Sunday, 25 September 2016

Doom and Gloom! (Nth edition)

First off let me say that I'm sorry to have been away for so long, I was busy writing (and have the first draft of a novel to start typing up tomorrow, as well as working on some new ideas), and have been neglecting my online presence quite a lot.

Part of that is that I'm finding it quite depressing to look online and see the debate, if you want to call it that, on sites like the Guardian, and even Facebook, around Brexit and other things. Often, it feels as if these are niggardly, mean arguments. It feels as if we are actively setting up the next crises right now. At the same time the new century feels as if it has actually got underway and is starting to establish its own identity, in a similar fashion to the way that the events of World War One provided the 'clear blue  water' between the Victorian age and the Twentieth Century. It feels as if the period of 1990 to 2016 has been a sort of 'downtime' for the human race, as we experienced the anxiety of the Millennium and then recovered and woke up to the fact that in fact the date of the year 2000 meant nothing - there's still no Age of Aquarius or enlightened moves towards a better, fairer society. There were, but we seem to have accepted a narrative wherein we, the people, can't have nice things and where other people are not to be trusted, but to held at arm's length.

I suspect Al Quaeda and IS/Da'esh will be the ghosts of our century, haunting our time. Yes, it will be traumatic and terrifying but in real terms we would do well to remember that so far the Islamic terror groups have caused less loss of life than the IRA, Red Brigades, ETA and all the other terror groups of the late 20th Century did; we notice it more because of the way the media has chosen to report it, the fact that it has been far more tied to the notion of 'otherness' in that Islam is being presented as an alien identity rather than just another expression of our humanity. The fact that the political class in the West has chosen to respond in a political rather than criminal fashion to the terror attacks has not helped. We perhaps should not be surprised by this reaction, in our era, the idea of a nuanced, measured response has become something that seems alien (witness the bewildered attitude of much of the press to Ed Milliband's refusal to back an invasion of Syria a few years ago). I remain firm in my belief that though Islamic terror is a horrible thing, it is not the main event of this century, even as it sits hand in glove with it.

So what is the real 'event' in my opinion?   At present, I would have to answer, 'nationalism'. The new century looks to be divided between the Nation State (which 20 years ago I was being taught was a spent force), everything was evolving away from the local, national level to higher bodies. Government and business alike were becoming globalised. The Brexit vote and the rise of Donald Trump in America is a direct reaction to that, as well as against the perceived 'waves' of immigrants who are fleeing pretty horrific situations in their own countries. I find it hard to fathom how anyone could resent the Syrians given the civil war, the rise of IS and the fact that Turkey stuck a great big dam across the Euphrates, effectively destroying their way of life and starving them (and let's face it, this is the real source of radicalisation and why climate change is making the world more dangerous on a human level - a hungry people with no hope is not in a position to resist the blandishments of well-armed extremists who can feed them).

The real issue is that nationalism and 'nationhood' have moved centre stage, thanks to the failure of neoliberalism, the rise of uncertainty and the rewriting of the past and present by the media to try and create a simple 'them and us' narrative that ignores the complexities of the world. Still, it's good to know that when the worst happens Britons will cling to this rock against all sanity because fleeing to somewhere else would only put a burden on another country's resources and we wouldn't want that. Would we?

Sarcasm aside, I can appreciate the concerns of the people who voted to leave the EU, even if I honestly think it was my nation committing suicide, commercially, culturally and in any other way you choose to mention. Also, horrible liberal that I am, I think immigration is hardly the biggest problem we face, it's just the one that's been pushed hardest by our right wing press. It masks a deeper malaise and a protectionist impulse that has been growing for at leat the last fifteen years. Back in 2001, the Guardian reported the EU states were starting to move towards a more protectionist stance, raising barriers to people outside the union. With Germany, France, and the UK at its heart, this area was starting to use Spain, Italy and the other states as buffer zones against immigration from outside Europe. For example, fruit picking jobs in Spain, which had traditionally been done by Moroccans, began to be done by Polish people, just as they have been in the UK. This barrier has now moved backwards, and for Britain, now sits on our south coast. It will be interesting to see if it moves any further inland as divisions creep deeper into society.

Socially we're seeing something similar, the rise of gated communities to keep out undesirables, the hollowing out of London to exile the poor while huge skyscrapers tear up communities and become homes, ridiculously expensive homes, for people who will scarcely ever live in them. The idea that the country is somehow becoming swamped speaks to a fear of difference, the idea that life is becoming too difficult and that somehow privilege is being threatened (of course that privilege is invisible - privilege always is). That, so far, has manifested itself in racist attacks, but unchecked we'll see a rise in homophobic and transphobic assaults, and I daresay misogynist and anti-alternative lifestyle assaults as well.

On the Left, we're seeing more focus on safe spaces, on trigger warnings and no platforming - this seems to be the other side of the coin, where there's a scramble towards intellectual protectionism. Both sides are doing this, of course, and the internet is helping with that by creating bubbles where we don't see the opposing side's arguments. The dearth of education about politics has been a death knell for thought, (one of my problems with the referendum campaign was that the lack of political education in the UK meant that the campaign was stupidly simple, without touching on a lot of the real issues that needed to be looking at).

On the other hand, while there's a focus on division, splitting us into ever smaller groups all seeking to be seen as the 'true' expression of something, there's also a kick back against the complications of human existence. I remember having a conversation about Conchita Wurst and how to categorise zir. The vast number of ways to look at transvestism seemed bewildering to them (and they weren't even dismissing Trans people as attention seeking, they just wanted it to be simple and binary). I've also seen similar comments about Feminism and other 'niche' beliefs. There does seem to be a real desire to get back to a more simple way of life (I've talked before about the idea that the zombie apocalypse narrative seems to want this too; it's not a new idea). The problem is that this just will not happen, any more than Brexit is going to bring back mass production manufacturing to the UK, in fact it's likely to hasten the end of manufacturing here unless we start to develop strong internal markets.

To return to ttechnology, it's facilitated the growth of  the curve of society, leading it to become too big, neither the people at the top nor the people at the bottom can see each others' lives or comprehend what it's like to be in each other's shoes, something that's not healthy. This may not be new, but the severity of it seems to be growing.  Say what you like about the Medieval period, or even the Ancient World, but the basics of nature created a levelling influence. It's hard to have airs when you only get a better form of rushes on the floor and when you're going to get the same crappy diet in winter because meat is rare. Today, thanks to technology the rich and poor live utterly different lives. Technology has also become a panacea, 'let them have iPads' has become our 'let them eat cake'. The sad thing is that we seem to have fallen, by and large, for the idea that new technology and other material goods will make us happy to the exclusion of everything else, even as loneliness and isolation become more prevalent and hurt more people. This is nothing to do with immigration, obviously, but we are barely addressing either the distribution of wealth or the 'loneliness bomb'.

Britain also seems to be neglecting a host of other issues, my concern post-Brexit is that our food and fuel security will be shot to bits, British agriculture doesn't come close to feeding the population and the old saw that we're a week away from starving is true. In addition, the Soil Association has produced a report recently stating that there are 100, yes 100, harvests left in British soil. Local Authorities are selling off green spaces, which perhaps should be turned into allotments (think of the benefits of us growing our own food, not just in knowing what we put on our plates but also physical and mental well-being). It won't happen of course and we'll just see more luxury postage stamp sized apartments going up, while the air quality gets worse and the NHS is sold off on the sly.

We're looking at a ticking time bomb in other words.

In addition, shortly after the Brexit vote, there were warnings about fuel security and rising prices. I would guess the white elephant at Hinkley Point is in part meant to solve that, but I can't help but think that a new century needs new eyes and new ideas particularly given the push towards simplicity and control over our own lives (why not push for increased microgeneration for example?). It does seem ironic, and sad, that at the same time as we see a huge push towards independence from the world we're seeing an increased tendency to get into bed with oppressive regimes and in particular China. 'Taking back control'? Hardly.

The reality is that we're sitting on a powder keg, waiting for the charges to go off. In some ways the first one has, with the rise of the Right and the reassertion of nationalism. The second, in the form of heightened relations with Russia, might be about to, but they're still small potatoes in comparison to feeding ourselves, heating our homes, and other issues that seem small but are actually more important than the moves within the Great Game.

Sadly, this is situation normal. I just wish it wasn't.