Interview with Nicola Masciandaro on Bergmetal (Part 1)


In Spring 2012 I conducted an interview with Nicola Masciandaro, the esteemed medievalist academic, author of The Whim and driving researcher in the fields of Black Metal Theory and Cyclonopedia Studies. His areas of expertise are medieval literature and philosophy with an interest in mysticism, labour, individuation, sorrow, commentary, spontaneity, metal and para-academic modes of enquiry.

TVA - Hi Nicola, so tell me a little about Bergmetal

NM - It's less a project than a notebook with potential to turn into something else. I have been teaching my freshman english course on the theme of mountains (via Dionysius, Petrarch, Shelley, Wordsworth, Ruskin, Lovecraft, german bergfilm etc) so the interface with metal acquired gravity for me, plus being a longtime rock climber and its about time the subgenre got a name. At the Melancology symposium Dominik Irtenkauf gave a good paper on mountains in black metal so I have also invited him to contribute to the blog, which he did in the latest post.

TVA - Using blogs as places to just note ideas and connections can be a really productive and creative mode of research. The connections between BM, paganism, the sublime, geophilia, the indifferent cthuhlian other - could you expand a little on your readings of these relations?

NM - I think about bergmetal as a new evolution or synthesis of premodern and modern ideas of the mountain. Where the medieval concept of the mountain combined aesthetic revulsion (horror) with mystical idealization, the modern sublime concept of the mountain combines aesthetic attraction (beauty) with natural wonder—not that one can maintain these distinctions too clearly of course, given that the terms also inhabit each other (terror in the sublime, the natural in the mystical and so on). The genius of Lovecraft in At the Mountains of Madness, what makes that text an especially significant marker of alpine potentiality (more so than the contemporary German bergfilm), is that it plunges the romantic sublime into an abyss of neo-medieval mountain terror and thus charts a new geopathic domain for the mystical. In the narrative, this is the space occupied by the Antarctic hyper-mountains: “this violent line could be nothing else than the terrible mountains of the forbidden land—highest of earth’s peaks and focus of earth’s evil.” Allegorically, I read this as marking a cosmic neo-medieval future or destiny for the alpine sublime, rather than a regressive conceptual acceleration of romantic mountainism. Where the vistas of outer space are normally viewed as rendering the alpine limit obsolete and culturally quaint, I think the reverse is more true: the universe-spectacle as intensification of the alpine, the emergence of an ancient new zone, cosmos as mountain. This resonates with the medieval intuition of cosmic hierarchy and its spiritual correlate, that the mountain is within you. Bergmetal, as a translation of mountain into a negatively exuberant sonic atmosphere, similarly seeks and stands upon the mountain as immanent beyond. “Now I will tell you who it is who is seated on the mountain above the winds and the rain. They are those who, on earth, have neither shame nor honor, nor fear on account of something which might happen” (Marguerite Porete). I see bergmetal as inhabiting this violet line, singing the hyper-mountain, a vision that destroys the more bubbly and flat topological ontologies of the present, one that affirms the reality of hierarchical cosmic order, an order that is, like the geologic mountain, anarchic.

TVA - Awesome (literally), sublime or horrific A-anthroplogical implications seem to be, in many respects, contingent to space and spatial comprehension, or rather the de-spatialized phenomena generally. I know you rock climb, and I have walked hills in the scottish highlands and the Isle of Skye, and whilst the scales of Mount Erabus or Mount Terror are incomparable due to their massive stature, there is a certain paradoxical ontological shift that one can experience in certain circumstances, related to geographical exposure, shifting, seemingly chaotic weather, the stoic indifference of the terrain etc - this, for me on occasion, leads to a sublimely de-subjectivising 'feeling', not dissimilar to certain dionysian epiphanies in the Nietzschean sense (the paradox of being/becoming through a sublime de-subjectivation). I presume the anthropomophic (common) topology is subject to a rupture, the onto-berg-schism?

NM - I would like to name a route ‘Onto-berg-schism’. Topology is certainly everywhere open to rupture. Being on a mountain or cliff exacerbates this potential by placing you near the intersection of contrary ideas of where one is. On the one hand you are superiorly where you want to be, on the mountain, in the heights, practicing a love of ascent that is always in orbit, explicitly or implicitly, around the principle of summit or apex, the touchable finite top of infinity. On the other hand you are in exile, not where you want to be, stuck on the mountain so that the end of the climb signifies only an escape hatch to the descent home. I think the tensional conjunction of these contrary movements contributes to perceiving the deeper fact that you are really nowhere and everywhere at the same time. This nowhere-everywhere is logically event with regard to the relation of place and body. Body is always in place, but the place itself that body is is no-place. The insight can be filled out by understanding the reality or more than conceptual substance of the metaphor between mysticism and mountaineering, how the dynamics of ascent, the inner-outer vectors of climbing, structurally correspond to the topology of contemplation as a metaphysical burrowing through the world, as expressed, for example, in the Cloud of Unknowing’s apophatic utopianism: “Truly I would rather be nowhere bodily, wrestling with that blind nothingness, than be like some great lord who would be everywhere, merrily playing all this something as if it were his own” (chapter 68). Hard, satisfying climbing is a similar kind of wrestling, as exemplified in bouldering, which by reducing the principle of ascent to a concentrated minimum, moves climbing toward a pure wrestling in place. The ideal boulder problem in this sense would be one move—the hardest move in the world (V∞)—that consists of nothing but holding on to the starting holds. This carries the idea of a supreme trans-lation of movement, which is precisely the correlate of place as what is from and towards it, a movement of movement itself into the single immanent intensity of ‘the move’. Alpinism and climbing synthesize this principle of the intense moment of ascent (iconized in the climbing photograph, a moment that the climber himself is always moving into and missing), with the inversely exploded principle of objective limitlessness, which can again be traced in the mountains of mystical vision: “I saw a mountain— / That took place very quickly, / For the body cannot endure / The soul’s being there for an hour. / At its base the mountain was white, like clouds, / And high up at the summit, fiery bright as the sun. / Its end and its beginning / I could not find at all” (Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of the Godhead). I had a dream once about going climbing and coming to the base of a similar epic monolith. Seeing the scale of it physically took my breath away and I woke up. Bergmetal, which far more than being metal ‘about’ mountains is rather the alpine dimension of metal itself, is the negative living sonic dream of the mountain, the musical denial of all that cannot withstand it.

TVA - You should post a google earth link to The Onto-berg-schism route once you have named one! Or will it be so obscure and hideously desolate a location not even google will be aware of it's evil presence....

I would like to expand, or rather delve deeper into the paradox or intersection (or even the topo-ontological hymen) of ascent, and not merely in physical or territorial terms but also in metaphysical terms - but most importantly in the cthulhian tradition of bringing the utterly horrific a-anthropological, a-anthropocentric decentralising experience to the fore: the a-anthropocentric trauma in the anagogic. When one ascends, physically, through mystical revelation or even (arguably) rather dionysian modes of ascent there is a de-corporealization, a heightened focus upon the summit (attainable, physical, metaphysical or unattainable) that warps previously established ontological bases. Without intending to introduce too clumsy a metaphor, i'd describe the latter sentiment as almost heralding infinity as prosthesis - prosthesis(∞). In my experience (as a hiker) most summits are (ironically given the etymology) anticlimatic, a sense of void, a sense of L∅SS, there is no longer any possible beyond the brow, the prosthesis(∞) is severed and a retreat, a race back down, back to who you are is the sustained thrill with the real (but mundanely anthropic) goal.

I ought to add that this is precisely concerning peaks that are as yet unscaled, one may experience 1 prosthesis(∞) per peak, the mystical, sublime and enlightening limb will not return upon re-ascent of the same territory.

Could you expand upon this thought, especially the turn of disillusionment? Have you experienced this and how does this theoretical structure of thinking ascent/summit/descent relate to your readings on mysticism?

NM - A-anthropocentric trauma in the anagogic: This immediately reminds me of Dante’s reference to Marsyas in the first canto of Paradiso, a zone which represents the very summit of the mountain summit, the event of the summit itself as opposed to the mere arriving there, the space of passing beyond the human. Dante perfectly names this crossing with a neologism, trasumanar (1.70)—a verbal birth silently allegorizing passing beyond one’s human nature as the birth of a word. Marsyas, the satyr flayed alive for musically challenging Apollo, is referenced in invocation of Apollo: “Entra nel petto mio, e spira tue / sì come quando Marsïa traesti / de la vagina de le membra sue” (1.19-21) [Enter into my breast and breathe there as when you drew Marsyas from the sheath of his limbs]. The prime meaning is that the poet is asking to be inspired with meta-human song, poetry on the order of Apollo’s divine song. But here the image of Marsyas’s flaying is itself infused, impregnated with the operation of inspiration, so that the poet is figurally projected into Marsyas via an identity of flaying and inspiration that is represented as a kind of phallo-logic birth, the emergence of divine word from the whole human skin as genital sheath (vagina). Apollo as midwife of the meta-human in terms of a drawing out of the interior form of an animal/human hybrid, half goat, half man. Note that the double movement of entering and drawing fits at once with sexuo-partuitive prepositionality and the idea of anagogy as a pulling down that is really a being lifted upward, as Dionysius explains: “Imagine a great shining chain hanging downward from the heights of heaven to the world below. We grab hold of it with one hand and then another, and we seem to be pulling it down toward us. Actually it is already there on the heights and down below and instead of pulling it to us we are being lifted upward to the brilliance above, to the dazzling light of those beams” (Divine Names, 3.1). Meister Eckhart describes the mystical birth of the Word in the soul in correlative terms, a withdrawing and being drawn away from external things in a movement of unknowing wherein being entered by God and being born into God are inseparable: “Though it may be called a nescience, an unknowing, yet there is in it more than in all knowing and understanding without it, for this unknowing lures and attracts you from all understood things, and from yourself as well . . . he who does not abandon creaturely externals can be neither conceived nor born in this divine birth. But divesting yourself of yourself and of everything external does truly give it to you” (Sermon 1, Complete Mystical Works). Let us synthesize this constellation of citations with regard to the question of bergmetallic ascent. Now we see more clearly how climbing (pulling down being drawn up) is corporeal anagogy and that anagogy is the extroverted form of transhuman spiritual birth or mystical flaying. This formal circuit is proved upon the climber’s skin, which is the precise tool of ascent, the truest physical interface or membrane between self and mountain, that which climbing removes. A climber is one whose whole body becomes a fusion of hand, foot, and tool in a movement that draws him through skin to the summit. And the flayed body of the satyr who musically challenges the gods, a Dionysian-Satanic figure, is the perfect analogue of the caprine mountaineer who musically blasphemes the heights with his own exploit, realizing his lustful animal form as the very means of transgressive deification. As Eliphas Lévi comments on the pentagram: “It is the sign of antagonism and fatality. It is the goat of lust attacking the Heavens with its horns” (Key of the Mysteries). The conjunction of animal-human flaying and verbal spiritual birth also evokes the figure of the heavens as parchment: “Extendens caelum sicut pellem” (Psalms 103.2) [stretching out the sky like a skin]; “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll” (Isaiah 34:4); “the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place” (Revelation 6:14). For Augustine, this sky-parchment figures divine Scripture as the temporal writing of the eternal Word, the inscription of the immortal upon the mortal: “He employed a mortal tongue and uttered mortal sounds, he employed the ministry of mortal men and made us of mortal instruments, and by this means a sky was made for you, so that in this mortal artifact you might come to know the immortal Word, and by participating in this Word you too might become immortal” (Expositions of the Psalms, 103.2 [1]). As the mystical poet must spiritually exit the mortal parchment of his exterior flesh in order to give birth to himself as a divine Word writing itself across the heavens, so the climber ascends by leaving the ground to script his body across vertiginous earth, seeing and taking a line that literally and figuratively becomes writing for further ascent. The comparison can used to reflect on your questions about summit-void and prosthesis-infinity in that writing is the infinite prosthetic par-excellence, an endless extension of the logical hand or haptic spirit that is ultimately ordered toward the production of the pure total tactility of blank parchment, as figured, for example, in Agamben’s account of Damascius: “The uttermost limit thought can reach is not a being, not a place or thing, no matter how free of any quality, but rather, its own absolute potentiality, the pure potentiality of representation itself: the writing tablet!” (Idea of Prose). This relates to how Thoreau experiences the top of Mt. Katahdin: “ . . . being shown some star’s surface, some hard matter in its home! I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which I am bound has become so strange to me. I fear not spirits, ghosts, of which I am one,—that my body might,—but I fear bodies, I tremble to meet them. What is this Titan that has possession of me? Talk of mysteries!—Think of our life in nature—daily to be shown matter, to come into contact with it,—rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we? (The Maine Woods). Summit is the apotheosis of touch.

TVA - I would like to take things further and explore notions from continental philosophy and deconstruction in regard to this; firstly as a tool of comprehension for myself and secondly with hopes of fleshing out the concepts surrounding bergmetallic anagogy in relation to the forthcoming thinkers (if this is possible/rewarding). With particular regard to the fascinating sexual and/or torturous analogies of corporeal and metaphysical unsheathing– that of dermis, flaying, scraping on ascent, an intimate uncovering etc I would like to pose the following notions in regard to questions of immanence, becoming and the Derridean paradox of boundaries and osmosis. The latter is succinctly commented on by Marcel Cobussen:

“The opposition of inside vs. outside is a frequent returning point of Derrida's interest. An example is found in his writing about the hymen. Hymen, the virginal membrane, but also the consummation of a marriage. (In Greek and Latin mythology, 'hymen' refers to the God of matrimony and to a hymeneal song.) As a protective screen, as an invisible veil, it stands between the inside and the outside of a woman, and consequently between (male?) desire and fulfillment. As a (con)fusion between two people (marriage), however, there is no longer any difference between desire and satisfaction. So, hymen both implies communion and hinders this communion; it is both barrier and interaction. Hymen is a fusion that abolishes contraries, for example, the difference between desire and its accomplishment. But hymen is also the fold of a mucous membrane that keeps them separate (cf. Dissemination, 209-18). 
It is not a matter of choice here. If we would choose between the two, there would be no hymen. Hymen is neither fusion nor separation, but stands between the two. Neither inside nor outside, but between the two. 'It is an operation that both sows confusion between opposites and stands between the opposites at once' (Dissemination, p.212). And it is the 'between' that counts. It outwits, as Derrida says, all manner of dialectics”

The dermis on ascent is that which yields ascent, and a be(rg)coming, an osmosis; but it also separates, it is the means of corporeal anagogy, of mystical flaying and paradoxically that which will always never consummate berg and body: one is on the mountain, one holds the mountain as one senses a becoming mountain – but does not for the paradoxical, hymenic (in the Derridean sense) dermisian divide.

I would also like to think nature in Deleuze and Guattari’s work in regard to bergmetallic ascension. The purity of a sublime becoming, a sacred connection. In an almost OOO-esque sense to give soul to the pebbles and trees, to be one:

"While taking a stroll outdoors, on the other hand, he is in the mountains, amid falling snowflakes, with other gods or without any gods at all, without a family, without a father or a mother, with nature. "What does my father want? Can he offer me more than that? Impossible, leave me in peace." Everything is a machine. Celestial machines, the stars or rainbows in the sky, alpine machines - all of them connected to those of his body. The continual whirr of machines. "He thought that it must be a feeling of endless bliss to be in contact with the profound life of every form, to have a soul for rocks, metals, water, and plants, to take into himself, as in a dream, every element of nature, like flowers that breath with the waxing and waning of the moon"." - FELIX GUATTARI GILLES DELEUZE, 1984. ANTI-OEDIPUS: CAPITALISM AND SCHIZOPHRENIA. Edition. CONTINUUM INTERNATIONAL PUBLISHING GROUP - ATHLONE. (Chapter - Desiring Machines , Page 2)

Are these productive contemporary theoretical connections and have they been considered with regards to bergmetallic metaphysics? Could you comment on the possible confluences or junctions between these concepts and bergmetal?

NM - Hymenal (con)fusion and lunar breathing-belonging (having a soul for rocks . . .) significantly intersect in Leni Reifenstahl’s Das Blaue Licht (1932), a bergfilm that resists the masculinist heroism of the genre by giving an outcast mystical woman (Junta, played by Riefenshtahl herself) the privileged relation to the alpine peak—a peak that, importantly, is not summited in/by the film. The story climaxes in a geological rape perpetrated by earth-bound Italian peasants who, guided by a German romantic tourist, harvest for profit the quartz crystal from a magical grotto high on the mountain. Here is a sequence of images showing Junta’s lunar communing, the romantic’s discovery of the cave, and Junta’s desolation after the mining:
The transgression effectively kills Junta (whose name presumably signifies that which is joined [iuncta] to the mountain) to fall to her death in despair, sharing the fate of the many young men who died on the mountain, irresistibly drawn to the blue light emanating from the cave during the full moon—a mortality that also evokes the seductions of war. The film’s lunar-crystal illumination thus critically exposes the complicity between hype-o-critical progressive-romantic do-goodery—”You’ll never have to run around in these rag clothes anymore”—and the westward march of solar capitalism, which commodifyingly propels itself forward in time precisely by backwardsly violating the ultimate topos, the cosmic khoric cave in which all of its phallic fetishes are born. (Crystals grow in rock voids.) The killing off of the secret, mystical relation to the mountain is the half-conscious sacrifice performed by the marriage of bourgeois or market pacifism and the cultural commodification of romantic sublimity from which is born liberal imperialism, a blind child who believes it never makes its wars and for whom living is an over-productive reduction of life to a self-fulfilling (i.e. always alienated) adventure sport: “Climb Every Mountain” (Sound of Music). Here are the villagers, in the calm before the storm, enjoying their sacrificial harvest, lit by a domesticated, solarized moon (or lunarized sun?):
Having the chthono-celestial magic in possessable-exchangeable form eclipses being it precisely through a self-deceptive projection of being into time that eclipses cosmic place. Note that the historical passage from medieval to modern, as a shift from place to time as the principal container of human being, is essential to the advent of literal alpinism, as indexed by Petrarch’s thoughts upon the summit of Mt. Ventoux: “Then a new idea took possession of me, and I shifted my thoughts to a consideration of time rather than place.” Such is likewise the thought of the German tourist who, when Junta begs him to stay with her (“resta con me”), promises her a spectral future—”those crystals are a danger for you and the whole village. But they could be a blessing”—a place in time. As the mountain itself is culturally translated from icon of sacred/symbolic place to spectacular wonder of deep cosmo-geologic time, so mountain ascent exploitingly institutes the radical stupidity of modern historical being (“the peasants should be told about it” says the German) by transgressing upon the legendary truths of alpine space. As Kirchner notes, “In 1518, the Swiss humanist Joachim von Watt (Vadanus) and three companions undertake—as a protest against superstition—the ascent of Mont Pilatus near Lucerne. In defiance of terrifying tales about the storms and hail which the damned, restless soul of Pontius Pilate was supposed to stir up against whosoever dare set foot on his mountain, the intrepid humanists set out to conquer the peak. They are bent on disproving the beliefs which for hundreds of years had held captive their credulous compatriots and especially the wise council of Lucerne, which had forbidden the ascent because of the devilish machinations of the errant soul of the long dead Roman governor” (“Mind, Mountain, and History”). Das Blaue Licht replays the same humanist drama of modernization under the rubric of tragic collusion between romanticism and capitalism. The film accordingly frames Junta’s vita as its present-day reading by a sporty, gender-neutralized mountain-climbing German couple.
Nina Power, in her critique of German bergfilm, accuses the genre of violating a Kantian warning: “do not conflate the power of nature with the power of your own mind. An encounter with the mountain, the raging sea, the arctic wastes, might make you feel like a hero, but what it should really point to is respect for our fragile and profoundly human moral vocation” (“Mountain and Fog”). The problem with this critique in relation to Das Blaue Licht is that the film has already performed it on a higher level, not in the interest of the political human mirage of precarious moral vocation (the nauseating search for/celebration of what ‘makes us human’), but in the interest of a mode of being that can never conflate the power of nature with its own mind because it never owns a separate mind in the first place, a being that can never fail to distinguish individual from universal, self from nature, because it sees through, with all the solidity of crystal clarity, the lie that it ever was only itself . Indeed we can effectively imagine the German romantic telling Junta something proximate to Power’s Kantian warning, drunk on the rhetoric of his own putative goodness: ‘Don’t you see, Junta, you sweet [i.e. stupid] little girl who think you are joined to the cosmos, that thinking this way is not only silly but morally irresponsible, and that these crystals whose spell you are under [the spell of an absolutely (con)fusing hymenal interface between spirit and matter, light and earth] are dangerous when experienced this way? The crystals must be brought down, separated from their source, their light put to responsible human use.’ So is it the romantic-led peasants and not Junta, who properly conflate natural power and human agency, blindly seizing the crystals as nothing other than a medium of their own social, self-repetitious perpetuation.   
Junta’s secret relation to the mountain secret, by contrast, does not objectify it, but truly realizes its multidimensional objectness via her ability to ascend and descend from the crytstal cave in an ongoing movement of dexterous belonging that does not reductively correlate the mystery as a summitable thing.
As the shot of Junta’s hands at the moment of her fall indicates, she represents that ‘impossible’ creature who can corporeally unify or simultaneously hold onto without collapse the ungraspable infinite objectivity of the thing itself (mountain) and its graspable finite subjective condensation (crystal).
She is, as the cave’s architecture and her virginal sexuality show, the hymenal being for whom climbing is a natural “operation that both sows confusion between opposites and stands between the opposites at once.” Which is precisely the positive third term, the tertiary plenitude that Power’s reading, wedded to responsible philosophical critique of the “proto-Nazi sublime [which] deliberately mistakes the subjective judgment with the object itself,” cannot see, or sees only as pseudo-mysticism, a mystification that forecloses real illumination: “These films summon a universe that is at once meaningful, intensive, and occasionally beautiful—a kind of religion without transcendence, whose earthly yet mysterious skies and clouds drift through one’s heart with a sublime significance.” But this formulation may also be embraced as a meaningful description of real, i.e. factual mysticism, the radically immanent approach to reality as always already escaping the comfortable techno-prison of critical-historical objectivity in which the film leaves the modern German tourists:
So what are the implications of this for bergmetal and its metaphysics? One comes to mind. First, that the sonic drive of bergmetal is similarly a musical and thus summitless alpinism that removes being from modern temporal horizontality (and its claustrophobic multiplication of narrow perspectives) and replaces it within and upon vertical cosmicity, in the treacherous midst of a mountain that is everywhere. Bergmetal restores the negative imperative to ascend (climb higher or perish) without instituting an apex or future terminus of fulfillment and may thus function as soundtrack for a new anti-sentimental and unbounded cosmocentric subject whose stance towards the world is not defined by participation in its sick mundane discursivity but instead by finding upon it footholds and handholds for an eternally individuated climb, a line of ascent that is necessarily and forever first. Bergmetal is the sound of the decay of the cosmological principle (the axiom that the Universe is isotropic and homogenous) and an instance of ‘ordinary mysticism’ in Laruelle’s non-philosophical sense: “it is not a question of a secularization—still rational and transcendent—of an extraordinary experience, but of the possibility of rendering the usage of an exceptional or superhuman experience in every ‘ordinary man’ which was supposed to be refused to him. Philosophy is this organon, this a priori form which, giving us the World, forecloses the mystical experience which intrinsically constitutes humans and which is a question of rediscovering, not in its reality which has never abandoned us, but on the mode of thought and by the non-philosophical force of the latter. The mystical is the real essence of the Stranger and that which turns it, that which uni-verts it towards the World” (Dictionary of Non-Philosophy). Precisely for this reason, because bergmetal is a music of uni-version, we must openly hold the question of what bergmetal is (just as climbing requires not gripping more than is necessary), more specifically, maintain bergmetal definitionally suspended across the chasm between a certain artistic form and a certain discipline of listening. The beneficial law of bergmetal, its good inner fascism, is continuous with the operation of the One itself, whose play flies in the face of the Kantian critique of pathetic sublimity: “Uni-version is thus the de jure operation of the uni-versality of the One which indeed depends on no occasion but on the essence of the One’s radical inherence alone . . . Universion gives to the force (of) thought its universality which allows it to be equal to the World itself and no longer to such and such an object” (Dictionary of Non-Philosophy). Note the logical correlation to climbing as physical universion, a giving to the force (of) body its universality which allows it be equal to the mountain (via unlimited holds that are nothing other than it). “Who,” Kant asks rhetorically, “would apply the term ‘sublime’ even to shapeless mountain masses towering one above the other in wild disorder, with their pyramids of ice, or to the dark tempestuous ocean, or such like things?” (Critique of Judgment). Only the One.

Privatisation (a bit of a change from my usual posts)

Bit of a change of subject matter here, but I've had a few 'politcal dialogues' recently and thought I'd give blogging about them a go, I'd really like to hear what people have to say so don't hesitate to comment. 


After watching Jeremy Deller: A Middle Class Hero - Culture Show Special and commenting on Atmospheres of Uncertainty and thinking about the privatisation of secondary school education (the conversion into privately funded academies) and now reading that the 'government' (oh the irony) plans for police privatisation - I ask can privatisation ever work for the peoples benefit? Or is it just a cheap, myopic sale at best and a cowardly union extermination at worst? 


A commonly peddled argument for privatisation is that it saves money, I have never understood this. I can understand out-sourcing, moving the labour to an area where similarly standard labour is cheap - but most services that the 'government' privatises are services that cannot be moved, train 'services', education, policing - these are not industries that can be shipped abroad easily, not like an engineering plant or a call centre, rather awkwardly the teachers need to be in the class room, and the trains need to be on the rails with a long term target of ending up on time. I used to work in a small business, and would analyse the different options for re-imbursement from out clients and the different options for providing the service - I never ever found myself in a situation whereby out-sourcing to another similar business (UK based, providing a local solution - often a competitor) would save money, this was always a last chance saloon option, a costly measure required to keep a client on our books and services even though we're paying a separate company to complete the work. If you can do it in house, you do it, it's always cheaper, logistical facets aside, if you out-source within the UK to other LTD's you either absorb the sub contractors VAT or pass it on to the client.


Privatisation of public services can also lead to capitalist stings, private companies are very aware of the vitality of 'public' services, these services have to be provided by someone - and the government is very much responsible for this. An appallingly stupid bungle of an already crap privatisation can be seen in the fable of dealing with First Group:


"Rail company FirstGroup has confirmed it will enter the race to win the Great Western Franchise – eight months after it severed a 10-year contract.

In May, the group decided to trigger a get-out clause which ended a franchise deal three years early on the network which incorporates the line between Cornwall and London Paddington.

It saved the company more than £800 million in payments to Government.


The company has always stated that it hoped to bid again for the contract, hoping to take up a longer 15-year lease which will see it through to the end of a major network upgrade, which will cost £5 billion and take ten years.


Now, the Government is launching the process to attract bidders, and FirstGroup has expressed an interest. FirstGroup, which has improved the service on the line since First Great Western was branded "Worst Late Western" by disgruntled users, believes it is well positioned to win the franchise again.


Managing director Mark Hopwood said the company had "unrivalled expertise and experience" relating to the bid.


But Maria Eagle, Labour's shadow transport secretary said the company should have been more "public spirited", and called for its withdrawal to be taken into account when the new franchise is offered.


Yesterday, Chris Irwin, chairman of passenger group TravelWatch South West, dismissed Labour's stance as "political opportunism", pointing out that they included the get-out clause in the original contract. He said of the initial franchise "anyone with their head screwed on" would have taken the opt-out clause, as most of the money to be paid for the franchise was to go out in the final three years.


The whole process was flawed, and cost both the Government and FirstGroup dearly, after a poor specification led to overcrowding and a shortage of trains.


Now, the Great Western Franchise specification is out to public consultation, until March.


Mr Irwin said it was impossible to say whether FirstGroup should win the contract again, as it would depend on how the successful company interpreted the specification.


The shortlist of bidders is expected to be revealed in May, with a preferred bidder emerging by December."

There's more here on the BBC. This could just be a very sad case of the government being taken for a ride (at least someone is, I presume they had a seat too) by it's own enthusiasm for aggressively opportunistic modes of capitalism - opportunism that makes a profit from ruthlessly pwning the public's reliance on infrastructure - but it's worse, much worse. Effectively we, (it's our money essentially) have paid way over the odds for the worst service:

"Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly urged the firm to "get a grip".

Speaking in the Commons, she said the firm was being put "on notice" to improve services, which had been "unacceptable for far too long".

The Office of Rail Regulation added that punctuality on the line had been "poor for far too long".

At the time, 83% of First Great Western's services were arriving on time compared to a national average of 91%
."

(from another BBC report)

You almost have to admire the sheer gall of First Group for pitching the lowest price to the government, winning the contract and putting in a get out clause before providing the worst service nationally whilst receiving government subsidy for years, then ducking out of the majority of the dept by terminating the contract early AND then rebidding for the same contract! Even in the run up to avoiding payment of the £800m debt "a First Group spokesperson said the firm accepted it had failed to deliver an "appropriate level of service". The company blamed ageing rolling stock and staff shortages for many problems, but added it was also investing £200m." (from BBC). £200m - so generous!


I suppose that if First Group's re-bid (re-rodger) is successful we can expect to spend more time stuck on a late running train for 17% of our journeys; better get a good paperback then - oh hang on a second... A few months before the reporting of First Group ducking the £800m debt the governments own MLA (Museums,  Libraries & Archives) who, according to their website "inspire innovative, integrated and sustainable services for all" advised 400 UK libraries to close.


Privatising our police could be a very dangerous gamble, it probably won't save any money (realistically the privatisation of public services has a history of lowering service standards and/or escalating costs) and could jeopardise personal liberty as well as our safety. I recall the the Police Federation conference from May 2011; Pc David Rathband asked Home Secretary Theresa May if he was paid too much, she did not answer his question directly (ultimately she exited through a thick silence) - she probably felt that policemen shouldn't be paid by the government any way.


Side stepping the moral question of police pay (which is in itself ineradictable) I'll crudely hierachize the public services. The privatization of the rail services has been an out right disaster, on a general level it's a very established reality that the UK pays most for the worst service when compared to it's european peers. The First Group swindle is almost a black and white striped pyjama caricature of this. The consequences of the rail networks privatisation are now a vital to inane british chat as the weather. However, as tragic as this rail situation is, it is a long way from the seriousness of the consequences we are gambling on with policing and education. A poorly functioning, £tax sponging, private rail network impacts businesses indirectly, effects growth and industry indirectly, and provides sore backs and short tempers of for millions - but, the latter aside, everything else is a question of degrees of separation. Education and policing have direct, long term effects upon 'the fabric' of culture, society and economy (both domestic and global). Falling standards in education will lead to the next few generations at a lose end, isolated from previously established expectancies and global opportunities. Falling standards in policing will firstly, further undermine the respect and trust (that is the spine of any public protection, as damaged and malformed as it maybe currently) and secondly deplete the capabilities of the police to protect. Police, Education, Rail networks.


However, there will, no doubt be negative dynamics of interference, and chaotic propagation amongst the two former: Police and Educational effectiveness depletion. As education fails the coming generations the police will, sadly but not unrealistically, encounter more crime and disorder that is born from unemployment or social/cultural isolation. This is not to say that educations main purpose is to make products for labour, but it is a rather depressing reality that social/economic and cultural isolation leads to phenomena that the police need to address and control, as the proportion of generations that experience this social/economic and cultural isolation increases (as our overall population increases too) the bobbies jobs increase and become tougher - however, they will be less capable to protect. This would lead to further instances whereby the police make poor decisions or fail to police - which will in turn lead to further unrest, distrust and resentment.


Perhaps I am being a little to pessimistic? Perhaps the (softly, softly) academization/privatisation of schools will work? I very much doubt it, especially when I consider the moral track record of the people behind the scheme. I definitely expect it when I see glimpses of the intentions of those behind the scheme.