Tag Archives: choice

Light the blue touch paper 2016

cartwheel2016 has brought us Brexit and President elect Trump and a feeling that the wheel of fortune is turning; the world is changing. Already the Infosphere* is awash with explanations, ideas and remedies for these perceived disasters. I say perceived because we don’t yet know the actual trajectory events will take and where we will end up as a result of these votes. An energy of discontent and disillusionment has been building not just since the Bankers plunged the world into turmoil in 2008 but since the philosophy (if one can call it that) of an unrestrained free market capitalism skewed in favour of the rich took hold. The stored potential energy for change that has been building in the system discharged in 2016, converted into the kinetic energy of motion. The ball has started bouncing. Eventually it will run out of energy but the question is what will have happened in the interim?

So we wait like small children on bonfire night full of anticipation and trepidation as the blue touch paper slowly ignites. Hope and fear curling round each other in a finely balanced state of gleeful apprehension. Will the rocket take off and reward us with a glittering spectacle or will it topple over and screech across the garden sending us shrieking and running for safety (and kind of enjoying the danger and excitement of this out of control moment).

Like everyone else who takes even a passing interest in the affairs of the world quite a lot of articles about the how and why of Trump’s victory. I’ve listed a few at the bottom of this blog if anyone wants to go and check them out. I found there to be thoughtful and insightful analysis both from those on the left and right of the political spectrum about the events of 2016. The more I read, however, the more I realised that in my opinion they all missed one small but vital point. The ability of humans to tell stories. Each of these articles represent one person’s story about the events. We make stories because that is how we make sense of the world.

Humans are compulsive story tellers. It is our greatest strength and also our greatest weakness. I think that is the single most important genetic quirk that set us on the path to being different. My dog, clever and sagacious as he is, does not come home from his wander round the village and regale me with the story of his morning. We have been doing it for countless millennia. Our ability to tell stories is inseparably linked to the asking of questions like ‘what if’ and ‘why not’? Science is at its root the story of ‘what if’ questions and history well the name tells us what that is. We make our own individual story as we go through life, we map the world and experience into narrative and we speculate about the future through what if and why. So it is no surprise that all these commentators tell their story. Each of us has a story about 2016. Why we voted or didn’t vote, who we voted for, what we had for breakfast that day, the row with our neighbour over the dustbin, the happy feeling from someone complimenting us etc., etc. Gradually this narrative will solidify and become the history of 2016.

At the moment we’re all trying to guess what will happen and there are some scary scenarios that ty-newydd-etc-118acould well come to pass and justify any amount of anxiety. We are all ‘What iffing’ like mad. The future is uncertain because it is unknown and unknowable but that has always been the case – modern life merely gives us an illusion of security. We know this in our subconscious but our conscious mind wants a plan, wants a map through uncertain geographies. So we ‘normalise’ and therein lies our biggest threat to our species. We try to explain away or rationalise but with some things we mustn’t do that. It happened with fascism in the thirties and ended up in the second world war. We do not live in the thirties the challenges the world faces are very different and though the name fascist is applied to many on the far right this is not fascism as practised by Hitler or Mussolini or Franco. This is something different, less definite. It is born out of a system that is collapsing round our ears.

This desire to rationalise away the uncomfortable is why nothing will be done about the over exploitation of resources until disaster has occurred. Why people hope Trump will turn out to be a reasonable and enlightened President. Why Boris Johnson can say if we don’t sell arms to the Saudis someone else will. Why the Sun, Daily Mail and Express voice ever more vile sentiments about immigration and about the rule of law while politicians make feeble comments about the freedom of the press. It is why the far right deftly use the Overton principle to move humanity along the conveyor belt to the shredder.

ty-newydd-etc-120aOne of the constant questions I hear from my friends and kindred spirits is ‘how could the left have lost the hearts and minds of the dispossessed and disadvantaged to the point where they would support the very people and system that has brought them such misery. My answer? The story told by the left was complicated confusing and boring. Like one of those books where you have to keep going back to check who is who because the plot is unclear. The right on the other hand tell a rattling yarn.’Once upon a time our country was great…’ and so on and people remember the story. Well now we have to invent o new story. One that doesn’t normalise the worst aspects of the human psyche. One that celebrates co-operation and compassion as values to be cherished. Not politics not left or right but just people getting along and living together on a very small planet.

Fears discussed and addressed dissipate like mist when the sun breaks through. Fears closeted and suppressed canker and grow and are fed by those with their own agenda. Brexit happens, Trump happens Shit happens, etc., etc. We need to talk to each other. To admit that we all have a shadow line inside us even though we don’t like to admit it. It is there, those knee jerk reactions, the synaptic pathways laid down in our brains by repeated use. We need to make an effort not to normalise. To stand up against injustice even in the small everyday compass of our lives. Be open, be friendly why not? When a system is collapsing all bets are off and there is a chance this could lead to a much better future for humanity. There is a chance it could lead to another dark era for humanity. No sleepwalking allowed in interesting times otherwise in the words of Tom Leherer

“And we will all go together when we go.
What a comforting fact that is to know.
Universal bereavement,
An inspiring achievement,
Yes, we all will go together when we go.”

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

*Infosphere = the place where all communication happens – whether media, social media or just talking to each other.

These are some articles that resonated with me so no surprises that they are from the liberal left wing area of the Infosphere. There are several from the Guardian which these days is a toothless old dog but one of the few bits of the mainstream media that I still read.

http://charleseisenstein.net/hategriefandanewstory/

http://theconversation.com/trump-victory-comes-with-a-silver-lining-for-the-worlds-progressives-68523 (Yanis Varoufakis)

http://paulkingsnorth.net/2016/11/07/the-revolutionary-moment/

https://agentofhistory.com/ send your love to Donald Trump

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/commentisfree

Aditya Chakrabortty – Rust-belt romantics don’t get it: the middle class is being wiped out too

Owen Jones – A win for Trump was a win for bigotry. Here’s how we resist him

George Monbiot –Neoliberalism: the deep story that lies beneath Donald Trump’s triumph

Jaqueline Rose – Donald Trump’s victory is a disaster for modern masculinity

Suzanne Moore – So much has been broken by this election, but we can’t collapse in on ourselves

 

In Time of Breaking of Nations

Thomas Hardy’s poem was written in 1916 at the height of the Great War and just before  It seems very appropriate to use it as a title in the current circumstances of Brexit.

My Blog has been inactive now for over six months. Two reasons – firstly a complete though very positive upheaval in family circumstances meaning we now are immigrants in France. I refuse to be an Ex-pat. That to me is a word soaked in the dark heart of colonialism and empire and the fact that so many Britons living abroad use that term to describe themselves is probably a clue to the result on 23rd June.

The other reason is that sometimes it is just difficult to find words for how you feel. A feeble excuse and not what a writer should say? The truth is when I wrote my last blog entry ‘Whispering in a Hurricane’ I felt an overwhelming sense of  being a helpless spectator watching a catastrophe unfold but powerless to prevent or stop it.

I cannot in truth determine whether we stand at on the threshold of an unimaginably better or worse world. Our current global capitalist oligarchies are heading toward collapse through overexploitation, climate change and the ever widening gulf of inequality between have and have not. Could Brexit be the act that collapses it quickly before more damage is done and allows a new socially just, non-growth orientated sustainable civilisation to emerge?  Maybe, though on past performance I don’t hold out much hope. I was born at the end of the second world war. I grew up in a society that seemed to have changed irrevocably for the better. Health care, education, decent jobs and homes and not least the shared consensus that the weak and vulnerable needed protection and help. That has vanished. It lasted for about thirty five years which in hindsight was probably remarkable. The subsequent thirty five years have been marked by how remarkably easy it has been to undo all those gains for the ordinary average person.

On Friday when I felt quite desperately depressed and wanted to weep for shame at the sight of Farage triumphant I decided to retreat from the madness and read poetry. I had no particular poem or poet in mind but I turned to Yeats and the book almost of itself opened at the Stare’s nest by my window, a poem which I think speaks even more evocatively than Hardy’s about what it feels like to live in deeply troubling and uncertain times.
starling

The Stare’s Nest by My Window

The bees build in the crevices
Of loosening masonry, and there
The mother birds bring grubs and flies.
My wall is loosening; honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We are closed in, and the key is turned
On our uncertainty; somewhere
A man is killed, or a house burned.
Yet no clear fact to be discerned:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

A barricade of stone or of wood;
Some fourteen days of civil war:
Last night they trundled down the road
That dead young soldier in his blood:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare,
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love; O honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

Whispering in a hurricane

I haven’t been very active on my blog – nothing since August. Over the past few months from time to time I’ve been tempted to put finger to keyboard and post in response to the various events that have spiked above the median level of my disaffection with the current state of our so called democratic society and it’s drift towards Inverted Totalitarianism. (The name coined by by Sheldon Wolin to describe the place to where it seems we are unerringly headed. A place where you absolutely do not want to be – a dystopian future that promises to combine the worst of 1984 and Brave New World.)

I haven’t been short of material. The refugee crisis and Britain’s disgusting response. The misinformation and sniping that accompanied Corbyn’s unexpected victory in the Labour party leadership contest. Nuclear deals with China, TTIP and other madness. Our purblind response to the accelerating degradation of the planet and its natural resources. The yet more austerity imposed on us by Cameron and Osborne, men who readily understand that The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.”*

But each time I’ve sat down I’ve been overcome by the vision that all I’m doing is whispering in a hurricane. After all what can I add that others have not already said much better and more persuasively. Whose reach and audience is so much greater than mine. And I’ve deleted my words and posted a picture of a cat playing the piano on FB instead. I’d almost come to think that words were simply part of the problem and the solution might be to forget prose in favour of doing. Providing help to desperate refugees, marching to protest against the degradation of the environment or closer to home putting food in food banks for the hungry, etc. – pick your cause and get going.

Now the terrible bombings in Lebanon (hardly reported by our mainstream media) followed by Friday’s events in Paris have prodded me into writing this. It still seems like whispering in a hurricane but I came to the conclusion that the volume and reach of what one says is less important than the fact that one says it. No words can adequately describe the horror of bombing unsuspecting people who are going about the daily business of their lives (and by extension our lives). I lived in London at the height of the IRA bombing campaign. It had the same purpose of shock and horror. The idea of turning the inhabitants of Britain against the Irish who lived among them, their neighbours and work mates. Isolation and division. It didn’t work then because the strands between Britain and Ireland are old and deep and although there was some anti Irish sentiment in the immediate aftermath of each atrocity by and large it faded quickly.

Most of us live in the comfortable middle ground between secular and spiritual, good and evil, eschewing extremes and rubbing along with each other as best we can. The extremists call it the grey zone because it does not belong in their world of absolutes, of black versus white. Daesh want to destroy the grey zone. Daesh – I prefer that term to ISIS or the Caliphate or any other name they choose because it is an Arabic word meaning ‘a group of bigots who impose their will on others’ which perfectly sums up not only Daesh but every other extremist movement in history. They want only polarised extremes not the colourful, chaotic, holistic, tolerant centre where humanity flourishes. Unlike other extremists such as the the UDF and the IRA they won’t sit down and carve up the territory once they’ve removed all the moderates from the equation. What can you say to a man who tells you he prefers obeying God rather than men, and that as a result he’s certain he’ll go to heaven if he cuts your throat?” *

Before we get too complacent we should remember that it isn’t so long ago that we had religious intolerance, bigotry and hatred of that dimension in Europe. The religious conflicts that tore through Europe between 1520 and 1650 were on any interpretation bloody and brutal; every bit as appalling as anything Daesh are serving up in the so called Caliphate and elsewhere. Drawing parallels from history is always a risky business because history does not repeat itself – it would be too easy if it did – but we can look at what happened in the past and ask ourselves some searching questions.

The first must be, what is it about our way of life that makes it worth preserving? What is it that makes us sure that what Daesh stands for; the way it wants to shape society is wrong and abhorrent? The second must be, is the rhetoric of war is the right solution? If not then what is the right response? Each of us may answer these questions differently. I have no easy or complete answers. What is important is that we ask them and consider our answers to them. Then we should ask ourselves what consequences might flow from our action or non-action. Not just the ones we desire but all the ones that might occur.  What those responses say about us as people and about the sort of world we want to inhabit. 

It seems to me that extremism is born out of fear and hatred. Out of poverty and oppression and injustice. It is fed by ignorance. We created a vacuum with our ill judged war in Iraq and Daesh have filled it. Faced now with a force that clearly understands the value in war of shock and awe (videos of beheadings, mass killings) and who want to impose on us their world view rooted in the violent seventh century beginnings of the Muslim faith what should our response be? For me the answers to the questions I posed above lie in the essential difference between tolerance and humanity and their polar opposites. I don’t believe we should bomb Syria or put our troops on the ground there. We have already made enough of a mess in the middle east. That is the easy option that will lead only to Daesh recruiting more eager young people who want to be martyrs. I do think we should support the Kurds and the Iraqis and others who have no option but to fight Daesh because they are defending their homes and loved ones. Perhaps the only justification for war is the need for self defence in the face of an enemy who is hell bent on destroying you and everything you stand for.

In opposing the idea of ever increasing military action I am not saying we should wring our hands and do nothing. We can and should retaliate. Anonymous are taking down Jihadist twitter feeds through hacking. I may defend your right to free speech even though I dislike what you say but when you abuse your right and use it to incite hatred and violence I am entitled to exercise my right to stop you. We also need to cut off their supplies of money and arms. They trade in oil. How? We should concentrate on blocking that source of income rather than bombing Syria. We should above all welcome and help the victims of Daesh. The millions of desperate Syrians who are flooding across the borders into Europe. They are not the people we should be scared of. They are the people who we should help not only out of common humanity but also because they are our greatest allies against the threat posed by Daesh to all of us.

fuck daesh copyA friend of mine lives in the 11th arondissement not far from the Boulevard Voltaire. He took this picture and posted it on FB. A more wholesome and human reaction than that of media and politician’s calls to close borders and hate and blame ‘migrants’. One that neatly encapsulates why living in the ‘grey zone’ is the best place for humans.

Our politicians on the other hand seem hell bent on war. Those who aren’t are dubbed extremists. Why? Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.” *

The only way to comprehend what mathematicians mean by Infinity is to contemplate the extent of human stupidity.” *

* Voltaire – it seems appropriate to quote him after last Friday.

Aristotle, The Troika and Hubris

Democracy in chains (image © adeg 2009)

Aristotle defined hubris as shaming the victim, not because of anything that had happened to a person or might happen to a person, but merely for that person’s own gratification in the victim’s humiliation. In its modern usage, hubris denotes overconfident pride and arrogance.

The Troika (IMF, ECB and EC*) are guilty of it in both it’s ancient and modern meaning. Their intransigent stance has little or nothing to do with curing the long term problems that bedevil Greece (and Italy, Spain and Portugal) and much more to do with punishing the Greeks for daring to challenge the status quo. No-one with any modicum of intelligence (whatever else I think of them I acquit Merkel, Lagarde, Schäuble, Juncker and Draghi* of stupidity) can really believe that more austerity will do anything to solve the Greek crisis. Many well respected economists and even parts of the IMF itself are protesting ever more loudly at the absurdity and wrongness of continuing to administer poison to a dying patient but are resolutely ignored. The present situation has been brought about by the inequality of power and by the strong being unable to exercise restraint – being unable to resist pushing for that final total capitulation by the weak. Greece must be punished not because it will do them any good but to show them who rules. So the Greeks have been shown the naked power of the money and bankers.

Less than a month after being elected the Greek government was told in no uncertain terms that the will of its people as expressed at the ballot box was irrelevant. The Germans in the person of Schäuble indulged in some distasteful triumphalism; his comment “Being in government is a date with reality, and reality is often not as nice as a dream”, deserves to rank with “Let them eat cake”. The troika have not budged from this stance in all the months of negotiation.

Only a small fraction of the €240bn (£170bn) total bailout money received in 2010 and 2012 found its way into the government’s coffers to soften the blow of the 2008 financial crash and fund reform programmes. Most of the money went to the banks that lent Greece funds before the crash. Unlike most of Europe, which ran up large budget deficits to protect pensioners and welfare recipients, Athens was then forced to dramatically reduce its deficit by squeezing pensions and cutting the minimum wage. In January the social crisis that resulted from the collapse of the Greek economy prompted them to elect a government pledged to end austerity. For the Greeks there really is no alternative. The ‘TINA’ so beloved of neoliberal proponents of austerity was turned on its head and the gloves came off.

The Troika continue to threaten Greece by saying voting ‘No’ means a euro exit (and by implication an EU exit). That is blatant interference in the democratic process. Whatever the outcome of the present crisis whether Greece votes Yes and capitulates or whether it votes No and marches into the unknown is almost irrelevant against the fact that the leaders of Europe in conjunction with the IMF have destroyed its raison d’etre. In the aftermath of the Twentieth Century’s two wars that had wrenched Europe apart and led to untold misery for millions, leaders who were a diverse group but who held the same ideals: a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe, came together to lay the foundations of the European Union in the Treaty of Rome. The ideal of a Europe that created prosperity and stability for all its citizens has been subsumed to the demands of the market.

‘The Market’ and ‘Market Forces’ have come to be invested with the kind of superstitious reverence and belief in their omnipotent capability to solve and rule every aspect of life. This bears much more resemblance to Cargo Cults (the belief that various ritualistic acts will lead to a bestowing of material wealth) than any model of society based on enlightened, humane and consensual (democratic) beliefs. If we are indeed a union then the stronger economies should support the weak (as has always happened within Nation States where governments direct support to poorer areas for example in the UK extra development funds to the North East of England or the Welsh Valleys; though sadly I fear this may also be in danger from austerity fever). What we seem to be witnessing in 2015 is the opposite; the main beneficiaries of the wealth created by Europe pointing the finger of blame at the poor. Malthus* is alive and well and holds the consciences of our leaders in his grasp.

That said I believe the true crisis here is one of democracy not economics. Neoliberal ideology could not let a left wing government demonstrate a viable alternative to the social engineering of society through austerity. In Britain we start from a stronger base but we are the subject of the same wrenching apart of society through ever widening inequality and Malthusian attitudes to the ‘poor’. British exit from EU will not solve our problems but it might just solve Greece’s. There will be a lot of pain but at least there will be some hope of a better and fairer society whereas there is none on offer from the present zeitgeist of Europe. Not what I hoped when I voted enthusiastically for Britain to join Europe – betrayed is the word that sums up my attitude to EU now. How many hundreds of thousands of Europe’s citizens are, like me, sitting in their homes reading about or watching to the unfolding crisis and wondering how the ideals and the vision of those who founded the European project have been so fundamentally betrayed.

The events of this last week would on the surface seem to make Britain’s exit from Europe more likely but no doubt even if the British people were to express the desire to leave the Union their votes would count for nothing if multi national corporations, bankers and billionaire manipulators of politicians want us to remain in the EU. Freedom and democracy are linked as if the one predicates the other; as if freedom implies democracy and vice versa. The generally accepted definition of democracy up to now has been Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.” That is rapidly becoming the big lie of the twenty first century. The forms are preserved but the freedom to choose is ever more limited. How ironic that the nation credited with the invention of the democratic ideal is the one where its funeral rites are being held. Where the panegyric delivered by Merkel et al in praise of democracy trumpets this ideal as Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives except where this conflicts with the interests of banks and multi-national corporations.”

*International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission
*Agela Merkel German Chancellor, Christine Lagarde head of IMF, Wolfgang Schäuble German Finance Minister, Jean Claude Junker head of the EC and Mario Draghi head of ECB)
*Malthus – Thomas Robert Malthus (1766 – 1834) Malthus developed the theory of demand-supply mismatches that he called gluts. Discounted at the time, this theory foreshadowed later works of an admirer, John Maynard Keynes. He is however best remembered for the views expressed in his 1798 essay on population “That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and, that the superior power of population is repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence, by misery and vice.” In it’s most extreme form – being kind to the poor is cruelty and it’s their own fault they are poor so only harshness will prompt them to work to lift themselves out of poverty.

Austerity, Capitalism and Collateral Damage

A follow up to my last week’s blog on the autumn statement and a further exploration of what is wrong with the policies of austerity being so relentlessly pursued by the British Government.

The report from the Office for Budget Responsibility, Britain’s the tax and spending watchdog stated that low wages force Britain to spend £900m more on tax credits than planned.   A simple and compelling illustration of why austerity does not build prosperity.  The greatest growth in poverty has been among those in work, so how can the Chancellor delude himself that people who need tax credits to bridge the gap between wages and what it actually costs to live on or about the breadline are going to generate consumer spending of the sort needed to fuel a recovery.   The simple answer of course is that the Chancellor is not deluded and is perfectly aware of the consequences of the policies this government is pursuing. The low paid and unemployed are collateral damage in the vision of the new world order of unrestrained capitalism where wealth is concentrated into the hands of the few at the expense of the many.

The ugly truth is that free market capitalism requires boom and bust – shaking the tree dislodges those with a precarious hold on wealth and prosperity and frees assets to be acquired at knockdown prices by those with liquidity.

The haves buy up repossessed properties and rent them back to those who because they lost their jobs failed to pay their mortgages but who still need somewhere to live.  Those with spare capital can buy repossessed properties cheaply.   Buy to let mortgages are easy to obtain for landlords who already have a portfolio of properties so they can grow their assets with relative ease.   The State will pay housing benefit for rent although it is parsimonious in the extreme in helping those in trouble with their mortgage payments.
My Aunt taught in Glasgow in the poorest of areas in the 1930’s and the hunger and destitution she saw stayed with her for life.  She taught children who shivered barefoot to school through the snow with no food in their bellies.  It made her an ardent socialist who wanted a just world where no children were denied a hot meal, a warm coat and boots, not much to ask you’d think but it was then.  People died of hunger and from treatable illnesses because they couldn’t pay for a doctor.  My partner’s mother had rickets from malnutrition as a child because her father had no work in the great depression and no money for food.

Our parents’ generation grew up in hard and bitter times and survived the pain and the loss and destruction of the Second World War and were determined to build a better future for the generations that came after them.  Free health care so that people like the sister of Harry Leslie Smith, a 91-year-old RAF veteran born into an impoverished mining family, do not die untreated in a workhouse at the age of ten because their family cannot pay for medicines.  He spoke vividly and movingly at the Labour party conference this autumn about his experience as a child he said

“Wages were low, rents were high and there was little or no job protection as a result of a post war recession that had gutted Britain’s industrial heartland. When the Great Depression struck Britain in the 1930s, it turned our cities and towns into a charnel house for the working class, because they had no economic reserves left to withstand prolonged joblessness and the ruling class believed that benefits led to fecklessness.”

This sounds a chilling echo in what we hear today about the culture of workshy families and benefit fraud, about immigrants and poverty  being your own fault and other such myths and in the cuts the Chancellor proposes that the Institute for Fiscal Studies say would mean cutting the size of the state to pre-war 30s levels.   All the gains our parents thought they had made towards a fair, just and equitable society that looked after the poor, the old and the vulnerable are being taken away from us and we seem powerless or paralysed in our attempts to stop it.

Voices like Harry Smith are vital because the generation that remember the 1920’s and 30’s are dying out. Soon there will be no first hand witness testimony to these times. Like the First World War where the last few surviving servicemen have recently died it is passing from living memory into history and history we all know is a fairground hall of mirrors in which the present distorts the past to serve its current needs and purpose.

We have  a simple choice,  each of us as an individual needs to ask the question- ‘what sort of world do I want to live in, want my children and their children to live in?’ – If the answer is that you want a fair and just world where they can be healthy and prosperous not hungry and desperate then I have to I open my eyes to the reality of what is being taken away and  stand up and say ‘enough no more!’

Society and government are the ties that bind us and we need to protect the poor and vulnerable not vilify them and pretend it is their own fault they need help.

Language and Rights

I want to continue the theme of last week’s blog about language and the meaning of words but in a much more specific context.  I have been worrying about the way in which despite the use of words that imply we have ever more freedoms and choice we are in fact losing rights and being ever more curtailed in our freedoms.   We encounter assertions of rights as we encounter sounds: persistently and in great variety.

Wesley Hohfeld died at 40, he was Professor of Law at Harvard and his published work consists of one slim book with a long title Fundamental Legal Conceptions as Applied in Judicial Reasoning.   This book was one of my study texts in my third year at university and it exercised a very profound influence on my thinking.

Hohfeld created a very precise analysis which distinguished between fundamental legal concepts and then identified the relationships between them.  His analysis of rights is a framework of elegance and simplicity revealing that most familiar rights, such as the right to free expression or the right of private property, have a complex internal structure. Such rights are ordered arrangements of basic components, much in the same way that most molecules are ordered arrangements of chemical elements.

Hohfeld identified four basic “elements” of Rights; Privileges, Claims, Powers and Immunities.  Each of these has a distinctive logical form, and the incidents fit together in characteristic ways to create complex “molecular” rights.  Each of the incidents—the privilege, claim, power, and immunity—can be a right when it occurs in isolation but each Right has an opposite and a correlative.  Hohfeld was primarily concerned with legal rights but his analysis extends equally well to moral and ethical questions.

That is probably more than enough Jurisprudence for anyone who is not a lawyer but I wanted to explain the background to my thinking that prompted this blog.

Most people who are not lawyers or philosophers would probably define ‘Right’ as meaning ‘what is just or fair’ but this is not the same as our modern subjective sense of ‘a Right’.   So why is this important?  Isn’t what we mean by ‘a Right’ clear enough for all practical purposes?  Well I would argue that it isn’t that each and every one of us needs to have a precise and clear understanding of what we mean when we talk of ‘rights.’

This is really a development of the point at which I ended last week’s blog; the way in which the language we speak limits us to the modes of perception already inherent in that language.  The form or label comes to be not merely a useful reference in a catalogue system but a limit and constraint on our thinking and we are vulnerable to other people shifting that meaning without our being aware of it.  Hohfeld identifies ‘Privilege’ as the type of right that is contained in the idea that I have NO DUTY NOT TO DO IT.  In other words there is no infringement of another’s rights in any sense in my painting my bedroom in black and red stripes or picking up a shell on the beach.  What is being steadily and in my opinion rapidly eroded is this type of right and it is going unnoticed in the white noise created by the multiplicity of assertions of rights and counter rights.

Now nobody is going to take away my ‘right’ to paint my bedroom but they are enacting legislation that will curtail and control the way I act in public.  I have no duty not to walk down the High Street wearing a hoodie but my privilege to do this may now be curtailed if it causes annoyance or nuisance, similarly if I stand outside the chip shop talking to a group of friends I may be the recipient of an order preventing me from doing this in future because it causes annoyance or nuisance.  These terms lack any legal precision and are so broad and generalized that they could be used to catch a vast range of everyday behaviours to an extent that may have serious implications for the rule of law.   These terms replace the previous test of anti-social behaviour namely behaving in a manner likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.  A far more restrictive test than annoyance or nuisance; under the new definition protesters, buskers, preachers, and young people just hanging out with friends could find themselves on the wrong side of the law.  These are laws which are capable of extraordinary abuse in the same way as the notorious ‘sus’ laws were and they will no doubt be applied equally inequitably.  I doubt very much whether anyone will hand me out an injunction for wearing a hoodie but if I was sixteen and black they might well.

What worries me is that people don’t recognise the infringement of perfectly acceptable rights that this entails.  Understanding the framework of rights and the way they build on and interlock with each other is key to preventing their erosion by stealth.