Tuesday, May 03, 2011
Tescophobia: a new middle‑class malady
The chattering classes’ weird hatred of a large and successful British supermarket chain reveals the elitism of modern-day consumer activism: Reminiscent of Wal-Mart hatred in the USA
For a few years now Britain’s chattering classes have been in the grip of a peculiar malady. We might call it Tescophobia. Symptoms include an irrepressible desire to write long, boring tracts about how wicked Tesco is and a weird kind of brain rot that leads you to see perfectly normal behaviour – such as people buying nice food at low prices – as ‘evil’ and ‘thoughtless’. There is no known cure. Though I’m sure a glass of Tesco own brand ‘Scotch’ whisky could help tame this moralistic fever.
At the Easter weekend there was an outburst of a particularly bad strain of Tescophobia in Stokes Croft in Bristol. Following a heavyhanded police raid on a squat, the squatters and various anti-capitalist activists attacked both the cops and a new local Tesco store, against which they had been campaigning for months. They’ve won sympathy from sections of the media, where this ‘anti-Tesco action’ has been talked up as some kind of heroic defence of ‘community independence’ against ‘corporate entities’.
In truth, the ‘Tesco riot’ – as future generations will no doubt recall it (LOL) – exposed the naked elitism of modern-day consumer activism and the gulf, nay the chasm, that now separates middle-class radicals from everyday people.
The most striking thing about contemporary consumer activism is its disregard for the principles of democracy. I’m not into consumer politics; I don’t believe you can change the world by electing to buy Palestinian oranges but never Jewish ones, or by only drinking coffee for which the beans were crushed by the elbows of some far-flung Peruvian tribe who refuse to use pesticides and who get a fairtrade wage ($1.25 a day rather than $1).
However, if I did buy the idea that buying power equals political power, that how you shop tells us heaps about what you believe, then I’d most likely look upon Tesco as a bastion of democracy. The consumers have spoken, millions upon millions of them, and they have said in roaring chorus: ‘I love Tesco.’ They have voted with their wallets – as we are so often encouraged to do these days, by everyone from Greenpeace to anti-Israel agitators – and according to one eye-swivelling statistic £1 out of every £7 spent in Britain is now spent at a Tesco. If, as we are constantly informed by self-defined edgy commentators, consumerism is the new site for political expression and identity formation, then Tesco shoppers should surely be accorded the utmost respect; they are the majority, the most numerous of all of the consumers, and thus should rule the retail roost.
But the opposite is the case. Tesco shoppers are treated by the chattering classes with utter contempt, looked upon as trackie-wearing zombies witlessly buying lamb that has been flown thousands of miles and thus has left a honking carbon skidmark across Gaia’s face or milk squeezed from a cow cruelly strapped to a machine. Tesco is a ‘spiritual wasteland’, says one writer, with its patrons ‘slumping from place to place… listless and depressed’. A Telegraph columnist says people who shop at Tesco are those who go ‘on holiday to Spain to drink lager and eat egg and chips’. Whisper it: oiks, the working classes, probably even the underclasses since Tesco is so bloody cheap, who indulge in consumerism of the wrong, and thus eminently ignorable, kind.
Far from according any respect to the shopping habits of the Tesco masses, the influential Tescophobics do everything they can to curb these allegedly destructive habits. They campaign vociferously against the building of new Tesco stores, these garish temples to cheapness, and complain at length about the ‘Tesco-isation’ of society.
This elite anti-Tesco fury, which erupted into a shriek of violent middle-class rage at the weekend, exposes how inherently anti-democratic consumer activism is. Consumer activism implicitly empowers the comfortably-off middle classes over the less well-off working classes. Where in normal politics, everybody is ostensibly equal – one man has one vote, regardless of how rich or poor he is – in the sphere of radical consumer politics individuals who have superior spending power are inevitably more powerful than individuals with inferior spending power. In a political realm built upon consumerism, where buying organic or patronising your local butcher or only wearing expensive eco-cotton rather than Primark’s rags are all taken as signs of moral purity, how much a person has to spend determines how politically influential he can be.
So the average Tesco shopper, despite being part of the largest consumer tribe of all, can be transformed into an object of derision by the Waitrose-patronisers of the liberal smart set, because his ability to shop ‘imaginatively’, to buy expensive niche and PC products and foodstuffs, is limited in comparison to that of the well-off consumer activist. He is, in the political terms of the radical consumer lobby, inferior, unequal, the nigger of consumerism.
The distinction now made between good consumers and bad consumers – that is, between those with a lot of money and those with less – was summed up by a newspaper columnist who said that admitting to shopping in Tesco is to commit ‘social death’ in the world of London’s ‘middle-class incomers’. For those who do their food-shopping in ‘Portuguese delis and local markets’, there’s nothing more ordure than to visit a Tesco store. ‘We can all see what’s wrong with supermarkets in particular and colossal chain retailers in general’, he said. The most important word in that sentence is ‘we’ – he really means ‘us’, the well-paid media set, against ‘them’, the averagely waged Tesco hordes. Refusing to shop at Tesco is now one of the key ways that the right-thinking middle classes choose to advertise their separation from, and their superiority over, the grubby, vulgar, thoughtless lower orders.
This explains the real attraction of the politics of consumerism to modern-day, so-called radicals: it allows them to circumvent the traditional sphere of politics, where, ridiculously, every Tom, Dick and Harry has as much clout as every Will, Rollo and Cressida, and to enter a world where some people are naturally, by dint of their pay packet, superior to others. It is largely only the cash-rich and the time-rich, the leisured classes, who can make great play of their allergy to supermarkets and their slow and considered patronage of local ironmongers, organic bakers, traditionalist fishmongers, and so on – and through the politics of consumerism they can transform what is ultimately just a posh lifestyle choice into an advertisement of their moral superiority over the cash-strapped, time-pressed little people.
As I say, I don’t believe in consumer politics. But if it goes on like this, and Tescophobia continues to spread amongst the chattering classes, then buying a £2 prawn sandwich from a Tesco Metro might soon become an act of implacable rebellion against today’s radical snobs.
Bowing down to a new god: the scientist
Peter Atkins delights in telling us that humanity came from nothing and that we're returning to nothing, and he assumes anyone who doesn't share his nihilistic beliefs is an idiot
It seems that certain men of science, like their hymn-sakes the Christian soldiers, are on the march. For these faithless crusaders, science is not simply a method by which we gain understanding and mastery of the physical world. No, it has become a weapon of enlightenment, a cudgel to be wielded against the ‘ignorant’ multitudes, ‘deluded to the point of perversity’ (to quote high priest of The Science, Richard Dawkins) by religious metaphysics and philosophical myth. For these Darwin-obsessed, unblinkingly deterministic culture-warmongers, science has become more than a method. It has become a mission.
Joining Richard Dawkins at the front line in the war against People With Wrong Beliefs, whether Christian or German Idealist, is Peter Atkins, former professor of chemistry at the University of Oxford and author of On Being – A scientist’s exploration of the great questions of existence. It’s an unabashed attempt to show why the scientific method will come closer to answering the big ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions than – to sling Atkins’ mud – all the theological fantasists, political storytellers and philosophical shysters put together. And to be fair to the scientistic Atkins, he certainly knows his onions, albeit from the sub-atomic level upwards.
Starting with the beginning of it all, he looks at and speculates about the beginning of the universe, that instant of creation that thus far lies just beyond the comprehension of contemporary physicists. Having answered, at least as far he’s concerned, why there is something and not nothing – there is in fact still nothing, it’s just been rendered internally antagonistic – he quickly takes us on a red-in-tooth-and-claw tour through Darwin’s ‘dangerous idea’. Natural selection done and dusted, Atkins then offers up a sneaky peep at our individual beginnings in the human reproductive process, before indulging us with a gruesome portrait of our post-death decomposition. Atkins then ends with The End – not just of our universe, but of all universes - as the something reverts once more to nothing: ‘All life, including all the achievements, myths, and fantasies of mankind, if any survive for such a vast length of time, will be gone.’
And that, as they say, is that. This is what science can tell us about being, from beginning to end. If Atkins had just wanted to give a physical account of being, right down to the smallest atom, that might have been interesting. Yet, On Being does not want to be merely interesting; it does not want to simply say what science can (and cannot) tell us about life and death, the universe and the cosmos. It exists, rather, as a reprimand, a rebuke to all those who dare to think differently, who live their lives according to beliefs not derived from the natural sciences. On Being is infused with animus, not pedagogy. And little wonder: asserting that ‘everything is an aspect of the physical, material world’, Atkins believes that everything must be susceptible to a physical, material explanation. To think otherwise, to reckon on there being more to being than the laws of physics, is to commit heresy.
“Atkins is simply incapable of understanding any approach to ‘the great questions of existence’ not rooted in physical science”
His prose is replete with pejoratives for those exercising their freedom of conscience and not signing up to the dictates of evolutionary biology. They are the willing dupes of ‘mythmakers’ and ‘promoters of the spirit’, their beliefs, like a frog’s entrails on a dissecting board, mere ‘psychological and cultural viscera’ for Atkins to coolly analyse and dismiss as ‘nonsense’. Which he does a lot. At one point, while discussing eschatology and those poor deluded fools who cling to various theological termini - you know, redemption, that type of thing - he even plays the psychotic card: ‘The only chilling thought among all this persiflageous disputation [among millenarians] is the possibility that powerful born-agains, with their fingers close not to swords but to nuclear buttons, will conspire to bring about Armageddon and thereby, at the expense of civilisation, murderously verify their ludicrous but professedly sincerely held beliefs.’ Quite where in the Old Testament it urges people to actively destroy the world is not made clear. Not that this would matter to Atkins: his arrogance renders him oblivious to his ignorance.
His utter contempt for those, religious or otherwise, whose beliefs deviate from the scientific proofs irrefutably outlined in his Big Book of Scientific Facts, is even reflected in the form of On Being. So while discussing the replication and modification of human DNA, Atkins warns the reader that, because of the complexity of what he’s discussing, the typeface will become smaller. We, the cretinous readers, are told that we can skip these sections if we like, that is, if we accept that ‘science has achieved the near-miracle of detailed understanding’. Form speaks louder than content here. Atkins doesn’t want us to understand the science so much as consent to it. The densely-packed passages of complex explication, published in nine-point font, are the scientistic equivalent of shock and awe. Look on science’s works, ye morons, and submit.
Atkins is simply incapable of understanding, let alone tolerating, any approach to ‘the great questions of existence’ that is not rooted in the physical sciences. Like Doubting Thomas, Pathological Peter steadfastly refuses to countenance any concept, be it God or Geist, that does not have a material, physically provable existence. There is no ‘physically inaccessible kingdom of the spirit’, he spits. Yes, we may long for ‘the non-physical’, but ‘longing is not itself an adequate proof of the existence of what is longed for’, he writes, condescension inspiring his prose.
Facts are everything, for Atkins, because the only category he works with is that of ‘what is’. This is why he finds any notion of there being anything beyond what is to be anathema. Yet, ‘what is’, if he’d taken a peek outside his scientistic bunker, does not exhaust being; there is also the category of ‘what ought to be’. Atkins is right to assert that this other category, the domain not just of ethics, but of utopian imaginings, of redeemed futures, does not exist. It is not a fact. Rather it is that which humans, through their actions and conduct, strive towards. The idea, be it heaven or Charles Fourier’s phalanstery, is not existent because it is ‘not yet’ – in other words, it is to come.
Such hopes of transcending one’s current state, whether fallen or just plain old deprived, are not the preserve merely of messianic theologians or Kant-inspired idealists. They have been the source of some of humanity’s greatest achievements and have driven some of the most hard-headed political revolutionaries of recent times. Vladamir Lenin, not someone usually associated with idle idealism, quotes the nineteenth century Russian radical Dimitri Pissarev approvingly in What Is To Be Done?: ‘If a person were completely devoid of dreaming… if he were not to hasten ahead now and again to view in his imagination as a unified and completed picture the work which is only now beginning to take shape in his hands, then I find it absolutely impossible to imagine what would motivate the person to tackle and to complete extensive and strenuous pieces of work in the fields of art, science, and political life…’. Indeed. Without that leap of faith, that very human will to attempt to bend reality to some idea of how it ought to be, then one might well be prepared to leave things just the way they are.
“In On Being, humanity, in all its past and future glory, is reduced to utter insignificance”
But so bewitched are Atkins and his ilk by material laws governing everything since the formation of the universe that they completely ignore the ideas that help shape matter’s development. They’re closer to Stalin than Lenin insofar as there seems to be very little place for the subjective component in their theorising. Instead, everything proceeds with funeral certainty according to immutable, unquestionable physical laws, from the Big Bang to the slow thermo-nuclear ebb of our Sun’s entropic decline. ‘The spreading of matter and energy is the root of all change’, writes Atkins of entropy, his ‘favourite’ law: ‘Wherever it occurs, be it corrosion, corruption, growth, decay, flowering, artistic creation, exquisite creation, understanding, reproduction, cancer, fun, accident… or just simple pointless motion it is an outward manifestation of this inner spring, the purposeless spreading of matter and energy in ever greater disorder.’ On a grand, cosmic scale, Atkins replicates the determinism which Stalin’s dialectical materialism produced on the socio-historic. Our actions might appear to be the product of conscious decisions, themselves little more than neural activity, ‘but we should be aware that deep down we, like everything, are driven by purposeless decay: that is why we have to eat’.
In On Being, humanity, in all its past and future glory, is reduced to utter insignificance. Even the Big Bang that gave rise to our universe is deemed an ‘infinitesimal event on a grandly hypercosmic stage’. The effect of such rhetoric is, ironically given Atkins’ professed atheism, to encourage a deference towards something far, far greater than we could possibly imagine: ‘Although science might seem arrogant in arrogating to itself true understanding, what it discovers is often the foundation of true humility.’ We are encouraged to do little more than wonder at the pointless majesty of the cosmos, a resurrection of deference before a god, but with none of the purpose of religious belief.
Atkins’ faithless, shrunken world of energy and entropy is almost triumphant in its nihilism. ‘We shall have gone the journey of all purposeless stardust’, he concludes, ‘driven unwittingly by chaos, gloriously but aimlessly evolved into sentience, born unchoosingly into the world, unwillingly taken from it, and inescapably returned to nothing. Such is life.’ Nietzsche, so wrong when it came to many things, has it right for Atkins and his crew of scientistic New Atheists. In the absence of a will to something, there is only a will to nothing.
The Death Penalty Does Not Deter Liberals
Liberals are compassionate people. That’s why they support abortion and oppose the death penalty. They figure it’s best to kill a majority of black children before they are born. If they did not, a small minority of those black children would later commit homicide. Liberals are not just compassionate people. They’re logical, too.
Because of their undying commitment to expanding abortion rights I always welcome moral advice from liberals. That’s why I was nearly moved to tears after I read a new report from Appalachian State University Professor Dr. Matthew Robinson. His “scientific” report asserts that the death penalty system in North Carolina costs millions of dollars a year and does not make our state safer.
What Professor Robinson does not report is that the abolitionist movement is the sole reason for the higher-than-expected expense and lower-than-expected deterrent value of capital punishment. The death penalty is expensive because abolitionists level costly appeals – even in cases where they know the condemned is guilty and has had a fair trial.
Put simply, the abolitionist wants to get rid of the death penalty regardless of guilt and regardless of process. And the impact of these endless appeals is predicable: It undermines the deterrent capacity of the death penalty.
If the liberal reader cannot understand why a fifteen year delay between crime and punishment undermines deterrence then just try this little two-step experiment: 1) The next time your fifteen-year old breaks a rule tell him he will be grounded when he turns thirty. 2) See if you can count to ten before he decides to recidivate.
Dr. Robinson also says that the death penalty “poses a serious risk to innocent people.” I have a similar concern with abortion. I think it might pose a pretty serious risk to innocent people. So, for me, the solution lies in the appellate process.
Here’s my plan: When a woman decides to abort, opponents of abortion should be able to file appeals on behalf of the baby. If we can just drag out the process for fifteen years or more then, who knows, we might be able to reduce the risk abortion poses to innocent people.
The learned Professor Robinson says that ''All the data point to one obvious conclusion … Our state's capital punishment system is broken, and our lawmakers should take a serious look at whether it is still serving the interests of North Carolina.'' Well, he’s right about that. We haven’t executed anyone in five years in this state. The abolitionists have certainly managed to break down the system.
Professor Robinson recently participated in a press conference with three other learned scholars - Dr. Frank Baumgartner and Dr. Seth Kotch of UNC Chapel Hill and Dr. Miriam DeLone of Fayetteville State University. They all agreed that the death penalty is both an ineffective and unfair punishment – although they said nothing at the press conference about the inherent unfairness of terminating 51% of black pregnancies in the name of “choice.”
''Among other things, this report shows us that the death penalty does not deter crime,'' said Professor Baumgartner. ''We haven't executed anyone since 2006, and the murder rate has gone down. If the death penalty isn't making us safer, why do we cling to this punishment?''
Baumgartner failed to mention that the crime rate rose every single year between 1967 and 1977 when there were no executions in America. He also failed to mention that after eighteen years of increases the crime rate finally leveled off in 1978. That was the year after the death penalty made a comeback in America.
Of course, we are all guilty of suppressing statistics when they make us feel somewhat uncomfortable. Every summer when ice cream sales increase the murder rate increases, too. But I don’t talk about it often. I really like ice cream. Did I mention that I like “social science” professors who make really complex statistical arguments?
Professor Robinson’s study asserts that decreased use of the death penalty has been followed by a decrease in murder. But that’s only half of the story. The increase in gun sales and issuance of concealed weapons permits has been followed by a decrease in murder, which has reduced the need for executions in North Carolina. But Robinson tries to keep things simple. He’s writing mostly for a liberal audience.
Robinson also asserts that innocent people are being wrongly sentenced to death. He notes that seven people have been exonerated and freed from North Carolina's death row since 1973. I’m glad he chose the year 1973 as a reference point. Since then, no wrongfully condemned person has been freed from a North Carolina abortion clinic. The criminal justice system is broken but, look, the health care system works just perfectly!
Robinson concluded a recent interview by asking, ''What do we get for all the money we spend on the death penalty?'' He humbly answered his own question saying, ''We get a punishment that is almost never used, that is mired in racial bias and that threatens the lives of innocent people. It defies logic to continue using a system like that.''
In recent years, the abortion rate has been dropping slightly – as has been the murder rate. Imagine if abortion were mired in racial bias or threatened the lives of innocent people. Then both logic and sanctimonious professors would defy its continued use.
Although he has been an unrepentant Communist for decades, German/Jewish historian Eric Hobsbawm (born "Obstbaum", meaning "fruit-tree") is much praised in Britain to this day, mostly by the British Left, of course.
Similarly in Australia, the now deceased historian Manning Clark was revered by almost the entire Australian political Left, including members of Labor party governments. Clark was not as open a Communist as Obstbaum but Ross Fitzgerald sets out below the evidence that he was in fact a fanatical Communist
After I'd left school and finished my PhD at the University of NSW in 1976, my brilliant but idiosyncratic biology teacher Norton Hobson confided that he was an ex-member of the Communist Party who worked as a part-time operative for the Victorian State Special Branch and for ASIO, supplying information about staff and students alike.
When I flew to Melbourne in late 1970, Hobson said that he had always regarded Manning Clark as a "crypto", that is, someone who kept his membership of the Communist Party and-or his strong support for the party a secret because he could be more useful that way than as an openly CPA member.
So what of the proposition that Manning Clark was a crypto-communist? On one level, because in those days the CPA was such a highly disciplined organisation, it seems unlikely the party would have wanted to recruit as a member someone such as Clark who was extremely erratic and who for most of his life had a severe drinking problem.
Yet because the historian was such a leading member of the Australian intelligentsia, it may have been the case that the CPA would have welcomed Clark's support.
This certainly applied to Clark's 1960 book Meeting Soviet Man, which detailed a trip, paid for by the Soviet Union, that he took in 1958 accompanied by the hardline Australian communist writer Judah Waten and the poet Jim Devaney.
This short book was effectively a pro-Soviet tract. At this time, Clark had already started to learn Russian. That Clark should have written such a paean for the communist state so soon after Nikita Khrushchev's so-called secret speech of March 1953 denouncing Joseph Stalin, and the brutal Soviet invasion of Hungary in November 1956, would suggest Clark was, at least, an ardent fellow traveller. Also it's important to remember that, in this dreadful book, Clark described Vladimir Lenin as "Christ-like in his compassion".
Significantly, in an interview with Gerard Henderson at his home in Canberra in November 1988, Clark conceded Meeting Soviet Man was "not an aberration so much as an error of judgment in not making clear what I really had in mind". This interview is dealt with in depth in Henderson's chapter on Clark in his book Australian Answers, published in 1990. But what Clark actually had in mind in his 1960 book he never divulged. Certainly, the historian wrote unequivocally of his 1958 experiences of communist Russia that "whoever lives unmoved in Moscow must have a heart of stone". Certainly at that time, at least as expressed in the book, he had a very positive opinion about what life was like for the average person in communist Russia.
In June 1970 Clark again visited Russia at the Soviet Union's expense. Although this was a time when many dissident Russian intellectuals were still imprisoned or kept in psychiatric institutions, Clark gave a laudatory speech praising the Soviet Union and in particular Lenin, who he described as a great "teacher of humanity".
Even though he definitely did not get the Order of Lenin, Clark certainly received, on June 22, 1970, at the presidium of the Supreme Soviet, a Lenin Jubilee Medal to celebrate the centenary of Lenin's birth in 1870. Other of the many overseas recipients of the Lenin Jubilee Medal included delegates from North Korea and East Germany. That in 1970, after the brutal Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and with Leonid Brezhnev's ongoing repression of Soviet writers and intellectuals still in full sway, Clark should praise the Soviet Union without even mentioning the many victims of communist totalitarianism, is puzzling. Indeed it seems inexcusable.
And it's certainly true that back in Australia Clark was a strong supporter of the Australian-Soviet Friendship Society and a regular visitor to the Soviet embassy in Canberra.
Then there is the fact of his close and continuing friendship with his ex-academic colleague from the University of Melbourne, the well-known New Zealand-born, Oxford-educated communist Ian Milner, who undoubtedly was a spy for the Soviet Union and who defected to communist Czechoslovakia in 1950. Milner later worked for the Czech secret service spying on foreign visitors and also on students and his colleagues at Charles University in Prague.
Clark must have known that Milner was a committed communist yet he saw fit to visit Milner twice in Prague, once in 1958 straight after his trip to Russia and, again, in 1984.
Indeed five months before his death, Clark wrote to Milner: "I see us all as people who have lost their 'Great Expectations', either in any world to come, or in the here and now. [J]ust because 1917 fell into the hands of spiritual bullies, that does not mean we should give up the hope of stealing fire from heaven - or that we should bow down to 5th Avenue."
Even if Clark was not an active Communist Party operative, it seems indisputable that he was a strong supporter of the Soviets. To deny this seems as ridiculous as Gerry Adams, or his supporters, denying that Adams had once been a leading member of the IRA.
Many people, including Clark's most recent biographer Mark McKenna, argue that Manning Clark was a person who never made up his mind about the Soviet Union.
But even if this were so, what would the attitude be to an intellectual and historian who never made up his mind about Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany? Such a position would, rightly, be denounced. And would such a person be excused for sitting on the fence? Not on your nelly.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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