Friday, 24 January 2020

The Thoughtful Mr Parker.

Stunningly Wrong-Headed: So blinded are the “left-wing” believers in free markets and free trade (like Trade Minister, David Parker) that even when they are staring directly at the wreckage of the lives and communities which these “unconscionable freedoms” (to borrow Marx’s telling phrase) have left in their wake, they cannot see it.

DAVID PARKER is among the more thoughtful members of Labour’s caucus. On his Politik website, the veteran political journalist, Richard Harman, describes him as someone with “an unerring ability to get up the noses of his many critics”, a talent I have long taken as proof positive of serious cogitation. But, as Harman goes on to say, Parker is also “a sober-suited Dunedin lawyer who was a close associate of the buccaneering entrepreneur, the late Howard Patterson”. He is, therefore, a man to whom it is reasonable to attribute a solid working knowledge of free-market capitalism, and profound ignorance of the tenets of democratic socialism.

Like so many of Labour’s neoliberal-capitalism’s-about-as-good-as-it-gets brigade, Parker is no fan of populism. Truth to tell, it frightens him. Fear is, however, an important step up from scorn – which has, for some time, been the default setting for all those “centre-left” politicians who still regard Bill Clinton and Tony Blair as “pretty straight-up guys”. The sort of people who actually believe that Hillary Clinton was defeated by the Russians, rather than weighed in the balance and found wanting by her fellow citizens.

One of the reasons why Hillary was found wanting was her notorious description of opponent Donald Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables”. It is actually quite hard to think of a description more calculated to enrage those working-class voters from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan who had twice pulled the lever for Barack Obama, yet remained unconvinced that the First Lady who’d been such a strong supporter of her husband’s North America Free Trade Agreement was the sort of Democrat to put the interests of American workers ahead of American bosses. (Their doubts in this regard were, by the way, entirely justified!)

I sense that Parker struggles just as hard to see those who oppose “free trade” as anything other than deplorably ill-informed. Thinking about it, however, he has come to the conclusion that the populist push for protectionism is, in reality, a symptom of what he calls “middle-class insecurity”.

What has prompted these feelings of middle-class insecurity? Well, as Parker told last year’s Otago Foreign Policy School, the causes are “pretty easy” to identify:

 “[E]normous rises in inequality, with so much wealth going to the one per cent, not just overseas, but also in New Zealand, which is exemplified by dropping homeownership rates and a sense amongst the public that trade agreements have been made for the benefit of multinationals rather than small businesses.”

Parker’s analysis is stunning in its wrong-headedness. In concentrating upon the feelings of the middle-class, it fails to identify the central core of populism’s attraction for the working-class voters who opted for Trump over Clinton and Boris Johnson over Jeremy Corbyn. Namely, their deep-seated loathing of precisely the sort of middle-class people who dismiss them as deplorable losers in the game of life they are so obviously winning.

So bitterly do working-class people resent the disdain in which the professional middle-class enablers of the One Percent’s excesses hold them, that they are willing to vote for a narcissistic billionaire, a tousle-haired toff, and all the other killer-clowns shrewd enough to recognize their pain – and not blame them for it.

That recognition is both the key to populism’s success and the explanation for the steady collapse of social-democratic and labour parties around the world. So blinded are the “left-wing” believers in free markets and free trade, that even when they are staring directly at the wreckage of the lives and communities which these “unconscionable freedoms” (to borrow Marx’s telling phrase) have left in their wake, the Parkers of this world cannot see it. Almost unbelievably, they’ve convinced themselves that its “middle-class insecurity” that’s jeopardising their political fortunes; utterly unaware that the real cause of their parties’ electoral disintegration is old-fashioned working-class rage.

It takes a special kind of political operative to grasp this reality: someone whose driving motivation is to tear the whole rotten edifice down and begin again; someone like Trump’s Steve Bannon or Johnson’s Dominic Cummings; Neos who haven’t swallowed the Blue Pill.

Fortunately – or unfortunately – that’s not David Parker. A thinker he may be, but his thoughts never seem to stray towards the unconventional. Rather than learning his politics at the feet of a capitalist buccaneer, he’d have done better to find himself an anarchist.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 24 January 2020.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Revolution in New Zealand? Not Even Close!

No Fires Thanks, We're Kiwis: For the moment, in those close-to-home places where revolutions are born, there may be tetchiness and resentment, frustration and complaint, but nowhere is anybody uttering the cry that will bring a New Zealand revolution into being: “We have found the way to make tomorrow better than today!”

WHERE DO REVOLUTIONS begin? The answer, invariably, is “close to home”. Where demonstrable public need meets unresponsive public authority. Where collective outrage invites violent repression. Where injustice spawns indignation and indignation demands action. Where popular action generates governmental reaction. That’s where revolutions are born.

Once begun, what makes a revolution successful? It is tempting to respond with the purely historical observation that revolutions succeed where they are able to muster sufficient armed force to overwhelm those dedicated to their failure. People with guns allow revolutions to succeed. But is mere armed force enough? Surely, before people are willing to wage war on the Revolution’s behalf, they must first believe its objectives to be both desirable and achievable.

The need for guns, and the willingness to use them, almost always arises when the authorities announce their intention to thwart the people’s intentions. When real change, desperately needed, and now within the people’s grasp, is suddenly faced with the prospect of being halted and/or reversed by forces loyal to the status-quo. That is when people start looking for the means to preserve the imminence of change.

Historically, the people’s determination to preserve the imminence of change is soon extended to ensure the preservation of those who have made them believe that change is imminent. Fearing that the authorities are coming for their leaders, people typically resolve to impede their progress: peacefully if possible; by force if necessary. The leaders themselves, realising that the revolution’s failure will more than likely lead to their demise, are left with little choice but to keep pushing it forward as hard and as far as they can. The revolution’s survival, and their own, become welded together.

The French Revolution of 1789, for example, was kicked-off by the fear that the King’s troops were about to visit retribution upon the revolutionary crowds of Paris. The latter rushed to the Bastille, hated symbol of royal power, because they were convinced that within the fortress-prison’s walls they would find the muskets, cannons and gunpowder they needed to resist the King’s soldiers.

The storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789.

In the Russian capital, Petrograd, in February-March 1917, the soldiers who had refused to fire on the crowds of women demanding bread for their starving families knew that the Czar would immediately dispatch troops to disarm and punish them as mutineers. If their revolt was not extended, then many of them would die. Accordingly, they reached out to radical left-wing politicians and to their working-class supporters in the factories. By joining forces with the political enemies of the hated Czarist regime, and offering them the protection of their rifles and machine-guns, they helped to turn what had started-out as a protest against bread shortages into a full-scale revolution.

But, the events in Petrograd unfolded more than a hundred years ago. Is there a plausible scenario for revolution in New Zealand in 2020? The short answer is “No.” Nothing has occurred for decades in New Zealand that matches in any way the cultural, intellectual, and political preparations that preceded the French and Russian revolutions.

In Eighteenth Century Europe, for example, the cultural supremacy of the Catholic Church and the political doctrine of Absolute Monarchy had been profoundly weakened by what came to be known as “The Enlightenment” or “The Age of Reason”. Breakthroughs in moral and political philosophy, together with the rapid expansion of science, called into question the existence of the Judeo-Christian God and, thus, the “divine right of kings”. Within the ruling classes doubt grew, and from these doubts ordinary people drew confidence that their own ideas and priorities were as worthy of serious consideration as their lords’ and masters’.

Crucially, in the shape of an elected parliamentary assembly, the people had also identified a mechanism capable of supplanting the autocratic rule of the monarch. The self-evidently desirable objectives of “liberty, equality fraternity” were thus made achievable. In the people’s “deputies”, gathered together in the revolutionary “National Constituent Assembly”, the people’s will had finally found its political vector.

In Petrograd, 128 years later, the critical political vector of the “nation” had been replaced by Karl Marx’s “proletariat”. Likewise, the revolutionary mechanism ceased to be a parliament filled with elected representatives, and became, instead, a multitude of workers’ councils (soviets) filled with instantly recallable delegates elected in the factories and regiments. Replacing the Enlightenment and its philosophers was the revolutionary Marxist party – whose ruthless and highly disciplined “cadres” were determined to inspire and guide the soviets of workers and soldiers.

Other determinants of success were also at work in 1789 and 1917.

Bankrupt of both the ideas and the funds required to address the multiple crises afflicting his subjects, the French king, Louis XVI, set in motion a massive, kingdom-wide effort to identify and collate the grievances of the French people. These Cahiers de dolĂ©ances provided the core agenda of the Estates General – the feudal body charged with advising the Crown, which had not been called together for 175 years! Thus equipped, the people’s representatives possessed a clear idea of what they had to do.

In 1917, also, the Russian people’s priorities were clear. Czar Nicolas II had led them into a disastrous war with the Austro-Hungarian and German empires. Millions of conscripted peasant-soldiers had been killed, the Russian economy was in ruins, and the Russian people were starving. Their lords and masters had failed utterly to protect them and were either unable or unwilling to feed them. When the leader of the revolutionary workers’ party, Vladimir Lenin, arrived at Petrograd’s Finland Station, his speech to the workers’ and soldiers’ delegates was short and to the point: “Peace! Bread! Land! All power to the soviets!” With these simple but highly effective promises, Lenin’s party ruthlessly blew away the political fog engulfing the ineffectual Russian parliament and set in motion the world’s first socialist revolution.

Lenin promises "Peace! Bread! Land!" at the Finland Station, Petrograd 1917.

It should be clear by now that New Zealand’s cultural, economic and political situation bears no comparison with the two great Western revolutions. Neither Maori nor Pakeha culture offers anything to compare with the devastating ideological critiques which the Enlightenment and Marxism brought to bear on the political regimes of France and Russia. Animism with corporate clip-ons is no more a revolutionary doctrine than post-modernism incongruously blended with the politics of identity.

Nor is New Zealand trapped in the sort of intractable economic and military crises that brought down the Bourbon and Romanov dynasties. In fact, it presents itself as a highly successful neoliberal capitalist economy. Which is not to say that poverty has been eliminated, or homelessness overcome, merely that the levels of inequality and social injustice which beset all but a handful of western states is not dramatically worse in New Zealand than it is in other comparable countries. Certainly, the grave challenge of Climate Change looms over New Zealand’s future but, once again, that is a problem to which the entire world has yet to find a workable solution.

Most importantly, the New Zealand ruling-class retains sufficient faith in its ability to manage the nation’s affairs to render any challenge to its dominance ineffective. No mass movement with a practical programme of revolutionary change exists in this country. Nor does it contain a disciplined revolutionary party dedicated to creating one. Those who proclaim themselves champions of change and fighters against injustice are currently more willing to go to war with each other than with neoliberal capitalism. Indeed, it is possible to argue that identity politics, far from being a revolutionary phenomenon, has become the paradoxical vector for neoliberal consolidation. The ever-more-strident calls to recognise every new construction thrown up by the social kaleidoscope have a way of drowning out the truly revolutionary demands for a radical redistribution of the economic pie.

For the moment, in those close-to-home places where revolutions are born, there may be tetchiness and resentment, frustration and complaint, but nowhere is anybody uttering the cry that will bring a New Zealand revolution into being:

“We have found the way to make tomorrow better than today!”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 21 January 2020.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Still Waiting For American Democracy.

Unfinished Republic: Though the United States' crimes against democracy are legion, most Americans are blissfully unaware of them. The brutal realities of American life: the officially sanctioned violence; the refusal to hold racists accountable for their actions; the seemingly endless tragedy of African-American suffering; of which White America is the ever-resourceful author; are routinely disremembered. While the democratic ambitions of Jefferson, Lincoln and Wilson remain the stuff of school-children’s class projects to this day. (Image by Filip Bunkens.)

“IT’S COMING TO America first, the cradle of the best and the worst.” Writes Leonard Cohen in his classic 1992 anthem Democracy. As is so often the case with Cohen’s lyrics, Democracy is jam-packed with meaning. That he writes about democracy as something that has yet to happen is only the first of the song’s many challenges. The second – and certainly the most contentious – is that when (or should that be “if”?) the people do finally seize power, it will be on American soil.

Most Americans would, of course, take strong exception to the claim that the United States has been anything other than a democracy since 4 July 1776, when Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence avowed that: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Those who, not unreasonably, object that the Declaration’s “all men” excluded women, slaves, and the continent’s indigenous peoples, will be invited to consider another great document of American democracy, Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”. Especially its concluding pledge that “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

So enamoured were enfranchised Americans with their “government of the people” that just 53 years after Lincoln’s famous speech, his successor in the White House, President Woodrow Wilson, was urging his fellow citizens to enter the First World War to “make the world safe for democracy”.

It is one of History’s many ironies that the same president who proclaimed America’s determination to establish democracy abroad, unleashed an unrelenting assault on American citizen’s civil liberties at home. Reducing the Bill of Rights to confetti, the Sedition and Espionage Acts made it a crime to oppose – or even question – the USA’s participation in the War.

The job of “selling” that war to the American people fell to a young “progressive” journalist, George Creel. His formidable “Committee on Public Information” pioneered propaganda and public relations techniques that would become increasingly familiar to humanity as the Twentieth Century unfolded. To the delight of America’s ruling elites, the CPI demonstrated just how easily “the people’s” consent could be manufactured.

The most glaring and tragic discrepancy between America’s loftily proclaimed ideals and the actual beliefs and behaviour of her citizens was revealed in the dreadful “Red Summer” of 1919.

Hoping that their commitment to the cause of establishing democracy abroad would finally secure for them the long-promised blessings of democracy at home, African-Americans signed-up in their thousands for military service in France. Returning home after the Armistice, however, in the winter and spring of 1918-19, these Black soldiers became instant targets for angry mobs of White Americans, outraged and terrified in equal measure by the very thought of Black Americans in arms. Between June and August 1919, murderous race riots flared in 25 American cities, leaving hundreds of African-Americans dead and many thousands homeless.

Of the awful deeds of his fellow citizens: the beatings, shootings, lynchings, and destruction by fire of unprotected Black neighbourhoods, churches and businesses; the eloquent and visionary President Wilson, hailed by millions as the world’s saviour when he arrived in Paris for the peace talks, said not one word.

Though these horrors occurred barely 100 years ago in the United States, most Americans are blissfully unaware of them. The brutal realities of American life: the officially sanctioned violence; the refusal to hold racists accountable for their actions; the seemingly endless tragedy of African-American suffering; of which White America is the ever-resourceful author; are routinely disremembered. While the democratic ambitions of Jefferson, Lincoln and Wilson remain the stuff of school-children’s class projects to this day.

Small wonder, then, that Cohen celebrates America’s contradictions by admitting that “I love the country, but can’t stand the scene”. In Democracy’s final lines, Cohen – ever the prophet – even anticipates the emergence of those disillusioned working-class Americans who, no longer identifying with either the Left or the Right, immure themselves in an increasingly decrepit domesticity, desperate for a saviour to emerge from “that hopeless little screen”.

Never quitting, because “like those garbage bags that time cannot decay” they’re stubborn. Choked with tears, but refusing to let go of the hope that, one day:

“Democracy is coming to the U. S. A.”

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 17 January 2020.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Who’s Going To Stop Him?

Blank And Pitiless: Having ordered the assassination of the Iranian General, Qasem Soleimani, President Donald Trump promised to reduce the cultural monuments of Iran’s 3,000 year-old civilisation to rubble if a revenge attack was mounted. A breach of international law? Certainly. A war crime? Indisputably. Who’s going to stop him? Nobody.

WHAT WERE THEY thinking? Allowing angry crowds to storm the US Embassy in Baghdad? If such scenes were authorised by General Qasem Soleimani, then he was not the master strategist and tactician his countrymen are proclaiming him to have been. Believing an American president – any American president – could look upon such scenes with equanimity betrayed the most astonishing ignorance of recent US history.

The storming and capture of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 set off 444 days of diplomatic and military humiliation that not only destroyed the presidency of Jimmy Carter, but also created a thirst for vengeance that not even the passage of 40 years has diminished. It matters little that Soleimani was instrumental in clearing the Baghdad embassy compound of demonstrators, simply by allowing such images to imprint themselves upon Donald Trump’s retinas, the General was guilty of the most enormous, and ultimately fatal, error of judgement.

Nor will the American President be in the slightest measure intimidated by the size of General Soleimani’s funeral procession, or by the promises of vengeance offered to his widow by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran’s capacity to inflict harm on the American Empire is considerably less than Queen Boudica’s ability to make the Roman Empire pay for its outrages. The Roman Empire did not have an air force.

In some part of the Iranian Islamic Republic, the unanswerable character of American air power must, surely, be weighing heavily upon the judgements of its public servants and soldiers. A retaliatory strike against the United States that even remotely resembled the assassination of General Soleimani in terms of scale and significance would provoke the USA to, in the memorable quip of the late US Senator from Arizona, John McCain, “Bomb, bomb, bomb-bomb, Iran”.

The armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran have nothing with which to stop an American air attack. Its fighters are too old and its pilots insufficiently trained to take on the state-of-the-art aircraft, air-crews and missile technology of the United States. Everything the Iranians could throw at them would be effortlessly brushed aside by their American attackers. Not only that, but the very instruments of Iran’s self-defence would themselves be among the Americans’ first targets. They would not, however, be the last.

Having rendered Iran defenceless to American (and, almost certainly, Israeli and Saudi) attack, the list of targets would include (in no particular order) the country’s weapons factories, transportation systems, manufacturing enterprises, cement plants, water purification facilities, media networks, state ministries and scientific research centres – especially Iran’s nuclear research programme – pharmaceutical production plants and fertiliser factories. All of the above would be attacked even as Iran’s military and civilian command-and-control centres and all of its major cities were being pounded into dust.

President Donald Trump has further promised to reduce the cultural monuments of Iran’s 3,000 year-old civilisation to rubble if a revenge attack is mounted. A breach of international law? Certainly. A war crime? Indisputably. Who’s going to stop him? Nobody.

There are some who insist that Iran is not entirely helpless. That its little navy has developed weapons and tactics capable of sinking a US aircraft carrier with all hands. But, what then? The snuffing-out of 3,000 American lives in a single attack would, almost certainly, provoke the current American president into ordering a tactical nuclear response. Tehran, or if he was feeling particularly vindictive, the holy Shia city of Qom, would, in a split second, be transformed into a radioactive wasteland.

Impossible? No, sadly, it’s not. The rest of the world would certainly be shocked and horrified by such an act of disproportionate savagery. But, once again, who would/could stop an American president determined to demonstrate to the rest of humanity that America has been made great again – and will not be constrained by any power upon the face of the planet?

Still not convinced? Well, consider this. When 60 Minutes journalist, Lesley Stahl, put the following question to American Secretary of State, Madeline Albright in 1996: “We have heard that a half million [Iraqi] children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright replied:  “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”

And she was a Democrat!

POSTSCRIPT: When assessing the actions and options of the Iranians it is always wise to recall that it was in their part of the world that the game of Chess was invented. To have avenged the death of General Soleimani without killing a single American (or any other human-being) has to be adjudged a truly inspired move. Forced into a duel by President Trump, Ayatollah Khamenei elected to fire his pistol harmlessly into the air. Honour is satisfied – and the world breathes again.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 10 January 2020.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Someone To Follow, Something To Blame.

Poshing The Proletariat: As we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, the question for New Zealand politicians is a simple one. Will workers’ expectations of fair treatment erode faster than their rising political determination to find someone to follow and something to blame? Significant sections of the United States’ and the United Kingdom’s working-classes have already answered this question by following along behind populist politicians – Donald Trump and Boris Johnson – who are only too happy to blame “illegal immigration” and/or “the free movement of peoples” for their troubles.

I NEVER BELIEVED it was possible, and, in a way, I’ve been proved right. Workers who have grown up in, or hearing about, the “old” New Zealand, would never consent willingly to accept the wages and conditions of “Third World” workers. Being paid a decent wage and treated fairly by your employer are expectations deeply ingrained in the New Zealand worker. Enormous pressure is required to secure the abandonment of such expectations. The consequences: economically, socially, politically; are potentially quite significant – and dangerous.

Expectations of fair treatment arrived here with the very first wave of European migrants. Samuel Parnell, a carpenter, insisted on an eight-hour day and, in colonial conditions of acute labour scarcity, he got it. That scarcity: New Zealand’s small population more-or-less guaranteeing a sellers’ market in labour power; underpinned this being “God’s own country” for the ordinary working person for nearly a century. From 1894 until 1991, or, more specifically, from the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act to the Employment Contracts Act, the collective strength of the New Zealand working-class was nurtured and protected by the New Zealand state.

During that century it became an accepted part of working-class life that wages would be sufficient to raise a family in, if not luxury, then relative comfort. State house construction kept rentals low. Cheap, state-provided and/or guaranteed loans put private home-ownership well within the reach of most working-class families. A world-class health and education system made it possible for the children of workers to move up into professional and managerial occupations. Those with entrepreneurial flair could set up their own businesses. The country’s comprehensive welfare system meant that personal misfortune or commercial misjudgement did not automatically result in financial misery.

New Zealand’s was as solid a social-democratic society as any to be found elsewhere in the world. It could not, however, withstand the sudden and enormous expansion in the quantity of labour available to global capitalism which accompanied the opening up of the People’s Republic of China and the demise of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire. Over the course of a single decade, what had been a sellers’ market for labour in the Western economies became a buyers’ market. Workers who valued themselves too highly saw their employers’ businesses relocated to places where the labour was cheaper – much cheaper – and trade union protections non-existent.

The economic and social consequences of globalisation in the West have been evident for some time. Not only here in New Zealand, but all across what used to be called the “First World”. Factory closures; mass lay-offs; depopulation; urban decay: these were just the start. In their wake came the social pathologies of homelessness, drug addiction, domestic violence and the pernicious expansion of organised crime. What had been proud working-class communities simply imploded. Those who could escape, got out. Those who couldn’t, rotted from the inside out.

Not that there wasn’t still a lot of work to be done in the First World. Much to the frustration of employers, however, expectations of fair reward and treatment proved to be astonishingly resilient. Once strong and proud working-class towns and cities were an unconscionably long time dying. The answer to this irksome longevity of working-class pride was the same in New Zealand as elsewhere: import workers with lower expectations.

Maintaining a steady downward pressure on workers’ incomes by means of increased immigration was especially important in New Zealand where profits have for so long been underwritten by low wages. Indeed, this system, supported for nearly three decades by both Labour- and National-led governments, has produced industries in which the imposition of a “living wage” would render an alarming number of individual businesses uneconomic.

As we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, the question for New Zealand politicians is a simple one. Will workers’ expectations of fair treatment erode faster than their rising political determination to find someone to follow and something to blame? Significant sections of the United States’ and the United Kingdom’s working-classes have already answered this question by following along behind populist politicians – Donald Trump and Boris Johnson – who are only too happy to blame “illegal immigration” and/or “the free movement of peoples” for their troubles.

For the present Coalition Government, raising the minimum wage was a very good start. Now it needs to cut immigration – to the bone.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 January 2020.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Christmas 2019: Still Salivating At Jingle-Bells.

The Season of Good Sales: “What does it matter?”, sneer the atheists and secularists. “The whole silly story never happened.” It matters because the still-cherished principles of secular humanism may be traced all the way back to the Roman Empire of 2,000 years ago, when ordinary human-beings gathered to hear and repeat the words of a carpenter’s son.  It matters, also, because, to paraphrase Robert Harris, writing in his latest, terrifying, novel The Second Sleep: when morality loses its power, power loses its morality.

WHAT HAVE WE just celebrated? Christmas? A holy festival? Or a bacchanalian celebration of conspicuous consumption designed, built and delivered to a palace or a hovel near you by Global Capitalism PLC? I think we all know the answer to that. What hurts the most is that we fall for it every single year. Proof, if proof is required, that Pavlov’s dogs weren’t the only animals conditioned to salivate whenever the jingle-bell rings.

Consider the fact that Christmas is celebrated in just about every mall on the face of the planet. They’re doing it in Shanghai, Tokyo, Singapore and Bangkok. The only part of the world where you might struggle (and, quite possibly, incur some risk) to find Christmas displays and commercial enticements is in the Muslim world.

Now, why is that? The answer is simple. Because Muslims still believe. Islam remains a living and, for the most part, uncorrupted faith. It is still illegal in Muslim countries to practice “usury” – lending out money at interest.

The same was once true of Christendom. Indeed, one could argue that the forward march of capitalism was only finally secured in the British Isles in 1854 with the passage of “An Act To Repeal The Laws Relating To Usury”. The commercial imperative has long since laid low the ancient claims of religion in the Christian West. In the Muslim world, however, the good fight against Mammon goes on.

It would be an interesting exercise to quiz a thousand young people chosen at random from the countries where neoliberal capitalism reigns joyful and triumphant, and ask them to locate the events of Christ’s birth in the broader New Testament narrative.

Would a majority still be able to accurately re-tell the story? Mary’s pregnancy; the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem; the birth of the infant Jesus in a stable; the shepherds in the fields; the Angelic Host’s proclamation of peace and goodwill toward men; the journey and arrival of the Magi; King Herod’s massacre of the innocents; Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus’ flight into Egypt. How many would attempt to place Santa Claus somewhere in the Christmas Story? It’s probably best not to know!

Astonishingly, not even our senior Christian clerics seem to be able to tell the Christmas story correctly. In the NZ Herald of Saturday 21 December 2019, one of them wrote (on behalf of all the major denominations) that: “Jesus, God’s son, was born amongst the animals. He grew up in a family that experienced poverty. He spent the first years of his life as a refugee, eventually fleeing for his life from a wicked dictatorship.”

Ummm. No. He didn’t. Joseph was a carpenter and, like blacksmiths, carpenters in the ancient world were not to be counted among the poor. Jesus had a comfortable upbringing. Nor did the Christ spend the first years of his life as a refugee. Yes, the New Testament has him fleeing to Egypt, but his return to Galilee was not long delayed on account of King Herod’s sudden and mysterious demise. So, quite where this “eventually fleeing for his life from a wicked dictatorship” comes from is anybody’s guess. The Gospel According to Golriz Ghahraman perhaps?

“What does it matter?”, sneer the atheists and secularists. “The whole silly story never happened. The gospels were thrown together several decades after the alleged birth, life and death of Jesus of Nazareth – if such a person can truthfully be said to have existed at all!”

It matters because the still-cherished principles of secular humanism, which continue to inspire the multitude of moral arbiters who police social media, come with provenance papers tracing them all the way back to a peculiar collection of Jews and Gentiles living and writing in the Roman Empire of 2,000 years ago. Ordinary human-beings who gathered to hear and repeat the words of a carpenter’s son: the Galilean rabbi, Yeshua Ben-Joseph. Words that still constitute the core of the what remains the world’s largest religious faith –  Christianity.

It matters, also, because, to paraphrase Robert Harris, writing in his latest, terrifying, novel The Second Sleep: when morality loses its power, power loses its morality.

Meaning that, with every passing Christmas, the stuff we’re conditioned to buy will amount to less: and the Carpenter’s story we no longer remember will count for so much more.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 27 December 2019.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

If You Want To Know Why Clinton And Corbyn Lost - Watch This.


This short documentary explains brilliantly why the candidates and parties of the Left keep on losing to the Right. Highly recommended viewing.

Video courtesy of YouTube

This posting exclusive to Bowalley Road.