Free Life 18, May 1993, Editorial Jottings, by Sean Gabb

From Free Life, Issue 18, May 1993
ISSN: 0260 5112

Editorial Jottings
by Sean Gabb

One

I have before me a copy of The Guardian dated the 18th March 1993. Its tabloid section contains an article by Richard Neville, an Australian journalist. He complains about the portrayal of sex and violence in the media, and blames it for the allegedly recent increase in violent offences. He takes particular exception to Madonna, the popular singer and entertainer –

in leather, a knife to her throat, a whip to her bum, a chain on her wrist and pee on her lipstick. With a mega-corp behind her, Time-Warner, a new generation grows up to believe that pleasure without pain is like sex without orgasm. Watching the doctrines of de Sade percolate into the mainstream, threatening to become compulsory, one wonders what took the Law Lords so long to decide that enough is enough.

This last, I presume, refers to the unhappy case of R v Brown, reviewed elsewhere in this issue. He takes further exception to Peter Greenaway's film The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, saying that he left the cinema before it finished "appalled and nauseated". People like me, who thoroughly enjoyed the film, are dismissed as "in trouble".

None of this, I should say, is exceptional in itself. Mr Neville is not alone is his want of taste and good humour. Indeed, the newspapers are filled with nipple-counting prudery that often makes no pretence whatever to critical analysis. I draw attention to the article simply because its author is a former editor of the magazine Oz.

Many of my readers, I imagine, are too young to remember what controversy Mr Neville raised twenty years ago, when he and his colleagues stood trial for obscenity and conspiracy to corrupt public morals. The indictment for this latter charge describes Number 28 of Oz, School Kids Issue as

a magazine containing divers obscene, lewd, indecent and sexually perverted articles, cartoons, drawings and illustrations with intent thereby to debauch and corrupt the morals of children and young persons within the Realm.

Mr Neville spends much of his present article stressing the differences between himself and Madonna – between his own innocent idealism and the sordid motives of today. He claims that "[t]he most violent image in Schoolkids Oz was of a wanking teacher wielding the cane". This is not wholly true. He seems to forget the cartoon of the naked girl, a rat's tail protruding from her vagina. Nor does he describe the non-violent contents of the School Kids Issue which gave so much offence at the time – and which would almost certainly offend him now were someone else to publish them. There is, for example, the cartoon strip in which children dressed in school uniforms take part in various sexual activities. There is the cartoon drawing of the little girl performing fellatio. There is the classified advertisement for "teenage male models".

Those of my readers who wish to know more I would refer to the judgment in the Oz editors' appeal against conviction – R v Anderson (1971), 3 All England Reports, p. 1152.

Here, then, is someone who spent his youth glorying in sexual freedom, and is spending his middle years denouncing it. He does so moreover without full confession or repentance. He still seems rather glad that the Court of Appeal stopped his deportation from this country for a very public – and, so far as I recall, successful – encouragement of child sexuality. He certainly thinks it wonderful that several grown men have been left to rot in prison for beating each other up in private and with consent.

Of course, Mr Neville is no longer young, and there is a tendency for people to become more conservative as they grow older and get married and have children. I may myself have managed these first two without significant change of heart, but I ought perhaps to wait until I have managed the third or done more of the first before I give unambiguous expression to the contempt in which I hold Mr Neville and the whole tribe of his Guardian-reading, ecological, born-again puritanical contemporaries.

On the other hand, perhaps I ought not to wait. For this conversion is not purely an effect of advancing years. Certainly, Mr Neville has grown wiser with age, and this causes him obvious embarrassment when he looks back on his doings of twenty years ago. But the realisation that he was a fool then, and that his lifestyle recommendations ranged between the fatuous and the self-destructive, does not automatically compel him, or any of his contemporaries that have come to the same realisation, to join hands with Mrs Whitehouse. If he does join hands with her, it is because age has only brought him caution, not the ability to think. He is no more able now than in the past to speculate on what actually is implied by liberation.

Now, this is an attractive and often a noble ideal of happiness reached through self-actualisation. Its limited hold over our public mind between about 1955 and 1980 produced many valuable reforms. For the first time, ordinary people were allowed proper access to the means of regulating their fertility. A partial lifting of the obscenity laws allowed them to explore the full possibilities of sexual love. At the same time, the persecution of homosexuals was much abated.

I have no sympathy with those such as Lord Tebbit, who cry out against all the results of this brief and partial ascendency. They are right, even so, in blaming it for many of our current problems. For what was advocated – especially by Mr Neville and his set – and what we often were given, was liberation without any understanding of cost.

Whatever people want to do with themselves, they should – the usual third party limitations always applying – be left to do. They should be able to take drugs, or join strange religions, or have any sex they find agreeable. This goes without saying. But it is still true that most deviations from an established morality are for the bad. Drugs can be interesting or useful things to try. But we all must know or know about heavy cannabis smokers, almost comatose after an indulgence of thirty years. Again, sex is very enjoyable; but, unregulated by some form of stable relationship, it is depressingly often a cause of ruined or shortened lives – nor is the ruin confined to a single generation, as the correlation between illegitimacy and membership of the underclass makes clear

There is a world of difference between arguing for the right to do certain things and arguing that they should be done – and still more difference between that and adding a reckless denial of any adverse costs. Yet this, as I understand it, was the Oz ideal. Mr Neville seems really to have believed in a utopia where we could spend all day and every day smoking dope and fellating each other, with never a chancre or a lost brain cell to show for it all.

No wonder he is now disappointed. No wonder he still cannot see where he went wrong.

Two

When I was last in Bratislava, I fell into conversation with an English estate agent who had come over to see if there was any money to be made. Having rather good connections there, I was able to tell him about several restituted buildings currently on the market. The best of these – a fine, old urban palace in Hviezdoslav Square – I actually showed him round.

He took a rather languid interest in the place, noting down details of how large and well-preserved the rooms were, of the view over the Danube from the top floor, of its proximity to St Stephen's Cathedral where Maria Theresa was crowned Queen of Hungary in 1741, of the unrestricted parking, of how close was Bratislava to Vienna – three quarters of an hour by car, or 20 minutes by river express.

Finally, he wanted the price. The owner was asking £1.8 million, I answered. He played with his pocket calculator, and shook his head. At the average Bratislavan office rental of £5 per square foot, this represented a capital price of 25 years' purchase, or a return of four per cent. I replied that this building was worth somewhat more than £5 per square foot to the right foreign company, and that the owner might come down for a fast completion in hard currency.

Still he shook his head. This was just movement at the margin, he said. His bosses in London were looking for best location properties in Eastern Europe for nothing over three years' purchase. Only on those terms, he explained, was it worth all the risk of local political and economic instability. He wondered at the stupidity of these Slovaks, so willing to ask the earth for their properties, knowing full well that no Westerner with half a brain in his head would pay an eighth of the asking prices.

I tried to point out over coffee that, with a city just 50 miles from Vienna, capital valuations based on years' purchase made no sense. The real determinant was the discount on anticipated capital gains between now and the end of the century. In my eagerness, I even coined the verb "to Croydonise".

Still nothing. He grumbled at the waiter's inability to speak English and asked if I had not wasted my time in learning Slovak. Out of politeness, I helped him to a taxi back to the Hotel Forum. I made sure never to see him again.

Last week, I learned that the building went – after frantic bidding between two German buyers – for £5.7 million.

This is not an isolated case. Time and again, my Slovak friends have told me similar stories. They want to do business with British companies. Their Government is encouraging them – fearing that, unbalanced, the current flood of German investment will bring adverse political consequences. The British, though, are perceived increasingly as just hopeless at even recognising opportunities, let alone seizing them.

It may, of course, be that my estate agent was acting very sensibly. Perhaps property and other prices in the western provinces of the former Soviet Empire are overblown, and it is a good idea to sit the bubble out. For myself, I doubt this. I should be far more surprised if the superior glances he threw me whenever he looked up from his pocket calculator indicated more than the most utter vacuity.

Our entire commerce has long since been monopolised by accountants posing as entrepreneurs. Appointed to run every large enterprise by their fellow accountants who run the financial institutions that our tax laws encourage to own the large enterprises in this country, their highest aim is to turn a nice, safe profit – and never mind how low it may be, or what real opportunities are overlooked in the process. Therefore, the main destination of our overseas investment remains the United States, where it gathers an average return of four fifths of one per cent. Therefore, billions have been sunk in property deals in Southern England, where returns are for the third year negative; and geniuses such as Sir Clive Sinclair – who ranks with Boulton and Watt and the great inventors who enabled the Industrial Revolution – are marginalised as cranks.

Every so often someone writes a newspaper article asking if the spirit of enterprise is dead in England. This is a fatuous question, since wherever 56 million people are to be found there will certainly be a natural desire for self-improvement and innovation. The real question is how long it must before we all see through the frauds whose occupying every avenue along which the spirit of enterprise must flow has entirely reduced our business class to an international laughing stock.

Three

There is, I am told, a Jamaican singer called Shabba Ranks who dislikes homosexuals. I have yet to hear any of his music, but I understand it to enjoy a certain popularity among the lower classes.

I might never have heard of Mr Ranks or his sexual preferences except for two circumstances. First, he was reprimanded in March by the Broadcasting Standards Council for having gone on television to call for homosexuals to be "crucified". He had apparently quoted the text of Leviticus 18:11 (Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination) in defence of a song – performed by someone else – containing the words

Gay come near me and his skin must peel
Burn him up like an old tyre wheel

Second, his appearing on the BBC Television programme Top of the Pops has been condemned by Peter Tatchell of the homosexual rights organisation Outrage. His appearance there, said Mr Tatchell the day before, would give him "credibility and influence" (Evening Standard, 17th March 1993): therefore, it ought to be prevented. When the BBC ignored this, a further demand was issued for a grovelling apology to Outrage, to be read on the next Top of the Pops.

I have a photograph of Mr Ranks, naked to the waist, hairless and oiled. Looking at this, I find little reason to like him. Anyone who dislikes homosexuals as a group enough to want them dead is, in my view, unpleasant. Anyone who then allows himself to be photographed to look like a model from a homosexual magazine adds at least unfairness to unpleasantness.

Even so, I find no good reason whatever for Mr Tatchell or anyone else to try preventing his appearance on television. Certainly, the BBC is a public corporation, and so – wholly unlike the private media – ought not to give gratuitous offence to any of those who are compelled to fund it. On the other hand, Mr Ranks is popular, and Top of the Pops does have a customary obligation to play whatever music is currently popular. A BBC spokesman replying to Mr Tatchell pointed out that the song played contained no hint of incitement to violence against homosexuals.

The spokesman might also have reminded Mr Tatchell how every musician whose works the BBC has refused to play – Messrs Rotten and Vicious et al – has at once become immensely popular.

But none of this really addresses the issue. Mr Tatchell makes no distinction between public and private bodies in his regular complaints. He is demanding not regard for the respectable Licence-payer, but censorship of views with which he disagrees. This is emphasised by the utterance against the record companies of Graham Knight, one of his colleagues:

People should not be allowed to make money out of these records (The Sunday Telegraph, 18th April 1993).

Now, I could go on at some length here, setting out the arguments for freedom of speech, and the toleration of all views, no matter how repugnant or how mistaken. It is perhaps a better use of column inches, however, to remind my readers that Messrs Tatchell and Knight are currently working to end the legal persecution of homosexuals and homosexual acts, and are making full use in their campaign of all the usual liberal arguments. I can scarcely believe that in a month that began with the House of Lords judgment in R v Brown, and ended with the publication of an American survey that gives us good reason to believe that homosexual numbers – and therefore votes – are about a tenth of the conventionally-accepted figure, these (albeit self- proclaimed) leaders of a despised and threatened minority can be demanding the legal suppression of their opponents.

What an astonishing folly they display! Their words should be disavowed by any homosexual who respects intellectual consistency or understands how and by whom power, once granted, is generally used.

Four

I am informed by Chris Tame, my Proprietor (Peace be upon Him), that the feminist magazine Spare Rib has closed. This will, I am sure, have caused great consternation among the man-hating black racists who seem – at least from my few glances at the letters page – to have comprised the bulk of its readership towards the end. It may also depress Colonel Gaddafi, now lacking any organ at all in this country willing to take his utterances seriously.

However, it need not depress the readers of our "Dead Liberties" column. For the stopping up of one outlet through which nonsense was poured into the Republic of Letters has been fully compensated by the opening of another. The Revolutionary Conservative is the journal of a group of national socialists whose aim I understand is to infiltrate and take over the Conservative Party. I doubt if this group will succeed in its aims. The Party leadership – and I say this from a long observation of my own faction's attempts at a putsch – is terrified of any idea likely to raise half an eyebrow in the Labour Party. The few Party members who do like to think tend to be Jews or libertarians or both. It will be difficult to persuade any of these that, for example –

man primarily exists for the state, rather than the other way round, a doctrine which appears to be extremely harsh and severe on first reading but is in actuality straight Catholic theology and very close to the truth.

This being said, the group is to be welcomed. On the one hand, its own brand of nonsense makes a refreshing change from the increasingly dreary stuff one finds in The Guardian and other socialist publications. On the other hand, its presence in the Party may throw the leadership into a very blue and enjoyable funk.

Five

I am instructed by Mr Tame (PBUH) to say something in support of the late Rev. David Koresh. My views on the Waco siege are so predictable, however, that I will not argue, but only issue a statement.

If people believe that some wandering preacher from the Bible Belt is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, that is their right and their problem. If they fortify themselves into a lonely building and arm themselves to the teeth in expectation of some Satanic invasion, that is again their right and their problem.

The real question raised by the siege is how long the American people will put up with a Federal Government that so obviously thinks itself above the spirit of the Constitution that it can use military force against civilians whose only crime, so far as anyone can gather, was to make an unusually thorough use of their lawful rights to practise the religion of their choice and to bear arms.

While the siege was incompetently executed, and so led to the loss of many more lives than was anticipated, there is every sign that it was designed as a public relations exercise by the Federal Government, hoping to take advantage of the consequent revulsion against gun-toting religious maniacs to force through a weapons restriction measure that would, by natural extension, reduce the American people to the same state of unarmed docility as the British.

In his ensuring that debate on the siege will turn mainly on the competence of the authorities and the complicity of President Clinton, the Rev. Koresh is therefore to be congratulated – if only posthumously.

Chris – will this do?

© 1993 – 2015, seangabb.

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