Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…
I think we’re alone now. Good. Because this is going to be a long and meandering — even maundering — post. I’m tired. And the motivation to write has left me. It would be fair to say I don’t see the point, and truly regret the labour I put into the novel I “promote” on this site. I think it spiritually exhausted me. Writing might even have been a wrong turning for me, an out of character hard shoulder, something I forced myself to do, a kind of phony raison d’etre, a pseudo meIST religion. Work was the vulgar, secular world of having to make a living; art, in the form of writing, my spiritual calling. Utter, self-regarding nonsense, I now realise. I suppose it’s not uncommon to wish I’d been given better advice when I was younger, made to see how easy it is to delude and bullshit yourself, though I tend to the view that drowning in one’s own bullshit is a widespread human affliction.
I’ve deactivated my Twitter account (I’ve never been on the odious Facebook). It, Twitter, has pleading, shrieking “notice me”, “approve of me” aspects marinaded in desperation and unloveliness. Part of that world of recommends, upticks, upvotes, likes, etc. Here’s something like the ultimate expression of the latter coming to a community near you sometime soon: Sesame Credit
A world of endless connections has been created, of checking phones for updates of one sort or another. I’m not alone, cries the world; I’m connected (even if, for the most part, it’s only digitally). Twittering something every so often seems rather pointless to me, and I’ve always found self-promotion rather embarrassing, though I know that’s the world we live in now.
I voted for Brexit. I’m convinced that the Brexit vote is one of the most significant political events of recent years, even (perhaps especially) if the establishment don’t allow it to happen. They, the establishment, have been forced into the open. They have a near-total contempt for the lives of ordinary people, are themselves entirely insulated from, and indifferent to, the world of having to make a living. For them, it’s about power games and shaping the country and world to their will and vision. The British were noticing when the EU did their bullying number on Greece. So was the rest of Europe.
Immigration is not something gentle, generous, and benign, as people like the Greens would have you believe. It’s a sharp, weaponised means of undermining working conditions, communities, and cultures. Want a pay rise? Too bad. We’ve got ten migrants who’ll do your job cheaper than you, and who care not a jot about you. It’s surely worth noting that these migrants (seeking the iconic “better life”) either come from an inappropriately expanded EU (the Western powers wanted to get to the borders of Russia post-haste) or trouble-spots that weren’t troubled until we stuck our oar in. It isn’t hard for powerful countries, like Britain and the US, to create conflict elsewhere, and then open their doors to the refugees fleeing the trouble that wouldn’t have happened if they’d left well alone.
The game is up now, or at least it’s in the open. The EU is, always was, a hard-nosed economic union that was allowed to happen because of an unholy alliance between money-driven technocrats and the fluffy-headed well-meaning types who believed it was principally intended as a way of stopping war and bringing peoples together. A younger me counted himself among the latter — though, of course, the early (earlier) iterations of the EU could reasonably be regarded as a club of equals: that is, there wasn’t so much of a disparity of living standards between the countries involved. Opening the EU to the Eastern European countries (done, as I say, to undermine Russia after the fall of communism) was a tempting sparkling beacon of consumerist light to those who imagined freedom was the ability to buy lots of things. Of course it wasn’t done for political freedom; it was done for Coca Cola and Levis and Micky D’s.
The mainstream media (MSM) has lost its monopoly on the narrative. There are other narratives now, closer to the truth (and social media has played a big part in this). This is a catastrophe for the MSM, since they/it become irrelevant the moment people stop buying their view of the world.
Their narrative, incidentally: we’re the good guys, as is the US; globalisation is a GOOD thing; Russia is bad; there’s always a threat for which we, the State, have to protect you; freedom must be curtailed for the sake of protecting you from terrorism and protecting the children from bad people (no, NOT advertisers and Big Pharma — they’re good guys, too). Now, they’re on about false and fake news, suggesting in true Orwellian style that only they, the MSM, are telling you the truth. Only their view of the world is the right one. Dissent from that, and you’re a loon seduced by fake news and conspiracy theories.
Brexit happened despite the MSM being railed against it; so did Donald Trump. Supporters of both were vilified as ignorant and ill-informed before and after the vote, meaning they weren’t buying the doo-doo pouring out of the MSM. Another interpretation would be to say they — the people — used the tools available to them to kick the establishment, which is rightly perceived as serving only its own interests and that of other elites. We’ve seen now how much the elites really like democracy. Their fondness for it ends when it threatens to make a significant difference. Matteo Renzi resigned in Italy as a result of losing a referendum on constitutional reforms that would have given him and his office more power. It’s been a tumultuous year politically. I’m hoping for more across Europe in the New Year.
Me? I’ve lived more than half a century, and work as a Test Analyst. I live with my partner in the South East of England. I’d like to move. North(wards). I don’t own my home, but still hope I might. I think at one time I wanted to be a writer. A fairer world would have been nice, too. One where there was a right to a home and food and the other necessities of a decent life, and where the difference between the top and the bottom of a society was linked, so that the prosperity and misfortune were always — at least relatively — shared. Orwell, and others, had the same idea. It’s amazing how radical an idea it sounds now.
In some parts of the world, from your penthouse view, you can watch children climb over toxic dumps, looking for something they can sell to eat. But that’s okay, that difference between rich and poor — that’s freedom. And if the casino goes against the house elite, then you’ll hear about the need for austerity because we have to bail them out. They can’t fail, or we pay the price.
“Why isn’t your book on Amazon?” ask THEY. “You DO know it’s easy to publish with Amazon, right, and it’s, like, the BIGGEST market?” Once you acknowledge that you do, indeed, know this, THEY can, and do, comfortably categorize you as cranky, as one of those people who have a problem with the whole basis of our civilisation — i.e., capitalism. Usually, this is pejoratively expressed as your having a problem with SUCCESS – success, of course, being pretty much its own justification. Which is why prime ministers and presidents are happy to hob-knob with arms dealers. Arms dealers are generally very wealthy and dubiously well-connected — which means successful.
I bought a book, a novel, from a bookshop (I do so frequently). You know, a bricks and mortar, go in and browse, real-world, independent bookshop with someone sitting behind a counter. I took said book back to the office (my particular temple of toil) and left it on my desk. My smart-phone equipped boss came up to me and asked how much I’d paid for it. Whilst asking, he used aforementioned smart-phone to scan the bar code on my purchase. I told him the price, and he told me how much cheaper I could have purchased it for on Amazon. He then went on to outline the benefits of his Amazon Plus account. I joined the league of the cranky by telling him that circumventing Amazon was the point. Huh? Amazon is great! Everything’s so cheap, and they deliver so quickly! Huh! Why would you have a problem with Amazon? Oh, my god, you’re one of those people!
Writers, readers, bookshops, booksellers, agents, publishers, inter alia, would all be better served in a world in which Amazon didn’t exist. Amazon benefits only Amazon. Anything else is simply marketing spin and PR. Amazon wants to make a big profit, and does so, and it wants you to love it while so doing. Don’t inquire into its dubious employment practices, its bullying of publishers and writers, its tax-dodging, and its creeping monopoly position. Amazon used books as a stepping stone to becoming the global department store it is now, and has countries building roads with its name on it in a grovelling attempt to get it to invest — to put one of its high-tech, high-intensity, control-freak, low-paying warehouses in your neighbourhood. Queue up for your zero-hour contract. Welcome to Amazon.
Try telling any of this to anyone who shops at Amazon. The consumers. They REALLY don’t want to hear it. Amazon’s their favourite shop, a branded portal to the goody grotto. Nothing worse you can do to the unthinking consumer than force them to think. Aw, gee, you’re making me feel bad and defensive about my shopping choices. You’re one of those people. Why don’t you just want to make lots of money and spend it on things like everyone else? Exploitation is how the world works. THAT’S JUST THE WAY IT IS. All companies behave this way. And more of that I-don’t-care, self-justifying blah blah that means: Don’t make me question my smug, unthinking, self-entitlement.
That’s the long answer for why my book’s not on Amazon. It’s also why I don’t shop there. Yes, I DO know that if my book were picked up by a publisher I’d have no choice about it being on Amazon, and I do know that Amazon probably don’t care what cranky people like me think so long as the money keeps rolling in, which it will until more people think like me and stop shopping there. And, yes, I do know that that’s not likely to happen any time soon.
As they settle down to their Dan Brown on their Kindle, it seems to be a consolation to the unthinking that the thinking – the cranky people — are so hugely outnumbered. Hopefully, one fine day, we won’t be…
At the last UK General Election, there was a lot of talk about sly or shy Tories, those who cast their vote for the Conservative Party while being too embarrassed to admit to it. This helped explain why the Conservatives/Tories were unexpectedly re-elected. 34% of the electorate didn’t vote, though the 66% turnout was apparently the highest since 1997. Prior to the election, another hung parliament was widely predicted.
So why are people coy about how they vote? It has to do with voting for selfish, parochial reasons, and having enough self-awareness to feel that one should be ashamed of voting on so thin a basis. In most democracies, of course, the politically engaged are disenfranchised by the ignorant, “None of your business”, part of the electorate. That’s just a fact of life. The amount of people willing to hold forth on issues on the news without any historical understanding astounds me, or used to. Now, I fully understand that holding forth on Iran and Iraq with no understanding beyond the evening news or the Murdoch press is rather alarmingly the norm. Mention historical context and people either become defensive or roll their eyes.
I have never voted Conservative, and sincerely doubt a politically literate population would have tolerated Thatcher or Thatcherism, or a Rupert Murdoch-dominated press, or waved their little plastic Union Jacks as the task force sailed for the Falklands Islands. But then, in thirty years of voting, I’ve been on the right side of a general election only once. That was Blair in ’97, who I hoped was a façade (for Middle England) on a still leftish Labour party. It turned out, of course, that the New Labour rot had eaten away at the foundations. New Labour had transformed themselves into what’s now being described as Tory Lite – in the interests of power at any price.
Since then, it’s simply been a choice between two parties offering broadly the same platform. Nothing much to choose between them – both serving the corporatocracy – like the Republicans and Democrats in the US. Essentially, you’re picking your pimp. You’re going to be whored, and the clients’ interests – that’s the people buying your time and labour – will always trump yours. It’s been said that one of the biggest successes of Thatcherism was Tony Blair and New Labour. That the Tories have managed to convince working people that they, the Tories, represent their interests is a stunning tribute to brainwashing and media control. The same brainwashing turned working people against the unions.
There is a consensus, establishment politics, and you challenge it at your peril. You’re allowed to argue passionately within certain parameters, as Chomsky has pointed out, but you’re not allowed to step outside these parameters. Tony Blair courted Murdoch and the City. One of Gordon Brown’s first acts in government was to pass the right to set interest rates to the Bank of England – again to gain the confidence of the City, who don’t like anything getting in the way of their pursuit of profits, especially political decisions designed to help the poor or the less well off. Under New Labour, deregulation of the financial sector continued to be politically a la mode. In short, New Labour had been elected because it was now safely in accordance with the political consensus and had the backing of the Murdoch press. All of which manoeuvring and shenanigans leads us back to the notion that if elections changed anything they’d be outlawed. They take place at all because they take place within the acceptable consensus bandwidth.
So 2015 was never going to be a rousing election. Labour were always going to be hammered in Scotland given the disgraceful role they had played in the Independence Referendum. The Liberal Democrats had already failed in their attempts to get some form of proportional representation, and would ultimately gain nothing (save for a few individuals CVs) for going into coalition with the Tories. Indeed, they were reduced to a single-figure rump following the election with Paddy Ashdown making arrangements to eat his hat. When the exit polls were released – predicting a Tory majority – there was a slight sense of embarrassment. The British, or English at any rate, had sneaked into the polling booths, done their dirty little deed, and slunk away afterwards, hopefully (from their point of view) unnoticed.
Ed Milliband, the Labour leader, resigned, and the long campaign for the next Labour leader began shortly thereafter. Following drop-outs and non-runners, it looked like a run-off between Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper with Liz Kendall there as a right-wing also-ran. The plan was simple: vote in another Blair clone as leader, hope the electorate tire of the Tories in the intervening five years, and then get elected – probably with media backing before and after – to do roughly the same thing the Tories were doing. But there was a worry, a niggle, a concern about impressions. Given the similarity of the candidates and the paper-thin differences between them, there wouldn’t be much of anything that could be called a debate – so how about throwing in a left-winger to give the impression of a broad debate prior to electing your favourite Blairite (it had been done before). With minutes to spare, they scratched together just enough votes (some charitably donated in the interests of debate) to get the token left-winger, Jeremy Corbyn in this case, onto the ballot.
It was a good plan. Grass roots party members would get to hear “traditional”, “left-wing” Labour views given an airing before the party elected Andy or Yvette to “unite” the party and appeal to Middle England and disenchanted Tory voters. The Labour establishment would smile benignly and offer their blessings. The best laid plans of mice and party apparatchiks…
Jeremy Corbyn did the unthinkable. He garnered support. He filled halls. He offered hope. Hope. The right-wing press chortled and mocked, and then attacked viciously when they realised he actually stood a chance of winning. The Guardian and BBC sneered and sniped. Then it was all about who could catch him, as Yvette shrieked, and Andy flip-flopped, and Liz repeated herself about wanting to be trusted on the economy. And that pesky question about the Tory Welfare Bill kept coming up, which haunted the non-Corbyns, Corbyn being the only one who had voted against it. Burnham and Cooper, their careers in mind, had abstained; as had Liz, who – to be fair – probably believed it was the right thing to do.
Then came the purge. As part of the new election rules, anyone eligible to vote could become an affiliate member of the party for £3 and take part in the leadership election – so long as they shared the parties values. There was much talk of the wrong sort of people – mischievous Tories, Socialist Workers, etc – taking advantage of this. A lot of votes, were purged, and it’s a safe bet that nearly all – if not all – would have counted for Corbyn. Celebrities Mark Steele and Jeremy Hardy were two unlikely purgees.
None of it mattered in the end, though. Corbyn won on the first ballot. Tony “two interventions” Blair went as quiet as Chilcot, and Andy took a job in the shadow cabinet. A lot has been achieved already. We’ve seen what happens when the status quo feels itself threatened. We know the press – including the Liberal press – favour the rich and powerful, and are becoming less and less subtle about doing so. We’re all supposed to get terribly upset because he, Corbyn, didn’t sing the National Anthem – neither is he too keen on kissing the queen’s hand, which one is obliged to do on becoming a member of the Privy Council. Like the non-singing of the anthem (and why would a republican atheist want to sing God Save the Queen?), an insult to Her Royal Maj, doncher know. Doff your caps and tug your forelocks, people.
Then it was reported that David Cameron had put his Prince William in a dead pig’s mouth, though this has now been officially denied.
The next general election’s in 2020, a long time for a party (for whom people are ashamed to admit they voted) to govern.
I wonder. Is it reasonable to expect another to be brave enough to do the right thing, the decent thing, the honourable thing, in a situation you’re not faced with yourself? Greece caved in. Despite the referendum (which now seems like a ripple of rebellion in a pool of desperation and shame), they caved in.
What happened? I was tempted to see the referendum as a nod and a wink between the Syriza government (brought to power on an anti-austerity ticket) and the electorate, the latter signalling to the former that they now had permission to default (the gun under the table finally placed on it). We want you to lead, and we hope you do the right, the decent, the honourable, thing. It was, I thought, a mandate of sorts to tell Europe and the Troika where to go. Democracy would trump money. A yes vote for what was on offer would have been shameful, and yet, despite voting no to it, it appears to be what was ultimately agreed to anyway. Why isn’t the parliament now under siege? A heroine addict surely has less addiction to their drug than Greece, the country, has to the Euro. Perhaps, outside it, they imagine themselves in a dark, quivering, economic wilderness with a priapic Turk looming over them. I don’t know. I can’t – of course I can’t – fully apprehend the way their history has shaped them.
If someone points a gun at you and demands your wallet, what’s the reasonable (rational?) response? I’m fairly sure the consensus would be to hand over your wallet and hope for the best; and, if best so transpires, suffer the inconvenience of cancelling your cards. What, though, about a house invasion? Robbery and the rape of your partner, and, if you have them, your children? Surely that’s an over-my-dead-body situation. You might be able to do this to me, but I will fight to the death to stop you. I am not prepared to tolerate this and live because the shame would poison my soul forever. What if they knew – the Greek people, I mean – that they could appear to do the right thing – vote no, that is – in the sure and certain knowledge that their government would sell them out? What if they wanted to be sold out? What if the political dance was about nothing more or less than the mitigation of shame? We want the Troika money, will beg and grovel for it, but want to pretend that we still have the stomach for a fight. This would be a country and culture poisoned by shame, who no longer care about dignity and notions of national sovereignty. A nation reduced to nothing more or less than pleading for its next drug fix.
The music hasn’t stopped, of course. The dance isn’t over. Europe has watched and seen how Greece has been treated. Bullied, browbeaten, humiliated. A country in an abusive relationship with its European partners. Other countries – Italy, Spain, et al – have taken note. So what did the people protesting in Syntagma Square really want or expect (apart from the naive – if entirely reasonable – desire to be treated with the dignity due to an equal partner in the EU project)? What did the no vote mean? Were the Greeks prepared to default, to Grexit, to return to the drachma? And why, if Syriza were too cowardly to put it on the table themselves, was it not explicitly put to the Greek people in a referendum?
The banksters have had their way for the time being, but at a price. The mask has slipped. We have seen that democracy doesn’t matter, neither does national sovereignty. No amount of elections count in the face of the arrogance of the financial institutions. Debt is a tool of enslavement. Greece has, temporarily at least, been brought to heal. They have paid an obscenely high price for joining the Euro, and are stumbling around in the dark looking for a dignified way out. What used to be done militarily is now being done monetarily, and the humiliation is worse and longer-lasting. People agreeing to their own submission with nary a gun or tank in sight. Shame.
So to my unreasonable expectation (and hope). I wanted Greece to default, to tell Europe and the world they weren’t going to pay the debt, and they weren’t going to collateralize their country either. But, of course, I’m not Greece, or Greek; the gun wasn’t pointing at me.
People who put their hands up to answer a question are self-selecting. They’re essentially ego-shrieking, “PUT THE SPOTLIGHT ON ME! I KNOW! I KNOW! I JUST LOVE TO SHOW HOW CLEVER I AM! YES! ME! ME!” People who behave in this way tend to justify it in terms of enthusiasm, of involving themselves in what’s going on around them, in fully taking part. Actually, these explanations, like the act itself, are entirely self-serving. It’s the neo-liberal cult of the individual, of “Screw you, buddy. I’m in it for me!” Imagine a world where a pupil or office worker, instead of putting their hand up, leans over to whisper the answer in the ear of their unknowing fellow. But, hey, that wouldn’t be good training for selling your arse to the corporatocracy and its game of getting on.
In a school somewhere in England they did an experiment – the Lollipop Stick Experiment. There would be no self-selection, no putting up of hands; the teacher would choose the student to answer the question by pulling out a lollipop stick from a can that contained a lollipop stick for every student in the class. A random choice. Anyone might be called upon to provide the answer. Hmm. Who do you imagine troubled most by this? Not the children accustomed to being ignored, or those who infrequently put their hands up. The worst that could happen to them was to be asked a question to which no-one expected them to know the answer? They might surprise and get it right; or, alternatively, just shrug “Don’t know” and let teacher move on to someone else. An opportunity gained, nothing lost. No, it’s bad news for only one group: the frequent hand-raisers, the self-selecting spotlight-seekers. A disaster, indeed. Because they might find themselves in the spotlight – exactly where they love to be – when they DON’T know the answer. Everyone looking at them – under the spotlight – and they DON’T know. The agony, the humiliation! To be exposed like that. The trick revealed. It just looks like you always know they answer because you, though always eager to do so, decide when you put your hand up. You’re a teacher-pleaser, keen to make yourself look good at the expense of your fellows. Shit! You really need to get your lolly stick out of that can.
And that’s precisely what they did. To eschew the risk of being seen not to know, they elected to forego the spotlight altogether. There is no grace or charm in this act, no potential for personal growth; it’s sulky and mean-spirited, a petty passive-aggressive response to not being allowed to show off at the expense of your class-mates. Grace and charm would share the spotlight and take being wrong in it in their seemly stride.
Of course, the system in which you live and work, and educate your children, would rather you compete than co-operate. It has done this to you and is doing it to your children. If you’re fighting amongst yourselves to get on and noticed, you’re unlikely to pause long enough to question the system, never mind change or overthrow it. This is how they – the corporatocracy and its well-compensated political puppets – circumscribe thinking, put it in a box. Be brilliant by all means – problem-solve in your classroom or office for housepoints or money – but don’t really think. Don’t, whatever you do, ask about the nature of the box, or whose interests it really serves.
I’m not one of life’s perky, positive types. I tend to a dark, downbeat cast of mind. Greed, venality, entitlement, exploitation depresses and disgusts me. We have been fed a self-serving lie that allows our prosperity to be built on the backs of the poor. As children, we’re told to behave properly, to say “please”, to share, to “play nicely” – while our nations behave like psychopaths, always finding excuses for invasion and plunder, and then over-laying it with a self-serving narrative: the civilizing mission, American exceptionalism, saving one tribe from another while helping ourselves to the resources of both. Western foreign policy is planned robbery. But we wrote a heroic history of explorers and adventurers. So a murdering fortune-seeker in search of loot and glory has a holiday named after him in several countries. Wave your flag and sing along.
From the historical/political to the social/personal. Imagine you have a disability – many people do, This will have impacted your employment prospects, it may have isolated you socially, chores will have become difficult (housework, shopping). You have cause for complaint and need of support. But, in the Tyranny of Positivity, your example will be a paralympian. What the Tyranny is seeking to do is undermine your right to grievance. Be brave, it’s saying, and don’t bother us. Everything, including the lightning that strikes you, the hunger that burns you, the disease that eats you, is YOUR responsibility. We, the fortunate, do not want to be made to feel bad about it. We are the fortunate, the blessed, and we need to convince ourselves we deserve our good fortune. How else do we get to blame you for your misfortune?
This is what enables the sneering at, the demonization of, people on benefits (personal tragedy becomes political opportunity). It is, the Tyranny states, their own fault, a character flaw. And so the Tyranny’s media encourages the low-paid, those on little more than the minimum wage indeed, to kick down, to enlarge and empower themselves by blaming social ills on those on benefits. Meanwhile, on a yacht somewhere, a billionaire tax-dodger quaffs champagne and awaits his Knighthood for services to the coffers of the party of the moment. He and his ilk – doing the business and buying the political process. Not selfish greedy exploiters – no, no! innovators, entrepreneurs, wealth and job creators. Fully deserving of tax breaks and political patronage. If the chips go down, we can always tax the poor and introduce austerity. We’re too big to fail, and you’re too small to care about.
Be positive by all means, but don’t blind yourself to what’s going on. You’re being liked because you’re shielding the fortunate from your misfortune. “After the accident, he/she (delete as appropriate) just got on with it.” They do so like people who just get on with it, don’t they? Far better than the negative, embittered types who reflect on the unfair distribution of luck in the world, and loudly proclaim it to anyone who’ll listen. You’re allowed to be envious enough to keep you on the work/consume treadmill, but not so much that it puts you on the path to revolution. The fortunate like to hear the sound of your applause. That’s what you’re here to do – applaud! Oh, and to clean up after their parties, banquets and balls while thinking yourselves fortunate for the modest remuneration offered for so doing. How amusing it must be to watch an awards ceremony on TV in which you had the honour of clearing the tables or cleaning the toilets.
Don’t be bitter. Be positive. Think positively. Just do it! Don’t give way to the politics of envy. How glib and fatuous are the injunctions from the lips of the fortunate. The positivity mantra drowns the small voice of your grievance, the plaint of your unhappiness, the quiet moan of injustice heavily felt. Because, says the Tyranny, there is no grievance; you just have to be positive. Here! Read the guru’s latest books: Being Positive on an Empty Stomach and Breaking a Positive Sweat: Positivity for the Sweatshop Worker.
What you’re really being asked to do, of course, is shut up, stop with the complaining, make yourself invisible. Work (if you can get a job; die if you can’t), consume (to fill the corporate cash-tills), and praise and applaud those who prosper in a gamed system. The world isn’t fair, smirks the Tyranny. Deal with it! Smile, be positive, and call your exploitation opportunity.