Atrocity in Manchester – the world stops. The same or worse elsewhere in the world – we barely notice, let alone care

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The more I write these things, the more I realise that I’ve only got about four basic articles in me. I just put out variations on the same core arguments again and again – consumer capitalism is destroying the environment, left-wingers have abandoned the global poor, the political establishment is impervious to radical change, and so on. This one is always the most controversial.

The Manchester Arena attack was sickening. Violence against civilians is always wrong. Hurt the innocent, and you’ve immediately lost the argument. Whatever your cause, you’ve irrevocably damaged it.

Killing children is on another level. It’s hard, if not impossible, to try and put the gravity of it into words, so I won’t try.

After Manchester, 22 people are dead, many of them teenagers. The youngest was eight. Hundreds of people will be dealing with the psychological scars for the rest of their lives – the friends and family of the dead, the injured, bystanders, first responders, and many others.

But around in the world, millions of people are in the same position, if not a much worse one. Continue reading “Atrocity in Manchester – the world stops. The same or worse elsewhere in the world – we barely notice, let alone care”

Radical Atheist Global Mope (August 2015)

South Sudan
South Sudan

Every minute of the day, someone somewhere is suffering avoidably, and that’s inexpressibly bad. Civilisation abounds with preventable human misery, and I think people should think about that regularly, ritualistically, in an act of quasi-religious observance.

Look at the last few hundred years of human history and you see colossal, gut-wrenching waste. Every day, a veritable mountain of human potential gets wasted – bulldozed, dynamited, smashed off the face of the earth. Living, thinking, feeling human beings with the potential to achieve great things and enrich the lives of those around them are wrenched out of the only existence they’ll ever have, often for the most pathetically preventable reasons.

Billions more live, but are stifled – by incredible poverty and the exhausting, life-limiting struggle just to stay afloat, or through being written off as worthless by the societies they live in and denied the encouragement and investment that would let them live secure, comfortable, fulfilling lives.

Wiping out suffering should be the highest, most urgently pursued goal of advanced societies. We should plough capital and resources into righting avoidable wrongs wherever we find them. And until the war on preventable misery has been won, we should sit and think about the lives that are needlessly squashed and wasted and painfully curtailed every day. Continue reading “Radical Atheist Global Mope (August 2015)”

Modern Socialism #1: The Craze Not Sweeping The Nation

modern socialist triangle
Not the Modern Socialist triangle, but nice and spinny nonetheless

THE GIST: As the name suggests, Modern Socialism is an attempt to modernise socialism. It’s not about ‘modernisation’ in the toxic, principles-shedding, status quo-pandering New Labour sense of the word. It’s about revamping the radical left into something far more open, accessible, flexible and ecologically-focused.

The Marxes and Engelses of the world thought they’d created a ‘scientific’ socialism, one based on processes and principles they’d divined from studying economics, sociology and history – and that therefore was much better than the wishy-washing moralising of the socialisms that had come before. But a lot of their ‘scientific’ analysis was wrong. A lot of their predictions didn’t come to pass. Meanwhile, it’s always going to be wrong that millionaires exist in a world where people starve.

Rather than some grand, sweeping theory of everything, Modern Socialism needs to be more humble – a values system and a set of priorities used to approach the problems the species faces. A lot of these (appropriately) red lines should be the same ones the Left has always had – egalitarianism, libertarianism, public ownership of crucial services and industries, etc. But there are also areas the conventional Left has tended to neglect, and, unfortunately, they happen to be staggeringly important.

Unforgivably often, left-wingers have ignored immense human suffering in the global South, caused by entirely preventable poverty, starvation and disease. They’ve also been distinctly rubbish about embracing eco-politics on a planet where another hundred or so years of the status quo will probably leave the environment irreparably damaged – and our prospects of survival along with it.

To be properly viable in the twenty-first century, we need a socialism that’s both radically humanitarian and ecological – that takes humanitarian suffering as seriously as it takes anything, and that aims at making genuinely sustainable, egalitarian societies free from dependence on economic growth. Continue reading “Modern Socialism #1: The Craze Not Sweeping The Nation”

Bem Bulletin #3 – January 2015: Malawi Floods, Boko Haram & SYRIZA

SYRIZA

This month: we reflected on society’s erratic internationalism in the wake of the outcry over the Charlie Hedbo massacre; we tried to excuse our abysmal taste in bad action films with dubious politics; and we presented a nice bit of pragmatic radicalism from the mouth of Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias.

… And on the musical front: delightfully odd bedfellows, schmaltz-pop guitar wizard Les Paul with Mary Ford, and West Country weirdo PJ Harvey.


In this month’s Bem Bulletin:

1. 2015

2. Malawi Flood

3. Boko Haram Massacre, Nigeria

4. SYRIZA Continue reading “Bem Bulletin #3 – January 2015: Malawi Floods, Boko Haram & SYRIZA”

Charlie Hebdo and our erratic internationalism

Charlie Hebdo
Charlie Hebdo

This week, something horrible happened. In Paris, France, three armed men arrived at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo – the closest English equivalent would probably be Private Eye – and shot 12 people dead. The perpetrators, one in custody, two still at large (Edit: now dead, shot by police), are apparently French-Algerian Islamic extremists.

There are already reports of firebomb attacks on mosques, as the logically challenged exact ‘revenge’. In fact, as anyone level-headed knows very well, the jihadis are about as representative of mainstream Islam as Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Brievik is of mainstream Christianity. Grimly, given the ever-provocative magazine’s staunchly leftist editorial stance, the only person likely to do well out of all this is Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s neo-Nazi Front National.

But now comes the delicate bit. In the 48 hours since the atrocity was committed, a wave of international solidarity has rolled France-ward. World leaders rightly condemned the terrorists. Social media rightly abounded with Spartacus-style ‘I Am Charlie Hedbo’ hash-tags. And left-wingers shuffled precariously along the moral tightrope, rightly expressing their solidarity with the French, but rightly pointing out that radical Islamism is just a fanatical, ultra-conservative backlash to decades of Western abuse in the Arab world. Continue reading “Charlie Hebdo and our erratic internationalism”

Digested: The All-Important Context Missing From Israel-Palestine Coverage

palestine israel

The Bemolution tends to leave conventional foreign policy alone. There are enough left-wingers banging on about it already, and we prefer to go after more neglected areas – particularly humanitarian disasters, African and Asian poverty and the like.

Occasionally, though, we get drawn in when there’s an issue we think is important and not being explained clearly enough, leaving people at the mercy of the often rubbish TV news. It was only a matter of time before we got round to Israel-Palestine.

Watch the telly coverage of the situation in Gaza and you’re left with the impression that it’s one of the most bafflingly complex geopolitical conflicts of the modern age. But it can be made blissfully simple to understand without all that much effort.

It’s a situation inextricably tied up with race and ethnicity. You can’t take them out of the equation completely. But you can ignore these subtleties, just for a bit, to get a better, clearer picture of what’s actually going on. Continue reading “Digested: The All-Important Context Missing From Israel-Palestine Coverage”

It’s Flooding: Moral sickness and the Daily Mail school of mob psychology

somerset floods
The famously low-lying Somerset Levels haven’t mixed especially well with nigh-on two months of sustained heavy rainfall.

The worst hit settlements have been gutted by floodwater, and hundreds of people have been evacuated. Prospects for the future look grim – and not just because the rain shows no sign of letting up.

The bill for repairing extensively water-damaged homes and replacing destroyed household appliances looks set to run into the tens of thousands of pounds, and if the big insurers prove as compassionate as usual, stricken residents could be left paying for most if not all of the reconstruction themselves. That’s on top of the emotional hammer-blow of seeing your home suddenly and unexpectedly ripped apart before your eyes, along with the kind of sentimentally valuable bits and pieces you care a lot more about losing than your microwave.

It’s a horrible predicament for anyone to find themselves in. That doesn’t stop The Daily Mail’s campaign to suspend Britain’s foreign aid commitments and divert the funds to flooded parts of the South-West being morally sick. Continue reading “It’s Flooding: Moral sickness and the Daily Mail school of mob psychology”

Something Like Bemolutionary Ethics, But Not As Pretentious

kevin-carter-vulture

What’s the meaning of life?

There isn’t one, obviously. In a globalised world as maddeningly complex as the one we find ourselves floundering in, secularised, individualised and increasingly insular, there could never be some kind of universally accepted reason for being. In pockets, people seem to be returning to religion as a sort of reassuring bulwark against the uncertainties and instabilities of the modern age, but this looks unlikely to stop the general crawl towards secularism. God isn’t dead, but if he isn’t on the way out he’s certainly taken a step back out of the spotlight.

Even if they aren’t properly taken up by a lot of people who’d call themselves atheist, the implications of rejecting God are huge. ‘Meaning’, in the grand(iose) sense of the word at least, ceases to exist – the word implies that life was set up, somehow knocked together in the beginning, by someone or something with a specific purpose in mind. Which it wasn’t.

Everything alive, ever, wasn’t built or purposely shaped by anything, but just happened to happen in the way it did. Humans don’t have souls, which, plucked from the nether and briefly stuffed in a fleshy wrapper, eventually swan off to the afterlife to hang loose with the great Creator. All life is just the product of an unutterably miraculous biological accident that’s proved a runaway success. Even calling it Evolution seems to give it a pseudo-religious grandeur it doesn’t warrant – it’s something that has mindlessly unravelled, forwarded by generation after generation of organisms that have minutely adjusted to the environment around them, with billions of years-worth of tiny adaptations turning microscopic sea-bacteria into things with arms and legs and, eventually, mortgages and inflated senses of self-importance. Continue reading “Something Like Bemolutionary Ethics, But Not As Pretentious”

Cosmic Perspective: radical change and not taking yourself too seriously

There are plenty of reasons for not taking yourself or the garbled output of your own mind overly seriously.

Prominent among these is the inescapable fact that a single human life, the existence of one lone gangly-ape descendent singled out from a shambling mass of 6,800,000,000, is tiny, skull-rattlingly, eye-poppingly tiny. And insignificant.

The last hundred years’ worth of scientific endeavour and cosmological revelations have affirmed, among other things, that we are laughably insignificant. Grasping this is hard. The numbers involved are formidably huge. The universe as we know it spasmed arbitrarily into existence approximately 13,700,000,000 years ago. Within a million million million million millionths of a second, Everything had gone from being infinitesimally tiny to being infinitely huge, or had at very least swelled to encompass the million million million million mile expanse of space visible from Earth.

From earthbound telescopes, or satellites, astronomers can see about 200 billion (200,000,000,000) other galaxies. Galaxies commonly contain between 100 billion and a trillion stars – our Milky Way is about average, with between 200 and 400 billion. Current estimates place the number of stars in the universe as being over a quintillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000, or roughly equivalent to the number of grains of sand on Earth). The Earth is just a tiny 5.97 billion trillion-tonne speck in the abyss, looping round the sun at 18.5 miles per second. Our species is a biological accident on one planet, going around one star, in one galaxy, hanging at the edge of this crushing cosmological immensity. Continue reading “Cosmic Perspective: radical change and not taking yourself too seriously”