In a Virocidal State
IN A VIROCIDAL STATE: From The Province Of The Cat by George Gunn
A Summer storm blows over Caithness. The still green corn shudders under the weight of the Nor-Westerly. The yellow barley sweeps itself like a restless inland sea that dreams it is a lion pouncing upon the harvest to come. The heat of yesterday is a memory in the ground. The strong grey sky floods above the fields and the sea beats hard upon the land. Last week the virocidal Prime Minister of the virocidal state of the United Kingdom flew over us in a binge of helicopters and Unionism, talking fish and fighter jets whilst the media band who broadcast his every word in reality only managed to whistle the tune of his fear. Boris Johnson’s fear is Scotland, her people and how they might choose to exercise their democratic rights and ideals by voting in next year’s Holyrood election and in any forthcoming plebiscite.
The Pictish/Gallaibh/Cataibh dictionary which exists only in my imagination defines “virocidal” as “a state of unease or generalised dissatisfaction with the ongoing pandemic which is likely to have a disastrously damaging effect on oneself or one’s interests”. Behind his blonde bluster what we saw last week in the North of Scotland, spraying droplets of ambiguity and cash to his carefully chosen Celtic abjectus, was the virocidal head of a virocidal state. He was looking after his “interests”. His handlers made sure there were watermelon slice smiles aplenty.
I take no credit for inventing the word virocidal. In an on-going discussion about the evolving Covid-19 pandemic with an old friend, a retired doctor whose knowledge and experience I deeply respect, when I asked him about anti-bodies, he told me this,
“So much has moved on from mid-July. Anti-bodies probably are only a signal of viral arrival, but don’t appear themselves to be very virocidal and maybe not conferring much if any protective immunity for very long. The situation is extremely fluid, with hopes as gigantic as the unknowns.”
The same could be said of the campaign for Scottish independence, a movement “with hopes as gigantic as the unknowns.” Procedure on the side of the Scottish government and passion in the breast of the rank and file independenista. The language being used by both sides in the debate on whether to have a second referendum either through a Section 30 Order via Westminster, which seems unlikely, or by some other means as yet undefined, has been growing increasingly fractious. Which, if understandable, is a pity.
As humans we think in language, our senses swim in language and we live our lives in language. As George Orwell, ironically, pointed out in “Politics And The English Language” (1946), “…one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language.” What Boris Johnson continually does is to talk and perform “shite and onions”, as James Joyce termed it in Ulysses, so that he, the PM, can divorce the words he uses from their meaning, therefore opening up a great glen between what the person acting out the part of the Prime Minister says and what his venal party’s real aims are. You cannot hold him to account if nothing he says makes any sense.
The play this Prime Minister is in is “extremely fluid”, as my doctor friend said of the pandemic, with several plots, contrary acts and many changing scenes. The objective driving the Tory party and its current hero is greed. Nothing changes there. What Boris Johnson wants more than anything is to acquire the loot and all that goes along with it. They will, the Tories, from time to time, make some small concession to the commonality – £50 million here, £50 million there – but in the grand scheme of things it is but a trifle. The general rule of conventional theatre is that exposition is bad dialogue because characters often lie (surprise, surprise) and hide the truth (who would have thought?). So it follows that it is in the subtext where the characters reveal their deepest secrets. But there is not much subtext to this current Tory regime. We know what they want and they know that we know and the only drama on offer is how we can stop them getting it. The function of the character of Bojo as PM is to amuse us out front of the curtain whilst the thieving takes place behind it; to evoke our sympathy because he is evidently trying so hard to play the part but failing because, as everyone knows (ha ha), good governance is impossible (innit?). “Look at me”, he beseeches us, “am I not so sweet? I can hardly keep a straight face.” Ah, ain’t he cute?
The problem for Bojo as PM and his company of clowns as a government is that annoying spoilsports such as historians and playwrights tend to look for gaps in the comic routine. The best stories, the true ones, are often found in that space where the laughing stops, when the lights come up and the real world meets the unruly underworld of our imaginations. It may be that no-one who has enjoyed the show so far will be inclined to share the joke when they understand the true ugly shape of the authoritarianism that is approaching. In Scotland, I fear, I feel, all we are doing is staring down into the wishing well.
In the end, as in the beginning, it’s all about money, cash, currency – capital. The City of London is the socially alienated gangster money laundering sump market it has become because of Margaret Thatcher’s de-regulation in 1986 of the stock exchange and then boosted by the robber’s charter the “Iron Chancellor” Gordon Brown issued to the banks following Labour’s landslide in 1997. But in truth this was no de-regulation but a re-regulation by the power-brokers who pay for the politicians they need in order to remove economic policy from any control by representative democracy. This is the nature of the neo-liberal revolution. “Free markets for free men”, was the cry put up in 1974 by Milton Freidman. The re-regulation of the financial markets has all but destroyed social and political freedom. The only thing that is free is capital. The clowns have re-regulated the circus. Who noticed? When you’ve fallen into the wishing well and you look up, do you see the sky or the truth?
There have been warnings. In 1947 Kurt Rothschild, the Austrian born economist who lectured at Glasgow University for the nine years which straddled World War Two, wrote an article in “The Economic Journal”, arguing that market competition is the source of authoritarian rule.
“When we enter the field of rivalry between corporate giants, the traditional separation of the political from the economic can no longer be maintained. Fascism has been largely brought into power by this very struggle in an attempt of the most powerful oligopolists to strengthen, through political action, their position in the labour market and vis-à-vis their smaller competitors, and finally to strike out in order to change the world market situation in their favour.”
In case there is any doubt: a monopoly is one firm; duopoly is two firms and oligopoly is two or more firms. Today Rothschild’s worst nightmare is abroad the land in the form of Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and the rest. In January 2018, the sadly recently deceased Professor John Weeks, an advocate of Kurt Rothschild, gave a lecture at the meeting of the American Economic Association in Philadelphia, USA. Amongst many other things he said was this,
“Imposing legal and extra-legal limits to personal freedom in the neoliberal era derives both ideologically and in practice from the dogma of market freedom. Adam Smith’s a-historic view that markets arise as a ‘consequence of a certain propensity in human nature…to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another’ could not be further from the reality of capitalism. So-called free markets must be enforced, enforcement achieved by the re-regulation of capital. Over the last forty years this re-regulation involved a decommissioning of representative government while maintaining it as a rhetorical facade. An earlier era heralded the hope for human liberation; the current era heralds the liberation of capital.”
Every time the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom opens his mouth this is what he is actually saying. He is expressing what Karl Marx called “the inner nature of capital”. Before you stands the real virus, the clown prince of the virocidal state. “The next time you see me comin, you’d better run,” warned Bob Dylan in Highway 61 Revisited. Here in Scotland we should take heed. When he talked fish in Orkney why were those fishermen laughing? The day after he left a storm blew in from the Atlantic.
If the SNP leadership continue to put their faith in the free marketism of the 2018 “Growth Commission”, as the blueprint for the future, then an independent Scotland will be swallowed up by the virocidal state in which a free market that is supposed to be really good at allocating resources efficiently will in fact be a free market that is only really efficient at not allocating resources and extracting wealth. Its sole purpose will be taking ever-more wealth out of people’s pockets and transferring it to an ownership class. Scotland will be like Actaeon, the hunter, who penetrates Artemis’s wooded glade, sees what he should not see and gets turned into a stag which is then savaged by his own dogs, the very instruments of his hunt.
There is a poem by Robert Lowell called “The Ruins of Time”, which itself is a loose translation of a poem by the 17th century Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo, which illustrates the futility of looking for solutions in the wrong place,
“You search in Rome for Rome? O Traveller!
in Rome itself there is no room for Rome,
the Aventine is its own mound and tomb,
only a corpse receives the worshipper.”
With the present UK government we are in an experiment with catastrophe. With Scottish independence we will be in an experiment of society. With Covid-19 we are, it could be argued, in a grim experiment of Nature. If and when a vaccine comes along then Big Pharma will ensure we will be an exploitable unit of the free market. We must ensure that in Scotland there is no room for the virocidal state but that there is room for new ideas and the vital young creative energies which will protect us from the wealth extractors and encourage the wealth creators – the Scottish people.
Storms pass. Even in Caithness. Tomorrow the sunlight will flood over the barley fields and turn the green corn to the colour of whisky.