Tag: matt carr’s infernal machine

Fantasy Island

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I haven’t written anything on this site for a while now.  It’s actually rather difficult to know what to write when confronted with the astonishing spectacle of national self-destruction that is unfolding in front of our eyes.  Nowadays hardly a day passes without another  reminder that the UK has entered a new political dimension in which delusions of grandeur, magical thinking and ideological fantasy have replaced anything that we once thought had any connection to the real world.

These tendencies reach across the political spectrum.  You can find them in George Galloway, doing the full UKIP/Churchill thing on Arron Banks’s Westmonster website (sorry not linking to this) and reminding Europeans that WE saved them during WWII and that ‘If not for us not a single European politician would hold office anywhere unless as a Quisling collaborator of the German Reich.’  For the Churchillian war-child Galloway this means that ‘ when I hear a “Schnell” or an “Achtung” from the Junkers (sic) of this world I don’t consider it music in my ears.’

Let no one spoil this demagogic rant by telling Galloway that Jean-Claude Juncker comes from Luxembourg not Germany. He already knows that.  But for Galloway, anyone who has anything to do with the EU is close enough to Nazis to make no difference, and anyone who says otherwise, like Churchill’s opponents, belong to what he calls ‘the gang of appeasers and fifth columnists within the British elite.’

Such idiocy, as we have seen for some time now, is not confined to the fringes.  Take Boris Johnson’s latest fatuous suggestion comparing the border between  Northern Ireland and Ireland to a congestion zone between Westminster and Camden.  Never one to resist blowing his own trumpet, Johnson reminded Radio 4 listeners ‘ when I was mayor of London we anesthetically and invisibly took hundreds of millions of pounds from the accounts of people traveling between those two boroughs without any need for border checks.’

Many people have pointed out that it may not be so easy to ‘anesthetically and invisibly’ bypass Irish history or a conflict that cost 3,000 lives.  It’s a bleak testament to the current state of things that such points even need to be made, or that a self-aggrandising buffoon like Johnson has any influence on anything at all.  But his continued presence in the corridors of power is a symptom of a detachment from reality that only seems to grow wider as the Brexit process slouches incoherently  towards political Neverland.

For eighteen months the May government has been asking for things it cannot have, promising things it cannot deliver, bluffing, posturing, and pursuing things that cannot be achieved, even as its own impact assessments predict that the country will be worse off in every single Brexit scenario.   Yet when civil servants point out the potential damage that the country is likely to inflict on itself, they are dismissed as traitors, quislings, closet Eurocrats or members of the ‘pro-European elite’.

Humankind cannot bear very much reality, wrote TS Eliot, and Brexiters cannot bear any reality at all that conflicts with their fantasy of a global buccaneering Britain, freed of EU red tape and the unwanted immigrants that the country depends on, able to smoke in pubs as we surge toward a brave new world that we now know will not be a ‘Mad Max-style’ dystopia.

In fact a country that allows its politics to be driven by ideological fantasies and straw man constructs is likely to find itself inhabiting a reality that is more dystopian than its opposite, and the right aren’t the only dreamers in Brexittown.  On Monday, Jeremy Corbyn once again demonstrated that the left is no less prone to magical thinking than the Rees-Mogg/Nadine Dorries crowd.

Corbyn’s speech was hailed by his fans as a ‘ bold Brexit vision’, because his fan base will never say anything different about anything he says.  But despite – or perhaps because of – its attempt to be everything to everyone, his speech was littered with little reminders of why His Majesty’s Opposition have presented very little opposition whatsoever to the Brexit process,  and has largely fallen over itself in its desire to wave it through.

There was a leftwing version of the ‘£350 million for the NHS’ pledge in Corbyn’s promise to ‘use funds returned from Brussels after Brexit to invest in our public services and the jobs of the future, not tax cuts for the richest.’  While insisting that there should be ‘no scapegoating of migrants’, Corbyn once again promised that ‘Our immigration system will change and freedom of movement will as a statement of fact end when we leave the European Union.’

So migrants won’t be scapegoated, but freedom of movement – one of the great progressive achievements of the European Union – will end  in order ‘ To stop employers being able to import cheap agency labour to undercut existing pay and conditions’.

When Corbyn last mentioned this ‘importation’, it was in relation to the construction industry, which has a skills shortage and where wages are actually rising.   But Corbyn clearly believes that immigration is a ‘bosses club’ ploy and in Brexit Britain believing is everything.   Corbyn won’t accept a ‘ deal that left Britain as a passive recipient of rules decided elsewhere by others’ even though the EU has made it quite clear that it will not accept cherry-picking deals that allow the UK to continue to enjoy a privileged position without any obligations.   Then there is this:

‘There will be some who will tell you that Brexit is a disaster for this country and some who will tell you that Brexit will create a land of milk and honey. The truth is more down to earth and it’s in our hands. Brexit is what we make of it together, the priorities and choices we make in the negotiations.’

Not really.  Because whatever priorities and choices we decide upon, the UK is negotiating within a very limited set of parameters and is almost certain to find itself worse-off than it was before, no matter what is ultimately decided.  The tragedy is that neither the government nor the opposition want to admit this. Mesmerised by their own narrow party or personal interests, wide-eyed and prostrate before ‘the will of the people’, they offer fantasies and pipedreams and demand the impossible in an attempt to square circles that cannot be connected.

Sooner or later the consequences of this political cowardice and dereliction of duty will become impossible to ignore, and when that happens things may get even uglier than many of us imagine.  Because there are historic mistakes that cannot easily be undone, and Brexit is one of them.

For now, it seems, the millions of us who are unwilling passengers on this runaway train can merely sit while it heads towards the buffers, hostages to a political nightmare that we seem incapable of waking up from, shouting out warnings that those who are driving this process seem unable or unwilling to hear, and from the point of view of a writer – and a citizen – that is not a comfortable position to be in at all.

The above article was written by Matt Carr and originally published on his excellent blog, Matt Carr’s Infernal Machine at:

http://www.infernalmachine.co.uk/fantasy-island/

 

Useless Mouths

Years before moving towards explicit racial genocide, the Nazis developed the notion of ‘useless mouths’ or ‘life unworthy of life’ to justify its ‘involuntary euthanasia’ program. Theorists argued that certain categories of people were nothing but a burden on society and therefore had no ‘right’ to life.   These ideas were a variant of nineteenth century ‘Social Darwinism’ and eugenicist theories, which adapted Darwin’s notion of the survival of the fittest to describe relationships within society or between nations and races as a perpetual evolutionary struggle in which the supposedly weaker or defective elements were weeded out by the strongest and the ‘fittest’ by natural selection.

Of course there was nothing ‘natural’ about these ideas, or the malignant ways that the Nazis made use of them.   In Nazi ideology, the state killing of the disabled, the sick and the mentally-ill was the beginning of a conveyor belt that led to the wholesale extermination of the Jews and ‘inferior races’ Slavic races during World War II.

Nazism may have been a unique political evil, but the influence of Social Darwinism should remind us that not all of its ideas were entirely original, and that Nazi Germany was not the only country to categorize certain peoples according to strictly utilitarian notions of their perceived usefulness to society.

Consider our own government.  This week it was revealed that nearly 4,000 people died within weeks of being declared fit for work by the DWP.  This ought to be a cause of massive, sustained outrage and disgust, and should certainly be enough to bring down the minister responsible.   Instead Iain Duncan Smith – the sneering face of Tory cruelty –announced new plans to force disabled people into work. Why?  Because Duncan Smith wants ‘to ensure everyone has the opportunity to transform their lives by getting into work’ – even if that transformation only applies to the few days or weeks before they die.

The fact that these deaths have caused very little outcry is a disturbing indication of how low UK society and its political class have sunk these last years.   Quietly, effortlessly, and with very little opposition, Britain has become a society in which certain categories of people are regarded in practice if not in principle, as ‘useless mouths’ whose value to society is measured solely in terms of their perceived negative impact on ‘the taxpayer’.

The government, with the feeble cooperation of a supine opposition, with the help of its tabloid allies and the shameful depravity of TV companies engaging in poverty porn, has been able to characterize people receiving state benefitsas ‘scroungers’  and parasites, rather than people who need the same help from the state that current taxpayers may one day need themselves.

This ideological assault has been so successful that even providing state assistance to the sick and the disabled is regarded as an unnecessary and unfair burden on the taxpayer, and the ability to work is treated as the sole benchmark of social usefulness. Once you begin to accept these parameters, it becomes very easy to force sick people to work, even though their deaths make it clear that they were are so ill that they should not be working at all.

Now some of you ought there might still be naive or sentimental enough to fell a little revulsion at the notion that sick and terminally-ill people should be put through the stress of having to look for work, or losing their state support in the last weeks of their lives.  But you are not getting the point: in the view of this government only people who work have any social value and the state should not be obliged to support the ‘useless mouths’ who don’t work.  Come on now, it’s not rocket science.

I’m not suggesting that we are ruled by Nazis.  Our government doesn’t deliberately kill the people it regards as useless.   Most of the time it merely torments them, and creates a situation in which death becomes more likely.   But its fanatical obsession with measuring usefulness solely in terms of the perceived benefits to ‘the taxpayer’ has created a society in which suffering and death can be regarded with complete indifference and produce nothing more than a collective shrug of the shoulders and a weary shake of the head.

The same ideology also applies to the scroungers who call themselves refugees or asylum seekers, who the government regards as nothing more than ‘health tourists’ and another unjustified burden on ‘the taxpayer’.   That’s why we have just passed a law which will reduce ‘failed’ asylum seekers and their children to destitution and hunger even if they can’t return to their countries of origin.   It’s why the Home Office has declared Eritrea a safe country on the basis of a discredited report by the Danish government.  It’s why we have allowed less than 200 Syrian refugees into the country.

If you enforce restrictions like these, there is always the possibility that people will die trying to evade them.  Our government knew that last year, when it argued against search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean on the grounds that such operations would increase the ‘pull factors’ that brought migrants here.   The unspoken corollary of this argument is an acceptance of death and suffering as a necessary consequence of border enforcement and immigration restrictions.

If you believe, as the government has again and again invited the public to believe, that the men, women and children who are coming to Europe have no other objective or motivation except to take advantage of our ‘generous’ benefits system – another burden on the taxpayer – then it becomes possible to accept any level of death, pain and injury with a sense of tragic equanimity, as though such deaths were the result of a natural disaster or force majeur.

Of course, the government doesn’t want migrants to die.   But like the European Union and so many European governments, it has helped create a situation in which death is likely and almost certain to occur.  In order to justify this,  it has relentlessly dehumanized and caricatured stateless people to the point when they are regarded as ‘surplus people’ whose lives have less value or significance than ours and who somehow threaten us.

This summer we have seen enough unnecessary death to make us sick.  In the last two months eighteen people have died in Calais trying to ‘break into Britain’.   Only this week nearly 200 people drowned in the Mediterranean, some 50 of whom may have suffocated to death in the hold of the boat they were travelling on, and another  71 men, women and children have suffocated to death in the back of a lorry.

In the face of these horrors, the German government has called on European countries to accept quotas of refugees in response to the gravest refugee crisis since World War II.   The British government has not budged, and there is very little possibility that it will budge without serious domestic pressure.

That requires a transformation in the way that migration is perceived.  But for such a transformation to occur we need to reject the neo-liberal variant of Social Darwinism practiced by this government that is turning Britain into something cruel and monstrous, and remember that our society will be defined by the way we treat those who need our help, whether they come from inside our borders or beyond them.

The above article was originally posted on Matt Carr’s Infernal Machine