Archive for the ‘Morality’ Category

Their Apocalypse and Ours

February 20, 2012

The word “bandy” is bandied around all too often these days, but one term that’s been getting a thorough and undeniable bandying in recent months has been “social cohesion”.

Like many standbys of liberal discourse, it functions at a double remove from material reality, as a kind of euphemism for a euphemism. Since a precise definition is elusive, it can probably best be arrived at by a process of exclusion, following is usage amongst the Irish commentariat as a guide.

This phenomenon of “social cohesion” is never espoused as an end actively to be pursued. Rather, it is only ever invoked in terms of its negation – “loss of social cohesion”, “breakdown of social cohesion” etc, usually by reference to the salutary example of Greece, where such a breakdown is supposedly imminent (this is highly instructive, as we’ll discover in due course).

In fact, the loss of social cohesion is regarded not as an evil in itself, but merely a potential existential threat to business as usual (the bailing out of banks and the preservation of the euro at any and all costs).

A few things that aren’t considered a threat to social cohesion (again taking the pronouncements of the Irish establishment as our guide):

Mass emigration, and the tacit and explicit encouragement of same by government ministers.

The subjugation of all existing democratic models to the primacy of the markets, as a matter of both principle and practice.

The positing by the national media of the existence of a “coping class”, assailed from below by the parasitical poor.

The cultivation of a climate of suspicion and resentment, which encourages citizens to spy and inform on one another with impunity, and to regard teachers, nurses, firefighters and other social service providers as thieves from the common purse.

If none of this sounds like the stuff of harmony and fraternity, it’s because, once again, social cohesion is not the object here. The concern is merely that the host organism is beginning to run out of blood.

In Greece, the collaborationist Papademos régime has abandoned even the perfunctory evasions of its Irish counterparts, in favour of hysterical threats and outright repression. From the European media’s racially-aggravated depiction of events there, we can deduce that the following are considered threats to social cohesion:

Mass public expressions of social solidarity.

Hostility to the national and supranational architects of austerity.

Popular demands for democratic oversight of economic policy.

Identification of former imperialist aggressors with contemporary forms of imperialist aggression.

The pursuit of common cause amongst diverse strata of society.

At one level, this is simply a crude and transparent shell game, designed to offer the evangelists of austerity some measure of plausible deniability. In its peculiarly Irish manifestation, however, it nourishes itself from the fetid swamp of petty resentment which lies beneath the foundations of the state.

Liberals always believed that the curtain-twitching bien-pensance of post-independence Ireland had been transplanted wholesale from the pulpit to the parlour. The easing of the Church’s stranglehold over public policy (and it’s sobering to think that only the revelation of widespread and irrefutable child-rape made this possible) has changed little in this regard, however.

Instead, we’ve witnessed an ascension of the divine consciousness from heaven to Frankfurt. The pitting of citizen against citizen, the holy terror of becoming corrupted by the weakness of others, has not been abated by the transition.

The economic forces which dictate the ravaging of society are protected at all costs, with no sector of society – not the unemployed, not disabled children, not the old – exempted from service as human shields, in a crude parallel to the scapegoating of single mothers for problems arising from poverty.

At every turn, citizens are encouraged to see entitlement as privilege, and privilege as entitlement. The spectral hordes of fraudulent welfare claimants haunt Middle Ireland’s dreams, even as their taxes pay for useless multi-million euro reports by the ideological architects and beneficiaries of the crisis. Michael O’Leary becomes a put-upon underdog, while the teacher coping with the fallout of a moribund society in a vermin-infested building becomes a freeloading hedonist.

It is this total identification with the system (not on its own merits, but merely as the prevailing system) which makes every act of resistance, from the SPARK protests to the Campaign Against The Household Tax, all the more admirable and all the more essential.

The political establishment, the media, and their masters in Europe fear that deviation from their ideological consensus will lead to the breakdown of their system of governance; our challenge is to prove them right.

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Module 14a: Debasement of Language

March 29, 2011

Match the words with the appropriate images from the following pairings:

QUESTION 1

Status Quo
Revolution
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null

QUESTION 2

Our European Partners
Our European Enemies

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QUESTION 3

Parasites
Victims

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null

QUESTION 4

Risk-Taker
Greedy Bastard

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null

QUESTION 5

Austerity
Cuts

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Green Party PPB: The Honesty Remix

February 18, 2011

Because the original annoyed me so much.

The Many Fathers of Success

January 4, 2011

Apologies for selfishly vacating my natural position in the revolutionary vanguard these past weeks. I’m afraid my inner counsel of despair led me to the conclusion that The Great Crash of 2008 represents, far from the impending demise of neoliberalism, its ultimate and final triumph. The crisis was a vast stress test, a worst-case catastrophe which confirmed, in extremis, the impunity of capital and the impotence of organised labour, and saw the latter exit stage right for the last time in its present form. Documenting the course of the malaise suddenly began to seem less appealing.

So, with the firm assurance that we are all going to hell and Circumlimina is of the company, let us ooze back into the slough of despond with some thoughts on the fiction of statesmanship.

This, of course, is prompted by the heroically deluded valediction of Patrick Bartholomew “Bertie” Ahern (even his name is a half-truth concealed within a lie.) Bertie, it seems, will be remembered (not least by himself) as the man who brought peace to Northern Ireland.

Historians, we are told, will judge Ahern more favourably than his myopic contemporaries, as the passage of time breaks down the encrusted filth of Bertie’s venality, low tricks and incompetence, leaving only the dazzling pearl of peace as his legacy. This may well be true; historians will, as ever, shape their judgements to suit the requirements of power. Thus it may well be that future generations grow up with Bertie the peacebroker, as their forefathers grew up with Dev the visionary.

It seems to me that the Good Friday Agreement presents us with two competing and incompatible theses – that of peace in Northern Ireland as an idea whose time had come, the product of two war-weary communities exerting slow but irresistible pressure upon those who purported to represent them by fair means and foul; or, alternatively, a thumping endorsement of the Great Man Theory of history, which posits that seismic societal changes are wrought when individuals with sufficient iron in their souls forcibly mould world events in accordance with their vision.

The problem for proponents of the latter theory, in this particular instance, is the motley and underwhelming nature of the dramatis personae. Bertie Ahern’s failings require no elucidation. David Trimble resembles nothing so much as a Northern Irish Alan Dukes, a kind of malignant didgeridoo. Gerry Adams may have seen the winds change earlier than most, but his subsequent flailings have revealed him to be entirely unremarkable (except as possibly the only man in the world with a bilingual beard.) It’s easy to see why John Hume was voted Ireland’s Greatest in a recent RTÉ poll. He’s a D4 radical’s dream, the acceptable face of liberal dissent, who bestrode the political stage like Karloff’s Frankenstein (with brain, but not charisma, intact.)

That still leaves Tony Blair, a man whose stalwart belief in his own destiny was a self-fulfilling prophecy which undeniably infected the course of the early 21st century. I saw Blair interviewed on TV recently, and felt that familiar chill which contemplation of the malevolently alien always engenders. The man is unquestionably a sociopath, inhuman not merely in his actions, but in his very nature. He’s certainly no evil genius; in some ways, he’s more stupid than Bush. Alternative viewpoints are literally incomprehensible to him.

In many respects, Blair is unique among the rogue’s gallery of British prime ministers. Plenty of them have been arrogant, heedless, aloof warmongers, but all except Blair grew up in circumstances which deadened them to the concerns and experiences of lesser lifeforms.

With Blair, it’s something different, some kind of inexplicable psychical lacuna which altered the course of history. There’s something in those wild eyes, those blokily dropped t’s, the unconvincing attempts at firmness and fierceness. Blair is a fundamentally disconcerting amalgam of General Franco and Cliff Richard, and undoubtedly the strangest man to attain fame in the modern era without recourse to incest, cannibalism or Big Brother.

So which do we have to thank for peace in our time? Popular pressure, or one man’s mania? I know what I’d rather attribute it to.

As for Bertie, well, what of him? Ruminating on his legacy is like dissecting the subtextual strata of the Transformers movies, it cedes him too much credit. Bertie Ahern did as the prevailing ethos of the Irish oligarchy and the European Commission required, until his personal appetites and lack of judgement dislodged the baton from his hands. If it hadn’t been him, it would have been some other fucking chancer. Case closed.

In praise of Mary Harney

November 12, 2010

If there’s one occupant of the Dáil I really, sincerely admire, it’s Mary Harney. She is – I assert this entirely without ironic intent; there will be no punchline – probably the most honest politician in Ireland. I take umbrage on her behalf when allegations of cronyism are directed towards her by opponents on the left, on account of her husband’s involvement with IBEC and his private healthcare-related lobbying activities. I genuinely believe such grubby personal vices to be beneath her.

There is a purity to her vision, to her earnest determination to put herself where she can do most damage to the welfare state and stay there, which partakes of the intoxicating clarity of fascism that appealed so strongly to former generations. Her ongoing tenure in charge of the Department of Health is already widely held to have been an abject failure; she herself would consider it anything but, and would be correct to do so.

She will indeed, as her critics protest, leave behind a health service stripped to the bone, critically shorn of staff, demoralised and defeated, in which ability to pay is the greatest arbiter of life and death. To suggest that this constitutes failure on her behalf is to imply that she ever intended it to be otherwise.

Cowen, Lenihan, even ideologues such as McCreevy, Cox and Sutherland, all act simply to preserve an order of the world which they have internalised by undiluted osmosis. The methodology may be systematic, but the impulse is instinctual. George Bush didn’t care about black people. Brian Cowen doesn’t care about poor people. Geraldine Kennedy, deep down, doesn’t really believe they exist.

Mary Harney, on the other hand, really, truly and dispassionately believes that they must be made to suffer. But not through malice borne of hatred; it’s not pathological, nor is it an unthinking prejudice. It’s a cold, rational belief that the poor are unworthy, parasitical and an impediment to progress and a just ordering of the world.

It is one thing to evince indifference to suffering through ignorance, stupidity or contempt (one might call it Pat Kenny Syndrome if claimants to the title were not quite so numerous.) But to inflict suffering, without malice, without passion, on the scale that Harney achieves with almost her every act in office; that is an awesome capacity which most people simply cannot hope to comprehend. Her closest analogue is Colm McCarthy, but the comparison does her little justice.

Her single-mindedness is staggering. In the history of the state, no one individual (I include Taoisigh in this) has ever left so personal an imprint upon the lives of so many. She has her foibles, of course (arrogance and a short temper), but studiously prevents these from interfering with her mission.

She has endured the disgusting petty corruption and opportunism of a bumbling coalition partner, has even had to hold her nose and compromise with unions she despises in order to keep her project on track. She is, I would venture to suggest, the most hated woman in Ireland and the most hated member of the most hated government in history. To knowingly place oneself in that position without retreating an inch or even feigning regret bespeaks a singularity of purpose which only the truly great and the truly wicked ever attain.

The defining moment of Mary Harney’s career was its coup de grâce. Greater depredations will be inflicted upon the poor and sick in years to come, but they’ll issue from the pen of an IMF bureaucrat or the mealy mouth of a Labour minister. Harney’s final flourish, however, will echo through the generations. Her insistence upon a 50 cent charge per item dispensed to medical card holders was a magnificent and magnanimous curtain call.

The charge as it stands will strain the wallets of only the most wretchedly vulnerable; that, however, is merely a propitious side-effect. It could equally have been set at 20 cents, or 1 cent. The goal was simply to establish the principle of paying for prescriptions. It was a gift to her successors; from here on, the charge can only move in one direction. She herself will not be around to reap the benefits. She will not endure the quiet, desperate opprobrium of pensioners forced to choose between heating their homes and staunching their pain, though none could endure it with more poise.

It was an act of selflessness, of far-sightedness and of cool, clear-headed, rational cruelty. Mary Harney is an honest woman, a visionary and an idealist. May we never see her like again.

The Cold Light of Death

September 24, 2010

Last night, in the nation which gave humanity the power of flight and scattered the pall of loneliness from the night sky with a single act of cosmic audacity, a woman was led along a silent corridor, bodily restrained, and slowly, publicly deprived of her life by agents of state justice.

At 41 years of age, Teresa Lewis might reasonably, in the normal course of events, have expected to live out her final years deep into the 2050s. Had the emotional trauma engendered by her imminent and inescapable death induced a heart attack or cerebral haemorrhage, the same doctor who stood ready (behind a cloak of anonymity and under pain of blacklisting) to supervise her execution would doubtless have leapt to her aid. Such is the grotesque, bathetic absurdity of death at the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen.

Teresa Lewis was accorded a more peaceful demise than that inflicted upon Delara Darabi (a juvenile at the time of her conviction), hanged by the Iranian government in 2009. Lewis’s alleged crimes – planning and facilitating the murder of her husband and stepson for financial gain – were certainly of a nature more viscerally repugnant than those of Du Yimin, executed in China for operating a massive Ponzi scheme (which, nonetheless, cost her “investors” less than a quarter of a percent of the sum Sean Fitzpatrick’s financial buccaneering will ultimately gouge from the pockets of the Irish taxpayer.)

In executing Lewis, the state of Virginia narrowly avoided the intolerable stigma of surviving an entire century without judicially squeezing the life from a captive woman. Hers was the 39th formal execution in the United States this year, and probably the most controversial. The showbiz killing of double murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner, shot through the heart in Utah with four .30 calibre rounds at his own request, briefly excited the deadened palate of the US networks at the height of summer.

Similarly piquant retro charm attended the death of homicidal child rapist Paul Powell, bombarded with 1,800 volts of electricity until sparks and smoke danced about his convulsing body, a spectacle described by Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert as “vivid, meaningful and impressive” compared to the “anticlimax” of lethal injection.

Teresa Lewis’s USP was, of course, her gender. Exposure to the death penalty is one of the few arenas of victimisation which leaves American women largely untouched; otherwise, the usual suspects are present, correct and waiting to die. Blacks, Latinos and poor whites comprise almost the entire population of Death Row (in fact, there’s probably no “almost” about it.)

Since the reintroduction of capital punishment in 1976, 246 black prisoners have been executed for murdering white victims; executions resulting from white-on-black murders total just 15. Either African-Americans are genetically predisposed to murderous violence, or there’s an underlying prejudice at play within law enforcement agencies, jury selection and judicial sentencing procedures. If it takes you longer than five seconds to figure that one out, don’t let me detain you from your appointment with Fox News.

Assuming her guilt was justly apportioned, Lewis’s complicity in a monstrous crime animated by the basest, grubbiest motive of all was reprehensible, originating from the farthest bank of a moral Rubicon no feeling person could ever bear to cross. It is impossible, however, to escape the conclusion that she went to her death for no other reason than that she was a woman.

Her accomplices (in actuality, those who performed the deed) were sentenced to life imprisonment, while Lewis alone, the alleged “mastermind” with an I.Q. of 70, received the death penalty. The gleeful prurience of the Irish media’s interventions in the Nevin, Collins and Mulhall cases may serve as an instructive comparison to the atmosphere which surrounded Lewis’s trial, conviction and execution.

Beyond its exotic, shark-bait trimmings, one is inclined to question whether last night’s execution was more shocking, more deplorable for the fact that its victim was a woman. Objectively, one has to say no; instinctively, yes. I grew up in a family and community steeped in left republicanism, an ideology/deviation for which I hold no brief. Long after I’d discarded all those values which diverged from my own, however, two cast-iron, non-negotiable admonitions which were drummed into me repeatedly remained; never cross a picket-line, never strike a woman.

To digress briefly, I sometimes think that those two principles were related, that the latter isn’t attributable merely to the superficial bourgeois confection of chivalry. What I took from the steadfastness of that prohibition was an implicit, perhaps even subconscious acknowledgement that, in those times and those conditions, a man’s relationship to a woman would always tend towards the exploitative, and that physical violence would further, and inexcusably, solidify that tendency.

Underlying socio-economic factors, societal prejudices and unsound legal processes aside, it is probable that a substantial majority of those currently awaiting execution in the USA are guilty of horrendous crimes which render them unfit to function in society. And this, of course, is irrelevant.

I am a socialist not because I believe in the inherent efficiency of a planned economy (although I do), but because it is the only form of government, the only ordering of the world, which can uphold the humanity of the individual, of the community and of society, as sacrosanct and inviolable.

Capital punishment, where it is practised, functions as a brute instrument of class repression, prejudice, and chauvinism. Even if it didn’t, it would still be immoral. To hold a human life wholly within one’s power, to extinguish in cold blood the life of one who can do you no conceivable harm, is almost the acme of cruelty, the ideal form of exploitation.

The extirpation of this calculated evil is a cause for which socialists, if they are truly committed to humanitarianism, should strive alongside all those willing to lend their voices. The slogan is “Socialism or Barbarism” – they cannot co-exist.

Open Letter to Róisín Shortall

August 30, 2010

Sent to the deputy this morning, concerning these comments in the Irish Times today:

His Labour counterpart Róisín Shortall said she generally welcomed the scheme as it gave an opportunity to extend social and community schemes – already well-established in rural areas – to cities and towns.

“I have some concerns about the use of this scheme to tackle fraud. This should be about helping those who are unemployed but who wish to work,” she said.

Deputy Shortall,

As a constituent, I’m writing to raise the issue of your support for the government’s introduction of compulsory, unpaid menial labour for the unemployed. I would rather have done so in person at your Monday clinic, but I note that, while you’re free to pontificate in The Irish Times about how the unemployed should be compelled to spend their days, you are not available to constituents at your clinic for the entire month of August. Forgive my cynicism, but I suspect that you are not performing obligatory unpaid labour to retain your salary.

This measure, with its obvious parallels to the community service work enforced upon those convicted by the courts, is another step in the establishment’s criminalisation of the poor. The Labour Party’s acceptance of neoliberalism and silent complicity with the government’s persecution of workers and the unemployed (simultaneous with the bailing out of the rich) is no secret. That you, however, a deputy representing an area with one of the highest levels of unemployment in the country, could so brazenly support such a vicious assault on the jobless and poor beggars belief.

The entire ideological thrust of this scheme is morally repugnant. It is not a matter of approving of it in principle but having reservations about certain specifics, at least not to anyone who gives a damn about the unemployed. If the “work” involved is useful and necessary, it should be offered on a full- or part-time basis with all relevant employment and union rights and benefits respected. If it is not useful, it is pointless, punitive, degrading and designed to pinch a few pennies from those who can be cut loose from the welfare system by being humiliated in this way. We both know that only the latter is applicable to this scheme.

In the Dáil last year, you strongly criticised the minister for the unpardonable withdrawal of the Christmas Bonus from welfare recipients. I have repeatedly asked representatives of the Labour Party since then to commit, as a matter of policy and of basic morality, to restoring the bonus in government. They have repeatedly and pointedly refused. I invite you to make this commitment, or to confirm, in its absence and taking your views on the matter above into consideration, that your sympathies lie with the government, the rich and the establishment, and not with the poor, the unemployed and the destitute.

Pathologising poverty

July 10, 2010

My recent post about conditions in Ballymun mid-“regeneration” garnered quite a response. It surprised no less than it gratified me, because to someone familiar with Ballymun, those images of abject neglect are nothing new. Which, in a sense, encapsulates in microcosm the point I’m going to develop below.

Perhaps I was a mite pessimistic in that previous post. Just this week, small numbers of residents in the Sillogue area of the estate have begun mounting protests against Ballymun Regeneration Ltd.’s appalling mismanagement of the regeneration, specifically the rampant mission-creep of the Emerald Project development, which has forced elderly residents into marathon detours simply to reach the local shops.

Long-term, mostly elderly, residents in the few flat complexes still standing feel BRL is operating a strategy of coercion to force them to accept accommodation outside their preferred areas. One by one, families are being moved out of flats (BRL uses the ominous term “detenanting”), leaving recalcitrant residents isolated in deserted blocks, invariably within blackspots of anti-social behaviour. It’s a gambit typical of the local bureaucracy, and vividly illustrates the perils of resistance.

Earlier this year, residents received a thoughtful letter from Dublin City Council (or, as it’s known on this blog, the Labour-controlled Dublin City Council) informing them that repairs would no longer be carried out on the homes of tenants in arrears on their rent. The health, safety and welfare impact of that little triumph of liberalism upon old people, blameless young children, and families need hardly be enunciated.

Of course, the only issue exercising local politicians and the national media is the dispute between Pickerings and the TEEU, which has left most of the still-functioning lifts out of commission, despite the incompetent efforts of the army to repair them. Broken lifts were the absolute norm during the eighties and nineties, when hundreds of families depended upon them; it was never a headline-grabber in those days, however. No prizes for figuring out the motivation behind the establishment’s sudden pangs of sympathy for suffering residents (whose hardship is severe and very real, by the way.)

What I really want to address in this post is the thrust of several responses my images generated elsewhere on the web. These were along the lines that Ballymun’s woes were a function of demographics, of the “type of people” (whatever that means) who inhabit the area, a type whom no regeneration project could redeem or reform.

Sadly, this attitude is more prevalent than one might think (or hope.) It has been propounded in more diplomatic forms and more touchy-feely language by middle-class liberals for decades. It lingers within the give-them-horses-and-youthclubs approach which suggests that the natural inclination of the urban poor is to drink, fight and vandalise, and momentary distraction from those cherished pursuits is what they require to become model citizens.

Needless to say, this is all bullshit. There is no Ballymun Syndrome, so readily diagnosed by the concerned patricians of the chattering classes. People in Ballymun, as in every impoverished community, utilise their talents and energy in the most ingenious ways. Sporting and cultural groups have flourished there for years, and continue to flourish. What grinds people down is the constant and unremitting struggle against poverty, social exclusion and the state, with no prospect of respite.

It’s indisputable that many people in Ballymun lead miserable, unfulfilling lives. But they’re not miserable because they live in non-stakeholder-based community structures with low levels of social interaction. They’re miserable because they have no fucking money, no fucking services and are treated with flagrant contempt by the state at each and every level. No amount of psychobabble can, or should, be allowed to obscure the economic roots of that misery.

“Welfare dependency” is another favourite nostrum of the more plain-spoken liberal and outright conservative. The silent compact between state and recipient implicit in the disbursal of social welfare is either misunderstood or deliberately obfuscated by these tough-love merchants. The deal is that the state provides the recipient with the bare minimum to keep him/her and his/her family going, in lieu of training or local industry, with both parties fully aware that this can be revoked instantaneously should the recipient get uppity. By this expedient, the state hopes to buy the passivity of individuals and entire communities, and usually succeeds.

With the welfare state cowering before the wrecking-ball throughout Europe, and a ruling class giddy on the resumption of unrestrained class warfare, its most ambitious vanguard is beginning to wonder whether any provisions are off the table. This may yet prove its critical error. Economic intimidation is effective only when its victims really do have something to lose, other than chains.

In Ballymun, that balance may be approaching its tipping point. The deprived urban communities of Dublin are often overlooked as agents of struggle by an Irish left fixated on the (crucial, but perhaps irredeemably compromised) labour movement. But nowhere is the reservoir of human suffering deeper, nor its effects more keenly-felt, than in those communities. Bringing them to the centre of the fightback would not merely be politically expedient, but poetically just.

Allow me to introduce myself

January 25, 2010

I come from North Dublin and I’m a socialist, and have been all my adult life. I believe Marx was the Newton of the social sciences, but I am not a Marxist within the meaning of the Act. I find common cause with some Trotskyist parties, but I am not a Trotskyist.  I despise nationalism in all its forms, as the most murderous manifestation of chauvinism ever conceived, and the third worst idea in history after capitalism and the silver goal rule.

In other words, were I an Irish political party, I would have long ago  split into several Trotskyist factions, a liberal reformist study group, a timorous huddle of libertarian anarchists and an ideologically indeterminate formation primarily concerned with denouncing the foregoing.

Outside of politics (and I emphatically believe that such a sphere exists), my interests lie mostly in football (esp. domestic), literature (esp. foreign), cinema and cricket. I have something of an obsessive, monomaniacal personality, shackled to an atrophied attention span. This will be abundantly apparent from my writings.

I am a socialist because I believe that neoliberal capitalism is not only wicked, unjust and potentially lethal to humanity, but that its shibboleths and gospels are so inextricably entrenched within the social and political structures of our society that they have poisoned and corrupted them beyond salvation. Therefore, those structures must be built anew or replaced entirely.

I also believe that capitalism is immoral, and make no apology for saying so. Amongst the left, the very concept of morality is a contentious and precarious one. My own belief is that the capacity to suffer and the experience of suffering is something that is understood by us all (score one for the Buddhists), as is the knowledge that we are engendering that suffering in others. Therefore, to cause others to suffer gratuitously in full cognisance of what that entails is my personal definition of immorality. It serves me well enough.