Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 08/09/16

The Last Refuge

As the entire planet seems to be in retrograde motion, with the forces of reaction in full cry and those of progressive bent either paralysed by doubt and fear or busy fighting each other like rats in a sack, it may be time to amend Samuel Johnson's famous remark to read:

"Enforced patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."

Remember how we were all encouraged to jeer and snigger at those huge military parades in Red Square during the Soviet years? Or how we are still enjoined to view with contempt the manufactured assemblages in Pyongyang (though not in Beijing, because that wouldn't be nice to a country which, if it doesn't own us now, will do before very long)?

And yet, in the same way as - to the Westminster/Whitehall/City Establishment - all Nationalisms are Bad Things except for British Unionist Nationalism, which isn't Nationalism at all, oh deary me, no; then not very dissimilar manifestations in our own country are presented to us without the slightest sense of bashfulness as - yes - patriotic. The ordurious torrent of rah-rah - varying from the risible to the sinister - which is thrown at us from all official directions has been different only in its comparative subtlety, at least up until now. The forces unleashed by the totally needless machine-gun-to-the-foot which was the EU membership referendum have been given full and largely uncondemned rein, be they the emergence into full view of the British (or, rather, mostly English) racism and hatred of 'The Other' which previously all bar the most wilful had managed to keep hidden beneath a veneer of gentility for about forty years; or the vaunting arrogance of believing that the whole of the rest of the world will soon be falling over itself to beg 'us' to accept hugely favourable trade deals on the grounds that the British are innately superior to all those foreign Johnnies, and they know it too, dont'cha know?

'We' (that's the official 'we'; nothing to do with real people at all) are of course merely taking 'our' cue from the country which is the very polestar of such concepts, namely the Uninterred States of Amnesia. There, ever since the catastrophic failure of progressives from the early 70s onwards to stem the counter-revolution which the Right had been plotting for years, the elevation of The Anthem (written by an avowed racist), The Flag (made in Guangzhou) and Our Fighting Men And Women (by arrangement with Lockheed Martin) to a complex of fetishes has been a central part of the national psyche since before even the high sewage mark of Senator McCarthy.

This, incestuously coupled with a wilful - nay, gleeful - ignorance based on a combination of deliberately-fostered anti-intellectualism (who needs those tarnation 'experts', eh Donald?) and equally officially-sanctioned fearmongering and bogeyman-raising (because a population rendered fearful and discouraged from any attempt at critical thinking is a population which is easy for those with the power to do so to manipulate for their own ends) has caused the consumer-citizens of the US to abandon the very founding principles of their nation and the liberties enshrined in the Constitution and Bill Of Rights.

So it is that anyone who dares to make a stand, a gesture on the side of Reason or conscience - however small, however peaceful - faces the wrath of that substantial proportion of the populace who cannot, of course, be described as 'sheep', if only because the ovine race - in my admittedly limited experience - has yet to resort to burning its perceived enemies in effigy or being snitty about them on Twitter (or even twitty about them on Snitter).

And so we have case after case in state after state of schoolchildren being punished even to the point of being dragged out of their chairs or suspended from school altogether because they decline to stand for the daily fetish ritual of The Pledge Of Allegiance. This despite the fact that a large body of case law at all levels of American jurisprudence has established long ago that recitation of The Pledge cannot ever be mandatory.

Then on the, as it were, macro-social scale, we have the recent experience of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who on more than one occasion has refused to stand for The Anthem on the perfectly reasonable grounds that he feels that the supposedly noble sentiments expressed in the lyrics are gruesomely hollow in the experience of many of his fellow citizens.

The response to both of these phenomena has been similar in kind if not in degree. In the case of the children, they often face ostracism and other disadvantages deemed suitable for imposition upon those who are so wilful as to think for themselves and not merely blend with the crowd; in the case of Kaepernick, the reaction (surely le mot juste in this case) has taken the form of the expected outrage in the media (social and unsocial), an outrage confected of three parts self-righteousness to two parts mindless conformity and one part deep-seated fear of 'The Other'. Many of those (including some military veterans who were universally, we were assured, 'disrespected' by Kaepernick's actions) who came to his defence (sorry, defense) often larded their support with as many caveats as you would find in an insurance policy, so that they might as well not have bothered. Everyone else just kept their heads down, not wanting to seem to go against 'the popular will'.

This is not, I'm afraid, likely to change any time soon. Whether the victor in the latest corporate raffle for the White House turns out to be Tribblehead or the woman who might as well go around with a sign round her neck saying, "I will take Goldman Sachs up my ass for cash", the Establishment - there as here - will continue to use the means at their disposal - political, financial, judicial, corporate and media - to discourage and marginalise even the most mildly-expressed manifestations of dissent. And a population made docile and pliant will let them.

With all this in mind, may I refer you to two recent articles? On the subject of the yielding of liberty to the state, this Counterpunch article by John W. Whitehead on The A-Z Of The American Police State; and on the foolishness and danger of 'instilled' patriotism, this piece by humanist author David Niose (with a tip of the wig to Ed Brayton).