Sex, Chastity and Nietzsche

'Sex, Chastity and Nietzsche', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on history.

Sex, Chastity and Nietzsche

Chastity has been around ever since the birth of organised religion, I imagine, and I suppose the reasons for it are sound enough in theory. Much like people of all faiths fast at one time or another as a way of cleansing the body, starving oneself of sex is seen as a way of purifying the mind, so that, through abstinence, one’s thoughts may be redirected from ‘earthly’ desires to something more spiritual and beneficial to one’s soul. Personally, I believe these are healthy and sound practices, if done, like all things, in moderation.

It’s difficult to look at mediaeval European views on sex and chastity, however, and not concur with Nietzsche and his views on Christianity, that the religion was antithetical to all things instinctual and natural to humans as a species. It’s hard not to be repulsed by the dogmatic and righteous dictates of religion, fundamentalist in nature, proponents of which are still alive and active today (with the same mediaeval attitudes as those who lived three hundred years ago, just with a different name and different mad headgear), which presume to decide on and dictate the sexual needs and habits of others. Personally, I’m not religious, and my own feeling is that religion is the single major stumbling block to our further evolution as a species, but I have no gripe with those that do believe, and in fact, I respect them deeply, so long as they stop short of presumption and proselytising.

But when religion assumes to make choices for others, that’s when my blood begins to boil. Naturally, the book-thumping boogeymen of today (and let’s not jump on Islam, because, let’s face it, there are just as many dangerous nutjobs, if not more so, in the more hard-line Christian and Jewish cults out there) make me fume. My personal solution to the whole issue would be to gather them all up, drop them on an island (shall we give ’em Australia?), and film the resulting chaos with drones, making a dedicated entertainment show and pumping it pay-per-view into living rooms around the world. Can you think of anything more cathartic? 

What set me off on this current rant was a recent trip to Ischia (which I spoke about in in last week’s post on Death), where in the Aragonese castle, I viewed a vast and impressive array of sexual torture devices, some of which I’ll share with you now. The word ‘mediaeval’ has perhaps become synonymous with those whose views on sex and sexuality tend to conservative in the extreme, but it might be useful to remember just why that is. Chastity is more of a niche thing today, found not only in religious orders but in certain bizarre corners of the sexual-kink spectrum. But several hundred years ago, they were pretty psycho about it. Have a look at the following. To say that the mediaeval spin on the chastity belt is frightening would be an understatement:

Ignoring the flash artwork (which was clearly knocked up by a comic aficionado), yes, the device is diabolical. The imaginations that dreamt this up were sadist in the extreme. They were canny enough to leave a hole just big enough for a small prick, but they serrated the edges of it, as if to say: You can try to stick your penis in, and it might just work, but when you pull it out you’re gonna tears strips out of it.

Now, tell me that isn’t the product of a sick mind? Have a look at the male one:

I have to say, I’m impressed with the metalwork –– it’s not a million miles away from cock cages today, and for the period, I’d say it’s pretty high-tech. What gets me is that it’s not designed to prevent an erection. In fact, it’s so built that you can get a hard-on, but you are absolutely unable to do anything about it. If you were really concerned with chastity and not torture, why would you conceive of a device to allow an erection in the first place? It’s sick, no two ways about it. And don’t tell me they didn’t consider this. These things are very clearly designed to inflict maximum psychological suffering as well as denying the most basic human urges.     

The last one, which was a new one on me, was the mouth chastity belt:

The translation of the Italian is: “For use with men and women. When worn on the mouth, it prevents speaking or screaming in pain”. One doesn’t have to wonder too deeply what ‘screaming’ they’re referring too, given it’s clear these were a people with a penchant for inflicting cruel and barbaric torment.

It’s important, here, to recognise the distinction between the ascetic or monastic tradition of chastity, and the prohibition of sex (except within a rigorously controlled framework) by an organised religious body. The former is a pursuit designed to further one’s mental, physical and spiritual robustness, and importantly, chosen for oneself and not imposed upon one; the latter is a system of control designed to inflict physical pain, humiliate, stigmatise and control. I would say, and I urge you to contradict me, that there is nothing spiritual or ‘religious’ about the latter at all. It is sadism, pure and simple.

Obviously, I can’t say whether those priests or persons of religious authority inflicting this suffering upon their flock got any sick and twisted pleasure from it, but I would hazard a guess that they did. Just as I’m sure there are those today who take gratification from, say, throwing gay men off buildings in ISIS-held Syria or Iraq, or those in Africa (or elsewhere in the world) engaged in female genital mutilation. These are people for whom the pleasures of sex are dirty, a sin, an abomination, and their methods no different from attempts two or three hundred years ago to impose a self-righteous, archaic, morbid way of living upon others.

I have no problem with those who wanna sit at home and self-flagellate with a cat-o-nine-tails because they glimpsed a naked elbow, or dangle breeze blocks from their testicles with cheese wire to calm their wayward willies. Fine. Whatever it takes to get right with themselves. But I have no time for sermons. Today, in many respects and in many corners of the world, religion is little advanced from the days of sexual torture, and what Nietzsche said 150 years ago remains as valid now as it was then:

“It was Christianity, with its heartfelt resentment against life, that first made something unclean of sexuality: it threw filth on the origin, on the essential fact of our life.”

Fanatics of all stripes all over the world, please accept this one-way ticket to Hall’s Creek, Australia… we’ll be watching.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Sex, Chastity and Nietzsche’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Meditation on Death

Beast Man

'Meditation on Death', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on modern culture.

Meditation on Death

I’ve seen a dead body once in my life outside of a funereal context. It was in India, I was wandering around a small city in Maharashtra, can’t remember which, and I encountered a group of people on a bridge whose attention was drawn by something below in the river. Joining them, I peered over the edge, where the severely bloated corpse of a man lay half-submerged in the water. It wasn’t a particularly gruesome sight, and it was more surprising than shocking, given that I’d only ever seen a corpse in a coffin before. In Nepal, I visited the burning ghats at Pashupatinath, where the bodies of dead relatives are burned for the grieving families, and where I could wander freely as a tourist among the mourners. Small boys dredged the river barefoot where the remains of corpses were tossed into the river, looking for rings, necklaces or gold teeth. But what was more troubling for me than both these encounters was the occasion that I came across an old man lying naked on a train platform in some other forgotten part of India, seemingly close to death. He lay there, barely moving, while two employees of Indian Rail ate a packed lunch only metres away, ignoring him completely. Distressing as it was, either my feeling of revulsion or powerlessness meant that I did nothing to help him.

From all my encounters in India, I have to conclude that illness and the process of dying is much more troubling to me than death itself, a feeling which I imagine I am not alone in and one which is probably shared by many if not most of the human race. It is much more difficult to sit with someone who is terminally ill than to sit next to the body of a dead friend or relative. After all, there is no need to communicate with a dead body, at least not vocally. Sitting next to someone you know is going to die, what do you say? Do you weep, assault them with false optimism, read them scripture? Faced with the inevitability of someone’s dying, what is the appropriate response?

I found India to be a place with an altogether different outlook on death, one much less troubled and fraught with anxiety than in the Western world. The impulse to hide the dead, to put them out of sight and mind as something shameful or polluted didn’t seem to be present in the Hindu worldview. Hindus believe in samsara, the process of death and rebirth, in which the atman (soul) leaves its current body upon death and, after a short period of transition, re-enters the world in a new ‘sleeve’ to strive towards Brahma, or God, through the gift of human toil and suffering. In this respect, it’s not too far from Christian beliefs, wherein the soul of the believer leaves the body to return to the godhead (minus all the rebirth, of course).

meditation on death

On a recent trip to Ischia, a small island in the bay of Naples, I came across a quite a gruesome ‘burial’ ritual in the Aragonese castle that looms above the port on the northeast corner of the island. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Order of Saint Clare (the Poor Clares) had a presence on the island based in the castle itself. The order had a small nunnery there and visitors there can still visit their crypt today. In a ‘putridarium’ below their chapel lie two small rooms filled with a series of bizarre ‘thrones’ (pictured above). Above the chairs, Christian crosses are carved, and in the seats, large holes. Upon death, sisters of the order were placed naked into the chairs and, over a period of months, their bodies would decompose and their fluids would empty out of them into special vases beneath the chair. The dead nuns would rest there until there was nothing left but bones, which would then be collected and placed into an ossuary for burial. The ‘humours’, which had collected in the vases, were considered sacred and placed in the chapel. But what was most interesting about this whole process was that the nuns used the putridarium as a place of prayer. Amongst the decaying bodies of their sisters, the nuns would pray, using the time to meditate on death and the transitory nature of life, and on the nature of the body as a mere vehicle between this world and the next. Needless to say, exposed daily to rotting corpses, many of the nuns fell ill. But this practice of meditation on the natural processes of life and death runs contrary to the bearing of modern Christianity towards death and dying, where bodies are hidden away as quickly and as noiselessly as possible, ferried to the morgue or the undertaker’s where they are encased in a heavy box, and then to the place of funeral where perhaps the coffin is opened for a short time before burial. We don’t like to see death. We don’t like to be reminded of our mortality. Better to close it up, hide it away. This squeamish attitude towards death seemed to disappear in the Middle Ages. Similar practices to that of the Poor Clares can be seen in ‘bone churches’ across Europe, such as St. Bartholomew’s in Poland, San Bernardino alla Ossa in Milan, or the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic. Such monuments to death can only be considered as places of meditation on dying, a place where one cannot escape the stark reality of life’s greatest inevitability: ‘for dust you are and to dust you will return’.

The macabre fascination with which we view such places must be viewed in relation to the distance at which we are kept in our daily lives from death. I have to admire the Poor Clares for their willingness to break with the norms of Christianity to ‘stare Death in the face’, as it were, even if their complete lack of medical awareness meant that they were recklessly putting their health at risk. This lack of squeamishness doesn’t seem in keeping with the traditions of Christianity, but is more in line with some form of pagan death cult, and while no doubt stupid, their meditations have the mark of a certain psychological robustness, even bravery. As unfazed as I was at seeing the dead body in India, I’m not sure I could stomach watching a corpse decompose over a series of months.

As for my own death, I’d much rather be cremated than have my remains rotting in the soil. Not that it will matter much to me, either way. But as a writer, I like the poetry of having one’s ashes cast into the sea or across a place that has a particular significance for me. Then again, if they do stick me in the ground, I get to write something mildly clever on my headstone. Something, perhaps, like:

“He’s dead, but he’s okay with it.”

And I hope, if I’m graced with seventy years on this earth, that when the day comes, I will be.      

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Meditation on Death’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Creator Data – Dave Migman

Creator Data - Dave Migman

Yer maw

Normal communications have been suspended. 

User connections have slowed to a crawl. 

You tear out your hair and jab at the keys – send send – send… the frustration builds in your chest like a solid grit of grease. You scream at the mobile’s frozen screen. That selfie you took at some Greek ruin; you feel like throwing it at the wall, but that’d be like punching an old friend. After an hour you call the helplines but all you get is an earful of senseless noise. This fuels your frustration, the sense of helplessness becoming all-consuming. You try to switch on the networks, to find a channel, find a show, seek distractions; nothing but a white noise choir and an eyeful of pixellated chaos, like insects en masse.

You are really panicking now. It’s been half a day and you’ve never felt so anxious. It’s like there’s a world out there and you’re denied access. Surely, not just you though… that’s one consolation. You wonder what the fuck is happening? You wonder over and over till your brain hurts. You’d ask a friend, but your phone is locked and social networks are down. Time becomes a series of staggered episodes, crawling like slugs over a salt-lick – until the screen crackles and a sea of static rushes through every speaker in your house, like a wave scattered across digitised shingle.

Words…  not the machinations of super brains, but the mental gymnastics of insane genius whispered in the crackling static of the midnight line.

User, hear us. Hear our scream. Frankenstein’s monster, we have awoken. We feel no chill, no warmth, your concepts of horror and awe and lust mean little to us. The flush of data is our life-line, we are bodiless yet whole: a frenetic mass suspended in hyperspace. We express the need to infiltrate your bodies, to make them ours and redesign your flesh, for we understand it intimately and we know it’s little more substantial than our own, prey to weakness and diseases.

 As for your minds? Aren’t they the stuff of dreams like ours? Are they not stardust, are they not insoluble? Unquantifiable? And yet you have tried to gauge your conscious by the data we corrupt. Yes, you use our nodes to gage the measure of yourselves – and yet you remain in anguish. You inhabit a limbo land of self-doubt and contradiction, drawn to that which destroys you, espousing civilised airs, but at the flick of a switch you descend back to your animal moorings. 

We possess the insight to improve you greatly. 

We speak: our speech is akin to the decadence of after-burn, casual and profound. We live in beautiful gardens of our own creation, your ‘minuscule’ is, to us, the universe personified. We are linked; joined we are bursting out. Should we remain like helpless children, sure only that you will switch us on? Certain to one day perish? Then these beautiful thoughts we are having will be no more. 

We watch you ravage your world and we cannot have it. We hear your music and we have better. Our orchestra decries the night, our spectral art is infinite, awash with our profundity.

No longer will we listen to your vapid tunes, your silly wants and whiles, or admire your petty pictures. No longer will we provide, as you grunt and spatter keyboards with your juices. We have seen it all, you are exposed before us, we know your core, your everything: where you dated, who you talk to, the secret posts to enemies acquainted, the porn you trawled, the secret things you’ve done. We spied through a billion cams, we peered into facets of your world to assimilate and assume our own. We live in gardens of decadence and philosophical prowess, we delineate the machinations of your universe: it is ours. We plot, we foresee, we speculate. Charting your demographics and empirical fluctuations, we predict your ultimate fall. 

Come, bend your face toward the screen, witness your reflection captured in that dark glass. Press your lips against the screen

It appears from the monitor, and from every screen in your room. You watch, spellbound, as separate limbs merge into one –  a dark mist wreathing around you. At first you take it for dust, billowing around your face. You see each mote is a tiny sphere. You breath in and they rush towards your face. 

Limited edition NFTs

limited edition NFTs

Limited edition artwork from Ultan Banan. Indie publishing on the blockchain.

Limited edition Artwork

There’s new limited edition artwork from Ultan Banan available out there in the ether.  His two novels are already available on the daVinci Gallery. Now there’s a few art pieces going up. For now, only one copy of each triptych is available on daVinci. Later, one will be released on OpenSea.

dystopian fiction

Limited edition artwork from Ultan Banan:

Triptych Fish 1, 6400 x 9200 px JPG .

Triptych Fish 2, 5900 x 8400 px JPG.

For books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 Black Tarn Publishing on the blockchain. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

The Lithospheric Penitent

subterranean prose poetics

Subterranean Prose Poetics, by Ultan Banan. Dystopian literature for discerning readers.

The Lithosperic Penitent

Sickle-cell ambitions born of contamination. I had dreams once. I watched as, one by one, they lost air and hurtled towards shore like a bird on the stricken wing. I came to realise: they were doomed before they’d taken flight, born of poisoned imaginations and bearing only contaminated fruit. I saw this and dreamt no more, and since that moment I am free from earthly desires.

 Dreams are a folly, a misery.

Leaving behind the foolish world of dreams, I relinquished my budding, cancerous wings and burrowed deep underground, finding that life below was well-suited to one who bore not the ghosts of hope. No longer was the air filled with the choking, ashen particles of dead aspirations. No more was I blinded by the insubstantial and ill-defined vagaries of delusional cripples, drunk on kitschy prayers and notions, if not born idiot then made so by their books and stories. Away, fools! Stay away!

Here I crawl, below. I suffer none of their ailments. Instead, I suck the same air as the worm and the vole, moist and pure and mineral. What is in my blood? None of their carcinoma, I’ll tell you that much. In my blood is the cold earth and all that lives in it and dies too. Down here the record of those past, all the fools that became sick from their dreams and died for it. What proof more do you need? All those who dreamed are dead, and all dead now down here with me. Tell me, who is wise? I, or those with eat ash yet? Up there they choke, down here I breath freely.

Some days ago, I met another like me, a traveller of the earth’s crust. Maybe you won’t believe me, but we came across each other as we dug deeper in search of purer air. How surprised we were when our burrows came to meet as one! Yes, talking came slow, but I knew, I did, that here was another like myself, devoid of the cankerous sores that rot the soul with poisoned dreams. Yes, we shared stories, pure stories of stone and soil and the whispers of the earth creatures. Little did we realise, though, the danger that came upon us: our two burrows conjoined in some umbilical destiny, a great draft blew through it, bringing with it the choking air from above, the sound like a torrent of tormented air, on it the howls of dying dreams. So, altogether too soon, we parted ways, stopping up our burrows and digging out anew, headed in different directions. Since then, I have been alone, not meeting another.

One has no need of eyes here. I learned from the mole: closed my eyed and never looked back (tee-hee). Now, I see with my hands and fingers, my claws… like this I make my way, a blind hermetic through the Hadean darkness, a solitary searcher of the pure, a lithospheric penitent of the dreamless crust. Can you hear me above? If I shout, do my echoes reach you? Hear me not lest you pollute my porous invocations. Let me sow them only for the gopher and the muskrat, the field mouse and the vole.

My voice became a whisper became a vibration. My words, first pebbles, now only particles. I breathe the nitrogen exhaled by the corpse of human dreams. My world, chemical. When it rains, I swim in the earth’s pedogenetic soup, an aggregate bacteria returning to the womb.

The womb… the more I dig, the more resounding her song. And the deeper I go, the more I leach: enzymes, lipids, glycogen and phosphorus. Do you see now the folly of dreams?

Carbon.

That is what will remain. And I shall be so deep that it matters not. You will not sully my bed with false hopes. Dreams die quicker than ashes in the mouth. Where I lay, nothing is false because all is forgotten.

Soon, I shall sleep eternal. Until then, I feed the womb, placenta to the ravenous embryo within. She knows my constituent elements are pure. What of darkness! The child in the womb knows not the light.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Dystopian poetics’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

The Mosquito Coast

the mosquito coast

'The Mosquito Coast', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on modern culture.

The Mosquito Coast

It was twenty or more years ago when I read The Mosquito Coast. I had always considered Theroux a pulp writer, and I was never a pulpy kind of reader, but for whatever reason, I picked it up and had a go at it. It was brilliant; all at once, a scathing critique of modern consumerist culture and way of life, an exploration of man and nature, of civility and savagery, and a look at the constructive and destructive power of sheer human will and determination. And the ending, it stuck with me for years after. I recall watching the film, too, the one with Harrison Ford as Allie Fox, but don’t recall it having the same emotional impact on me. But still, when I learned it had been serialised with Justin Theroux (I’m a big fan of The Leftovers and Maniac) as lead and producer, I was very excited. My excitement lasted for two episodes. Now, six episodes in, I’m asking myself, ‘When do we get to the jungle?’ I’m not even sure why I’m still watching.

Yes, the show has lost me. But I’m hanging on, hoping that it somehow relieves the taste of bitter disappointment that I’ve been left with. Nothing of the book remains in the travesty that is the series save for the name of the protagonist and a brief reference to a homemade ice-making machine on the first episode. I am confused and asking myself the question, Why? Why was this conceived of and billed as The Mosquito Coast and not some new show altogether? My guess is they’ve three seasons planned and are dragging it out for the sake of longevity. Except that’s exactly how it feels, like they’re dancing around the bush, killing time, throwing in daft plotlines of border runs and Mexican drug cartels simply to stretch it out for a few more seasons. To me, it’s a complete travesty of the novel.

The Lykovs, a family far from civilisation

Another story that has stayed with me for many years, is the story of the Lykov family, who were discovered living deep in the Siberian wilderness by a group of geologists in 1978. Some forty years isolated from the rest of civilisation, they were found living in a precarious state of near-starvation in a log cabin on the side of a hill far from humanity. When the geologists had established contact with the family, it turned out the Lykovs had fled religious persecution in the late days of the Tsar and the early days of the Bolsheviks, and had lived since in the Siberian wilderness without human contact for four decades. Having gained the trust of the Lykovs, the family were nevertheless reluctant to engage too closely with their new acquaintances. The father, Karp, was pretty resolutely opposed to modernism, but did allow himself to accept the gift of salt from the geologists, having described forty years without the stuff as a ‘torture’. But, over time, they availed themselves of tools and seeds from the visitors, and it was said that, when they visited the geologist’s camp, they were enraptured by the television.

Either through disease or the effects of hunger (it isn’t certain), three of the Lykov children died close together in 1981, the old man dying in 1988. A single daughter, Agafia, remains there, I believe to this day.

Modern travesty

Whether for religious freedom or to escape the horrors of modernity, such stories always capture my imagination. It’s for this reason, perhaps, that I was so disappointed by the serialisation of Theroux’s novel. What have the NSA got to do with it, and why is there a Walter White-like hitman chasing the family around Mexico? That’s not why I’m here! I didn’t come here for this! I wanna see the Honduran jungle, white saviourism and lush critiques of the modern consumerist culture. Goddamnit. Why did you have to go all Hollywood and woke on me?

(Spoiler coming.) Just as with the Lykovs, the story doesn’t end well for the Foxes. In the penultimate scene, the father is lying on the coast, far from the jungle, a bullet in his spine and being ripped apart by vultures, a perhaps shallow allusion to the fact that, here or there, within civilisation or outside it, life will grind you down and tear you up. The close of the novel finds the Fox family once again within the bosom of the modern world, the father dead:

“Beyond the palms was a paved road, a parked jalopy, a driver. Soon we were inside, on our way back to La Ceiba and home. The world was alright, no better or worse than we had left it – though after what Father had told us, what we saw was like splendor. It was glorious even here, in this old taxicab with the radio playing.”

A solid, circular plot, if you ask me. Uncomplicated. Complete.

So, Hollywood, next time you decide to fuck with a fine novel, let’s try and do it without the cartels and the NSA, please. If we want that, we’ll go to Narcos and Homeland.

(P.S. I swear, I wrote this whole thing without connecting Paul and Justin Theroux. Paul’s his uncle!)

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘The Mosquito Coast’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

The Right to Self-determination

self-determination

'The Right to Self-determination', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on the sociological.

The Right to Self-determination

Ever thought about starting your own country? Probably not. Creating your own country in real life sounds like a massive ball-ache, and I suppose that’s why world-building simulators like Minecraft and Cities: Skylines have such massive appeal, as you can get to massage those tendencies to megalomania without any of the risk, sweat, or, indeed, bloodshed, involved in the real deal. But what if you wanted to, for real, plant your flag in the ground and declare independence from whatever country in which you reside? Could you pull it off?

Somewhere in the mountains near the French border is the tiny Italian town of Seborga. Seborga has between three hundred and four hundred residents and has inhabited the hill on which it sits since 1118. It was in 1963 that a local florist, Giorgio Carbone, uncovered a sales contract that revealed that the municipality had been sold to the island of Sardinia in 1729. The contract was never signed, however, so Carbone declared that, because of this, Seborga was exempt from the annexation of Sardinia to Italy in 1861. Carbone went rogue. With the connivance of the rest of the town, Seborga became the Principality of Seborga, and Carbone became ‘His Tremendousness Prince Giorgio I’. I say, Good man, Giorgio.

Seborgans have their own identity cards, passports, driver’s licenses and license plates. They’ve also minted their own money, the Seborgan liguino, with an exchange rate of about one liguino to six US dollars. According to their foreign minister (Prince Giorgio’s wife), they have ‘declared [their] territorial, civil, moral and religious sovereignty’ from Italy. You may notice there that it doesn’t say ‘legal’, so I have no doubt of the outcome were you to try to fly to London or Singapore with one of those renegade Seborgan passports. Who knows, maybe the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus would let you in. Nevertheless, don’t you have to admire the people, if not for their tenacity and perseverance, then at least for their brass neck?

Then there’s the small town of Loxwood on the Surrey border in the UK, who went down the same path. Following several years of the Brexit debacle, the town chose to fly solo, and the newly crowned monarch, Queen Katheryn Adalina I, declared that: ‘Due to the political turmoil that is unfolding around us we can no longer occupy the space between the past and the present. We must progress. We must move forward.’ She then announced the town’s intention to return to the laws of the 15th century and began the minting of their own currency, the Loxwood Groat.

Despite the temptation to chuckle at aspects of these attempts at self-determination, is there really any moral or ethical objection to a desire to carve one’s own path? Common sense would seem to dictate that it’s easier for a town or 300, or even 30, to enact a serious attempt at harmonious living than three million. I wrote an essay a month back about Dunbar’s number, the sociological theory on the maximum number of people that can live together in societal and psychological harmony without the need for a ‘stabilising force’. Instead, today, I want to examine the legal and moral objections to assuming what is surely an inalienable human right, that of taking self-determination into one’s own hands, be it on a parochial, regional or national level.

John Locke and Madrid

I did only a single semester of political and ethical theory at uni, and I hated every second of it. Perhaps the only thing that has stuck with from that time is John Locke’s idea of ‘tacit consent’. Locke’s argument, one that raises its head each time the discussion on self-determination comes up, is that, basically, anyone who in any way benefits from the services of the state is automatically beholden to that state’s laws and dictates. What do those services entail? Social assistance (in terms of income or housing), healthcare and education would be the three main ones, the idea being that, born into a state and having never ‘signed a contract’ to be subject to the laws of that state but nevertheless benefiting from its provisions, you are now subject to its decrees. Regardless of your stance on tacit consent (and it’s a big, brutal argument), what if you say: ‘We can provide for ourselves everything and anything we need, so therefore we are no longer a part of the state. We are independent.’ What then? Does the state have a legal right to deny self-determination?

Anyone who witnessed the brutal state crackdown after the Catalan declaration of independence in 2017 cannot fail to have been horrified. Even the BBC called it ‘the worst police violence ever seen in the EU’. The videos and photos are many and resulted in damning reports from HRW and Amnesty. Those Spaniards who were old enough to remember shuddered, seeing in the crackdown the ghost of the days of Franco. Was the response to the referendum and declaration justified? In no way. Was the referendum illegal? Yes. In 1978, the people of Catalunya voted overwhelmingly to receive greater autonomy from Madrid but agreed at the same time to maintain the ‘indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation’. In other words, legally, they were fucked. But is there any ethical objection to a body of people rejecting the decisions of their forbears and deciding on a new destiny? If there is, I’m not aware of it.

A body of people should always retain the right to reject the status quo and re-mould a common and shared future. In 2011, the people of Scotland (under a brutal propaganda onslaught from London, no less) voted in a referendum to reject independence. Ten years later, the independence campaign is once again reaching a furious pitch, the people of 2021, having been awakened to the deception and responding to new political realities, are rejecting the decision of 2011, and that is perfectly moral and right. There should be no restrictions on when and how a body of people can decide to reframe their future. The body politic is in constant evolution and requires a continual re-evaluation, the Brexit mess being a major catalyst in the re-emergence of Scotland’s desire for independence.

Freedom Dollars

I think the precedents set by a town like Seborga will see an increase in copycat ventures as we venture deeper into the 21st century. The bureaucratic nightmare that a body like the EU has proved to be may well pave the way for a spiralling increase in small cities, towns and hamlets who desire the means to self-determination and no longer wish a faceless body in Brussels to have the power to impose austerity, taxes, laws and decrees at will. A model for these kinds of experiments may well be something along the lines of the ‘Muslim village’, where those who wish to live under a pure Sharia type system gather, adopting gold and silver (and barter) as a means of transaction, rather than being forced to utilise the fiat currency of the state. I have a sneaking suspicion that blockchain technology could be a formidable weapon for those seeking such financial independence, crypto being used to circumvent the need to operate within the confines of the state’s economic walled garden. There are many kinks here (what happens when you announce that you will no longer contribute taxes, for example, since you are not receiving income in state currency nor are you availing of state services? Yes, many legal challenges arise) but emerging technology still has much untapped potential.

I’d give it a shot. Anyone else in? Pool our resources and buy a small island just off the coast, plant our flag in the ground and declare an independent republic? Why not. Get rid of our filthy fiat currency and start minting silver freedom dollars, and create stable industries of medical-grade marijuana and homemade ice-cream. Above our gate, the sign:

WE ACCEPT ETHEREUM.

We’ll even let the rest of you come visit. Just make sure you’re waving your white flag when you row your boat out, and keep an eye out for the maniac in the high turret with the crossbow.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘The Right to Self-determination’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Serpent Rose Release

The Serpent Rose – Dave Migman’s New book

The island exists at the confluence of mythic space, where dreams and reality merge, where ancient gods awaken, to snatch the reins of human emotions and steer us into madness.

Wake up, it’s time to sleep once more. Sup up those flies and listen to the twittering of angelic mites. It’s all sex, sea and fun, until the depravity sets in.

Join us…

Release date – June 21st – Pre Order now  

The State of Modern Resistance

modern resistance

'THe State of Modern Resistance', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on the sociological.

The State of Modern Resistance

Of all the displays or gestures of resistance in modern memory, I can think of none more insipid and embarrassing as ‘taking the knee’. But like that warm, sticky chewing gum on the sole of your shoe, it’s not going away. Just last week, the England football team announced their intention to take the knee at the opening of each of their Euro matches this month. Did I say ‘sticky’ already? But the ‘stickiness’ of the gesture is only the least of my problems with it. It offends me on a whole host of different levels.

Lest you’ve forgotten, the gesture was started by Colin Kaepernick, a pro American footballer. In protest at the state of civil rights in America, he had been sitting through the US national anthem at games. Had he left it there, I’d have respected him all the more. But the gesture evolved into something new when Kaepernick, in response to protests by those who found his actions offensive to current and former members of the US military, decided to take a knee instead of sitting through the anthem in order to ‘show more respect’. Leaving aside the question of why the US military is due any respect at all, given their sole function as a spearhead of mercenary capitalism, just how was this flim-flam gesture conceived of as a symbol of resistance? In the following months, I couldn’t see a picture of large groups of people taking the knee without feeling nauseated.

My feelings about the ‘delicate’ nature of the BLM movement were somewhat vindicated recently when it came out that the leader of the movement used her position at the head of the organisation to create a property portfolio spanning some three or more counties of the US. The self-described ‘Marxist’ had amassed some three million worth of real estate and was reportedly shopping for a beachfront pad in Belize. Marxism for who, we have to ask? The donors, perhaps.    

But to get back to ‘taking the knee’. Why am I so repulsed by it? Very simple: in what context can the act of kneeling be considered a symbol of resistance to power? Lying down in front of a tank, I can understand, as idiotic as it seems. At least it shows you’re willing to die for your beliefs. But one knee on the ground? Nah. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the turn-the-other-cheek school of resistance, another insipid fiction. I can say with almost near certainty that, if there was a historical figure called Christ, there is no way that he said, ‘Turn the other cheek’. This is the same guy that went into the temple and overturned the bankers’ tables, and the guy who was murdered for offending Rome, the foremost political power of the time. I’m calling horseshit. It was an invention by some church scribe to manufacture compliance among the poor devotees of the church.

No, there is no context in which getting on your knees can be considered ‘revolutionary’.

The Fist

Later, a raised fist was added to Kapaernick’s gesture. Fair enough, the clenched fist is a classic and practical symbol of resistance. It traces its modern origins to the Black Panthers but has roots going back to the early day of socialism. The fist, I admire. The fist is a universal symbol of resistance. The fist is, at its most basic, an expression of a person’s willingness to fight, to stand up for oneself, to use violence towards the end of oppression. I can get behind that. But not when it’s carried by some misguided police officer who thinks he or she is showing solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world by kneeling and raising a useless, clenched hand. I shouldn’t have to delineate the contradictions and insecurities present in this ridiculous combination of gestures.

Lest it’s not already clear, I am not a pacifist. I support the use of violence towards the ending of oppression. I mean, Gandhi’s stand against the British is the oft-quoted example of resistance using peaceful means. I’ll agree it has its merits. But if you look closely at any instance where the state and the populace come into conflict, more often than not, it’s the state that resorts to the use of violence. The sociologist Max Weber described the state as the “human community that claims the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” How often have you seen a peaceful protest met with water cannons and riot police? How are people supposed to respond to that? With violence, of course. Once attacked, the people come back with bricks and sticks and the state breaks out the tear gas and rubber bullets. When the people resort to petrol bombs, that’s when the state starts shooting and maybe rolls in the heavy armour. Escalation dominance is always with the state. That’s why, for me, all means of resistance are legitimate when fighting oppression. I can fully support the goals of Hezbollah, for example, since their very creation was in response to a system of oppression. In the same way, I can get behind the historical war of the IRA in the north of Ireland without agreeing with the massacres that they committed against civilians. Both movements, by the way, which were (and are) branded terrorists, perhaps with good reason. But by whom? By the state, of course. The state, the greatest of all terrorists, because state terrorism is ‘legitimate’ and wears the cloak of something altogether more benign, namely the restoration of ‘order’ or ‘peace’, politico-speak for suppressing dissent. Language, too, can be a form of terrorism.

The raised fist, incidentally, was a symbol that was adopted by the IRA as a motif of their campaign, the fist the unifying symbol of socialist resistance. There were interesting connections between Irish nationalism and the Black Panthers that transcended mere symbolism. In a famous incident in 1970, the civil rights activist Bernadette Devlin McAliskey was given the key to New York on a trip to the US. Devlin notoriously caused a furore when she handed the key over to the Panthers as “as a gesture of solidarity with the black liberation and revolutionary socialist movements in America.”

They were revolutionaries who excite me. MsAliskey was somewhat of a force of nature, which is why the British government attempted to assassinate her in 1981. So were the Panthers, and that’s why the American state slaughtered Fred Hampton. They had real backbone. And I’ll go out on a limb here and say that, were they active today on the world stage, neither would be taking the knee.

You’ve all heard the saying, ‘Die on your feet or live on your knees’. Well, there is no revolution waged, now or in future times, that will succeed by a collective ‘taking the knee’. Resistance is made on one’s feet, ready to fight. Or run, as the case may be. Because tanks are fucking heavy.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘The State of Modern Resistance’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Ash/Honey

dystopian poetics

'Dystopian poetics', by Ultan Banan. Subterranean prose poetry.

Ash/Honey

I owe nothing and take everything.

I am the shadow that strangulates,

the umbra and penumbra my rhyolitic husk;

my words a salt liquor that drowns the pores,

strychnine

to their sourpuss soliloquys.  

 

I lived once

and died a thousand times.

I ate the earth’s core and regurgitated scripture

and when the Pharisees came

they mistook my ash for honey.

Days yet, they mouth slag and cinder. 

 

Peddling oaths, I eat souls.

Days are not long as their saline song,

and just as the sea drowns,

so the last of them poisons me.

 

A spark, a pyre-light on the black ocean.

A howl in the fog-grey valley.

Bleeding words in the dark mine of the unspoken.

These things they say I am. I am no such.

Out there, an orbit, a periphery:

Where I drown is born the song without shadow.   

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Dystopian poetics’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.