27 March 2012

Twitter criminals: useful idiots

The prosecution of writers of racial and gratuitously offensive comments is a cover for the British state in its attempt to stiffle free expression on the web.

At a moral level it is utterly impossible to defend people who gratuitously insult others – and make matters worse by adding racist abuse. For that reason many progressive people will remain silent when idiots like Liam Stacey are jailed for doing just that.

Yet we should stop and raise two issues: one a matter of principle, the other of policy.

As a matter of principle, no-one should face legal sanction merely because s/he has said something offensive. If you harass somebody, threaten them, blackmail them etc., then, yes, you commit a legitimate crime. But merely expressing an opinion, however obnoxious, should not in itself be a crime. That is an essential ingredient of free speech.

Let us ask a question about state policy. Why is the state so pro-active in clamping down on Twitter insults, when it cares so little about the economic well-being or political liberties of ordinary people in general?

It is far more credible to think that what motivates this kind of prosecution and the imposition of disproportionate punishment is a state strategy of intimidating free expression on the net. The claim to be fighting racism is the pretext.

Nothing makes that point more clearly than a case which came to light just as Stacey began his prison sentence; London police officers were recorded racially abusing a black suspect, yet the IPCC and CPS have dragged their feet and have so far declined to prosecute. The contrast with Stacey’s case could not be starker.(see details)

Twitter and similar technologies are highly effective means of communication for ordinary people, but they are also excellently tailored for state surveillance and manipulation of all who use them.

2 March 2012

Fermina Marquez by Valery Larbaud

This strange romantic book is the product of a fantasy from a previous age.

The book is set at the turn of the century in a strict but liberal French school largely made up of international students. The boys become fixated on a South American girl who is staying in the area with her aunt and younger sister because her younger brother is at the school.

The protagonist sets out to win the girls affections through his intellectual prowess, but his intellectual arrogance loses her. While he holds himself in such high regard both she and reader sees his idiotic pomposity. Interwoven into the text is a comment on social class: the aristocratic girl and the lower middle class boy.

This book is probably worth reading once and then forgetting.

LARBAUD, Valery - Fermina Marquez, Quartet 1988


1 March 2012

The Ultimate Intimacy

Ivan Klima’s book rises above its setting in 1990s Prague to embrace universal questions of life and moral existence.

My favourite contemporary writer is Ivan Klima, and his latest book, The Ultimate Intimacy" (387 pages) brings into sharp focus all the themes that he has developed in his work: moral choice, emotional confusion and lives constructed in given social environments. The book is a long read consisting of narrative, diary excerpts and letters, but, despite several side plots, always homes in on the central character, the protestant pastor, Daniel Vedra, who can only find intimacy in adulterous love. In a theme, much appealing to me, Vedra moves away from his religious beliefs. In a final letter to his lover, Bara, he writes:

"I told you and others that God's love will redeem us, but I think I was wrong. I don't think there is anyone who would one day judge our faults, forgive us and give us absolution. There is no higher justice than our own. Nothing lasts forever, except forgetting maybe."

In the same letter he reflects on what remains of his previous religious conviction.

"Maybe just the conviction that love is the greatest thing we can encounter in life and the most important thing we may strive for. I'm talking about human love; if God's love doesn’t exist then only the human sort remains: fleeting and imperfect."

While the book is set in a Czech setting and some familiarisation with background events is helpful, the meaning of this book is much greater than any comment on Czech society post Velvet Revolution.

KLIMA, Ivan - The Ultimate Intimacy, Granta 1998.