Thursday, March 18, 2004

Parallel Universe

We had a fascinating time, earlier today, discussing science fiction with someone who read Olaf Stapledon’s neglected classic Last and First Men soon after it was first published, in 1930. We came home to look through the Guardian and soon alighted, as if on a missive from Sedna itself, on this letter from Tony Benn ...
The fact that Benn needs little or no introduction, being a hero to most of the British “left”, a bugbear to much of the British right and one of the few British politicians known outside this country, is in itself an indication of the horrible mess the “left” has got itself into. This is a man who, having actively opposed all practical attempts to restore democracy and human rights in one country with a Muslim plurality (Bosnia-Herzegovina), a nearby province with a large Muslim majority (Kosova), as well as two states with Muslim majorities (Afghanistan and Iraq), has the gall to present himself as a democrat, a campaigner for human rights and a friend to Muslims everywhere. Now he presumes to tell the readers of the Guardian, all too many of whom will lap up his every word, that the Commons majority that voted to liberate Iraq is out of touch with the people because - wait for it - 48 per cent of the British population supported that decision and 41 per cent didn’t. Er ...
Let’s imagine for a moment that in the 1640s the Levellers - whom Benn often prattles about, but almost as often wilfully confuses with the very different group known as the True Levellers, or Diggers - won power in England, suppressed both the royalists and the Puritans, and introduced annual parliaments, elected by some kind of proportional representation. Then fast forward to 2003, and a vote on whether to liberate the people of Iraq or, as Benn and his fans wished, to leave them to suffer indefinitely under Ba’ath rule. In this imaginary Parliament 48 per cent of MPs vote for war, 41 per cent vote against. Would Benn denounce that as “undemocratic”? Of course he would - since he clearly no longer understands what democracy is, or that among its requirements are a willingness and a capacity to fight its enemies.
Of course, none of this would matter if Benn was no more than a retired politician with yet another volume of his diaries to concentrate his failing powers on. In fact, however, Benn is President of the Stop the War Coalition, which, apparently unable to grasp the fact that the war stopped in April last year, is now preparing to march on Saturday 20th to demand the withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq - presumably, given that George Galloway and Tariq Ali are among Benn’s Vice Presidents, in order to allow the Islamofascist and Ba’athist “resistance” to seize power. Just to compound the sense of unreality, members of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, on whose website there appeared the superb argument in favour of socialist morality that we linked to in our previous post, are planning to march with these deluded and dangerous reactionaries.
Who needs science fiction when so many apparently intelligent and doubtless terribly sincere and earnest people talk and act as if they already lived in a parallel universe? Or has the invasion of the body-snatchers already happened?

[BGM: Michael Nyman's BGM for Gattaca ...]

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