As I’ve noted previously, I’ve had some good times in Paris, so it was sad to watch fire ravage Notre Dame cathedral last night. Fortunately, the skill and courage of the Parisian sapeurs-pompiers ensured that the flames were extinguished before the whole structure collapsed, but it’s still going to take years, if not decades, to restore.

It’s tempting to see this event as some sort of metaphor for the fragility of seemingly eternal European institutions, but I suspect it may end up symbolising exactly the opposite; the ability of the EU to survive temporary conflagrations like Brexit. Whether the UK will be part of that future remains doubtful, though the chances of a remain outcome are certainly better than they were a few weeks ago, and seem likely to be further boosted by a good showing for pro-EU parties in the European elections next month.

As time passes, the fire at Notre Dame will become just a footnote in its centuries-long history; hopefully Brexit will fade into a similar obscurity.

Once more on Wikileaks

It’s nearly seven years since we last posted about Julian Assange and Wikileaks; our take at that time was that freedom of information was a good thing, but that promoting it didn’t give anyone a pass for sexual assault.

Now that Assange’s falling-out with the Ecuadorian government has brought the issue back into the news, should we reconsider our position? Since 2012 the waters have been significantly muddied by the role played by Wikileaks in the 2016 US election, but I see no reason to think differently; we would oppose his extradition to the US on hacking charges, but think he should answer the rape accusations in Sweden.

More broadly, I think the last decade has seen a change in the way that the ruling class tries to control information. Keeping secrets by throwing people like Assange (or Chelsea Manning, who is much more deserving of support) in jail seems old-fashioned; it’s more effective to undermine the whole concept of objective truth by flooding the internet with conspiracy theories, so that any real scandal that leaks out can be plausibly dismissed as fake news. Social media, which promised to democratise information flow, has instead concentrated control in the hand of a few secretive corporations, with links to government that we can only speculate about.

We’ve known since the days of Marx that workers’ control of the economic levers of society is a precondition for progressive change, but economics is not everything; Gramsci illuminated the importance of cultural hegemony in maintaining the dominance of capital. Today our culture is more than ever mediated through the control of information; transferring that control from the bourgeoisie to the masses is perhaps the most pressing task facing revolutionaries in this era. The lesson of the Wikileaks story is that such work is too important to be left to fallible individuals; it must be a collective, democratic enterprise.

Intergalactic perspective

I always feel that, in uncertain times like these, it’s helpful to step back and take a cosmic view, so I was interested to see the image from the Event Horizon telescope of the black hole at the centre of the Messier 87 galaxy, 55 million light years away. When one can actually see an object six billion times as massive as the sun, warping time and space with its unimaginable gravity, and spitting out particles heated to billions of degrees at nearly light speed, it’s hard to get too bothered about the petty squabbles of this insignificant planet.

Neighbourly intervention

Back home again, to the news that the EU 27, presumably motivated by a mixture of pity and self-interest, seem set to offer the UK an extension of article 50 until the end of the year, thus saving us from crashing out this Friday, on the condition that we use the time to get our collective shit together.

That is perhaps asking more of us than we can deliver; the immediate consequence of the delay will be to oblige the country to participate in the European elections, which seem likely to turn into a rerun by proxy of the 2016 referendum. I guess it’s possible that the nation will take the opportunity to engage in some serious reflection and respectful debate, before coming to a considered decision that everyone can live with, but, you know, probably not.

So it looks like, come December, if not before, our continental relatives will once again be asking themselves if this relationship is really worth putting any more work into, or whether they should let us get on with fucking ourselves up, and wait for us to crawl back in remorse at some point in the future.

Comforting distance

I’m posting this from a location deep in central Europe; I’d love to say that I’d moved here permanently, to escape the madness of political life in the UK, but, alas, I’m just here temporarily for a business trip.

I’ve been in transit for the last few days, only partially aware of the news from home, but I’ve caught up a bit more today. Theresa May seems to have switched back to conciliatory mode, offering to form a united front with Labour to find a way through the Brexit impasse, though the consensus among left-leaning commentators, with which I am inclined to concur, is that she is negotiating in bad faith, in the hope of frightening her own party into finally backing her deal. It appears doubtful that the ERG, having held out so far, will crack at the eleventh hour however, and in any case Labour, understandably wary of sharing any blame for the debacle, would most likely make any agreement conditional on confirmation by a popular vote, an outcome May has vowed to resist.

Meanwhile, in Brussels the EU, adamant that there will be no further short extension to article 50, are stepping up preparations for an unruly UK exit on April 12th, and in Westminster the desperate parliamentary manoeuvring which seeks to wrest control of the process away from the government looks doomed to failure. It’s very difficult to remain optimistic. Perhaps I should cash in my return ticket and apply for political asylum…

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