Monday, January 11, 2021

From Suez to the Falklands - Part 1

The most intensely creative and culturally explosive era of British popular culture, and therefore Western popular culture, was bounded by a pair of amphibious military operations that had enormous global and domestic political consequences. In fact, the impetus for the dramatic outburst of British pop culture was given by the first of these military adventures, and the most serious blow to its vitality was delivered by the second.

Operation Musketeer was launched on 31st October 1956 by the Anglo-French naval Task Force 345. two days subsequent to an allied Israeli incursion into Egypt across the Sinai Desert. The purpose of this combined land and sea assault was to seize Port Said at the northern end of the canal and its surrounding airfields and military installations, thereby returning the Suez Canal to French and British control following its nationalisation by the Egyptian president, Gabal Abdel Nassar, three months previously. Although sometimes erroneously described as a "military disaster", Musketeer was in purely military terms an almost clinically successful operation that proceeded like clockwork, a product not only of the accumulated experience of the British, French and Israeli forces, but also of the comparative weakness of the Egyptian army. However, it would be the diplomatic context within which Musketeer was launched that would prove its undoing.

The build up to Suez from the British perspective was characterised by two factors that the Conservative government of Anthony Eden considered vital to its eventual success. The first was to garner approval for its execution from the newly dominant Western power, the United States of America, and the second was to convince a deeply sceptical British public of its necessity. The possibility of a misunderstanding on all sides was intensified by the byzantine complexities of the local situation, and the extraordinary dexterity of Nassar in bluffing and manipulating the multifarious forces involved. These included the intense rivalry between the various Arab states to achieve regional dominance, the increasingly nationalistic demands of the local Arab populations, and the apparent expansionist aims of the newly created Jewish state of Israel. External to these factors were the desire of the former imperial powers to retain their influence, the strategy of the Soviets to increase their influence in the region, and the resulting fear on the part of the Americans of it falling under communist influence, or even succumbing to Soviet occupation.

The latter factor was the most critical to Anglo-French intentions, as it meant that the Americans were more interested in anchoring the Egyptians within the pro-Western sphere of the developing Cold War against the Soviet bloc than they were in shoring up the colonial interests of the British and French. A series of diplomatic initiatives were therefore instigated in which the major national users of the canal convened to discuss whether the canal could be placed under international control rather than be subject to continued Egyptian sovereignty. Neither Britain nor France took these discussions particularly seriously and began planning for an intervention in earnest, these being joined by Israel, who had become alarmed by the build up of the Egyptian army with weapons supplied by the Warsw Pact. In discussions with the US President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Harold MacMillan, had somehow managed to misinterpret Eisenhower's clear indication that the Americans would oppose any attempt to seize the canal by force, with both MacMillan and Eden convincing themselves that they would come round to an Anglo-French intervention if it were delivered as a fait accompli.

The domestic opposition to any military intervention was also being drastically underestimated, with public opinion being distinctly charry, and much influential opinion, especially within the Labour Party, being distinctly hostile. The outbreak of hostilities would see a flurry of denunciations being submitted to influential periodicals, and anti-war protests erupt nationwide. Indeed, a demonstration at Trafalgar Square, featuring a scalding condemnation delivered by the Labour parliamentarian Aneurin Bevan, would even lead to an attempt to storm 10 Downing Street. However, the unprecedented intensity of the domestic objections paled against those of the Americans, who prevented the British Government, whose monetary reserves were quickly depleting, from receiving assistance from the International Monetary Fund, while threatening to sell the US Government's sterling bond holdings. Succumbing to the pressure, Anthony Eden duly announced a ceasefire on the 6th November, without having consulting his French and Israeli allies. The British and French forces, despite having come close to securing the entire canal, would consequently withdraw over the following month in favour of a United Nations peacekeeping force, with the Egyptian ownership of the canal now being firmly secured. The common wisdom of the era would subsequently declare that Operation Muskateer had been an anachronism, a peerless example of a pair of unreformed colonial powers throwing their weight around in ignorance of their own diminished stature.

But was this correct? In hindsight, the Suez affair was a very curious one with particular regard to the British contribution. Despite providing the bulk of the forces for the operation, especially the naval elements, Britain proved to be the weakest willed of all the protagonists. Both the French and the Israelis were prepared to sit out the international pressure, and indeed the French, who were far more clear sighted about the likely response of the Americans, had previously secured international credit lines especially to resist the expected US financial pressure. If Operation Musketeer was essentially a gamble, a bluff to retain international status and prestige, the British ruling class had been suspiciously quick to fold. Whereas the French, disillusioned with the unanticipated timidity of their British allies, would turn away from the USA and invest in their Continental project, the European Economic Community, the British would submissively draw themselves further into the American orbit. There is a sense that the failure at Suez was actually something of a relief for a tired and weary British ruling class; that they were at last relieved of the burden of responsibility that came with global hegemony; that Muskateer had been, in fact, an organised collapse, a set up from the start. It should be not be forgotten, though, that this ruling class psychodrama had resulted in the death of several thousand Egyptians, most of them civilians.

As well as the loss of status on the international stage, what would come to be called the Suez Crisis had also led to a loss of domestic prestige for Britain's rulers, and this was the essential first condition for the outbreak of popular culture. It began the end of the culture of deference that had exerted an iron grip on British life, in which the low-born genuflected to the high, and the young respected their elders. The emergence of the adolescent, the teenager as a cultural phenomenon, was dependant both on the failure of the old order at Suez, and the simultaneous arrival of a new one from across the Atlantic in the form of Rock'n'Roll. As well as being the year of Operation Musketeer, 1956 was also the year when Rock'n'Roll music first began to penetrate the British pop charts. A distinct youth subculture had been emerging from the beginning of the decade with the Teddy Boys, urban youths dressed in Edwardian-style suits that had originally been produced to appeal to demobbed servicemen, and the first tremors of the energetic new American music had hit Britain in 1955 with the film The Blackboard Jungle and its hit song by Bill Haley and the Comets, Rock Around The Clock. This record is generally agreed to have fired the starting gun on the true post-war pop culture, and by the following year, the year of Suez, Elvis Presley and Little Richard had had their first top ten hits. The frenzy intensified during 1957 with the appearance of Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis, the latter in particular incinerating what remained of the traditional values of duty and restraint.

Instead of looking up to a ruling class that appeared increasingly bereft in the world, British teenagers were looking towards their peers, especially those from the emerging superpower. And this revealed what would become the critical dynamic of British youth culture; that the more the ruling class struggled and the further their authority waned, then the more vital and vibrant popular culture became. This was a symbiotic relationship, and it did not take long for the avatars of the new popular culture to realise that they had a vested interest in further weakening the dwindling authority of what would become known as the establishment. Ironically enough, the ruling class were at least partially invested in this process themselves, so eager were many of them to divest themselves of their remaining inhibitions and responsibilities. Indeed, the culturial revolutionaries would increasingly find themselves pushing against an open door, especially when the Profumo affair revealed the deep moral rot at the heart of the ruling class. If the Suez Crisis had revealed an elite that seemed to have lost its touch in international relations, this latest scandal, in which a senior government minister was found to be sharing a mistress with a suspected Soviet spy, demonstrated that they had also lost any authority to lecture the lower orders on their sexual behaviour. Needless to say, this was to be a liberation for all concerned,

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Putting the Geist in Zeitgeist

In occult theory, an egregore is a collective soul that is formed from the individual souls that comprise any particular collective. As such, egregores can be made from anything from a handful of souls, such as in a pop group, to tens of thousands of souls with regard to major business corporations, and even to millions of souls in the case of nations. Exanples of notably powerful egregores include The Rolling Stones, the Provisional IRA, Ferrari SpA, Mossad, Liverpool Football Club, the Chinese Communist Party, the National Health Service and Google. If you hold any of these entities in your thoughts for a moment or two, the frisson you feel as you consider them is your reaction to their egregore. This can be a fleeting feeling of dread, or danger, or awe, or affection and kinship, depending on the quality of the egregore and your own perceived relationship to it. It should nonetheless be appreciated that, in occult terms, the egregore is a real (though discarnate) living being that is above and beyond the individual human souls that comprise and nourish it. The egregore of the Rolling Stones is, for example, a discrete consciousness that acts in the world, under its own will, above and beyond the individual machinations of Mick, Keef, Ronnie and Charlie. It is not just the sum of its parts, a blend of the combined consciousnesses of its members, former members, collaborators and fans. In any well-established egregore, the egregore itself has at least as much influence on, and control of, its constituents as the constituents have on it. The powerful egregore that is the Rolling Stones will not allow Mick Jagger or Keith Richards to diverge too far from its precepts, which is why that particular group is both so persistent and so artistically formulaic.

From this we can draw out the explanation of what a zeitgeist - literally time-spirit - actually is. A zeitgeist is a time-dependent egregore, comprised of all the souls that make up a particular generation or set of closely related generations. A zeitgeist therefore emerges when that generation emerges and starts to express its distinct worldview, and then slowly fades and dies as that generation ages, thins out, and finally becomes extinct. Once the egregore dies then so, slowly, does its worldview die with it, including its unique slant on art, politics, personal relationships, and morality, among many other things. For example, as a child in the 1970's the Edwardian zeitgeist was still very active and common to experience. This was especially notable in children's television, in which many programmes had a distinctively Edwardian flavour, such as Bagpuss, Andy Pandy and Ivor The Engine. It was obvious to me, even at a very young age, that the people who made these programmes had a far more sentimental and indulgent sensibility than my own comparatively modern and efficient parents. The first three Dr. Who's were all essentially Edwardian gentlement, especially Jon Pertwee with his antique car Bessie. Then there was Vision On's eccentric inventor Wilf Lunn with his waxed moustache and excessive use of ornamental brass fitments. Indeed, a big part of the magic of Seventies kids' TV was that it was anything but contemporary - everything seemed to be a precious relic from an age that was already flickering out. There was plenty of Edwardianism on adult television too, with dramas such as Upstairs, Downstairs and The Duchess of Duke Street, and Leonard Sachs' thesaurus-busting introductions to The Good Old Days. There were Edwardian films a-plenty most obviously with The Railway Children, Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang and Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, but also those long-forgotten Doug McClure films such as At the Earth's Core and The Land That Time Forgot. There was a time when the presence of Doug McClure in a film cast was the absolute guarantee of cinematic excellence for every schoolkid, although the collective memory of this period was effectively wiped clean by the final disappearance of Edwardianism and the emergence of Star Wars.

And this is why death is important. As a generation dies off, and particularly as its most notable and lauded members expire, so to a large extent do the values and beliefs constituted in its egregore. And so as the baby boomers die, so too does the zeitgeist that they created. Their world will still be seen, like that of the Edwardians, preserved in photographs, films and music, but it will no longer be able to be felt. And when generations like mine who were at the tail end of "the rock'n' roll years", and could still divine some of its yearnings, also disappear then the whole era will seem strange, perhaps even unfathomable. This is already happening with the cultural minutiae of the era - who nowadays cares about Oz magazine? Or Fat Freddie's Cat?, or Victor Spinetti? But I also suspect that even the most highly regarded post-war popular music, from The Beatles to Jimi Hendrix to Miles Davis, will eventually lie neglected - not because it succumbs to harsh critical re-evaluation, or falls foul of changing morals, but simply because it becomes incomprehensible, that the yearnings that it expressed are no longer felt or understood.

The death of David Bowie in 2016 was not only important culturally, but also politically, and it was not entirely coincidental to the results of the EU referendum and the US presidential election, as well as other seemingly more minor political events. Bowie, with his libidinal, liberatory energy, occupied a key position in the collective egregore of post-war popular culture, and was irreplaceable once he was gone. And so the rise of nationalist populism is to a certain degree a consequence of the eclipse of the idealist, utopian egregore that arose in the generations born in the aftermath of World War II. Progressive liberalism in the USA is nowadays largely a rearguard action that is trying to rekindle the dwindling flame of the Civil Rights era. One of the big problems of the "Marxist-Lennonism" of the British left is that its utopian vision of a world transformed is, far from being a vision of the future, rather an attempt to hold on to the dying post-war egregore. Today's progressives are still betrothed to the 20th Century and its transformative social ideals, while the formless waters of the 21st Century, inscrutable and treacherous, slowly lap in around them.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Purpose of This Blog

The purpose of this blog is to explore and explain the stresses and strains that are presently distorting and corroding what was until fairly recently a broad consensus of reality. The primary reason for the sense of chaos and confusion that infects the mediasphere and its tendrils in your brain is that we are currently in the midst of not one, but three (3) interregnums (interregni?). The first of these centres on the transition from the 20th to the 21st Century, and the accompanying eclipse of the mass modernity that characterised the century we have recently departed. It is a curious thing that every century likes to murder the one before it in order for it to evolve its own distinct character. For example, at the end of the 19th Century, most Westerners could assume that for the foreseeable future, European monarchism and colonialism would endure, and the only question would be whether the far corners of empire would be most efficiently served by airship or steamship. Any such consensus was shattered in the years 1914 to 1918, and the subsequent content of the 20th Century far exceeded even the wildest prior speculation. A similar situation pertains to today, in which the liberal progressive consensus that the 21st Century would be just like the 20th Century only more so has been shattered in the last four years.

The second interregnum pertains to the gradual collapse of the 400 year reign of scientific rationalism that was birthed by the Enlightenment. This collapse has been ongoing at the margins of the collective consciousness for some time, although it erupted into the public realm when that dialectical juggernaut, Michael Gove, made his most dread pronouncement that "you know Andrew, I think people have had enough of experts". These simple words fried the collective mindspace of the previously imperviously smug Professional Managerial Class, and cloaked what should have been a tediously procedural extrication from a technocratic supranational trade bloc into an imagined gigantomachy between virtuous platonic order and an irruption of nativist atavism. However, a real fissure was in fact revealed, which was the diminishing returns that a linear, rationalistic, godless conception of reality could impart, as scienific discovery tended ever more to obfuscate reality than explain it, descending as it did into the fudge factors and mystical mumbo-jumbo of multiverses, dark matter and dark energy. The control promised by science and technology to its alleged masters has been proving ever less efficacious, as everything from financial management to political polling to disease control has exposed the haplessness of "expertise".

The third and final interregnum has been apparent since the second half of the 19th Century, and concerns the eclipse of the 2000 year ascendency of vertically orientated hierarchalism that was birthed in the Abrahamic religions, and most specifically Christianity. This eclipse was misdiagnosed by Friedrich Nietzsche as "the death of God" but it is in fact the death of institutionalism, it first manifesting in the Church purely because all hierarchical institutions are essentially modelled on, and are miniature versions of, the Catholic Church.

So as can be seen, we are dealing with concentric interregnums which are nested within each other like a Russian doll. Or, rather, we are looking at a Russian doll made of interregnums rather than babushkas. What this cascade of discontinuities effectively indicates is that things will never be the same again. There is no "return to normality" ahead of us, but rather a normalising of what we would previously have conceived of as abnormality. In essence, the protective systems within which we have been nurtured, whether in the form of bureaucracies, institutions, or even systems of thought (i.e. ideologies) are in the process of corroding around us, depriving us of our familiar means of support. We are being prodded into the deep end by means of a long stick at the same time that our armbands are deflating. Can we learn to existentially doggy paddle?

In the political realm, the new world that is emerging will be characterised by extreme eccentricity, as political movements emerge in the van of charismatic individuals who promise to change the world but invariably retire in deflated failure. This will be because (already is because) it will be increasingly difficult to form cohesive, coherent political movements in a world in which the external structures needed to sustain them fall away. The binary dualism of "left" and "right" that crystalised so sharply in the 20th Century will become increasingly difficult to maintain as both sides fracture internally and become distracted by odd and tangential concerns. The political and social unit that will progressively emerge in the 21st Century will be the individual. However, this will not be the economically maximising individual of free market ideology, or the selfish sovereign individual of Libertarianism, but rather the eccentric individual. It will be the individual whose Youtube channel is dedicated to train hopping, or the individual whose Instagram account depicts their attempts to befriend grizzly bears, or the individual who likes to invent new tools or resurrect long lost handicrafts. This in turn implies that the locus of authority will transfer from external structures to internal ones, and the task of the century ahead for each and every one of us will be to build this internal autonomy. Thus the new normality will emerge when a sufficient plurality have built the structures of internal authority that a kind of stability can return. The new paradigm will replace the linear reality of the 20th Century with the fractal one of the 21st, in which the occult will be favoured over the scientific, and the body over the mind. If there is to be a schism in the new reality, it will be between those whose individualism is fully plugged into, and dependent on, the technosphere, and those whose individuality is predicated on escaping it as far as possible. The former will flourish in the short term, and the latter over the long.

As the old Chinese curse had it, may you live in disintegrating times...