Satire is dead

March 29, 2008 at 6:36 pm (Catholicism, Galloway, Guardian, Jim D, religion, science, stalinism)

I’ve long considered Simon Hoggart a smug, supercilious asshole. But I can’t argue with this (by Hoggart, in today’s Graun):

On the radio we heard denunciations of the embryo bill, as modern church leaders tried to halt research that might improve and extend life for millions of people otherwise certain to bring terrible suffering to themselves and their families.

“I do think a compromise is possible. They can believe what they like, whether it’s the Virgin Birth, the infalibilty of the Pope, or the true heir to Muhammed (which is what splits Sunni from Shia). or,come to that, the teapot round the sun. just so long as they just stop messing up our lives, whether it means obliging us to have a spring holiday in midwinter, or dying in pain and humiliation while harassed families reach the end of their tether.”

Hoggart doesn’t claim to be any great leftie (I seem to recall he was quite keen on Blair in the early nineties), but at least he has an elementary grasp of enlightenment values and humanism, unlike his “left wing” Graun colleague, this Staninist apologist for religion, genocide, totalitarianism and ignorance.

Meanwhile, Milne’s fellow Stalinist and Respect-ator, Mr Galloway has come out with this extraordinary fundamentalist, religious outburst that has rendered any further attempts by myself to satirise him, redundant. As Tom Lehrer (allegedly) said when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973: “Satire is dead”.

22 Comments

  1. scwr said,

    Sadly, he’s the son of Richard ‘Uses of Literacy’ Hoggart. Better might have been expected from such beginnings. Agree completely with your judgement on Milne, mind. And George ‘Perma-tan’ Galloway.

  2. Jim Denham said,

    Well, well: I didn’t know that. What a disappointment he must have been to his ol’ dad. mind you, I hate to think what Ralph thought of David and Ed Miliband…

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2004/feb/28/schools.labour

  3. sackcloth and ashes said,

    Mind you, when Shameless Milne talks about the virtues of religion, he ignores the anti-Islamic attitude of the Khalqis in the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan – that’s the guys that ‘Straight Left’ backed in the 1980s.

  4. Jules said,

    Jim – thanks for pointing me to Milne’s excellent article.

    If you read Milne’s piece you’ll see that he actually denounces the religious opposition to the fertilisation bill as a “policing of sexuality and procreation (that) trumps the cause of human suffering and liberation every time”. He also notes a number of other repressive trends that are a concern to the secular left. The essence of his argument however is that religion can face both ways: it can be liberating or oppressive, an agent for change or for preserving the existing social order etc.

    An individuals’ stance on religion taken alone is no indicator of whether they have progressive politics. “Militant Atheists” like Amis and Hitchens are keen to play up the irrational and oppressive nature of religion whilst turning a blind eye to the devastation caused by capitalism. From the standpoint of working class socialism what use are these apologists for empire?

    Meanwhile there have been a great number of people, both past and present, who’s religious beliefs haven’t prevented them from playing a progressive political role. Milne is arguing that alliances with such people around common goals shouldn’t be ruled out on the basis of the fetishising of the “enlightenment values” or limiting your analysis to bourgeois abstract critiques of religion. I can’t see anything wrong in that.

  5. Jules said,

    Sackcloth and ashes “critique” of Milne reveals just as much about him and his ilk (the decent swamp) as it does anybody. They’ll happily cheer on (or ignore) any bunch of religious reactionaries providing that they’re backed by America or Britain.

  6. voltairespriest said,

    What’s “bourgeois” about pointing out that a creation myth is just that?

  7. Jules said,

    “What’s “bourgeois” about pointing out that a creation myth is just that?”

    Nothing – I’m not sure why you’re addressing that question to me. You must be aware however, having spent some time in an ostensibly revolutionary socialist organisation, that the Marxist position of religion is somewhat different to the bourgeois rationalist critique. The latter, as personified by the likes of Amis and Hoggart, reduces religion to just another ideology – little more than a set of “bad” thoughts in peoples heads.

    The Marxist perspective, whilst rejecting religion, argued that its roots lie in social alienation and subsequently that religiosity can be a manifestation of protest against oppression. This is why Marx was happy to work alongside religious workers and trade union leaders and rejected the Bakuninite attempts to transform the international into a vehicle for anti-religious agitation.

    I’d like to know why Jim, who claims to be a Marxist, thinks Milne is wrong for arguing that the left should work alongside religious people on issues that we agree on. I’d also like to know why in the past he has attacked the likes of Terry Eagleton for maintaining a Marxist position on religion whilst bigging up the likes of Amis and Hoggart – the sort of bourgeois rationalists who’s arguments Marx rejected in his day.

  8. modernityblog said,

    Jules wrote:

    This is why Marx was happy to work alongside religious workers and trade union leaders

    working alongside workers who hold religious views, is distinctly different from capitulating to those views and suggesting that religious ideas should have a wider domain in society, as for example that longtime Marxist, Archbishop Newman argues, see http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=1721

    obviously, there’s the necessity to avoid taking up ideas which have been proven to be reactionary (Catholic Church’s attitude towards medical research/HIV) and not being grossly offensive towards religious people and heckling them, so separate the two, they are not the same.

  9. voltaires_priest said,

    I quite agree with Modernity, Jules. What you seem to be arguing for is not simply working alongside religious people on agreed issues as you claim (it is obvious to anyone but a total moron that we would, for instance, work with Christian or Muslim workers in a strike situation), but actually that progressives should abandon truthful critiques of religion as “bourgeois” and instead simply give a free pass to reactionary political stances held by religious people.

  10. Jules said,

    Not at all VP what I’m arguing is that religion, like nationalism, can play either a progressive or a reactionary role and that someone’s religiosity should not be the litmus test for whether they qualify as a “progressive” or not. Think Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Liberation Theologists etc.

  11. modernityblog said,

    Jules wrote:

    can play either a progressive or a reactionary role and that someone’s religiosity should not be the litmus test for whether they qualify as a “progressive” or not.

    again, this is confusing individuals with the underlying ideas that they hold, and religions as wider social forces

    the two are not the same.

    for example, an individual Catholics may have a “progressive” views on Gays or contraception, but does not mean that the Catholic Church or Catholicism as a doctrine necessarily does

    and incidentally who is to define “progressive”??

    if we look at recent political events in Britain, then the notion of “progressive” is in the eye of the beholder and often reduced to a subjective tactical political perspective

    for example, when the SWP (another lot of “Marxists”!) was in alliance with Islamists they were defensive to the point of denial on the issues of communalism and pandering to religious sentiment (segregated meetings, forcing woman comrades to wear scarves, etc), and now, as if by miracle, no longer in that alliance the SWP suddenly find that part of Respect pandered to communalism, etc

    amazing isn’t it? when in an alliance, utter denial, now out of it and the SWP’s perspective suddenly changes?

    that’s the problem with tailendism, and not having a well thought out attitude towards religious beliefs, almost inevitably parts of the Left end up surrendering politically to stronger held religious views

    That phenomena can be found at SU blog, where the proprietor actually argues for an increasing role of religion in society, even though he is an atheist and doesn’t believe any of this drivel.

    It is tactical nonsense and principled suicide.

    If you can’t stickup for your own ideas when in an alliance, you’ll be relegated to political tea boys, doing the bidding of others and the theists will laugh at their allies, for not having the courage of their own convictions. That’s the problem.

  12. sackcloth and ashes said,

    ‘They’ll happily cheer on (or ignore) any bunch of religious reactionaries providing that they’re backed by America or Britain.’

    Care to substantiate that claim, Jules?

  13. Clive said,

    A lot of this argument seems bewildering to me. *Of course* socialists/Marxists etc want to work alongside religious people; don’t condemn all religious people as reactionaries; want united fronts with people who have religious beliefs. Otherwise – how could you function?

    The issue is whether, as part of so doing, you pretend to hold beliefs of your own other than they really are. Milne’s position – his actual position, as opposed to the rhetoric of it – seems to me simply incomprehensible. It”s one thing if you actually *hold* religious beliefs, and are therefore part of some debate within a religious community. But if you don’t – what on earth does it mean to want be part of a debate ‘within’ religion? Other than the most risible opportunism?

    There seems to me to be a completely separate argument, which is to do with how exactly one *poses* disagreement with religious belief (how militantly/aggressively/sneeringly/sensitively – whatever it is). But Milne’s argument seems to me, literally, meaningless and nonsensical. Either you agree with religious belief, or you don’t.

  14. Jim Denham said,

    Jules: where, exactly, did Marx (a militant and outspoken atheist and rationalist) “reject” “bourgeoise rationalism” in favour (presumably) of a more pro-religious stance?

    Btw: I think the SWP (never mind Milne or Eagleton, neither of whom I consider any sort of Marxist), have succeeded in so mystifying and traducing the Marxist tradition on religion (and in particular the famous words about the “sigh of the oppressed” – NOT a defence of religion!!!), that a whole programme of educationals on the subject needs to be run, simply to re-establish the orthodox Marxist position on the subject. Of course, people are entitled to argue that Marx was wrong: what they are *not* entitled to do is to misrepresent him as in some way soft on, or sympathetic towards, religion. He was not! His phrase the “sigh of the oppressed” was a *critique*, not a *justification* of religion.

    Oh: and what Clive said (above).

  15. Jules said,

    Sackcloth – how exactly am I supposed to prove what you haven’t said? If you wish to contend the claim that you ignore western backed religious reaction then the onus is on you to provide positive proof. I’ve noticed that you’ve denounced the PDPA and their Soviet backers on a number of occasions but I’ve never seen you have anything critical to say about the CIA backed mujahideen and their counterrevolutionary insurgency in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

    When probed on this point during his debate with Galloway in NY Christopher Hitchens simply replied that the “Afghans had every right to resist the occupation of their country”. Needless to say, the same rights don’t apply to the Afghans and Iraqis who currently have their countries occupied by the American coalition. Do you agree with him on this point?

    You and the HP Sauce crowd’s whole raison d’etre appears to be to argue stuff along the line that America and Britain will sort everything out, western interventions are a benevolent force for good, the US army is the armed wing of amnesty international, NATO are just like the anti-fascist brigades of the 1930s, everything would be alright if the SWP and the MCB just disappeared etc etc etc.

    Jim, I never said Marx had a pro-religious stance – quite the opposite is true of course.
    However, it’s also true that he and Engels rejected the bourgeois rationalist critique of religion and were opposed to making anti-religious agitation part of the work of the international.

    The full “opium of the people” quote is worth looking at:

    “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”

  16. Jim Denham said,

    Yeah: my point entirely. it’s an expression of real suffering, and socialists should relate to that real suffering with our own programme – not by making concessions to religion. An analogy: fascism is supported by a lot of poor white working class people who feel alienated, disenfranchised by the main parties, and victimised by the media and middle class “public opinion”: we obviously sympathise with them and try our best to relate to them. Does that mean we express any sympathy with fascism? To ask the question is, I would hope, to answer it. The same goes for religion.

  17. modernityblog said,

    Jules wrote:

    You and the HP Sauce crowd’s whole raison d’etre appears to be to argue stuff along the line that America and Britain will sort everything out,

    there you have it, that is your real grievance

    it is not the discussion of religion or United Front of a special kind, forming broad alliances or suchlike, it is a petty disagreements against HP and anyone perceived to be connected to them, that is indicated by your unwillingness to engage with the particular arguments which you yourself have put forward

    and these arguments have been, and are simply, refuted, yet you can’t admit it

    don’t you find yourself in a strange situation? as a Marxist, an atheist, to be arguing the positions that you argue?

  18. sackcloth and ashes said,

    ‘I’ve never seen you have anything critical to say about the CIA backed mujahideen and their counterrevolutionary insurgency in Afghanistan in the 1980s.’

    Why should I criticise people whose only crime was to fight a brutal occupation and its puppet dictatorship, both of which practiced what the anthropologist Louis Dupree described as ‘migratory genocide’? Read William Maley’s ‘The Afghanistan Wars’ or another credible source on the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan before you even ask a question like this again.

    ‘When probed on this point during his debate with Galloway in NY Christopher Hitchens simply replied that the “Afghans had every right to resist the occupation of their country”. Needless to say, the same rights don’t apply to the Afghans and Iraqis who currently have their countries occupied by the American coalition.’

    You forgot to mention the democratically elected governments in both Kabul and Baghdad, both of which have a popular mandate. You forgot to mention that the insurgents in both Afghanistan and Iraq want (in the first case) to reestablish a Taliban regime whose overthrow was greeted in November 2001 with widespread relief, and that the vast majority of Afghans don’t want them back. You forgot to mention that the ‘resistance’ in Iraq wants to impose a theocratic state, and that as a consequence ordinary Iraqis and ex-tribal insurgents in the Sunni lands have turned against them. You forgot to mention that many insurgents in both cases are not Iraqis or Afghans, but foreigners (the Taliban take a lot of recruits from across the border in Pakistan). You also forgot to mention that the insurgents in both Afghanistan and Iraq have the same humanitarian standards as the Soviet Army and KHAD. I could go on …

    ‘You and the HP Sauce crowd’s whole raison d’etre appears to be to argue stuff along the line that America and Britain will sort everything out, western interventions are a benevolent force for good, the US army is the armed wing of amnesty international, NATO are just like the anti-fascist brigades of the 1930s, everything would be alright if the SWP and the MCB just disappeared etc etc etc.’

    Given the state of affairs pre and post intervention in Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan for certain, I would have to say – yes – Western military intervention has made a positive difference, arresting state collapse and giving people a chance to rebuild their countries and their lives. Look at Sierra Leone with the RUF, for example, and Afghanistan – ruined by the Soviet invasion, decades of war and Taliban misrule. Look at what the Serbs did to the Kosovar Albanians. It’s a no-brainer (but then so are you).

    As for the disappearance of the SWP and MCP, I sincerely wish these disgusting organisations would disappear, along with the BNP, the Communist Party of Britain, the MPACUK, the MAB and other parties of the hard left and the hard right, which are equally despicable in my eyes.

  19. Jules said,

    Thanks sackcloth and ashes – you’ve just confirmed all my prejudices against you. You are indeed nothing more than an apologist for empire, a hypocrite and a fraud.

    The double standards of your cheerleading for imperialism are neatly summed up by your contrasting attitudes to the Afghan resistance to the Soviet Union and the Iraqi resistance to America.

    Notice I made no comment on the Iraqi resistance, other than to draw a comparison with the Afghan resistance to the Soviets. Sackcloth treats the mujahideen with kid gloves stating that their “only crime was to fight a brutal occupation” He forgot to mention that the CIA began arming and financing these groups six months before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. He forgot to mention that the CIA began financing the mujahideen six months before the Soviets invaded the country. He forgot to mention that these insurgents were defending a patriarchal social structure and were fiercely hostile to gender, tribal and class equality. He forgot to mention that many of the insurgents were foreigners – from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East. He forgot to mention that many were committed to a “jihad” against godless communism and included the likes of Bin Laden among their number. He forgot to mention the massacres and mass rapes they committed when they conquered the cities, the lynching of communists and the throwing of acid into the faces of unveiled women.

    In relation to Iraq he forgot to mention that Iraqi government has no power beyond the parameters of the Green Zone or that it is dominated by the Iranian backed SCIRI – a party committed to building a theocratic state in Iraq and that has links to sectarian death squads. He forgot to mention that opinion polls have repeatedly indicated that most Iraqis support attacks on coalition forces and most want the troops to promptly leave the country. He forgot to mention that Iraq is a failed state – a hotbed for sectarian violence and terrorism with a collapsed social infrastructure and one of the greatest refugee problems in the world today. I could go on.

    But of course Sackcloth didn’t “forget” any of these things. As I said in my original post he and his ilk turn a blind eye to atrocities and religious reaction when they’re linked to the western ruling classes. It’s these sort of “secularists “ that the left need like a hole in the head.

  20. Jim Denham said,

    Virtually ‘any’ sort of secularism is preferable to religious obscurantism, Jules: after all, we Marxists *are* in favour of the enlightenment…aren’t we?

  21. sackcloth and ashes said,

    ‘Thanks sackcloth and ashes – you’ve just confirmed all my prejudices against you. You are indeed nothing more than an apologist for empire, a hypocrite and a fraud.’

    From people like you, that’s a compliment.

    ‘The double standards of your cheerleading for imperialism are neatly summed up by your contrasting attitudes to the Afghan resistance to the Soviet Union and the Iraqi resistance to America.’

    Yeah, because those evil Americans have – since 2003 – systematically destroyed the infrastructure of Iraq and massacred hundreds of thousands of its citizens. Rather than the ‘resistance’ that pricks like you cheer on.

    ‘Notice I made no comment on the Iraqi resistance, other than to draw a comparison with the Afghan resistance to the Soviets. Sackcloth treats the mujahideen with kid gloves stating that their “only crime was to fight a brutal occupation” He forgot to mention that the CIA began arming and financing these groups six months before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. He forgot to mention that the CIA began financing the mujahideen six months before the Soviets invaded the country. He forgot to mention that these insurgents were defending a patriarchal social structure and were fiercely hostile to gender, tribal and class equality.’

    That’s bollocks, for which you have no source.

    ‘He forgot to mention that many of the insurgents were foreigners – from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East.’

    Most experts on the war in the 1980s (e.g. Jason Burke, Steve Coll, Lawrence Wright, Rohan Gunaratna) agree that the ‘external’ insurgents in Afghanistan were a bare 1,000. Of the ‘Afghan Arabs’, 3,000 made it to Peshawar, of whom few made it across the border. Compare that to up to 500,000 fighting with the Mujahidin, and to the maths.

    ‘He forgot to mention that many were committed to a “jihad” against godless communism and included the likes of Bin Laden among their number. He forgot to mention the massacres and mass rapes they committed …’

    Cite this.

    when they conquered the cities, the lynching of communists …’

    Is lynching communists a bad thing?

    ‘In relation to Iraq he forgot to mention that Iraqi government has no power beyond the parameters of the Green Zone’

    Other than the ‘Sahwah’ (Awakening) that is slaughtering the ‘resistance’ in the Sunni Triangle. That’s a small detail, there.
    or that it is dominated by the Iranian backed SCIRI – a party committed to building a theocratic state in Iraq and that has links to sectarian death squads.

    Maliki is Dawa. Do your homework, child,

    ‘He forgot to mention that opinion polls have repeatedly indicated that most Iraqis support attacks on coalition forces and most want the troops to promptly leave the country.’

    Excluding the recent ones supporting the ‘surge’ and the downturn in sectarian violence (sparked by the Samarra shrine bombing in February 2006 – cite some up to date sources, Jules).

    ‘He forgot to mention that Iraq is a failed state – a hotbed for sectarian violence and terrorism with a collapsed social infrastructure and one of the greatest refugee problems in the world today. I could go on.’

    And whose fault is that, other than the Islamist resistance you cheer on.

    ‘But of course Sackcloth didn’t “forget” any of these things’.

    No, I will not forget them

    ‘As I said in my original post he and his ilk turn a blind eye to atrocities and religious reaction when they’re linked to the western ruling classes.’

    That’s fucking fantastic. The very cases of ‘atrocities and religious reaction’ in Iraq and Afghanistan that Jules cites are all linked to those that the ‘anti-imperialists’ lionise, without any reference to what the people of Afghanistan and Iraq actually want.

    ‘It’s these sort of “secularists “ that the left need like a hole in the head’.

    But you’re not the ‘left’. You’re just a mentally incontinent margin of it. And the rest of the left think that you are all wankers. Deal with it.

    PS: You ignored my Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone references in my previous post, which is typical of posing twats like you.

  22. eartha said,

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