One bonobo's view of the world...and stuff.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I doubt you've even heard an Indian elephant break wind...

The word for today is:


This is a Pashto word refering to a unit of or basis for of solidarity, such as kinship, residence, occupation, ethnicity, nationality, etc. Sometimes it's transalated as 'tribe', but that's really an outsider interpretation with colonial overtones. (Irregular noun: We are a nation; You are a people; They are a tribe.) A qawm can cross tribal or ethnic boundaries and can is flexibly deliniated according to context, e.g. Our village vs those bastards in the next village; the villages in this valley vs those bastards over the hill; us Pashtuns vs those bastard Tajiks; All of us Afghans vs whatever bastard Americans/British/Russians/whoever is dumb enough to waltz into our country and reckon they can sort us out.1

Another way of looking at the concept of qawm is from the inside out, as the arena for competition between individuals. This idea has been taken up by anthropologsts - and especially by the NATO military wishing to get a handle on resistance insurgent organisations (Google 'qawm competion' for numerous examples).

From the anthropological view the idea of qawm gives a useful model of group and identity formation. The ties that bind are things like: exhange (people getting together to exchange goods, money, services, social obligations); opportunity for advancement through exchange; enforcement of power arrangements to enforce or protect advantage; solidarity arrangements to protect against competition or power; etc.

And so on to Marx2. I do keep trying to tell everyone that I'm not an Orthodox Marxist3. In fact I'm a pic'n'mix Revisionist. So you want get me dividing people rigidly into proletariat or bourgeoisie nor imagining the world as struggle to the death between the one and the other. I accept that many a self-styled Marxist regime has thought that way (or, at least, acted as though they did), but it wasn't what Marx was on about. ('If all these people are Marxists, then I'm not'. It's a valid criticism, notwithstanding, that if only the man were capable of writing a coherent sentence then fewer people would have got hold of the wrong end of the stick.)

What Marx was on about was the way that economics is the driver for the organisation and progression of society. He concentrated on the conditions within 19thC industrialised nations, hence the qawms that he identified as most important were the proletariat - those who earn their living by selling their labour and the bourgeoisie - those who own the means of production and are hence able to extract surplus value from the workers. The bougeoisie are the normally held to be synonymous with Capitalists - but I find it's often necessary to draw a distinction between them and those those at the top of the heap who make their living by dealing in the abstracted, rarified, slippery meta-commodity of 'Capital'. or 'Kapital' Let's call these über bourgeoisie 'Financiers' or 'Bankers' or whatever.

(Hang on...Did I say 'qawms' somewhere back there? My bad. Marx called them 'Classes'.)

There is conflict within and between classes. Take the bourgeoisie. Unless they constantly strive to keep up with or undercut other businesses, they won't be able to pay back their loans and put food on their families' tables, so they are constantly forced to find ways to lower their cost base - and this will always, ultimately, be at the expense of the workers. Automation. Lower Ts&Cs. Outsourcing to China. (In Marxist jargon, they're 'maximising their extraction of Surplus Value'). And thus, obviously, we have competition - conflict, even - between the proletariat bourgeoisis classes. Amongst workers we have competition which, in times of labour surplus at least, allows wages to be held in check - although if they're canny enough about it, workers can form solidal4 groups to curb excesses/ensure they get the best deal. Or, indeed, businesses can form corresponding associations, cartels, etc.

When it comes to bankers...well...the bourgeoisie tend to feel a class alignment there - they can't afford not to: they're dependent on finance - although various alements of competion apply, from shopping around for loans to the shares market etc. etc. When it comes to bankers...there's a nice, real-life contemporary example of competition in the current stooshie over bankers' bonuses. At the high end of the market, to where all the Capital has gravitated, to gain a competitive advantage, banks have to engage in risky, marginal trading. To secure the services of those best capable of doing this, they have to offer fuck off sums to entice people away from their competition. If they fail to attract the right people, their bank goes under instead of the other guys, busineses collapse, jobs are lost, mortgages are called in, etc. So it's fine to rail against banker's bonuses, but people should be aware that they're intrinsic to the system as a whole. Why not go for broke and oppose Capitalism as a whole?

Oops...I almost fell in to a trap there. While we're here, let's knock something on the head. 'Capitalism' isn't an evil plot by nasty Capitalists. It's not a system designed to do down the workers. It isn't even designed or consciously adopted at all. Capitalism just is5. People compete and exchange. Someone gains advantage. Society is developed and shaped. Some people gain, others lose out - but that's nothing personal. 'It's just business' All Marx was describing is what happens, with particular focus on the industrial phase of societies.

Back to qawms. What I've described so far is something of a 'vulgar Marxist' version whereby people are fiited into defined classes and the heel of the bourgeoisie is forever on the face of the proletariat. It's a particarly British mistake: 'Oh, Marxists are always on about Class, but that's all disappeared.' 6 Of's more complicated than that. 7

If we take the concept of qawm and apply it to Marxist notions of Class and Class Conflict, we perhaps can perhaps see them as somewhat more mutable. If the basis of group/qawm/class identity is competition within and between, the the boundaries will be defined differently dependending on context: different identities for different types or arenas of competition; boundaries shift over time as economic conditions change; etc. All of this explains (obvious) stuff like why employers and employees can unite in a common interest (one needs wages, the other workers); why men can be persuaded to fight in Capitalist wars (better to be on the winning side.)

Something else. Another species of Revisionist is the Eurocommunist. Antonio Gramsci's concept of 'Cultural Hegemony' holds that when powerful class comes to rule a divserse society, its ideas become the norm. Those economically dominant set the rules of play. Seems to me that qawm makes sense of a lot of the stuff about the way people adopt identities which aren't necessarily in their interests.

To my mind, Marx shouldn't be thought of as painting a picture of inevitable conflict. OK - there's a bit of that: he pointed out the worst-case solution whereby the contradictions of capitalism will lead to its inevitable (messy, destructive) collapse. And, yes, he had distinct apocalyptic tendencies - he was a revolutionary manqueé8 who was hideously bad at predicting the onset of revolution. But reall his big idea is that economics - and here we should remember that economics isn't just about money but all forms competition and exchange - is the motive principle of society.

Ideally I'd like to bring Darwin in here. Marx was an enormous admirer of Darwin, whose ideas he cited as an leading influence on Das Kapital. Now, it's been said that 'Economics and evolution are isomorphic'9. If you think about evolution by natural selection, its a matter of competition within an environment leading to speciation. Order arising from a messy, impersonal process. Clearly the parallel with qawm isn't exact here (but when have I ever been exact?) - for example we don't find organisms that are one species one minute and another the next. My point is that evolution - and qawm - and Marxist theory - share the idea that competition acts as an organising principle.

See also genetic algorithms, The Blind Watchmaker, etc. etc.

Arn'tcha glad I've discovered the html tag for superscripts?

1 Cor! While researching this, I came across something about The Only Jew In Afghanistan. See the last line. No facile comparisons, please, to The Only Gay In The Village. In Afghanistan...there are plenty.

2 My 'Alice's Restaurant' moment: "But I didn't come here to talk about that. I came here to talk about the draft...".

3I'll admit that part of my reason for constantly calling myself a Marxist is to wind people up. It's generally been a rod for my own back, though, 'cause so many people get the wrong idea and make assumptions based on very little knowledge of Marx. I shall stick to my guns, though: Marx has made more sense to me the more I've aged.

4 Yes, it is a word. I checked.

5 Here's another way in which I'm not an Orthodox Marxist, I guess. I'm not a revolutionary, at least to the extent that I don't think revolution will cause the overthrow of Capitalism (although it can achieve regime change and social reform). The best we can do put in place measures which steer economic forces one way or another to mitigate against the negative consequences of Capitalism and achieve desirable social outcomes. More wealth accumulation vs More redistribution, etc. etc.

6 "The Class War is over. The working class lost...and the government are charging reparations."

7 As it would be with Marx. He was the first post-modern philosopher, slippery as a well lubricated eel and fond of internal contridictions. Gotta admit, mind, this led to a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of trouble.

8 Unlike yours truly. I'm a revolutionary monkey.

9 That is, one learned person said it to me, but I've no idea who said it originally. If you google 'economics evolution isomorphic' it seems that quite a few people are interested in the general idea. I've a hunch that it might have been John van Neumann.

The Boys Are Back In Town

If you happen to be in London, run-don't-walk as fast as you can away from the RA where they have an exhibition of The Glasgow Boys school of painters. Myself, I'm only in London once every five years or so, but I caught it when it was at the Kelvingrove Museum.

Jaysus, but I fucking hate them. 'Round these parts they're meant to be wonderful and innovative and everything. Well...I'll admit that they were technically accomplished, but innovative they were not. In fact, they were a thoroughly reactionary school, churning out their sub-Millais, 'kaleyard' pictures of romantic peasants, as seen here. I mean...Fuck. Off. Some of them were inspired by the way Cezanne painted light. I'm sure it would be lovely to pick cabbages in the climate of Southern France, if cabbages grew there. But, sorry, now matter how hard you squint, Dumfries and Galloway ain't Provence. (It goes without saying that my objections are as much political as aesthetic).

And then we come to this one. There's a fuzzy line between 'The Glasgow Boys' and 'The Scottish Colourists'. Whatever. But anyone who's ever visited the Kelvingrove with me, and many who haven't, will be aware - will have been told forcefully - that this is my very least favourite painting of all time.* I loathe it with a passion. Jesus fucking wept - I'm allergic to pseudo-Celtic mythology at the best of times, but this is just taking the piss. No need, no need. 'Bringing home the Mistletoe', I ask you. And it's huge!

I really don't know what it is about these fellas and why they're held in such esteem. I guess there's an inevitable tendency for provincial cities to idolise their own, 'World Famous in Glasgow' etc. etc, and since these guys were working at a time when Glasgow was the Second City of Empire (and fifth largest city in Europe), maybe they made a dispproportionate splash simply by dint of Being There. Because - their technical prowess admitted - they really aren't that special. Are they? Where's the originality? Where's the depth? Where's the Art?

The thing is, though, that Glasgow has produced its own innovative artists (as have many other cities). I'm a fairly recent re-convert back to Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I'd become blasé about him due to over-familiarity and the ubiquity round here of piss-poor rip-offs. But then you see The Glasgow School of Art** and see the way he uses Japanese references the way a contemporary artist might use Manga or Super Mario, all mixed up with Scottish vernacular, Gothic and Arts and Crafts. Plus he really does have an international reputation. On a recent visit to The Hill House I learnt that one of his tables was once owned by Andy Warhol***.

Plus Glasgow has its own, thriving artistic scene, as do many cities, and crucially one that's not regarded as a stepping stone to London or New York, but as a thing in itself. International artists are attracted there (and not in the same way as they are to Edinbugger where they arrive en masse to choke off the local culture). There's a sense of making local-but-not-provincial art. Elderly Glasgow pedestrian Alasdair Gray put it well: "Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation."

'Fraid I don't get any of that from these boys. Any Fine Arts course can teach the rudiments of painting, and their 'Glasgowness' was merely incidental. It seems to me that their chief skill was to be born wealthy enough to go to art school and settle into a career turning out chocolate box interior decor for their own type.

FULL DISCLOSURE: At home we have this and this on the wall and are looking for a frame for this. Harrumph.

* With the possible exception of Frederic Leighton's 'Flaming June'. Or anything by Edward Burne-Jones or Lawrence Alma-Tadema (especially this piece of crap). In fact, any of that Pre-Rapahelite scheisse with all it's pictures of dopey, swooning women lying around - often in harems or the like - being all lethargic and available. (apologies to JE if she reads this. ;-) )

** Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand once taught at GSoA. For those who haven't heard my story, I was in a bar a while back and the guy next to me waiting to get served was a skinny guy, beige jacket, stripey top, floppy hair. I turned to him and said 'Either you're the world's biggest Franz Ferdinand fan, or you are Alex Kapranos.' 'Can I just stop you there?,' he said, 'I'm Alex Kapranos.' Oops.

*** National Trust for Scotland properties have old ladies in each room, as guides. Ours told us about the table and said. "Mind you - I wouldn't even know what Andy Warhol looked like." Ah, what a terrible thing esprit d'escalier can be. We were half way home before I realised I should have told her "Andy Warhol looks a scream." See also this previous post.

Monday, October 25, 2010

This is the end, my friend.

There has been a bit of back and forth lately between celebrity Catholic, Christina Odone and celebrity moral philosopher, Mary Warnock. The former has written a paper called 'Assisted Suicide: how the chattering classes have got it wrong'. (download) Marnock, meantime, has written 'Dishonest to God: On Keeping Religion Out of Politics', which was discussed on R4's 'Start the Week' (prog available online).

Then from The Grauniad comes this debatelet between the two.

To take Odone's argument first, she holds that the 'chattering classes' - a term she says she's using deliberately to emphasise a class-based point* - that legalising assisted suicide will benefit only the monied, educated, articulate while the the poor** will come under pressure to end their lives for the convenience of others. She argues instead for better care for all near the end of of life.

It's a reasonable (and original) point, and I'm somewhat disappointed that Warnock didn't address it directly***. It's a variant of the 'slippery slope' argument, and for euthanasia (although that's a different thing altogther. Isn't it?) there's a precedent for medicalised killing spreading in scope. But I'm not entirely convinced. Assuming a properly constructed set of legal checks and balances in which the views of prospective suicides are sought, there's no reason why the poor should be less capable of expressing their wishes than the wealthy. There are various professions outwith the chattering classes who assist them in doing so daily. Plus that class has the same issues in relation to managing the end of their lives as the 'consumerist élite'.**** Then there's the sad fact that when it comes to palliative care - or medical care in general - the poor get a worse deal than the rich, whether in private or state system. So surely the class argument evaporates if the net effect is a worse end of life? Unless one believes that a suffering life is inherently of more value than an easy death. Which is, I understand, Catholic doctrine - but don't get me started on how that leads down the slippery slope towards fetishising the suffering of the poor.

Incidentally, we should question whether Odone's argument is disingenuous. Note that her paper was published by The Centre for Policy Studies - an outfit not normally regarded as being on the right (i.e. left) side of the barricades in The Class War. But give them their due - even conservatives may, from time to time, have compassion for the poor. It's possible that they are not simply siding with religion on the usual ideological grounds.*****

Interesting, though, that when it comes to her reasoning, it's not the class issue she talks about but her personal experience. Now...there's nothing wrong by being informed by experience - but which is it? The fact that she couldn't stomach helping her father to die is entirely up to her. If she derived satisfaction from her relationship with her desparetly sick and disabled brother than one must believe her. In the context of assisted suicide, incidentally, the latter is a bit of a red herring, except that she uses it to make a more-or-less God-based point on the Catholic belief in the automatic sanctity of human life. So which? Of course, it could be both. If so I guess I could ignore the religious argument about which it's impossible for me to have any opinion other than 'that's irrelevant' and have an honest, secular disagreement about the class issues. But I'll expect to see her (and the CfPS) taking a consistent attitude on class issues elsewhere. Otherwise I'll suspect a smokescreen.

On to Warnock. I read her justifications for assisted suicide as being refreshingly grim. And honest. Lately the public narrative has been taken over somewhat by the Swiss model of terminally ill patients bravely checking in to an appartment and gently slipping away surrounded by loved ones. Well...the reality is actually that the end of life is often shitty - not only for the elderly person but also their loved ones. Warnock regards 'not wanting to be a burden' as just a legitimate reason for seeking death as pain. Or we might consider how poor the quality of care is in many hospitals and care institutions. (And note that, while palliative drugs can remove pain, fixing the psycho-social aspects is harder). 'So why not,' Warnock seems to be saying, 'Just get it over with?'

It's a counsel of despair, isn't it? An obvious counter-argument is that we would not have to consider assisted suicide if we fixed other things. We ought to have better elderly care. We ought to take the burden off relatives, etc. etc. Except - to mangle a phrase - you can't get an is from an ought. If wishes were fishes, etc. And I'm doubtful of a hypothetical causal link: if we allow assisted suicide we won't be motivated to improve standards of care.

So this is where I think Odone has the class argument backward. Let's assume assisted suicide were legal. The poor, suffering the most intolerable health and social care conditions, would be more likely to wish recourse to it. So I will happily join Odone on the barricades to fight for equality - but assisted suicide is not the battleground.

NOTE: It's pretty clear from the above that I come down on the Pro- side. It's not a done deal, though. I have some sympathy for the slippery slope idea and am willing to listen to arguments. My only objection is when it's, per Odone, false argument in which underlying motives are hidden. But these issues are tricky ones and worth debating. It's not a topic in which either answer is particularly pleasant.
Hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret it either way. Whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret it either way. This, gentlemen, is the quintessence of all the wisdom of life.

Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or

* Note that, despite her own impoliteness, Odone has previously bemoaned the 'stridency' of secularist/atheist commentators, which, the behaviour of some of The Usual Suspects granted, seems to be catch-all religious speak for 'They should shut up.' Interestingly, Warnock has been garnering praise for the civility with which she has been putting over her 'repugnant views', as in this review in Odone's old organ.

** Sigh. I desparately need a better term than 'the poor'. 'The working class' doesn't (ahem!) work. Lower class - meh. But 'the proletariat' just sounds silly.

*** To be frank, I'm not a huge admirer of Warnock. For example, it seems to me that the recommendations of her Commission which were taken up into the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill failed as soon as real life intruded. Like when Diane Blood was unable to be legally impregnated with her dead husband's sperm until she hopped on a plane to Brussels.

**** Those words from the link. I suspect 'consumerist' is a weasel word here. In Catholic circles, there's a tendency to - deliberately? - confuse 'materialist' = 'wants lots of consumer goods' with 'Materialist' = 'there's no such thing as the supernatural'. What's one to do when one encounters the word in a discussion? One has to either let the - deliberate? - misunderstanding/insult pass or go off-topic to explain.

*****Odone herself does not appear to be entirely right-wing herself. Although the Catholic Herald, which she edited, is regarded, unlike The Tablet, as establishment, she also did a stint at The New Statesman. (Now she blogs for The Telegraph - but journos tend to be political whores anyway).

[Personal note: I've had relatives who, I believe, would have wished help to die once they got beyond a certain point. And it's generally assumed that my father, having had a severe stroke, hastened his death by refusing food until diabetes took over. For myself - yes - I'd like the choice, and assistance with a speedy, painless method.]

Sigh. It's all about death today. Reggae great, Gregory Isaacs.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book Rave: Nothing compares to his sister.

It's time to effuse about a book I've just finished: 'Star of the Sea' by Joseph O'Connor'. It's the best book I've read in a long while.

I'd come across it several times in charity shops (my theory is that there's a law that compels every charity shop to stock certain titles. Have you ever seen one that didn't have Pamela Stephenson's 'Billy' biography? I rest my case.) For some reason I mistakenly believed him to be a respected, elderly 'man of letters' types writing Lawence Durrell-y prose, but it turms out he's the brother of baldy warbler Sinead, of whom I'm irrationally fond. (see previous post). I don't know if the siblings are still estranged following disagreements over her allegations of maternal abuse.

I'll not give much in the way of plot summary - you can get that in the usual places - other than that it concerns a coffin ship sailing from Ireland to New York during the famine of 'The Black '47' with a cargo of desperately starving passengers in steerage, more and more of whom succumb each day, and a handful of dysfunctional toffs dining well in first class. Synecdoche, and all that. Episodes over the course of the ship's voyage are interwoven with the back story of the principal characters, which in one case has something of the picaresque.* The characters are well and even-handedly drawn: the English are not shown as inherently evil, some of the Irish are shown to behave badly. Oh - and a murder plot unfolds as the voyage progresses.

What really impressed me are...what I call the 'formal' aspects of the book. I don't know whether that's the proper LitCrit word, but what I like is books which play around with the form or structure of the novel**. SotS uses multiple narrative viewpoints and intersperses real-time with flashback, plus a post-modernistic collage of things like newspaper stories, extracts from the ship's log, etc. These are all held together under the mantel of Victorian chapter headings ('In which we learn of the DREADFUL EVENTS...' &c &c), etchings of famine victims, racist Punch magazine portayals of Irishmen and extracts from letters, newspapers, etc. The book appears to be well reseached***, with lots of sources in the endnotes, so one assumes this material to be genuine. One item that shocked me was an entreaty that the poor of Ireland should do the patriotic thing and hang themselves from the nearest tree.

But we've seen all that multiple-narrative, multi-textured stuff done before. Whats really impressive is the way O'Connor pulls it all together and makes the form crucial to the backbone to the book. I don't want to give spoilers...but there's a reason why one person is aware of the viewpoints and why all the material is collected together, and that reason is central to both his character and (I think) his role in the key event of the voyage.

So basically it's a very gentle, very subtle collapsing wave function thingy, done in a totally unshowoff-y 'look at me aren't I a clever novelist' way.

And did I mention? It's a rattling good yarn!

Next up are 'Fathers and Sons' by Turgenev and 'Oryx and Crake' by Margaret Atwood.

*Get him, showing off his literary terms!

** Provided they do it for a reason. I hated Zadie Smith's 'White Teeth' for a different reason (I found it patronising, bordering on racist, to some of her characters.) But I believe she does clever things with the likes of chapter titles, gives each character she introduces a name starting with successive letters of the alphabet, etc. Well...If I didn't notice, what was the point? David Mitchell also, apparently, uses mathematical structures in 'Cloud Atlas' and 'Revolution No 9'. I shall reserve judgement not having read them...but I understood he did the same in a watered down way in 'The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet'...and I didn't notice even though I knew in advance. Although I did enjoy the book.

*** O'Connor has said in interviews that he read lots of sources, but he admits in the notes that he took liberties with a few things. One anachronism I caught him out on, though, was frequent references to 'hygeine'. But would this have figured in minds before Joseph Lister? Cleanliness at best, but that was more an aesthetic thing to do with first class not being able to smell steerage.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The thing in the picture is called a Merkin, by the way.

So in a move of staggering irresponsibility, Frau Reichskanzler…sorry…Bundeskanzler Angela Merkel has declared that German multiculturalism has failed

"At the start of the 60s we invited the guest-workers to Germany. We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn't stay, that one day they'd go home. That isn't what happened. And of course the tendency was to say: let's be 'multikulti' and live next to each other and enjoy being together, [but] this concept has failed, failed utterly."…
…"Germany should … get tougher on those who refuse to integrate before
opening itself up to further immigration."

Hmm. I wonder when precisely it was that Germany flirted with an active policy of multiculturalism? We note, for example., that it was only with the 1997 citizenship reforms, implemented only to avoid EU-wide embarrassment, that German born, third-generation individuals of foreign background were granted automatic citizenship at birth. This tardiness promoted integration how?

I have problems with this M-word anyway. Leaving aside that it's seldom defined, the insinuation (is it not?) is that multiculturalism was some sort of well-meaning, liberal-left policy. To point out its naivety is not racism, simply part of the ‘reasonable’ debate around immigration alluded to in this article by Slavoj Žižek. Except…I fear that that even if we allow that Merkel et al are engaging in a sincere, philosophical debate, this is not the message they have put across. For "multiculturalism has failed" read "immigrants are a problem".

Which is – surprise – what they, and others, actually think. Merkel must know full well what impact her words will have. But let’s try to tease out why people think like that, and why particularly in early 21stC Europe. We know, from experience, that racism can be exacerbated by unfavourable socio-economic conditions. But the problem is less simplistic than ‘poor people are racists’ – that doesn’t account for the middle class support of the likes of Geert Wilders, the Sweden Democrats, or, indeed, are own, dear British Nazi Party (who, contrary to the lumpen stereotype, draw a fair number of votes from the leafier council wards*).

Germany’s recent history includes importation of Gastarbeiter, especially from Turkey, when their industrial need was for unskilled, cheap (note that word – cheap) labour. (other countries filled the need by similar means, e.g. British importation of Pakistani and Bengali labour). These are the people Frau Merkel wishes had gone back when demand fell**. Meantime, Germany underinvested in the education and social conditions of the children and grandchildren of Gastarbeiter - why invest in an underclass you don’t want or expect to fit in? - and we are left with disadvantaged ghettos. Nowadays, Germany still has skills gap, which they are filling via quotas for skilled immigration (c.f. arrangements put in place by the Labour govt. and carried on by the ConDems). After all, it is much cheaper to suck skilled resources out of the developing world than it educate the disadvantaged in your own country. Adam Smith as applied to the teaching profession: only do those things that you can't buy in cheaper from somewhere else.

So where does this take us? Wellll…(reaches for copy of ‘Das Kapital’) (only kidding! ‘Marxism for Beginners’ is a more manageable read.) What’s being said about immigrants is that they are valued solely for their Labour. (Merkel is saying this pretty explicitly, isn’t she? "…We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn't stay, that one day they'd go home..."). In Marxist terms we might call this ‘Commodification’ – the jargon isn’t important, but the point is that the purchasers of the labour commodity (yes, ‘Capitalists’ – but also German society in the round) are only interested in the labour, not in the people who, inconveniently, supply it. So they are welcome to sell their labour within a host country, when the market demands it, under carefully circumscribed conditions, just so long as they don’t bring their thoughts, desires or culture with them. That’s not part of the deal.

And what else do we get from commodification? Alienation. We have to be careful here, though. It would be a mistake to think of a pool of clannish immigrants who are partly or wholly the architects of their misfortune, through their alienated behaviour, like teenage Goths. Alienation is something imposed, something that arises from socio-economic conditions. Yes, immigrants do sometimes look to one another when they have class boundaries imposed on them. Wouldn’t you?

But why should this inward-looking or alleged lack of integration matter? What does it signify? (‘Signify’ in the sociological sense, that is). Well it’s useful for the mainstream society to have a class to look down on, isn’t it? And convenient when that class is identifiable as ‘The Other’. In straitened times, it’s just as comforting for the majority to turn inwards and feel the solidarity of a beleaguered European culture. Kinda shifts the blame, eh?

"Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch! Sie haben nichts in ihr zu verlieren als ihre Ketten."

* There was a survey a while back which indicated people were less likely to sympathise with racist ideas if they lived in areas with significant immigration, but – damn – I can’t find the link just now.)

** There's still a healthy demand for really, really cheap labour, including slave labour. This highly recommended book provides an eye-opening account of the working conditions of migrant and slave labour in Britain. It's not an underground or fringe phenomenon. Many work in the supply chain for major brand names or for the public services.

Fractal Rock.

I see that Benoit Mandelbrot has died.

And no matter how closely you look at him...he's still dead.

((Ba-dam TISH!)