Wraith.

void    Please don’t.  Please just turn off your screen.  Please.  You’ll thank me.

  You’re still here?  Then you have no one to blame but yourself.  Very well.

  I was born in the year of our lord 831, or so the brothers told me.  There were lots of children left at the doors to the monastery in those days, their parents too poor or their mother unwed, and I was one of them.  Do not think me pitiable, the abbot was a good man and we were well cared for.  I had a joyous childhood, and an education, and that’s more than can be said for most born in such inauspicious circumstances.

  In 851 the men came.  They were tall, and broad, and bearded, and they spoke with an accent I did not know.  I had not taken my vows despite reaching my twentieth year, and the abbot charged me with the safety of the children.  I had to swim as the monastery burned, and the strange men laughed and butchered the brothers.

  Are you still reading? Is there something wrong? Do you hate yourself?

  I had assumed they were men from the east, part of the vast army of pagans who had landed on our shores.  Men who worshiped ravens and hated Christ.  But I was wrong.  I stole into the woods and spied on them from the trees as they dragged Abbot Winson into their camp.  I saw as they beat him, that gentle man, and I saw them paint their faces with ash and woad and cheer.  As he withered I felt a chill, despite the warmth of the night.

  Then their witch man came, their chanting priest in robes of shadow and bone.  I froze, gripping the tree branch tight, feeling the rugged bark, listening to his song, and slipped.

  For a while there was darkness.  Not sleep, you understand, but a pitch black oblivion, a kind of essence of nothingness.  My mind was in that emptiness, but my body had gone I know not where.  I wish I knew how long I was stuck in the dark but it was impossible to tell, even time itself seemed to be empty of meaning.  I felt the rising panic begin to rush through me, and then I heard the song again.

  I did not like what I heard then, the words were distant and indistinct and sounded full of fury and spite, but it was something, so I willed myself toward that distant point and…

  Are you sure you should read on?  It only gets worse from here.

  An unfamiliar pair of eyes opened and through them I saw the witch man.  Muscles bunched in legs, blood flowed, breath drew, all in a body over which I had no control.  My mind was in someone else, someone full of strange memories and rage.  He went to the forest to empty his bladder and I struck, tearing at his thoughts and his memories until there was nothing left in that hollow shell but a tiny fraction of his screaming essence and me.

  I eloped with his body.  Straight into the horsemen of the King.  They rode me down as I stood.

  Even then I was kept from true death.  I heard the song again in the emptiness, but when I found my way back to the light the body I wore was a girl sitting by a hearth.  She was an innocent, and I could not bear to rend her thoughts.  I stayed in her, my memories and mind melding with hers as the years passed.  I grew old, married, felt the joy of raising children and taught them my song even as the savage’s last dregs begged for relief within me.  I almost forgot, almost, that I was anything other than her.

  You are persistent, aren’t you?  Nothing will dissuade you.  I like persistence.

  My deathbed was an unpleasant place, and my death was painful then.  They are all painful.  But I found myself in the emptiness once more, no longer quite the orphan boy raised by monks, or the peasant girl, or the woad painted savage.  I was angry.  Furious.  Back into the emptiness.

  But the song came again.  It always came again.  This time it had embellishments, a tune I did not recognise and a jaunty chorus, and I found my way into the body of a thief.  He was no longer a child, but he was full of delicious spite and carried with him a matchlock pistol.  I took my time with him, subsuming his mind, drinking his essence slowly.  It took years to seize control, and by the time he realised what was happening it was far too late.  I realised the silver lining that came with my condition, and spent my days living in reckless, indulgent abandon. As I stood in that rain soaked alley, knuckles bloodied from his mother’s delicate jaw, I knew my purpose.

  There was nothing left of my kindness after him, as he and the girl and the savage wept in the dark corners of my mind.  Nothing left of mercy, I drove away my families, took what I wished, grew inured to suffering, knowing that oblivion was a small price to pay.  I embraced the darkness, became the wraith I was meant to be.

  In London became a bishop and turned to running cheap whores in the back streets, bought and sold from the Orient.  In Paris I took the body of a well regarded noble, and I tortured peasantry for fun until the headsman came for me.  When I used the women of the camps for my pleasure and tossed them into the ovens I laughed at the thought I might be burning my unborn children.  I am jaded, vile, yes, and I embrace it, I will destroy the mind of my host and make the last speck of them watch from behind their eyes as I make them hated, scorned and vile.

  I have had so very long to dream of new cruelties, new abuses, new ways to make my victims twist their faces into that special kind of ugly that comes with sobbing tears.  Who do you love?  I will beat them, shatter every limb, take their hope, take their dignity, again, and again.  Think of the worst thing you could do, the thing every fibre of your being screams is wrong, that makes your soul hurt even to imagine and causes you shame to discover you are even able to picture.  I have done it.  I will do it again.

  Do you hate me yet?  You should.  I will not admit to the worst of my transgressions even here.  Not for shame, but because it pleases me to imagine you failing to grasp the scope of my indulgence.

  As the centuries passed I grew more adept at spreading my song, the ballad of my existence.  For a while a piece of music was enough to carry me again from my purgatory, jagged and harsh.  I spent time in taverns, and salons, and coffee shops, and wine bars, perfecting the art of possession.

  The music was not enough.  I needed a way to guarantee a gate back to the waking world, to the warm flesh humans take so readily for granted.  I tried to create an image, but it proved too difficult to describe myself completely in that form.

  Rage.  Power.  Death.

  So I wrote a story and placed it here, and now I see you from the dark place.  It is stronger than the song, my new gateway from oblivion.  Do you feel me yet?  I warned you.  I tried to tell you not to read.  You won’t even know I’m there until it’s far too late.  I am in the blotch you see when you close your eyes too tight, the strange black shape you are certain lurks in the dark room once you turn out the light.  I am the little urge to wickedness that you indulge, the headache that seems to last for days.

  It’s too late for you.  There’s no going back.  You’ve read too far and I am in you.  You cannot fight me, you cannot resist, you have no idea how, you will wither until you join all my victims in the endless cycle screaming for release in the back of my mind.  I will strip away your soul until oblivion fills you, then shatter your world until oblivion comes for me in turn.  You are my puppet, and your will is not your own.

  Give in.

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Changeling.

trees shadow    I never forgot.  Never trusted him.  Never let my guard down.  And it didn’t matter.

  I was so small that I couldn’t see over the cot.  The trees loomed outside the nursery window, terrifying me on moonlit nights as the light shone through and sent their long shadows reaching along the hallway towards my bed.  He cried a lot, my brother, in the time he was with us, and his shouts cut through you in the way only babies do.  Sleep became a memory for my parents, and for me in that long summer before I started school.

  He must have been three months old, I think, though I only had four years behind me when it happened.  Old brown wallpaper stained almost black with age, a rococo print embossed, I liked to run my fingers along it.  I remember the bumps and welts, each repeat of the pattern as I walked down the hall towards him.  Most of the time, when I got up in the night and wandered, I would stop at my parent’s bedroom door but as I drew closer… as I drew closer I could smell something out of place.  Something wrong.  An animal scent, like a fox set, pungent and primal.  I pressed on, excited that a fox might be in the house, and my brother’s door was ajar and the moonlight shone through it.

  Maybe I should have stopped.  I didn’t though.  I let my fingers trace the outline of the pattern on the wallpaper and then, in that way children do, let my hand brush away and push gently at his bedroom door.

  Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.  Would he have left me alone?  Would I have been safe if I didn’t know?  It doesn’t matter now.  What I saw doomed me, and I had to live with that.

  The shape looming over his cot was almost human, so much so I thought it was Dad at first.  I struggled to make sense of what I was seeing, breathing in the stench of the thing in front of me.  It was reaching down, its arms so impossibly thin a stiff wind looked like it might snap them in two.  It’s head was the wrong shape, too big for its slim frame, crowned with spiralling horns.  It turned to face the moonlight, showing me its black eyes, it’s lack of nose, it’s silver teeth that came to fierce points and dripped with fresh blood.  When it saw me it howled, a sound like my brother’s cries, and, hefting him over it’s shoulder, it leaped through the open window and fled into the woods.

  I was four years old.  I looked at the empty cot and ran to my room, hiding under the covers and closing my eyes tight.

  The next morning I woke to the sound of my mother screaming.  I ran to her, thinking she was hurt, trying to pretend the thing last night was a bad dream or a trick of the light.  It wasn’t working, but I belted down that hallway as fast as my short legs would carry me.  I reached her at around the same time as my Dad, his shirt was off and shaving foam was still dripping down his face.  She was looking into the cot, but I couldn’t see over the top.  I could still smell that fox smell.  I knew he was gone.

  Which is why I shook with fear when I heard a baby gurgling.  I almost didn’t dare look, but I put an arm around my mother and stood on tiptoes so I could see what she could see.

  I screamed as well.  There was a baby in there, naked and smiling, and covered in gore and fallen fur.  There was a trail of mud leading to the window, and dried blood crusting the cot.  I had no idea what I had seen the night before, but I knew that thing was not my brother.

  My parents fussed and cleaned him, and threw the cot away.  They moved him to their room after that, and he never spent the night crying again.  I would sneak into their bed when I could, telling myself I was not afraid, that I just wanted to keep them safe from the thing they thought was my brother.  He stared at me while he ate.  He laughed at me when I stubbed my toe.  He chuckled at the sight of fire.  Everything was wrong, but Mum and Dad never seemed to notice.

  All the way through school he haunted me.  Rumours swirled around, that he was the one who threw the science teacher out of the window, that he terrorised others into doing his work, that he was the one who forced himself on Jenny Edwards, that he was the one who stole all the cameras from the lab.  Nothing could ever be proven, even though the teachers watched him like a hawk.

  He was terrible at science, but at everything else he excelled.  He could write like a child three years his senior, he could paint like Picasso, play the flute like an angel.  Eventually I left school and home and he stayed, and the years passed by.  Dad died, car crash, and Mum vanished one night out of the blue only to be found face down in a river some days later.  At her funeral he kept looking at me, grinning.  Everyone else thought it was nervousness, but I knew why he smiled in the dark.

  For years I kept documents.  I wrote down everything, took pictures, preserved the memory of the time that thing replaced my brother.  I had boxes and boxes of suspicions and certainties, but never any proof.  The thing that lurked in my life with my brother’s face was far too sly.

  And now it doesn’t matter.  I am stuck here in my bedroom, and the long shadows of trees are creeping through my window even though I live in the heart of a city.  I can hear distant flute music, and I have found a length of brake cable and my mother’s wedding ring beneath my bed.  He is coming for me.  I never forgot, never trusted him, never let my guard down, and it didn’t matter.  I smell the scent of foxes.  Primal.  Final.

‘Murica. This is how you got here.

   America appears to be full of white people who used to believe there was no racism because they had never experienced it. Then it was pointed out to them that they hadn’t experienced it because they’re white, and that’s a privileged position in western society, at which point they said ‘that’s racist. How dare you accuse me of not knowing absolutely everything about everyone just because I’ve never looked into it or seen any reason to.’
  Their next step seemed obvious, the majority hewed close to Hilary Clinton because she seemed to be somehow outside the narrative, after all she’d worked for an outrageously successful black man for the better part of a decade and she was a woman, an oppressed group in every society on Earth. She wasn’t outside the narrative, though, because she still seemed to be part of the entitled clique of Wall Street enabling fans of the status quo.  People of colour were being murdered by police, government employees, all the damned time for absolutely no reason and she did not seem to demonstrate any real concern about it.
  Those who saw her as an unpalatable choice tried to stump for Bernie Sanders.  Were some of them simply misogynists?  Yes, of course, but there were other reasons to find her an imperfect choice.  Bernie, at least, seemed to want to shake things up, to do something about the massive problems facing the USA.  He cared about healthcare, about the vicious corruption unfettered American capitalism was falling into.  He cared that the poor were so vulnerable, that people of colour lived in a different, more dangerous America.  But then he lost the primary, and some of them just abandoned politics altogether, leaving it to the wolves, failing to recognise that, for all her faults, Trump was far, far worse.
  Some of the white people backed Donald Trump.  He rarely talked about race directly, but he did talk about immigration.  He lied through his teeth again, and again, and they ate it up because the story he told felt so good to believe.  ‘You don’t have to change,’ he said, ‘the problem is the Mexicans, coming over here, taking your jobs.  It’s not Wall Street, or the Estate Agents who sold you sub-prime mortgages, it’s the brown people.  I’ll build a wall and, because I’m a white man, will be able to force them to pay for it.’  Never mind his misogyny, or his probable incipient dementia, or his links to Nazis, he told them the story they wanted to believe, the path of least resistance.  And because their generation had been told their opinion mattered as much as objective truth they flocked to him.
  Some of the white people, though, some of them were even worse.  Raised on a diet of entitled, lingering prejudice they seig heiled their way to the alt-right.  adopting a terrible drawing of a frog as their symbol they began to hang out with the KKK and the American Nazi party.  They listened to Trump, and their acceptance of his frothing nonsense wasn’t a dull acceptance, but an understanding of the sly nods he gave to them.  Their diet of South Park and American military worship had led them to believe that nothing matters except force and they were going to take what the world owed them, put the people who weren’t like them in their place.  the Antifascist demonstrators who put a stop to their march for genocide fought back when the Nazis came, and the American right wing went into meltdown.  Some of the supposedly mainstream American right wingers began to suggest that Antifascists are worse than the KKK.  The KKK has publicly killed almost 4000 black people in its existence.
  So now the American right is fully on board with the American far right.  The pretense of egalitarianism is gone.  They sternly go on at the left to shut up about identity politics while they cancel DACA and ban transgender people from serving in the armed forces.  It’s the perfect time for the left to fight back.
  But there’s a void.  A gaping hole where the democrats should be.  Hillary Clinton’s supporters are still blaming the supporters of Bernie Sanders for their loss, as if the 2016 election is still ongoing.  They’re still blinding themselves to the fact America needs to change, needs to do away with unfettered capitalism and deal with its racism problem openly and frankly.  In the worst cases they’re trying to find common ground with the Republicans, a party which effectively no longer exists, a party which effectively is just the legislative branch of the Trump regime.  Bernie Sanders supporters are still yelling at the Hillary Clinton supporters, for more or less exactly the same reasons, instead of trying to find common ground or gently convince them that they need to look to the future rather than refight the struggles of the past.
  And behind it all, behind the long rallies with the speeches of sound and fury that signify nothing, behind the Twitter rows and the vast demonstrations, behind goose stepping Nazis and the shrieking Fox News hosts with the immaculate hair, behind the conspiracy theories, and the earnest pundits, and the floods, and the forest fires, just out of sight, the American police are drinking beer and the American rich are drinking champagne, not quite able to believe they’ve gotten away with it.

What Comes Next?

Antifa logo  I really don’t want to have to write about Trump, but right now I feel I have to.  There’s a pattern forming which nobody is talking about yet, and we need to be vigilant.

First the good news; it is now no longer a fair criticism to claim that the American people are apathetic about politics.  They are absolutely awake to the feckless fascist lurking in the White House and willing to kick up a hell of a fuss about it.

Here ends the good news.

The last week has been, it’s fair to say, monumental.  Trump entered office and managed to immediately infuriate most of the media and the CIA with a pair of insane, rambling speeches.  Even his inauguration speech sounded like one of his rallies, a screeching, self-congratulatory gout of grievance and verbal masturbation that those who don’t support him find repulsive.  The day after he became the most powerful man in the world there were marches against his bigotry and misogyny which obviously dwarfed the crowd watching him take the oath of office.  Trump, however, is such an insecure man-child that he could not allow this objective fact to settle in his mind, and sent his spokesman out to claim, on the basis of no evidence, that his supporters outnumbered the Women’s Marches and President Obama’s inauguration.

A lot of people have tried to read more into this.  They say that it was a deliberate distraction while the Republicans pushed through legislation to strip away several million American’s access to healthcare.

Come off it.

Trump is not a master of manipulation.  He’s a bully, a racist, a misogynist, a climate change denier, a fascist, and a hundred other disgusting things but he is, first, a showman.  He only knows how to interact with the world in that capacity.  He continues holding rallies because he’s good at it and he craves a cheering crowd, he signs grand, sweeping executive orders because it keeps the attention of the world on him, he lies all the time because in his mind he is the main character in a television show.  In his mind he is not lying, the show is wrong and must be rewritten.

By all accounts he voraciously consumes media (though not books).  He watches a quite unsettling amount of television and, I am sure from observing his account, is constantly glued to Twitter.  As he tried to settle into his office (and reintroduced the ‘global gag rule,’ which every Republican President has reintroduced and every Democrat has repealed) he would have seen the suggestions that he had used his insanity to try to distract the world.  I think he took this on board and, as reports leaked out about the chaos caused by his incompetence in government and a backlash grew at the fresh lie his press secretary had told claiming that he had won the popular vote (which, incidentally, he absolutely did not) he announced he was actually going to build a wall along the border between the US and Mexico.

And why wouldn’t he think that was a good idea?  It shows that he’s planning to keep his campaign promises.  It shows that his government is on track and decisive.  It always played well at the rallies.

It did not play well in the press.  It did not play well in the international press.  His promise to somehow make Mexico pay for it played extremely badly with the former President of Mexico (who posted these exact words in a Tweet: ‘We’re not going to pay for that fucking wall #fuckingwall) and it was, at its core, mental.  A bloody stupid policy from a bloody stupid man.

Steve Bannon, his neo-Nazi media advisor, probably thought it would play rather well with rather a lot of Americans.  He has spent decades living in a bubble of his very own, one comprised of bitter men who think they’re the master race.  He was probably surprised it didn’t go down well, and he blamed the mainstream media for its poor reception.  This is why they doubled down on their attack on the media, it’s not some Putin-esque power play, it’s panic.  We need to worry about Bannon though, Trump is a media obsessed man, his media advisor will be favoured in his court.

I’ll have to skip over rather a lot because so much dumb crap happened.  Trump has no idea how to govern, he’s only interested in looking like he knows how to govern.  And then he signed an executive order to ban immigration from Muslim majority countries.

America has never been a sectarian state before.  It is now.

Now there are protests at airports, there are people in the Republican party (very, very tentatively) suggesting it’s a bad idea, foreign governments are angry, a Daily Mail columnist agreed with Jeremy Corbyn that Trump should not be allowed in the country while this racist ban is in place.

Now, ignoring all the other crap, ignoring that the ban specifically targets Muslim majority countries where Trump does not have business interests and ignores Muslim majority countries where he does have business interests, ignoring that a five year old child was detained by police for hours on end at an American airport, ignoring that a court has ordered the executive order be suspended and Trump has carried on enforcing it anyway, ignoring the fury and the protests and the international condemnation (though not from my government, but that’s an infuriated rant for another day) this has been a disaster for Trump.

I know, I know, he treats the press like an enemy and he doesn’t seem to have even the briefest connection to the truth, but this will get to him.  There’s no way it can’t, an avalanche of infuriated condemnation is being launched at the USA from every corner of the earth and it will get to him.  Even if it doesn’t it will get to the Republicans, though whether they can find their spines or grow some values and actually do anything about it is another matter.  No matter what else happens he has almost certainly alienated everyone outside of his inner circle, and nobody can govern like that.

It’s the future I fear, though.  He has in the last few hours begun to make a great deal of noise about Daesh.  It sounds to me like the first, terrible rumble towards war.  And his will be a terrible war.  He will order airstrikes that butcher civilians, then deny it ever happened.  He will level cities.  Slaughter families with cruise missiles.  He will ignore human shields and kill ‘em all.

And then what?  What will he do when his army is bogged down in another middle eastern quagmire and someone with brown skin and a foreign accent opens fire and shouts allahu akhbar?  His knee will jerk, and he will crack down on Muslims even more.  ‘Gitmo times a thousand’ was one of his campaign promises, so there, on American soil, we will see the first internment camp.  Then he will try to follow through with his promise to deport millions of undocumented migrants.  The conditions will be terrible.  They will have to work for food.  Internment camps will become concentration camps, the step from concentration camp to death camp is barely visible.

This probably will not happen.  The world won’t allow it, the American public won’t wear it, he probably won’t last that long.  But I was sure he wouldn’t try to build a wall.  I was sure he wouldn’t be so stupid as to ban Muslims from traveling to America. I was certain he would never win.

Be afraid, America.  I was going to tell you that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, but you’ve heard that and evil may triumph despite your efforts.  Instead of Burke I give you Bakunin:

‘Destroy or be destroyed, there is no middle way.  Let us then be the destroyers.’

This Seething Mess of a Year In Review.

  ‘Let’s be honest, 2016 has been shit’ – The beginning of the British Green Party’s New Year message.  No, really.

Let’s start with the obvious, unforeseen horror of David Bowie’s death.  This should have been a warning, really, if you’re inclined towards magical thinking.  The only upside to it was the outpouring of love and grief in Brixton which saw a sudden, unplanned street party and singalong that still honestly brings tears to my eyes when I see it.  But we should have known then that the transgressive, unifying force of love for the other that Bowie embodied was about to take the worst kicking of my lifetime.

bowie-tribute
RIP

 

I’ll try to avoid discussing other celebrity deaths in this piece, that’s not really what it’s about, but I would probably be remiss in not mentioning Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan,, Victoria Wood, Prince, Caroline Aherne, Gene Wilder, Pete Burns, AA Gill (who I disagreed with often and profoundly but still enjoyed), George Michael, Muhammed Ali, Leonard Cohen and a ridiculous list of others.  With every passing month there was another front page obituary which could not help but add to the sensation that the world we recognised was vanishing.

There were some moments of hope in 2016.  Not many, admittedly.  The Panama papers leaked, giving the world an insight into the rampant corruption we all sort-of knew was happening around the world.  The first solar powered aircraft to circumnavigate the world.  The USA and China ratified the Paris global climate agreement.  The first proven vaccine for the Ebola virus was developed.  The good stops here, though, and I’ve got to talk about the darkness.

Brexit came first.  It arguably isn’t as bad as the other big political story of 2016 but it’s still disastrous.  A lot of my friends, some younger than me, some relatively new to politics, felt repulsed and lost.  They felt, I think, that the world they believed they lived in was an illusion.  It’s interesting to me how much they all, bar one or two exceptions, leapt to the remain side of the Brexit debate.

Now I know that a lot of Brexit supporters roll their eyes at this phenomenon.  They write off all the Remain voters as a naïve, liberal, metropolitan elite and, actually, I think this is a mistake on their part.  The truth of it is that Remain voters are by and large involved with the world in a way Leave voters aren’t.  There is a generation of voters who now feel disenfranchised, betrayed and furious with their treatment and they have no love for an isolationist world they neither remember nor care about.  It’s been the habit of commentators to examine the Leave voters meticulously, I’d like to see some more attention paid to the fact that the people who are going to inherit the fallout of Brexit are never going to forgive those who stole the future from them.

Nevertheless; Leave won.  The campaigns they ran were a disgusting, racist, toxic nightmare and even when a neo-Nazi supporter murdered a left-wing Remain supporting MP in the street they shamelessly carried on with the empty rhetoric of nationalism and race baiting.  For forty years the repellent right wing newspapers of Britain had been screaming hysterically about the evils of the EU, nobody dared publically defend it and even Jeremy Corbyn, who ostensibly supported the remain campaign, said he was only ‘about 70% in favour’ of staying.  David Cameron, the other half of the Remain campaign leadership, brought out banker after banker to announce the dangers of leaving and how much it might damage their bonuses.

Does anyone really wonder why Remain lost?  And then the hate crimes began.  An undercurrent of disgusting blood-and-soil nationalism was implicit throughout the Leave campaign, so naturally the racists took the referendum as a victory for their fucknugget philosophy.  Suddenly Mr Farage is even more ever present in our media than he was before, constantly babbling crap about how those who do not support Brexit are treacherous scum, and the right wing press lap it up and repeat it.  We’ve seen judges attacked in print for rendering a judgement, in a democracy, that the press did not like.  We have a government so weak that they barely bother to mention that this is unacceptable.  We have the disgraced, possibly corrupt former defence secretary Liam Fox in a position of what looks like power.  We have Boris Johnson as foreign secretary.  We have Theresa May as a prime minister.  And the more they go on the more convinced I am that they have no idea what the hell they’re doing.

Enough.  I can only talk about Brexit for so long.  I have to talk about Trump now.

Urgh.

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States of America should have come as more of a surprise than it did.  Not only were the polls trending heavily against him, he was a monstrously awful campaigner by the standards of a normal campaign.  I think we forget, in the rest of the world, just how abysmally racist America can be.  It’s a paranoid, insular place with some of the most appalling wealth disparity in the world and a terrifying tendency to glorify in its worst aspects.  Even more than Britain it refuses to look elsewhere for inspiration, when it seeks inspiration it looks only to its own past.  Now, finally, its rapacious worship of the dollar, its cult of celebrity and its bigotry has reached its culmination; a man who has praised internment camps, admitted to sexual assault and expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin.  If you are a left wing person still somehow under the impression that being enamoured of Putin is no bad thing then you need to read about Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Nemtsov and the invasion of Ukraine.

He will be a disaster and he can’t bring back the world the people who voted for him want.  It’s gone.  Yes he’s a dangerous fascist and he should be treated as the pariah he deserves to be but for the next four years he’s going to be POTUS.  Gods help us all.  So much has been said about him that I feel anything I add here might be redundant.

So what’s to be done in 2017?  It’s probably going to be worse than 2016, if only because Trump will actually take office and get to work dismantling the rights people in the USA have fought so hard for.  Nationalism is an empty, vile creed that wins because it is the creed of selfishness, it is Adam Smith’s vile maxim; ‘all for me, and nothing for anybody else.’  There’s more to it than that, obviously, but I have neither the space nor the inclination to go into it here.  It will have to suffice to say that internationalism represents the hope of humanity at this point, that closing the blinds and pretending that the world ends at the borders of your nation-state is not a healthy or good way to govern the world.  We’re going to need to fight for this, but we’re also going to need to examine our own failings.  The rate of homelessness has soared in the last few years, the use of food banks has become commonplace, a contempt for the poor has become the watchword of all of our political classes across the whole spectrum of ideology, and the poor are being seduced by the filth who will not help them but will use them as a stepping stone to power.

In the meantime, and more urgently, we will need to stand up against the casual cruelty of this blinkered, nostalgia-led fascism.  From Farage, to Trump, to Putin, to Le Pen, the hope of the world is under threat.  They are the past, shuddering through a final, convulsive last gasp, we’ll all have to be ready to resist them and repair the damage they do.

In Praise of Nero.

nero
According to almost all images of the man he did not have the most conventionally attractive chin.  Also sometimes a neckbeard.

It was Nero’s 1,979th birthday yesterday and I think it’s probably time to look at him again.  Among the general public he is generally regarded as a lunatic who burned Christians to death and fiddled while his city burned.  Among historians he is generally regarded as a slightly fey fop who was in far over his head and lost his mind when he began to understand the sheer scope of his power.

To my mind both of these views are insufficient.

Picture a man who knows himself to be a God.  He is not big headed or arrogant as such, he is a God.  He is a God, a descendent of Gods and he carries on the work of his ancestor Gods.  And yet, despite this knowledge of his own divinity, he is most fond of some of the most despised people in his dominion.

Nero loved acting, poetry and singing.  According to Seutonius ‘he often appeared in public in a dining-robe, with a handkerchief bound about his neck’ and he never wore the same garment twice.  He loved theatre above all, it was his abiding passion.  He was, let’s face it, a cravat wearing 19th century fop born a couple of millennia too early.

Which is why it is perhaps stunning that, in the early part of his reign, he was reasonably well regarded by the masses of the roman people.  Not the aristocracy, of course, they thought he was a disgrace.  And when he took to the stage to pursue his dream of being an actor the aristocracy regarded it as a dreadful, undignified scandal.  He performed his poetry to the public, he sang and played his lute for them, and though they had no option but to do so there’s no real evidence to suggest their applause weren’t genuine.

Then, before the horrors of his later life when ultimate power would consume him utterly, Rome burned.  Nobody knows the cause, though it was most probably arson and could very possibly have been arson by Christian terrorists.  Later it would be said that he cackled, that the scandalous lover of music watched Rome burn and did nothing but play his fiddle, but contemporary accounts tell a different story.

He opened his private estates to refugees.  He did his best to prevent looting.  He began a huge program of public works to rebuild and to employ the thousands upon thousands who had lost everything in nine days of inferno.

But his vision stretched further than that.

Nero was never a man to think small.  He saw an opportunity to remake the eternal city before him.  Instead of cramped alleys and impenetrable mazes there would be plazas, and statues, and wide avenues.  His would be a Rome of art and high culture, not stern and stoic functionality.  He would rebuild the empire to suit his vision, it would be an empire of staggering beauty and soaring art.  No longer would actors be viewed as the scum of the earth, no longer would poetry be the domain of the young and empty headed, Rome would reshape the world to be elegant, inspiring and majestic.

It didn’t work, of course.  The cost of such an operation would have been incomprehensibly massive.  The world turned, Nero began to resent his failures and from there on his reign is a cascade of increasing horror.  Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, being a good man is incompatible with being a God.

But imagine for a moment that it had worked.  Picture it; the civilisation that lies at the foundation of all of western culture turned primarily to the creation of beauty.  What could have come of that?  What sort of a world would we live in?  It may well have been worse, of course, but think of the possibilities of a world founded and grounded in the philosophy of the aesthete.

Nero failed, but his vision as he stood and gazed at the ashes of the greatest city in the world is one that would have swept me away.  I would have loved him for that romanticism, for that glory.  Perhaps loved him enough to follow him as he marched into hell.

Salve, Imperator.

  With thanks to LJ Trafford for drawing my attention to the Suetonius quote on Twitter and to Tom Holland for the excellent narrative biography of his life in his book ‘Dynasty.’

International Men’s Day

samaritansrightnumber     It’s International Men’s Day so, in that spirit, it’s time to talk about some men’s issues. Not the turgid crap MRA’s or Meninist twerps bang on about, which is always, *always*, the lack of availability of sex, but actual men’s issues. You know, the ones that the above groups never bother actually talking about.
    Depression, for instance. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 45. We’re bad at opening up, at sharing our feelings with each other. There is a cultural problem, especially in Britain, with dealing with men’s mental health. Among other men we’re hard wired to feel embarrassed if anyone begins to speak about their difficulties. If there is a man in your life who’s having a hard time or who has been a bit withdrawn, try speaking to him. Ask if he’s okay. Ask what’s up. Discuss it over a coffee or a beer, encourage him to open up in a safe environment where he will not be judged.
    Secondly, and this is the one that’s probably easier to deal with, men are much more likely to die of preventable diseases than women. The reasons for this are, again, cultural. There is still a cultural pressure to ‘tough out’ illnesses or minor health complaints rather than attempt to go to a doctor. Men need to be much more willing to get health complaints dealt with because that strange lump or that recurring headache might develop into something much, much more serious. This is a hard barrier to break, mostly because it’s self inflicted, but it *can* be broken. If you have some niggling health issue that simply won’t go away then make a doctor’s appointment on Monday and be prepared to talk about it.
    Thirdly; violence. It doesn’t take a philosopher to figure out that violence is undesirable and should be avoided if at all possible. It also doesn’t take a demographer to figure out that men are more likely to be victims of it than women (though the figures are out there and they’re deeply depressing). I don’t need to say it but I will; don’t indulge in violence. Men are better than that.
    Finally, chauvinism. Chauvinism does not empower men, it never has. It unquestionably has worse social effects on women but it also reduces men to brutes who cannot control their urges. I, for one, reject the chauvinist view that I am a violent rapist in waiting. I, like all men, am more than capable of reason and sound judgement, of controlling my body. I am also capable of drawing a distinction between a woman who wishes to have a conversation and a woman who wants to sleep with me.
    There are men’s issues and they are both real and urgent. We have to remember what they are and not slide into an insipid, reductive view of masculinity. If there’s a man in your life that you appreciate then let him know, if you are a man then try to remember that privilege comes with both a cost and a responsibility. You owe your brothers the support and solidarity that seems so often to come so naturally to women, and you owe it to yourself to be the best man you can be.