Friday, 29 June 2012

I am not an artist, but...

Followers of this blog will be aware that it has always dealt almost exclusively with current political issues with occasional references to recent history. This is not about to change.

However, this post relates to the launch of a sister blog dealing with the politics of art from the perspective of someone with virtually no knowledge of art history. As the name of the blog suggests I am not an artist, but... I still feel the need to give my opinion despite, or pehaps because of, my ignorance. I believe art is not handed down to us by great artists any more than political ideas are handed down to us by great thinkers or laws are handed down to us by great men (politicians and judges are still overwhelmingly male). My approach to art is the same as my approach to politics; it is something we all can and should engage with.

"It seems to me that for many artists there is a dichotomy between the urban landscape and the natural landscape. In many ways this might seem obvious. If one is an artist in Central London one might paint the Houses of Parliament or St. Paul's Cathedral. By contrast in one lived in the countryside in Scotland it might be hills or lochs. But it seems to me that this is quite an arbitrary divide. Most places have elements of both.
"Take for example the many paintings of St. Michael's Mount that any visitor to Penzance or anywhere else in West Cornwall would be confronted with in the many art galleries found in those parts. They are almost all looking from the beach opposite (usually Marazion) or from a little higher up or even from the point of view of the sea. Again it might seem obvious to look from a good vantage point.
"But to me this is not very interesting because it is not the view that someone living and working in the area normally sees. Not unless they have a lot of money and an incredible view and most people do not. It is also usually a timeless view as it has no historical context. It is a painting that could have been painted at any point in the last hundred years. To me, a painting without relation to the times or the people living and working in the area is pointless, it must be contextualised.
"I also prefer the composition of a picture of a natural landscape if it has human-made forms interrupting it. This, for example is a photograph of the sea, a boat and a cliff. I love the way the TV aerials and chimney pots cut across the landscape unwelcome and unbidden. It makes it more real. This is the way we usually see the sea or the countryside whilst we are running to the shop or out of work on our lunch break.
"To me, a landscape painting needs to tell us something about the relationship between nature and humanity. It is not enough to simply present nature as something timeless and unchanging and that stands on its own. To me that suggests a desire to escape human society to an imaginary natural paradise. I don't want to escape the human world, I want to change it."

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Does competitive sport turn us into flag-waving morons?

This summer is seeing a plethora of spectacular events. First we have had the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, we are currently experiencing the Euro 2012 football contest and shortly we will be forced to endure the Olympics, made even worse by the fact that it is held here in Britain.

I say 'endure' because quite apart from the fact that none of these events interest me in the slightest, they are complimented by what Noam Chomsky describes as 'training in irrational jingoism'. The flags and the faux 'pride' in ones country are the perfect antidote, from the perspective of the ruling class, to the resistance to austerity and the sense of a lack of legitimacy of our rulers that is building in this country and across the world. Strikes, demonstrations on the one hand and the revelations about phone-hacking and the corrupt links between politicians, the police and the press on the other are doing immense damage to people's consent to be ruled in this way. We must strengthen and deepen this sense and not be knocked of course by these spectacles.

Noam Chomsky discusses this in his book 'Manufacturing Consent'. He argues that whereas totalitarian regimes use force to control what people do, in 'democratic' countries, the ruling class has to use propaganda, what the Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci called 'bourgeois ideology', to control what people think.

Chomsky says the media plays two main roles in society. One is to filter out news that the ruling class does not want us to hear. This might include positive news of strikes and protests but also negative news such as atrocities caused by the army abroad. One example he gives is the relative coverage of two atrocities around 1975 on. One, involving the Indonesian genocide of Timorians in East Timor, armed and funded by America, was hardly reported on at all in America and if it was, the US government was whitewashed. The other, involving the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia was discussed in shocking detail. Naturally Americans were outraged about events in Cambodia and entirely ignorant of events in East Timor.

The other role the media has is to keep people preoccupied with other things. This is the 'circus' part of what the Romans called Bread and Circuses (Panem et Circense). This is the idea that if people have enough to eat and enough spectacles to occupy them, they will not resist the nefarious practices of the regime.

Chomsky describes the role of sport as the ruling class 'reducing people's capacity to think'. He argues that it diverts their attention away from doing something about the issues that negatively affect their lives. He also argues that it creates 'irrational attitudes of submission to authority'. In other words it turns people into flag-waving morons. We need to resist these diversions and get back to fighting the government's programme of austerity, cuts and privatisation.

Here and above is a fim called 'Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky and the Media' which outlines these ideas in an easily accessible way. Go to 1:04:39 for the section on sport.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Why we should support today's doctor's strike

Doctors all over the country are taking industrial action today (Thursday) in the first national doctors' strike since 1975. Clearly this is not action that is being taken lightly and it should be given the full support of the public.

There has been a barrage of news stories in the newspapers, TV and radio media over the last few weeks since the strike was announced. Almost all have been negative. One told us how some doctors earn more than the prime minister. Another said "Striking doctors will destroy public trust... and it might never return". Others told lurid stories of how bad individual doctors are or scaremongering about people being left without medical care.

The truth is, this is all designed to turn us against the doctors because they know that they have a lot of support among the general public. How good individual doctors are or how much some get paid is irrelevant. Dr David Bailey, chair of the Welsh GP committee, said "GPs will see everyone on Thursday who is ill or thinks they are unwell and needs to be seen by a doctor. In hospitals, all emergency and inpatient work will be done as normal. Any urgent surgery and anything to do with cancer or terminal care will be done as normal. Elective surgery will be cancelled and will be rescheduled to take place within 12 weeks. We are trying very, very hard not to affect patients – our beef isn’t with patients and never has been."

The action is being taken because, according to the British Medical Association, the changes to their pension scheme will result in doctors paying up to 14.5% of their salaries in pension contributions, which it claims is twice as much as other public sector staff on similar salaries. However, many doctors voted for action, not just because of this but because they are angry at cutbacks in the NHS dressed up as 'efficiency savings' and the perceived dismantling and privatisation of the service.

The doctors are part of a wider grouping of trade unions and other organisations opposing the government on public sector pensions and the unfair cuts they are making to health, education and other public services. Their fight is our fight. We should support them.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Greek election result not all bad for the left

Yesterday's Greek general election resulted in a narrow victory for the pro-bailout conservative New Democracy party (ND). The anti-bailout 'radical left' Syriza party were second just 3% behind. ND received 29.66% of the vote, Syriza received 26.89% and third-placed 'socialist' party PASOK recieved just 12.28%.

ND did not receive enough votes for a parliamentary majority, but due to Greece's election rules they get a 50-seat bonus because they came first. This gives them 129 seats in the 300-member strong parliament, Syriza get 71 seats and PASOK 33 seats.

This is an incredible result given ND and PASOK have dominated political life in Greece for the last thirty years. Syriza was formed in January 2004 and gained just 3.3% of the vote in that year. They then increased their vote to 5.04% in 2007. In May this year they received 16.78% and yesterday their share of the vote stood at 26.89%. At some points over the last few weeks of the campaign, Syriza were ahead in the opinion polls. A victory for Syriza would have sent political shockwaves across Europe and around the world. It would have given a boost to the unions and other organisations that are resisting austerity on the streets of Athens and elsewhere.

As it stands, it is still a fantastic result. Whilst it is clear that many anti-bailout parties were attracted to Syriza as the only party that could stop austerity, it is also clear that many parties also rallied to ND for the opposite reason. There was intense pressure in the form of propaganda coming from the European Union (EU) and individual member states on the Greek people to vote for austerity and against an exit from the Euro.

80% of Greek people are against austerity but 80% are also against leaving the Euro. The EU attempted, apparently with some success, to argue that opposing the bailout deal would lead to a Greek exit from the Euro whether Syriza liked it or not. Syriza's policy was to walk a tightrope where they argued they would scrap the bailout deal but try not to leave the Euro. Should Syriza have argued in favour of exiting the Euro? Perhaps. They may have been able to argue a case for why it would be desirable and taken some people with them. But more likely they would have committed electoral suicide, giving the EU what they wanted to an even larger degree.

So what happens now? It is thought that ND will attempt to form a pro-bailout government with PASOK and possibly the 'moderate' Democratic Left who have 17 seats. However, PASOK have said they will not join a government without Syriza and Syriza have said they will not join a pro-bailout government. This is probably political maneouvering on the part of PASOK. They will almost certainly either join a government or support a government without its MPs taking up ministerial posts. They are clearly worried about disappearing into oblivion.

Syriza will then form the 'official opposition' and will have a platform upon which to continue to criticise the government's policies. There is a good chance that this new government will not last very long and Syriza can bide their time and wait for a better opportunity to come to power. For now, the battle will return to the streets.

For further interesting discussion on this see Lenin's Tomb here.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Banking system beautifully explained by 12-year old

Victoria Grant, a 12-year old from Canada has given a lecture to the Public Banking Institute in Canada. In it she explains how the banking system works and how it is robbing Canada, and of course the rest of the world, of its money. In 6 beautiful minutes she succinctly puts what most economists could not explain in a lifetime. She says "we are being defrauded and robbed by the banking system and a complicit government".

Although her recommendations would improve the situation it is not, on its own, the answer. There is a much deeper exploitation of workers at the heart of the way capitalism works.

Nevertheless this is wonderful to watch. Although her father helped her to find some of the material, the lecture is, apparently, all her own work, the result of her own independent study. To see a 12-year old lecturing grey suited, balding old men with their ties done up to eleven at an institute of banking is truely wonderful.

There is also a fantastic interview with her here, where she says we should "throw the corrupt bankers and politicians in jail".