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A few months ago, I suffered the atrocious insult of having a long comment screened - that is, kept from other readers - by [livejournal.com profile] inverarity, who then added insult to injury by lying about the circumstances in which he had done it. The incredible thing is that he seriously seemed to consider his behaviour reasonable and decent; and concluded the exchange with the patronizing statement: "Feel free to come back after you calm down."

What makes this painful from my point of view is that [livejournal.com profile] inverarity is a great writer. I do not intend to deprive myself of his forthcoming novel Alexandra Quick and the Stars Above, although I will probably not deliver reviews which, even if positive, would not be welcome. [livejournal.com profile] inverarity's prejudices, and even worse his convinction that he is open-minded when he is incapable of reacting to disagreement except with contempt and mockery, made any kind of debate impossible. It is diagnostic of the man that he thinks highly of Richard Dawkins. But if he were Berthold Brecht and Ezra Pound wrapped up in one, I would still be anxiously waiting for the new Alexandra Quick.

Alas, to know how it is coming along, I have to read [livejournal.com profile] inverarity's blog. And now he has produced a revolting review of what seems to be a revolting book; a review so revolting that I can't, for decency's sake, keep silent - not without feeling that I have left the field, by default, to something despicable.

It is at this point, upset and revolted as I was, that I came across, quite by chance, [livejournal.com profile] johncwright delivering a well-deserved spanking to some jerk who had been offended at a perfectly reasonable historical statement. My relationship with [livejournal.com profile] johncwright is peculiar, and in some ways mirrors that with [livejournal.com profile] inverarity. I tend to agree with many of his views, though by no means all; I appreciate his learning and his ability to defend his position; but I am unhappy about his manners, and especially about the way he tends to dump on anyone who disagrees with him from a great height. I wish he realized that to use such words as "pervert" when the other person does not even agree that such a thing as perversion exists is question-begging, and that a sentence built up of nothing but such unargued assertions is a sentence built of nothing but question-begging.

I mentioned to Wright, half in jest, that as he was in the mood to bash a bit of history in unperceptive heads, he might want to try it with the review in question. He looked at it and was even more horrified than I was, though he told me that I would have to "fight that dragon myself". In a brief exchange, we agreed that the review basically represents the worst kind of relativism, the kind that, by refusing a priori to distinguish between right and wrong, effectively gives wrong equal citizenship.

Word of this reached [livejournal.com profile] inverarity, probably through a trackback bot. He didn't like it - I don't suppose anybody would - and took a step I wouldn't have, trying to involve his friends in the row. As a by-product of this, I got the most stunning display of unselfconscious, rampant bigotry ever: one of [livejournal.com profile] inverarity's friends informed me that anyone who frequented the likes of [livejournal.com profile] johncwright was ipso facto condemned, since Wright was the sort whom no decent man would associate with. Take a bow, [livejournal.com profile] tealterror0; it's not often that someone manages to give such a bold, unselfconscious display of intolerance.

There is something highly ironical in all this. Only a few days ago, I raved on this LJ about Mark Twain's "critical annihilation" of a professor who had written a stupid and misconceived book about Shelley. Now I am called to do the same. The difference is that there is no space for enjoyment: the opposing thesis is too monstrous, the way in which it is deployed is too prejudicial, and last but not least, the utter unwillingness to learn of someone I still regard as a great writer means that at best - even if it wasn't the case that I am arguing against the zeitgeist, and that half my readers will probably find something excusable in his deplorable views - I will be left with nothing but a strong taste of ashes in my mouth.
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...the ignorant rubbish about religion that people say not even with arrogance but as a throwaway, commonplace remark, apparently not even realizing that they are being both fabulously stupid (so monotheism inspires beautiful music? and you found this out yesterday?) and unimaginably offensive (so "religion" ought not have anything to do with what the State says or does?). Jesus Christ, at least the Sorry Trinity do have a clear idea that religion is a motive for action. It hurts to admit it, but the average educated and intelligent person today is stupider, in this matter, than Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris.

.... so someone is surprised that "monotheism" can produce beautiful things?
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If I come across as irritable, and if I have a temper, it is to some extent - not largely, but at least to some extent - because I have spent all my life, literally from childhood, bashing my head against a soft, crushing, unconquerable obsession of the modern West, which poisons Italy and has all but murdered Britain: I mean the heresy of dialogue. That is, the general idea that there is no problem on earth that cannot be solved, and no distance that cannot be filled, and no difference that cannot be reconciled, by sitting down and talking about it. That, of course, is nonsense; but all my life - and while not ancient, I am well into my middle age - the vast majority of the people I met clung to it as though it were their mother's breast, feeding them their mother's milk.

There is literally no way to convince most of them that there are limits to dialogue. They ignore decades of total failure in crisis after crisis, and seize one minor and partial success - I mean the unreconciled "reconciliation" in Northern Ireland - to convince themselves that dialogue is always and everywhere the answer. Of course, even in Northern Ireland, there is no peace; only the absence of high-profile violence. Cops are not shot any more, but the terrorists of both sides effectively patrol and control their communities, cut off from each other by ever-growing lengths of wall. I don't want to underrate the importance of no longer having open violence; but this is, at best, a half-successful piece of "dialogue", and does not deserve its iconic status.

However, international public opinion has made a fetish of it (international public opinion, after all, does not live in Northern Ireland and doesn't have to suffer the swagger and menace of the "militants" on their streets). All right; so Irish blood no longer flows - though Irish bones are frequently broken. That's an improvement. But when this lowering of the temperature of violence is internationally promoted as a triumph of "dialogue", when Britain aggressively markets itself as specialists in conflict resolution across the world on the strength of Northern Ireland, when the figurehead of the "peace process" in NI, Tony Blair, is made the international delegate to have peace in the Middle East - then one has to wonder who can possibly imagine that what barely works in the streets of Belfast can ever be relevant to the armed millions of the East Mediterranean. But because the heresy of "dialogue" seems - by deliberately adopting a mental squint that fails to see the thousand wrong things - to have once been validated, there is no limit to the credit that can be claimed on its strength.

But the heresy of dialogue is not disastrous every now and then or at random; it is disastrous inevitably, always, and by its own nature. There is a process that has taken place again and again but from which the dialogue-addicts never learn. When a conflict arises, the dialogue-addicts inevitably tend to favour the more violent, more brutal and more unscrupulous side. So in the thirties they favoured Hitler against France, in the sixties the Soviet Union against America, and now the Muslim world against Israel.

Why? Because it is in the nature of things. It is in the nature of things that Prime Minister Bullying-Bastard will always be willing to talk. He is friendly, hospitable, will listen for hours. ON the other hand, Prime Minister Threatened-Decency cannot pretend that he can offer the moon. He has to place limits on the concessions he is willing to make. And the result of this is inevitably that the dialogue-addicts remain impressed, even enchanted, by the friendly openness of Mr.Bullying-Bastard, and increasingly sadly disappointed by the intransigence of Mr.Threatened-Decency. Hitler's antechamber positively swarmed with pacifists from every nation; even after he had conquered Poland and France, he was still talking peace, peace, peace at any cost. As for Joe Stalin, he positively took out the copyright on pacifism; every international pacifist association from the thirties onwards was a Soviet front. And our contemporary parallels! Why, how open to debate they are, how willing to talk, talk for hours at a time, any time of day and night! Nobody could possibly imagine that they have anything against dialogue. And they don't - since they expect dialogue to deliver everything they want, bit by bit. That is why "peace" must be a "process"; so that everything may be renegotiated over and over again, dead issues resurrected, impossible demands made over and over again with every appeareance of reasonableness. That is what "dialogue" is about.

What happened is quite simply this: that many Europeans, and an enormous majority of Britons, have become addicted to this opium. And because this drug only works one way, can only work one way, it always ends up allying the dialogue-addicts with the worst villains.
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So I happened to repeat an observation made several times before by many other people, and that is at any case not to be taken in total earnest (evidence for the existence of God can be sought in slightly more fundamental areas): that atheists with a taste for fine things are unlucky, because they have nobody to be grateful to for them. Suddenly a couple of atheists have me in a death grip all over my page, and, through a fog of misunderstandings, misexplainations, and one or two downright lies, they are trying to - I don't quite know, but do some damage to my statement one way or another. Folks, whether or not you are as bad at philosophy as I think you are, don't you think you ought to find more serious things (including, yes, more serious statements from me) to get intense about?
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- get every major economy in the world to indulge in an unprecedented debit-based spending spree.
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...reference for the statement that birth rates in Iran and Algeria are falling towards negative level. Only I can't remember who it was. Well, here is a report: http://www.prcdc.org/files/Fertility_Decline_Muslim.pdf
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But I might as well. The Olympics have some kind of quarter-century murderous tyranny drive. 1936, Berlin. 1968, Mexico City (with hundreds of students slaughtered on the main square for extra entertainment). 1980, Moscow. 2008, Beijing. And the Seoul Olympics were awarded before the military tyranny in South Korea was overthrown. And the 1972 Munich Olympics were stained by the blood of Jewish athletes and should have been abandoned. I was ten at the time and I was furious that they continued, and I haven't changed my mind since; only I did not realize then that this massacre of Jews took place within a few miles of Dachau concentration camp. The fact alone that Jews were once again butchered in Germany ought to have raised ugly echoes everywhere; the fact that this was only one Olympic after the Massacre Olympics of Mexico City made it even worse. But I am afraid that the Olympic movement and shame are two altogether separate and alien concepts.

I love sports. And other games have had their shameful moments - the World Cup was held in Fascist Italy in 1934, in Mexico City in 1970 two years after the Massacre Olympics, and in Jorge "20,000 desaparecidos" Videla's Argentina in 1978. But the Olympics seem especially reckless with their supposed moral authority.
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Why in God's name did I ever place my essay on JKR's religion on FA? Most of the responses I received have been appalling: those who did not insist that Christianity meant anything they wanted it to mean simply imagined that I was criticizing JKR for not holding it, on the supposition - which I explicitly denied dozens of times - that you cannot be a decent person without being Christian. God Almighty, the whole damned essay begins with me denying that Christian is a term of moral approval! Do these idiots even know how to read, or do they just play with letters like babies or monkeys?
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Anyone who thinks that I was too harsh about Jonah Goldberg's repulsive and politically motivated rewriting of my own country's history ought to read today's Thomas Sowell column, where it is taken entirely at its own valuation and highly recommended as summer reading for the children of conservatives. This unhistorical, culturally imperialistic propaganda, that distorts my country's and my continent's history in the service of provincial American concerns, is going to enter the bloodstream of a whole American party, If it has not already done so. This will increase further the mutual incomprehension between USA and Europe, because you cannot stand on your two hind legs and inform anyone who knows anything of continental history - France, Italy, Germany, etc. - that Nazism and Fascism were "left wing". This sort of rubbish, especially if spoken with the arrogance of Goldberg and Sowell, will increase European contempt for American viewpoints and culture. Do we really need this sort of trash further complicating our already difficult relationship, and all for the sake of a few Republican votes in the next election?
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The trouble with having a style is that you may produce something that looks finished and polished when it really is nothing of the kind. My attempt at an answer to [profile] elskuligr a few days back was one such thing; I was falling asleep on my feet as I wrote, and I managed to miss nearly every point of importance I wanted to make. But my unfortunate facility gave the piece a deceptive air of polish. A less generous opponent than [profile] elskuligr might well have asked me what I was really trying to prove, since it is not clear at all.

What I really should have said, then, is something like this. For the impact of Othello on reader and spectator, we do not need to know that Iago is a Spanish type. We do not need to know that Spain was England's enemy as Shakespeare wrote, that every Englishman regarded her as the great perturber of European peace (nor that the Spanish, with more justification, saw Elizabeth's England in the same light); that negative ethnic cliches about intrigue and poison were universally believed. We do not even need to know that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic (the evidence is overwhelming), that his admiration for Italian city states such as Venice was pretty nearly boundless, that he tended to shift on Spain alone the poisoner-intriguer ethnic cliche that other contemporaries tended to spread equally between Spain and Italy (think of Webster's hideous picture of Italy); not even, perhaps, that Turkey was regarded pretty much as what was left of the West looked at Hitler about 1940. We do not need to know any of those things, because Shakespeare has distilled from them all those elements that are universally relevant to human experience rather than merely local. We do not have to resurrect dead slanders against Italians or Spaniards to feel the full force of something like Iago: my God, how many underhanded, ambitious, resentful, destructive persons can be found in the average office, the average workplace? How many of us have seen a popular and admired person admit into his/her company someone wholly unworthy of it, and the ruinous results? We do not need to feel the terror of Turkey to understand that the fall of a personality as full, rounded, beautiful and bold as Othello is a catastrophe that diminishes us all: Shakespeare has brought out his excellence, not only in such magnificent language as "Put up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them!", nor even in the way he masters a violent riot merely by stepping in, but in the memorable romance with Desdemona - if such a woman, everyone understands, falls in love with such a man (and how eloquently he describes their falling in love, in the presence of all the great men in Venice!), he must be worth what he seems. In other words, the central experience afforded us by a great drama such as Othello does not depend on local associations: because it is rooted in universal experiences, it can be understood pretty much across the board.
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My older friends will remember the long war I had with a previous generation of FA moderators. Now I have lost my temper again, spectacularly and on their threads, and I suspect that it will make trouble.

I just read a chaptered fic (you will understand that I have no intention to increase the author's hit count, so we'll forget the name and title) which contains the following passage (behind lj-cut):
Read more... )

I found this not only offensive but a genuine instance of hate speech, including evident racist overtones (apparently being "middle eastern" is bad) and a loathsome misrepresentation of historical fact. I let the author know in the comments thread, and added a warning against this fic in the thread where I had originally found the link. Now it all depends on whether the moderators think this is, a), flaming, and, b), not justified by the evident and contemptible hate speech in the fic. Either way, I really do not think I intend to retract a single word.
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One of the most infuriating features in current conservative Read more... )
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I see. They like it because it makes mass murder and cannibalism entertaining. Well, as a historian, I have had enough of that in my subject, and I must say that I do not see the fun in it. Hollywood, however, does, ever since The Silence of the Lambs and Fried Green Tomatoes. But then, an industry that relies on the regular destruction of its own personnel may not have any trouble with cannibalism. I wonder - has anyone ever checked the ingredients in Hollywood restaurants and caterers?
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Everyone, by now, has read and digested [personal profile] charlottelennox' tremendous account of debased fandom politics and arrivisme. To me, the tale has had an ugly and personal echo. I feel vindicated, but dirty - the kind of vindication one would be happier without, because of the demeaning nature of the whole. These are people with whom I have been at war for years. When I remarked that "FA mods are still lying daughters-of-bitches", that remark went around the fandom, with the suggestion that this was a classic example of my bad behaviour or near mental illness. Well, those mods were the same, beginning with [community profile] heidi8 who distinguished themselves in Charitygate, universally regarded as the lowest point in the history of fandom. The role of [profile] msscribe in this particular episode was not central: the leading spirit, from first to last, was Heidi, and all the worst trolls were people who either belonged to her clique or aimed to.

In front of this sort of evidence, it might at least be admitted that, whatever one might want to think of my manners, I had made the right enemies. But that is not what happened. Instead, the moderator in charge of the discussion banned me from the community, while allowing all sort of scum to make insulting remarks about me. The excuse for this, if you please, was that the thread was not about me. Not about me, you see, but certainly about insulting and defaming me.

A couple of words about this moderator. The first thing I found out about her is that she is a member of Asatru. And Asatru is a neo-pagan community that spends half its time denying persistent rumours that they are neo-Nazi or at least racists. Well, perhaps they are not. All I can say is that I would rather have a Nazi for an enemy than for a friend; and that I would rather have a neo-pagan for an enemy than for a friend. They may not be Nazis. But I am familiar with Fascist and Nazi circles, and, by some inconceivable fatality, they do seem to be simply full of neo-pagan types.

And that is not the only thing about this person that I find politically repulsive. At the same time as she cultivates this entirely non-Nazi cult, she has also taken her name from one of Berthold Brecht's vilest pieces of Communist propaganda: Pirate Jenny, an odious fantasy of revenge and massacre on the evil hated Bourgeois. So we take it that she is not a Nazi, and we take it that she is not a Communist either. We reassure ourselves that she does not cultivate, even in jest, the memory of the two worst murder cults in recent history.

People like her, her arbitrary behaviour, her fondness for insult and persecution, her all too evident vindictiveness, are evidence that some sections of the fandom have learned precisely nothing from the whole appalling series of revelations. To the likes of Pirate Jenny, what [personal profile] charlottelennox' revelations have provided is nothing more than another target for persecution. No doubt, [profile] msscribe will now see her name become mud in everyone's eyes; and I cannot say that she does not deserve it. But as for looking at one's own attitudes; as for trying to spread some peace in the fandom instead of indulging in the endless game of selecting targets for slander and hatred; Pirate Jenny and her accomplices do not even come close to conceiving of any such thing. After all, fandom is about persecuting people.
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History as we were taught it… and history as it was. (First article.)

I decided to start this series because the kind of “history” they teach in schools – and, alas, increasingly, in universities – is to a very large extent not even the fragile interpretation of scholars, but the detritus of ancient propaganda, kept alive by intellectual laziness, sentimentality and political self-interest. I am sick and tired of the trash I hear passing for history in common debate, of the unchallenged assumptions that are as false as a three-pound banknote, and most especially of the blackmailing sentimentality that often lies at their back. In my own space, at least – which is what this blog is – I would like to set up an alternative perspective. Here, for a start, let me deal with the mountain of misconceptions, learned at school and kept alive by all sorts of popular culture – including even genuine masterpieces such as David Olney’s song 1917 – about the First World War; for, in a sense – especially because the War led to a more central event for the evolution of our culture, the Russian Civil War – these misconceptions and ingrained lies have a direct effect on the management of politics in our day.

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Once upon a time there was a little guy. And the guy published a little publication. And nobody much noticed the little publication.

One day the little guy made some remarks that annoyed some people who regarded themselves as big guys. The big guys started to make quite a big noise; after all, they were big guys and their ego did not allow them to be pinpricked by a little guy. The noise spread, and people who would never otherwise have, got to hear of the little guy.

Among the big guys was a wise little guy. The wise little guy started thinking about what he saw. And when he had done enough thinking, he went around the big guys and said to them: "you're not getting anywhere with this little guy."

So they began to ask him: "Do you have a better way?"

And the wise little guy answered: "I think I do."

And a great silence fell. And the little guy who had caused all the noise went back to his obscurity, untroubled by anyone.

And the moral of the fable is: big noise, big stupidity.
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I just had a look at a few new fics on FA. I thought that the bloody site at least took grammar and spelling seriously. I will not mention the writers or the stories, but there were at least two that would have got a second-year schoolchild a fail mark for the sheer abundance of misspellings. I could not believe my eyes. And I used to get stuff returned for a misplaced comma.


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