Eruditorum Press

A workers state with executive dysfunction

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

71 Comments

  1. Tom Watts
    November 23, 2011 @ 1:35 am

    This is a wonderful post. I'd not been looking forward to your Whitehouse one, but you've done a grand job knitting the personal, political and philosophical together. I write my comments mostly when I'm supposed to be working. Every one almost, including this one, has been typed with frequent glances over my shoulder, nerves tensed to clear the screen. I do remember when being a Doctor Who fan was shameful, and part of me still thinks it is. It's odd that I'm quite proud of my horror obsession, so it's not that I feel guilty for not having more mature tastes. It must be the quiet legacy of bullying, or the fear of being bullied.

    Just a couple of points, between now and a chat in the manager's office: I watch Doctor Who fairly intently and I'm involved in Conservative politics. It is so fucked up to think that a distinct climate of bullying was manufactured by political events and leaders in the 80s. In my local Conservative branch are a Wiccan hedge and two gay married couples. But it is a familiar old joke that it is harder to come out as a Tory among activist pagans and queers than it is to be queer or pagan in the Tory party. We only know what we know I suppose, but I've met some vicious Marxist bullies in my time, and progressives with a staggering sense of self-entitlement. And all of them utterly despise Thatcher and will party on her grave etc.

    As a horror fan, I don't mind Whitehouse. You don't need to see Cannibal Holocaust to know what it's all about. I loved it before even seeing it, and I still do. She never saw the Romans in Britain, famously, for the perfectly sensible reason that she didn't want to corrupt her mind with those corrupt images. The point is: it's possible to love and be attuned to art without ever encountering it fully. In the pre DVD and Internet years, that's what most of us had to do. We picked up hints of it and fleshed out the rest in our minds, often with uncanny accuracy. I figure it's the same with art we fear and despise. But don't underestimate the disdain and loathing with which people of Whitehouse's views and sensibilities were and are treated. They feel beleaguered, and not unreasonably. To me the fact that they would probably just want to beleaguer others is beside the point. I went to school with a Mormon and a member of the Exclusive Breathren, and they were both made to suffer and feel ridiculous on occasions.

    And I know I'm missing the point, but I've never met a more cliquish and unfriendly bunch than the self-acknowledged freaks, punks and weirdos of this world. Do outsiders form little self-supporting groups outside the movies? Reality is more like Welcome to the Dollhouse, it seems to me, with mutually and internally antagonistic in groups.

    Every educated Nasties fan these days knows they watch these movies because of their class politics and their problematising of the etc., but no one ever confesses that they watch the cruelty and the crudity out of morbidity or ghoulishness. Doctor Who in this period is also all about leering at monsters and thinking about hideous greeny brown slimy things. This can cruden the sensibilities too, and look at what Hinchcliffe went on to make: Target – dour, witless, charmless, violent.

    Of course the 80s saw a lot of feminist anger, against portrayals of violence, especially against women, and of course against other women, like Thatcher, or Whitehouse. The BFI has just released Voice Over, a fine film about an unstable DJ and his weird relationship with women. Extraordinary to find out how it was pilloried by feminist activists, not all of whom even seem to have seen it. Silliness and philistinism are by no means confined to Enlightenment Liberals.

    I would point out that there is a third way, aside from post modernism, modernism or liberalism, marked out by Heidegger, but before I get the chance to explain – here comes my manager.

    Reply

  2. Tom Watts
    November 23, 2011 @ 1:40 am

    A Wiccan hedge-witch, I meant to say. And I know the above is pretty ill thought-though but I'm nervy and pressed for deadlines. How very 80s.

    Reply

  3. Wm Keith
    November 23, 2011 @ 1:43 am

    Lovely essay.

    Re: Theocracy – it is, of course, more complicated.

    There is a Church of England, which is the established (state) church of England. The Queen is not the Head of the Church but she is, technically, its Supreme Governor. In practice this means that the Prime Minister can veto senior appointments.

    What is the Scottish equivalent of the Church of England? The Church of Scotland is the national church but it is explicitly independent from the state. The Queen is not its Supreme Governor.

    Theologically, the equivalent in Scotland of the Church of England is the Scottish Episcopal Church. Historically, this church has been marginalised because (1) it was seen as too English and (2) it sided with the Jacobites against the Hanoverians (this is far too simplistic a statement, but…) It is totally independent of the British state and for this reason the Episcopal Church in the USA claims descent from the Scottish Episcopal Church rather than from the Church of England.

    The Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1871.

    The Welsh part of the Church of England was disestablished and lost much of its wealth (and became an independent church known as the Church In Wales) in 1920.

    But, anyway, Mary Whitehouse was a very English bigot, and the Enlightenment was very Scottish.

    And the only people who campaign for an October Bank Holiday want to call it Trafalgar Day (to celebrate British victory over the French and Spanish) and to abolish the May Day Bank Holiday. See this Daily Mail article:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1362640/May-Day-Bank-holiday-replaced-St-Georges-Trafalgar-Day-bid-boost-tourism.html

    Reply

  4. Iain Coleman
    November 23, 2011 @ 1:49 am

    Nitpick: The UK does, of course, have a constitution. It's not all written down in one handy document, nor is it fetishised in public discourse, but it nonetheless exists.

    Reply

  5. Wm Keith
    November 23, 2011 @ 2:19 am

    In the same sense, though, (re Nitpick), the constitution of the U.S.A consists of much more than simply the written Constitution document + amendments.

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  6. SK
    November 23, 2011 @ 2:48 am

    There is a Church of England, which is the established (state) church of England. The Queen is not the Head of the Church but she is, technically, its Supreme Governor. In practice this means that the Prime Minister can veto senior appointments.

    Though the Prime Minister can't do that because he or she is the 'Head' of the Church, simply because pretty much all powers of the Crown, including those which come from being supreme governor of the Church of England, are these days exercised by 'the Crown in Parliament'; ie, the Prime Minister. The one exception that comes to mind being the power of the Crown to ask someone to form a government: and that did actually come up in the seventies (though they managed to sidestep it last year).

    The actual Head of the Church is Jesus Christ. I'm not sure whether He could veto the appointment of bishops, or whether if He did the decision would be subject to judicial review.

    The amusing thing, of course, is that a nation with enforced secularity has a holiday called 'Thanksgiving'. Who, exactly, is that they think they are thanking?

    Oh, and Iain: the fun thing about the British constitution is that not only is it not written down, but a lot of it only exists if you believe in the Declarative Theory of Constitutional Law. Which is a fun thing to believe in, of course. So let's say we do.

    (Not that this is very different to the United States: it would be almost impossible for someone simply reading the US Constitution to come up with the same interpretations of it currently in use, especially as the Supreme Court has, I understand, reversed itself several times; so in order to fetishise things like the First Amendment in the mad way Americans do you simply have to believe in the declarative theory because there's no other way to pretend that a rule clearly intended just to stop Congress from shutting up pamphleteers who disagreed with its decisions could really mean that pornography is protected speech.)

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  7. Electric Dragon
    November 23, 2011 @ 3:07 am

    "The actual Head of the Church is Jesus Christ. I'm not sure whether He could veto the appointment of bishops, or whether if He did the decision would be subject to judicial review."

    To quote from Yes, Prime Minister: "We cannot leave the appointment of Bishops to the Holy Ghost, because no one is confident that the Holy Ghost would understand what makes a good Church of England bishop."

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  8. Iain Coleman
    November 23, 2011 @ 3:12 am

    On reflection, I think Phil's "theocracy" crack is arse-about-face, even leaving aside the different situations in the different nations of the UK. In England, the monarch is the head of the established church. This is because Henry VIII disagreed with the Church and decided to take it over in order that it would do as he wanted. (Terribly simplistic, I know, but bear with me.) So England is a constitutional monarchy in which the church is subject to the Crown. If it were a theocracy, the Crown would be subject to the church.

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  9. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 23, 2011 @ 3:17 am

    I think theocracy is really defined more by the equivalence of church and Crown than by a subject/ruler relationship between them. But I'm not sure the arse-face sequencing of what is, as you noted, a joke is really a particularly relevant feature in the first place. 😉

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  10. Wm Keith
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:11 am

    I didn't intend to derail Phil's look at the theoretical background to conservative social values with my comments on the established church. Anyway…

    From a quick look around the internet, Whitehouse's complaints about "Till Death Us Do Part" included:

    "I doubt if many people would use 121 bloodies in half-an-hour." and "Bad language coarsens the whole quality of our life. It normalises harsh, often indecent language, which despoils our communication."

    Are her views on the political and social content of the programme known? As Phil indicates, she wasn't much bothered about these aspects in Doctor Who, and the Hinchcliffe era that Whitehouse so criticised was not so explicitly political as, say, under Letts.

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  11. Spacewarp
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:21 am

    Of course without Mary Whitehouse we wouldn't have had The Mary Whitehouse Experience, and therefore "History Today".

    A generation of kids would then have been deprived of such marvellous put-downs as "See that Mary Whitehouse, complaining about the Telly? She's your girlfriend. You love her."

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  12. Tom Watts
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:28 am

    Or indeed the band and the porn mag.

    Reply

  13. Dan
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:28 am

    I doubt she particularly noticed any social and political content to Doctor Who. She was just concerned about the astonishing levels of tea time violence. (sarcasm)

    On the Queen's role, very briefly, she does dissolve parliaments, request to form governments etc, on a routine basis and if there is a problem she will rely on the advice of elected ministers. She has a right to veto any bill preventing it becoming law, but if this was used arbitrarily what would happen next is anybody's guess.

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  14. SK
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:36 am

    "Bad language coarsens the whole quality of our life. It normalises harsh, often indecent language, which despoils our communication."

    Thus proving that she was occasionally right.

    (Her point there, as she articulated it, was that swearwords derive their power, both to shock and as a release of tension, form their taboo status. Remove the taboo, and the word no longer has any power, and saying it becomes mere punctuation, thus leading those who need to release tension to move to other, more forbidden words — and eventually, when no words have the power to adequately vent their feelings, to lash out. This is evidently true, as a quite glance around the world will confirm.)

    What, I wonder, would be the description of Calvin's Geneva (either as it was, or as Calvin wished it were)?

    Anyway, it occurs to me that this might be a place to ask a question about American history, which is definitely not my specialist subject. Having recently become a fan of Nathaniel Hawthorne (most especially his wonderfully liminal prose, where the spiritual and physical worlds are constantly seeping over into one another — something my brother suggests may be due to the drumlinic landscape which New England shares with the county Down, a geographic literary influence which appeals to me and may also to the author of these articles) I turned to wondering about the context of the original amendments to the American Constitution.

    Specifically, it seems to me that the other section of the first such amendment, the one about Congress not establishing any religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, can surely have been intended to avoid the newly-formed Federation from sending its wraparound-visored stormtroopers to interfere in the religious affairs of its constituent parts.

    I mean, you can see why they'd do that: if you're a community happily running along puritan lines, and you're entering an association with anabaptists and atheists (whose chief architects seem mainly to be deists), you want to put a clause in the articles of association to the effect that the baptists can't come along and force you to reorganise your society along their lines, or the atheists to make you all be secularist.

    From which it follows that the original intent must have been to devolve decisions about establishment of religion to the level of the individual state, province, county or even town. And that the central imposition of any particular religious ideology — of which secularism is most certainly one — directly contravenes this clause.

    But if I'm right about this historical context, that makes me wonder why neither side in the debate about, for example, praying in schools, to pick what seems to be the totemic issue, has made this point. because it seems to me that the only view consistent with the constitution would be for each community that runs its own schools to decide for themselves whether schoolteachers were allowed, not allowed, or required (as in the UK, at least de jure) to lead their pupils in prayer.

    But neither side does seem to make this case, that San Franciso and New York should be as free to prohibit praying in schools as Alabama should be to allow it. Instead they seem to all tacitly agree that the rule must be the same for the whole federal country, and argue about what the text of the amendment means on a countrywide basis — when it seems to me that the whole point of the amendment is to say that such a thing should not be decided on a countrywide, one-size-fits-all basis.

    So have I missed something in the historical context? Or has the notion of 'federality' been so ingrained in the American psyche by this point that the idea of localism simply doesn't occur?

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  15. Iain Coleman
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:37 am

    She has a right to veto any bill preventing it becoming law, but if this was used arbitrarily what would happen next is anybody's guess.

    "The Republic of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" would be a pretty good guess.

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  16. Tom Watts
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:42 am

    A religious person often adheres to ritual even when and especially when it seems empty and faith seems to have withered. A rote objection to swearing is a way of containing the problem, taking away the bottle as a precursor to addressing the reasons for drinking. Besides, every teacher knows that by pulling up children for trivial infringements of absurd rules, you distract them from major infractions and waste their insurgent energies on harmless displays of non-conformity. And Dan, isn't it astonishing, viewed in 2011, the level of tea-time violence? It astonishes me. Are we a less coarse society now or just more precious and repressed? Compare Fawlty Towers to any current sitcom. Cleese's performance crackles like something that might actually electrocute. Baker's performance is notable for its sudden outbursts of anger and aggression, mostly verbal, that these days I think have the power to shock.

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  17. SK
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:44 am

    On the Queen's role, very briefly, she does dissolve parliaments, request to form governments etc, on a routine basis

    No: Her Majesty doesn't dissolve parliaments, the Prime Minister does it in Her Majesty's name. She signs the bit of paper, but it's not her decision, therefore not in any real sense her power. It's the same as conferring honours, going to war, etc: all things done in the Queen's name, but not in any sense her power. You can tell: basically anything that is called the Royal Prerogative is not her prerogative.

    (I think the choosing of privy councillors may still remain in her control. But don't quote me on that.)

    Asking someone to form a government on the other hand is her power, because the Prime Minister can't ask her to do it for the very simple reason that if she's doing it then there must not be a Prime Minister.

    However, the way she uses that power is in almost all circumstances highly constrained by the convention that the Prime Minister must have the confidence of the House of Commons. So usually, that means there is only one possible person who she can ask (anyone else would immediately be defeated and she would just have to ask the right person again).

    The one time she has actually used that power, that I recall, where 'used' implies some discretion rather than simply rubber-stamping the leader of the majority party, was in 1974.

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  18. SK
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:45 am

    "The Republic of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" would be a pretty good guess.

    Actually I think a Regency, until a more compliant monarch could be found, would be far more likely.

    But this discussion is veering very close to treason.

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  19. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:48 am

    On top of being potentially treasonous, you're also risking drawing me out on the topic of why a monarch is better than a written Constitution in general. 🙂

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  20. SK
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:48 am

    Besides, every teacher knows that by pulling up children for trivial infringements of absurd rules, you distract them from major infractions and waste their insurgent energies on harmless displays of non-conformity

    I believe the theory is actually that by enforcing strictly rules such as the uniform, you train the kids to respect authority so that they are obedient in the big things as well.

    (See the horrendous state of discipline in that school featured in the Channel 4 programme: I bet that if the uniform policy was properly enforced, you wouldn't have kids walking over tables or talking over the teachers.)

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  21. Iain Coleman
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:49 am

    The most sweary programme on British telly these days is The Thick Of It, featuring the exuberantly foul-mouthed political advisor Malcolm Tucker (Sample quote: "Tucker's Law: if some cunt can fuck something up, that cunt will pick the worst possible time to fucking fuck it up cause that cunt's a cunt. I've got that embroidered on a tea-towel at home"). However, this is not an example of TV coarsening real-life discourse – quite the reverse.

    On the DVD extras, writer Armando Ianucci tells of the early development stages of the show. They had some actors improvise a scene, watched by the show's consultant, former Downing Street spin doctor Martin Sixsmith. When it was over, they asked Sixsmith what he thought of it. "It was good," replied Sixsmith, "but they didn't say 'cunt' enough". So the language of the show was duly coarsened to more accurately reflect the speech patterns of highly educated people at the heart of the political establishment.

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  22. SK
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:51 am

    On top of being potentially treasonous, you're also risking drawing me out on the topic of why a monarch is better than a written Constitution in general.

    I think by now we have got the idea that basically you think the whole 1776 thing was a Big Mistake that would be best brushed under the carpet and forgotten about.

    Not that you're necessarily wrong about that. But then, I find the whole incident kind of amusing, as the man who gave the colonies away (to the French, which just makes it even more amusing) was an old boy of my college.

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  23. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:59 am

    Actually, the 1776 thing was fine. The grievances raised by the colonies were legitimate. The colonization in the first place was a moral obscenity, but that's at this point our issue since we're the ones who continue to screw the indigenous population of the country. You lot are pretty good on that one.

    No, it's actually specifically the written Constitution I object to. The US government is basically a piece of software designed to run on the hardware of horses and buggies. It's designed to work in a world where communication between New York and Washington is as slow as travel between them, and where travel times between them is measured in days, not hours. And because it's a written document adhering to the moral and technological standards of the 18th century, the US is increasingly hamstrung by it. The written word is fixed and immutable. And we have it as the sort of weird fetish object establishing the legitimacy of our government, and that causes us continual and devastating problems.

    The UK, on the other hand, has a more or less powerless figurehead as the weird fetish object establishing the legitimacy of the government. Being a human instead of a piece of paper, this figurehead does convenient things for the march of history like change its mind and die to be replaced by a new figurehead. This turns out to be much more nimble and able to handle changing circumstances of history than the US.

    So while I think the Revolution itself was on target, and that the Constitution was, in 1787, the pinnacle of intelligent liberal thought, I think the UK is still ahead of us on the whole.

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  24. Dan
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:04 am

    Iain Coleman: Yes, a good guess.

    SK – no, I wasn't in any way suggesting it was a real power, but in theory she has a veto. I was concerned that one of the comments might give the impression she had some de facto power.

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  25. Dr. Happypants
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:14 am

    The ultimate triumph for the alchemist is to take the leaden crap bequeathed them by the past, circumstance, and the petty sadism of bullies and transform it into something shiny and interesting and illuminating. Way to rock your Hermetic mojo, Philip.

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  26. SK
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:16 am

    The grievances raised by the colonies were legitimate

    I was in the US this week. Over a schoolkid's shoulder on the subway I saw notes about that little bit of Bostonian vandalism.

    I thought about suggesting she ask her teacher what the effect of the Tea Act on the commodity price of tea in the colonies would have been, but decided in the end not to.

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  27. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:17 am

    I've always felt as though the Stamp Act and the Boston Massacre made for better casus belli anyway.

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  28. SK
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:20 am

    The UK, on the other hand, has a more or less powerless figurehead as the weird fetish object establishing the legitimacy of the government.

    The UK has all its laws signed by a monarch who is crowned by a member of the clergy, in a church, and who swears to 'maintain the Laws of God'.

    This rather nicely keeps at the heart of a democracy the fact that right and wrong are not human inventions subject to revision and the will of the populace.

    This is a rather neat balance, and societies which forget it are apt to become morally unmoored and float with the tide.

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  29. SK
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:23 am

    One wonders how the colonists who objected to the Stamp Act thought that the costs of defending them from the French and the Indians ought to be met.

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  30. Dan
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:25 am

    An interesting set of facts to go with the discussion on the role of the monarchy in UK government, here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reserve_power#United_Kingdom

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  31. Jesse
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:26 am

    I was going to stay out of this, but Phil is tempting me to break out my defense of the Articles of Confederation.

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  32. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:27 am

    I'm really going to have to insist that you break that out, Jesse.

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  33. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:29 am

    SK – The objection was, of course, less to the Stamp Act as policy than to the fact that it was imposed by people who had never and would never actually visit the areas they were governing and taxing. The objection wasn't to taxation to fund wars, it was to having no voice in the government that was doing the taxing. It's taxation without representation that was objected to, not taxation in general.

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  34. Jesse
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:37 am

    If I do, I won't get any work done today. But I agree with the bulk of Merrill Jensen's interpretation of the period, so maybe I should appoint him my (dead) spokesperson.

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  35. Iain Coleman
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:39 am

    "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"

    – Samuel Johnson, Taxation No Tyranny

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  36. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:43 am

    Iain – That would be one of the colossal failings of American history there, yes. But that doesn't delegitimize the grievance, it just was a pretty good sign of how well we were going to do for ourselves once we broke away. And a fairly accurate omen, I should think. We fucked it up almost exactly as badly as you'd expect given that we were hell-bent on maintaining slavery.

    I mean, I have no investment in the idea that the framers of the Constitution were pinnacles of moral perfection. They obviously weren't. This entire post is, in part, an attack on their intellectual legacy. But the idea that taxation without representation is unjust is not one of the things they were wrong about.

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  37. Electric Dragon
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:44 am

    "The US government is basically a piece of software designed to run on the hardware of horses and buggies."

    And the change control procedures for releasing patches appear to be far more difficult to surmount than anything I've encountered. I mean, the last patch was first released to development over 200 years ago.

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  38. SK
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:47 am

    It's difficult to see how they could practically have had a voice at Westminster, though. I suppose the Westminster government could have simply set a level of contribution for their defence to be demanded from the colonies and left it up to them how they raised it, but somehow I doubt they would have acquiesced to that either.

    I don't know: it always seems to me the same problem as private fire brigades. You're not going to willingly pay if you think there's a good chance that someone else will, for their own benefit, provide the service that you can take advantage of. After all, what would the representation have gained them? It's not like they could decide whether or not to defend the colonies, as Britain had to do that in her own interests.

    It really does look like people trying to get out of paying tax because they either don't understand the benefit the service provides (because it's always been there, so they assume it 'just happens') or because they reckon that enough others will pay that they can freeload.

    Comparisons with the present day are left as an exercise for the reader.

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  39. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:50 am

    And it's probably the case that the end solution reached – that it's just not a good idea to govern America from Westminster – is the ethically optimal one. I mean, yes – there were obvious logistical issues in governing the colonies from Westminster. That's why, I think, the end result was that they weren't anymore.

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  40. Wm Keith
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:50 am

    We've just witnessed what would in other times have been a Major Constitutional Upheaval in the UK.

    Everyone seems to be agreed that the law of succession to the Crown is to be changed to strict primogeniture (regardless of the sex of the child). Not that other options such as the selection of a monarch by lottery have been seriously considered.

    The law has been changed before, but this time no one is really expecting the proposed change in the law to result in a series of civil wars or in the clearance of the Scottish Highlands.

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  41. Iain Coleman
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:52 am

    More from Johnson's essay:

    "The Americans have voluntarily resigned the power of voting, to live in distant and separate governments; and what they have voluntarily quitted, they have no right to claim.

    It must always be remembered, that they are represented by the same virtual representation as the greater part of Englishmen; and that, if by change of place, they have less share in the legislature than is proportionate to their opulence, they, by their removal, gained that opulence, and had originally, and have now, their choice of a vote at home, or riches at a distance."

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  42. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 23, 2011 @ 5:57 am

    The problem is that there's a genuine failure of scaling. It's one thing for a place on the same island as London or in the general vicinity of that island to be ruled from London. It's another when there are entire oceans in the way. The technology of the 18th century did not scale to the task of governing the colonies from Britain in an ethically legitimate way.

    I'm also more than a little ambivalent about describing the exile of religious dissidents to the colonies as "voluntary."

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  43. SK
    November 23, 2011 @ 6:06 am

    Not that other options such as the selection of a monarch by lottery have been seriously considered.

    Um, that's exactly how we do select the monarch: by lottery of birth.

    'Hereditary despotism is, then, in essence and sentiment democratic because it chooses from mankind at random. If it does not declare that every man may rule, it declares the next most democratic thing; it declares that any man may rule.' G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

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  44. Wm Keith
    November 23, 2011 @ 6:22 am

    Indeed, but the child is destined to be monarch from the moment of birth and is educated for the role by the current incumbent's family.

    It might be more interesting for random members of the population to serve a short term (or, indeed, life) as monarch. What stories they would have to tell their friends and neighbours! It might be one way to get the public more involved in government and politics.

    Or perhaps the Tibetans have the right idea.

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  45. Adam B
    November 23, 2011 @ 6:41 am

    As much as I'm thrilling to discussion of the world's least revolutionary revolution, I'd like to come back to what I think is the heart of this post: bullying.

    I think it's wonderful, Tom, that there are gay Wiccans involved in Tory politics now. There are in Republican politics over here, too. Not as surprisingly perhaps, there are are several "outcasts" involved in the Democratic party as well. However, both Republicans and Democrats are involved in power-mad bullying all the time. It is largely Democrats in charge in California, where the most brutal crackdowns on Occupy-style protests have taken place, and here in Chicago where I live, those of us planning to take to the streets in ever more strident fashion leading up to the NATO/G8 Summits here in May are well aware that our Dem mayor and city council will unleash the fury of the fascist new police superintendent against us when that time comes.

    My point is that bullying by those in power is largely a product of power itself. Of course political parties and organizations of all types are welcoming more and more diverse populations, the world itself is inexorably changing to accommodate such changes in attitude. But the abuses of power aren't going anywhere, and I agree with Phil that it's really gotten worse since the rises of Thatcher and Reagan in the 80's. Where I may differ from him is that I think it would've happened anyway, regardless of the political affiliation of elected leaders at the time. Like the Doctor, I do not subscribe to "great person" theory.

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  46. SK
    November 23, 2011 @ 6:46 am

    It might be more interesting for random members of the population to serve a short term (or, indeed, life) as monarch.

    Given that the whole point of the institution is to embody continuity, that seems to entirely miss the point! It's necessary to know as far as possible in advance who is in line, to ensure that the continuity of the past can be seen stretching into the future; and it's necessary to train the next incumbent because, well, otherwise they might to anything. Something crazy.

    So we do rather need to pick people from birth, so they can be trained to behave properly and not embarrass the nation (would that we could pick their spouses too…) and given that we don't know how long a given monarch is going to live, the current method seem the most practical.

    Reply

  47. SK
    November 23, 2011 @ 6:48 am

    Oh, and:

    It might be one way to get the public more involved in government and politics.

    Of course not! The whole point is that the monarch is above politics! If the monarch gets people interested in politics, they are doing it wrong.

    A certain heir apparent will hopefully stop doing it wrong when he ascends.

    Reply

  48. Wm Keith
    November 23, 2011 @ 7:23 am

    I'm not certain that the "whole point" of the institution is to embody continuity. It could also be argued – in fact, you did argue this – that the institution is essentially a sort of randomised democracy. Picking by lot rather than by lineage is no more democratic, as you have said, and is neither more nor less liable to result in a murderous, suicidal monarch (see King Dipendra of Nepal, 2001). But I'm surprised that you consider "proper behaviour" and "not being embarrassing" are the prime criteria for the appointment of a head of state. We could simply give the crown as the prize for winning Laddette to Lady.

    I don't see why the opportunity to participate in government shouldn't get the public interested in public affairs (as opposed to those affairs which are limited to the bedroom).

    Reply

  49. SK
    November 23, 2011 @ 7:48 am

    Well, I quoted Chesterton, not entirely relevantly as you'll note he was talking about 'Hereditary despotism' which is rather different to a constitutional monarchy.

    Giving the crown as a prize for an etiquette contest again violates the continuity principle, which, I'm sorry, simply is if not the whole point a large part of it. I'm fairly sure that it's a large part of the reason why support for the monarchy runs so high among polls of the public: the monarch provides a touchstone of continuity in a changing world, a symbol of the thread that connects us to the past and will carry us into the future. A lineage-based system is probably the best way of creating that powerful symbol of something that abides and endures, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

    I don't see why the opportunity to participate in government shouldn't get the public interested in public affairs

    Again: the monarch, these days, has nothing to do with government. the monarch should very specifically stay out of government. If the monarch intervenes in government, then the monarch gets dragged into politics, and will end up with some people agreeing with them and some disagreeing, and again that defeats the point of an enduring continuous symbol of the entire nation.

    A monarch is better than a President as a head of state (but not a head of government) precisely because nobody voted for them — so nobody voted against them. They can embody the whole state, provide a rallying figure, without having to get involved in anything so messy as asking people to vote for them.

    Participating in government, then, would be a disaster on two fronts: one, anyone involved in government should be subject to a vote now and again so that they can be kicked out if necessary (as old Winnie said about democracy). And two, as mentioned above, them intervening in government would lead to them taking sides and the head of state should not be able to be claimed by any side: they should represent the entire country.

    Reply

  50. inkdestroyedmybrush
    November 23, 2011 @ 9:39 am

    On the personal note: bullying? Yes it does happen and did happen on as large a scale or larger than Philip encountered in 93. Ask the children of the 60's and '70's when toothless school policies not only did nothing to discourage the bullys, but sometimes rewarded the perps as the school officials thought that it would "toughen up" the young "different" kids.

    Being an American Dr Who fan in '80 wasn't easy. Its almost a cliche now: I was skinny, 14, not terribly athletic and loved science fiction and comic books so, of course, on a daily basis, got cowed, intimidated, had artwork taken from me and destroyed, got bullied all over the school. Seriously, its a bad movie when you describe it like that.

    Not quite sure what it is about most boys, but their first impulse is to destroy. Anything. Doesn't matter what. Just destroy. I have two daughters now and I see it in all the boys in their classes when i volunteer.

    And yet, and yet… it does get better as the youtube saying goes. Like Doctor Who in 1977, we metamorphed under pressure, changed who we presented ourselves, grew up and found others who believed in differences and creation and moved on in society. We didn't remain the outcast anoraks forever.

    The Halloween party we throw is the best one my wife and i put on all year. This year, we had two Matt Smiths show up (both boys younger than 11). Both with different generations of sonics even. My Dalek pumpkin was celebrated as a carving triumph (well, it was considered second best to the Pug). Dr Who is celebrated as legitimate science fiction and at its best is a triumph of TV.

    We oulasted the bullies, many of who work in waste disposal and exceptionally boring careers. They had and have no imagination. It is OK to feel choked up about the Dalek scarecrow. You earned it.

    Reply

  51. SK
    November 23, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

    Ask the children of the 60's and '70's when toothless school policies not only did nothing to discourage the bullys

    Well, this is the problem of not having proper discipline or respect for authority.

    I'm not keen on this stuff about Doctor Who becoming mainstream. Five years ago in a queue I heard kids and their parents discussing Cybermen and Daleks (this was between the broadcast of Army of Ghostsand Doomsday) and I thought, five years ago anyone who mentioned Daleks and Cybermen in the same sentence I could have an intelligent discussion with about the different metaphorical bases of the fears embodied in each Doctor Who monster. I could talk about how the abandoned 'Body Shop' concept would have been truer to the original conception of the Cybermen as the self-dehumanisation of mankind than the mess we ended up with in the Age of Steel. I could have mentioned The Abolition of Man.

    Now it's being talked about by twelve-year-olds who have no clue and they should shut up.

    So I can't get 'choked up' by the mainstreaming of Doctor Who symbols. It's not for the mainstream. It's for those who can understand and discuss it intelligently.

    Not quite sure what it is about most boys, but their first impulse is to destroy.

    'Girls are incomparably wilder and more effervescent than boys, more untamable and regardless of rule and limit, with an ever-shifting variety, breaking continually into new modes of fun, yet with a harmonious propriety through all. Their steps, their voices, appear free as the wind, but keep consonance with a strain of music inaudible to us. Young men and boys, on the other hand, play, according to recognized law, old, traditionary games, permitting no caprioles of fancy, but with scope enough for the outbreak of savage instincts. For, young or old, in play or in earnest, man is prone to be a brute.'

    N. Hawthorne, The Blythedale Romance

    Reply

  52. Iain Coleman
    November 23, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

    The cheek of those kids, eh? Daring to enjoy a Saturday tea-time children's show! And the fourteen million who watched City of Death were the elite, I tell you. The elite!

    Reply

  53. BerserkRL
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:23 pm

    When you find yourself describing Mary Whitehouse as an exponent of Enlightenment liberalism, I think it's pretty clear that something in the analysis has gone awry.

    I’d say that the actual logical endpoint of Enlightenment liberalism is not Reagan/Thatcher but rather individualist anarchism of a decidedly egalitarian sort. And that avoiding any such outcome, by highjacking the rhetoric of Enlightenment liberalism while leaving the substance firmly behind, was (and is) the central function of Reagan/Thatcher conservatism.

    I also think the opposition between Enlightenment liberalism and postmodern liberalism, as you describe it, is a false dichotomy — or, to get fancier, a dialectical antinomy in need of synthesis through a judicious application of Ramsey's Maxim. Enlightenment liberalism (in the version you describe, which I think is a deformed version) reasons:

    1. In a free market of ideas, the best ideas rise to the top.
    2. We have a free market of ideas or a close approximation thereto.
    3. Therefore, the ideas that currently dominate must be the best.

    And the postmodern liberals (again in your version) reason:

    1. The ideas that currently dominate represent wealth and power rather than anything that is best.
    2. We have a free market of ideas or a close approximation thereto.
    3. Therefore, in a free market of ideas, the ideas that rise to the top represent wealth and power rather than anything that is best.

    My Ramsey gripe would be with premise (2).

    "secular versions of Enlightenment thought are not the place most people go for aesthetic advice"

    In contemporary analytic philosophy they are (particularly the Scottish versions of Enlightenment thought). Not that that contradicts what you said.

    "Thanksgiving is what we have as our autumnal holiday because we just can't look ourselves in the mirror if we're calling something 'October Bank Holiday.'"

    And because Hallowe'en is too pagan for Americans. It's celebrated, but no one gets the day off.

    "My point here is really just for American readers – not that there are any the day before Thanksgiving"

    I'm here!

    "Libertarianism is little more than a proof by contradiction of Enlightenment liberalism in which everybody forgot what to do after you find the contradiction."

    Hey, I'm standing right here!

    Reply

  54. BerserkRL
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

    "there's no other way to pretend that a rule clearly intended just to stop Congress from shutting up pamphleteers who disagreed with its decisions could really mean that pornography is protected speech"

    Are you assuming that the meaning of a law is determined by the intentions of its drafters? And if so, do you mean consequential or semantic intentions? If a king who doesn't know he's Scottish decrees that all person of Scottish descent must be killed, does that decree apply to himself? Yes, according to his semantic intentions; no according to his consequential ones. But the semantic intentions seem more important to the meaning. So the First Amendment might apply to pornography via semantic intentions (i.e., the more important intentions) even if it didn't via consequential ones.

    "From which it follows that the original intent must have been to devolve decisions about establishment of religion to the level of the individual state, province, county or even town."

    But then the question is whether the 14th amendment extends the 1st amendment to cover the local jurisdictions also.

    "the Constitution was, in 1787, the pinnacle of intelligent liberal thought"

    Dear god no. It was a plutocratic coup d'etat. Like Jesse I prefer the Articles of Confederation. But I prefer Godwin's Enquiry (admittedly a handful of years later) to either.

    "One wonders how the colonists who objected to the Stamp Act thought that the costs of defending them from the French and the Indians ought to be met."

    In some way that didn't involve censorshp? or taxation without representation?

    Reply

  55. BerserkRL
    November 23, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

    Incidentally, I should probably explain my reference to Ramsey's Maxim. The maxim states that when philosophical disputes prove intractable and unenlightening, "it is a heuristic maxim that the truth lies not in one of the two disputed views but in some third possibility which has not yet been thought of, which we can only discover by rejecting something assumed as obvious by both the disputants."

    Reply

  56. sleepyscholar
    November 23, 2011 @ 6:26 pm

    I'm with you, Iain. I think those twelve-year-olds (or my nine-year-old son, who has been discussing The Beast Below with me a lot recently) have a strong basis for arguing that the 'fans' have no clue and should shut up.

    Reply

  57. Wm Keith
    November 23, 2011 @ 11:52 pm

    Frankly, when my six-year-old son tells me that the existence of The Silence demonstrates the truth of Ramsey's Maxim, I'll turn to him and murmur "Spoilers!".

    Education through entertainment, SK.

    Reply

  58. SK
    November 24, 2011 @ 12:20 am

    But then the question is whether the 14th amendment extends the 1st amendment to cover the local jurisdictions also

    See, I told you American history wasn't my area. I didn't know about this 14th amendment. The only other amendments I know are the ones about booze. That probably explains it.

    And the fourteen million who watched City of Death were the elite, I tell you.

    I don't like the Tom Baker era, so I'm pretty sure that the fourteen million who watched City of Death were idiots.

    Reply

  59. Spacewarp
    November 24, 2011 @ 6:08 am

    Remember that probably only 10,000 actually watched City of Death. The other 13,990,000 were extrapolated idiots.

    Reply

  60. Wm Keith
    November 24, 2011 @ 6:19 am

    That's representative democracy for you.

    Reply

  61. Henry R. Kujawa
    April 14, 2012 @ 7:38 pm

    SK:
    "The amusing thing, of course, is that a nation with enforced secularity has a holiday called 'Thanksgiving'. Who, exactly, is that they think they are thanking?"

    Thanksgiving, of course, predates the Constitution, and the U.S.A. itself. But then, many people who celebrate Christmas don't believe there ever even was a man named Jesus, whether he was the son of God or not. (I'm sure some of them don't believe the Nazi Holocaust happened, EITHER. Never mind all the photographs and eye-witnesses.) I once kidded a Jewish friend of mine who owned a store that, since he regularly closed on Jewish holidays, that he should open his store on Christmas.

    Iain Coleman:
    "This is because Henry VIII disagreed with the Church and decided to take it over in order that it would do as he wanted."

    I saw the movie. He wanted a divorce. Do you know how many murder mysteries are centered on the idea that the Catholic Church won't grant divorces? Since the 80's, they will, at least, grant "annulments", in the case of insanity, adultery or "marriage under false pretenses". The adultery part makes me shake my head. I interpret it as meaning, if you actually sleep with someone else and it's proven that you have (by you or your spouse), then, you can have your annulment. Seems a shame to have to commit an immoral act just to end a marriage which may be hopeless, ill-advised in the first place, or totally self-destructive to one or both parties involved.

    Wm Keith:
    "Whitehouse's complaints about "Till Death Us Do Part" included"

    I have never seen the show, but I have always heard it was the basis for "ALL IN THE FAMILY". Only recently did I learn, to my amusement, that its star was in 2 Emma Peel episodes of THE AVENGERS, including "Two's A Crowd", which also featured Julian Glover. Never would have imagined Warren Mitchell ("Brodny") was the inspiration for Archie Bunker.

    SK:
    "has the notion of 'federality' been so ingrained in the American psyche by this point that the idea of localism simply doesn't occur?"

    I almost hate to say this… I'm afraid it's been going that way ever since the formation of the Republican Party, when their first elected preisdent, Abraham Lincoln, more or less was responsible for the American Civil War. It's only in the last 6 months that I've suddenly begun to see Republican administrations as having been directly associated with some of the worst problems this country has ever had to deal with, going back at least to the 1920's. Amazing it took me 52 years to really notice this. (And yes, I'm sure there've been bad Democrats, too.)

    Reply

  62. Jesse
    April 15, 2012 @ 5:38 am

    Thanksgiving, of course, predates the Constitution, and the U.S.A. itself.

    While "thanksgiving" celebrations have been around for eons, the annual American holiday known as Thanksgiving was not created until the Civil War.

    Reply

  63. GarrettCRW
    May 3, 2012 @ 10:23 am

    The power of Whitehouse is such that it took not one, but two people in America to spread her hateful brand of evil in America: Peggy Charren and Donald Wildmon. Charren, with Action for Children's Television blindly combatted the "evil" of violence on television (often in the most idiotic ways possible, as a prime target of hers in the '80s was He-Man, which by definition of being produced by Filmation was not the most violent thing on the air), while Wildmon chased after offenses to morality in the name of religion (the campaign against Bakshi's Mighty Mouse being his most infamously silly attack). Sadly, while Wildmon has been laughed away with minimal lingering influence, Charren managed to inspire the regulations that require TV stations air "educational" programming for children-rules which, when not subverted by loopholes, result in the "E/I" label being applied to shows that in many cases qualify as torture under the Geneva Convention treaties.

    Reply

  64. John
    December 18, 2013 @ 8:17 am

    The Queen chooses Knights of the Garter and the Thistle.

    In terms of the prime minister, that's right, although usually the outgoing prime minister will advise her on who to send for. Other than 1974, the time when the present Queen had some choice in the matter was at Macmillan's resignation in 1963, when, at Macmillan's advice, she sent for Douglas-Home. At that time, the Tories didn't really have a procedure for choosing a leader under those circumstances, so Douglas-Home got picked even though both the Cabinet and the parliamentary party might have preferred Rab Butler.

    Reply

  65. John
    December 18, 2013 @ 8:24 am

    The problem with that is that the British had literally tried for decades to get the colonial assemblies to raise money on their own to pay for these wars, and they refused. The only reason the British moved to arbitrary taxation policies was because of an already existing implicit objection on the part of the colonies to taxation to fund wars.

    Basically:

    Step 1: American colonists refuse to approve taxes to pay for wars.

    Step 2: The British impose taxation on the colonists by fiat, in order to pay for said wars.

    Step 3: The American colonists object that they are being taxed without being represented.

    Of course, this hypocrisy is hardly unique. The English Civil War arose under similar circumstances, where the Personal Rule happened basically because Parliament wouldn't give Charles I money to fight wars on the continent that Parliament insisted that he fight.

    Reply

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  67. Rudolf
    January 7, 2015 @ 8:57 pm

    Wikipedia – I'll admit openly that's what I'm using here – lists the Reithian … wikogetaway.blogspot.de

    Reply

  68. IQroniK
    January 14, 2015 @ 1:34 am

    Amazing post!

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    Reply

  69. Terry
    February 3, 2015 @ 1:57 pm

    One thing I like about your Doctor Who posts, and especially here with the Dalek going up in the middle school is how you manage to take larger world events, far bigger than I or you and then apply it to your own personal experience with skill and finesse. Admittedly it's a trick that has been done in many ways, both with literary motifs and other forms of cultural examinations, but you pull it off with a particular finesse that makes reading so much more enjoyable.

    Reply

  70. Toimelord
    July 1, 2018 @ 3:20 pm

    Being old enough to recall Mary Whitehouse in her ‘pomp’ if that is the right word, I have always considered that she was a creation of the ‘right of centre’ press (no doubt they would regard themselves as ‘traditional’). Her support was drawn from the ‘evangelical’ strain of the Church of England, mainstream Christians regarded her an eccentric at best. I can imagine what she would have made of gay weddings, female bishops and other advances in the CofE. It would have all been the fault of Doctor Who no doubt!

    I am convinced that she represented that type of ‘traditional’ English middle-aged lady who ALWAYS worn a hat and gloves, the former matching her coat, parodied by the Month Pyhthon team.

    The attack on Doctor Who was calculated to appeal to that group, who would never watch, indeed I recall statistics that suggested most of her supporters did not even own a TV. In some ways, I think Doctor Who was an accidental ‘victim’ or her ire, there was not much else on before 7:00pm that could be remotely construed as being unsuitable viewing. To paraphrase ‘Father Ted’, Whitehouse’s campaign was based similar lines to Ted’s “Down With This Sort of Thing” protest rather than a focussed attack on Doctor Who.

    Reply

  71. Tony Whitt
    July 9, 2020 @ 6:35 pm

    I’m making my slow way through your blog in the summer of 2020, and I’m struck by two things, one of them timely, the other not so much: how the bullies appear to have won for the moment, at least in the US; and how closely your experience being an out DW fan in middle school mirrors my own.

    Regarding the first one, it feels like our president (lower-case “p” intended) is little more than a schoolyard bully who, by some bizarre mixture of sheer luck and taking advantage of the flaws in our electoral system, has found himself in the position to bully whomever he wants. Say what one will about Thatcher, she could still be regarded as a principled conservative and not in it just for the power (though, like all politicians, that was obviously part of the mix). But had Whitehouse been crusading for this sort of thing in our own country now, we’d probably get some unenforceable “executive order” trying to take shows like DOCTOR WHO off the air immediately.

    As for our experiences in middle school, there are a few major differences: I was in middle school during the 1980s in Appalachian Virginia (not a great place or time to be part of a lifelong Democrat household, and certainly not a great place to be struggling with one’s sexuality), and DOCTOR WHO was still available to watch on television via PBS. I also didn’t have to deal with the frankly horrible-sounding “restitution” policy you dealt with – if my bullies had done anything truly overt, they’d have been (shudder) paddled.

    But I remember all too vividly taking my first Target novelization on the bus to school with me and being ridiculed for reading a book with the word “Dicks” on the cover. (Weirdly enough, I still get a silent reaction to that on the trains in Chicago from time to time.) I had a merciless bully in my first year of high school who would call out “Doctor WHOOOOOO!” at me as I tried to get from class to class and pushing me into my locker while doing so. (I suppose I’m lucky I didn’t come out until moving back to Michigan, as there’s no doubt this same dumbass would have gladly thrown me down a staircase if I’d been openly gay as well.) Middle school doesn’t excuse difference, and as a bookish DW fan with a Midwest accent in a town full of jocks with deep Virginia drawls, I was about as different as they came.

    The key link between these two things is that the sort of bullying I went through (and I suspect the sort you did as well) and the one Trump employs is a very specifically White-Evangelical-fundamentalist-capitalist-traditionalist-inflected bullying that targets anyone not-White, not-Evangelical, not-fundamentalist, not-capitalist, not-traditionalist – ie. Different, Other, Not-We. (Not entirely sure that the Hinchcliffe era can be called any of those things accurately, but it sure as hell was “Different” from anything Whitehouse would have considered “traditional.”) This worldview posits itself as the victim of institutional oppression and tries to excuse its behavior as a part of what its own society expects of it (my bully would likely have said he was “just having fun” had he been caught, and Trump excuses his actions based on what his dwindling number of “fans” want), and somehow it manages to get its way more often than not. While I’m glad that a White man shouting in a Florida store “I feel threatened!” while lurching offensively at the person filming him should get the comeuppance he deserves, that sort of thing only seems to happen on the individual level, and not even then sometimes. It strikes me that the only reason Whitehouse wasn’t dismissed as the bigoted kookbag that she was is because she allied herself with similarly minded bullies in power, and thus we lost what I personally consider to be one of the best producers in DW history.

    If the 13-year old me had known then exactly what accounted for his favorite show suddenly getting WEIRD once Leela’s eye color changed, he’d probably hide in his locker and cry. I can’t even guarantee he’s not there now.

    (By the way, I’ve noticed how you write about your first experiences of later Baker stories coming directly from the Target books. If you’d ever like to guest on our podcast to discuss one of them, we’d love to have you.)

    Thanks, and stay safe!

    • TBW

    Reply

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