Britain is in decline. This much is true. Nobody would dare suggest otherwise – unless, of course, they wish to attest to pure ignorance or twisted glee.
Given this, we are very much in need of sweeping reform. Yet reform is not the product of drawn-out pontification. Ultimately, it is the sum of action: action moulded by proposition.
As such, dear reader, allow me to do just that. May I present to you: A Sensible Proposal.
Shrink the cabinet to its 5 or 6 most capable members, empower ministers to fire civil servants at will, and slash the civil service by at least 75% – it’s not technically Moldbuggian RAGE (Retire All Government Employees), but it’s of the same spirit.
Take the Civil Service Code and throw it on the regulatory bonfire, along with every obstructive procurement rule preventing us from becoming the AI capital of Europe.
Implement mandatory IQ tests for all new civil service hires and scrap the counter-intuitive stakeholder model of policy-making; ensuring government bureaucrats literally, not figuratively, live in The Real World.
Double the length of every sentence, especially for crimes which make civilised society impossible (murder, rape, theft, schmonking weed, etc.). Freedom, if nothing else, should mean the ability to go from A to B without being mugged, molested, or murdered.
Repeat offenders should receive at least one of the following: an extended sentence, a life sentence, chemical castration, or the death penalty. Tough on Crime, Tough on The Causes of Crime.
Abolish the Communication Act and its statutory predecessors to make speech free again. The less time the plod can spend harassing you for tweeting facts and logic, the more time they’ll dedicate to brutalising groomers of our nation’s children, vandals of our nation’s heritage, and abusers of animals.
Furthermore, abolish the Supreme Court and bring back the Law Lords – Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, eat your precious ‘modernising’ hearts out!
Speaking of which, if we can hand out titles to cronies, half-wits, and dodgy sorts, I’m sure we can take them away – put some actual aristocrats in Parliament; of spirit in the Commons and of blood in the Lords.
Abolish the TV licence fee and replace it with nothing. That or broadcast stuff worth watching – like reruns of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation series or Spy x Family.
This is an excerpt from “Mayday! Mayday!”. To continue reading, visit The Mallard’s Shopify.
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By Tom Jones — 1 year ago
The discussion has never been stupider.
The relative infrequency in which western audiences are exposed to war means that every time a conflict breaks out, enormous advances occur not just in technology or strategy, but in culture too. Whilst the First World War showed the power of industrialisation, the Second showed the potential of modern media to be harnessed as propaganda and the Gulf War demonstrated the importance of emergent 24hr news coverage.
Those who have followed the war in Ukraine through Twitter may have noticed a similar cultural shift. Russia, whose information warfare capabilities have been for so long held up as an aspirational standard for other nations, appears to be losing the battle online. Even well-paid RT journalists who were quite happy to continue shilling through the poisonings in London and Salisbury, the Russian downing of an airliner and the annexation of both Donbass and Crimea are now resigning – shocked to find unfriendly propaganda being produced by their own organisation.
The news is not that the Russians have, in PR terms, been internationally out-maneuvered. They are the aggressor (and a much more powerful one at that), they’re non-Western and non-democratic. The government does not respect liberal values – or human life. There was never much support or sympathy for Putin or his regime overseas and many are taking the side of Zelensky. Rather, the noticeable shift has been in the way that Ukraine has been discussed online and in how support for Ukraine is being expressed. What we are witnessing is not so much the lionisation of Ukraine as the Marvelisation.
In order to make sense of complex foreign events, people have always had to distort and simplify in order to find a frame of reference they understand. It’s why so many of our baby-boomer politicians end up talking about Munich and appeasement. The horrors of Nazism are the defining moral event of our modern age, to which our revulsion is universal. With such a point established, it is easy for people to rely on it to establish the defined evil of the opposition position, mawkishly conjuring images of them taking the noble and justly defiant stand of David Low: ‘Very well, alone.’
The frame of reference for Boomers is the Second World War. But for the terminally online generation, it is Marvel films. Post-invasion, Marvel’s The Winter Soldier began to trend as the conflict was compared to the film. The number of people replying ‘Yo, Thanos fr?’ to this obvious meme tweet is deeply troubling – the fact it had to be taken to a fact checker even more so. People are campaigning for Jeremy Renner to be cast as Volodymyr Zelensky. There is a dangerously high number of tweets achieving near apocalyptic-levels of cringe by depicting the Ukrainian leader as ‘Captain Ukraine.’ But why would anyone compare a real-life conflict with a superhero film? The people committing these atrocities against intellect are desperately seeking a cultural reference to fit into a narrative of good vs evil, and sadly the narratives with which they are most familiar are Marvel ones.
The use of both Marvel and the Second World War as rhetorical devices have much in common. For groups with relatively little understanding of international relations, of diplomacy or history, both offer a reference point that is almost universally understood. Marvel’s films achieve titanic viewing figures, and we must not forget that boomers grew up in a world where the Second World War was still a common subject for films and programmes. That means, at least, that there is a common understanding, and ensures that everyone is roughly on the same page.
The clear-cut ‘good guy vs bad guy’ narrative of Marvel films, much like the universal revulsion to the crimes of the Nazis, also provides an easily defined good vs. evil narrative, of just war, deo et victricibus armis. Once you identify yourself and your chosen side with Winston Churchill – or Ironman – you have taken position on the moral high ground. It is a way to dismiss the position of your opponents and establish your own as self-evident without worrying too much about the niceties of debate. There is no room for subtle nuance, for allowing that perhaps there has been a categoric failure of western foreign policy in the build up to Ukraine, or that appeasement was a sensible, logical policy borne from Chamberlain’s calculation that the longer war could be delayed, the better Britain’s chances, as James Levy argued. Relying on the black-and-white nature of Marvel or the Second World War means a debate has no room for nuance – indeed, this is rather the point. There is no room for Kissinger’s constructive ambiguity – the extent of the understanding is limited to them BAD, we GOOD.
The use of Munich as a parallel for everything in international relations should be derided. There are some cases in which it is a genuinely useful historic parallel; but in the main, it is a poor example that betrays a lack of understanding. Prior to the invasion, for instance, Tobias Ellwood MP called for a ‘Churchillian approach’ to the crisis. What Ellwood meant was that his course of action would have been Churchill’s – brave, daring, bold. Any other potential action was Chamberlain’s – servile, cowardly, fit only for the effeminate nursings of the seraglio. Given that Churchill was perfectly prepared to assign Eastern Europe as a sphere of Russian influence in the Percentages Agreement, Ellwood’s call was deeply historically inaccurate, but it did at least serve to remind us that he has both the heart of a lion and the brain of a sheep.
The use of Marvel as a parallel for anything in international relations should also be derided. Every mention of a character from a superhero film in discourse this important should be greeted the way my girlfriend greets me when I get home from work – with thinly veiled contempt. They are a way to infantilise a complex situation. Watching films, as with all visual media, requires perception rather than conception. Marvel films don’t require understanding, insight or intelligence – the good will eventually win out, as it always does. Gasp as the superhero defeats the bad guy just in time to save the world for the 4,927th time running.
Marvelisation is deeply crass, as crude and unrefined as the oil western nations are still dependent on Putin for. But it is not solely driven by a lack of empathy. The main driving factor is more simple. It is content platforms doing what they do best; producing content. There is a gaping chasm in the timeline, and it must be filled with content. Ukraine is more than a war; it’s a chance to go viral, to close a real, discernible gap in the race for retweets.
A war set to displace and kill thousands seems an odd place to seek new content from. But it is not a new phenomenon. In The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, Jean Baudrillard posited that the slick media presentations, such as Norman Schwarzkopf’s ‘Mother of All Press Conferences’ and constant media coverage from the new 24-hour news channels made it essentially impossible to identify what actually happened. Since the Gulf War, the internet has only accelerated this process of conflict becoming content. War has become a hyperreal simulacrum, indistinguishable from other forms of visual media. War is to be consumed. As Zelensky films himself walking around Kiev, the Twitter hive-mind of Marvel audiences immediately turns to Jeremy Renner because they are almost totally unable to distinguish the real world of war, of which they have no experience, from that of Marvel, which they are deeply familiar. For them, watching Ukraine unfold is no different to watching a new show. For Ukrainians, it is a grim daily reality.
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By Jake Scott — 11 months ago
Leading up to December 2022, when I was preparing for my PhD viva, I was told by colleagues – quite consistently – that populism was back on the academic agenda. Clearly, I had timed my PhD well, the covid pandemic aside.
Now, at the conclusion of the process, I have people ask me what my core conclusions are. The truth is, I say, populism is going to remain a permanent feature of our political system for a long time, to such an extent that I think, for all his mistakes and poor insights, Cas Mudde was right to describe our era as the ‘populist zeitgeist.’ I am not alone in making this prediction: in his farewell speech to the European Parliament, Nigel Farage said populism ‘was very popular’; and there abound many different academic attempts at explaining the likely enduring appeal of populism.
Among them I find particular value in Nadia Urbinati’s Democracy Disfigured (2014) and Me, The People (2019): the former is particularly focused on how democracy can be transformed, though populism is only part of that story. In that book, Urbinati attempts to analyse the role of what she calls the doxa in democracy, emphasising the linguistic and dialogical elements of democracy as methods of identifying conflict and resolving them; in response to this, says Urbinati, populism attempts to ‘fix’ the inevitability of conflict. It can do this because democracy (and politics in general) is actually about never attempting to remove conflict, merely attempting to ‘win’ the immediate conflict, whilst accepting that you may ‘lose’ the next one. The underlying unity is, as a result, quite thin, and little more than a general agreement on the process of conflict and resolution, rather than an agreement on the resolution of conflict specifically.
Populism, says Urbinati, works from within the logic of democracy to recognise the inherently conflictual nature of politics and democracy, and then seeks to deny it. Instead of attempting to win now, and accept the possibility of losing in the future, populism attempts to win forever, and deny the possibility of future conflict. In doing so, populism becomes anti-politics.
In the latter book, Urbinati delves deeper into populism specifically, and considers the internal mechanisms of populism, rather than just the impact it has on democracy. In doing so, Urbinati looks at the role of ‘antiestablishmentarianism,’ ‘antielitism’ and, crucially, the messianic leader, in the emergence of populism.
This is an excerpt from “Ides”. To continue reading, visit The Mallard’s Shopify.
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By The Mallard — 1 year ago
There was a time not very long ago when I wanted to become an Anglican priest. I thought I had discovered my vocation; it filled me with hope for the future. Now, however, I cannot think of a more unattractive prospect.
I was warned. At a book signing a couple of years ago, a non-stipendiary priest looked at me and said that the Church of England would eat me up. Another priest expressed such a lack of enthusiasm for his role that he might as well have told me to convert to atheism. I could hardly gainsay them. It wasn’t my place to claim that I would have been a moral, spiritual or intellectual asset to the Anglican fold – though, admittedly, I did wish to ape those clever, eccentric country parsons who so enriched the culture. As Bill Bryson wrote in his book Home:
“Never in history have a group of people engaged in a broader range of creditable activities for which they were not in any sense actually employed.”
The first history of dirty jokes, the Jack Russell terrier, Bayes’ Theorem, the power loom, Tristram Shandy, and even the submarine were all products of bored clergymen.
Of course, to believe that today’s Church of England resembled yesterday’s was my own, rose-tinted failing. Deep down, I knew it had changed almost beyond recognition. But change is inevitable – and often salutary. I could perhaps have embraced the 21st century Church of England. Unfortunately, I doubt it would embrace me. Its recent “yeeting” (to use the scientific term) of Calvin Robinson alerted me to just how far the Church has fallen. Robinson’s politics comport with my own as do his convictions: pride is a sin, marriage is between a man and a woman, and the Gospel is rather more significant than an imported racial ideology, of which Black Lives Matter is the conduit. Robinson’s treatment showed that the Church of England’s hierarchy is committing slow-motion idolatry.
When Robinson rails against what has happened to him, I have no doubt that he speaks for many, if not the majority, of churchgoers, who all but despair of what has happened to our national Church. But Robinson has a platform. We hear less often from young Anglicans, for whom the Church’s every statement seems designed to cater. Thus we get mini-golf courses and helter-skelters in our cathedrals, pride and NHS flags draped over our altars, and statements to the effect that the Church is racist but you should join it anyway. My own local church recently played host to a rock concert, for which the altar was whisked embarrassedly out of sight. Would a mosque tolerate such a thing? No, and nor should it. And of course, the Church hierarchy announced only a couple of weeks ago that they, too, couldn’t make heads or tails of what a woman was – undoing centuries of dogma and theology, not to mention insulting women.
It would be remiss of me to claim to be able to speak on behalf of all young Anglicans, especially given my continuing attraction to both Rome and Constantinople. But, after years of contact with other young Anglicans, I am confident that what I have to say now would attract something close to a consensus. So, Mr Welby, if you’re listening (which I suspect you’re not): we don’t want what you’re offering. We want heaven and hell. We want angels, powers and principalities. We want prayer, orthodoxy and conviction. We want good and evil, right and wrong. Above all, we want Christ. Your generation – the children of the 1960s – became enamoured by the secular. You think that heaven on earth is possible, if only we join the right causes and shun the wrong politic – you have surrendered to the world. But the Kingdom is not of this world. As T.S. wrote in Thoughts After Lambeth:
“Thought, study, mortification, sacrifice: it is such notions as these that should be impressed upon the young—who differ from the young of other times merely in having a different middle-aged generation behind them. You will never attract the young by making Christianity easy; but a good many can be attracted by finding it difficult: difficult both to the disorderly mind and to the unruly passions.”
If this truth isn’t soon heeded, I fear that the Church of England will be all but extinct in a decade or two. It will linger on in London and Birmingham, perhaps, where immigrant Christians still take seriously what the English do not. But it will no longer be the spiritual organ of the nation. Possibly the Catholic Church will fill the vacuum. Who knows?
I say all this as someone who is, technically, a member of the newly established religion: LGBT. It is said to be a community, though I’ve never seen it except when it rears its sponsored head to bully some poor recalcitrant for saying the wrong thing about gay marriage. Exactly this was what happened in my town last year. A Christian councilman said to some committee or other that, while he supported the right of gay people to live happy lives, he could not condone gay marriage. It has become a cliche to compare cancel culture to witch hunts, for good reason but the councilman was subjected to weeks of bullying and the foulest of threats and insults all, of course, in the name of tolerance and compassion. It upset me that the local Anglican church did nothing to snuff the flames – and may even have wished secretly to fan them.
There is, I believe, a ground swell of small-o orthodoxy among the young. New atheism (of which I was a devotee) proved insufficient in answering our moral, spiritual and intellectual needs. Many of us turned to God, whatever our politics. But if we were conservative, we naturally sought sustenance in the Church of England. I cannot be alone in saying that to find it so debased has been one of the great sadnesses of my early life. As Lear says, “we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools”.
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