell the Hater Of Socialism.

    "The future: millions of idiots on the internet, quoting George Orwell at each other...forever."

  31. I like John Gray too...

    While the Marxist faith in central planning is now confined to a few dingy sects, a quasi-religious belief in free markets continues to shape the policies of governments.

    Many writers have pointed to the havoc and ruin that have accompanied the imposition of free markets across the world. Whether in Africa, Asia, Latin America or post-communist Europe, policies of wholesale privatisation and structural adjustment have led to declining economic activity and social dislocation on a massive scale.



  32. @TBR.

    All I wanted to do was to tease you a little in a manner reminiscent of the way you yourself sometimes tease and needle others, including the young lady owner of this blog.

    I knew you could dish it out intellectually and sometimes rather snidely from the rarefied vantage point of your ivory tower and became curious as to whether or not you could withstand similar treatment muddily spattered upward towards you from us proles in the gutter. But now it seems that you have have taken real umbrage to my jape and regard what I've said as an affront which it wasn't, isn't and was never supposed to be.

    I have read and often enjoyed your posts sprinkled as they are with political, literary and other references. I can't say I agree with everything - or even many things - that you champion and espouse but I actually quite like you in an "other side of the looking glass" antagonistic kind of fashion.

    So cheer up and don't take anything I've said to heart. Although everything I say has meaning nothing I say is ever malicious or meant to be hurtful to anyone. However, when you next choose to needle that lioness amongst women, Ms. Penny Red, you should reflect on the fact that you could darken the young lady's day in a significant manner if you choose your words inadvisedly. Many of her readers are protective of and fond of her despite her tendency to go off the rails and get a little "flaky" at times.

    Right wingers are not always right and left wingers don't always get left behind; nor are many left wingers as asinine as you seem to believe. So let's shake hands now, metaphorically at least, and let the matter be closed. You are clearly a highly intelligent and doubtless an accomplished individual who is sadly, in my view, conspicuously guilty of the sin of intellectual pride. You ignore the particular and see only the generality. People really do matter, TBR. All people. Everyone. Every living thing. That's what I believe and I will never stop believing that while I am still alive.

    Finally, my alias doesn't refer to an obscene gesture imported from the States but to a line which apppears in "The Rubáiyát" of Omar Khayyam:

    "The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on..."

    And now having written it is time for me to move on.

    I wish you well.

  33. "'Jacques Chirac invoked Presidential immunity to avoid investigation and the French public promptly re-elected him as President.'

    Wasn't that the 'Vote for the crook, not the Nazi' election? I'm not sure that's a valid comparison, really!"

    Yeah but it only ended up as that because they were the top two in the first round of voting.

    And Chirac is hardly an isolated example of alleged corruption in recent French politics.

  34. The Finger...

    Sometimes it is clear that one cannot always grasp the meaning of someone in the online world or often simply in the written format.

    I therefore appologise for our little scrap. And I hope it hasn't caused any bad feeling.

    I will also quite happily admit I'm an arrogant, hypocrit who suffers the vice of pride. And maybe if your aim was to try and see what would make me bite you have achieved your goal.

    I would however like to point out the only reason I come to this blog is because I like it. I think it's very well written. In fact it's one of the best blogs around. And therefore I hope I never cause Penny any sadness.

  35. TBR, Finger: oh of course not. None of you guys make me sad. Sometimes a little cross, but in a good way I think.


  36. Wow. That's a heck of a lot of words.

    Just a thought or two: The financial crisis is too complex to summarize in a blog post, let alone a blog comment.

    1984 is as much about language as it about attitudes. (The very next time anyone has a debate about gender and language: think about that little posit, for a moment or two.)

    And what the heck happened to the people not trusting the government?

    Never mind the government not trusting the people - that's a road to the totalitarian state (or, as it is known in the UK "1 official camera for every 14 citizens". But you can vote any way you like!

    At the risk of inviting quite a bit of anti-American rhetoric, short term anger and the like: there's one nation that has done rather well when it embodied a distrust of government into its founding principles.

    Count me as one who would rather distrust the government than have the government distrusting me!

    Heck, I distrust society. But that might be as a result of living in it.

    Carolyn Ann

  37. There you are Ms. Red!

    You have won the praise, affection and admiration of the left wing and the right. Not an easy thing to do I would have thought.

    Please keep commenting, TBR. Remembering what happened to Icarus I was only trying to dissuade you from flying so close to the sun after getting the impression that you were trying to "convert" Ms. Red to a right of centre viewpoint. (Consider me akin to force of nature; gravity in this case.) But that's okay although we on the left would miss her. If the serpent in the garden of Eden hadn't persuaded Eve to take a bite out of the apple would any of us have had the opportunity to know anything at all? Contemporaneously, you have to remember that Penny Red is a real smarty compared to Eve and so if I were in your shoes I'd probably try tempting her with a sweet juicy peach rather than an apple. A plain old orange pippin isn't likely to "cut it" temptation-wise as far as this lady is concerned. If that doesn't work try a slice of melon or a Kiwi fruit. If they also fail you're on your own!

    Rather you than me, TBR! Judging by her posts the girl probably bites and I find having eight fingers and two thumbs just perfect for my needs!

    Post Script:


    My biblical reference does not insinuate that you are are reptilian or satanic TBR but hints at the potential your words have to influence the minds of those who read them.


    As a result of your comment viz., John Gray and the responses it triggered from me, Neuroskeptic and Ben Six, I'm willing to bet that several people who hadn't even heard of that miserable, dystopic, dilatory, flip-flop merchant - Well, you knew I wasn't his greatest fan didn't you? - have probably started reading his work or articles about his work online.


    The biblical reference does not indicate that I am religious or a creationist. In fact I consider myself a humanist but still enjoy a good mythology Judeo–Christian or otherwise!

    And now in my capacity as fate's fickle finger I've got to move on yet again...

  38. Humourless feminist ahoy, but can I suggest that you find someone who's experienced oppression for being left-handed and talk to them about your use of the phrase "cack-handed"?

  39. ohgod, is cack-handed about being a leftie? I assumed it derived from 'cack/kak', the dutch for shit, which english had coopted into several other terms. My early readings of Horrible Histories have a lot to answer for...

    Again, are you absolutely sure? Cause if so I apologise, it was used carelessly.

  40. Cack-handed certainly refers to being left-handed. I am left-handed, and have often used the term to refer to myself.

    I was probably (hopefully!) one of the very last kids to be forced to write with my right hand at school for a year by an old-fashioned teacher. Some almost-as-old-fashioned teachers made me write with a cartridge pen then criticised me when my hand smudged the ink as it went over.

    Anyway, that doesn't count as oppression but I imagine it's the limit of what people born in recent decades have experienced. (If I'm wrong, library trainee, I would appreciate a link or two). I wouldn't be surprised if cack-handed was used as a term of abuse a couple of generations ago and regarded as such by over-60s.

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  42. I'm having a lot of trouble with your allegation that the US was in danger of civil war, 35 years ago. (It would be 41 to 40 years ago, anyway.)

    There was a lot of civic unrest, and there were many social changes (some of which have been rolled back, unfortunately). But there was never a divide serious enough to even hint at civil war in the US.

    There was no hint of breaking up the Union, and hasn't been since the 1860's. Even with the current crop of secessionists (notably in Texas and Alaska), there isn't any debate of splitting the union.

    Besides which - the US Constitution enshrines a distrust of distrust! It's a founding principle of America; indeed - the Bill of Rights makes it quite plain that the people don't, and shouldn't, trust government and its agents. It provides specific tools for that purpose, elevating personal rights over those of the government.

    Carolyn Ann

  43. The left hand is used by people of certain religious persuasions for wiping the arse.
    Hence - cack-handed = left-handed.
    Not entirely fair to the left-handed amongst us, although in popular parlance it's simply come to mean clumsy or fumbling.

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