Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hybrids has been shortlisted for award

Hybrids has been shortlisted for an award in London. School librarians in Lewisham and their students have chosen it for the second annual Lewisham Book Award.

There are 12 state secondary schools in Lewisham, in south east London. They say that students have already started reading the books, and will be voting for their favourite on the shortlist in February, with the winner to be announced in March. They will need to read all six to be able to vote.

They add: "We also expect many students to write reviews of the books which will be posted on the Lewisham VLE (Virtual Learning Environment)".

The other books on the shortlist are:
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
The Black Tattoo - by Sam Enthoven
The Wave Runners - by Kai Meyer
The Book of Everything - by Guus Kuijer
The Outlaw Varjak Paw - by S.F. Said

"Thank you for writing such a thought-provoking and thrilling book," they conclude.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Whose collective memory is it anyway?

ADS, or attention-deficit syndrome, is the metaphorical disease of the age. Just as junk food creates unfit bodies so junk culture produces unfit minds. By consuming it the current generation lays itself weak for exploitation, its minds open for colonisation by commercial and political interests.

What is required is the cultural equivalent of wholefoods, slow food, organic, fair trade, fresh and local nutrition - but what is this? Where are there examples of mind vitamins, spiritual enzymes, emotional minerals, intellectual roughage - brain nutrition?

It comes to something when the utterances of ex-Stone Roses front man Ian Brown seem to be extreme - reference his new album and the interview in this weekend's Guardian Guide.

Looking back, the most dystopian past visions of the future have turned out to be the most accurate, and the most radical ideas have turned out to be the most necessary.

But the flow of mindless mediocrity and short-termism - both short term thinking and short attention span fostering - which the global capitalist system and its politicians have been foisting on us for the last two decades, has produced a generation that barely seems to understand the meaning of words like 'radical' or 'protest'. The recent climate camp at Heathrow, for instance, was attended by around only 1800.

That's why every generation has to keep questioning. Every generation has to understand the status quo and attack it. If it fails to understand, recognise and attack it will be ruthlessly exploited and its life wasted, sucked dry, spat out at the end as a useless husk full of nothing but regrets.

For example, this is why we have a credit crisis now - millions with a massive millstone of debt round their necks that will take a lifetime of pointless, soul-destroying labour to pay off. They seduce you with baubles, get you into debt and then you're hooked into the system.

Kids, don't get into debt! It's a trap! Don't believe marketing and advertising. It should be banned! Question everything. Believe nothing.

Teach yourselves what they don't expect you to know!
But how?

The problem is that each generation has to learn this for themselves. They have to start afresh. They have to reinvent protest.

But the enemies - mainstream history and the status quo - have an excellent inter-generational memory - a version of history. They fill your head with it at school. They fill your head with it in the media. And they have their own vast, extensive archives. They have honed tactics, resources, laws, etc. etc. They therefore have a massive head start.

As a result, normal conventional protest (Live 8, Live Earth, marching against the Iraq war) doesn't stand a chance. It will always be out-propaganda'd, out-manoevered, or beaten into submission. Hence terrorism - the last resort of the powerless.

Because, it's in the nature of opposition that much of what happens from its point of view is undocumented. Therefore there is little inter-generational memory.

For example, I was involved in the Leveller magazine's successor, Monochrome, in the '80s. This lasted about six years and put out bimonthly issues - 10,000 print run - all free - financed by adverstising and the Leveller Graphics studio, itself set-up to pay off the debts of the Leveller Magazine, the most radical mag of the late '70s (its heyday was the ABC (Aubrey, Berry, Campbell) Official Secrets trial of 1979). Some of the covers of this you can see in 'my pics' on my myspace.

Naturally, both journals took inspiration from the Levellers and Diggers, the seventeenth century's give-the-land-to-the-people revolutionaries.

In the sea of history, Monochrome has disappeared without trace, as no one documented it, not even the book about the '80s counterculture media 'No Way To Run a Railroad'. (The same is true of the excellent Vague magazine, featuring Jamie Read, Jon Savage and Tom Vague.) I have a complete set of Monochromes that one day I must digitise.

Now in the '90s I had a conversation with the manager of that excellent band, the Levellers, and established that although they also took inspiration from the original Levellers, they had never heard of the Leveller Magazine or Monochrome. And this was barely a decade later. No inter-generational memory. No foundations, no learning from experience, no sense of tradition.

Most people haven't a clue about the rich and noble tradition of political protest, radical thinking, extreme art, revolutionaries, riots, strikes, working class movements, emancipation struggles, human rights struggles, and more, that has been going on in this country since the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Where do you go to find out about it?

My dream, then, is for an alternative online and perhaps offline college and library, a wiki-style place where all this stuff can be stored and learnt. A resource, a memory, a constantly self-updating treasury of radical history, culture, ideological, methodological, and strategic weaponry.

Who will be its curators and lecturers, its librarians and chancellors?

As Tony Benn once said, you can't trust what you read in their media; you have to have your own.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Why we fight for freedom

Before I explain why, let me ask you a question: Is satire dead?

I mean, is it possible to have political satire in an age where everything that the satirist can possibly imagine has already been exceeded by somebody somewhere? Our society has become a caricature of the kind of nightmare society writers used to imagine 20, 30 or 40 years ago. We gratefully watch rubbish and consume rubbish while CCTV cameras follow our every move and our every spending habit is tracked remorselessly. Robot police drones police pop concerts. Someone becomes Prime Minister without being elected. We imagine we live in a sensible country while over half of the world regards us as a jingoistic menace.

Surely, political satire is only possible in an age when people care about these things. Instead they laugh at the idea that anyone could care.

Perhaps instead it is possible to satirise the satirist who attempts to write satire -- Armando Iannucci, for example, who has been co-opted as the latest court jester. You can't get away from him these days. Why do the powers that be find him so irresistible? Another Oxbridge darling. He paid somebody to tell him what is really going on inside the Cabinet so he could put it in fictional form and astonish us. He paid someone else to write in the expletives. This is not satire, it is plagiarism. It is bad journalism.

So why should I care? Why do I care? What does it matter if I care? It matters nothing, nada, nihil.

In fact as of last night I have decided and resolved not to care any more -- I am giving up caring. And I am someone who used to care a lot -- after all, I was a Guardian reader (that's a joke). I supported lots of charities. I campaigned extensively on the subject of climate change. I believe completely that in the next 80 years millions of people are going to die as a result. Not to mention thousands of species. As if enough have not been sacrificed already on the altar of so-called progress.

I must have cared in the past -- I bought the Big Issue. I wrote passionate articles about important subjects as if I cared about them. I raised money for poor people in Africa. When friends came to me for advice and help I would do my best to help them. Even people I didn't know very well. People think I know something about computers and ask me to sort out their problems which I almost invariably have done. All of this is now going to stop.

I am no longer going to put my clothes neatly away at night. I am going to leave them in piles. I am not going to religiously clean all the surfaces in the kitchen every day and do three lots of washing-up every two days. I am not going to clean the car ever again. If the houseplants need watering and are about to die, what do I care?

I am not going to judge people -- they can do what the hell they like for all I care.

If I don't care about anybody else, why should they care about me? I don't want them to care about me. If they care about me it means they are watching me, and if they're watching me they are judging me, and if they're judging me I can't do what I like.

Besides, most people, it seems to me, especially politicians and corporate executives, seem to get away with not caring. They just do what they want to do and sod everyone else. I've always been someone who goes out of their way to, for example, pass on a bit of information that I get that I think will be useful to someone I know. I scrupulously recycle and watch my energy usage. No more.

My head has become too full of what other people think ought to be there, and what I think up other people think ought to be there. My time has become too filled with things that I do because I think I ought to do them or because somebody else wants me to. Now I'm going to be like most other people and just do things I want to do. And you know what? I don't care. I don't even care if you care that I don't care.

It's very liberating, not having to care. I feel free -- lighter than air. I am like the people of Iraq -- liberated.

Now I understand why we went to war, in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are supporting freedom, we are fighting for freedom. We are fighting for the freedom not to care, to stop caring. Why should we care that the world is going to pot? Tigers are about to become extinct. People are dying of malaria and beri-beri because pharmaceutical companies can't see a profit in producing a cure. Leprosy is still around. Children and pets are mistreated all over the world. Why should we have the burden of worrying about this?

Well, we don't. We are free of it. We are convinced that it will happen whether we worry about it or care about it or not.

In truth, we are fighting for freedom from the burden of having to care about the consequences of our actions. If these consequences occur on the other side of the world or if they occur in our own backyard it doesn't matter. Like the Catholic faith and belief in God, I am absolved of having to care because I believe in freedom.

Freedom is therefore the only thing worth caring about.

Thank you President Bush and all other previous American presidents for continually reiterating the reason why we have such big armies. No other country values freedom so highly, therefore America must be right.

It follows that it is right not to care. And that anyone who does care is an enemy of freedom.

That's why we fight for freedom.

(And a big Hah! to anyone who thought I was going to say it was because we want the freedom to satirise.)