Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Citizens or Serfs

This month's edition of Prospect magazine has an article by its editor, David Goodhart, setting out his views on the nature of "citizenship" in modern (British) society. I thought it worthy of comment as it shows how far Blairism has diverged from the internationalist and liberal ideas that Labour began with.

To start with, the article shows incredible causistry in trying to argue that discrimination against non-European peoples is in some way not a form of racism. That there is a unfortunate practical need for some form of immigration control I do not dispute - that it is in some way a worthy expression of "Liberal Realism" I utterly disagree with.

Goodhart then constructs a model of citizenship suitable for a Blairite society.
It states as amongst the requirements of citizenship:
"acceptance of the rule of law and the authority of the state and its institutions; agreement to play by the economic and welfare rules and to accept national norms on such things as the place of religion, free speech and women's equality"

This negates democracy, as it requires that certain aspects of the nation's current arrangement are to be "accepted" as beyond disagreement. This is rather reminiscent of pre-Victorian Britain, where everyone was required to adhere to the state religion as practiced by the monarch - Jews, for instance, being banned from public office unless they converted to Christianity.

The author goes on to discuss the "duties" of citizenship. This is a communitarian idea that has become popular in Blairite circles over the last few years. The problem with this idea is that it directly conflicts with the concept of a democracy bound by laws. In such a political system, the duties of everyone, whether citizen or visitor, are limited to one - they must obey the law or face the consequences. Current British law imposes very few legal obligations that differentiate by citizenship: mostly it is one's presence or habitual residence in the country that determine an obligation to comply with national law.

As if to remedy this, Goodhart proposes that citizenship be bolstered by obligations and ceremonial. This ranges from a civil birth ceremony to the promotion of ID cards as a badge (I prefer the word "brand") of belonging. He even brings up the old concept of conscription - arguing for a "national volunteering scheme for school-leavers". (Since there are numerous such schemes already, I assume that "volunteering" is a euphemism).

These measures are not a mark of democratic citizenship as we have come to know it. It is rather more reminiscent of the system that preceeded liberal democracy - serfdom. Under this system the people of the nation were subject to the arbitrary requirements of the state for labour and military service and were expected to comply with the forms of religious and other thought required by the state. In a similar fashion to Goodhart's "contract" the state then attempted to protect the serfs from Mongol hordes and the like. The Blair project appears to want to revive this - with perpetual "centre-right" governments and local councils replacing kings and barons in the feudal structure.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

If you live in Auckland you're an Aucklander

I went to the rugby at the weekend, as you do. It was the Waikato /Auckland game, and apart from the fact that we lost bigtime, I did notice a bit of a dearth of Auckland supporters. Which is odd, given that you'd usually expect mostly home supporters at an Eden Park game.

So why is this? I suppose you have to allow for the fact that a lot of Aucklanders are league fans, quite a few are from what you could call a non-rugby heritage, and the weather was what you'd consider bloody horrible up here, but a nice evening by Hamilton standards. Still, you would have thought that we could muster as many people (from 1.3mln) as a city of 200k two hours drive away managed.

I guess it's that many people who live in Auckland don't identify with the city. A lot of Aucklanders were born elsewhere (or claim to have been). I've noticed also that people will choose the most interesting and "authentic" place they have lived as their hometown, even though they only spent six months there at the age of four (or in extreme cases, once stopped there for a pie).

The only problem with this is that people without any attachment to the city they live in don't want to do anything to improve it. But really, I think Aucklanders should face the fact that we're stuck here, the city has plenty of good points, and most of us don't really want to try and live on $10 an hour picking kiwifruit.

By the way, I'm not an Aucklander. I've decided to identify as a Frenchman from Fontainebleau. I lived there until I was two, so despite not having been back since, not being a French citizen and only speaking schoolboy French, I think I should identify as Fontaineblouis (?). They don't seem to have a rugby team - maybe I should start supporting Stade Fran├žais. Neat shirts too!


Friday, May 05, 2006

Helping Bill out

Bill Gates has said that he "doesn't want to be the world's richest man".

It's a problem I think many of us could help him with. I couldn't take on the full USD55bln, or even the USD30bln or so needed to get him to #2 on the list. But I could happily take on a little bit, say USD100mln.

And I'd spend it wisely. People would be employed building fast cars, teaching me to fly helicopters and Harrier jump-jets, keeping my boats and houses maintained. I could buy a daily newspaper and maybe a radio station or two to use as a platform for my unique opinions. My regular free dance parties would provide entertainment for thousands of New Zealanders - especially if they avoided the "Richard is DJing" tent..

And it would make up for all the dosh I've lost on Microsoft stock because he's employed a bunch of impeccably qualified idiots. How can it take five years to write a frigging operating system - it only took Alan Turing three to invent the computer!