Wolven hearts

Much quoted recently is Desmond Tutu’s exhortation that ‘love is stronger than hate’ – but it is not. Hatred is far stronger than love. The world would be happier if it were not so, but hatred is the strongest motivator of mankind.

I wonder that our demagogic politicians see no irony in examining and condemning the sewer of social media for spreading hatred when their own trade depends on it. Perhaps it is only unapproved hatred which is to be condemned, and indeed hated. Even in the Church of England, the one established body which is meant to be lapped in love, the faction making the most progress in its agenda is that of the ‘progressives’, succeeding by spitting untamed hatred at all opposition.

The wolf seeks meat; it is relentless and merciless; while single wolf may be cautious or even playful, a pack of wolves is unbridled, bloodthirsty, exulting in the kill and the tearing apart of the victim. It is raw nature. Likewise is mankind, and perhaps our concept of ‘hate’ is no more nor less than the wolf’s instinct.

Democratic politics necessarily involves the stirring up of hatred. An absolutist system may avoid it, but only if long established and unchallenged:  the tyrannies of the Twentieth Century are a lesson in the extremes of murderous hatred as a political method, both as to the way they took power and how they held it. Even in our more sophisticated climate the most effective political campaigns involve fomenting hatred by class, status, political tribe, race or other irrelevancies. Read any political headline for your evidence.

Hobbes observed in De Cive a speech in Rome’s troubles ages:

Pontius Telesinus; who flying about with open mouth through all the Companies of his Army, (in that famous encounter which he had with Sylla) cryed out, That Rome her selfe, as well as Sylla, was to be raz’d; for that there would alwayes be Wolves and Depraedatours of their Liberty, unlesse the Forrest that lodg’d them were grubb’d up by the roots. To speak impartially, both sayings are very true; That Man to Man is a kind of God; and that Man to Man is an arrant Wolfe.

In this Telesinus, interpreted by Hobbes, puts his finger on it: overthrowing a tyrant is moment’s victory, but the place from which they arose will breed ever more wolves, for the real enemy to liberty and love is mankind.

What to do then, if this is the case?  Start by recognising it, accept that we are not perfectible and every one of us contains the same flaws, and mankind will be the same until the very end of the age. Then we will have an understanding of the clay from which society and the demos and built, and build our commonwealth accordingly. Perhaps also those of goodwill and good sense should be in a better position to check our own wolfish instincts.

See also

Books

Whatsoever thou art, thou art but a scurvy fellow

Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek are social media trolls. Packed into the scenes are follies, misunderstandings, fake identities, error, jealousies and malice which are the weave and weft of all human society, and this is what is displayed in its rawest form for us on social media, which makes it so compelling and repelling. That modern medium revolts us, but it is only a reflection of humanity.

The Bard understood, long before Zuckerberg or Dorsey or any of the others. Antonio, ashore in Illyria, declares Sebastian to be ‘unfriended’. Nothing is new.

Being skilless in these parts; which to a stranger,
Unguided and unfriended, often prove
Rough and unhospitable

I know how he feels. I do not follow social media and its memes and challenges and pranks, reading about them afterwards. It would be not beyond the usual bizarreness to find pranksters persuading their victims to “come smiling and cross-garter’d to you, to put on yellow stockings”. Then there is “and to frown Upon Sir Toby and the lighter people”; which shows that the ‘cancel culture’ is a social activity; a meme.

The play even has a Metaverse moment:

If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.

A less regarded scene in Twelfth Night is actually very germane to its theme. In this, Sir Toby goads his easily led friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, to write a letter effectively challenging the young man Cesario (Viola) to a duel. Sir Toby is too much the coward to do it himself, but goads a patsy to do the dirty work. The excuse is that he believes ‘Cesario’ is making a play for Olivia’s hand, which Sir Toby hopes will go to Andrew Aguecheek (a hopeless vanity). It shows a lot about the characters of the men involved, and holds up a mirror to ourselves, and our online selves.

Therefore they set about a letter, a ‘malicious communication’ we might say, which makes sense only in the raucous, self-indulgence of drinking men’s society, and which could be deadly.

These are educated men though, not illiterate Tweeters, and some sense of caution is there to temper the words; a game which must have been familiar among disputing Jacobean swells in Shakespeare’s day who knew that the Assizes measured disputes which ended at the point of a sword:

Still you keep o’ the windy side of the law

The letter itself (excising the boisterous interruptions) runs like many an ill-thought accusation of our own day:

‘Youth, whatsoever thou art, thou art but a scurvy fellow. Wonder not, nor admire not in thy mind, why I do call thee so, for I will show thee no reason for’t. Thou comest to the lady Olivia, and in my sight she uses thee kindly: but thou liest in thy throat; that is not the matter I challenge thee for. I will waylay thee going home; where if it be thy chance to kill me, thou killest me like a rogue and a villain. Fare thee well; and God have mercy upon one of our souls! He may have mercy upon mine; but my hope is better, and so look to thyself. Thy friend, as thou usest him, and thy sworn enemy, ANDREW AGUECHEEK.

The misunderstood positions are in the comedy:  Cesario / Viola is not after Olivia though Olivia has fallen in love with ‘Cesario’, or rather with the shadow of Viola’s brother whom she imitates; Andrew Aguecheek has only his own self-delusion as to his suit or his abilities with a sword; and of course Cesario is not even Cesario.

If all this clash of misunderstood ideas, accusation, worked-up fury and half-thought posting sounds too familiar and personal, then log out from InstaTwitFace and whatever: while I will not say ‘be more of a human being’, because that is the problem, do try to think outside yourself.

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Lost to translation

Listening to sermons, I occasionally ponder how a particular telling phrase might be rendered in any number of interesting tongues that come across my attention: what is “You brood of vipers!” in Trøndsk or Middle Welsh or Old English? But it has been rendered in all of these, by native speakers. The problem is translation by non-speakers, which is most Biblical translations.

(In the King James Version, the best of translations and closest to the original, it is ‘O generation of vipers!’, which has a subtlety of meaning that needs understanding of the subtle tones within it.)

Think of those intent, Methodist missionaries on faraway Pacific islands, rendering the living words of God into languages of which they had but a beginner’s understanding. More of a challenge: they were translating words for those languages of a stone age culture which had no such words. How do you divide the sheep from the goats for a people who have neither beast, or describe the chariots of the Assyrians resplendent in gold to those without horses or wheels or metal?

Their influence remains, embedded in those languages they took on. Think of Hiram Bingham labouring away to translate the bible into Gilbertese, using (so legend says) a typewriter missing the ‘s’ key so that Gilbertese to this day uses “ti” instead.

The translator becomes the moulder of the language, and not just in emergent cultures. Once there were innumerable German dialects, but in the last four hundred years a single standard: that which was written by Martin Luther. English changed over five hundred years so radically that a paragraph written in the days of King Edgar was incomprehensible in the days of Henry VIII, but then the Prayer Book, the Bible and Shakespeare pinned it down so that our language has barely changed since Queen Elizabeth’s time. The Bible translators chose the words we use. It is just as well that they were poets in their choices.

This is a lot of trust to be reposed in one translator, curbing forever the speech of nations.

How would a mechanically working translator who has come lately to a language translate “γεννηματα εχιδνων”; “O generation of vipers”? Perhaps more easily than some concepts, as family relations are universal amongst mankind. In more complex concepts, he has the temptation to impose his own words, or may be stuck and use the wrong meaning, like the unthinking algorithms of Google Translate.

In the ordinary too, the translator can sap the life out of a language. The most beautiful spoken language, it is said, is Welsh, and Welsh is a living tongue I hear on the streets of the villages below the mountains, but for most it is the language put on road signs that are translated mechanically, into a version of Welsh words and phrases chosen by a committee to represent bureaucratic needs. Can this Committee-Welsh, with set words and phrases and inflexible grammar rules, ever be considered a living language?  Too easily it can become  tomb.

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Books

Let them sing

The Police are on the hunt for a dangerous gang, whose crime is – singing a traditional song.

The press have been reticent about naming the song in question but fans were Rangers supporters and it was the ‘Go Home Song’ otherwise called ‘the Famine Song’; a ditty which has for some years had the police and courts all of a flutter. The tune alone when played has caused apoplexy although it is a very popular song in the Bahamas (‘the John B Sails’).

The Famine Song can be hard-hitting, so I am not going to quote it all here, but it is not half as bad as songs belted out in stadiums elsewhere in the land (if you are of a sensitive disposition, do not listen to what is sung at Norwich City supporters, or between East End teams). Rangers’ song is a deliberate wind-up song aimed at Celtic.  The High Court itself in an appeal from the sheriff ruled upon singers of the song, condemning them for a public order offence.

Perhaps they should have considered more deeply than the faux outrage of insulted Celtic fans. After all, a court of law must recognise that Athenry Mike was indeed a thief.  Whether Large John was in fact fully briefed is an ongoing controversy, but that is another story. While that wee traitor from Castlemilk did turn his back on his own, going to play for Ireland instead of Scotland, it is only ‘traitorous’ in football terms, not legally, but we’re singing about football. The killer, for the court was not the verses about Glasgow Celtic’s great scandal and the misdeeds of the Irish Free State; it is the chorus lines, ending “Why don’t you go home?” Apparently that is an existential threat to all persons of Irish ancestry in Scotland.

A bit of background may be needed.

The man who wrote the song is no hot sectarian- he is an Ulsterman, born in a robust city, Belfast, and who grew up with good pals in both communities. He saw the sectarian divide yawning and growing in Ulster: to see it replicated in Glasgow was distressing. In fact there has been a divide in Glasgow since the ships landed in a fiercely Protestant city and disgorged thousands of left-footed Irishmen, but as it should have calmed down in the later end of the twentieth century, it was growing worse, as an echo of Ulster’s troubles.  The song-writer has explained the circumstances leading to his writing it. It was a kick-back response to the sectarians on the other side.

Trying to be more Irish than the Irish is a fault of many living this side of the sea looking back at a mythical past. (I try not to, but the Irish name was lost a couple of generations back so it does not leap out of the page.) The songs sung by Glasgow Celtic supporters were not, are not, direct attack songs, but sentimental songs of Irish nationalism, like the Fields of Athenry alluded to in the Rangers song. Really, the song condemned by the High Court in Rangers supporters’ mouths is not “the famine sing” as if it were the only one – Irish voices and would-be-Irish voices have many songs romanticising the potato famine and blaming all things British for it – that sounds like an attack upon the good citizens of Glasgow to me.

The “go home song” then is a response to the actual famine songs: it says “How much more ungrateful could you be for what your city did for your ancestors?” It does not delight in the dark chapters of modern history, but raises them to burst the bubble of sickly romanticism.

Rage at perceived injustice takes on an irrationality beyond the facts raged against; something we see in many social conflicts of politics, culture, religion or whatever, and reason will not calm the waters but only raise the tumult. I can write my take on the thing, and others will disagree, virulently. They are entitled to, and I can debate or seek nuances and find the common ground or each person’s ideas and unique emphases, because that is how a free and respectful society must work – not with cancellations and bans. You are free to be outraged too, and free to be outrageous.

Therefore, in the name of freedom, let them sing what they like and to mean the words how they like.

As to the line which so shocked Lord Carloway and even UNICEF, I see that as a challenge to the ‘Plastic Paddies’, those who are Glaswegian through and through and still pretend, on the terraces, to be Irishmen: ‘Why don’t you go home?’ has an answer: ‘because you are not Irishmen – you are Glaswegian – and this is your home.’

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Resisting neo-feudalism

Convulsion in the normality of society is a continuous process and only future generations will know whether the changes of today will be revolutionary or are just another bump on the road.

I am not convinced that the West is being taken over irrevocably by a new techno-elite, although I would accept that it may look like it. The next decades may be characterised by this dominance of the unwanted elite. There is a fascinating book out by Joel Kotkin which suggests that the West is becoming a neo-feudal society controlled as in the Middle Ages by an elite which defends its exclusive hold on power.

It does look as if the convulsions of the power structures in Western society are moving in the way Kotkin describes as tending to a new, neo-feudal settlement. It has been observed by reviewers darkly that while the grand lords in the Middle Ages accepted that society required the acceptance of mutual obligations between themselves and the peasantry, the modern technocrats do not accept the burden of obligations: they have no need to, as long as power is secured.

All this is too dark a picture though, too close to conspiracy narratives, and while that is not what the author alleges nor intends, it should ring warning bells, as should the generalisation inherent in describing a  social trend in general terms.

Nevertheless, we are living through changes. Technology forces a social change, and those who know how to use the levers of power that appear will look to secure their own power. That is not modern; the seizing of personal power starts with Adam and Eve disobeying and opening their eyes, and runs in a consistent thread throughout humanity.

Some commentaries will look at formal systems of government, some at the power structures operating beneath and in spite of the formal ones, but most of everyday life operates outside government, at least in a free country.

A free country increasingly means ‘an English-speaking country’: that Anglosphere freedom has allowed enterprise to thrive and find new forms from which the whole world has benefited. At the same time, free enterprise without restraint from jealous government has allowed power to accumulate in those enterprises. The power of businesses which are not responsible to the electorate has been the subject of much anguish amongst commentators, but the darker warnings strike a false note.

If you want to see the new technology used for real political oppression, look at China. The government controls technology and enforces dependency upon it amongst the urban population (the only ones who matter), and if no one can receive or make a payment without going through a single, government-controlled payment system, then dissent means starvation. Combined with universal surveillance, it is a tyrant’s perfect system. This works not only within the Middle Kingdom but amongst students and workers abroad, dependent on the same payment and social media systems.

Compared with this, fears about the power of Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey are petty.

Even so, corporate monopoly power is important and is a threat in the West. Books are not banned, but with just a few providers they can be delisted, and they are, for openly political reasons. Speech online is censored at the instance of activists intimidating platform providers and infiltrating their staff: all this has been too often discussed to need repetition.

This would not be an issue without technology-dependence: twenty years ago, few would bat an eyelid at someone being banned from an on-line forum, because they were the preserve of a few geeks . Really they should be still – the online world is not the real world.  It only gets serious when the online world is needed to access the real world, and those access points are limited.

A neo-feudal society would require permanent, exclusive control of  power and information. Activists do seek that, in the social, commercial and political realms, but unless they can achieve a monopoly, such a system cannot endure. The Roman Church was brought low by the printing press.

Many foreign nations may be damned in this respect: they do not have the millennium-old innate understanding of individual freedom that the English-speaking peoples do and if their language is spoken only in one country then technology and publication in that language can be controlled by one government and social structure. The Chinese are compelled to follow resources in Chinese, which are controlled. The same could be done for small national languages. Technology is written in English and translated into foreign tongues, which produces a choke-point.

English though is spoken throughout the world, in cultures which take government to be an add-on necessity, not a centre for direction. If one government clamps down, the words can be spoke in another country, the book published and read abroad, the opinion expressed; the monopoly-breaking enterprise can be launched elsewhere. When American politics was censored by Mr Zuckerberg and Mr Dorsey, new channels appeared. There is a free-market. It is not even hard to break in: Mark Zuckerberg began his world-dominating resource in a college room. If the near-monopoly providers try to regulate how we behave or speak, and what books we buy, they will not remain near-monopolies: the force of the market must liberalise them in the end.

Therefore there is good reason to think that although the new feudalism is a real trend, pushed fervently by some, they cannot prevail for long.

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Books