Archives for category: UK

I’m working up a series of entries around the concept of living compassionately. This is not a new idea, and I’m willing to accept that I’m not the best qualified to preach it, but (in the words of someone better qualified): if not me, who?

Nicked wholesale from Wikipedia:

Radical compassion is a term coined by the philosopher Khen Lampert, in 2003. His theory of radical compassion appeared in Traditions of Compassion: from Religious Duty to Social-Activism (2006). Lampert identifies compassion as a special case of empathy, directed towards the “other’s” distress. Radical compassion is a specific type of general compassion, which includes the inner imperative to change reality in order to alleviate the pain of others. This state of mind, according to Lampert’s theory, is universal, and stands at the root of the historical cry for social change.

“I have noted that compassion, especially in its radical form, manifests itself as an impulse. This manifestation stands in stark opposition to the underlying premises of the Darwinist theories, which regard the survival instinct as determining human behavior, as well to the Freudian logic of the Pleasure Principle, which refutes any supposedly natural tendency on the part of human beings to act against their own interests and proposes viewing such an inclination as the product of cultural conditioning…”

While I’m not sure how much I agree with Lampert’s reduction of both Freud and Darwin, I agree with the basic premise: that there is an imperative to alleviate the pain of others. If I’m reading the summaries correctly, Traditions of Compassion looks at Christian, Buddhist, and modern secular traditions of so-called compassion and finds all of them wanting. The key to Lampert’s philosophy seems to be that the heart of the social contract is the need (and compulsion) to act in the interests of those in pain, distress, or otherwise at a disadvantage.

I started to formulate my own idea of radical compassion while watching the run-up to the recent parliamentary elections in the UK. Some of my friends who are able to vote there discussed ‘holding their noses’ and voting conservative for a variety of reasons, the main one being that they didn’t find that the Labour leader could realistically bring the UK out of its current crisis. I don’t fault this reasoning, but it seems to me myopic. The idea of ‘getting Brexit done’ doesn’t contain a plan, for example, for securing the food supply, keeping the peace in Ireland, or maintaining a functioning and affordable health service in light of how many medications and members of staff come from outside of the UK.

One aspect of this compassionate behavior is voting compassionately. My friend RC was accused of treason when campaigning for her preferred not-conservative candidate in this election. Treason for advocating for participating in the democratic process. (The shades of pre-fascist Europe in this exchange don’t escape me.) It won’t escape the reader’s notice that I’m socially liberal in my philosophy, and that when I talk about compassionate voting, my perspective is to vote for candidates who advocate for reducing suffering in whatever form.

My friends who advocated for the conservative candidates may very well project that there is greater long-term good to come out of what those candidates offer and promise and what their track records show they might get done.

I would argue that hunger and need shouldn’t have to wait for the undefined solution of this human-engineered crisis. Yes, I’m shouting at the barn door long after the horses have bolted.

To use another hackneyed metaphor, I know that expecting compassion from politicians is tilting at windmills, and that it’s probably no longer possible for voters to hold their representatives responsible for anything, but I’ll vote for the alleviation of pain rather than its aggravation every time.

There’s a further argument that voting this way can be seen as a kind of enlightened self interest. If we vote for greater access to medicine, we’re voting for a healthier population. (Also true for voting not to make life difficult for the large percentage of National Health Service medical staff who are from outside the UK.) Voting in favour of better primary schools sufficiently staffed with better-paid and -supported teachers so that your country’s children don’t grow up undereducated and resentful of the education system can also be seen as enlightened self interest. If that works for you, run with it, but I would suggest also doing so out of compassion for all the others concerned.

Victory Day is an elegant and worthy conclusion to a fascinating series. It’s been a real ride following this story’s progress since I read an early version of Battle Ground two years ago.The storytelling gets tighter and tighter the farther along we get. There’s always been tension between the twin antagonists, even when one was in London and the other in Edinburgh, but Churcher ratchets it up in this concluding volume. Bex (‘The Face of the Resistance’) and her former trainer, Corporal Ketty, again tell their sides in short alternating chapters.

In some cases, those chapters are less than a page each, and the sequence in which Bex meets Ketty for the first time since False Flag (book 2) is one of the most heart-racing things I’ve read. I give nothing away by indicating that both have guns and shots are fired.

RMC-BG5-VDI especially liked how this book succeeds in making both Bex and Ketty more sympathetic characters than they were before. Bex had become less likable the more she resisted her role in the bigger conflict at play. Ketty, on the other hand, elicits more sympathy from us the more she learns about the nature of the forces for whom she’s working. This is an especially difficult trick for Churcher to have pulled off – the sheer sadism of some of Ketty’s behavior makes her about as likable as a Bond villain. (She pays a pretty stiff price for her redemption in a sequence that’s oddly, and appropriately, parenthetical in her journey.)

While there’s the tension of the two narrators facing each other as everything they’ve worked for comes to fruition or falls apart, depending on how you look at it, there’s a roll call of supporting characters who we experience through the eyes of both of the narrators. It’s really hard to write this without giving spoilers, because when I say Ketty has an interview with Person X, you readers of books 1-4 will say, ‘Well, it’s not necessarily surprising, but wait a sec, how did we get there?’ You just have to drop a few pounds to find out.

It was really interesting to reread this in its final form, having proofread early drafts of each book. This series takes up the mantle of many other dystopian series of being a warning, not a manual. As times have started to catch up with what was initially a (more) far flung future, some aspects of the books are difficult to read. I’ll be honest: It’s taken me longer to read each book (and not just because Victory Day is about 40% longer than Fighting Back) because I can’t read these things before sleep or in the middle of the night. There’s the page-turning aspect, for certain, but also heartbreaking nearness of what Churcher is confronting. With the UK becoming, it seems, less compassionate and more like the US in how it divides the rich and poor, the idea of a conscripted home force, for example, has almost entered the realm of possibility.

Go over to Taller Books to get the whole set.

Note: I received a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Now into the third novel of the Battle Ground series, Churcher takes a different tack on the key players of the first two books.

The story of Bex Ellman, the middle-class heroine of the first book who also leads a band of conscripts into the rebellion and into hiding, alternates with that of Ketty Smith, the lead recruit who brutalizes the conscripts with ‘iron fists and steel toe caps’.  This raises the reader’s anxiety quotient even though the two are only in the same room once in the book (not a spoiler – that’s on the opening page).

They represent two different kinds of self-discipline – Bex’s is borne of a sincere desire to help others. Ketty derisively calls her Mummy Ellman, her own mother having abandoned her to an abusive and alcoholic father. And that’s the source of Ketty’s own discipline – keeping out of her father’s way until the day she could enlist in the military and be away from him for good. The fact that Ketty finds herself dependent on Colonel Bracken, another alcoholic, to whom she’s essentially an ADC adds some extra drama to the story.

As Ketty makes it to London to learn prisoner interrogation and to try to track down Bex and those who escaped with her, Bex and her friends try to keep hidden and make their way to the Opposition in Exile in Scotland. Both are trapped in similar ways. Ketty is bound to Colonel Bracken, must keep him out of trouble, and advance her own career at the same time. It’s a weird juxtaposition and with each chapter, we find ourselves deeper in their respective plights.

Darkest Hour

At the same time, Bex finds herself, oddly, at the mercy of those trying to help her. The Opposition In Exile (OIE) are keen to use her as the Face of the Resistance – a different kind of Front Line Doll. They also want to use her as the symbol of the war they’re conducting.

While I really don’t want to like Ketty, and I find her lack of pity problematic (something her colleague Conrad also notes, even though they’re ostensibly on the same side) to say the least, played against Bex’s increasing self-pity, she starts to take on a certain honor. I really like how the two women become doppelgängers for one another. Bex lacks Ketty’s self mastery whereas Ketty lacks most aspects of human compassion – or submerges them so effectively she may not actually have any at all

No, it’s not that she lacks compassion – she channels her compassion for Jackson (the comatose colleague from Camp Bishop who was shot in the chest by Bex’s friend Dan at the crux of the previous books) into revenge – and this is why in the grand scheme she’s unsuccessful. She needs to be able to see through Bex’s eyes but she can’t because it was Bex’s crew that incapacitated her only friend. Every bit of love she can muster is for Jackson, and her tragedy is that she can’t get out of that trap.

If you enjoyed the first two, you’re in for a different kind of treat with this one. It has more of the feel of a cinematic thriller with the hero and antihero fighting their own battles as they close in on each other.

Go over to Taller Books to get all three.

Note: I received a free advance copy of the book for this review.

 

In William Gibson’s novel The Peripheral, we meet a class of people, the klept, who have more money than they could ever use and play games with large swaths of humanity, often to the death. Gibson didn’t have to reach far for models; examples of the kleptocracy are all around us. The damage they do is not quite at the scale of Gibson’s klept only because Gibson imagines hundreds or thousands of timelines they can use for their playgrounds. (The chapter entitled Parliament of Birds (pdf) gives a good idea of what the klept are about.)
I’ve been considering writing about our modern klept for several weeks now and just when I think there’s nothing worse that could happen, I only have to consider the headlines for a moment. The most public members of the Klept, or maybe just their public representatives, are (not surprisingly) Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and (new member!) Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. When I thought I might be able to let this idea go, go on to writing something else, I saw this BBC headline: US and Brazil agree to Amazon development.
The world is quite literally on fire from Alaska to Siberia to Australia to, indeed, the Amazon. Instead of finding ways to protect these places for future generations, these so-called leaders are letting them burn so that the land can be exploited for oil and agribusiness. Bolsonaro’s very clever – if he doesn’t do anything about the fires, he solves one issue that he’s publicly declared a problem: the native populations of the Amazon basin. If they no longer have a forest in which to live, they’re no longer in need of any kind of protection. The other advantage I’ve read about is that he can then allow monoculture farming of in-demand commodities such as soybeans. (This becomes attractive given how Trump has buggered up the Chinese market for American soybeans. Trump’s trade war with China is one that probably could use some delving but it makes little sense to me as yet.)
And if neighboring Venezuela is anything to go by, there’s probably oil to be drilled as well. (Note that the vast majority of Brazil’s untapped oil holding is found in a region off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, rather far from Venezuela.
Man looking right forking dollars into his mouth while much smaller man has pennies to eat. Caption: When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it. Frederic Bastiat, French economist.

I know that equating fat and eating with greed is problematic, but we’re dealing with the oversized share of wealth consumed by the few at the expense of the many. I think this illustration addresses that pretty well.

And if we let Alaska burn, it may be easier for the oil companies to get into ANWAR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – a protected area that contains some desirable oil reserves). At the moment there are fires throughout central Alaska, but not in the northeast corner where ANWAR is located. Difficult to access Siberian reserves are also going to be easier to get at once the place burns. (Yes, I’m being terribly reductive. The fact that these fires are starting because of record high temperatures caused is not lost on anyone concerned, though.)
This isn’t exactly the klept in a nutshell. But the high-stakes games being played with the lives of large numbers of inconveniently located people form the heart of what the ultra-rich and the world leaders who front for them are about (and have always been about).
The thing with Johnson and the mess that Parliament is trying to clean up is that Johnson’s a really minor member of the klept. Cursory web searches suggest that his net worth is about two million pounds. More than I’ll ever see in a personal bank account (unless things go really tits up, Zimbabwe style), but in the grand scheme of the very wealthy, not very much. So why is he pushing for no-deal Brexit so hard? The short answer is that the klept in the UK stand to lose a lot of money when the new EU Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive goes into effect next year. Pretty much all of the large-scale folks who have pushed Brexit stand to lose a lot of money. Johnson, it seems, is mostly just a front for those folks.
There’s more to address regarding the American klept, including folks like Mitch McConnell, but it’s going to have to wait.

The Guardian’s Northern Ireland page has nearly a dozen articles right now related to Lyra McKee, the journalist shot dead by the so-called New IRA on Holy Thursday. (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) I’ve got several different kinds of grief over this murder that I’m not sure what to do with.

I think credit goes to Belfast TelegraphMany are expressing hope that in the wake of her death, some collaboration might occur between the various groups in NI and that perhaps the political parties will see through their differences and get something done. Talks between the DUP (the party that’s also propping up Mrs May in Westminster) and Sinn Fein broke down almost two and a half years ago and the province has been without a government ever since. (Though it seems talks may yet happen. Link at the bottom.)

I’ve been jabbering in support of Irish unity for decades, generally without enough of a grasp of the history or of human nature to make more than an emotional dent in the matter. Today, however, I say that the New IRA, the Provisional IRA, the straight-up old-fashioned IRA and any other group using terrorist measures to achieve their goals have got to go.

First: These measures don’t work. All through the Troubles and even in the 21 years since the Good Friday Agreement, these organizations (with the help of Unionist groups, don’t get me wrong – ain’t no love lost between me and the folks who foist Marching Season on us every year) have only succeeded in keeping much of NI from seeing any kind of dividend from all the years of fighting. (Note my earlier comment about my grasp of all the history surrounding this being weak. I can analyze the bejesus out of James Joyce, but I’m honestly buggered if I can makes sense of the last 200 years in Ireland.)

Second: I know that the immediate (hypothetical) disappearance of these groups will do nothing to heal literally hundreds of years of pain associated with the occupation of Ireland. Occupation. Complicated word, that. Civil War? Police Action? This is too short a rant to address what the situation should be called. I’m pretty sure that dissertations have been written on just that.

What has to go is mealy-mouthed bull like that coming from New IRA. The statement quoted by the Guardian reads:

“On Thursday night, following an incursion on the Creggan by heavily armed British crown forces which provoked rioting, the IRA deployed our volunteers to engage. We have instructed our volunteers to take the utmost care in future when engaging the enemy, and put in place measures to help ensure this.

“In the course of attacking the enemy Lyra McKee was tragically killed while standing beside enemy forces. The IRA offer our full and sincere apologies to the partner, family and friends of Lyra McKee for her death.”

This won’t do. It simply won’t do. ‘Our volunteers’ killed indiscriminately. ‘Our volunteers’ went heavily armed into a riot zone and started firing, but couldn’t figure out how to hit the ones wearing the uniform of their enemy. And fired enough rounds that recordings show someone picking up shell casings.

This won’t do. Peace at this late date doesn’t come through the cowardice evidenced by this statement.

And what else won’t do? In the event the goals of the various IRAs are actually met, I’d like to believe that the government of Dublin would do its own utmost to make sure these folks hold no position and that the ones who lead these volunteers will see justice.

I probably hope beyond hope.

I composed the text above a few hours ago and now see (also in the Guardian – honest, I do read other news sources) that a deal has been reached for further power-sharing talks. As I say, hope springs eternal.