UK paperback


Deserts of the real: on ‘race’ and foreign policy

At Harry’s Place, a commenter introduces himself by calling himself a race realist. Interesting. That he subsequently complains of the “looming threat” posed to the US by “uncontrolled low-IQ immigration”, resulting in “a USA almost half brown and black by 2031”, shows exactly what his true perspective on “race” is.

But let’s try to take race realist at face value, and reconstruct the logic behind it. Of course racism is bad and stupid, the “race realist” might say, but unfortunately the great unwashed masses are racist. So if we don’t take account of their views, bad things will happen. (A river foaming with much blood, etc.) This is the “realist” part: a pretended pragmatism about what people actually believe. The problem is that it subsequently implies we should order the world such that these racists, although foolish, will be kept happy, presumably for overriding reasons of public order. And the analytical problem is that recommending policies to keep racists happy is in the end indistinguishable from recommending policies that are actually racist. They will be, surely, the same policies. So “race realist” inevitably collapses, it seems to me, into simply “racist”.

Let’s compare the school of “realism” in international affairs, often attributed to Henry Kissinger . . .

continued »


Functioning insanity

Martin Amis: analyze this

Martin Amis analyzes the perpetrators of 9/11:

The spectacular attack, “the big one”, was a non-starter until the fortuitous arrival in Kandahar of the “Hamburg contingent” (Atta et al): these men were superficially Westernised, and superficially rational: possessed by just the right kind of functioning insanity.

A fascinating mini-psychodrama is packed into the phrase “functioning insanity”. With the first word, Amis glibly lays claim to clinical expertise, appealing to the sense of “functioning” used in psychiatric assessments. Yet in the very next word, manfully impatient with such bullshit, he invokes the brute, non-clinical idea of “insanity”. In lightning succession, he postures in pretension to medical authority, and then peacocks his courageous rejection of that same authority. Superficially rational, indeed.


They will follow us

Why we really have to stay in Iraq

The rest of George W. Bush’s speech yesterday consisted of the usual warnings about appeasing Nazis, new totalitarianisms, and so on. He banged on quite insistently about one familiar idea, giving it a new twist:

We will fight the terrorists overseas so we do not have to face them here at home. […]

If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities. […]

General John Abizaid, our top commander in the Middle East region, recently put it this way: “If we leave, they will follow us.”

That’s right: the terrorists will follow us home and attack us in the streets of our cities if we leave Iraq. The obvious question is: why aren’t they doing this already? There is only one possible answer:

They don’t know where America is.

Do the math: in a stunning psyops operation, all the world’s maps must have been covertly altered. The continental USA is now labelled “Greenland”. The terrorists can only find America again by actually following the US military when it leaves Iraq. So the US must never leave. Any questions?


Science campaign

Nice names for nukes

In case we had forgotten why bringing democracy to Iraq was important, George W. Bush reminded us in his speech to the American Legion yesterday:

Governments accountable to the voters focus on building roads and schools – not weapons of mass destruction.

This is slightly odd, since democracies such as the US, the UK and India spend quite a lot of money on “weapons of mass destruction”. But what if you gave these activities soothing names? Instead of a “weapons of mass destruction-related program activity”, for example, you could say that you were engaged in a “Science Campaign” . . .

continued »


The real source

Donald Rumsfeld wishes he were better

Donald Rumsfeld has been muttering darkly about the “vicious extremists” who constitute, in a convenient echo of the second world war, “the rising threat of a new type of fascism”. The phrase “a new type of fascism” is cleverer than it looks, subtler than the boss’s recent adoption of “Islamic fascism”. The rider “a new type of” is designed to acknowledge the obvious fact that what is under consideration is not “fascism” as hitherto understood, while allowing oneself to say the scary word “fascism” anyway, because the opportunity it provides to paint opponents as “appeasers” is too good to pass up . . .

continued »



Humanity, terrorism, Iraq

My review in today’s Guardian, and a further discussion.

Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9-11, Iraq, 7-7
by Ted Honderich (Continuum)

Suppose I intend to assassinate a man whose death, everyone agrees, would make the world a better place. Unfortunately, the only means I have to do so is a nuclear bomb. Knowing a little about nuclear bombs, I predict that its detonation will kill a million other people. Still, the villain needs to die. So I set off the bomb. Is it reasonable for me to claim afterwards that I didn’t intend to kill the million other people, that they were regrettable “collateral damage” in my noble undertaking? Or should I say that, yes, I killed a million, but 20 million previously oppressed people will now live in liberty and comfort? Can I even say that I had a “moral right” to go nuclear?

continued »



Satellite of love

After my talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival yesterday a man in the signing queue claimed that mir, the Russian for “peace” (also “world” or “village commune”) was used by hardline Soviets as code for “the eventual triumph of global socialism”. Thus for a Soviet to say “I come in peace” or to set up a “Peace Committee” did not quite mean what it implied to Western ears. Interesting if true. Mir was also, of course, the name of the USSR’s space station, and one NASA director thought in hindsight that the name had been an Unspeak trick:

I almost wish the former Soviet Union had named the Mir something more combative back in ’86. Knowing our politicians and public, that red flag waving would probably have resulted in a big station, a lunar outpost, and a mission enroute to Mars by now. So once again, we were outwitted by Communist propaganda that lulled us into staying with the short-flight shuttle.

What are your favourite contemporary abuses of the word “peace”, readers?


Built to last

A Conservative revolution

A nation is like a house. It needs a sturdy roof to keep the rain off, maybe some decking in the garden, and a set of impregnable locks on the front door. David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party in the UK, understands this. That is why his new “mini-manifesto” [pdf] is called “Built to last”. In an earlier, draft version of the document (still available here [pdf]), a logo capped the phrase with a roof, so:


Notice how the roof is not too pointy. It’s a friendly, reassuring roof. In concert with the slogan, reminiscent as it is of a no-nonsense Ronseal advert, the image is one of dependability. Indeed, it is probably meant to remind voters of many happy weekend hours spent in home-improvement megastores. Let’s go to Built to Last! Alternatively, it may even gesture towards the Great Pyramid of Cheops, which famously has lasted quite a long time.

I rue the passing of this evocative graphic in the final version of the document, which is in serious Tory blue and contains no visual frippery. And it uses the phrase “built to last” only once, in the leader’s foreword: “Our aims and values are built to last” – which is resoundingly vague, if not actually self-defeating. If you say your “aims” will last indefinitely, might you not be confessing that you will never actually achieve them? At any rate, the image of the country as a well-secured house subliminally persists: in the promises, for instance, to erect “proper border controls” (where, the false implication runs, none currently exist), or to defend our laws from pesky European interference by binning the Human Rights Act . . .

continued »


hit parade

    guardian articles

    older posts