Counsel of despair

I’ve consciously followed political developments for almost four decades now, actively involved in various political organisations for around thirty of those years, and, while I’ve certainly experienced more than a few disappointments along the way, I’m struggling to think of a period when I’ve felt so pessimistic about the immediate future. There are a number of reasons for this, but the most immediate is the looming, and ever more likely, prospect that the country will drop over the cliff edge of an no-deal Brexit.

There are some of my comrades on the left who are actually looking forward to this, on the grounds that such a severe shock to the current system will provide plenty of opportunity to press for progressive change. I can see the intellectual appeal of that argument, but I still worry that the whole thing is much more likely to follow a reactionary course.

I’m sure my apprehension is partly attributable to the fact that, at this point in my life, my accumulated responsibilities make the prospect of tumultuous social upheaval seem rather less attractive than it did to my younger self, but it’s also grounded in a realistic appraisal of the ideological underpinning of Brexit. However much we might want to imagine that disrupting the neoliberal consensus of the EU will be a blow to international capital, the truth is that the driving force behind Brexit has always been a backward nativism, whose leaders, if given free rein, will seize the chance to reverse the gains won by the last half-century of working-class struggle.

I used to wonder what it must have felt like to live in the years before the Great War, when any attentive observer would have been aware that a multitude of seemingly unstoppable forces were pushing the continent towards disaster, while a political class wholly unequal to the challenge blundered on ineffectually, but now I think that I might have some idea.

The ill-effects of this sorry business will, of course, be less catastrophic, and largely confined to the UK rather than being global, but, still, it would be preferable to avoid them. There might just be enough time left for the country to come to its collective senses, but I fear that Brexit is something we are just going to have to live through, so that future generations can learn from our mistakes.

Full Marx

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of philosopher and revolutionary Karl Marx, and the papers are full of articles noting that his profile is higher now than it has been since the end of the Cold War, mainly because everything he said about the development of capitalism is vividly reflected in the world around us.

I read a lot of Marx’s work, and a lot about Marx’s work, back when I was a student, and, while the fine details have become a bit hazy as the years have passed, the main themes remain central to my political thinking. I remember feeling, when I first grasped the concept of historical materialism, that I had an insight into the hidden mechanisms of society, an understanding that allowed me to see things as they really were. Of course I was young and impressionable then, and vulnerable to the allure of all-encompassing world-views, but, even with the cynicism that comes with another thirty-plus years of life-experience, the key idea – that our consciousness is shaped by our material conditions, particularly our relationship with the process of production, but that consciousness can in turn change our material conditions – still seems to me the most useful way to look at our modern age.

The promise of progress is, I think, what keeps successive generations coming back to Marxism. As the man himself said, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it“, and my favourites among the works of Marx are those which show him grappling with the issues of the day, issues that are mostly still relevant in our times, for, as Marx also commented, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce“.

So I’ll raise a glass tonight (for, by all accounts, old Karl liked a drink), in memory of a visionary mind, and in hope that I might yet live to see that vision realised.

Four-twenty

If there’s one glimmer of light in the increasingly gloomy vista that is our contemporary political landscape, it’s the gradual normalisation of marijuana use. In the US, even with a drug-hostile regime now occupying the Justice Department, the roll-out of legalisation at state level seems unstoppable, and, while we might be a bit behind the curve here in Europe (especially in the UK), medicinal cannabis is making inroads into public acceptance, and it seems only a matter of time before the prospect of relaxing the prohibition on recreational use becomes uncontroversial enough to persuade some ambitious politician that it might be a vote-winner with the youth, not to mention the ageing ex-stoner demographic.

I guess I’m broadly in favour of these developments (not that I ever have the time to get high these days), but there’s a sense of loss too, as my once radical lifestyle choice is commodified by big business into a pastime so unhip that even Canada has no problem with it.

When I was younger I looked forward to the day when my generation would grow up and take over the world, and, while legalising pot was certainly one of the things I imagined that we’d do, it is disappointing that we seem to have given up on all the other good stuff, like eradicating poverty and ending war, and are content to live like our parents did, only with better weed. Still, if, as seems increasingly likely, we’re all headed to hell in a handcart, at least we’ll be mellow…

They shoot Youtubers, don’t they?

I may affect indifference towards the fact that, according to the merciless WordPress statistics page, virtually nobody ever comes to visit our little blog any more, but the truth is that I miss the days when we had lots of traffic, and I’d do anything to attract a few more views again.

Well, perhaps not anything; I’d probably draw the line at having my partner shoot live ammunition at my chest in a misguided attempt to capture the attention of the notoriously fickle YouTube demographic. Depressingly this story isn’t an aberration; there are plenty of examples of would-be social media stars abusing their children, leaping from high places, lighting themselves on fire, or doing other stupid stunts in the hope that it will be their ticket to internet fame, and the fabled wealth that comes with it.

The spectacle of the desperate poor demeaning themselves for our entertainment is nothing new; there were dance marathons and other indignities during the Depression, truck-touching contests have a proud history, and as recently as 10 years ago people were dying to win a video game console. Now, in our wonderful modern world of 24/7 digital connection, it’s not even necessary to leave the house to join in; that’s progress I guess.

Ten Years After

Rather remarkably, today is the 10th anniversary of the very first post on this blog, and, while I started out full of enthusiasm, I don’t think I would have predicted that I’d still be churning them out a decade later.

It’s not been a steady stream of course – when I did a retrospective on the occasion of our 5th birthday back in 2012 I had a lot of material to work with; the pickings this time around are somewhat slimmer. There have been a few highlights though; here are my favourites:

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

So there you have it, 16 worthwhile pieces in 5 years. Is that a good enough return to justify keeping this blog going? On balance, I think so, though I guess we can revisit the question in 2022. In the meantime I’ll revive one of our traditions, which had sadly fallen into abeyance, the contrived musical link.

Trouble in paradise

I was thinking about Second Life for the first time in ages today, prompted by reports in several publications about the SL Bunny apocalypse. The ever-dependable New World Notes has the full story (and updates); the abbreviated version is that ersatz pet dealers Ozimals have shut up shop due to various legal entanglements, cutting off the sole supply of virtual rabbit food, and thus dooming countless beloved furry companions to an untimely demise.

This unhappy tale reminded me of a couple of columns I wrote in the early days of this blog, wherein I noted that one of the few ways of making money in SL was to induce residents into becoming dependent on some substance you controlled. Of course I never acted on this insight, partly due to my high ethical standards, but mostly due to laziness, and so missed out on my share of the millions of dollars that Ozimals were reportedly taking in.

I guess that with that sort of money washing around it was inevitable that things would come to a sticky end, but it’s still sad that there should be so much collateral damage. The whole sorry episode can be read as a parable of what happens when ugly commerce encroaches upon an innocent Eden. Bunnies – even virtual bunnies – should be free.

Indefinite article

So the government has finally triggered Article 50, setting the nation on the road out of the European Union. While there is no doubt that this is a deeply regrettable development, a major victory for the anti-progressive forces which have grown stronger in this country over the last few years, I’m actually feeling less anxious about the practical effects of Brexit than I was in the immediate aftermath of the vote.

Political opinion within the Conservative Party does seem to be shifting towards a realisation that granting the wishes of the more deluded members of the Leave camp for an uncompromisingly brutal departure will be economically disastrous, so I suspect that, despite her hardline rhetoric, Theresa May will end up negotiating a deal that leaves us with EU-lite; a single market and more or less free movement. She will be able to point to some reduction in regulation as supposed fruits of victory from the process, though whether this will be enough for the xenophobes who thought that Brexit meant an end to all immigration will remain to be seen.

What is certain is that the whole thing is very complicated; the two-year limit for reaching a deal seems extremely optimistic. There is time for a lot to change in domestic politics; it’s not unimaginable that the demand for a second referendum to approve any proposed agreement will become irresistible, giving the country a chance to come to its senses. Failing that there is always the potential escape capsule of Scottish independence, for those of us north of the border at least. I’m not ready to give up my European identity just yet…

Separation anxiety

Last week wasn’t a great one for anybody who has some residual belief in the intrinsic goodness of humankind, what with homophobic mass murder and political assassination, set against a background of the cross-Atlantic crypto-fascism that underpins Trumpism and Brexit.

I’m still just about convinced that there is no way the US electorate will take leave of its collective senses and hand the keys of the republic to the Donald – there is a non-negligible chance that he won’t even make it on to the ballot – but domestically I’m much less optimistic that the Remain case will win out out once the votes are counted in the EU referendum this week.

The consequences of a Leave victory hardly bear thinking about; economic meltdown and the far-right triumphant just for starters, with worse to follow. I’m hoping that the looming reality of such a doomsday scenario will focus the minds of those on the left who are thinking of voting for an exit, or abstaining, and convince them that such a course of action is absurdly risky. I’m aware that there is a perfectly sound progressive case against the EU, but that’s a fight for another day; it’s clear that in the current political context nothing good will come from handing a victory to the most reactionary elements of British society.

It’s all an unsettling reminder of the way that one’s life can be upended by events almost completely outwith one’s control. I guess I’ll know by Friday whether my gut feeling that people are basically decent is accurate, or hopelessly naive.

High times

Another 4/20 has rolled around, and I’m glad to say that it’s looking like the tide of marijuana legalisation is unstoppable, in the US at least. The dope business is booming in Colorado and Washington, and, more importantly, pot is becoming an uncontroversial part of everyday culture. It’s not hard to imagine that weed will be legal in most if not all of the country before President Clinton finishes her first term.

It’s not clear how much impact this will have on drug policy in Europe, but hopefully the successful US experience, not to mention the tax dollar bonanza, will nudge things in the right direction before too long. At the very least it’s given me another incentive to plan a long-overdue trip Stateside sometime soon…

Post-oxi

So the Greeks held their collective nerve and voted No on Sunday; now we wait to see whether Germany will follow through on the threat to throw Greece out of the Euro, and perhaps out of the EU altogether.

On the face of it, it makes no economic sense to take such drastic action over what, in the grand scheme of things, are relatively small sums of money, but this has always been as much a political crisis as an economic one, and, in political terms, allowing popular democracy to win out over neoliberal discipline is a much bigger threat to Europe’s rulers than even the worst shocks that might follow a Grexit from the Euro.

So my money (euro, not drachma) is on Merkel sticking to her hard line. Whatever happens, difficult times ahead for Greece.