Archive | September 2013

Morning mashup: Army vs. SWP

Nothing illustrates the similarities between the army and the SWP like a good ol’ fashioned student union societies fair. Both parties (I use that term in the loosest sense) stand around looking awkward/serious, trying to convince gullible or foolhardy 18 year olds that they should sign up to fight for the winning team. The main difference of course being that the SWP have beardy silver-haired men who will treat you to a tirade of nonsense about who said what and in which sentence Trotsky picked his nose during the Third International (was it the 4th or 7th? – nobody knows) and that the army have a bunch of blank-faced robots in army jumpsuits standing around trying to pretend that they remember what it means to sit down and relax, who will treat you to a tirade of nonsense about how it is “fun” and “educational” to shoot stuff and kill things.

swap soldier

An entertaining game of Spot the Difference can then ensue… The two both pursue the same tactic – recruit shamelessly and a) hope the revolution will come and that their ideology (or lack thereof) will be shown to be the bestest or b) hope there will be another war and that nobody will notice that they need fresh meat to replace the ones that got sent to Afghanistan last year, hail them as unsung heroes and hope that their ideology (or lack thereof) will be shown to be the bestest. It’s also interesting that as soon as you challenge this tactic – based solely on recruiting enough people so that the revolution will arrive/recruiting enough people so the government will give them more money for death toys – they have no idea where to go. They are left dumbfounded when confronted with someone who sees through this tactic – yes but what do you have to offer in the meantime? How are you going to orchestrate a revolution, when all you seem to do is bitch amongst the 429 platform/splinter sects about which line of which paragraph is more important to the Marxist dialectic? OR: How can you justify recruiting kids (because that’s what they are) to come and have what I assume must be a fair amount of outdoorsy fun, judging by the level of uptake, in the hope that some of them will be a) foolish enough to either think the army is actually like that, or b) that they will absorb some of the rhetoric, start to believe the ideology, and actually willingly become cannon fodder for an army that defends the rights of capitalist, imperialist governments and kills innocent civilians and members of the global working class? Anyone who claims to have all the answers is obviously bullshitting, or the next lefty Jesus, but it’s clear that it is virtually impossible to please everyone. Despite all of this, I think it’s worth noting that the Left is scrappy as fuck, and all the infighting is utterly puerile – there should be a united approach (of course we’re not capable of that, but then again, neither is the EDL) if anything resembling a revolution is likely to manifest itself. So, to sum up: I am mostly joking, but also not. I am secretly crying on the inside.


7107 Islands – Part II


I guess I must declare from the outset of this post that I am an atheist. Of course this doesn’t mean anything for anyone else – in fact I think religion is a great thing if it works for a person, it just doesn’t for me, thanks to my ruthlessly logical and scientific mind. Being able to find solace, or courage, or meaning in religion is wonderful, and I have seen that it can do amazing things for people. My problem therefore is not so much with spirituality, but with organised religion. I encountered a lot of both in the Philippines, some of which made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, and some of which I didn’t mind at all. It is a very Catholic country (something that is a relic of Spanish colonialism, with which I have a whole other set of issues entirely), which is sometimes overt, for instance in the case of the insular Iglesia ni Christo churches, but often it is not. Nevertheless, I was not bothered by the presence of religion in most places I went.

During my stay, we spent some time with a priest, Father Paul, who is amazing, and deservedly well respected in Payatas for the incredible things he has done. Because Filipinos are so religious, he has been able to achieve some very positive things because he is a priest, and people are generally more receptive to what he has to say, which at times can be fairly radical. In such an environment, an enlightened and respected individual like him can make a far greater difference than anyone else, particularly western ‘experts’ or researchers who haven’t got a clue what’s going on (myself included). However, because priests have so much authority, it matters what they have to say, and who they are – everyone has a worldview, and everyone has an agenda. My concern is more that the church impedes development in the Philippines, while those doing truly good work are in the minority.

At the moment, there is a bill going through Parliament called the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill. As could probably be predicted it refers to universal access to information about things like abortion, family planning and contraception. As could also be predicted, the Catholic Church is vehemently against it, and implementation of the law has been delayed as a result of opposition. On the side of one church we saw a sign that proclaimed the government should be opposing the RH bill because it would a) create terrorism, b) (I paraphrase) turn children into sexualised monsters and c) create poverty. The ridiculousness of this sign is most scary because people are taken in by it. In what world does being able to choose whether or not to have a child create more poverty? Surely, it does the exact opposite. The imposition of the Church’s fearful remonstrations and opinions is what I find disgusting – taking away from people who often lack access to basic sex education the right to think for themselves and take control of their own bodies, families and lives.

Of course, I found the expectation to sing hymns and say grace a strain too, but those are the kinds of things I can deal with out of respect for the people I am with. Besides, I find the expectation to sing karaoke a strain too, even at the best of times (i.e. two bottles of Red Horse down). It is only when I see the flagrant abuse and institutionalised, systemic undermining of progress by the Catholic church that I have a problem with it. It is under these circumstances that one can really see where Marx was coming from when he spoke about religion being the “opiate of the masses”. The Catholic Church is bad enough, but the cultish Iglesia ni Christo is far worse. The stories I heard about the links to big money and organised crime are enough to turn your stomach, even before you consider the positions it takes and the way it tries to place its ministers into promising government positions.

My experience with the particular Filipino brand of religion was thus pretty mixed. On the one hand it felt incredibly overbearing, and a hindrance on the personal development of people, and on the development of the nation as whole. Meanwhile, on the other, I felt that on an individual level it gave people hope and purpose – which can’t be derided. I feel that the problem is when religion is used imperialistically, much as it is elsewhere in the developing world. Spirituality supersedes borders, whereas organised religion is often needlessly used to realise ulterior ambitions – and therein lies the problem.