2007 - 2022

Self-Determination and Sovereignty in Europe


The war in Ukraine has produced another surge in commentary and opinion that the Scottish referendum will never happen; should never happen, and if it ever happens it will surely be lost (etcetera).  The SNP are perpetually on their knees, Sturgeon is perpetually ‘over’, and so on (and on).

The logic and the evidence is scarce but given a platform and a relentless deadline to produce copious amounts of negativity, Scotland’s commentariat never fails to deliver.

Second is the argument that the war in Ukraine has exposed the vile nature of ‘nationalism’, as Russian imperial aspirations are shrouded in flag-waving propaganda.

Third is the argument that what Ukraine has shown is the essential nature of the nuclear deterrent. This argument is played out by the Herald’s Iain Macwhirter (‘SNP should call Patrick Harvie’s bluff and scrap the Green coalition’).

Here he argues that: “The SNP’s alliance with the Scottish Green Party has become a liability. Even the most sycophantic of Nicola Sturgeon’s coterie must now see that. The Greens conference at the weekend confirmed that interests and objectives of the SNP and their coalition partners are irreconcilable. The Greens are a party that opposes economic growth in principle, just as the Scottish Government is trying desperately to boost it. The Greens prefer to import Vladimir Putin’s bloodstained oil and gas rather than use our own energy under the North Sea. They want to leave Nato just as the alliance is being threatened by Putin’s missiles. They argue, perversely, that the bloodshed in Kyiv could end if only Nato got rid of its nuclear deterrent.”

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But it’s the columnist’s confidence about the ‘madness’ of the Scottish Greens policy on Trident that echoes around British public life with bellicose hubris and exceptionalism.
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Trident cannot be used and hasn’t defended the people of Ukraine. Yet it does put a target on our backs. We’ve known this a while. Scottish CND’s ‘Target Scotland’ listed the dozens of likely sites that would be first on Russia’
As Boris Johnson embarrasses himself on the international stage, the reality is more prosaic.
As James Meek has written (The Power of the New Ukraine): “Since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, much has been made in Britain of the EU’s openness to Ukrainian refugees compared with the barriers put up by London. But it’s a depressing reflection of how mainstream anti-immigrant assumptions have become in the UK that virtually no one in Britain is aware the EU gave Ukrainians visa-free access years ago, as a reward for their country’s sacrifices in Europe’s name. Since 2017, as a result of that and of Brexit, Ukrainians have levelled up and Britons levelled down to identical rights of EU entry: 90 days’ stay without a visa.”
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Cleaving to Britain in these times is an exercise in self-humiliation and exposure to dangerous risk.
The second of the ‘impossibility of independence’ arguments is that the war in Ukraine has shown the dangers of vile nationalism (sic). Yet even as this is being trotted out the same voices will be adding the blue and yellow flags to their profiles and extolling the absolute principles of ‘self-determination’ and the rights of ‘sovereign nationhood’ which need to be defended, everywhere in the world except … right here.
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There’s an irony in all of this that some of the ‘dereliction of the imagination’ from the Unionists side is mirrored within the Yes side.

 

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  1. Bill says:

    How surprising that the politics of the right will champion the independence of Ukraine, but deny the independence of Scotland. How surprising that Barbados can survive as an independent republic, but Scotland, at nearly 40 times its size, would be economically incapable and continue to require the generous support of our English neighbours. How surprising that the SNP has now fallen silent – if they were ever vociferous- on the need to analyse and answer the key questions on independence like currency, economics and our role in the world. We do not need or want a referendum on independence – what we want and need is independence and then a referendum on our future as an independent republic in Europe. We could be so much better than we are currently, shackled to an incompetent, corrupt and corrupting government the is supported only in England and is likely – as recent polls have shown- to be re-elected.

    Bill

    1. MacGilleRuadh says:

      Well said Bill. On a personal level my acquaintances (most of whom are indy supporters) have grown fatigued by the whole farrago of Sturgeon marching them up and down the promised referendum hill. They now feel that the indy debate has curled up and died and is perhaps lying under a stone somewhere. The neglect of the SNP in not using the period between 2014 and now to answer the key questions and to campaign is frankly incredible.
      Coupled to that is the terrible incompetence of Sturgeon’s SNP government. Almost anything it touches seems doomed to fail. I say this very regretfully as someone who has never voted for any party other than SNP in 63 years that they really, really do need some time in opposition.

    2. 220320 says:

      Who’s ‘we’? According to the National about a fortnight ago, the latest polling from Savanta ComRes shows that the people of Scotland are equally divided on the need for independence and that only a third of the electorate backs the holding of another referendum on independence in the next two years.

      What the Scottish government needs to do is use this time to develop and present a clear and definite vision of a future Scotland that the people can then vote on rather than pander vaguely to every Tam, Dick, and Harry’s wishful thinking. Folk aren’t daft; they’d like to know just what exactly they’d be buying into before they actually buy into it.

      1. Richard Hill says:

        I think the Brexit fiasco proves you wrong. People voted without having a clue what it would really mean. Unfortunately, well timed and aimed propaganda seems to trump reality.

        1. 220322 says:

          So, are you suggesting that the Scottish government should bide its time and then hit us with some well-timed and well-aimed propaganda?

  2. SleepingDog says:

    Quite. Daniel Ellsberg (Doomsday Machine) has listed the many occasions where nuclear weapon use was threatened (that we know about) which is also a use of them, and much of the official information is available at least in public archives, summarised here: https://declassifieduk.org/putins-nuclear-threat-and-britains-nuclear-posture-not-so-different/
    in similar factual terms as in open-access courses provided by official historians of the RAF. I would further note that for all NATO’s conception of what an ‘uninhabited area’ might be, these do not exist on Earth, which has no lifeless deserts (jeez, watch some David Attenborough), and if Chernobyl was a disaster, what would you expect from a ‘limited’ nuclear exchange?

    Yes, it is perplexing how belonging/contributing to a Union/Empire is supposed to have so infantilised Scots as to render them unfit for self-government, for the foreseeable future. When have I last read such language? What are we, the Fourth World? I wonder if such paranoia is simply a manifestation of repressed imperial guilt, or if not guilt, a fear of karmic retribution. And yes, more rational, fresher ideas and political approaches are needed to surmount the challenges we face, and the threats to our living planet (by us, the human world collectively): planetary-realistic ideologies. It is absurd to contend that the way to oppose militarism is with more militarism (there was an interesting Blake’s Seven episode on mirroring). There once were two cats from Kilkenny…

  3. Cathie Lloyd says:

    I agree with your analysis of Trident, but not with your characterisation of the independence debate. Political strategy during a period of crisis is difficult and we are faced with an intransigent opposition. Reckless leadership into a premature referendum could prove disastrous. Too many people have been locked in a YES bubble, attending marches when covid permitted, without realising that there is a world out there to win – or at least persuade. I’m not sure what you mean by preparing for a referendum, what I understand we need to do is serious campaigning and planning. We cant predict every move, but we do know the big questions which need answering. I prefer to think in terms of self-determination rather than nationalism, and that involves taking responsibility for ourselves. We cant afford to winge about dates and starting guns. As far as I’m concerned the next referendum campaign started on the 20th September 2014 and will build.

  4. Paddy Farrington says:

    The notion that the independence movement has been captured by the SNP and corporate interests is a bizarre one. If true, this says more about the limitations of the movement and its inability to renew itself than it does about the SNP: a truly vital movement would not sit around waiting to be led.

    I suspect this criticism stems more from a well-worn ‘blame the leaders’ take on social movements that fail to achieve their goals in short order (typical of a conception of political struggle that suspects betrayal everywhere), rather than from serious analysis. In reality, social movements wax and wane, change, evolve, and mature. Blaming a political party for stasis in a social movement entails a profound misunderstanding of the function of political parties.

    As centre-left political parties in Europe go, the SNP is doing pretty well: with the sole exception of the Portuguese Socialist Party, the SNP is I think the only centre-left party in Europe to keep winning election after election with well over 40% of the vote. Whether the independence movement can mobilise the kind of broad alliance necessary to win the next independence referendum is a very different question, the answer to which cannot be found and should not be sought solely from within the SNP.

    1. Hi Paddy – you write “The notion that the independence movement has been captured by the SNP and corporate interests is a bizarre one. If true, this says more about the limitations of the movement and its inability to renew itself than it does about the SNP: a truly vital movement would not sit around waiting to be led. ”

      I kind of agree with you.

      Though I agree with some comrades and friends on the left in their critique of the SNP leadership it does somehow end up being quite disempowering – “You do this thing and we will wait for you to do this thing” – while the we in this exchange has no agency.

  5. Douglas Harrison says:

    Any discussion about the ‘UK independent nuclear deterrent’ and its location in Scotland must begin with basic geography. Present Russia, and the USSR before it, have only ONE ice-free port with open access to the Atlantic: Murmansk. Sure it has several ports on the Baltic, but these normally ice in winter, and entrance to the Baltic can only be gained by the narrow passage controlled by Sweden and Denmark. Similarly, Russia’s Black Sea ports are effectively controlled by Turkey, which straddles entry through the Bosporus and Dardanelles. And Russia has only one major ice-free port on the open Pacific, at Vladivostock.

    These severe constraints on its marine trade have dominated Russian and Soviet foreign policy for rather more than a century.

    Now, take a look at any good map of the North Atlantic, and the reason for location of the ‘UK’ Trident base at Faslane, and the previous US Navy base a few miles away on the Holy Loch, become blindingly clear. Other than locations in anti-nuclear Norway and Iceland, the west coast of Scotland provides the ONLY naval bases under ‘NATO’ control with good access to police the sea lanes leading to Murmansk.

    Which is where the warmongers in NATO have a problem. Scotland will almost certainly regain its political independence soon. And the parties most likely to dominate our post-independence politics, the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish National Party, are both committed to ridding Scotland of nuclear weapons. The only other ‘British’ port suitable for housing the subs and their weapons is Plymouth/Devonport. We’ll see in due course just how enthusiastic the good citizens of Devon and Kernow are, about replacing Faslane as the No 1 nuclear target in western Europe.

    Not only are they likely to be rather unenthusiastic, but they are at least 24 hours fast cruising in international waters (ie WEST of Ireland) by submarine, further from the approaches to Murmansk, than is the west of Scotland. The whole REASON for the ‘UK’ having nuclear-armed subs then comes into question. If Iceland and Norway both decline to become nuclear targets, there has been speculation that the subs will have to be based on the US Atlantic coast. Which will of course mean that they are no longer any sort of English ‘independent’ deterrent. But if it chooses to retain them, the good folks of England will of course be expected to PAY FOR them.

    So allow me to summarise please? Not only will the Scots regain their independence fairly soon. The re-creation of Scotland as a nation-state is also likely to be a huge step forward for the cause of international peace – by making England the first nuclear-armed nation in the world to become free of nuclear weapons.

    Rather worth fighting for, is it not?

    1. Niemand says:

      Very interesting Dougie, thanks.

      Seems very relevant to know the SNP’s current position on NATO membership for an independent Scotland. As Mike indicates, like a lot of things with their policy agenda for independence, I have no idea; do they?

    2. Niemand says:

      Sorry, Douglas not Dougie!

      1. Dougie Harrison says:

        Dinne worry man; I use both.

    3. SleepingDog says:

      @Douglas Harrison, I am not disputing your assessment, but I understand that South Africa gave up its (six) nuclear weapons, and if you count former Soviet Republics like Ukraine, then some of them became nuke-free countries after hosting them (which would be similar to an independent Scotland doing so, although rUK has other options, having stored nukes in Gibraltar before):
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_states_with_nuclear_weapons#States_formerly_possessing_nuclear_weapons
      No need to be first in everything, there are often good examples out there to find. And bad ones: India apparently managed to accidentally launch one of its nuclear-capable missiles into Pakistan a few days ago which could have led to nuclear conflagration. If the ancient Roman and Carthaginian empires had developed nuclear weapons, does anybody think we would be around today to pass judgement on the myth of nuclear deterrence? These are history-ending weapons, and whoever could have a right to do that?

      1. Dougie Harrison says:

        I bow to your wisdom on this Sleepingdog.

        But it doesnie affect my conviction that both the USA (the Holy Loch was of course gifted to their Polaris subs by a Tory government), and the later ‘UK’ government which chose Faslane as the Trident sub base, were very conscious that the Clyde provided the best place for nukes because of access to the sea-roads serving the URRS/Russia’s only ice-free Atlantic port. Further north on the Scots west coast would have been a bit nearer of course, but would involve major problems with land access, to take the missiles there from deepest Berkshire.

        1. 220321 says:

          The idea is that the the four submarines that carry the UK’s nuclear deterrent patrol the world’s oceans, silent, undetected, and ready to strike anywhere and at any time. They don’t sit like ducks in Faslane, waiting for the Russians to steam out of Murmansk and into the North Atlantic.

          1. Dougie Harrison says:

            If that were indeed the case, WHY are they subs based at Faslane, and why was the USA desperate to rent the Holy Loch? According to your theory, nuclear arms could be based anywhere in the world.

            In practice, it’s my understanding the subs are so impressively efficient that normally no more than one f them is ever at sea operationally.

          2. 220322 says:

            The four submarines that carry the UK’s nuclear deterrent are based at Faslane because that’s where ALL our submarines are based. It was chosen as our submarine base because the deep and easily navigable but relatively secluded Gare Loch and Firth of Clyde forms a uniquely suitable ‘bastion’ for submarines in the British Isles and provides for rapid and stealthy access to the world’s oceans.

            And, yes; in principle, our deterrent could be located anywhere in the world’s oceans at any one time. That – and the fact that it’s currently untrackable – is the strategic beauty of it; it would be impossible to take out. The submarines that carry it have unlimited range and can generate their own power, air, and fresh water at sea for up to 25 years.

            And, yes; during peacetime, only one is operational, two are deployed on exercise somewhere in the world on exercise, and one is in port.

  6. Colin Kirkwood says:

    Edwin Morgan once characterised the Scots as “knee deep in dead ducks”. The central issue is to assert the vital distinction between the people and the ruling elites. We the people of Scotland need to take every good opportunity to reach out to the people of Russia and the Ukraine, and welcome them into our common European home. We need to condemn the murder of the people of Ukraine and the destruction of cities, civilisation and civil society in Ukraine by the Russian elite led by this madman Putin and his lickspittles. Arrest Vladimir Putin. In Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland we should continue to argue and dialogue for full self government and for a reconstruction of Europe on the basis of full self government. The days of bureaucratic centralism are over. It doesn’t work. Why cling onto it? Still knee deep in dead ducks, are we? Whatever happened to self-government? Who erased it from the picture, I wonder? Look out for my new paper in Convergence, published by UNESCO in April 2022: Adults Learning, Democratisation and the Good Society.

    1. 220322 says:

      ‘We the people of Scotland need to take every good opportunity to reach out to the people of Russia and the Ukraine, and welcome them into our common European home. ‘

      But isn’t it the prospect of this very expansionism of Europe, in the form of the EU and NATO, into the very heart of the Russian state’s sphere of influence that’s gotten the latter so antsy?

      1. I think while we are watching war crime and atrocities the term ‘antsy’ isn’t really working is it?

        1. 220322 says:

          Hasn’t the prospect of the EU and NATO expanding its sphere of influence into Ukraine contributed to the nervousness and apprehensiveness that’s resulted in Russia (rightly or wrongly) embarking on its military action? Isn’t this a more rational explanation of what’s currently going down in Ukraine than the superstition that it’s an incarnation of evil?

          The moteur that drives ‘Ukraine’ is historical rather than moral.

          1. Well yes – you can take the wider historical view of the motivations and background to Russia’s attack, but you can still also condemn the atrocities and war crimes being committed.

            “Hasn’t the prospect of the EU and NATO expanding its sphere of influence into Ukraine contributed to the nervousness and apprehensiveness that’s resulted in Russia (rightly or wrongly) embarking on its military action?”

            Well either Ukraine is a sovereign state or it’s not. It’s perfectly entitled to apply for membership of the EU as it has. This isn’t the EU “expanding its sphere of influence” as a country applying for membership. Only last week the Ukrainians put forward as part f the talks the idea that they would, never join NATO.

            But you’re quite right it is these “fears’ that are the motivation as described by Putin’s regime, though I suspect revanchism and imperialism is far nearer the truth.

          2. 220322 says:

            Yes, of course, we can and should deplore the human suffering of all those who are affected by natural and man-made disasters like war wherever they occur and do whatever we can to save their lives, alleviate their suffering, and restore their well-being. But does taking sides and ascribing blame and demonising others as ‘evil’/elevating ourselves as ‘good’ really help us do this?

          3. I’m not sure anyone’s doing this. I don’t believe there are no moral differences anywhere though. Putin’s Russia in this case is clearly the aggressor. In other scenarios variations of NATO, the West, US, Britain (and other configurations) have been the aggressor.

          4. SleepingDog says:

            @Bella Caledonia Editor, it can never be just that clear, though, is it? Did the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour make it clear that Japan was *the* aggressor? Or did later analysis suggest that the USAmerican oil embargo might have been the first openly aggressive act? Or was that in response to earlier Japanese invasions of China and Indochina? It does not mean that attacking Pearl Harbour was not aggression, but these are webs not simple ultra-short chains of causality.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Events_leading_to_the_attack_on_Pearl_Harbor
            You can have at least two aggressors (in the two cats of Kilkenny). Sequences of events may be hidden (the USA sited short-range nuclear missiles in Turkey before the USSR responded by shipping some to Cuba) or misrepresented (as when the BBC showed miners pelting police and police charging miners which was the reverse chronology) or fabricated/imagined (Gulf of Tonkin incident).

            You have to have some doubt, some suspicion of wartime news reporting, some understanding of the extreme secrecy of the British imperial state, otherwise what are historians for? The first draft of history is always revised. I think you know that.

            All the time, British nuclear weapons capable of visiting genocide and ecocide are perpetually pointed at Russian cities. If the Russians are wrong to point their nukes at us, how can it be right for us to point nukes at them? If the Russians are within their rights to point nukes at us, what exactly is supposed to be wrong about military aggression? It is a fool’s game to leave sorting out these systematic problems until you are in the middle of a war. If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine causes someone to completely rethink their worldview, they have not being paying enough attention to the world. Think things through before problems become crises and emergencies. Russian imperialists are only emboldened by British and USAmerican imperialism. That was always the point of the Great Game: it was multiplayer.

            And narratives will already have been written, for example by interests who will wish to claim credit for winning in the case of a diplomatic end to the conflict. I suppose that is one reason why some ordinary Ukrainians want to appear armed and vital to the struggle, to avoid giving the impression that the defence was solely carried out by existing military and paramilitary groups. Yet arms are no defence against hypersonic missiles or artillery shells. These prepared narratives are shaping news reporting on all sides, and reportage which does not fit those narratives will very likely be rejected before it hits screens and paper.

            The task of analysis is to step outside these biases, and locate the source of the problems. I agree with much of what you write, but I bear in mind Sun Tzu’s prescription: “All warfare is based on deception”. It would not surprise me if Russian militarism was 90+% to blame for hostilities in Ukraine, but there are many puzzling aspects, and if this escalation is due to a miscalculation by President Putin, as one of your other contributors has suggested, we don’t know what led to it, nor what the real war objectives were (after all, Russia is supplying Ukraine’s gas, not the other way around). And President Zelenskiy and President Biden have both said Ukraine should not be joining NATO, not reserving that as a diplomatic bargaining chip, which confirms it was a wrong move.

          5. Hey hi – I certainly admit to complete ignorance in the fog of war, who couldn’t – and Sun Tzu is spot on. There’s also a lot of historical complexity here, nae doubt. But I wonder if there’s a threshold to your ambiguity?

          6. I mean, like what if Putin uses chemical weapons on civilians or bombs cities with nuclear weapons? Would you just shrug and go “it’s all relative”?

          7. Niemand says:

            220322 – I am puzzled by this idea that there is no morality at all, and morality does imply good and bad (we can leave ‘evil’ out if it). Is there no such thing as right and wrong?

            Everything is contingent but that does not mean there is no morality. A person who murders someone in cold blood without a justified motive (like clear self defence or being driven to it by extreme provocation etc) will still have their reasons, might still be driven by outside factors beyond their control, factors that may have their own problematic side, but still the murderer is morally wrong, ‘bad’ and the victim innocent, the outside factors not a justifiable rationale. And therefore the murderer will suffer severe sanction. Wars get more complex but the basic principles still apply and I can see no justifiable motive for Putin’s slaughter, so he is morally wrong. And arguing that this is not ‘helpful’ begs the question as helpful to whom? I very much suspect the victims very much want the immorality of Putin’s actions to be understood and accepted. This also can apply to the young Russian conscripts killed as a result of his immoral actions.

          8. 220322 says:

            Of course, there are moral differences; but these (right/wrong, good/bad, virtuous/vicious) are a matter of judgement rather than fact and, as such, depend both on normative criteria that are socially given and on point of view. That’s why (for example), from the point of view of Putin and his supporters, Russian aggression in Ukraine can be morally justified while, from our point of view, it can’t. And there’s no Archimedean point outside the differential structure of our judgements from which anyone can judge whose moral viewpoint is the ‘right’ one.

            Elsewhere, the argument has been made (in the ‘between’ or intersubjectivity of Bissie Anderson and myself) that the proper response to the nihilism this entails is to behave with ‘ironic sincerity’; that is, ‘as if’ one’s own moral viewpoint is the ‘right’ one while, at the same time, doubting that it is and continuing to seek its ‘aufhebung’ as a limitation in the ongoing cultivation of one’s life. This (‘sous rature’) is the strategic response that Heidegger developed from his reading of Nietzsche and which Derrida took over from Heidegger and likened to keeping one’s own current judgements ‘under erasure’ (i.e. crossed out but still legible) as ‘inadequate but necessary’; all of which comprises the ‘prehistory’ of the metamodernism to which Bissie appealed.

            So, yes; it’s right and necessary (but inadequate) for us to say that Russian aggression in Ukraine is wrong, but only because that’s how we’re currently positioned within our present cultural horizons rather than ‘wrong’ in any sort of absolute sense. What’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in any absolute sense is undecidable and forever open to doubt.

          9. 220323 says:

            Niemand – It’s not helpful to the casualties, whom we must suspect are rather more interested in escaping with their lives, stopping the personal crises they find themselves in from getting any worse, and restoring some normality to their lives than in having the immorality of Putin’s actions understood and accepted. Disaster relief should be our priority; not moral judgement, which is a distraction and has more to do with politicking than with humanity.

          10. Niemand says:

            ‘And there’s no Archimedean point outside the differential structure of our judgements from which anyone can judge whose moral viewpoint is the ‘right’ one.’

            So what happens in a court of law then but exactly that? We decide murder is immoral (and that is a pretty universal idea so is hardly a ‘local’ understanding) then punish those who we find guilty of it. The person who oversees this is actually called a judge. Putin justifies his actions but we decide he is wrong just as we decide murder is wrong. Therefore Putin’s action are wrong and immoral by the standards under which our society functions. Looking beyond that in a philosophical sense can be interesting, sometimes useful, perhaps, but is similar to knowing that matter is made of up microscopic particles we will never see is not relevant to the use of such matter for the purpose it was made.

          11. 220323 says:

            What happens in a court of law is that actions are judged ‘lawful’ or ‘unlawful’ according to the law of the land. To say that something is morally wrong or ‘evil’ is to say something much stronger than this; it’s to claim an absoluteness and transcendence to the judgement that legal judgements don’t claim.

            And you’re right: Putin’s actions are wrong and immoral BY THE STANDARDS UNDER WHICH OUR SOCIETY FUNCTIONS. But they might not be so by the standards under which some other society functions. And, God being dead, who’s to say whose standards are the correct ones?

            The best we can ever do is to act with ‘ironic sincerity’ in accordance with the standards to which we currently subscribe.

          12. Niemand says:

            You keep using the word evil which I did not as its meaning is not at all clear, and something morally wrong is not necessarily ‘evil’, obviously.

            ‘And, God being dead, who’s to say whose standards are the correct ones?’

            We do, and we have, and we don’t need God to do so and there is nothing ‘ironic’ about the sincerity with which we deem murder, for example, to be morally wrong. Yes there will be / have been societies where a form of murder is seen as acceptable (e.g. cannibalism) but that does not mean the majority of humanity also accepts this. The vast majority rejects it and so moral standards are erected and we say they are correct and since there is no higher force to say otherwise, that is all that matters.

            Regarding the victims in Ukraine, there is nothing mutually exclusive or negative about helping them practically *and* condemning their attackers as morally wrong.

          13. SleepingDog says:

            @Niemand, it is not difficult to find where our core of ethics comes from: it’s biology. As Yuval Noah Harari puts it in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 12 Humility, where he dismisses notions that the Bible invented various codes of morality, in the subsection ‘Ethics Before the Bible’:
            “Scientists nowadays point out that morality in fact has deep evolutionary roots pre-dating the appearance of humankind by millions of years. All social mammals, such as wolves, dolphins and monkeys, have ethical codes, adapted by evolution to promote group cooperation.” and goes on to give several examples.

            This does not mean that all humans will have the same common codes; defective individuals (like psychopaths) and cheats will differ. But on a social scale, these codes are replicated through the generations. This does have the corollary that, if we significantly change human biology (for example, if culture and biotechnology combine to create a caste of clinical immortals apart from ordinary mortals), then this warps and potentially divides human ethics. This kind of in-species divide has happened already in history, in the ethics of wolf and dog.

          14. 220325 says:

            I don’t doubt the sincerity of your belief that our axiology (our assumptions about the nature of value and valuation, and of the kinds of things that are valuable) is the correct one, and I’m sure that, on the basis of that axiology, murder (or ‘unlawful killing’) is also morally wrong. What I do doubt is that the correctness of our axiology is absolute and not relative to the culture of which it’s a fundamental constitutive element.

            The ‘Death of God’ is a metaphor for the loss to modern society of all such cultural absolutes (our ‘postmodern condition’). There is no ‘higher force’ or ‘Archimedean point’ that could guarantee the correctness or incorrectness of the axiological assumptions by which we differentiate ‘true’ from ‘false’, ‘right’ from ‘wrong’, ‘real’ from ‘illusory’, ‘us’ from ‘them’, ‘self’ from ‘other’, ‘subject’ from ‘object’. It all comes down to faith, a leap into the dark in the hope rather than the certainty that we’re correct in our assumptions.

            The best we can do is make that leap in all sincerity while, at the same time (and this is the ‘ironic’ part), recognising and acknowledging that we’re no more or less likely than anyone else to be correct and, thus, leaving open the possibility of ‘Bildung’ or self-cultivation/growth.

            And regarding the victims in Ukraine, there is indeed nothing mutually exclusive or negative about helping them practically AND signalling our own virtue by condemning their attackers as morally wrong. But virtue-signalling by itself is nothing but an empty gesture.

    2. Colin Kirkwood says:

      This is a reply to all contributions which are basically on the ball. I just think we are being forced for the umpteenth time into supporting the so-called “free” world/the west/NATO/EU/capitalism as presently operating versus something which is manifestly destructive: the assault on Ukraine and the Ukrainian people and society. The hard right in the USA and UK is dangerously destructive. The failure to reach out to the ordinary peoples of eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and that one decent voice ( Mikhail Gorbachev) after the fall of the wall was just idiotic. That was done by the hard right. We need to put our intellectual efforts into a well grounded search for other ways of seeing and doing that make good sense. That is what for example Brill has done in its new Companion to the Reception of Athenian Democracy From the Late Middle Ages to the Contemporary Era, edited by Dino Piovan and Giovanni Giorgini. A really serious and painstaking piece of work. At the same time we have find imaginative ways of stopping what the Russian leadership are doing straight away. We need to make a case for actual practical democracy. What we have is not democracy. I’m sorry to have to say this (as an SNP member), but the present Scottish government is simply not democratic. It is is playing to the majority via the media. It’s tragic. We can do better than this.

      1. 220324 says:

        ‘I just think we are being forced for the umpteenth time into supporting the so-called “free” world/the west/NATO/EU/capitalism as presently operating versus something which is manifestly destructive…’

        Precisely! And we should resist the allure, as a kind of displacement activity, of taking sides in this proxy war between rival power blocs that are competing with one another for global advantage. Instead, we should be tending to the casualties of that conflict, doing whatever it’s in our power to do to save their lives, relieve their actual suffering, and promote their recovery from the personal disasters that have befallen them as a consequence of that conflict.

        1. Do you have any threshold to that view that there are no aggressors and no one is in the wrong here?

          1. Colin Kirkwood says:

            Appeasement of violent aggression is always a bad idea and a bad practice. I understand the argument that there are two blocs at war, the so-called free world which in practice is celebrity libertarian capitalism versus an ad hoc alliance of authoritarian regimes grouped around Russia and China. I do not support or feel a part of either of these blocs. Yes, the so-called free word has behaved foolishly towards Russia and other component parts of the former Soviet Union, as I and others have already suggested. But I refuse to view the world as a battle between these two blocs. The other orientations that exist are far more important ethically and existentially. The two to which I and millions of others are drawn are (1) the struggle to save our beautiful planet from destruction and (2) the struggle to create and sustain the good society or good societies plural that can live together and cooperate with each other. These two orientations really belong together, and need to work towards working together. What I am arguing for is that we need to start, both reflectively and in practice, that task now. To put it more poetically, we need to work towards sustaining the good earth and creating the good society, and integrating those two noble causes. The Russian elite, led by Vladimir Putin and his gang, has attacked Ukraine and the people who live there. They are blowing that country and those people and their cities to bits. We can’t stand by and watch it happen . That is what the so-called Western democracies did when Adolf Hitler and his gang attacked Poland, Czechoslovakia and so on. We have to work together to stop the aggression and the destruction right now. And “we” are the ordinary people of this beautiful world. That’s the basic proposition. That’s what my forthcoming paper is about.

          2. 220324 says:

            But there is an aggressor; Russia’s action in Ukraine is clearly aggressive. And if our interpretation of the events and their geopolitical context is correct, that action is clearly wrong by the standards under which we think international society ought to function.

            The point is not that Russia’s behaviour isn’t wrong; it’s that the ‘wrongness’ of its behaviour is both relative to our interpretation of events and our moral standards, neither of which is absolute, but both of which are perspectival. Relative to other possible interpretations of events and/or alternative standards of international behaviour, Russia’s action might not be wrong at all.

          3. Its just sounds like sophistry, abstract cleverness

          4. 220324 says:

            ‘Appeasement of violent aggression is always a bad idea and a bad practice.’

            But we’re not appeasing Russia in the gladiatorial arena of power politics, are we? We’re engaging it in all manner of proxy wars; (in Ukraine, for example, since at least 2014).

            ‘…we need to start, both reflectively and in practice, that task [of working towards working together] now. To put it more poetically, we need to work towards sustaining the good earth and creating the good society, and integrating those two noble causes.’

            Aye, but this is just vague and empty rhetoric, of precisely the same cut as the ineffectual displacement activity of jumping up and down in moral indignation at the actions of the evil empire. To effect any sort of change, you’ll need to frame some SMARTer objectives that will carry you towards your desired outcome AND mobilise the resources you’ll need to realise those objectives (and how do you propose to do THAT?).

            Never mind the poetry; what’s your practical programme, your project plan? Or does that come under the ‘diffusion of responsibility’ we’ve talked about elsewhere?

          5. 220325 says:

            And if your ears don’t deceive you, it’s the very same ‘sophistry’ and ‘abstract cleverness’ that underpins both Bissie’s and Perspectiva’s respective critiques of the dominant cultural narrative that drives our understanding and response to the current crisis in Ukraine.

        2. Paddy Farrington says:

          I agree completely that “we should be tending to the casualties of that conflict, doing whatever it’s in our power to do to save their lives, relieve their actual suffering, and promote their recovery from the personal disasters that have befallen them”. But I am deeply uncomfortable with the “Instead” that introduces this admirable injunction.

          Whatever the events that led up to this war, Putin’s regime is now mercilessly shelling Ukraine and its population, while repressing those Russians that disagree. The people of Ukraine are resisting, but need help. This does not just mean humanitarian help: it also means help in undermining Putin’s regime, economically and militarily. Should we loftily oppose this, as Stop The War argues? Or remain loftily above it all as these historic contradictions work themselves out? Or should we listen to the Ukrainian resistance, and support them by holding our Governments to their word? The historical parallels here seem too obvious to even mention, and I believe they do provide a guide to action.

          1. 220325 says:

            ‘…help in undermining Putin’s regime, economically and militarily.’

            Support another proxy war of ‘good’ vs ‘evil’ – ‘us’ vs ‘them’ – sort of thing, do you mean? Because that’s what this is – another battle in the proxy war between competitors in the international struggle for power – the immediate casualties of which are in this instance the Ukrainian people.

          2. Niemand says:

            If Scotland / the UK was invaded and bombed by Russia (imagine Edinburgh and Glasgow being levelled for example) would you seek to help undermine the attackers’ regime to try and top them? Or would you not and instead talk about it being a proxy war and morally relative? I am not meaning to be facetious with such a question but to concentrate minds.

          3. Paddy Farrington says:

            What I mean, 220325, is what I wrote: to undermine Putin’s regime economically and politically. The purpose of this is to reduce the Putin regime’s ability to inflict the suffering on the Ukrainian people that you yourself (more precisely your numerical alter ego 220324) decries.

            If your desire to relieve this suffering is genuine, then you should have no problem in seeking to disarm the aggressor, and thereby prevent new suffering, rather than simply relieve the suffering there already is. It really is perfectly simple.

          4. 220325 says:

            I’d be too preoccupied with trying to stay alive and removing myself from danger and trying to restore some sort of normality to my life to seek outside military assistance or moral support for my nation. And, in any case, the latter would be outside my power to obtain; I’d have to leave that to the ‘high heid anes’ in Brussels, Kyiv, New York, and Washington.

            I’d also be looking more for bystanders to take me down from my cross rather than to piously assure me of their solidarity in my suffering or otherwise stand p*ss*ng in the wind.

          5. 220325 says:

            What you wrote was ‘economically and militarily’. But never mind.

            So, what exactly can you do to undermine Putin’s régime economically and militarily/politically? Jump up and down in righteous indignation at its actions and our own régime’s reaction? What good would that do?

          6. Niemand says:

            @220325 that isn’t the point though is it (‘I’d be too preoccupied with trying to stay alive and removing myself from danger’)?

            You cannot move from the abstract to the concrete when it suits you because you don’t have a convincing argument. As is clear from the point, if you had the chance, would you seek to ‘undermine [the invaders] economically and militarily’ to stop Edinburgh going the same way Mariupol actually has?

            And I very much bet if whilst helping a Ukrainian out of harm’s way, I also condemned their enemy, they would not regard it as ‘virtue signalling’ (a pejorative phrase that means pious talk to just make your self look good): condemning murderous warmongers is simply virtue signalling now? Come on, that’s just stupid.

          7. 220325 says:

            ‘…condemning murderous warmongers is simply virtue signalling now?’

            What other function does it have? What else does it achieve?

          8. Paddy Farrington says:

            And what exactly is the problem with “jumping up and down with righteous indignation”, 220325? For 16 years we did so outside branches of Barclays Bank to protest against their collusion with apartheid South Africa. We were derided then by reactionaries and cynics alike; had the term been invented they would no doubt have haughtily dismissed our actions as self-indulgent virtue signalling. But gradually the boycott movement grew, and in 1986 Barclays finally pulled out of South Africa, the reputational cost of its collaboration with the apartheid regime being too great. Others did likewise, and soon after (hurried along by military defeat in Angola at the hand of the Cuban army) the apartheid regime was forced to negotiate its own demise.

            What should we do about Putin? Well, boycotting and protesting against those companies retaining commercial links with his regime – Infosys, Rishi Sunak’s wife’s company, and Nestle, come to mind – might be a start. We should campaign for Ukraine’s debt to be cancelled. And yes, let’s turn off the Russian oil and gas taps as fast as we can – and if there’s not enough left to go round, let’s introduce speed limits on our roads and rationing by quantity rather than price. (There would be obvious wider benefits to such actions.) And let’s clean up our own act : we should campaign to end the secrecy surrounding offshore investments and political donations, Russian or otherwise, and ditch SLPs. As for military aid, if we are serious about limiting loss of life, then of course our governments, here and in the EU, should be supplying the Ukrainian resistance with the means to stop or at least limit the destruction of their people and their cities.

          9. 220326 says:

            Indeed, it was the violence – the guerrilla warfare, urban sabotage and acts of terror, supported by the economic warfare that was waged against it by the international community, that made the country ungovernable that led to régime change in South Africa, not our moral posturing and name-calling.

            Likewise, it’s through violence that Russia is currently trying to effect régime change in Ukraine. And likewise, it’s only through violence and/or the threat thereof that we’ll effect the régime change the western powers desire in Russia.

          10. Colin Kirkwood says:

            It’s not “regime change that western powers want”: it is social justice and freedom and real democracy and non-violence and ecological sanity that the people of the whole world are crying out for.

            Who are you? Do you have a name? Who do you represent?

          11. Colin Kirkwood says:

            It’s not “regime change that western powers want”: it is social justice and freedom and real democracy and non-violence and ecological sanity that the people of the whole world are crying out for.

          12. 220326 says:

            There’s also the cultural phenomenon of ‘Ukraine’ functioning for us as moral spectacle. Here’s Katty Kay writing for the BBC last night:

            “No-one would wish any of this suffering on Ukraine. But for the moment Zelensky and the brave people he leads are heroes in a world that has been short of them. We’ve come out of a dark period of ugly political division and tragic medical crisis and we are longing for something good to believe in. Forty four million brave Ukrainians seem to have risen to the challenge and given us cause for hope in the power of the underdog. We root for them. We are amazed by their resilience. We long for them to survive and stay free. So it’s understandable that we may fall victim to what one analyst eloquently described as Western wishful thinking.”

          13. 220326 says:

            And how does the narrativising of the current crisis in Ukraine (by both power blocs in the proxy war) as a moral struggle between the forces of good (us) and evil (them), and our buying into that narrative, produce the desired outcome of ‘social justice and freedom and real democracy and non-violence and ecological sanity’?

          14. Colin Kirkwood says:

            The Russian forces on the orders of President Putin have invaded and attacked the neighboring country of Ukraine, its people, its cities, its hospitals, its schools, its public buildings, the homes of its people, killing thousands and making refugees of millions. This has to be stopped, right now. What is it you don’t understand?

          15. 220326 says:

            That’s correct; Russia has invaded Ukraine; that’s the immediate cause of the disaster that’s befallen millions of Ukrainian citizens.

            But the notion that this invasion’s to be understood morally, as an iniquitous act of evil men, rather than geopolitically, as part of a power struggle between the world’s ‘great powers’, is entirely gratuitous. The idea that there’s some absolute or natural moral order in terms of which such behaviour is to be explained as wilful transgression can no longer be seriously entertained following the ‘Death of God’ as a cultural event. A more scientific explanation is called for.

            And, in any case, the notion that this ‘evil’ needs to be called out and named as such is entirely inconsequential. Bearing witness to transgression, by calling it out and deploring it as such, makes no practical difference to those affected by that behaviour; it serves only to make us feel pious.

            Russia invaded Ukraine not because it’s an Evil Empire or the Great Satan, but because the former has some grievance against the later (ostensibly in relation to the Ukrainian régime’s treatment of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine; less ostensibly in relation to the threat it perceives that Ukrainian membership of the EU and NATO would pose to its national security) and has decided to use gunboat diplomacy to pursue that grievance.

            The use of gunboat diplomacy (pursuing a foreign policy that is supported by the use or threat of military force) is neither ‘right’ nor ‘wrong’; it’s just what contestants do in the gladiatorial arena of international power politics. You might disapprove of this situation, and you might signal your disapproval by calling it out and naming it as a transgression of some imagined moral authority, but all you’d really be doing is p*ss*ng in the wind for all the difference you’d be making.

          16. Niemand says:

            @22035
            ‘‘…condemning murderous warmongers is simply virtue signalling now?’

            What other function does it have? What else does it achieve?’

            Solidarity with those directly suffering. A solidarity that will give them some solace that the world, the ordinary person, is, at the very least, on their side. If we all took your stance, no-one would be condemning Putin at all and as a signal would show no solidarity to Ukraine and to Putin it would be I won’t condemn you for your actions because words and sentiments don’t matter. But they do, obviously.

          17. 220329 says:

            There’s no denying that the othering of moral judgement or ‘virtue-signalling’ gives us a warm sense of community or ‘solidarity’, but it has no explanatory or heuristic value; it offers no understanding that can point to a way out of the crisis. Blaming the current violence on the whims of pantomime villains rather than on the structural weaknesses of the institutions that exist to resolve our conflicts short of violence and war (that is, rather than on our current politics) is infantile and otherwise pointless.

  7. Colin Kirkwood says:

    My dear friend, you should read your last contribution again, and relax, and ponder it. You are depriving yourself of so much that is good and kind and decent. And personal. I think you are suffering from the dominance of the worst kind of scientism, the worst kind of values-excluding empiricism. You seem to feel that the apparent dominance of the notion of “the death of God” means that there are no good values in our world in practice, in human reality. Read John Macmurray. Think about the self as agent. Think about persons in relation. Think about I and Thou. I send you love and good wishes.

    1. 220329 says:

      Indeed, following ‘the Death of God’, there are no good or bad values, but only values; a plurality of ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ whose valorisation is relative to the cultural context in which they appear and none of which can be privileged over any other. The best we can do is cleave to our own culture’s values with ‘ironic sincerity’.

      Relative to the world in which I’m encultured, this scepticism provides me with a good life and comprises my happiness.

      If you’re going to judge me, then do so on my own terms and by my own standards, not by your own. (‘Judge not others self-righteously, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you again.’ – Matt. 7, 1-2)

      1. Colin Kirkwood says:

        I repeat: please reread your last message. Relax. What do you yourself actually feel and think? Your consciousness/language is dominated by your obsessive use of the phrase “the death of God”. Can I let you into a big secret? There never was a God. Or rather: there were and are thousands and thousands of Gods over centuries, millenia and so on. Read William Robertson Smith. The ideas of God, like Plato’s idea of “the form of the good” are metaphors. The fact that they are metaphors, and not absolutes (to use your languages) doesn’t make them all relative. Some are accurate , some are not. Some are a mixture. You need to free yourself from being dominated by some pretty coercive ideas. I am not judging you. I am trying to help you to extricate yourself from an intellectually stuck situation. I repeat: love and good wishes.

        1. 220330 says:

          ‘I am trying to help you to extricate yourself from an intellectually stuck situation.’

          Aporia (the state of being intellectually unstuck and in perpetual doubt) is indeed the goal of scepticism.

          ‘There never was a God. Or rather: there were and are thousands and thousands of Gods over centuries, millennia and so on.’

          Precisely! No good or bad values, but only values. No one true Good and Bad, but rather a plurality of ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ whose valorisation is relative to the cultural context in which they appear and none of which can be privileged over any other.

          What you seem to be missing is that the Death of God isn’t a natural event; it’s a cultural event. It occurs when the values we once held as sacred come to be seen as baseless. As a metaphor, it’s applicable to the cultural condition of late capitalism a.k.a. ‘postmodernity’.

          The metamodernism we’ve been rehearsing here, and to which Bissie Anderson and Jonathan Rowson alluded in their articles, is a response to this cultural situation that would have us extricate ourselves from its nihilism and extreme and disempowering pessimism through the exercise of ‘ironic sincerity’.

          There’s no irony in the sincerity of the moral condescension in your posts. We look and laugh at a’ that.

      2. Niemand says:

        There are values that lead to a better or worse society for the majority of its members. Better as in materially and spiritually. There is no need to call these good or bad if you don’t wish to but to deny that some societies are highly oppressive, violent, discriminatory etc and people suffer to a greater degree as a result and others much less so, due to the values they adhere to, is untenable. It is therefore perfectly legitimate to privilege some values over others.

        1. 220330 says:

          Indeed there are values that lead to a better or worse society for the majority of its members. Better as in materially and spiritually. And for those who value such a society, this will make those values more or less valuable to them and to privilege them accordingly.

          We’re struggling with the basic paradox of axiology here.

          Axiology is the theory of value. It comprises various approaches to the question of how, why, and to what degree we value things. The basic paradox it generates is how we can decide which theory of value is the most valuable from among the various theories of value on offer, and privilege it accordingly, without self-referentially presupposing a theory of value in the making of that evaluation.

          The suggestion is that we can so decide not with any sort of moral superiority, but only with ‘ironic sincerity’.

          1. Niemand says:

            But we can decide with moral superiority based on the fact that widespread suffering is objectively worse than less widespread suffering. And a society with less suffering is objectively better than one with more. There is nothing intrinsically ironic about suffering nor wanting less of it for oneself and others. So I simply don’t buy into your idea that there is something ironic about preferring less suffering and thus a set of values that bring that about. And even if I were to, I cannot see where it gets us since it is still clearly better to have a society built on values that reduce suffering. And that is what matters and what we should strive for and yes, show solidarity and support for. And we can do that with sincerity since it is what we want.

          2. 220331 says:

            Yes, be can. And that would make our moral superiority relative to that axiology, which valorises behaviour according to its consequences and, in particular, according to the degree to which that behaviour maximises the amount of pleasure over pain in the world.

            But this axiology is just as dubious as any other, as any introductory textbook on ethics or theory of value will show you. Its truth might seem clear and obvious and objectively given to you, but that’s only because of how you’re constituted by the particular history in which you’re encultured.

          3. Niemand says:

            It is not ‘constituted by the particular history in which you’re encultured’ that I prefer to suffer less. No-one who is sane prefers physical pain to no physical pain, hunger to no hunger, being shot for expressing a critical opinion to not being shot etc etc. A society that is based on values that brings about the latter rather than the former is morally superior. You can leave out morally if it suits your abstract philosophical obsessions but the superiority remains unless you really want to tell me there are arguments for a society that valorises pain, hunger and death over the opposite. Not abstract wordplay, I mean actual practical arguments.

          4. 220401 says:

            But we’re not talking about our individual preferences; we’re talking about what’s morally right and wrong and the criteria by which we differentiate the two. Everyone seeks to avoid pain – that’s just part of our biological nature – but it doesn’t follow that we ‘ought’ therefore to avoid or even refrain from inflicting suffering, especially if that suffering’s deemed necessary for the sake of some ‘higher’ or otherwise alternative moral end, such as ‘the national interest’ or ‘social and ecological justice’ or ‘the mortification of the flesh’ or ‘the liberation of Palestine’ or ‘the establishment of a caliphate’ or ‘independence for Scotland’, etc. It’s not inconceivable that Russia’s current leaders made the judgement that, while the suffering they’d unleash by invading Ukraine is regrettable, it’s nevertheless justified by their national interest and the defence/promotion thereof.

            Just because WE valorise hedonism (the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain) above all other ends doesn’t mean that every culture does. Nor does it make that valorisation the ‘correct’ one from some supposed objective point of view and the one that everyone else should therefore valorise also.

          5. Niemand says:

            So how would the Kremlin justify shooting civilians in the back of the head as they left Bucha with at least 300 civilian deaths found in mass graves, as has just been discovered? There is none and certainly has no justification due to the ‘national interest’. Quite the opposite in fact. I don’t care what sophistry you come up with, it is morally indefensible, morally totally wrong, objectively wrong by any standard no matter what the circumstances of war.

          6. 220403 says:

            Yes, it is morally indefensible… by the standards we employ in measuring these things.

  8. Colin Kirkwood says:

    I am happy to try to help you see clearly aspects of your position you seem to want to cling on to. And I am also happy for you to do the same to me. It is true that I have not adopted irony as a general style, I prefer sincerity because I know where I am with it. There are times , for example in Swift, when I appreciate an ironic statement , usually because it asserts a positive value. I don’t appreciate the overgeneralisation of irony because it gets close to a general affirmation of cynicism, a positive corrosion of values. There is far too much of that : people are made to feel that they are not cool unless they mock. I have special personal reasons at the moment for my emphasis on appreciation, and positive valuing, but don’t want to go into them in this context. It occurs to me though to close with the retelling of a story which I believe to be true. It’s about how change can occur within a person. There is this guy called Saul, who comes from the city of Tarsus. He’s a tent-maker by trade. He spends quite a bit of his youth mocking and trashing another guy called Jesus, who ends up getting crucified by the Romans along with a few thousand others. On this occasion, Saul is heading for a city called Damascus. He faints or in some other way becomes unconscious. And he hears a voice inside his head saying to him: Saul, why do you persecute me? That’s the story. I think it’s a true story, about internal conflict within a person, and how it eventually resolves itself. There is no need to invoke the idea of God to explain it. It stands on its own. Good wishes.

    1. 220331 says:

      The concept of irony has a rich tradition in the West, and it does suffer (as do all our concepts, and partly in virtue of its very richness) from an indeterminacy of meaning (which is just another way of saying that there’s no way of determining which of its many alternative meanings is the true one).

      Traditionally, irony depended on the assumption that a message or an event could have two levels of meaning – its ‘face-value’ meaning, and ‘what-it-really-means’ meaning. This assumption, however, was successfully challenged by a succession of critical theorists over the course of the last century, who concluded on the basis of that successful challenge that ‘God is dead’, that irony (or any other concept for that matter) has no determinable ‘what-it-really-means’ meaning, but had only a plurality of alternative ‘face-value’ meanings, none of which takes precedence and can therefore be privileged over any other.

      This was a pretty liberating conclusion. It frees us from the tyranny of orthodoxy (authorised or generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice) and legitimises heterodoxy (deviation from authorised or generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice). But this liberation comes at a cost; it deprives us of the comfort or security of knowing we are right, and this can lead to a disabling pessimism or despair.

      A mediation of this tension between these two consequences of the Death of God has been proposed in the form of ‘metamodernism’. That mediation is the rather Kierkegaardian one of ‘ironic sincerity’, of making a self-conscious commitment despite being aware that the rightness of that commitment is extremely dubitable. (Kierkegaard explores this ‘ironic sincerity’ – or something very like it – in his book, Fear and Trembling.)

      Life becomes, under this orientation, a kind of perpetual leap of faith into the unknown in the hope, rather than the certainty, that the direction in which we’re leaping is the ‘right’ one, with all the existential anxiety this entails. The element of doubt that this ‘ironically sincere’ sort of commitment retains does, however, tend to make it a bit less militant and a bit more tolerant of heterodoxy than the dogmatic certainty of fundamentalism is.

      Another proposition is that we simply accept that ‘God is dead’ and that what we’re left with is an ever-shifting plurality of perspectival truths rather than the totality of single absolute truth, which opens up the possibility of a world as a dialogue or dialectical interplay of alternative and often conflicting values rather than a monologue of orthodoxy. The world then becomes a function of our democratic intersubjectivity – something akin to Rousseau’s ‘general will’ – rather than a given object.

      The problem with this proposition is that genuine dialogue can only occur in conditions of ideal communication, in which different value-communities would be able to raise, accept, or reject each other’s claims to truth, rightness, and sincerity solely on the basis of the what Habermas calls the ‘unforced force’ that is the desire for mutual understanding, which condition can’t exist where there exist inequalities of power between those different communities. More powerful communities tend to impose their values on or ‘colonise’ less powerful communities as part of the preservation and extension of their power, as has been seen in the globalisation of European Enlightenment values to the eclipse of ‘indigenous’ value-communities throughout the world. Inequalities of power thus tend to distort the conditions of ideal communication out of which genuine dialogue of democratic intersubjectivity might arise.

      The movement to ‘decolonise’ our civil institutions – and, in particular, education – is about dismantling such inequalities of power between different value-communities in our increasingly ‘Godless’ multicultural world and revaluing the world as a democratic intersubjectivity rather than an authoritatively given object. Along with Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed emphasised the need to provide ourselves with an education that isn’t just an extension of the ‘colonising’ culture – in our case, a culture that integrates our generations into the logic or ‘mindset’ of the European Enlightenment or ‘modernity’ (the ideology of capitalism) – but is instead a form of resistance that liberates us from the hegemony of that culture.

      Education that’s truly liberating can’t treat learners as empty spaces to be colonised by received or established knowledge, which presents for our emulation value-models from within the colonising culture itself. We must rather ‘free ourselves from mental slavery’ by becoming our own example and creating our own values in and through our struggle to liberate ourselves from the domination of Enlightenment thinking/‘modernity’/capitalist relations of production.

      Education thus can’t be divorced from politics; the act of learning is a political act in and of itself. This is a main tenet of critical pedagogy. Through self-directed critical learning, we can unmake and remake ourselves in ways that are counter to the prevailing culture and, in so doing, break the hegemony which that culture exercises over our lives.

      Critical pedagogy itself runs counter to the educational culture that prevails in capitalist society, which makes learners ‘empty accounts’ that schooling fills with the knowledge and skills that make them useful commodities as units of labour. This culture transforms learners from active subjects into receiving objects, from creators of meaning and truth into consumers of the same, who adjust themselves to the world that’s ‘given’ to them rather than shape the world in accordance with their needs. Critical learning, in which the emphasis lies on scepticism and the deconstruction of the ‘given’ world of the colonised mind, reverses this transformation and turns passive consumers of received values into active creators of their own values.

      It’s the same inequalities of power generated by capitalist relations of production, which Habermas claimed distort the conditions of ideal communication out of which genuine dialogue of democratic intersubjectivity might arise, that create what Freire called a ‘culture of silence’ among the colonised. These unequal relations cast the colonised in a passive role the performance of which makes us complicit in the suppression of our own creative ‘voices’. This ‘culture of silence’ self-deprives the colonised of the power to critically respond to the values that are forced on us by the colonising culture, leaving us to acquiesce in ‘the quietude of acceptance’. Indeed, the dynamics of our conventional education system, which rewards conformity with ‘success’ and sanctions non-conformity with ‘failure’, seems almost to be deliberately designed to eliminate the paths of thought that lead to a language of critique and liberation.

      1. Colin Kirkwood says:

        Well done, 220331. I agree with almost all of that! If you read Pedagogy of the Oppressed carefully, Paulo Freire manages to value some of the “ancient” world’s contributions as well some of modernity and post-modernity. He even finds room to value god or some versions of god.

        1. 220330 says:

          Although, it’s edifying perhaps that Freire also identifies the pedagogy of the oppressed in its two stages of a) unmasking oppression and committing to its transformation and b) preventing the new régime from hardening into a dominating ‘bureaucracy’ through an ongoing process of permanent liberation as ‘the fundamental aspect of Mao’s Cultural Revolution’.

          Mao’s Cultural Revolution surely involved a degree of human suffering much greater than anything currently being experienced by the people of Ukraine.

          1. Colin Kirkwood says:

            Sadly, you are right (I mean about the disastrous direction that Maoism took). We ought to be clear now that in general good ends cannot be achieved by bad means. Nevertheless, there are extreme circumstances in which violent means have to used.

          2. 220331 says:

            But the drift of Ukraine westward isn’t one of those circumstances. Unless you’re the Russian state, that is.

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