Saturday, 29 October 2011

What I Saw At Occupy Melbourne, Part 1

In rough chronological order:

A line of relaxed-looking cops in front of the State Library entrance, apparently in case the protesters decided to go in and read.

A man with a blackboard placard, which he erased and re-wrote several times over the course of the march.  His first sign: Evolution is the Solution for this Revolution!

Guy with a red leather jacket arguing that the Labor government obscures class struggle by preaching nationalism.  His friends nod at intervals.

Socialist Alliance people laying banners on the grass, but the wind keeps blowing them away.  Eventually they find pegs from somewhere.

A woman sitting in the shade, sketching a full-lipped female face on the back of a leaflet.  The wind blows it away a few metres, but she doesn't move to pick it up.

Four horseback cops (horse cops?) waiting in a line.  The horses have plastic head-plates, presumably the equine equivalent of riot gear.  They look hard to see through.

A huge van next to the horse cops - is it for horses or protesters?

The cops have an anti-speeding demonstration up at City Square (where Occupy Melbourne camped out before their eviction). Very clever: it makes the cops seem like they're putting the square to better use, and makes any attempt at re-occupation an asshole move.  Cry from the crowd: show us your permit!

The anti-speeding demo is totally deserted.  The few women working at the booths huddle and chat about the passing protesters.


I sort of wonder about passing out pamphlets for political parties during the march - which Socialist Alternative did constantly.  It seems like an attempt to co-opt the movement, but then again I suppose that's the point.  Everyone's co-opting the movement, including me.  That's the point.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Occupy Melbourne

I've written a couple of articles about Occupy Melbourne for my other writing gig, and I thought what the hell, plenty of you anarchist blogonauts out there might be interested, so here:

They're a little out of date, though - people were kicked out of City Square by the cops, circled around the city for a bit, and now it looks like they're ending up at Treasury Gardens.  What will be interesting is Melbourne mayor Robert Doyle's response, since he may well have given orders to automatically evict the protesters wherever they end up. Whatever the outcome, it's certainly not over yet, and I look forward to seeing what happens in the next few days.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Of Tone Trolls and Courtiers

From Ivan at fromwinetowater, who articulates something I've felt for quite some time.

Dawkins and his cronies love to bring out the Courtier’s Reply (if you are unfamiliar with it, you can familiarize yourself here, here, here, and here) at this point. It has plenty of good uses, but it also has limits .. if one is arguing that given the suffering in the world, there cannot be a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then one must address the particular points of particular theologies ... one cannot pick parts of a theology to attack without listening to the parts of the selfsame theology which answer the attack.

A deep suspicion of the Courtier's Reply and of 'tone trolling' is very common in atheist circles, for good reason.  There are plenty of courtiers and tone trolls around.  However, these arguments should be treated very carefully, since it's very easy to attack a believer on theological grounds and then dismiss their theological response as a Courtier's Reply.  It's very easy for an atheist discussion space (the comments on Pharyngula, for example) to descend into insults and invective, with any movement towards civility - or accuracy, according to the excellent Daniel Fincke - branded as tone trolling and ignored.

Any argument that dismisses the substance of what somebody's saying is a dangerous argument.  This includes picking out 'logical fallacies', as well.  If somebody says that Christ taught love and therefore Falwell/Hitler/Bush wasn't a proper Christian, shouting 'No True Scotsman!' isn't going to be very helpful in working out what they mean by Christianity.

When The System Finally Falls

This track, Common Market's Every Last One, is an obvious crowd-pleaser.  The repeated chorus - "every last one of us!" - sounds on paper to be a little long, but the rhythm is simple enough to make it easy to sing.  There's two anapaests there: every last one of us.  Splitting it into three iambs or trochees would have been confusing; people would trip over their tongues at live shows.

RA Scion's flow is very competent.  Sometimes he's a fraction behind the beat, and something about his voice isn't as crisp - after all, he's no Geologic - but he's very good.  It's funny, actually: Geologic is a little too muted sometimes, too chilled out, while RA Scion isn't relaxed enough.  His lyrics are wonderfully idealistic:

We 'bout to change the mentality
Of old world savagery into a new reality
One where teachers and lawyers will trade salaries
And liquor stores are razed to make way for art galleries

And, on occasion, anarchistic:

When the system finally falls – who people gon' call on to show conduct?
Every Last One of Us!
When the new sun rises and we've all survived – who knows it's not just luck?
Every Last One of Us!
It's a kingdom that we gotta construct – who's ready to build from the ground up?
Every Last One of Us!

I'd go into detail about Sabzi's beat - melodic, airy, satisfyingly electronic - but honestly, I don't think he's ever produced a bad track.  In the Blue Scholars' Evening Chai he samples a conversation from the movie Three Kings (the one between Matt Damon and his haunted-eyed torturer - "what is the problem with Michael Jackson?") and it doesn't distract from the quality of the song.  "Michael Jackson is pop king of sick fucking country", we hear, and we think yes. Now it all fits.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Gnu Anarchists

I've said it before and I'll say it again: any anarchism-sanctioned utopia would be an oxymoron.  To quote Sartwell in Against the State, anarchists want to let people go and see what happens.  But what use is anarchism, then?  What's the point of a religion without a heaven?  Well, like I said, it

1. Sets out the problem with traditional justifications for state power
2. Outlines a path to minarchism

and, most importantly,

3. Helps us to avoid coercion in our personal lives.

For a good example of 3, check out Jack Crow's sidebar about how he hates the English language's use of possessive words to indicate association (my wife, my kids, etc).For an exceptional example of 1, check out Prof. Coldheart's comment from ages ago:

My ultimate point: we are already living in anarchy. We are already living in the world that you predict anarchy would turn into - a world where the biggest gang has grabbed all the guns and cowed everyone they can't shoot. That's the state of affairs right now. Anarchism, as a philosophy, simply exposes that. Anarchism states that the idea of Power Subservient to Justice - a/k/a, a benevolent State - is a myth.

On this view, anarchism is of similar practical use to atheism: neither provide much in the way of positive instruction, but both are very good at puncturing delusions.  Another parallel: think of a-theists as similar to anarchists like the good IOZ, living in a State-dominated world but believing none of it, and anti-theists as more revolution-oriented anarchists.  

We ought to call those folk the New Anarchists, probably - although the first anarchist theorists were revolutionaries, well before them came the peasant, groaning under his burden, who decided that maybe the king wasn't quite the divine leader he was cracked up to be.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Never Trust A Junkie

A few days ago a man approached me late at night, neatly dressed in a jacket and jeans.  I nodded to him, said hi, thinking that he might need directions somewhere.

"Hey mate," he said, open and friendly.  "How's it going?"

I asked what I could do for him, smiling back.

"Couldn't spare a cigarette, could you?"  He looked up at me with the trusting eyes of a child.

I told him I didn't smoke, sorry.

"Oh come on, mate.  Don't be like that."  Still friendly.  When I shook my head and walked away, he called out. "Hey!  Don't fucking walk away from me, you smug fuck!"  I kept walking, hoping he wouldn't come after me, closing my hand around the key in my pocket.  He didn't.

His friendliness was the easy friendliness of an addict, and it turned to rage very quickly.  What must it be like, being on a chain like that, forced to make nice to passers-by in the hope that they might deign to give you some relief?  I'd be angry too.  And finally - perhaps most importantly - I'm a tall, fairly fit guy.  A woman in the same situation would have felt more threatened than me, and with more reason.  How many people have I scared, just by walking nearby on a deserted street?  I don't know.  I can afford not to notice.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Poems I Like #3: This Be The Verse

By Philip Larkin
They fuck you up, your mum and dad. 
They may not mean to, but they do. 
They fill you with the faults they had 
And add some extra, just for you. 

But they were fucked up in their turn 
By fools in old-style hats and coats, 
Who half the time were soppy-stern 
And half at one another's throats. 

Man hands on misery to man. 
It deepens like a coastal shelf. 
Get out as early as you can, 
And don't have any kids yourself.

Philip Larkin’s verse is accessible. Iambic tetrameter – da dum da dum da dum da dum – is probably the most ‘natural’ metrical form. It’s found in ballads, nursery rhymes, and usually comes up whenever people try to ‘write poetry’. The words used are very simple, too: I count three adjectives in the whole poem, and the only three-syllable words, ‘misery’ and ‘another’, are very workmanlike. Unlike Dirge Without Music and Ulysses, there’s no flowery language or attempt to dazzle the reader. It’s just a stark message, intended to inform rather than impress.

From the first line – they fuck you up, your mum and dad – we get a sense of the voice of this poem. It’s workmanlike and blunt, not afraid to use profanity, and the halting rhythm sounds very verbal. It could come from the end of a bar: an old man, crouched over his drink, growling advice to an amused young man. It corrects itself – they may not mean to – but doesn’t shy away from firm pronouncements. If not for the rhyme, this could very well be actual dialogue.

There’s no impressive poetic trickery, unless you count the regular caesura placement in the first verse or the repeated ‘f’ sound through the poem. The craft here is in the apparent simplicity of the wording, man hands on misery to man, for instance, and the beautiful imagery of coastal shelf. Unfortunately, the poem flags a little in the second verse – fools in old-style hats and coats is a round-about way of saying ‘older people’, and soppy-stern isn’t particularly evocative.

The last verse, though, is one of the most perfect stanzas written. The bitterness is palpable; at this point the old man would be gazing down into his glass. Get out as early as you can is a half-truth, but it’s spoken from a place where that’s the only half that matters.

Saturday, 1 October 2011