a selection of articles from synthesis issue 4

  • 13-Point Programme·
  • Hardcore Predictions for 1999
  • Virtual Punks
  • Hollywood can bite me
  • Happy Birthday, Human Rights
  • UK Politics Part 2 - Machiavelli one year on·
  • 'Innocence' can bite me
  • Abortion is not about babies
  • Nestle are murderers

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    13-Point Programme

    I have a stable address! I hope I do for the next three years anyway. Since starting University (cripes, six years ago!) I have moved FIVE times. Up to now I have put out three issues of Synthesis from three different addresses. Consequently, I have found that while I was living in Canterbury and distroing issue 3 reviews were being newly published for issue 2 with my old London address. It makes me so anxious to have post going to all these different addresses for me that I've been tempted to revert to my Christian name for the sake of making mail forwarding easier. I get post for Laura, Albatross, Synthesis and perhaps even in the name of my distro Goodies. I deliberately postponed the production of issue 4 so that I could have it published exclusively with my newest address. I am still at University, and what I am doing here is an MPhil, which is a research degree and the first stage of a doctorate in the UK. By the end of it all, not only will I have more letters after my name, but I should be recognisable as an expert in my particular field. My discipline is Sociology and the field I have chosen is the children's rights movement. This is all pretty exciting to me since I like self-directed research very much and this is the first chance I have to really specialise and to concentrate solely on my subject. My University department is supportive and I think I will be working in a good environment. My initial work will take two years, so I will need to be comfortable.
    Children's Rights - what's all that then?
    Lots of things raised my interest in the concept of childhood and children as political actors. When I was a child I was the only one I knew with a class consciousness. The other kids didn't seem to mind that we were oppressed, repressed, misunderstood and often abused. Later on, Nation of Ulysses with their Situationist child revolution stirred my imagination somewhat. Lots of questions about the nature of childhood were raised when I read Blake Morrison's book As If which was reviewed in Synthesis 3. Finally I found out about Article 12, the UK's child-membership campaigning group with it's name referring to a section of the 1989 UN Declaration On The Rights of the Child. Bored with the old sociological stratifications, I started researching into age and generational conflict. There was a clear gap in the literature, although I also found that the sociology of childhood and the study of childhood in other disciplines was a growing academic area. More research and I found that the UN Declaration had spurred initiatives in research, charity work, political institutions and campaigns. It may not be a child revolution, but it was something new and it had potential. This was what I wanted to find out about. There are aspects of academic research with which I am only gradually becoming familiar. From the sociological perspective, I will be taking account of the reactions I get when I tell people about my work. It is bound to come up in conversation with most people I meet over the next few years. 'I'm researching the children's rights movement in Europe', I will say. People's replies should tell me a bit about their perceptions of children and children's place in society. Will they take 'children's rights' to mean liberties; that is positive rights to do and to be from their own volition? On the other hand will they understand rights to refer to negative freedoms; freedom from exploitation etc? And what specific liberties and freedoms will people have in mind? Liberty to choose which divorced parent to live with or freedom from abuse by parents or guardians are examples which place children in relation to the family, their traditional and primary realm. Will people more readily think of children in this context than as individuals in their own right? The concept of children's rights may conjure up issues surrounding abortion, paedophiles, children's sexual freedom, early childhood education, violence on television, the voting age?The responses should be interesting. And that is even before I start interviewing activists within the movement.
    So that is what I will be doing at least until autumn 2001. Hopefully Uni won't keep me too busy so I can still get a zine out once or twice a year.

    Hardcore Predictions for 1999:

    Nothing esoteric this time, kids. These are my sociological projections based on well scientific observation and research.
    By the Vort N Vis festival in the summer of 1999, the collapse of the whole decadent structure of commercial hardcore ?will become evident as imminent. Trendy kids will be abandoning the scene en masse and becoming Gabbers or insurance salesmen.
    Instead of crossing over from metal to hardcore, Heshers drift towards Motown and Hammond. Several metal magazine editors develop ulcers keeping up with the changing tastes. Belgian soya milk manufacturers Provamel come to the brink of bankruptcy as they react to the sudden shortfall in sales.
    Good Life Records is sold to Warner.
    Victory Chat is sold to Microsoft.
    Krishnas have to change recruiting tactics because there arefewer naive straightedgers about so they begin to hand out free curry at raves.
    Zines hit an all-time peak and begin to drop off in numbers due to a phenomenon called 'zine exhaustion'.
    Oversized shirts go out of style early in the year leaving a huge backlog for many distributors and smaller sizes are much in demand.
    Avail and J. Church form a supergroup and spend the next 10 years on a nonstop world tour.
    A campaign against emo, spearheaded by Jan Selfworth, begins at a Bob Tilton show when tacks are scattered on the stage and floor so that Simon cannot thrash about emo-style. A new trend of emo singers cutting themselves before shows begins and bloody arms replaces too-small sports tops as emo de rigeur.
    Old school punk bands discover a fourth chord.
    Maximum RockNRoll comes out with it's first TRIPLE issue and changes editors again.
    One issue of HeartattaCk comes out and the order backlog sends distros into hysterics.
    A second incarnation of Riot Grrrl emerges.

    The newly de-commercialised and feminised hardcore scene goes back underground and all the true DIY hardcorepunks live happily ever after - yay!

    Virtual Punks

    How is information technology transforming hardcore? Is it transforming hardcore? In the mainstream world, several commentators have identified the end of the social order which has characterised the Western world this century. Industrial society, with its nuclear families, gender roles, classes, occupations and means of production, is said to be coming to an end. The new society surpassing the industrial is the information society. New jobs being created in Western countries tend to deal in information, and as more people work in the production and exchange of information, the other component areas of socialisation mentioned above are also being transformed.
    OK, the scene has always been full of useless idiots, and occasionally these people would write letters to kids or zines or even write their own ego-wank zines. Today however, they do not have to put so much effort to the practice of cross-scene communication. Thousands of kids have easy access to information and discussion from the internet. Punk, hardcore, and especially straightedge usenets are rife with middle class teenage fools who think there is nothing more punk than sending an e-mail and that their poorly constructed, irrelevant opinions are apotheotized by submission to an internationally accessible medium.
    I think there are three main aspects of information technology in the scene to consider: e-mail, the world wide web and the concept of mediated communication. The most obvious advantages of e-mail are that it is quick, convenient and often free. E-mail is particularly useful for emergencies or last-minute arrangements as long as one knows the recipient regularly checks their mail. So if you are visiting someone or organising a gig, e-mail is the way to go. It is obvious however that the flexibility of e-mail can only go so far. Flyers, zines, music etc. depend on the post. The web generally has it up on the post when it comes to the dissemination of information.
    I have not seen it myself, but I expect it is possible to get the entire works of Bakunin on the internet. I have yet to find a philosophy or school of thought too obscure to have at least a handful of devoted websites. The net is one of the few reliable and easily accessible sources of gig listings and contacts. Most scene sites are pretty self-indulgent and naff, but there are some excellent and genuinely useful ones as well. There is no doubt that the scene is made more accessible in every sense by the net. If you know no punks in your city, you can find out about all aspects of the scene via webpages on local scenes, bands , individuals, alternative politics etc by having a quick websearch. Fortunately, there are many genuinely worthwhile web pages out there to provide a counterbalance to the purely commercial, band-obsessed, generic sites. Such a search can lead the isolated punk to a worthwhile punk phase or maybe even a rare lifetime commitment!
    You don't have to be a Luddite to mistrust the quality of communication available by electronic means. I would defend the use of the net as a supplement to traditional face to face and postal means of involvement in the scene, but I wonder what sort of scene will be created by kids whose initial and/or primary experience of hardcore is via the net.
    First of all, it is not reasonable to judge what an 'information scene' may look like by the current crop of teenage techheads. The 15-year old American teenage boys spouting homophobia and Earth Crisis lyrics may be the most typical inmates of the net scene, but arguably these are the dominant characters in the scene anyway. What we should be concerned about is the people who actually do constructive things in the scene. Will more energies be put into designing web pages than into the more widely accessible zines or the putting on of shows? Will e-mail correspondence undermine postal correspondence and make the running of distros difficult for people without e-mail addresses? Several people have noted already that the web has brought a tremendous increase in the amount of shit-talking in the scene.
    The second aspect is the social side. Is the social makeup of a technology-led scene likely to be different? Hardcore could scarcely be more middle class than it is now. It may be that the age at which people find out about the scene could decrease or increase based upon access to computers. Kids who have computers at home may find punk at 9 rather than 14 when they get a bit of independence from home. Other kids may not use the internet until taking IT classes at school or may not have access until University. Perhaps such an accessible scene will be just as easily abandoned and the number of years an individual spends in the scene will decrease. On the other hand, when a punk grows up and goes to work, if they have access to a computer they may be more likely to carry on their involvement beyond the usual watershed. Just look at Mykel Board?
    One thing is undeniable; that the net is bringing an enormous increase of gossip within the scene. Most of it is talking bollocks and it's the sort of thing that disenchants a lot of people and makes them want to break off involvement in hc. Unfortunately, there isn't much that can be done about shit-talking over the internet unless the more responsible among us actually devoted ourselves to putting the chatrooms right about the stories being told about people in the scene.
    It is probably too early to tell whether paper zines are in decline as more web sites appear, but if the number of zines decreases this is likely to seriously affect people's experience of the scene; especially if they do not have access to a computer. Having said that, most punks still focus on the local rather than the nearby, national or international scenes.
    Finally, it seems unlikely that hardcore will ever become dominated by computer mediation. In the mainstream culture, ideas of the information society tend to be generalised overestimations of small-scale trends. In the underground, the internet has not even begun to revolutionise any aspect of the scene. The Zapatistas and European direct activists have effectively used the internet as a tool for informing and garnering support and activism. So far, the scene has not progressed through the use of technology and the present ills we are experiencing has more to do with mainstream capitalism and the mass media and is probably unrelated to new media of communication.

    Hollywood can bite me

    A few years ago Maximum RockNRoll took a timely editorial decision regarding the film reviews. It was seen that the rejection of mainstream and commercial music in the magazine had to be complemented by a film review policy. It makes little sense to slag off EMI bands but give coverage to Thorn EMI films. And so the latest Hollywood movie no longer had a place in the punks' hallowed organ. Quite right too.

    Hollywood movies are shit. Anyone who doesn't realise that has let themselves be duped by the media machine telling us that Hollywood is the pinnacle of entertainment and achievement. Hollywood produces about two films a year that are worth regarding, and the rest is formulaic dross. The US film industry works like any other industry in capitalism. Hollywood wants a monopoly. It undermines native film industries in other countries by appealing to the lowest common denominator and by coaxing talent into it's machine.

    The film industry exactly parallels the music industry but on a far more money-oriented scale. This is not just because of the expense of making even the most DIY of films, but also because of the tremendous extent to which the spectre of Hollywood overshadows and penetrates visual entertainment/art. It has to be appreciated also the fact that the film industry is only the centre of a mass of industries and that Hollywood films are only the basis of a marketing strategy for selling tickets, videos, t-shirts, video games, Happy Meals, Coca-cola, television series etc.

    The Hollywood film industry is far more cynical and soulless than the music industry could ever hope to be. The people involved in the making of a movie are far more removed from the control of the product than those involved in making music. It seems ridiculous to me to see an actor being interviewed to promote a movie. Not only did their performance get wrapped up one or two years previously, but they are only one small factor in the finished product. Writers are almost completely ignored in Hollywood, minor actors are fodder and the directors have to prioritise stars' egos and balanced budgets above any vision they might have.

    Money controls Hollywood and that is the only reason those dreary Hollywood stars are ever perceived as powerful. They can be thoroughly talentless and boring, but if they look pretty they will be given dozens of vehicles and fees in the millions. Just look at cardboard performers like Julia Roberts and Kevin Costner. Shit; but shit sells. Steven Spielberg is considered one of the most powerful people in Hollywood, but he was only a director and had to start his own company to get relative artistic freedom. Spielberg is a good example of the compromises that anyone has to make if they want to make something remotely uncommercial or worthwhile in the Hollywood system. Steven Spielberg wanted to make a film about the holocaust, but how much money was that going to make? So in order to get the go ahead on that project he would have to first make a blockbuster like Jurassic Park. In fact, after a day's shooting of Jurassic Park the director used his free time to put together Schindler's List. Before he could make Amistad, there had to be another Jurassic Park.

    It's the same with actors. In Hollywood as anywhere there are a fair number of politically progressive actors. But there are not many films or roles with a politically progressive hue to them. Tim Robbins wanted to show up the corruption of Washington and the evils of the New Right. He therefore wrote, directed, wrote and performed the soundtrack and starred in Bob Roberts (an excellent film) while getting his progressive friends in and (mostly) outside of Hollywood to play supporting roles. Whenever an actor manages something so right-on though, she or he has to quickly balance it out playing typical cartoon characters in typical formulaic Hollywood shit. The actor may have provided her/himself with credibility in the long run, but they won't have made a dent in the heads of the braindead millions who are hooked on action movies and romantic fluff.

    If US movies are bad, US television is worse, but that's another rant. Most people, even in the HC scene seem to swallow the received wisdom that entertainment products are worthwhile simply because they are American. As I see it, the opposite is true. American entertainment is rubbish until proven otherwise, and that almost never happens. In the meantime, it is first and foremost commercial, and as we all know, the commercial is not hardcore.

    Happy Birthday, Human Rights

    Remember those? They are the things that were invented before animal rights were invented. This is about one approach that has been taken in pursuit of the realisation of human rights.

    The United Nations was set up in 1945 in the hope that institutionalised cooperation between states would prevent further world wars. Many failures are evident in the UN's history, but its various policies and declarations have placed realisable human ideals in the public eye for debate, adoption by governments and hopefully even application. In 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was produced for the UN by a committee headed by Eleanor Roosevelt.

    Human rights are a social construct. The concept was invented by philosophers like Rousseau at the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment. In the UDHR preamble, human rights are spoken of as 'inherent'. The idea that certain human rights are identifiable, categorical and derived at least in part from nature is a silly idea, but probably necessary for the purposes of the UN. UDHR sets out specific rights such as those related to religion and nationality in such a way as to enable states to apply them in a practical way. Since states represent a great deal of human rights infringement, it is appropriate that they should be held responsible at the international as well as the intra-national level for overseeing the practical application of human rights legislation. Even the most brutally repressive political leaders sign up to progressive UN resolutions because it makes them look good.

    The convention has not yet been adopted by all member states. The first universally ratified UN convention is likely to be the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of Children which was recently signed by the USA leaving Somalia now as the only state that has not yet signed or ratified. As we all know, nobody cares about 'humans'. However, adults do care about 'children', so a separate declaration for children has proved relatively successful. The monitoring process is already underway as representatives from UNICEF and other organisations investigate how the countries who have signed up to the Children's Rights Declaration are following up this commitment. Monitors will particularly be looking out for exploitative child labour practices and national monitoring mechanisms such as committees, ombudsmen and ministries for children.

    It seems likely that the successes of the children's rights campaign may bring progress in the direction of general human rights through the back door. Any progress that is made will probably be through international pressure. The UN has few powers of enforcement, but it does give a platform and support to non-governmental organisations such as Amnesty International and refugee councils and this is support that these organisations rarely get from state governments. This is one of the reasons that campaigning groups increasingly take a global and a local focus and bypass the nation state.

    International resolutions are not intended to be a magic wand, but they provide a direction and basis for the work of campaigners. The UNDHR is probably too wide and general to be a banner for a movement, but it is a rational ideal and a standard and the first attempt to apply progressive ideals to a global community. It's not hard to understand why some states are afraid to adopt it, and those that have adopted it hide behind the charter for state's internal self-determination to avoid answering for breaches.

    I was taught the Ten Commandments at school, but I wasn't taught my universal human rights. Most of are entitled to these rights by virtue of our states' having signed and ratifying the charter. Why not find out what your technical rights are and tell other people about it. The more people who know, the harder it will be for states to pretend that we don't have them. If you want to read the UDHR it is not very long and it can be found on the UNHQ website and I also have a few pocket copies available.

    UK Politics Part 2 - Machiavelli one year on

    After the General Election 1997 article in the last issue, some people asked what a 'spin doctor' is. Spin doctors work a bit like a Ministry of Propaganda. They mediate between the public and the Government, finding out what will raise the popularity of the Prime Minister and packaging a means by which this can be achieved. Spin doctors write speeches for the PM which say what they think the public want to hear, and package policies and campaigns which will fool the public and feed off people's worst instincts.

    I will give an example of spin doctoring on the part of the New Labour Government. In March 1998, I and presumably millions of others received personally addressed surveys from the Labour party complete with a letter from the PM beginning 'Dear Friend'. The party wanted to find out public opinion on the first 11 months of the Government, beginning with 'New Labour's 10 Pledges'. I was expected to give my opinion on the Government's priority policies, and this is how just some of them were set out:

    2. Tax
    We have cut VAT on domestic fuel to 5% and have stuck to our promise not to raise the basic or top rates of income tax. (tick one)Excellent Good Adequate Not Enough

    OK, so here we have two or three completely unrelated tax issues, and they have been lumped together quite casually. Furthermore, the only options for answers are high praise, quite high praise, basic acceptance for the Government's position or this completely meaningless 'Not Enough' which could be taken in a manner contradictory to the intention of the person filling in the form.

    6. Crime
    We have proposed changes in the law that will provide new powers to deliver fast punishment for persistent young offenders.
    (tick one)Excellent Good Adequate Not Enough
    and the war on Britain's youth continues under New Labour. Well, this is a thoroughly charming example of fascist Home Secretary Jack Straw's populist playing on the fears of Middle England. What could 'Not Enough' mean here I wonder, that you prefer that young offenders be shot on sight? This is not serious policy-making, but a carefully orchestrated pulling the wool over the eyes of the electorate. Governments used to ignore us 90% of the time, now they actively manipulate us.

    The most horrifying aspect of this manipulative style is that New Labour believe that we are all stupid enough to fall for this shit, or that at least they are willing to treat us as if we are that stupid. This is the sort of new 'accountability' and 'democratic initiatives' of which the PM speaks so self-righteously. It is made possible by professional spin doctors whose only purpose is to keep the party in power. I'll repeat that - their only purpose is to keep the party in power. And in this case the party is embodied in Prime Minister Tony Blair, who doesn't even have the respect for democracy to allow his party to impinge on his policy-making.

    The Situationists were right, this is the Society of the Spectacle.

  • 'Just like Tony Blair!' -Unidentified Parliamentary heckler, in response to the Foreign Secretary's statement that Saddam Hussein remained in power 'through force and fear'.

    'Innocence' can bite me

    Alright, I've had it up to here with this cult of innocence. 'Innocent animals slaughtered' 'Innocent babies murdered' etc. ad infinitem. The naivet?is typical for the language of hardline, but other hc kids express the same sentiments. Maybe it is laziness. It is easier to express the injustice of animals being turned into hamburgers by saying the animals were 'innocent' than it is to give a concise and cogent explanation of why the practice is wrong. The full explanation would however better explain just why the speaker chose veganism. The supposed 'innocence' of animals or foetuses is unlikely to have been a primary motivator of one's opinions on their termination.

    What do these people mean by applying a legalistic human-signifying term to non-human creatures?* A dairy cow is unlikely to have committed a murder, but then neither have I. A dairy cow may have willfully swatted a fly with her tail, does that bring her down in the hardline scale of innocence? Is an adult human excluded from the realm of 'innocence' because we at some point have partaken in the sins of Babylon? Is my innocence tainted because for the first 17 years of my life I ate meat? Or perhaps those who follow the cult of innocence still believe in original sin? Perhaps not the biblical version, but the fundamental sinfulness of the world humans have built through greed. In that case, mightn't all cows be tainted by the sin of the cow who supposedly started the Great Chicago Fire? Maybe there was a great Cow Ancestor who stomped her calf to death thus removing the innocence of all cows to follow. Furthermore I defy you to find a vegan foetus.

    I'm not vegan because those cute ickle animals are so darned 'innocent'. I know that carnivorous animals such as cats will often give their prey a slow, terrifying and agonising death; perhaps for no other reason than their own amusement. I do not think that foetuses are worth saving because they have not yet done anything despicable. If a foetus becomes a human and spends its childhood knowing it was unwanted it may very well become a serial killer, and you don't get much less innocent than that.

    Innocence in reference to beings which may be less self-aware than adult humans simply means they are too ignorant to be able to make moral choices. Fuck innocence. I don't want to be 'innocent', I want to be informed and self-aware enough to have my own principles. And even if someone is a serial killer it does not justify 'innocent' people putting them to death.

    *(ok, ok, so hardliners and other fools think that foetuses are human beings.)

    Abortion is not about babies

    I feel compelled to write about abortion in this issue because recently I have encountered so many foolish attitudes to the subject in the hc scene. Although Catholic school tried to indoctrinate me, I am pro-choice. I understand where anti-abortion people are coming from, but they have a really poor way of expressing themselves which makes their thinking seem particularly inadequate.
    Anti-abortion articles in zines almost inevitably include phrases such as these:
    killing babies, murdering children, taking little innocent lives, babies/children's rights... What these sentiments suggest to me is that the author is thinking of the unborn not as unborn humans but as unborn cute, cuddly, innocent wee babes and therefore more worthy of consideration than older people. If abortion is murder, which it isn't, it is murder of a human. So if you object to murder of a human then say so, don't emotionalise it by pretending that pro-choice means hating babies. A foetus, by the way, is not a human being or a baby. Until birth has taken place, that foetus is a part of the womyn bearing it. Abortion is a womyn's issue. If you are male, your opinion on abortion is irrelevant to me. A woman's sexuality involves infinite difficult choices and responsibilities. By pretending that the choices are 'abstain' or 'have babies' or even 'take precautions' is simplistic as well as misogynistic. Even if someone has an unwanted pregnancy due to her own irresponsibility, nobody else can be justified in forcing her to go through with the pregnancy. Everybody is irresponsible at one time or another, but not every mistake has such major repercussions. The fact of an unwanted pregnancy is traumatic enough without a womyn having her options in the matter limited by laws, money or family or social pressures.

    Awhile back I was talking with a womyn who was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. She was looking forward to having a family, but she was very much aware of some disagreeable social attitudes toward pregnancy. She said that people had begun to address her as 'mum'; 'how is mum today?' Even people she knew would speak to her belly and not to her. They would touch and stroke and put their heads to her bump without being invited. It was as if she had ceased to be a person, but was merely the baggage carrying a baby who was more important. And because she was pregnant, she was doing a public service and therefore was public property which could be interfered with by anybody. It is as if for a pregnant woman the pregnancy is more important than the woman?

    Social attitudes don't come from nowhere. Anti-abortionism is misogynistic because it derives from a basic belief in a woman's natural duty? Ancient superstitions (still evident in modern religions) were infused with a tremendous fear of womyn's' sexuality and esoteric power (as it was perceived). Men used physical and systemic power to confine womyn's energies to a private sphere of the home and a responsibility of raising children.

    In this century, womyn in many countries have demanded and taken greater life options than were historically possible. One of the fundamental rights a person must have is control over their bodies. Reproductive and sexual freedom without interference from other individuals or the state has to be an absolute.

    Nestle are murderers

    Following on, I wish some of these pro-life people would take more account of the humans who already exist on this overcrowded planet. In some parts of the world, people are born only to have their lives sacrificed by capitalism. One evil multinational corporation who seek their own profit at all cost is the Swiss food manufacturers Nestl?

    I am constantly surprised at how many people have not heard about the Nestle boycott. Being a shy, introverted, non-preachy type, I keep most things to myself. Unless it is absolutely necessary, I prefer not to mention that I am vegan, teetotal, drug-free whatever, because I consider it a personal thing. But with Nestle I tell everybody about it.

    When I sent out issues of Synthesis 3, I always included 2 flyers: one was telling the truth about Good Life Recording$, and the other was from the Baby Milk Action campaign. The BMA has for years brought Nestl?to the attention of the world for unethically marketing its baby milk formula and breaking a World Health Organisation code of marketing. Because of Nestl? 1.5 million people (infants) die EVERY YEAR. The Nestle boycott has been running for several years and has international support including from nurses?unions, students?unions, medical colleges and the Church of England.

    International pressure forced Nestle a few years ago to tone down its marketing, but after laying low for a bit they started up again. A couple of years ago they started moving into mainland China. The Chinese do not have a dairy-farming culture, but Nestl?have been trying to engender a taste for dairy products by giving away free samples of their milk chocolate to the Chinese. Baby formula is on the agenda for the Chinese as well.

    If you are a vegetarian, or even if you are not, you should extend your compassion to the human race and start boycotting Nestle now. Nestle owns dozens of brands internationally, and they should all be boycotted including their flagship product Nescafe.