A gibbous supplement
1) Thought crime in France? 2) democracy limping 3) plutocracy 4) Welsh head lice
Editorial (From Luddites’ Gazette )
It is only in autocracies that one has much hope of seeing electoral promises fulfilled. This is partly because autocrats are in a position to see that the subject population does the fulfilling, and even if it turns out that they do a poor job of it, the autocrat can order his statistical minions to announce (with details as required) an outstanding success (the very same phrase as it happens that is currently in favour to describe military retreats). Moreover the autocrat is going to win the election anyway and therefore can afford to keep promises to a minimum, filling out the campaign with threats if that is his personal taste. In democracies of course the position is quite different. Here, promises are the main means by which elections are won, except for a few countries where the primacy goes to money, but even there one sees no significant barrier to the tidal wave of promises. By an alethic principle somewhat like the economic law of supply and demand, the greater the number of promises made, the smaller the chance of any randomly selected one of them being carried out. (In an earlier era, policies could also play a part; some fix the point at which promises finally achieved clear predominance as the moment in the presidential election of 1988 when, George Bush, soon to be the victor, said “Read my lips: no new taxes”).
It is unusual then to see the winner in a more or less democratic country pressing ahead rapidly to make good on a campaign promise as François Hollande has done, not allowing himself to be distracted by his own plans for raising taxes or decisions on how to react to the imminent disappearance of the French car industry. Whether we should praise him, however, is not entirely clear. The promise which he is intent on fulfilling has been described as the introduction of a thought crime into the French legal system. Perhaps this is a little unfair. What he seeks to do is not to have some particular thought ruled as illegal, but only to make it illegal in France (pays de liberté,… etc) to express that thought. Even when the rapid onslaught of neuroscience on human dignity makes it possible in the near future to discover in great detail the thoughts passing through a human brain – perhaps even to discover them at a distance, as when, for instance, the brain is passing through an airport ‘security’ gate – the thought in question would still be allowed – in law. (There must be some doubt, however, whether any record of it, if only to demonstrate that such thoughts are still freely permitted, could be legal.) So all that Hollande seeks to do is merely to use the legal system to suppress one particular aspect of free speech, specifically any statement that Armenians were not victims in a genocidal attack carried out by Turks in 1915. His proposal can of course be considered quite independently of what the effects might be on relations between the states of Turkey and Armenia, and even more on those Armenians still living in Turkey, just as the International Criminal Court (Luis Moreno Ocampo as its prosecutor) issued an indictment for genocide against Omar Bashir, despite the worries that the population in Darfur might then be subjected to even worse pressures than before (worries which reportedly were justified). We should acknowledge that Hollande has precedents for his proposed move, both in Turkey itself where the legislation on how one may speak about the state is vague enough to be used in precisely the same way, and in Germany where denial of the well-established killings on a huge scale during World War 2 of people selected on the basis of their ethnic origin is forbidden (although strangely it appears that this does not apply in the case of the Roma – but this may have something to do with the fact that to this day they are widely regarded as uncitizens not worth legal protection in large swathes of eastern Europe.)
In a state run more or less on the basis of reasonable law reasonably applied, the right to free speech at least on historical and political matters is not worth much unless it embraces the right to say things which are unpopular. If they are not merely unpopular but false then it falls to those who know better, not excluding official bodies and the government, to put the record straight. Proceeding in the opposite direction, simply cutting out any mention from the domain of permitted expression, is not only ethically wrong but obviously introduces a wedge that can later be used for the most unsavoury purposes, as in the Soviet Union to give just one of many examples. If the topic excised from public mention is not false but merely unpopular with the government bringing in the law, then the decision is all the more disgraceful.
In many parts of Europe increasing strength is seen in parties which want to exclude from their particular country behaviour, people, languages, and beliefs which they consider incompatible with their national patrimony. Until now, such parties have been called extremist, but when the ruling party in France is seen advancing on the same road, what is the term to use – nationalist, socialist, opportunist ? Unthinkable! Time to propose a law to ban any such description. Or not.
Democracy through election of representatives in large communities rapidly shows itself – to those who are willing to see – as a thoroughly effective way of disregarding the interests of minorities (viz, at random, the Gypsies in Slovakia) (or those needing political asylum in a large offshore island a bit further to the left) and as a splendid mechanism for ensuring that important decisions are taken on the basis of short-term interests, the short-term interests in question being those of the party in power (to be specific, hanging on to it at the next election)….In addition, since the short-term interests just mentioned are frequently served by dubious deals with questionable characters, it is a right royal road to corruption, The tricky question might be ‘how do we get somewhere better from where we are now’ and I certainly don’t believe that walking through the streets of a city getting photographed or clubbed by the police is going to help a great deal, much less associating with some malodorous scruffy bunch of anarchists, nor, however, erupting in a tame newspaper, nor again signing up with any of the other parties (waiting their turn to enjoy the sweets of corruption). Therefore – ?
(previously published in Obiter Ficta 2004)
The Deputy Editor comments:
And the great developmental principle of trampling over the rights of small communities when they are in the way of a megaproject with megacontracts and opportunities for economic development (for some) is now upheld firmly not only when dams are built in China and giant highways are constructed in South America, but even in the self-proclaimed heartland of democracy in western Europe.
The highly respected Michael Meacher cited some exceptionally interesting figures in May. They deal specifically with Britain, but there is evidence that the situation they reflect is not very different from that in other advanced consumerist economies, such as the United States. First, in the preceding three years the richest one thousand people, who amounted to 0.003% of the adult population, had increased their wealth by £155bn (thus easily more than enough to cover the whole of the country’s budget deficit, and to spare). Second, even though the national economy had gone into a steep decline after 2008, that thousand of people had by May of this year arrived at a total of wealth that was greater than was theirs at the high point of the economy before the decline. It is certain that Michael Meacher has a great deal more of such data, which he would probably be glad to provide through his office in the House of Commons, but the point of citing them here is for their relevance in considering what exactly is and should be the basis of the concept nation; our editorial committee trust that some of the conclusions which should be drawn are entirely obvious. (Incidentally the figures given above appeared in a report in the Sunday Times, a periodical not normally believed to be in the business of fomenting red revolution.)
News from far corners (Luddites’ Gazette)
Five species have newly been added to the list of the world’s endangered species, including the Welsh head louse. Dr Khadija Stumbles of South Hampshire Institute for Biological Statistics said that the increase in hygiene in recent years coupled with the Labour government’s reduction in the tax on fine-toothed head lice combs in 2001 had led to an alarming decline in numbers. She estimated that in the major urban areas of South Wales the surviving population was now under 50 million.
honor honestique floreant