If the public had an ounce of sense, this man’s career would have ended long ago.
Here is a passionate defence of the liberty of the press, from 1730.
There are some subjects, which cannot be handled too often; especially that of liberty; because it is the interest of ill-designing men to watch all opportunities of restraining and destroying it. If their attempts happen to be anticipated, disconcerted and frustrated one time, by a vigorous opposition, they will drop them in silence, or perhaps confidently disown them, till the clamour is stopped, and the arguments made use of against them are forgot; and then, if they see a proper occasion, will resume them again. It therefore behoves the friends of liberty, who desire the continuance of this invaluable blessing, to be as vigilant and active and indefatigable as the enemies of it. They ought to be constantly upon their guard against all their opposers; to make them no concessions; to give them no advantages; nor slacken and grow indolent in their duty; but keep a watchful eye upon their measures, and be always read to meet every appearance of danger, as often as it returns, with firmness, intrepidity and resolution.
I have already appeared (more frequently, I believe, than some men could wish) in defence of the liberty of the press; and it is a subject of such importance to all our other liberties, both ecclesiastical and civil, that I am resolved to pursue it as long and as often as there shall appear any remains, or suspicions, or overtures of a design to invade it; by which I not only mean the open declarations, or concerted efforts of great men for this purpose; but likewise all endeaours to depreciate it by loose, general and idle reflections against the abuse of it; all fallacious distinctions between liberty and licentiousness, which confound them together; and above all, those scurrilous, abusive invectives upon persons of the highest rank, which are commonly spread abroad about this time of the year; and which we have great reason to apprehend come from some men, who are no well-wishers to the present liberty of the press.
These writings, indeed, are always disowned when the design of them is exposed, and their effect prevented; but that is far from being any reason to me that the authors of them are not secretly employed and encouraged. The gentlemen who work thus in the dark, must give me leave to form some judgment on what has passed, and to take proper measures against what may happen again. I have not lived so long in the world, without making some observations on the conduct of statesmen, and the private methods, which they often make use of to compass their designs. There are too many instances in history of ministers, who have set men at work to abuse their masters, and sometimes even themselves with this view. Nay, perhaps, it may be sometimes thought no impolitic artifice to make the scurrilous writings of their own tools a proof of the licentiousness of the press, and an argument for the restraint of it. They may apprehend that it will look a little too selfish to attempt such an essential alteration in the constitution of our government for their own sakes only; and may therefore endeavor to disguise it, by putting on an appearance of tenderness to those, who oppose them. These gentlemen, indeed, have long been exposed to the grossest insults and calumnies from the press; but I believe they look upon them only as the bad effects of a good cause; of liberty; (of liberty, the best cause in the world) and that they abhor the thought of being made the occasion and pretence of any restraints upon it.
There is one thing, which ought not to be passed over on this subject; and I don’t remember whether I have ever mentioned it before. I mean, that no laws whatsoever for the regulation of the press will be able to put a stop to what are really and properly libels; such writings being always dispersed secretly and in the dark. It is well known that all those papers at present, which are written without any regard to decency, or the laws, are dispersed in this manner; and if the free publication of our thoughts should be taken away, what can be expected but that men will have recourse to this method; which will introduce a much greater licence, than was ever complained of under the most unrestrained, legal liberty of the press; because those writings being privately written and dispersed, as I said before, nobody makes himself answerable for them? Nay, let the danger of doing this be never so great, and the penalties never so severe, such is the love of liberty in some men, and the impatience o grievances and oppressions in others, that they will run any hazards to vent their resentments and awaken their countrymen to a sense of their condition. This was the case in the reign of Tiberius and some succeeding emperors; whose terrible cruelties and tyrannical prosecutions could not deter men from this practice; and the same spirit has been exerted in England, under some late reigns, when the press lay under the strictest restraint and inquisition of a licenser.
The late translator of Tacitus makes the following just observation, in one of his discourses before that author, viz. that the passions are not to be extinguished but with life; and to forbid people, especially a suffering people, to speak, is to forbid them to feel. He goes farther and says, that the more men express of their hate and resentment, perhaps the less they retain; and sometimes they vent the whole that way; but these passions, where they are smothered, will be apt to fester; to grow venomous, and to discharge themselves by a more dangerous organ than the mouth; even by an armed and vindictive hand. Less dangerous is a railing mouth than a heart filled with bitterness and curses; and more terrible to a prince ought to be the secret execrations of his people than their open revilings, or than even the assaults of his enemies. And again. In truth, where no liberty is allowed to speak of governors, besides that of praising them, their praises will be little regarded. Their tenderness and aversion to have their conduct examined will be apt to prompt people to think their conduct guilty or weak; to suspect their management and designs to be worse than perhaps they are; and to become turbulent and seditious, rather than be forced to be silent.
I know the advocates for ignorance and implicit obedience will call this method of reasoning an apology for libels, faction and sedition; but I make use of it only to show the folly, as well as the wickedness, of any scheme for preventing the publication of our thoughts on matters of government. It is wicked, because it is an attempt to destroy one of the most valuable, and fundamental rights of a free people. It is foolish, because it will not have the effect proposed by it; but produce worse consequences and expose men in power to severer invectives and more dangerous methods of resentment than the utmost liberty of the press; and I think that both the wickedness and the folly of it cannot be better exposed, than by producing their own arguments for it; which are comprised in Judge Allybone’s speech, at the trial of the seven Bishops. I will quote some part of it, which runs in the following strain.
“The single question that falls to my share is, to give my sense of this petition, whether it shall be in construction of law a libel in itself, or a thing of great innocence. I shall endeavor to express myself in as plain terms as I can, and as much as I can by way of proposition.
And I think, in the first place, that no man can take upon him to write against the actual exercise of the government, unless he have leave from the government, but he makes a libel, be what he writes true or false; for if once we come to impeach the government by way of argument, it is the argument that makes the government, or not the government; so that I lay it down that, in the first place, the government ought not to be impeached by argument, because I can manage a proposition, in itself doubtful, with a better pen than another man. This I say is a libel.
Then I lay down this for my next position; that no private man can take upon him to write concerning the government at all; for what has any private man to do with the government, if his interest be not stirred or shaken? It is the business of the government to manage matters relating to the government. It is the business of subjects to mind only their own properties and interest. If my interest is not shaken, what have I to do with matters of government? They are not within my sphere. If the government does come to shake my particular interest, the law is open for me, and I may redress myself by law; and when I intrude myself into other men’s business, that does not concern my particular interest, I am a libeler.
These I have laid down for the plain propositions. Now let us consider farther whether, if I will take upon me to contradict the government, and specious pretence, that I shall put upon it, shall dress it up into another form and give it a better denomination; and I truly think it will not. I think ‘tis the worse, because it comes in a better dress; for by that rule every Man, that can put on a good vizard, may be as mischievous as he will to the government at the bottom; so that whether it be in the form of a supplication, or an address, or a petition; if it be what it ought not to be, let us call it by its true name, and give it its right denomination. It is a libel.”
And a little farther he says, that, “We are not to measure things from any truth they have in themselves, but from that aspect they have upon the government; for there may be every tittle of a libel true, and yet it may be a libel still; so that I put no great stress upon that objection, that the matter of it is not false; and for sedition, it is that, which every libel carries in itself; and as every trespass implies vi & Armis, so every libel against the government carries in it sedition and all the other epithets, that are in the information. This is my opinion, as to the law in general.”
I must beg leave to make a remark or two on the speech of this infamous judge, which contains the sum of all the arguments of our modern advocates against the liberty of the press.
In the first place, this egregious oracle of the law lays it down as a proposition that no man can take upon him to write against the actual exercise of the government, unless he have leave from the government; a very pleasant proposition truly! As if any men in power would give us leave to write against them, unless it were to serve some such purposes, as I have already mentioned; that is, according to him, no man ought to write against ministers, but those, who do it by their direction, in order to carry on some private view against the liberties of the people.
His second proposition is, that no private man can take upon him, to write concerning the government at all. By no private man, I suppose he means every man, who has not a commission from the ministry; for he seems to allow in his first proposition, that a man, who has their leave, may write against the government. His reasons for this assertion are excellent, viz. that private men have nothing to do with matters of government; that the only business of subjects it to mind their own properties and interests; and if they are shaken, the law is open; though I am very apprehensive that if such doctrines should prevail, and the bench should be filled with such interpreters of the law, our private properties would not be much safer than our public liberties.
But it is to our happiness that the English nation, at that time, would not brook such slavish doctrines, nor swallow the principles of a Popish judge, who was made use of as the vile instrument of a court, which had set up a power to dispense with all our law and liberties at pleasure. Our brave countrymen asserted their ancient rights; and though the press was, at that time, under the restraint of a licenser, they took upon them not only to write, but to act very freely, and openly against the exercise of government; and they had the good fortune to do it with success. The liberty of the press was then established with our other liberties, to whose restoration it greatly contributed; and though it has since been looked upon with an evil eye by some men in power, yet it has hitherto stood its ground, and I hope ever will. Cursed be the hand, that attempts to destroy it!
I shall perhaps be told, by my adversaries, that all this zeal, is unreasonable and impertinent, and that no body has any such design. I hope not; though I confess I don’t much like the method of writing at present in vogue; and the rumours, which have lately been spread about town. I shall be glad to find them and my own apprehensions equally groundless; but whether any persons have such a design or not, it cannot be improper to defend so glorious a privilege in season and out of season. The liberty of the press, which is the chief bulwark of all our other liberties, cannot be too often exerted in its own defence.
Indeed, when we consider the circumstances of the present times; that his Majesty’s title is founded entirely on revolution-principles and the liberties of the people; we can hardly conceive that any men will have the boldness to attempt such an innovation on both; much less than an English Parliament will be induced to begin the present new year, with undoing the work of above an hundred years past.
“Blood dries quickly,” observed Chares de Gaulle, with reference to the relations between states. However, for the populations called upon to support, and for those dispatched to fight the wars that states engage in, may not share such a view.
After successful implantation of the “Global War on Terror” narrative in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the US has increasingly been free to undertake simultaneous military operations in a number of North African and Middle Eastern states in pursuit of its aims. Wherever an intervention has been desired, Al Qaida (or franchise operators), real or imagined, have been available from Central Casting, be it Libya, Mali, Somalia, Yemen, and now, in Syria.
Al Qaida? I know you, you’re the bad guys!
However, the Syrian conflict poses a fundamental problem with regards to selling this conflict to the West, a single indisputable fact: Al Qaida fighters are part of the opposition movement and are receiving supplies from the Western powers, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc.
To begin, therefore, direct military intervention is to effectively place the US armed forces, and those of its partners, in the service of the very Islamic terrorists that hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives of US and NATO troops have been sacrificed to the cause of, supposedly, eliminating. Robert Fisk of The Independent posed the question directly: Does Obama know he’s fighting on al-Qa’ida’s side?
If Barack Obama decides to attack the Syrian regime, he has ensured – for the very first time in history – that the United States will be on the same side as al-Qa’ida.
Quite an alliance! Was it not the Three Musketeers who shouted “All for one and one for all” each time they sought combat? This really should be the new battle cry if – or when – the statesmen of the Western world go to war against Bashar al-Assad.
While states may easily absorb the double standards involved in such a move, as they ruthlessly pursue their interests, for Western populations tired of a decade of continuous war, subjected to an intense anti-Al Qaida narrative, and enduring the effects of the austerity narrative, intervention in Syria is proving an impossible sell.
This is despite the recent chemical weapons attack and the opportunity to whip up moral outrage among Western populations that it provided. How many times must we show you all these dead children before you support war?
While the Western powers have continued to assert, with scant evidence, that the attack was carried out by the forces of President Assad, the public has remained relatively unmoved. Polls show 64%, 60%, and 58% opposed to military intervention in France, the UK, and the US, respectively.
Alternative explanations of the chemical weapons attack
Indeed, such is the public sensitivity to Western propaganda techniques these days, that alongside the debate on the merits of military intervention, numerous alternative accounts of the attacks have surfaced:
— the rebels caused the deaths while mishandling chemical weapons supplied by the Saudis (‘Syrian rebels take responsibility for the chemical attack admitting the weapons were provided by Saudis’),
— a British company had discussed an offer to provide chemical weapons and paraphernalia that could frame Assad for the attack (Deleted Daily Mail Online Article: “US Backed Plan for Chemical Weapon Attack in Syria to Be Blamed on Assad”),
— and, lastly, a take on the Big Lie, an email hack ‘revealed’ that no children actually died and the entire operation was staged by the US military and partners (Pentagon may be involved in chemical attack in Syria, US intelligence colonel hacked mail reflect). .
US military takes to Facebook to dissent
For those tasked with carrying out any military operations in Syria, and who would generally be expected to remain silent and take orders, Facebook has become a place to register their dissent at such a prospect.
I particularly like the choice of ‘your’ in this photo, as it ties in to the narrative of Obama being a secret anti-American Marxist muslim communist, which, on the face of it is laughable, but which this US-Al Qaida axis in Syria does lend a shred of credence to.
What an image like this suggests is that the sacrifices made at the level of serving members of the military, and the values to which they may subscribe, are running into conflict with a foreign policy that, while it has successfully crushed into apathy public opinion at home, ridden out the political storms in the outraged zones of military operation (Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan), will now face, hopefully, ‘an enemy within’, in the one place where decent quality information remains available to non-elite members of society – inside the military and the intelligence agencies.
With regards to the latter, President Obama has already initiated the Insider Threat program, “which requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions.” Suspicious behaviour includes reading The Onion!
The military isn’t such an easy place to crack down on. While, given what we know about the NSA’s reach, tracing any of the men in these photos would be a moment’s work, the political fallout of either prosecuting these individuals and/or implementing controls on the use of social media would be likely be considerable. If/when the US does engage in military action, it will be interesting to see what further material and viewpoints emerges from military personnel.
Parliament and the public as obstacles to policy
The most interesting narrative with regards to Syria is David Cameron’s abject failure to obtain parliamentary or public support for the UK participating in military action against Syria. While Cameron used his failure to affirm that the Commons defeat represented an affirmation of the democratic credentials of the British system, the result has outraged those who find the notion of honouring the will of a Parliament driven, in any part, by public opinion to be highly distasteful. The major recipient of their ire was Ed Miliband and the Labour Party, who have endured days of vicious insults.
Quick to stake out their contempt for the vote and for the will of the British people were Lord Ashdown, who reported he’d never felt so ashamed of his country, and Boris Johnson, who called for a second vote. If only, for such characters, we were more ready to follow the US and French lead, where Obama may opt to ignore the will of Congress and Francois Hollande will not be subject to any vote on whatever course of action he adopts after Wednesday’s French debate on Syria.
But despite these calls from Ashdown and Johnson and others, it seems there’s no movement building that will see the UK belatedly joining in, and the right-wing media has refused to assist the government in any attempt to turn around public opinion. Instead, the Daily Mail printed this incredibly delicious assault on Cameron by the right-wing talking head, Peter Hitchens, which astonishes with its good sense.
Next week, those who despise David Cameron will have the rare pleasure of watching him treading the international stage at the G20 meeting in Russia, reduced to the stature of Wee Jimmie Krankie. Amen.
Thank you for not listening
David Cameron, the only man in Britain who had a worse week than Rolf Harris.
This post was inspired by a good friend’s observations on what the UK government’s response should be to the Syrian situation. Generally, I am in agreement with his view that military intervention is *a bad thing*, but would extend the analysis further. On the way, a few of the popular positions re: UK participation in military action can be unpicked.
1. Doing nothing
Firstly, a state can’t really ‘do nothing’ in terms of foreign policy. There has to be a proactive policy when a state possesses the resources to shape outcomes to some degree.
Secondly, on the simple plane of reality, the Western states are already engaged.
The UK has supported the rebels with ‘non-lethal aid’ (this is a term used to hoodwink the public, as, if I save you 100 quid buying a tent, you can spend that 100 quid on weapons).
The Benghazi fiasco appears to have been the CIA moving jihadists and guns out of Libya to Syria. The US is also materially supporting the rebels.
The French won’t do nothing because intervention in Libya, Mali, Syria is all about preserving their influence (waning) in the region from disappearing entirely. Their ‘socialist’ President recognizes this.
The UK is tied to France through the Lancaster House Agreements for the next 50 years, and they will hold us to them.
2. ‘It’s the Syrians’ civil war’
What is taking place in Syria is not a civil war. It is a regionally and internationally funded effort to overthrow the sovereign government of Assad.
Turkey, the Arab League (just as they united against Saddam and will again against Iran), and the West, are all pouring money, manpower, and arms into this effort.
We know that the ‘rebels’ are dominated by jihadists of the sort we’re told the Global War on Terror was designed to eliminate, yet are now our allies (as in Libya).
3. ‘Noone will gain from military intervention’
Lockheed Martin and Raytheon traded at all-time high on NYSE on Syria news.
4. ‘Let the region sort out its own problems’
The other states in the region are just as ready to plunder as the West. The Arab League is an ultra-right wing bunch of medievally-minded thugs, as we’ve seen with the crushing of dissent in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. They hate Assad, regardless of what we do/don’t do.
A little discussion
Why is Assad and his Iranian/Chinese/Russian backing holding out so desperately? Because the West and their Arab partners have offered no chance to compromise. They want to play for ‘all the marbles’ as Pentagon-types like to say.
The endgame is that the great powers redraw their spheres of influence in the region, with China and a renascent Russia crowding out France completely (hence the French being absolutely convinced about the gas attacks), while the US’ Arab partners also want in. No state can afford not to play with such high stakes riding on the outcome.
Will any of us little people benefit? No. We will get to pay for it, while the winners reap mega-profits and extend their power and influence. Our role is just to be convinced that our glorious leaders are pursuing the right course and to cheer them on from our sofas, in between watching Miley Cyrus (who the f**k *is* she?) failing to light up the world with her doomed take on the twerk.
This is the world system we live in. This is why I fundamentally disagree with an ‘us and them’ ‘we can do something/do nothing’ because a state the size of the UK is continuously engaged, for centuries, in shaping the very system that we observe.
This is why the West, as the most powerful set of states *is* fundamentally culpable for what goes on in these weaker states that we use as clients, knocking down their governments when we wish, staging counterrevolutions that cause blowback (Iran, Egypt, etc.) and generally acting in the completely morality-free way that the realist model of international anarchy describes so well, while continually wrapping each calculated application of military, economic, and political force in the colours of lberal ideals of spreading democracy and freedom.
That doesn’t mean ‘we are all bad and Assad, etc., is cuddly and cute’, but it does mean that we shouldn’t rally around the consensual ethic of humanitarian intervention (as you rightly resist when you talk about the impact of those images – you can see, rightly, that they are designed to present to us evil and our role as good).
But we’re not good. And we need a radical response, not one that that continues the status quo of intervening militarily whenever the thuggish oppression of entire populations that we’ve engineered breaks down sufficiently to threaten key interests.
(There’s a bunch of writings about this, such as Alain Badiou’s Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil that rehearse serious arguments against the ‘we must act’ on the basis of our consensus re: some evil we are confronted with, but they necessarily involve fundamental reform of our own societies and of how we individually think about our approach to the narratives used to justify these, at heart, very conservative and violent foreign policies of Western states).
Thank you for not listening
A day that will live long in history. 35 years. I feel the injustice at the cellular level.
It has been quite a week for Five Eyes.
On Sunday, the UK authorities detained David Miranda, husband of journalist Glenn Greenwald, and questioned him for 9 hours and confiscated his electronic devices.
Today, we have both the Manning sentence being handed out in Maryland, while in New Zealand, a new law that will empower the intelligence services to spy on their NZ citizens was passed by 2 votes, 61-59.
In The Guardian interview with David Miranda (partner of journalist, Glenn Greenwald) after his release from detention by the UK authorities, it was reported that:
“He was offered a lawyer and a cup of water, but he refused both because he did not trust the authorities… He got his first drink – from a Coke machine in the corridor – after eight hours and was eventually released almost an hour later.”
Brasil? Coca-Cola? Repression? That brought to mind this artwork:
One of the artists upon whom Oiticica’s manifesto, combined with the heightened level of artistic repression, had an obvious and profound impact was Cildo Meireles, whose work of the late 1960s and early 1970s fuses conceptual art with political activism. A case in point is Meireles’s series of Inserções em circuitos ideológicos (Insertions into ideological circuits). Arising out of what Meireles retrospectively described as the need “to create a system for the circulation and exchange of information that did not depend on any kind of centralized control,” the Inserções series transmitted information through a variety of alternative “circuits.”
For instance, Insertion— Coca-Cola (1970) consisted of printing messages and critical opinions about Brazilian politics and the politics of imperialism onto the sides of empty Coca-Cola bottles in vitreous white ink to match the bottles’ logo, and then reintroducing the bottles into circulation. The texts were virtually invisible when the bottles were empty, but as they were filled in the factory, the information became legible. In this manner, these works inverted the idea of the readymade that had characterized pop and, in its own way, minimal art. Instead of inserting the commodity object into the space of the gallery, the work returned the Coca-Cola bottles to their original system of circulation—albeit in a radically altered form. As such, the work not only attempts an ambitiously egalitarian form of distribution, but also critiques the imperialism of advanced capitalism that Coca-Cola represented.
from Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Albaro and Stimson (MIT Press)
Tonight I was locked in a philosophical argument with the girlfriend, which led me to observe that I could say that her voice is ‘the birds singing in the trees’ and nothing she could say would disprove that that is what I hear when she speaks. I find it quite difficult when someone awards themselves a privileged position from which they are entitled to assert that they see something clearly, grasp the facts, and so on, when surely there would be little to separate such a sensation from a delusion. But my girlfriend then refers back to life and the evidence is that her life has been happier than mine and she has accomplished more.
I say that that is inarguable, but that she should not deny me the fact that I come from a working-class culture that mires people in confusion, that hides the way, and that I have never known what to do, or how to live, that that experience belongs to my family, that that experience permeates the daily lives of millions of people right now, that it’s by design. The frustration, the anger, the desperation, the wish to harm others, or to harm oneself, the abandonment, the fear, the confusion, the doubt, these things did not originate in my mind, they are not personal failings. They are concrete outcomes of policies crafted over decades/centuries even by a small ruling minorty.
And yes, meeting this girlfriend has finally broken the spell, at long last, a spell you did your best to help break. And, really, I can divide everyone I’ve met into those who have sought, for whatever reasons, to reinforce the spell, and those who have sought to help me escape from the maze of death! Certain people only care about securing their own escape from the maze, and other people’s confusion are a means to their own ends. You’re more of a shepherd who’d hazard their own safety to find that single lost sheep, and not the ninety-nine who are safe. That you mix those sentiments with an anarchic spirit that drops bombs on what other people (and even yourself) have laboured so hard to create, that’s admirable.
You’re one of the few people I’ve met who can understand that sometimes, the more arbitrary something is, truly, there’s nothing more just!