blog makeover

James at Nourishing Obscurity has suggested that maybe this blog needs a makeover. I think he’s probably right. So before I adopt a new look that you might all hate I should ask for some input.
First off, do you prefer reading a dark text on a white or near-white background, or something like the present scheme with light text on a dark background?
Is there anything about the present layout of the blog that you really hate?
Is there anything that I should consider adding? Any more widget-thingies?

is freedom for speech for losers?

I’m coming to the conclusion that freedom for speech is for the powerless. It’s for losers. Let me explain.
When traditionalists had actual power they didn’t believe in freedom of speech. They believed in censorship. Now that they have no power at all they’ve developed a hitherto unsuspected passion for free speech. 
Half a century ago the New Left was wildly enthusiastic about freedom of speech – they had not yet consolidated their hold on power. Now that they have almost complete power they’ve discovered they don’t believe in freedom of speech after all.
Freedom of speech is one of those ideas that became fashionable during the so-called Enlightenment. It was popular among sceptics and enemies of religion like Voltaire because at that time such intellectuals were still relatively powerless. Today you’ll hardly find a self-identified intellectual who believes in free speech. If Voltaire were alive today he’d be denouncing freedom of speech.
Like most Enlightenment ideas it’s a mixture of naïvete, hypocrisy, self-delusion and folly.
The truth is that freedom of speech is a strategy you use to undermine the existing power structure. It’s a strategy employed by political factions that do not have power. As soon as such a faction gains power it reverses its position on the subject.
At the moment it makes sense for traditionalists and other dissidents to support free speech but it has to be realised that this strategy is an admission of political impotence.
Politics is about power, not principles.

wallowing in Wagner and loving it

The danger of political blogging is that you can end up focusing just a bit too much on negative stuff. So today I’m going to blog about something that makes me happy. Opera.

I’ve loved opera for years. When I was young I was lucky enough to be able to see productions of the Australian Opera fairly regularly. This was especially fortunate because in those days the Australian Opera productions were extremely traditional in nature. If there’s one thing I despise it’s people who want to “update” opera by staging productions in anachronistic modern settings and forcing the performers into ludicrous modern costumes. 
These days I can’t get to the opera so I have to get my fix by means of DVDs. This obviously doesn’t compare to the sensory feat of attending a live performance but it has its compensations.
My tastes in opera are mostly reasonably eclectic but I do have a particular passion for Wagner. I love his approach to opera. It’s grandiose and bombastic and excessive but I happen to like grandiose and bombastic and excessive. Of course if you’re going to take that approach you need to have the talent and the vision to carry it off, which Wagner had.
Over the course of the past week I’ve been watching the Ring cycle. It’s the Metropolitan Opera’s 1990 production. The Met in those days specialised in productions that were quite traditional in feel. In this case they demonstrated that a traditional staging could be imaginative and visually stunning, and effective.
The Ring has a certain resonance today since our civilisation seems to have well and truly entered the Twilight of the Gods stage. The sense of impending doom and inescapable tragedy do cut a bit close to the bone. But I wasn’t going to talk about politics.
Anyway I’ve been having a great time immersing myself in Wagner. I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea but for me it’s been bliss.

the lie of binary oppositions

Binary oppositions are an often overlooked factor in the problems afflicting the western world these days. They’re also one of the more subtle ways in which the elites keep us in control. As long as we keep thinking in terms of binary oppositions we don’t realise that we actually have more choices.
Left/right, Republican/Democrat, Labour/Conservative, climate change true believer/climate change sceptic – these are the more obvious examples but binary thinking tends to creep into just about all ideological debates.
All binary oppositions have the effect of closing off options, and closing off debate. If you suggest that democracy is an unworkable mess you’re shut down by the reply that in that case you must be in favour of totalitarian dictatorships. Apparently those are the only two forms of political organisation that human beings have ever been able to devise. Of course what’s really going on is that your opponent doesn’t want to acknowledge that there are many other types of political system.
You’ll get the same response on the subject of capitalism. You can believe in capitalism or you can believe in socialism. Although there are in fact many other alternatives considering those alternatives would require some thought. It’s much easier to see things in either/or terms.
Whenever the world seems to present a binary opposition, or whenever the media and the politicians try to present something in that light, it’s always worth looking into the matter more deeply. It’s amazing how many choices there actually are.

quotes for the day

My quotes for the day, and I’ve even managed to find a couple that are more or less related.

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.” – Hannah Arendt

and this one.

“Formerly no one was allowed to think freely; now it is permitted, but no one is capable of it any more. Now people want to think only what they are supposed to think, and this they consider freedom.” – Oswald Spengler

making people feel unnecessary

I came across an extremely interesting comment during an online discussion elsewhere yesterday. The gist of it was that the hardest thing for people to cope with is not dealing with disasters, but being made to feel not necessary. And that modern western society is remarkably good at making people feel unnecessary.
I’m inclined to agree.

have we really become more conformist?

In a recent post I mentioned the natural human tendency towards conformity. The important question is – have we really become more conformist? It certainly seems that way.
Of course it has to be noted that in the political sphere conformity is more rigidly enforced than ever before. But what about other areas of life? Are we more conformist when it comes to tastes in fashion, popular culture or intellectual pursuits.
Like many other people I once believed (in my innocence) that the internet would make people less conformist. After all if you have some kind of obscure interest (and I have quite a few) the internet makes it possible to find other people who share that interest. I assumed that this would lead to a blossoming of interest in all kinds of esoteric subjects. This has happened to a limited degree, but what has surprised me is the incredibly tiny scale on which this has occurred. It’s even possible that the internet has actually made things worse. Before the internet people with unusual interests were highly motivated to find others of similar tastes. When I was young I had very obscure tastes in music but somehow I managed to connect with people who liked the same completely unknown bands that I liked.
Of course no-one twenty years ago expected the internet to end up being dominated by a handful of mega-corporations, in exactly the same way that the media/entertainment industries are dominated by a few gigantic corporations.
One of the depressing features of the internet age, for me, has been the decline of old-fashioned hobbies. It seems that for most people today leisure activities are entirely restricted to things you can do on a mobile phone.
I have no idea if anyone has done any actual research on this subject. My totally subjective view is that we really have become more conformist in almost every area of life but perhaps I’m wrong?