Community returning

I was wrong:  I thought we had lost society for the long term, but it is roaring back quietly.

I relaxed in the lockdown evenings – no more organising for meetings not happening, no rushing home for a scratch meal before leaping out for some function or other, trying to work out where it was while driving there; no more weekends spent on the motorway finding a hall somewhere in Lancashire, or was it Yorkshire this time? (Do I have to turn round?)

Calls stopped coming. I wasn’t having to organise people or think of things to do. I did not have to yawn through others’ meetings and surreptitiously use the meeting to write another chapter or an algorithm. I could relax, and discover that there are evenings, and a home.

In villages and little towns and suburbs, churches, clubs and societies create a web of Big Society. Some go out to film clubs or collectors’ clubs, or  evening classes, or exercise classes, or amateur dramatics, or ladies’ book clubs, or just social meets round a bar.  (There are more village pocket orchestras than you would ever imagine; and writers’ clubs are everywhere: I might even go to one one day and see what they do.)

Then all this was gone; banned by government fiat in fear of the Chinese plague. The thread was broken. All over the land, people were realising they do not have to live by a timetable and an untended bowel in the best evenings of the week, when a sofa calls. How then could the clubs come back?

Yet they are coming back. The church halls of the land are full again. Organisers are clearly built of sterner stuff, and for all the welcome leisure we had, there is a yearning for society.

If I were tempted to think those coming back to the village halls are just those who no longer commuter and need to get out from their home-office, it is not: there cannot be too many home-bound workers left though, going by how the trains are packed again as once they were. In spite of the call of the sofa, the clubs are still coming back. Normality, our weird, Middle-Class, respectable rural / suburban normality is returning in spite of it all.

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Books

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.

See also

Books

No rest, not today

Some people, laughably, think the first Monday of May is a bank holiday: clearly they are not involved in local politics.

This weekend and all today is pounding the streets, engaging with the public, no pounding of doors this year but next I will have my hands on those knockers like anything.

It is not the same without the robust conversations on the doors (allow yourself 20 seconds – no more). It is frustrating when you want to get on, but it re-engages you with real people. The householder is very happy to get everything off his chest, from why no one has mended that pothole (have you called the council to let them know, or do you think they are psychic?) to the development threatened next door, to which group of Her Majesty’s subjects they would lock up / deport / castrate (yes, I had all three in one conversation last week). They don’t generally mean it, unless discussing developers.

For the last several weeks leaflets have been delivered, rewritten and reposted, LibDem leaflets analysed with loud disgust, social media (for those who do that) filled with grinning and gurning photographs of candidates and supported and a roped-in MP on High Street and doorsteps (for those standing where there is a high street) and the local hospitals have been badgers by photo-ops, and deliverers with fingers bitten by dogs and double-spring letterboxes.

I have had tougher leaflets this year, that stood a better chance of getting through the defences of the letterbox. I haven’t even been attacked by a dog. (I know we have had a vicious lockdown recession, but it is not like those mediaeval woodcuts of famine days showing when starving families driven to kill and eat their precious hunting dogs. There are still dogs, but more restrained. I am not complaining.)

Actually, why are there heavily sprung letterbox flats with thick draft-excluders in doors to second-floor flats? What kind on ninja winds do they think they have that can get inside and snake up two flights of stairs to blow in at their door?

Legs aching, and while all my run is done, there are fellow candidates in need. Time to jump in a phonebooth and emerge as Supercanvasser, ready to collapse at my desk tomorrow morning – for the earning world does not stop because of an election.

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Books

Gorchfygu’r Wyddfa

No one should fight their battles on Snowdon’s peaceful slopes. Battles of language are best confined to ivory towers and books, not here.

(The slopes do not seem peaceful in the height of summer as a babble of voices crowd to the summit from the Llanberis Path or the Cheats’ Railway, but away from there and then, it is a haven of peace I have long enjoyed as a favourite retreat.)

There is no popular campaign to rename Snowdon, whatever the BBC may have been led to believe: just a loud one by a tiny pressure group named Cymuned. Somehow they have managed to get the Snowdonia National Park Authority to take them seriously – this tells us a great deal about the National Park Authority. If it is ‘national’ it surely belongs to all the British nation, not to driven politicians.

It comes down to a name. Much has been said about names, all of it wrong but it is about romantic dreams, is it not?

The name ‘Snowdon’ is not as old in the written record as Yr Wyddfa is, but is close: it is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1095, and it must have been used long centuries before then. The activists would cast it off as if it were one of those modern inventions which do dot the Welsh coast, but it has a millennium of establishment behind it. Neither is ‘Snowdon’ a purely English name, as its key element ‘dun‘ is Welsh, far older Welsh indeed than the modern, Latin-derived ‘mynydd‘, so perhaps in its suffix the name ‘Snowdon’ can claim seniority in time and genuine Welshness.

I have read arguments about it, from the scholarly to the deranged, and would not dismiss any out of hand. I have read that Yr Wyddfa has preference as the language of the mountain itself, but the villages around speak English as readily as they do Welsh, and the voices spoken on the mountainside and mostly in English, or frequently a gaggle of European tongues – all are welcome. If by this one means the language not of the folk about or upon the mountain but that of the mountain itself, well, in all my time on Snowdon I have never heard it speak a word. If it did, it would speak in a tongue more ancient that mankind itself.

There is no “true name”. Neither, as has been asserted, is ‘Yr Wyddfa’ the original name of this mountain – man has made his home here since those who chipped flints to hunt mammoths here, and Snowdon has cast his long, perhaps cynical, gaze over men, these antlike creatures, for countless ages – a timeless mountain standing for aeons since it burst with lava plumes from the young Earth, and wore into its shape over uncounted ages, and when man arrived late, these creatures living but the blink of a geological eye beneath its slopes, have been in many tribes and tongues, of which even Welsh is but a youngster, a newcomer, and English not too longer after it. Yr Wyddfa the original name? Not even close, not by millennia.

I must ask then where this attempt to banish English comes from, and can only find it not in timeworn local culture but a very recent sub-Marxist ideology that seeks to divide and accuse. There is no enmity between the concepts of Welsh and English: we are all one race, one people of one descent, and both languages are aspects of our common culture. To suppress or insult on one language is to assault the whole of our being and culture.

That there are two languages and two names is part of the wonderous diversity of our land, and long may it continue. The Welsh language is embedded in the names of the landscape, and should endure in the tongues of its people – now we have the technology, it must be harnessed to allow this equal diversity. It has a richness to it, where one tongue shall not dominate or obliterate the other. The authorities are commanded to respect diversity, and here they should indeed: the National Park Authority must give equal respect to Welsh and English, and not treat English as a language to be destroyed. It has as much of a right to be in these hills as its neighbour.

Different languages have different names. When I speak English I call the mountain ‘Snowdon’ and when I am speaking Welsh I call it ‘Yr Wyddfa’, because those are the correct forms of those languages. If we deny that different languages have different names, we deny reality and attack the culture bound up in that language. If we decree from on high that Snowdon may bear one name only, and that the Welsh name because it is in Welsh-speaking Wales, then it follows that a man speaking Welsh may not call London ‘Llundain’, and that if Anglesey in a generation or so becomes majority English-speaking, then the ancient name of Môn must be banished. This is wrong, and would be an insult to the most beautiful language in the world. Likewise banishing ‘Snowdon’ insults the second-most beautiful.

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It’s a funny old game, politics

The government says it will do ‘all in its power’ to stop a breakaway football “Superleague”. What power, and why? All the power of the state falls upon cartels and monopolies, but for football a monopoly cartel must be enforced.

I am waiting for FIFA to claim a breakaway league is ‘unethical’, as would be the most hilarious hypocrisy. Tonight though the ‘Superleague’ seems to be falling apart, to great rejoicing from fans: it has been a strange couple of days.

Of all the subjects to address, football is not a natural one for me: I do not follow the game and could not even name any players. I can see the grip it has on real fans though, deeply, emotionally bound up with their teams, and for a great portion of the population them a rumpus about the organisation of football competitions is of real importance. To an outsider, it look weird: these teams are multi-billion pound public limited companies: I might as well wear a team shirt for British American Tobacco or wave a rattle (do they still have football rattles?) yelling ‘Rio Tinto forever!’ It’s not my thing.

It is different though: football is big business, but it is the entertainment business: just like the film industry, it is all about mass emotional engagement. Football is a game which can exploit that better than any other: it is man against man without equipment apart from the ball, constant, unpredictable movement (unlike the regulated positions of cricket), and sudden bursts of activity and charges towards goal-scoring, will-he, won’t-he, that mirror the natural rhythms of the emotional drive. It is worth the millions poured in by fans and sponsors.

In all this, it has nothing to do with government. The PM does not turn up to intervene if a film studio decides to pull out of the BAFTAs and set up their own awards ceremony, or if the producers of Bake-Off move the show to Channel 4. (I hope he does not, anyway.)

Laws have intruded on occasion: when we were within the European Union it was ruled that rules could not keep teams all of one nationality, and MEPs keep trying to interfere with football player transfers – selling a player’s contract has been described as a modern day form of slavery, which is not just insensitive to those actually kept in slavery today and throughout history, but is profoundly stupid: what slave earns a millionaire salary and can behave like a libertine brat with impunity?

What the Superleague thing was about is not entirely clear, but the fans did not like it, or some of them did, but I do not know if they knew what they were protesting against either.

Then in stepped Boris. Currying favour maybe with football fans in the northern towns, he was going to give the new League ‘the red card’. Why? On what basis?

The greatest thing about football is that it can be played by a dozen friends in the park with jackets for goalposts, or by players employed by a billion pound corporation, and whichever it is they do so on their own, not licenced by bureaucrats. It is so profoundly unrelated to government concerns that in an over-politicised world it is liberating. If government starts interfering, it is ruined.

There is a place for law in terms of the commercial structure. Monopolies are restrained to ensure open competition on prices and quality. If teams meet together to raise ticket prices or to suppress salaries, there can be intervention. A rule that the teams must play in a particular competition or be barred from all professional competition would be a terrible restraint of trade, but that looks very like the FIFA rules our PM is trying to keep imposed. A breakaway league would be fair competition, and could improve the game overall, as competition does. Yet instead of cheering this competition, it has to be given the red card, acting not as a government, but as FIFA’s hired boot-boys. There is no sense in this. It is embarrassing.

Tonight, the clubs that were forming the breakaway league away are withdrawing. The fans demanded it, and that is a proper reason. Pressure from impotent ministers though: that should have been laughed to scorn.