Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Flags pt1

Well, there hasn'€™t been much musing from this particular PC for the last few days. I'€™ve been spending my valuable displacement time scanning and archiving pictures from half a lifetime ago and uploading some of them onto Flickr. It'€™s quite a strange experience poring over old photographs; mulling over what was, what might have been and realising that, yes, you are now older than you ever dreamed of being.

I'™ve also spent some time reading through other folk'€™s blogs and looking at their pictures. I'€™ve been exclusively in produce rather than consume mode for some time now and narcissism is never a healthy thing.

And then I came across this photograph on Flickr ...

Originally uploaded by Pete Ashton.

Not very nice is it.

The guy who originally posted the picture mentioned that he'€™d seen it on a bus stop in Birmingham. He described how he was in two minds about tearing the thing down; eventually deciding that, yes, he would.

A few people then commented that this was an excellent thing to do and thoroughly justified.

I couldn'€™t help myself.

I dived in.

Without repeating the comments I made there, the gist of my point was that freedom of speech cuts both ways and the true test of a free democracy is how prepared we all are to have people express views we fundamentally disagree with. Obviously there is a limit. Incitement to violence goes beyond free expression but, short of that, in a truly free society more or less anything should go.

Even fascist thinking.

Sorry, that'™s the way it is.

One commentator took exception to my position and argued that Nazi symbols made people scared for their well-being and should be torn down on that basis. OK, but then it would be fine to rip down Stars of David in deference to Palestinian sensibilities. Corporate logos would have to be torn down to please anti-globalisation campaigners and Conservative and Labour party material would have to come down to keep me happy.

There'€™s a fundamental hypocrisy at the heart of contemporary liberal thinking. Free speech and minority rights only apply to groups deemed worthy of these gifts. The recent ban on fox hunting in the UK is a cracking example. People, largely on the Left of politics, campaigning against hunting, argued vociferously that the majority of the UK population supported the ban. I doubt very seriously if they would use the same arguments when debating, say, immigration, gay rights or the reintroduction of capital punishment.

Another, admittedly trivial example comes to mind.

I smoke. I am addict and a victim of corporate manipulation. In all probability my addiction will kill me or at least shorten my life. But let'€™s be honest here. Smokers are scum aren'€™t they? Heroin addicts on the other hand are true victims and are worthy of sympathy and as much support as society has to offer.

That don'€™t make much sense to me.

As it happens, I personally support a '€˜liberal'™ position on the issues mentioned above but I also know hypocrisy when I see it. Liberal fascism is still fascism, just a different kind of fascism, that's all.

I'm not pretending that the sight of a swastika on a British street doesn'€™t bother me. It does. But I want to live in the kind of free society that we kid ourselves we live in. Tolerating muck like that is the price of living in that society. Once you start saying it'€™s OK to start tearing things down, who do you appoint to decide what is or isn't torn down? Politicians?

Half an hour spent at Speakers€™ Corner can be quite instructive when considering these issues. There are some pretty extreme guys plying their wares there. Curiously, it'€™s not unusual to see heated arguments between Fundamentalists and Atheists, Marxists and Nationalists taking place with no sense that they will degrade into violence. The guys speaking there know the rules and accept that sharing space with people who piss them off is the price of entry. They also welcome the chance of a good row. Personally, I'€™d like to extend Speakers Corner by about 15,000 miles in all directions.

Rather than ripping Nazi stickers down we should leave them, maybe with the addition of a scribbled rebuttal, but they should be left where they are. For two reasons; firstly to remind people that such groups exist and secondly because it'€™s easier to deal with bullshit thinking in the broad daylight.

Take the offending picture posted on Flickr.

I actually visited the website of the sticker'€™s authors. Apparently, the group is ...

'€˜Fighting for the Survival of British Culture'

Mmmmm, fighting for the survival of British Culture by adopting the political symbolism of Germany from 70 years ago. Well, that's bollocks for a start. Over half a million British Citizens died fighting Nazi tyranny and these guys are ignorant enough to portray the swastika next to the Union Jack. I'™d say they were spitting on the graves of people who really did fight for the survival of British Culture, whatever that might be.

But would I endorse banning this kind of nonsense? No. They simply aren'€™t worth it.

Returning to the concept of double standards in the world of contemporary liberal fascism, consider the differing attitudes to, say, violent juvenile offenders and Neo Nazis. The first group are the product of a disadvantaged upbringing and can be helped through sympathetic support. Neo Nazis are just scum and should just be eradicated and suppressed.

Mmmmm, that'€™s also bollocks isn'™t it.

I'd say people become Neo Nazis for just the same reasons that liberals cite for kids taking drugs or mugging old ladies. They feel excluded and insecure.

There's also that whole, repressed homosexual, communal showering, macho leather-boy thing but there are ways to indulge in those tastes these days without donning a political armband. It's almost certainly less of a factor than it was in 1933.

No, it's mostly an insecurity thing.

And, as with Germany in the 1920s, you can either find ways to make these people feel like they have a stake in society or you can ignore them until they go away, or there are so many of them you can no longer ignore them.

Mmmmm, drowning out someone's voice by shouting louder than them, then patting yourself on the back for being so right-on and clever. Yeah, that's going to work ...

(to be continued, probably)


Pete Ashton said...

I agree with a lot of what you're saying, despite being a bit of a lefty, but I think tearing the sticker (I didn't completely remove it - the swastika is still visible) could be considered part of the debate.

Placing a sticker like that in a public place is not easily comparable to standing at Speakers Corner. At the latter you make you case and have to defend yourself and to be honest I probably wouldn't have the conviction or guts to do so. Placing a sticker on a bus stop is done quickly and surreptitiously. No time for debate but the message is clear - someone, maybe a lot of people, in this area agree with this statement. Not having my own stickers to place underneath I deface the sticker, effectively saying someone in this area disagrees with this statement. There's not much room for anything else.

But I should also add that I was sober when I left it there and drunk when I tore it. And also a little angry having witnessed a racist moron slagging off asian taxis drivers in town, so this rationalisation didn't really go through my mind.

Stef said...


I hope that you don't for a second think I was pitching at you. You made your position clear in your description and comments. The fact that you thought about the pros and cons of how to deal with trash like that demonstrates that you are mindful of the issues involved.

BTW apologies for not giving you a heads up on referring to your photo. I was going to drop you a note later today but I should have done that first.


Pete Ashton said...

Oh, God no. You just got me thinking about the notion of using stickers as a form of debate, which is like running up to someone, ideologically punching them in the face and running away again.

As for using the photo, it's on Flickr with a creative commons license - you can do with it what you like! It's nice to see debate develop elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

It's a weird world we live in, where we can get upset about symbols, where you can be a racist for flying your own flag in your own country (because it been highjacked be extremists)...and yet millions are murdered (insert your country of choice here...............) every year, and no one says a word.

Stef said...

Yup, I understand exactly what you're talking about ...