Saturday, December 30, 2006

Devolution in the United Kingdom

This post is of a review I wrote for the 25th issue of BlueGreenEarth, in 2002 (it is now archived in the Reviews section of the .us archive) . As Bliar's government is approaching election time again, I think it appropriate to revisit a book about one aspect of constitutional reform for the UK. The EU is also overdue for a re-democratising phase, de-fanging the Council of Ministers; re-launching the Council of the Regions as an elected second chamber; erecting trade bariers to extra-European goods, etc. But, whatever happens, the UK's current 'democracy' is at best partial, and again the time approaches to say 'enough', and militantly fight for change...


Devolution in the United Kingdom
by Vernon Bogdanor

OUP, 2001In 1979 Vernon Bogdanor published his highly influential Devolution. Twenty years later Oxford University Press published a completely revised version, taking into account events since [softcover edition published 1st May 2001]. Attempts to achieve some small measure of devolved power in the British regions have begun to bear fruit in those decades. Here we review Bogdanor's book, but look at some related issues, too, such as bioregionalism [especially as suggested in the Social Ecology movement] and also the 'Small is Beautiful' mentality [as expressed in Leopold Kohr's 1957 The Breakdown of Nations.

Bogdanor begins his book with a brief history of the 'United' Kingdom, reminding the reader of the circumstances behind each of the main countries addition to the 'union'. He notes early on the fact that England's dominance in the union meant that to be Scots or Welsh in any cultural sense was to be intrinsically opposed to Englishness, a regionalist tendency that was difficult to avoid and that makes a stable union difficult to acheive. Irishness was more problematic still, as the circumstances of union for that island were a good deal less amenable than was the case for Wales and Scotland. Even within England, the London & the South-East bias has caused friction. With this in mind, and with the fact that the UK has little by way of cohesive and intentional written constitution to give a legalistic gloss to union, it is little surprise that the concepts of devolution, and, occasionally, downright seperatism, have reared their heads. The supremacy of Parliament may be regarded as a threat to peace in a broad union of unequal partners, rather than some fabulous alchemical glue that holds together diverse cultures in blissful combine.

The loose Tudor hold over Wales was acceptable, as the Tudor dynasty, though based in London, were of Welsh origin. For Wales the issue of devolution has been largely based upon an unwillingness to give up their native culture, rather than on political problems. This may help explain the the Welsh acceptance of an Assembly that allows some executive devolution, rather than legislative devolution. Bogdanor describes the consequence of this as being a 'form of regionalism'. The Scots differed, in that the driving force would appear to be a desire for institutional autonomy. The succession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne, as James I, took the Scots to England rather than vice versa, despite the obvious economic strength of the latter. To retain identity the Scots required distinct institutional mechanisms, and indeed it has retained more of these than might be expected, in the form or its own legal system and church. The Treaty of Union,"freely negotiated on a footing of equality", abolished its seperate parliament, yet the (re-)introduction of a Scottish parliament in the late twentieth-century seems somehow of a piece with the history of the union. However, it is understandably perceived by some as opening the gates above a slippery slope, leading from devolution, somewhere near the top, to outright breakdown of the union at the bottom. Equally understandably, some of those that see this possibility applause it. Nevertheless the actual nature of Scottish devolution is far less revolutionary than this. Bogdanor characterises the Scottish form of devolution as a 'form of quasi-federalism'.

Scottish "Devolution revises the terms of the Treaty of Union. But it does not signify a return to the pre- 1707 condition in which Scotland possessed a parliament co-ordinate with that of England. That policy, the policy of re-establishing the Union of the Crowns, is favoured by the Scottish National Party, but it is far from the purpose of the Labour government which has legislated for devolution. Devolution instead provides for a parliament which is constitutionly subordinate to Westminster. Devolution seeks to revise the Union, not to destroy it."

This dispenses with the parts the English expansion that were the result of Treaty and negotiation. The Irish case, however, has much more the form of expansion by conquest, at least in its early phases. Ireland has long had a measure of cultural unity, but the attempt to deliver a stable political unity, under but one High King, has proven less easy. The Viking defeat was followed by some 160 years of relative unity, but it has since been under the aegis of English rule that this has sporadically been acheived. It must be noted, though, that the mechanism of failure in 1169 was invasion by Henry II. Henry VIII's 'acceptance' as High King in 1541, and the later constitutional subordination of 1603, saw the chances of an indigenous Irish political unity crushed. The plantations followed, sowing Scots protestant oats among Irish communities of the north-east and English in the south and east. This created knots of foreign culture that would from thenceforth prove insurmountable barriers to Irish unity. The 'resolution' of this issue, the creation of an Irish Free State and of an 'English' rump state in the six counties, is temporary at best. The devolved option, like the Home Rule option before it, is readily interpreted as a step too far down that slippery slope to outright seccession (though until Bloody Sunday Northern Ireland had enjoyed just that for fifty years). Although the majority in the six counties do not favour this option, the demographic movements of the last two decades make it hard to see how the separatists can remain a minority. Unionist support for the current attempts at a settlement would, therefore, appear to be their last chance to influence a future constitutional 'catastrophe'. It is hard to see, then, why they won't make more effort while they can. Trimble's Popperian attitude may be seen as a merely pragmatic effort to reconcile irreconcilables before his party have to concede all.

Matters are complicated in Ireland by a number of other factors. We shall mention only a few, and not necessarily the most important. However, in England at least, these points are rarely mentioned. One, the Republic as a whole has little obvious wish to inherit the North and all the social costs that it would bring. Two, the contingent for Irish union in the north are dominated by Sinn Fein, whose 'Ourselves Alone' stance would be relatively unproblematic were it not accompanied by a 'communist' political philosophy that does not sit well with the opportunist free marketeering of Dublin. Third, an independent Ireland once seemed to depend upon the inclusion of the economic powerhouse of Belfast. That wealth has been curbed viciously since the seventies, against the backdrop of industrial decline on the mainland since OPEC, the short-sighted intransigence of Trades Unions in response to OPEC, and the ill-conceived Thatcherite free trade agenda. (The other factor, the Republic's economic revival over the last few years, appears to orient Dublin with both Europe and the de-regulating global capitalist community, leaving one to wonder how it is that so many resident there have made plain their antipathy to their benefactor, the European Union). These factors, leading to apathy on the part of many in the Republic over the question of union with the six counties, complimented by the extreme antipathy to any sort of solution on the part of the unionists in the six counties, and complicated by the existence of a small but passionate and 'righteously' violently inclined body of men who fervently seek union, create contradictions that everyone is aware of.

The 'obvious' 'solution' of simply allowing a unified Ireland (after all, the Dublin government seems the epitome of conservatism, with a free market attitude that Westminster, whether under Tory or 'Labour' rule, should applaud), is therefore queered before begun, not least, and ironically, by the refusal on the part of the IRA to allow the peaceful conditions that are required to manifest themselves along the border. Though, where the IRA are concerned, it is obvious that unionist reprisals are not a remote concern, and that a peace brokered by Westminster between unionists and republicans is as trustworthy as one brokered by the US between Israel and the PLO - ie, not at all (what would you do if 'peace' was to be brokered by the armourers of your foe?).

Thus it is that the solution is there for all to see, but for no-one to reach to pick up. If Home Rule had been acheived under Gladstone, Bogdanor supposes, then, even if it did not result in closer union by defusing some of the complaints of the separatists, it may have made a transition to a Free State less fraught. And it would appear that this must be an eventual goal of all concerned (bar the unionist soon-to-be minority in the six counties). A successfully devolved UK could surely only contain amenable parties. The devolution of power within mainland Britain could be beneficial to continued union, where the inclusion of the Irish provinces could not. A regionally representative version of a devolved UK has little support at present, even in Kernow. Some, though, have supposed that this may prove more amenable to those in the six counties. Bogdanor's view of this 'solution' is negative: "...Irish nationalists did not regard Ireland as a region, and a regional form of government would not, they beleived, satisfy the national aspirations of the Irish people; and the English were not prepared to restore the heptarchy soley to help resolve the Irish problem." Northern Ireland as a devolved region, or a federal state, or as a directly ruled part of Britain appears to be a no-no. However, if one ignores the current unfashionablity of regional solutions to local autonomy in the rest of the UK, could constitutional reform help us rule mainland Britain better?

There are many possibilities for constitutional reform, as many suggestions as advocates perhaps. But the nature of our 'constitution' is increasingly obviously not democratic. The state simply does not represent the views of its people. Ignoring the 'ignoramus' argument (that all the great British public would do, if directly represented, is bring back hanging), it seems that one obvious minimum reform in the re-democratisation of our nation (a nation that has in fact never been very democratic in the first place) would be proportional representation.

Proportional representation would require the abolition of the patently unfair first-past-the-post system of counting votes cast. In the 1980's the Liberal Democrats achieved a stunning third of all votes in the country. Yet they were awarded only 11 seats in Parliament. With proportionality they would have had around 200 seats. That we have "one man, one vote" is a patent fib. If I live in a seat with a large Labour majority, but support some other party, then, if there are 50,000 voters, my vote is not representative of one 50,000th of the result, but precisely zero. Equally, if I support Labour in that seat, my vote is worth 50,000 votes. This is an insupportable situation in any "real" democracy! Proportional Representation, wherein my 50,000th share in the result would be just that (I would be "one man" with "one vote"), has been a key feature in the new devolved parliaments for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The Irish counties had experienced proportional representation before, and in the twenties saw a move, in the counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone, to join the Irish Free State. To block this democratically expressed wish on the part of a majority in those counties, Sir James Craig (Northern Ireland's Prime Minister at the time) engineered a return to first-past-the-post. "The consequence was that despite Catholic majorities in Fermanagh, Tyrone, and Londonderry city, their local councils came to enjoy unionist majorities." (p.76). The Cameron report in 1969 would appear to implicate this change in explaining the Troubles. It is widely speculated that the success of devolved political power may depend, to some degree, on having a proportional system of representation. Certainly, this seems to have been in mind when designing the more recent devolved parliaments in the UK. In 1996 the Northern Ireland Forum adopted a list-system for it's new proportionally representative elections.

The Scottish general election results, in 1996, broke down thus: Labour received 46% of the vote, the Tories 18%, Lib Dems 13% and the Scottish Nationalist Party 22% ("others" got the remainder). Under a PR system the seats would be allocated so - Labour, 33 seats; Tory, 13; Lib Dem, 10; and SNP, 16. But the allocation, based as it was upon a first-past-the-post system, gave Labour, 56 seats; the Tories, zero seats; the Lib Dems, 10 seats; and the SNP 16. This is patently unfair, and party politics really should not come into a recognition of the fact. The May 1999 elections for the Scottish Parliament (and for the Welsh National Assembly) "were the first to be held on the mainland by any proportional representation system since the abolition of the university seats in 1950." (p.219).

This silver lining, however, is coloured by the fact that the form of PR adopted is based on the additional- member system. Most pundits prefer the single-transferable vote as a method of mediating the approximate proportionality that is offered (few advocate absolute proportionality). Nevertheless, PR has real advantages even in the form that has been adopted. The question remains, of course, when shall PR be adopted for Westminster?

Frankly, not soon. There is still much cynicism and confusion over the issue in England. This is, as usual, a cynicism and confusion heavily promoted by the media. When a member of the public argues against PR, it is fair to assume that he is either, a) ignorant, or b) disingenuous. The former is more likely given the UK press, especially the tabloid press. However, when a presumably informed politician, of whatever party, argues agianst it, it is fair to assume that he is being disingenuous. The politician will reel out the example of, say, Weimar Germany, pointing out the role of PR in the rise of Hitler, and will say that "therefore" PR leads to weak government. He will know that no-one suggesting PR considers the pre-war German version acceptable, and that they will NOT be suggesting it. He will know that PR has performed a real service in post-war Germany, aiding the country's recovery and forming strong alliances between parties. These alliances have not involved tiny loony factions, as a (I think) 5% cut-off is applied, whereby parties that get less than this percentage of the vote get no representation at all. These alliances, far from making it impossible to make decisions, have enabled decision-making to avoid the extreme ideological and economic swings and roundabouts that first-past-the-post has enshrined in British politics.
Imagine Britain in the 1980's without Thatcher's overall majority, in which no one party, once the electorate have turned out and put their cross against her party's name and buggered off again for a few years, can ride rough-shod over all and sundry, including the mandate in their election propaganda. Imagine, in other words, a rational and balanced approach to legislation!

For the forseeable future, at least, imagine is all that we can do. Thus, even the limited reform that PR would be appears a bit utopian at present. Other reforms, then, are even more 'out there'. However, just because certain ideas are unfashionable does not mean that they should not be discussed. Indeed, the very fact of devolution in any form, to parliaments with any form of PR, is itself a hopeful sign (oh dear, I hear some say, we have opened the flood-gates). With Bogdanor's book on devolution on hand, let us look at this and other ways of deconstructing the monolithic and undemocratic nation-state.

"The setting-up of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly... seem to imply that the United Kingdom is becoming a union of nations, each with its own identity and institutions, rather than as the English have often seen it,...'one nation representing different kinds of people' [a formulation which recognises other diversities than merely those of regional difference] Constitutionally, devolution is a mere delegation of power from a superior political body to an inferior. Politically, however, devolution places a powerful weapon in the hands of the Scots and the Welsh; and, just as one cannot be sure that a weapon will always be used only for the specified purposes for which it may have been intended, so also one cannot predict the use which the Scots and the Welsh will make of devolution."

The supremacy of Parliament in Westminster is potentially undermined by the mere existence of an, albeit nominally weaker, parliament in Scotland. This is at the same time as the effective abrogation of British sovereignty to the European Union. Europe may well be both centrifugally uniting in Brussels, and at the same time undergoing a centripetal action as regional powers develop. The Council of the Regions always appeared to me to be one of the most potentially interesting and revolutionary elements of the European constitution. It also appears to be one of the most under-mentioned, no doubt for exactly those reasons. Under-developed, I foresee that it shall gain importance by default. I do not see devolution in the UK as happening in a vacuum, nor do I see Scotland and Wales as being the only British regions that will eventually seek autonomy. The current Irish attitude to Europe notwithstanding, they too may gain from these developments. At the same time, of course, there is a counter-movement towards internationalization inherent in the Maastricht and Nice Treaties - I foresee a radical clash in the near future that will suck all of Europe into regionalist reformism that will require the lionization of the Council of the Regions to peacefully mediate a transformation of Europe (some regions may be separatist with regard to their parent state, others more interested in the dispersal of power - hopefully toward confederalism). Its success will, in part, depend on overcoming the pressures from free market international traders.

The question, then, is not what use will the Scots and Welsh make of devolution, but what demand for it, or for some similar reform, will be made by, say, Cornwall, Wessex, or Yorkshire. This is where the work of Leopold Kohr comes in. The Breakdown of Nations, rooted in opinions Kohr first expressed in 1941 (Disunion Now, The Commonweal magazine), met an underwhelming response at the time of it's first publication. It has since come to be regarded as a classic, especially in anarchist circles. This writer first came across it in it's 1986 edition, published by RKP, and with an introduction penned by Ivan Illich. Kohr saw sheer size as a prime cause of social misery - the larger the state the less possible for it to address social inequality properly (indeed, it would create it). He saw a breakup of the union as a solution. Since devolved power sees supremacy, theoretically at least, still reside in a large central power (Westminster / Whitehall), the Breakdown of Nations required could be more accurately described as federalism, to the extent that some communion between regions would be necessary (ie, not mediaeval / feudal mini-states, but a patchwork of mutually co-operative self-governing provinces). Kohr was, however, not utopianist enough to believe that such a sensible and socially beneficial move away from nation-states would occur. Chapter 11 is entitled "But will it Be Done?", and has a text consisting of one word - "NO!". If he were still alive, I doubt that he would be much less pessimistic, and indeed, in the face of the forces of globalization, he may be more pessimistic - however, I do not doubt that he would be fascinated by the new shapes that Britain and Europe are pulling and pushing themselves into.

The size of the regions that Kohr described were defined in several ways, but the most striking, which he illustrated by means of a map, is a geometrical division of Europe, as per the United States, with boundaries modified along "traditional tribal frontiers". This divides France into eight or nine regions (including Isle de France, Aquitaine and Burgundy), Germany into a similar number of regions (including Hanover, Saxony and Bavaria), etc... One drawback is that Kohr lacks vision when dividing the UK, as it consists, in his loose plan, of England, Scotland and Wales, with Ireland divided, the six counties still separate. He sees no room even for Kernow in this view. However, the basic scheme appears sensible, and of a piece with the 'Small is Beautiful' philosophies of Ivan Illich, E.F.Schumacher and many other broadly 'anarchist' thinkers.

The problem of self-sufficiency is not addressed by these divisions. Indeed, even current models of devolution beg questions such as 'Can Scotland maintain a devolved authority on the back of North Sea oil and Golf?'. A federal / confederal Europe can, of course, operate co-operatively enough to transcend these barriers, but experience suggests that it is unlikely to occur. The Social Charter, which was one of the few plainly positive elements of proposed European Union, has been among the most vilified, just as with the Council of the Regions. But the mechanisms can be imagined. It is our job, and that of future generations, to enact these ideas for the good of all. The question of what regions are possible, if self-sufficiency is required, is not entirely idle, however. With the growth of interest in Green issues, sustainable economy has come to be seen as important to any future that we may have. If regions could be defined in ways that, while recognising some cultural attractors, also recognised some aspects of resource need and self-sufficiency, it may lead to more stable units, and thereby, with proper co-operation, greater peace.

"Sustainability" is a phrase in economics that had a 'radical' usage only recently. It was co-opted quicker than you can say 'corporate capitalist', being moved from an anti-capitalist position in the lexicon to, first, a 'green capitalist' position (an oxymoron if ever there was one), and, more recently, to a solidly mid-stream corporate buzz-word (where it entails the dubious belief that sustainable means 'can keep growing, just as before', really). As such it has no meaning. In this article I shall be briefly re-investing it with its obvious literal meaning. We live on a rock in space. It has finite size, and finite resources. While the size of the sphere is quite big from our ant-like perspective, the important resources are spread thinly and unequally over a thin layer of the landmass. Many of our mineral resources are close to running out altogether (oil is the least of these, with a good deal of high grade, and huge amounts of low grade, oil known of but untapped). The bio-resources are in a different state agian. Here many of our resources have been entirely used up (this is known as extinction). Agriculturally, we are hell-bent on intensive, wide-area farming methods that reduce the diversity, and thereby reduce the viability, of the biosphere. These problems have particular resonance for Europe.

As an old, and resource hungry part of man's domain, Europe has used up many of its indigenous resources. Many species are extinct, and many more close to extinction. Many of the raw materials we once took from the ground beneath our feet are now imported from foreign shores. We have created and distributed globally many pollutants that cannot be removed by us, and which take forever to be dealt with adequately by 'Nature'. Our soils have been farmed so intensively that we cannot grow sufficient foodstuffs to feed our greedy populace without recourse to huge amounts of artificial fertilizers that further reduce soil quality. This model of global agriculture is very energy- intensive, so that rising fossil fuel costs also effect the region's ability to meet it's needs...

Thus it is that many aspects of 'self-sufficiency' seem to be well out of the control of Europe's regions, nations, and indeed Europe itself. Some may be out of the control of the whole globe, though it would be nice to see us co-operate long enough to find out if this is so (before it is definately so, which it may be already). Certainly Britain, which has two-thirds of its net food needs provided by imports, is not by this definition capable of self-sufficiency. However, for much of its history the British Isles have been quite capable of complete self-sufficiency. Most periods of hardship were due to political systems that created shortage where there was none (just as the World Bank, or the IMF, say, does today when they loan huge sums of money to tin-pot third world dictators and then demand even huger repayments from populations that are starving and hardly responsible for the - often CIA-enthroned - dictators that they live under. If they overthrow the dictator, who will have spent the cash on luxuries for his pals and military hardware to keep his position by bombing the crap out of his own people, then they are still held to the debt). Those periods of hardship that were due to genuine shortage ( the results of crop failure, say) would be less problematic under a system of global resource management and with the modern technologies that could be used to create the world's first post-scarcity environment (in the sense that human governance, as well as technical primitivism, has been at the heart of scarcity in the past). If, tomorrow, the UK found itself in a global depression, with, frankly, little to trade if our service economy is slowed, then we simply could not feed ourselves.

It is here that alliances with our neighbours (ie: European Union) would save us. The idea of self-sufficient regions is, therefore, an obvious nonsense on this level in much of the developed world. However, the key word here is 'relative', as some degree of self-sufficiency is still possible, and, evidently, could be useful even where neighbourliness thrives. The term that Social Ecologist's use for the kind of self-sufficient units that I have in mind is 'Bioregion'. The bioregionalist movement has not gained much ground in Britain, our island status, perhaps, discouraging the idea being taken seriously. Indeed, with our reliance upon ghost acres, it is hard to see how, food-wise, we could have a large enough number of bioregions here to make traditional boundaries unattractive. Yet we already have a number of these natural regions, because the definition of self-sufficiency that would apply to them is actually fairly modest, as the requirement is not for survivalists to approve of the boundaries, but realists with the ability to compromise and negotiate with their neighbours.

In Britain, a move towards more sustainable agriculture is long overdue. It takes time to put in place, and so needs to be undertaken on a large-scale immediately. It would require a move to utilise brown-field sites in cities as allotments, perhaps even ripping up some roads and realloting them as allotments; it would require all empty buildings to be utilised for social housing; and it would entail a movement out of the built-up urban areas to garden cities in some controlled fashion that does not require destroying yet more countryside; and certainly it may require the inhabitants to enhance the chances of co-operation by clustering into loose affinity groups where necessary (and I know that there are many contradictions with all these ideas). The 'viable' areas that may ultimately emerge might centre on, say, a watertable, or some other system of natural life-support system. It is this that makes such ideas workable in larger areas, such as continental North America, and difficult in the UK. Nevertheless, parts of Britain with relatively low population, such as those already seeking devolution (Scotland and Wales), and others such as Cornwall, the Marches, Cumbria and north & central Yorkshire, could achieve relative bioregional autonomy. And everywhere would benefit from more of an attempt to live-in-place.

Living-in-place would require the development of an awareness of ecological relationships that operate between us and the environment, and between different elements of our bioregional environment. We must regain an awareness of our embeddedness in the natural world, and stop trying to force our way out of this relationship. It is our attempts to 'transcend' nature by controlling it in the negative sense that have caused the crises we face in the world. We need to use our technical nature to become stewards of the planet rather than its rapists.

It is difficult, if not impossible to disagree with Kohr's pessimistic expectation of these developments, in part because to live in harmony with our environment is anti-pathetical to our most popular form of economic activity - capitalism. It hurts the profit-oriented economy to have to account for short- and long-term natural cycles when we have the mentality that says, 'well, lets get the resources from over there in the meantime', 'over there' being a third world country whose equally misguided means of meeting their needs is answered in the short-term by saying 'yes, here, take it', when what they sell now they need tomorrow.

Even given the utopian quality of many of the constitutional reformations that the UK could undergo, some of which might only be possible after devolution has become entrenched and meaningful, a move towards a federal state, at least, may be well under way. In Bogdanor's view federalism has some advantages: "The creation of subordinate legislatures in England, Scotland, and Wales would resolve the problem of representation, since Westminster would become a federal parliament, and the Irish [and others] would be represented in it on precisely the same terms as the other nationalities in the United Kingdom. [...]Federalism might also help to secure a more equitable division of revenues between the various parts of the state, since each of the legislatures would enjoy the same taxing powers. Above all, however, federalism could preserve the unity of the kingdom and ward off separatism, since it would give to Ireland [& others] nothing which was not also given to other parts of the United Kingdom." Having a centre for a federal Europe in Brussels (or, perhaps, Geneva) is another interesting corollary of all that has been said. However, the federal solution still maintains central government of many aspects of the subsidiary units. Confederation, by contrast, gives the units within the group their individual sovereignty as well. According to the social ecologists, Janet Biehl and Murray Bookchin:

"The broad principle of political and social organisation that can institutionalize interdependence without resorting to a State and at the same time preserve the power of municipal assemblies is confederalism. A confederation is a network in which several political entities combine to form a larger whole. Although a larger entity is formed in the process of confederating, the smaller entities... retain their freedom and identity and their sovereignty even as they confederate. In an ecological society, the municipalities that have undergone democratization - that is, whose charters have been changed so that citizens' assemblies hold the supreme political power within the municipality - would form confederations on a regional basis to address transmunicipal or regional concerns. These confederations would institutionalize the inherent interdependence of communities, without depriving them of their freedom and sovereignty.

"Instead of a central government, with a legislature voting to approve or reject laws, a confederation is typically embodied in a congress of delegates that co-ordinates policies and practices of the member communities. In a libertarian municipalist polity, the municipalities would form such confederations by sending delegates to them. These delegates would not be representatives; that is, their purpose would not be to make policies or laws on behalf of their supposedly benighted constituents, in ways that they imagine to be beneficial to them. Instead, the delegates would be mandated by the people in their municipal assemblies to carry out their wishes.

"The delegates' functions would be to convey the wishes of the municipality to the confederal level. In conjunction with the other delegates in the confederation, they would co-ordinate policies to meet common ends that the several member communities have agreed upon and adjudicate any differences that may arise among themselves. All delegates would be accountable to the assemblies that have mandated them as their agents... Entirely responsible to the citizens' assemblies, the delegates would be recallable in the event that they violated a mandate. Rather than making policy decisions in its own right, the confederal council would exist primarily for administrative purposes - that is, for the purpose of co-ordinating and executing policies formulated by the assemblies."

It is plain to see that this is not how things work in the UK. It is also plain that that is not how the currently conceived devolved version of UK governance would work. It is also transparently obvious that, the realisticness of achieving confederalism here aside, there is no way that any other kind of governance than that of directly democratic municipal assemblies, who co-ordinate with other municipalities and regions through a confederal parliament, can be described as truly democratic at all. And this is the form of governance that offers the best hope for the many different folks of this island to live peacefully and well by their different strokes.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

"The Gaian theory is just a theory"

The post below, forwarded from the yahoogroup World In Common, was sent on to me by a friend. I sent him a response, which I copy in below:

--- In, Citizens of the World wrote:
> The Gaian theory is just that, a theory. It is a way of describing how the
> world has evolved into a vast inter-related connection of life, all
> balanced and working synchronously. It is a way of explaining the
> marvellous web of life and matter. It doesn't postulate a new species as
> far as I know and if anyone interprets it that way it is just wishful
> thinking, similar actually to what the religious have tried to do with
> Dunne's theory of time as a series of coexisting universes, rather than
> linear in structure.
> How presumptuous are some people! Now they want to think our species is
> the sexual appendage of this pathetic little planet, a bit like the
> presumption that the sun revolves around this planet. We are just fucking
> mammals that's all, one of many, and we are choking ourselves and all other
> species to death because people like Jim like to think that humans are
> something special.
> I like what Carl Sagan says: "I'd rather know than believe." And Bertrand
> Russell. See signature.
> End of my contribution. Trevor Goodger-Hill
> >There is a part of Gaian theory which gets little publicity. That is, that
> >if the biosphere is a living organism it must go thru what any other
> >living organism must go thru in a coimplete life cycle. Birth, Growth,
> >Statis, reproduction and death. It is the reproduction aspect that is
> >little discussed. If Gaia is alive then what/where is its reproductive
> >organs? The answer may be Humankind. Our drive to explore and move into
> >new places then to adpat or convert those environments to our needs. And
> >when we go into space we will have to bring parts of Gaia with us. We
> >would spread Gaia to new worlds. So maybe humankinds present techological
> >and social conscentrations into large cities is Gaia allocating its
> >resouces into reproduction.
> >
> > jim
> >
> > >robbo203 wrote:
> > > Hi all
> > >
> > >Heres a provocative peice posted on the LA forum which prompt a few
> > >comments
> > >
> > >Cheers
> > >
> > >Robin
> > >
> > >______________________________________
> > >
> > >The Lingering Stench of Malthus
> > >Debunking Jeremy Rifkin's beef with cities

The evolution of the "Gaian" idea was very rapid - a progression from Lovelock's engineer's hypothesis to Earth-Mother pseudo-science non-science (and indeed, nonsense) in a very short period of a few years [Gaia]... The classicist usage of the Greek goddess as a metaphorical label was, vis the hippy green movement, a mistake - but one Lovelock more or less embraced by his later books, where the hypothesis to aid our understanding was allowed to become something "more" (where more is less).

So, I agree with the first half of what Trevor says here. Truth to tell, if we are to take "humans as sex organs" of Gaia even slightly seriously, I agree with him there too - what rubbish! But on a more serious note, a role for the human animal, via evolution, wherein we seem to be (or seem to be potentially) something more than just another animal? I subscribe to the "stewards of the earth" ideal, not because I am confident and optimistic (quite the reverse in many ways), but I do believe
that we have spent the last few centuries (further) developing the work of previous generations in our philosophy and ethics, as well as in our science and technics. By the mid-50s we had the technical ability and scientific understanding to begin creating a post-scarcity environment for our species - this I believe to be a requirement for any political stability and real human evolution
beyond survivalist repetition of history.

Our choices have been bad ones many times, yet at the same time our understanding of evolutionary systems, of cybernetics and ecology, of biodiversity have been enhanced beyond measure. I think that the last half-century or so was probably the first last and only time our species will ever combine the technical, ethical and energy intense conflation to achieve a positive global tipping point. The bad choices, in this context, become cosmically bad, not just shrug-it-off-what-a-shame-better-luck-next-time bad. The window of opportunity is limited in duration - ironically, the oil and gas etc that we all deplore the polluting effects of offer a chance to build real longterm lasting eco-infrastructure and once they are depleted that chance - if not taken - will be gone forever.

I think the window is being slammed shut in resource terms - peak oil is beginning to bite, for example; climate synergy is accelerating around us; biodiversity is crashing... Once shut we
can't re-open it. No species will for several hundred thousand years, as they'll have to await a stable climate, time to replenish and evolve and geological ages for the fossil fuels to return (if survival is even possible for cockroaches).

Yet, whilst shutting fast, the fact is that we DO have the technical and ethical skills and knowledge to live differently using he same platform of resources, and the window ain't shut YET. The nay-sayers will harp on about how "human nature" will not allow it. I believe firmly that nurture is what sets our nature as much as nature. The nurturing environment is historically dictate by previous generations and their struggle to 'conquer' nature - often by nurturing values that had historical 'necessity', but which today are a liability.

This is not news, and today's environment is often deadly in terms of nurture values as well as in terms of nature's - but the picture is not that simple. Are you seeing vicious fascist behaviour in those around you? Is it your way too, or do you question it? Is it not the case that many of those with the most pessimism are not like those they fear themselves? Or not wholly? Do they worry that a compromise is losing the whole battle (perhaps because that is what those worse than them will tell them - self-seekingly of course)? Does that worry blind them to the fact that there are many who kick against what they perceive to be the tide? That they are not alone? That, by definition, extreme pessimism on the part of those of us who want change is misplaced, and that we ourselves are the
proof of that?

I am not very hopeful at this point - more so than I was in 1980, less so that in the mid-90s. By position hasn't changed - the world has. Capitalism is the matrix within which all significant technical and scientific advance has unfolded. Whether this was or was not 'necessary' is neither here nor there - the fact is that the future urgently needs us to throw over capitalism as it is currently pursued (as a free market fascism with stupid God-myths about the invisible hand - which, as I have said elsewhere, is that lovely balance seeking process entropy, so creating harm not heaven), as that is one of those previously mentioned tools that were appropriate to a small tribe of embattled intelligent apes, but that has now become a wholly inappropriate liability. The iron, of course, that if we DO continue this way, it will become a valid survival tool for a minority again, but the one important battle, nay, WAR, today is really to recalibrate our economy to fit ecological needs, where ecology and diversity apply as much within and between human communities as they do between and within all lifeforms here residing.

This brings me back to Gaia and the human role. I subscribe to a humanist viewpoint that cautiously eyes teleological and historicist aspects of humanism with a worried expression, but that ultimately sees a baby in with the bath-water of Teilhard de Chardin's view of evolution as being towards a noosphere (if not towards an Omega point), or of Marshal McLuhan's global village where our tools ("extensions of man") are where our next stages of human evolution occur, taking us beyond the nominally selfish bunch of apes we have been towards a global community integrated with our environment. As I said before, stewards of the Earth.

This certainly means I see our species rightful role as being one of metaphorically joining with the (metaphorical?) homeostatic mechanism of Gaia to make an even more even keeled balance between Earth, it's inhabitants, and the wider solar system. I don't see us spreading out of the petri dish, especially as the fuels to do so are being used up poste haste, but I see the attraction... having bleached this petri dish we feel an urgent need for a new one. If their were a Gaian Earth-Goddess, it would, of course, be hell-bent of defeating this nefarious purpose, misguided as it is - after all a metastising cancer kills its host, and why let the bugger spread to another body if you can help it?

As I said, I am getting more worried about us overshooting our main chance as the years tick by. We have been pointing out the contours of the coming storm for decades, and the synergistic
elements of it that make it increasingly difficult to get a grip on the inertial we have created behind the beast. But still some hope, and assume that most of you guys do too. Don't lose sight of that, or the baby and the bathwater will depart this knackered old tub together!


A Wee Attack On "The Trouble With Atheism"

This post is a response to the Rod Liddle programe "The Trouble With Atheism" (aired 18th December, Channel 4), via the interesting blog

All I saw was Liddle setting up paper tigers and knocking them down, with nary a dent in atheism itself - his Stalin argument was rubbish, his Darwin argument laughable, and exactly the kind of thing I expect from those who haven't a clue what 'rational' actually means in science and philosophy (as opposed to the spiritualist nonsense that many allow to be 'philosophy').

Unfortunately the argument that Dawkins is an enemy of Marxism as he is a 'bourgeois materialist' is also rubbish. Materialism is core to capitalism in some ways, ditto Marxism and Atheism. Like Liddle vis atheism, it is a mistake to see materialism as having any specific ethics accruing to it. It is a tool in the rationalist tool-box, and thus, like all tools, has some influence as a shape on the hand that holds it, but not in the rigidly determinist way that Liddle and Phil imply in their different ways, at least not if those using the tools have their eyes open.

My problem with Dawkins is that he pussy's out on the question "are Christians 'bad scientists'?". In many arenas they need not be, certainly not when their role is as engineers or technical support types. But in cutting-edge thought, having an attitude that your faith in a God is implacable, regardless of 'facts', where the God you subscribe to has pushed certain ethical stances as inseparable from belief in 'him' (ie, always), and at the same time engaging in an intellectual activity that requires you change your views if the facts contradict the presumptions you may have had, is contradictory. If a tenet of your science is over-turned you are meant to say 'so be it' and recalibrate, but if a tenet of your faith is questioned the science is wrong, kind of by definition - and, by definition, you become a 'bad scientist'. On an interview with either Jon Snow or Paxman (I forget which) he completely undermined the strength of his (and atheisms) position on science and truth by not explaining this, presumably in an attempt not to piss off the large number of scientists who do feel that they can square their faith with their positions as scientists. But this is only ever true up to a point - and the point at which it is challenged is exactly the point where science has most real value (vis human understanding) and where the god squad cannot be 'good scientists'!

The two documentaries on Channel 4, The Root of All Evil and The Trouble With Atheism were required viewing, but the argument put forth in the former was a real argument (whether one agrees is another matter), the latter empty gesturing that can only convince those that are not paying close attention. Liddle addresses very little that is specifically a problem of atheism. Not that Dawkins is right so far as his title goes... sure, theism is a mainstay of all evil, but not the 'root': money, capitalism, hierarchy, domination... there are traits here that are part of the bad aspects of human community, as much a part of the 'why' of evil as religion, indeed organised religion is often a manifestation of aspects of these other things, not the sole source of evil in itself.

The evils that I think do accrue to religion, inherently, do include the elitism and arrogance of their 'chosen' over those not; the offensive next-life / after-life manipulations that enable and 'justify' bad acts (or inaction) in this life due to pay-offs and forgiveness in the next; the extermination of heretics, where that means of everyone off a narrow spectrum of thought (and here Dawkins too might want to look to the plank in his own eye, sure...).

I have read widely on religions and atheism, over the last four decades, and in the mud fight of argument have found little that sticks against atheism and much that sticks against religion. Liddle does nothing real to help his side (whatever it is), as snide remarks and windmill tilting at the wrong targets will only convince those who know too little - sure, though, that's a fair few folk in itself, but as an intellectual argument? it's bankrupt.

So Darwin's ideas were a vague gesture at a real point, with errors, some since spotted and advanced beyond. When did atheism depend on the literal word of Darwin? We aren't in the same mental universe as the 'seven day' brigade, and never will our minds meet - they don't get it, so why waste the breathe? So Stalin was atheist, does that mean that all ethics that atheists may subscribe to (we're a broad body of opinion after all) are tainted by that? I see nothing inherently atheist in Stalin's actions, whereas I DO see something inherent in religious wars. That ignores, of course, whether Stalin's atheism was ever more than the lip service of a superstitious anti-intellectual who in fact made a religion of his own misinterpretations of Marx (who also might be miffed at being depicted as an unevolving ape), or the question (vis Popper) of whether historicism in Marxism is a kind of religion (as dollar worship may be in ascribing value in capitalism)...

Most of the rest of the programme is groovy at a glance, and vacuous on deeper analysis, and if I get the transcript I'll tear it to shreds for you if you like (but it won't affect the pro- and anti- atheism arguments as they don't appear in the show!).


My point about ethics and ignorance of where ethics might originate or entail is made urgent by the kind of result that Channel 4 are having in a poll they are running (see talking_point_atheism), which has had the result (so far):

Without religion, there would be no moral codes

People can live ethical lives without religion

This is scary nonsense. Liddle, for sure, was light on how he might explain the actions of the religious in religious wars in relation to ethics and is view of Stalin in relation to atheism! Those with more manifest faith than Liddle (who appears to be wearing the mantle of 'cynical agnostic' but acheives a pro-religious efect in the documentary, meant or not), are even more of a worry. The arrogance of the idea that fear of hell-fire / promise of heavenly reward is all that can gain us ethics (usually more 'sensibly' argued as "God is objectively there and what he says goes for ever, but we are corrupt mortals and the flesh is weak" - I'd call this the masochistic argument, and the hell/heaven one the sadistic argument, but surely both inhere in the same individuals if they are filled with the vomit at an early age).

Newsnight had someone from the British Humanist Association on to defend the atheist position. On paper this was a good enough idea - as it is, it was only the fact that tyhe pro-god loon was slow on the ptake that prevented disaster, as the humanist made the cardinal error of insisting that Darwinian evoloutionary theory weas NOT a theory, whereas the god hypothesis is 'just' a theory. This is exactly the nonsense and muddy thinking I deplore - of course evolution is a theory. But the 'just' is un-necessary, as not all theories are equal. Questions are begged, facts are rubbed up against, and theories are judged relative to one another not by whethwer they ARE or ARE NOT a theory, but by how they respond to such things. Popper is not a popular chap these days, I know, but perhaps some of those who take a caricature of his argument should actually read Conjectures and Refutations cover to cover - in my view this work does all you need and more towards explaining the philosophy behind the scientific enterprise as an idea (if not as a practise, or sociologically, which were for better or worse not his concerns).

The debate rolls on. Lots of money and energy is spent to assualt the very few of us who are atheist (and there is, as Dawkins says, a difference between atheism as a fixed belief no matter what and atheism as a belief that can be modified if presented with evidence to the contrary, and that this latter is NOT necessarily the same as 'agnosticism' which boils down to the Pascalian fudge: one that any god that may turn out to be there might give short thrift too!), as if we were a real threat... Well, few we may be, but we are a real threat. That god-ists are scared of us to the point of assassination is not surprise - ordinary people have a knack of understanding the truth if it is actually presented to them, as the anarchists can tell you. The powers that be, left, right, centre, protestant, catholic, jewish or muslom, cannot abide them either, for the same reasons - their message is essentialy simple, attractive and works - so it must be destroyed or those with power will fall.

Who says the revolution is over? It barely began. Let's get this party started!


Friday, December 22, 2006

The Year in Grime and Dubstep

I have no plan to post lots of articles by others to my blog, but here's an exception, as I am something of a fan of 'dubstep'...!

Before that, here is a list of my favorite tracks in the genre (and some heading into grime and other related sub-genres):

Omen - Frontline
Omen - Aphrodite
Amit - True War
Vex'd - Function (30hz remix)
Vex'd - Candyfloss (Loefah remix)
Vex'd - Bombardment of Saturn
Vex'd - Fire
Kode 9 & the Space-Ape - Sine of the Dub
Kode 9 & the Space-Ape - Kingstown (vox)
Kode 9 & the Space-Ape - 9 Samurai
Kode 9 & the Space-Ape - Glass
Kode 9 & the Space-Ape - Quantum
Loefah & Skream - 28g
Skream - Midnight Request Line (Digital Mystickz remix)
MRK1 - Rise of the Machines
MRK1 - Rise of the Machines
Digital Mystickz - Haunted (bass)
Dexplicit - Victory
Random Trio - Prophecy
Pressure - Money Honey (with Warrior Queen)
The Bug - Thief of Dreams
Akala - This Is London
Akala - Shakespeare
Shitmat - In a Previous Life I Was an Onion Sandwich
Chevron - Rudi's Techno Pioneer
Chevron - Swimmin' Lessons
Squarepusher - Welcome To Europe


The Year in Grime and Dubstep
by Martin Clark Photo by Hattie Collins

It's been a remarkable year for dubstep, one that has shocked those who have followed the scene since its inception and energized those who have more recently found a passion for it. It is, in truth, a year for dubstep that many people thought would never come.

It's very difficult to stress just how much dubstep has changed in the past 18 months. At the beginning of 2005 dubstep was a small London community with a handful of ardent supporters worldwide. Vinyl pressings were infrequent and limited: Horsepower and Goldspot's certified stone cold classic "Sholay" was initially pressed in a run of only 300 copies. The majority of the club focus was around Forward>>, with producers building beats with the express intent of airing them over the venue's amazing soundsystem. Crowds varied from bustling to patchy, with a strong community element that meant producers often outnumbered fans on the dancefloor. Outsiders continually complained it never "went off." For around four years, it felt like it would be that way forever-- and frankly headz were grateful for that alone-- because were it not for the efforts of dedicated individuals, even that wouldn't have existed.

Although it was probably hard to tell at the time, throughout 2005 dubstep built momentum: The DMZ label and rave gained strength, Rinse sets became available on, Skream's "Request Line" crossed borders into grime and microhouse, the Dubstep Forum was launched, and online media built interest. It all came to a head in early 2006. The first DMZ rave of the year was bursting at the seams. Mary Anne Hobbs' "Dubstep Warz" radio show quickly followed, which took the bubbling scene, brought it to the boil, and served it piping hot to the rest of the beat-hungry planet. From then on in, it was clear 2006 was going to be one unlike any other for dubstep.

Suddenly DJs were getting bookings-- and not just at FWD>> or DMZ. Leeds and Bristol embraced the scene wholeheartedly, with regular large raves and local DJs and producers. The Mystikz and Loefah were DJing all over Europe while Skream was in New York or Australia with Kode9. Pinch, Vex'd, and Distance hit the U.S. Drum & bass back rooms were booking dubstep DJs. Vinyl pressing runs shot up into the thousands-- the difference between a small profit and a large loss. By the end of the year even a major motion picture had dubstep in the soundtrack. Had it not really happened, it would be unthinkable.

The change in audience was remarkable, too. For years, was the only dedicated dubstep forum, but it remained a tense and barren environment. Come January the Dubstep Forum was piling on the members, with more than 4,500 to date. Electronica institution Planet Mu was signing up dubstep 12"s left, right, and center whilst the interest from d&b fans spiked. Fresh new producers began to spring up with Gravious signed to Scuba, Kromestar and Skream's brother Hijack backed by Deep Medi, and Forensix [MCR], Headhunter, Appleblim, and Zombie showing real promise.

With a new audience came change. For many new fans it was as if the sound had begun with "Dubstep Warz", when in reality its origin lies in the turn of the millennium 2-step. This newfound interest in the early years created an appetite for projects like The Roots of Dubstep that I was lucky enough to be involved with, while increased sales allowed reissues to flourish. It also encouraged foundation producers like El-B and Oris Jay to increase their involvement with the scene again.

Increased sales and audience had another impact, too: It seemingly gave the scene's core producers the confidence to tackle the long player format, one that dubstep had rarely touched in its five-year history. Suddenly Kode9, Distance, Benga, and Skream had albums finished (three of which are reviewed here). What chance of Loefah, Pinch, Horsepower, Shackleton, or Random Trio albums in 2007?

But one album dominated 2006. Built by elusive and shy south Londoner Burial, his eponymous CD for Hyperdub exceeded all expectations, exciting dubstep fans and ensnaring new listeners who'd never heard or liked the sound before. Built with a deep reverence for glories of London urban music (esp. early El-B and mid-90s jungle), his mournful melodies transcended genre barriers.

But strangely, Burial's retrospective approach to percussion also pointed toward the future. Two years since it's inception on Forward>>'s tiny dancefloor, halfstep beats were beginning to both sound tired and not fulfill the expectations of ravers in 1,000-capacity venues. The challenge, of where to take dubstep next, will extend well into 2007.

The first production response to making big-room halfstep was by Skream and Loefah. While the latter engineered basslines of such majestic power that crowds were sonically assaulted into action, the former, alongside Coki DMZ, began fluctuating basslines so much they became a percussive element themselves. Unfortunately, the success of these approaches spawned many derivative copycat productions trying to out-dark and out-wobble each other. In an ideal world, 2007 will be the year that the legions of new production talent master their own styles and force their way down untold new byways, maintaining the quality and diversity of the scene while avoiding dubstep becoming what Loefah famously called "getting formula-ed."

As dubstep spreads globally, it will be interesting to see how regional producers absorb and re-interpret the sound with their own perspective. How can your music truly be about dark decaying London streets if you've never even seen them? Instead, it will be exciting to see if Bay Area producers can incorporate a hyphy influence, or if Brazilians can interact with baile funk. Can Indian, Japanese, or Chinese dubsteppers come through? What about glacial Scandinavian beats? If dubstep is a bass-heavy reflection of our surroundings, now that the scene's gone global, surely many new avenues now open themselves up. Let's just hope the avenues that get chosen avoid the well-proven dead ends of dance music past (liquid & noisy d&b, formula breaks, synthetic digidub, commercial house, etc.) and take an original new journey.

House itself provides an interesting landmark for dubstep in late 06/early 07. Post-Anti War Dub and Mala's other rhythmic landmark, "Bury the Bwoy", dark house flavors seem like an interesting antidote to the domination of dark wobble or stiff halfstep. With El-B and Burial around to reinstate 2-step's swing, Random Trio back in razor sharp percussive action, and Mala seemingly capable of placing kick drums in (m)any parts of the bar, 2007 could yet be a year of glorious rhythmic diversity. Add to that Pinch and Shackleton's flirtation with the European microhouse scene, and the possibilities are enticing.

The sound explored by Kode9's album-- mournful "sour spot" tones and vocal dubstep-- also remains underinvestigated. Will 2007 be the year that producers engage more with the task of writing vocal dubstep, be it grime-based lyrical fury, vocal feminine pressure, or, well, possibilities yet unimagined? It certainly poses a greater challenge than re-editing dub classics.
Into 2007, dubstep should also watch its cousin grime. While dubstep has its moment in the spotlight now (broadsheet coverage, the odd MTV documentary, some commercial radio acceptance), grime's has come and gone. Hype never lasts forever, as grime is finding. How it survives might be a useful exercise for dubstep to watch.

2006 was a year for grime when its critical hype faded and its breathtaking musical innovation slipped. It remains, however, one of the most incredible scenes on the planet and just as naysayers dismissed 2-step during the critical crash of 2001-02 (just as grime was beginning), so should they now be wary of writing off grime.

2006 was the year that cemented the switch from vinyl to CDs for grime. Inspired by US hip-hop giants, the scene calls them mixtapes, but devoid of any mixing, they're artist albums in all but name. Where grime mixapes excel is the value for money-- they retail for the same price as a vinyl 12" but have 15 more tracks. They also allow a rapid production turnover, with beats now not held back for months and months. Where they disappoint is in quality control: They often contain a CDs worth of tracks but only a vinyl 12"s worth of straight killers. But given they cost the same, it's a minor issue.

One of the main hurdles faced by grime this year was the inability to develop other avenues of lyrical content bar the standard hyper-aggressive "war" approach. It's catch-22 for grime: on the one hand this is what their grass roots inner city London audience want them to MC about (as it reflects how they live and the strong male role models they aspire to be) and what their wider hipster/blogger fans found so unique. On the other it alienates a mass market audience (i.e. any potential short term revenue), encourages their grass roots fans to pursue only one lyrical avenue and has begun to bore said wider hipster/blogger fans. With the arrival of funky house as an urban force, it should be interesting to see if the "war" approach remains or a more crowd pleasing approach evolves.

One recent event that reinforces grimes vital relevance, despite any fading hipster hype, was Crazy Titch's conviction for murder (coverage: BBC and RWD mag). While magazine/online hype comes and goes, the grassroots problems within British urban communities remain, and for many grime provides an entry point into the debate and a vital window into cultures they might not normally engage with. Witness a Guardian journalist, some bloggers, and grime's biggest DJ, Logan Sama, debating the relationship between grime and crime here.

On a more positive note, grime's man of the year has to be JME, who has been a hive of activity. He built the Boy Betta Know label (what should a boy now? That JME is "serious!"), which released around 15 mixtapes, from Wiley's to Tinchy's, Frisco's to four editions of his own (climaxing in the "Derk Head/Tropical" double CD release, that incorporates funky house).
His productivity has changed grime's expression "hold tight for my mixtape" from meaning "wait so long you lose interest" to "whoa, another week, another mixtape." The Boy Betta Know camp expanded to an awesome t-shirt line (including the hilarious one liner: "Are You Dumb?").

If one of the grime's scene key differentiators from the UK garage music it grew out of was that is was a "culture" rather than a musical scene, then clothing has long since been a logical extension. But where Wiley was talking about Eskiwear in 2003, yet not delivering, JME's actually followed through. His links with clothing don't stop there, as he was also spotted on the catwalk at a London fashion event-- unusual for a grime MC. Again, JME's actions speak loudly, proving grime does have the ability to work with not against other scenes and organizations.
Announced by a slew of mixtapes, the Movement burst onto the grime scene in 06, quickly propelling themselves to top boy status. Ex-N.A.S.T.Y. member Ghetto hit a rich vein of form, with his brutal, cold-earted flow. Mercston and Scorcher rode the mixtape wave too, until the law intervened on one of their behalves, with the Rapid (Ruff Sqwad) produced "Good Old Days" re-exerting a percussive, rave-energising rhythmic urgency to a scene more often focused on heading in an "artist/mixtape/album" direction. In truth, Rapid had an immense year, carrying on the work Target and Terror Danjah did in 2005.

Ghetto's fellow ex-N.A.S.T.Y. member Kano finished the year on a high with a tasty 7" collaboration with dancehall's Vybz Kartel. Another artist to exploit the links between the UK and JA was Shizzle, whose underrated mixtape took on styles both cultures. The highlight was the mellow "Motherland", which fitted neither genre but instead portrayed an evocative view of JA.

Shizzle, like Wiley and JME, also wrote about and sampled new media in grime tracks, with MSN messenger and MySpace making a big impact on the scene. Both, interestingly, are massively popular amongst grime's audience yet contribute little in terms of financial return. File sharing leaks continue to under mine's grime's attempts to build an industry while JME (on Logan's flagship show, recently) admitted while he's topped a million plays on his MySpace music player, he's seen little by way of money in return. Still, while grime remains outside of the mainstream music and media networks, user generated content like MySpace pages or YouTube videos continue to be a vital avenue for the scene to build a fanbase well beyond E3 and into 2007. Where grime will be in a year's time is difficult to know. One thing isn't: never ever, take your musical sights off urban London.

Dubstep's Top Five of 2006

1. = Kode9 + Spaceape: Memories of the Future [Hyperdub]
2. = Burial: Burial [Hyperdub]
3. Digital Mystikz: "Bury the Bwoy" [DMZ unreleased]
4. Skream: "Deep Concentration" [Tempa]
5. Loefah: "Mud" [DMZ)

Grime's Top Five of 2006

1. Ruff Sqwad: "No Base (Ghetto vocal)" [white]
2. Mercston & Ghetto: "Good Old Days" [Adamantium]
3. Narstie & Solo: "Brush Man" [Dice recordings]
4. Neckle Camp & Newham Generals: "London Ting" [Neckle]
5. Skream [ft. JME]: "Tapped" [Tempa)

Blackdown's new single "Mantis" is out now on Keysound Recordings. If you've liked these columns or his blog, vote Blackdown for blog of the year in the Dubstep Forum Awards. Bigup.

Tim here again - try also Boxcutter and Vex'd.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Internal & Structural Logic as Unseen Drivers - some musings

Well, here are some musings on internal / structural logic and dynamics in systems, that I initially wrote in a mail to Paul Illich after he had forwarded some of a Marxmail thread that set me off! I have elaborated and expanded a little.

See Marxism mailing list

The thread concerned was on the subject of whether "Atheism is foundational to Marxism". My view is that it is an important element of some Marxisms, but that theism is demonstrably an important element of some other Marxisms. I am an atheist, and see atheism as an important position, not a mere irrelevance that is "over there" somewhere, but central to all political and philosophical positions I might take.

Marx has preconceptions that he has questioned to some extent, but which nonetheless give a strong and independent dynamic to his overall theory, and, as you'll see below, such a dynamic is not limited to his views. It is my contention (hardly a radical or 'new' one, I think) that all systems of thought, structures of command, hierarchies... have logical pathways that are often outside the intent or control of those that create the system, structure, hierarchy... And that these are dynamical, revealing themselves and their effects over time, sometimes to the surprise of the observer.

Theistic elements lurk unquestioned or under-explored in many modern ideologies and belief systems, and I think Marxism is one of them. Quasi-religious elements also exist in other ideologies, and so what I say below was prompted by that position.

> David Walters writes:
>> My problem with Dawkins method is that in his view, it seems to me, there
>> is an *inevitability* to god-belief and fanaticism, even though he doesn't
>> condemn religious belief by all people who don't act fanatically. In this he
>> doesn't prove it at all and it's an unfortunate deduction on his part.
> I posted this thread to Tim Barton, of bluegreenearth, as I know these
> issues do it for him. He replies to David's post as follows:
> Paul

Hi Paul,

I think that such an "inevitability" exists, though it is context dependent as to whether it manifests or not. For example, must an individual who subscribes to Xristain thought be a fanatic? My answer is that, No, he or she needn't by some strange process become an extremist/fanatic, the circumstances of her overall experience in the real world; the nature of the pastor; the cultural place in which the religious group finds itself... are all factors that determine whether or not an inherent logical dynamic manifests in its most 'pure' form or not. However, that fanaticism is deeply encoded and easily revealed in the "right" circumstances...

I think that an "inherent logical dynamic" is to be found in religious beliefs. It has several elements, from the consequences of insisting on a creator, through whatever weighing the specific religion gives that God in regard to interventionism; the specific emphasis on immanence; the specific balance struck between quietism and wrath; the specific weight given to 'chosen people' ideology; to teleology in general... In the raw or pure form, most often in situations where it feels embattled by other forces (such as by secularism) or where (conversely) it feels it is the only true faith and feels widely regarded in the wider society as being so, the logical flowering is, I believe, towards an authoritarian fundamentalist arrogant stance towards all others (the Inquisition / witching stool attitudes that if you are harmed unfairly in this life for the glory of god, that is OK, as you'll get your reward in the next one, is illustrative of one of the problems of belief in afterlife/reincarnation/etc).

This is patently not deterministic in individual cases, as there are countervailing forces for good within each religion, but under pressure these are not so strongly hardwired in the religious tenets and texts as those elements those of us who do not share the belief of that religious sect rightly fear.

As a socialist-anarchist-atheist, I accept such "inherent logical dynamics" as a matter of course - from analysis of Capital for example, where a similar logic applies. Hence, I deny absolutely the possibility of a genuine "green capitalism", but absolutely do not deny that some individual capitalists can act in a green manner: ditto actions towards labour and wages and health and safety... A grow or die economy can only be giving towards these profit-wrecking or at least margin-reducing on the basis of ethical views that are imported from other cultural sources, as indeed Adam Smith, the supposed founder of the rampant globe-raping strain of neo-liberal capitalism sponsored by Thatcher and Reagan, acknowledged in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, though I'd deny that this can create a sufficient bulwark against the internal dynamics of Capital... and here both socialists and some Xristian groups [and other religions too of course] _can_ be beneficial, though to what extent you interpret that as "mere reformism", and whether you regard that as a negative or not, is another matter).

If my philosophical travels had not made the idea of "inherent logical dynamic", however framed, a meaningful and real thing, I _might_ be neither socialist, anarchist, green, nor atheist, as the concept (seen also, of course, in the Hegelian idea of the end being encoded in the beginning, as in an acorn>oak tree, or the idea that we ourselves become god through time [not one I subscribe too, of course, though I do think a secular variant that allows aspects of our nature to give us the technical and cultural and moral tools to become stewards of the Earth is valid as an idea of one of several competing "inherent logical dynamics" within our so-called "nature"]) is one that underpins my critique of capital, of religion, and indeed of other teleologically inclined philosophies that aren't very upfront about what those dynamics are and why they are positive.

Thus, although I think Popper went off in a rabid manner when writing about Marx, I at the same time value much of The Poverty of Historicism and parts of The Open Society & It's Enemies as they in fact address (badly) a real problem we must guard against (hence my refusal to take a
sectarian socialist/communist stance without reference to 'other' ideas from the anarchists (about the role of the state and hierarchy under both left and right) and the greens (about the results of both leftist and rightist continued industrial productivism and trickle-down economics).

[and in a later post]

I was also going to compare, in regard to teleology and historicism, the Xristian 'Rapturists', some of whom seem to want to have a nuclear war or suchlike to accelerate the process of reaching apocalypse for the glory of God, and other overdetermined ideologies aimed at a future utopia. Hegel sees the human race evolving into a fully adult entity, as an acorn does an oak, that may or may not be a 'godhead' (and Catholics such as Teilhard de Chardin, or even the more secular Marshall McLuhan, have analogues of that in their beliefs). The weltgeist as seen by Hegel through his dialectic, like the rapturists or the inquisition, more of less justifies means by reference to the ends sought. How many leftists do you know for which the same can be said? I certainly know very many, most of them, of course, vanguardists. Unlike Popper, I don't see this as problem uniquely dangerous in Marxism (as I said earlier, Popper is rabid in this issue), but as a very typical human trait - hence it's occurrence in so many other ideologies. However, it is one that is exaggerated and amplified in ideologies and cultures that lionise hierarchy and teleological ends.

Old fashioned though it may be, I take Aldous Huxley's Ends & Means essay seriously. The ultimate goal, no matter how 'glorious', does not justify _any_ means, and indeed bad means tend to create structures and obstacles (within and without) that make the success of the ultimate ends impossible. The cellular secretive and authoritarian methods often used (not without reason, it has to be said, when under surveillance by secret police and threatened with persecution if caught) by the Bolsheviks, the SWP in Britain, etc, create people who agree on the goal but are psychologically incapable of living or behaving in the manner required in the society aimed at, and indeed often will make its attainment impossible.

From that viewpoint, whilst atheism may or may not be hardwired in Marx, a semi-religious teleology that creates a "this thing is bigger than both of us" entity to which we are in thrall, IS hardwired in Marx. This is a problem, I believe, and one that clearly has parallels with theism. Again, hence my refusal to tow the party line and instead to happily engage with anarchist and green ideas, such as social ecology, that attempt to address the dynamical problems inherent in the logic of many variants of Marxism.

I'd add that these tendencies are not necessarily missing from scientific ideas too.

Dawkins himself is strong on making it clear that he does not support an 'evolutionist' take on evolution - one that suggests that (in the words of Ophelia Benson, co-author of Why Truth Matters, in her piece New Darwin War, who is, BTW, not defending the concept) "[...] 'Darwinism' leads ineluctably to atheism". He would suggest that, instead, "evolution makes atheism intellectually sustainable". But theistic interpretations of the theory of evolution (yes, it is a theory, but please remember that not all theories are equal!) abound, from those that simplistically regard evolution and the science of unearthing more facts about evolution as exhuming "god's work", not of denying it, to the more sophisticated views of the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin, whose view was that man himself would evolve to godhood (in a similar way to Hegel), at which point we would all disappear up our own fundament, oops! sorry, "reach the Omega point". This view is also reflected in Marshall McLuhan's "Extensions of Man" ideas about our evolution having now transferred to our tools, such as TV, satellites, radio, and - in a modern version of his work - the internet... all of which lead us to a global village and from there to a global brain that transcends individual humanity. His ideas are similar to Chardin's noosphere, which was quite definitely seen as a consequence of evolutionary theory, and one to be embraced as a step on the way to "God".

These ideas have a long pedigree in theology, in a nominally different guise (but not all that different), as these definitions from the Merriam-Webster illustrates:


Main Entry: es·cha·tol·o·gy
Pronunciation: "es-k&-'tä-l&-jE
Function: noun

Inflected Form(s): plural -gies
Etymology: Greek eschatos last, farthest
1 : a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind
2 : a belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind; specifically : any of various Christian doctrines concerning the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, or the Last Judgment

Main Entry: tel·e·ol·o·gy
Pronunciation: "te-lE-'ä-l&-jE, "tE-
Function: noun
Etymology: New Latin teleologia, from Greek tele-, telos end, purpose + - logia -logy -- more at WHEEL
1 a : the study of evidences of design in nature b : a doctrine (as in vitalism) that ends are immanent in nature c : a doctrine explaining phenomena by final causes
2 : the fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose
3 : the use of design or purpose as an explanation of natural phenomena
- tel·e·ol·o·gist /-jist / noun

Another science that also dips unknowingly into dodgy territory is Big Bang theory. It is hard to see whether the straight line backward projections are right or not. The math tells us where we might go if this is a legitimate move. Certainly, Fred Hoyle was discomfited by the idea as extrapolated in traditional ways - a Big Bang is a creation event. It is very attractive to those who are born to a religious culture, and the whole world counted as this until fairly recently: recently enough that I, as a 42 year old in the UK, am painfully aware that, atheist though I be, I have had my worldview coloured by the religious upbringing that was the norm here. Yes, a creation event is very sexy, but is it what really happened? Are the absurdities the theory throws up a sign that the theory is flawed or that we don't understand enough yet? I do not claim to able to answer this, one way or the other, but I do know that all too few scientists today are equipped with sufficient objectivity to address the question with an open mind. Quantum mechanics suffers here too, of course.

This historicist tendency is hardly native to Marxian ideas alone - Fukayama's moronic End of History illustrates the return to Eden / rapturist tendency in capitalism too. Indeed, with the Dollar as God, of more than value than mere humans, destined to acheive some miraculous "balance" via the free market seems quasi-religious at the very least. Ayn Rand's objectionable "objectivist" philosophy illustrates a raw and unfettered example of the invisible dynamic of capital, and hellish it is too (though, like Fukayama, she wallows in it unthinkingly and unquestioningly) - here, free market failure is due to insufficient freedom. Experiments that are increasingly unfettered, in the real world result in increasing breakdown, as the economy seeks the point that it's internal dynamic (the Invisible Hand) leads to... for Rand this increasing failure is a sign not that she may be wrong, but that instead yet more freedom of the market is required. The fact is, the internal dynamic is towards that ever popular balanced state of Entropy - every one will be poor and live in shit (bar one or two rich scum that the poor will sooner or later shoot, but if they don't get shot they'll inherit a dustbowl at best), and toward that other point where the cancer kills the host, grow-or-die leading to ecological systemic collapse.

The bottom line is, we must always be awake and critically aware, we must always question our own most cherished beliefs as well as those of others, as the price of freedom is indeed, as the Americans like to say, eternal vigilance. An internal dynamic or logical pressure within an ideology that is ill-understood, ignored, or unseen will take us to places we are not intending to go. Marxism certainly suffers on this count. In part it is it's reliance on a relatively fixed Utopian future that makes it a danger. Anything that appears to help get to that point, no matter the moral character of actions required, is OK, the End Justifies The Means. This I deny the validity of, and many would agree, many Marxists (and a few capitalists) among them... some of them will see that their own views are susceptible to this and will guard against it fastidiously, but many refuse to see it at all.