Tuesday 24 May 2011

Exile from Eden

I recently watched Dylan Moran's stand up show 'What it is.' In the show, he went on a rant against those who have negative nostalgia. And he said something that I think sums up the problem with nostalgia when it comes to people being nostalgic about public matters: "I have no time for nostalgia. All that rubbish, people going '£2 for a Mars bar?! I remember..' - What?! What do you remember?! Fucking slavery!"

I'm quite nostalgic, but not when it comes to politics and society. If something in the past has been a good policy, it is a good policy or a bad policy regardless of the time it was set. And, generally, I think we live in a great era of change, improvement and freedom. I have little time for Daily Mail-type rose-tinted backward looking scare mongers. Yet, its not just the right who is guilty of this baseless nostalgia:

I don't intend to fisk through the whole song but I will go through some of the claims that are made. I'm using the lyrics that are pasted in the Youtube underbar of the video (which has extra commentary from the author). To give a clear idea of who made this video; his name is Olly and he has posted several videos on youtube. He doubts that 9/11 was carried out by Al Qaeda. One of his songs says: 

If you think 911 was done by Al Qaeda,
Well you have got a lot to learn, 
And youre probably a Telegraph reader.
Yes, the only type of people who believe that a group of Islamist fundamentalists, who claimed responsibility, who have continued to attack Western targets since, carried out 9/11 are people who read the Telegraph. In the underbar of that song he states that "doesn't know" whether 9/11 was a conspiracy or not despite the song. In his 'A Call to Arm For Hippies' he also fantastically claims that Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison were assassinated -- by the CIA. In the lyrics, he also adds "fuck, not to mention JFK, Malcom X and Martin Luther King." Obviously, none of this is remotely true. 

The whole song is a glorification of the Sixties. He says that the year 2009 are "dangerous times" and the 60s were a time where "people realised they could change the world if they gave a shit." Yes, all those who have been campaiging for more freedom from the streets of Tehran to the millions who manage protest in China in the last decade are not real, apparently.

He says that 'Now its forty years later [2009 and] the sexual revolution left a fishy smell / of teenage pregnancies in council estates.' Well no, the teenage pregnancy rate in 1964 was 1.1 per 1,000 (of under 20 year olds), in 1969 it was 1.6 and in 2009 it was back down to 1.1 (ONS, Alison MacFarlane & Miranda Mugford (2000)). In America, the results are similiar;
the birth rate among American teenagers is now the lowest it has been in the 70 years since such records were kept. In 2009, 39.1 in 1,000 teenagers had a baby, down from 41.5 in 2008, a 6 percent decrease.

And while we're on the subject of the sexual revolution, its important not to overstate the case for a radical change in the 60s. According to Cutright (1972), 'Careful examination may well indicate that the extent to which young unmarried people are sexually active today [in 1972] may not have increased very much, after all.' His article also explains that the reason for the the increase in the 60s of teenage pregnancies may be explained by health status changes. He concludes that there was only 'an increase of sexual activity among young girls not intending to marry their sexual partners affecting less than 2.5 percent of either white or black teenagers since 1940... the image of an abstinent past and a promiscuous present is highly exaggerated.' This is not to deny completely a change in fact or a cultural change, but the myth, as Cutright rightly calls it, should not be used to overstate the case of a 'sexual revolution.'

Olly goes on to (approvingly) say that 'people' in the 60s 'Took the pregnancy pill, and whatever else they could get hold of.' Well, this again is just misleading. In the sixties, 19% of married couples and 9% of single women used the contraceptive pill (Waller, 2008). Currently, 25% of all women use the contraceptive pill. Incidentally, its good news that general contraceptive use is on the rise all over the world.

He also talks about drugs; he says at the end of his songs that 'politicians except Barack Obama don't inhale' (again, approvingly). It might give him a heart attack to realise that (presumably) his arch enemy George W Bush also smoked canabis, as did David Cameron

He also says that 'And we've still got war / .We've still got famine.' Except, according to Stephen Pinker 'the last decade saw the lowest number of global deaths in war since records began in 1945 and the fastest ever reduction in global income inequality.' If the current upward trends of per capita GDP continues, Matt Ridley notes 'then by the year 2050 the average citizen of Earth will be earning and spending over $30,000 a year in today’s money, roughly the same as the average American spends today' meaning that there is a 'prospect of Africans and Afghans having the disposable income of today’s Americans within the lifetime of your own children.' Thats not to deny problems with war and poverty, its to discredit trying to compare the 60s with 2009 - a time when people are better off as a whole. 

If the 9/11 denial, the 60s nostalgia didn't get you, then the sheer political ignorance that follows in his song definitely will. In his song he says that 'Now Iraq's been invaded /The Gaza strip's in Israel's grip / Even Syria's been raided.' There is no possible way I could begin to discuss Iraq and Cast Lead but for the purposes of this post, his point about Syria deserves some discussion. 

When I heard that section, I knew he was clearly talking about the 2007 Israeli strike and I thought he might have either a typical pacifist or principled objection to Israel striking Syria's nuclear reactor. And then I scrolled down and saw this: 

It's not that he has a principled position, its not that he even has a position - how can he if he doesn't even know the basic facts? There is clear evidence of Syria's nuclear reactor and that was the reason Israel attacked. It had nothing to do with terrorists on the border. 

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