Sunday, 3 August 2008

Right-Blog; idiocy writ large

The right often shouts out that it dominates the blogosphere and has won all the arguements. This, however, is just shouting as the right has achieved no such thing. Indeed the reverse is the case as the right has simply and utterly retreated from argument and has become discursivly sterile.
The right seems to have decided that as long as it shouts loudly enough no one will notice that it's only talking to itself. The result is that the right-blogosphere has become a space almost seperate from the rest of the Internet/www (almost in the fashion of the successionists found in Gibson's Bridge cycle) giving the impression to the members of this social space that there are no competing voices and that indeed they have swept the field. The victory is, however, an illusion.

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Friday, 1 August 2008

Troubled Traveller

Greg Hands, the Conservative MP for Hammersmith and Fulham, has initiated a classic silly season storm in a tea cup by attacking the historical information sections of guide books for their left-wing bias in a post on a tory blog. The post is classic right-blog nonsense whose principle purpose is to attack the BBC (a key target of Tory hate from the Thatcher years because its a state rather than private institution and therefore ideologically unspeakable and because it occasionally reported news) as a supporter of Islamism. The route to this remarkable accusation is nonsensical and so we wont let it detain us (the guide book says something, Greg disagrees and therefore, even though the two propositions are not mutually exclusive, the BBC is a supporter of islamism...); there is after all something altogether more interesting in the text.
History, the study of the human past, is a hugely contested field of human action because the past is so crucial to us. Our identity is forged in and connected to our understanding of the past and so control over the past - over how history is carried out - is control over people. This has been a truism since at least 1948 but historical and historiographical work since then has clearly shown this. Hobsbawn and Ranger's The Invention of Tradition is a key text in this historiographical tradition and works such as Anderson's Imagined Communities, Mann's The Dark Side of Democracy, the fascinating pairing of Said's Orientalism and Cannadine's Ornamentalism (which really must be read together in order to see how Cannadine has used Said's ideas and responded to and reworked them), and Lowenthal's The Past is a Foreign Country, Ferro's The Use and Abuse of History, amongst others, have tried to get to grips with the past's power over the people of the present, to understand it and to show people how that power works.
However, all of this is inimical to the right's programme for the past. Following the lead of Leo Strauss and Maurice Cowling the political right turned its back on history and sought an alternative use of the past; for them the past was a propaganda tool and nothing else. Strauss articulated this propaganda use of history most clearly through his emphasis on the 'noble lie' that his studies of Plato had led him to (Cowlings acolytes tend to express their support for this programme through the, more coded, privileging of the works of von Treitschke). The key to the project is that people not understand the role of the past in the present and the role of social power in the construction of the history that communicates that past to the people of the present.
This rejection of history as attempt to understand the past finds its ultimate expression in the right's retreat into speculative fiction (they describe it as 'counter-factual history' but it is alternative past fiction in the mode of Philip K Dick, Robert Harris, and Ward Moore) which even though it suffers from a series of logical failures, is restrictive in what it can represent and fails to develop or expand understanding of the past in any way has come to be championed by the 'historians' engaged in this propaganda project. Although given the purposes of their project this is to be expected.
There is another reason for the right's rejection of history and lies in modern history's heretical embrace of social studies of various kinds. Sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, literary theory, feminist & queer theory, social and discursive psychology, post-colonialism and (gasp!) post-modernism have all been embraced by history to assist it in the study of the past over the past five decades. This is heretical because all of these discipline (and now of course history) believe that their is such a thing as society and that social action by humans ought to be the focus of study. This is the ultimate heretical act for the contemporary right and by taking this terrible course history has condemned itself and is deserving of contemptuous dismissal.This is why modern right 'history' is so naive, anti-intellectual and ineffective. The proof of which can be seen Mr Hands' own post. There is nothing in the post that is anything other than rhetoric, discourse and representation; he provides a (necessarily) subjective interpretation of some historical interpretations and then condemns interpretation. Hands isolates (but gives no page reference for) the following,
The brand new Lonely Planet guide to the USA (5th ed, 2008) tells us that "Roosevelt did much to ameliorate the pain of the Great Depression"
aside from a reflexive hatred of Democrat presidents on the part of Tories it is very hard to see why the quoted statement is indicative of left-wing bias; its just an interpretation of the past and a very uncontroversial one at that.
The very use of the terms 'facts', 'bias'' and objective' by Greg Hands suggests a deliberately old fashioned uber-conservative and extremely infantile approach to history on the part of the honourable member. A-level syllabuses have rejected such terms and the approach they indicate since the mid-1980's and university level historical education had been moving away from this nonsense since the early 1970's at the latest. Hands rejects history and historical understanding in the very act of shouting his seeming defence of them.
Finally, Hands finishes with an attempt at sarcasm that falls flat because he fails to recognise that Fox News already publishes books because it is a part of News Corp and thus a sibling to Zondervan the US christian publishers and, of course, HarperCollins. So if NewsCorp wanted a print outlet for for the Fox News form of 'truth' it could easily have it. Of course it might be easier to use one of the newspapers they own - I think The Times has a travel section on both days of the weekend.


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