No Surprises


“In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or it might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies — the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” – Aldous Huxley, 1958, in the article The Capitalist Free Press

Two things, of very different severity and importance and that I would have thought were very unsurprising, seem to have struck people as very surprising this week.
One of them is worthy of serious study and one of them is not. Most people have chosen the wrong one in order to get into a lather about.

The 2 things to which I am referring are the assessment that Anders Breivik is insane. The BBC report that this is causing some consternation in Norway and the second, which is of no importance compared to the first but is receiving a lot more publicity, is that Jeremy Clarkson is a twat.

The first issue has serious legal and philosophical questions involved. Here are just a few..

  1. Is anyone who carries our such a despicable act by definition totally insane?
  2. By this definition of insane, couldn’t a lot of leaders and warmongers be considered clinically insane too?
  3. If he goes to psychiatric hospital instead of prison does this mean he won’t be getting punished as he should?
  4. If he is clinically insane, shouldn’t he be treated instead of punished?
  5. Should the families of the deceased be allowed the right to get their own doctors in order to get a second opinion?
  6. Is punishment in general to be about prevention, redemption and/ or retribution?
  7. What are the general justifications for punishment?

This is all very meaty stuff and none of these questions are easily and quickly answered. However, all of them in one way or another lead to some serious thoughts about the direction of a society and its moral outlook. They also make us think about how law and morality mix (or don’t).

That the second is receiving so much more coverage speaks not to Clarkson’s words so much as it speaks of the fact that it is much easier for the left to have a 5 minute hissy-fit about morals, and that the right, as Synthjock said on twitter, get to turn the greasy fucktard into some sort of free speech hero.

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  1. Gary Hay says:

    I think there has been a fair bit of gerrymandering around brevik’s mental state. They have to find him insane in order to dispel his warped ideology as a mad man’s pipe dream. finding him guilty might make him a martyr to the far right and inadvertently lend credenece to his justifications for the carnage he wrought.

  2. David Greig says:

    I agree there may be a little gerrymandering re Breivik. The maximum sentence for any crime in Norway is 21 years. With good behaviour that could be reduced still further. That meant Breivik could have been released at 51 with many of his surviving victims only in their mid thirties. Given that everyone in Norway knows someone who was directly affected by the attacks it would have been a very very difficult ask for society to accept him being free. Even for a polity as humane as Norway. If Breivik is ‘mad’, however, he can be kept incarcerated until he is ‘sane’ which we might predict he never will be.

    Another point worth making is that we haven’t actually read the report on ABB. It may be fair enough to think he’s mad. When I was in Norway recently there was a great deal of talk that he had had a very very troubled childhood and adolescence. It’s possible he is severely damaged psychologically.

    Lastly, Norwegian society is so reasonable that hating it might actually be a symptom of madness. This is not quite as facetious as it might sound. The ferocity of Breivik’s rage is almost in direct proportion to the reasonableness of the society of which he was part. Despite his cut and paste politics Breivik didn’t attack immigrants, he attacked middle class west oslo children – in effect he attacked his siblings. Close up his actions seem more oedipal that fascist.

    The ‘was it politics’ or ‘was it madness’ divide is a deeply sensitive and very live issue in Norway right now. If it was politics then they have to take him seriously and they don’t want to do that. If he’s mad they have to let him off moral responsibility and they s don’t want to do that. The state psychologists have essayed a fascinating answer: to have his politics is to BE mad.

    If that’s sounds critical of Norway, it’s not. I’ve never seen a society struggle so deeply with moral questions as they are doing now. It was very moving to experience it.

    As for Clarkson, – Breivik quotes him in his online manifesto. He also says Top Gear is his favourite program and that it’s ‘not political but it’s just really funny’.


  3. Observer says:

    He may be insane, that is a distinct possibility, but he was clearly very organised & effective so he must be categorised as posing an extreme risk. For that reason I think he should be incarcerated, whether in a prison or a facility for the insane for the rest of his life. There are some crimes for which I do not believe there can ever be release, unless at the end of life.

    As for Clarkson, the man is a parody of himself. I think the footage which went out on the internet cut straight to the comments about shooting strikers in front of their familes. To be frank I was a tad annoyed at that, as the fat git is paid from the public purse himself. As it turns out looking at the whole interview he was mugging for the presenters who set it all up. All I can say is that I rather despair that the Beeb are keeping him when they canned Russell Brand. The Beeb have no taste at all.

  4. Observer says:

    Nice picture incidentally. Make hay while the sun shines. As long as the Prime Minister’s mate can say on telly he’d like to shoot strikers then pics like that are entirely acceptable. It’s a laugh, innit.

  5. Scott says:

    If you have 15 minutes, here is all anyone ever needs to say about Clarkson:

  6. Indy says:

    The idea of political warmongers being insane is quite interesting but of course they do not actually do the dirty work. In fact in the run up to the Iraq war I thought it was quite interesting to see all the opprobrium heaped on the French for opposing it and on Chirac personally, given that he was the only political leader who had any personal experience of warfare. None of the rest of them did, so if it is insanity it is a kind of remote control insanity. But of course there is a high level of traumatic mental illness among ex servicemen and women because of what they have experienced.

    As for Clarkson – that really is a fuss about nothing; it was clearly a joke. I wonder how much of the controversy is because he said it on the One Show. If he had said it on Have I Got News for You would anyone have even noticed? I doubt it.

    1. LJS says:

      Yup Indy reading the comment in its full context its clearly it’s clearly joke and this massive reaction from media outlets and facebook and Twitter is totally over the top.

      • “I think they (the strikes) have been fantastic. Absolutely. London today has just been empty. Everybody stayed at home, you can whizz about, restaurants are empty,” he said.
      • “It’s also like being back in the 70s. It makes me feel at home somehow,” said the Top Gear presenter, before adding: “But we have to balance this though, because this is the BBC” and went on: “Frankly, I’d have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean, how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?”
      • When the presenters pointed out that these were Clarkson’s personal views, he said: “They’re not. I’ve just given two views for you.”

      Seems like a distraction to the issue at hand and an excuse for people to bash a TV presenter who millions of people clearly dislike.

  7. Albalha says:

    Would it not be better to have a proper anaysis of both? On Clarkson he was given BBC permission, who benefit from his promotion TV sales/merchandise etc, to be controversial resulting in massive free publicity to plug a new DVD ahead of 25/12. Why was he asked about the strikes? He promotes all things to do with road vehicles doesn’t he? The fault lies with the One Show producers who have undoubtedly breached BBC Production Guidelines. Let’s take a hypothetical example imagine a BBC TV made anti monarchy personality appearing on the One Show after the Kate/William betrothal being asked for his view and him saying they should be taken out and shot? Would that person still be in the employ of Auntie? What concerns me about any of theses issues is the broader point that people, in general, still don’t really understand how to take mainstream media on, what their own guidelines say and to see behind the facade of the
    Wizard, if only.

    1. Indy says:

      Look I do not want to put myself in the unenviable position of defending Jeremy Clarkson but have you actually seen the interview? Because the joke was he started off saying he was quite enjoying the strike and then he said but I am on the BBC so I have to be balanced so they should all be taken out and shot. The joke was that he was giving a balanced point of view – strike quite enjoyable/strikers should be shot. Not the best joke and not the funniest joker but as I said if he – or any other panellist – had said it on Have I Got News for You or Mock the Week etc no-one would have turned a hair. If we are going to get into the position of taking everything that is said humorously (even if it’s not that funny) and turning it into a big deal then people will never get over being offended.

      1. Albalha says:

        Don’t think you’re getting my point.
        1. From the off he was obvioulsy being dismissive of the strike action ‘great day cos London was empty the airports etc’, he is well known for his political views and friendships.
        2. Since when was Clarkson deemed a satirist. Is he being ironic? Surely it’s what he believes.
        3. The ‘had it been on another programme’ is irrelevant, it was on the One Show and as I say breaches BBC Production Guidelines but if that is of no interest then we’re all missing the point that yet again those and such as those can get away with anything they want. Joking about riots on Facebook gets you arrested after all.

  8. One did what the other seems to be, similarly, advocating doing in their respective, echoing manifestos: One attempted to incite and bloodily acted; the other, as yet, seems to simply seek to incite and have his actions implemented by proxy/proxies.

    One to be incarcerated, one way or the other; the other, to continue unincarcerated despite the agent provocateur despite his provocations. Would an ordinary member of the public be so preferentially treated, or huckled, jig-time, to a designated police station for political police questioning?

    Which kind of connects to the Shadow Scottish Sec’s comment on bus/FM Salmond/fatal accident/bus driver/personal lack of concern/ outcome/corpse/perpetrator: Intriguing.

    The motorman and mouth and SSG spokesperson articulating a similar fate for all those who oppose them Scotch-free and under cover of freedom of speech.

    I would be, personally, inclined to watch my words should I consider uttering the same about them (I prefer the Kirkintilloch ca’ canny style in these matters compared to the reactionaries above and of whose number, two seem mouthily sleekit and passively aggressive compared to the outright sociopath).

  9. Observer says:

    Clarkson wasn’t on Mock the Week or Have I Got News for You. He was on a programme which goes out at 7pm that children watch. When I saw the clip on the internet I thought he must have been drunk, because the major feature about
    Wednesday’s strike is that the strikers were predominantly women. It seemed a remarkably odd thing to say, that he would take them outside & shoot them in front of their families. It is entirely possible that there would have been children watching Clarkson saying that he wanted to take their mums outside & shoot them. He is a plonker. I agree some of the criticism was OTT but he was bang out of order. There is a time & a place for ”edgy” comments. 7pm isn’t one of them.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I agree with Observer.

    2. Indy says:

      But what has caused more damage – some throwaway remarks by a TV presenter plugging a book or the massive over-reaction by people who have frankly lost the plot? Like the Unison rep who compared his comments to Gadaffi! If you are worried about the children I would be a bit more worried about implying to them that the bloke who is on telly every week talking crap about cars is on a par with a crazed dictator who actually did order demonstrators to be shot dead in the streets.

  10. bellacaledonia says:

    The BBC is a public body answerable to the people who pay the TV license. Which means that Joe and Joanna Public in the UK have every right to get all uppity about an offensive upper class dick who makes jokes on prime time about shooting strikers in front of their families.

    For a start he could be sacked ….if there was enough weight behind such a campaign. But I wouldnt hold my breath waiting since he’s the fat BBC goose that lays the Corporation’s rotten but golden eggs.

    What we’re supposed to do about a Norwegian crazy already behind bars is beyond me and although any informed debate on crime and punishment is always welcome the connections between the two drawn in Michael’s article seem tenuous at best.

    After all as Huxley the excellent quote above this is a world of smoke, mirrors, bread and circuses. The society of the spectacle. The media is the massage.


    1. Indy says:

      Why should he be sacked? As far as I am concerned this is just a re-run of the Russell Brand nonsense. It’s a total non-issue and in case people haven’t noticed has completely distracted from discussion of what people were striking about in the first place. And all the hysterical over the top nonsense will be associated with the trade union movement.

      Honestly I don’t know why there is a picture of Thatcher with a gun to her head when the Left are so much better at shooting themselves in the head.

      1. bellacaledonia says:

        Clarkson abused his overpaid position as the BBC’s resident shockjock . Like all shockjocks of the right he has to swallow the bullet when he goes too far. But it wont happen. He earns them too much on overseas and DVD sales, etc. Whatever. Life goes on.

        The idea that the left are shooting themselves in the foot over this is a here-today gone-tomorrow blowing-in-the-wind delusion. Clarkson and this whole affair will be forgotten tomorrow. People are dragged from from one inconsequential celeb-driven news item to the next and have the memories of goldfish. Perhaps its a pity that the left give the celeb circus any attention at all. It doesn’t merit it. But I spose we get dragged into the starry gossip wheel like everyone else.


  11. Observer says:

    I think UNISON over-reacted, but I understand why. Clarkson isn’t just any old celeb he is a personal friend of call me Dave & has the same bully boy attitude that Dave does. Cameron dismissed the strikers, he said it was a damp squib, he said that the strikers took the day off to go shopping. That is typical of the Tory government – they don’t even pretend to engage with people whose interests they don’t understand.

    There have been a lot of lies told about this strike, the main one being that the unions went on strike in the middle of negotiations. That is a bare faced lie, the government had refused to talk to UNISON for a month.

    There is no doubt in my mind that the Tories are the ones who are picking a fight here. They are backing the public sector unions into a corner & giving them no option other than to take industrial action. People don’t want to lose a day’s pay, I know I didn’t, but we were left with no option. That is the context in which people came home & switched on their tellys.

    In the midst of all the negative coverage of the public sector strikes, again the absolute bare faced lies being told about the viability of public sector pensions, feelings run high. To see that fat git who is sucking at the teat of the public purse because some people like to watch red neck bullies making fun of poor people & Mexicans, making comments about shooting strikers who have gilt edged pensions they don’t work for was lighting the blue touch paper.

    Yes I agree, UNISON should not have fallen for it. But it is a disgrace to see that oaf being employed by the BBC. When we talk about the dumbing down of the Beeb he personifies it. Lord Reith will be spinning in his grave.

  12. Observer says:

    The reason why the BBC should take action against Clarkson is because he was unprofessional. If he wanted to make those kinds of explosive comments he should have made them on Top Gear or a programme where you would expect it. Not, as I said earlier, a fairly bland programme going out at 7pm when there are families watching.

    As far as I am concerned more people were probably offended by Clarkson than Russell Brand so it is quite hard to understand why Brand got bagged & Clarkson seems to be out of the danger zone.

  13. Indy says:

    I really don’t want to keep banging on about this because I think Jeremy Clarkson is an arse, I don’t watch Top Gear and I don’t think he is very funny so I don’t want to come over as his cheerleader. But it would be grossly unfair to sack him because he was specifically asked by the BBC to speak about the strikes and it has emergd that they agreed with him what he would say beforehand. And, at the end of the interview, when the presenter said these are Jeremy Clarkson’s personal views he said no they aren’t. It was the same with Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross, the decision to do what they did and then broadcast it was agreed with their producers. So if people think whatever was broadcast is a sackable offence – because it was broadcast before the watershed or whatever – it is actually the producers who should be sacked, not the presenters, because they have the responsibility for what is broadcast.

  14. I think the short article I wrote makes it quite clear I think it is a waste of time getting into a lather about the words of, as is written in the only good line in Moby Dick, “nothing but a humbug trying to be a bugbear”.

    I think there are more serious considerations to be found in the Breivik story.

  15. bellacaledonia says:

    “”Never fight with a pig. Everyone gets dirty, but the pig likes it.”

  16. Ard Righ says:

    Great image, can we have a sequence with equal artistic merit with a touch of Gerald Scarfe…….

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