Saturday, 28 January 2017

Resistance?

In many ways, the new year feels depressingly familiar. The themes that dominated 2016 of death and chaos continue to grind their way across the world, scattering reason before them. Tribalism, blind patriotism and the march of nationalism are the background beat to the news reports we read, watch or listen to. What's different is that with the ascension of Donald Trump to the White House the world feels infinitely more dangerous, not least because someone who appears to have all the self-control of a five year in a cookie shop has now taken power. His first week in power has been a salutary lesson in the speed at which change can happen in the modern world and there's little doubt that many of the Executive Orders (http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/01/all-trump-executive-actions-000288) he signed this week had been prepared in advance, probably as long ago as his election victory if not before. He has an agenda and he intends to stick with it, for good or for ill.

From the perspective of a Gen Xer most of what he's doing feels like the juddering movements of a dinosaur, trying desperately to cling to a discredited ideology, making half-hearted motions towards another way, which unfortunately is equally discredited. As someone who thought that nuclear war was something long dead, as small scale warfare is cheaper, easier, and bypasses all those pesky armies and defences it is sobering to see someone ordering fresh missiles. As someone who thought that feminism was at least partly embedded into 'the system' it takes me aback to see what Trump is signing in regards to women's rights. The Standing Rock issue (which I'm not sure is getting enough airplay outside the USA) has been thrown into motion again, which will be bad for the environment and for Native American rights. In the same way I boggle at his ignorance over environmental issues and cringe, in a rare personal note, at his obscene love of gold. At present, the only thing I feel we can really say is that his Presidency will be a gift to the legal profession.


If we step back and look at this from the perspective of philosophy, then Hegel's theory of dialectic development centred around the concepts of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, seems to apply. Hegel believed that History (with a capital H) did not run in a smooth line but instead exists as a series of lurches from one extreme to another, colonising opposing ends of the political spectrum. We can certainly see it in America's sudden desire to detach itself from rest of the world, Britain's longing for an imagined past when the Green and Pleasant Land was solely concerned with what happened within its own borders (the culmination of the poison we call nostalgia), or the fears of swamping from outside forces in the form of migrants from other nations. If we consider it purely from the perspective of economics and global politics we can see how it has happened, globalisation has hollowed out the first world, especially the anglosphere, because the governments of countries like the UK and the USA felt that their people wanted cheaper goods, and arguably listened to 'clever' men who said that it would be better to move jobs and production to other parts of the globe. But nothing came back to replace those jobs and, as the administrations in those countries were wary of meddling in the market - holding it to be self-correcting they did very little to foster new industries to take the place of what had left. Compare the fate of the UK's fishermen to what happened in Sweden where they were helped by government intervention to retrain as telecommunications specialists, fostering the mobile phone industry in that nation*. In mainland Europe, which as far as I know has stronger internal markets and is less dependent on imports as a result, the issue seems to be one of identity and the fear of countries losing something of their natures as a result of displacement (something that is also true of the UK, we can see that in the fears over immigration, especially in parts of the country that have yet to have many non-white people moving into them). Coupled with a lack of investment for the last nine or so years, services have run down and as a result hospitals and schools are stretched. Having bought the idea that austerity is necessary, even though a) once you look at the figures the British government is consistently missing its spending targets and b) the only way to help economies recover is to spend and built - so let's take a moment to applaud at least part of Trump's programme of works even if I do wish he was going to leave the National Parks alone and the 'magic money tree'  idea seems to be coming into effect again with little thought as to how protectionist and anti-technological innovation policies will affect imports of things like cars.

In other areas, this appeal to Hegelian dialectics feels downright insulting. How can gay marriage or equal rights for minorities be considered an extreme? For that matter how can the Fortress Europe, America, and Britain stance much of the West has taken to immigration be taken as an extreme unless we see it as extremely insulting to people fleeing Western caused poverty, climate change and wars? If we take it to be so, does that mean that at any time we see significant advances in the quality of life of people who are not white, straight men we can expect a backlash? How far does that go? Should we expect teddies to be thrown out of prams when we point out that grabbing pussies is wrong, or that gay people have the right to life, or that murdering a transwoman is still a crime?  It feels as if these things are in the centre ground and that shifting away to a position where heterosexual, white male hegemony is not only the norm but everyone else is made to suffer is a hideous aberration. While I appreciate Alain do Botton's philosophical theory, on the ground this is going to hurt and there are going to be horrific consequences as the nature of the state mutates into a new form.

This is the issue that bothers me, and I hope it will not be something that gets swept to one side. The Women's March we saw on the 21st suggests that it won't but at the same time marches only look good on TV, I'm far from convinced of the effect they have on legislators.

The question then is, what do we do to resist the blandishments of a movement that, to borrow Alain de Botton's words, seems to think that the answer to the 'extreme' of the last thirty years or so is to wind the clock back to the 1950s or even earlier? Let us begin by saying that direct, violent, action is not going to work. Even if it would be extremely satisfying to reenact V for Vendetta we must remember that as Philip K Dick put it "To fight the Empire is to be infected by its derangement" and "Whoever defeats the Empire becomes the Empire; it proliferates like a virus... thereby it becomes its enemies".** Violent disruption will only beget more violence and in the case of victory it will recreate the conditions it was fighting against (to reference de Botton's video again, see the USSR, the French Revolution, arguably even the Commonwealth period of British history). The problem is that this catches us on a cleft stick. If marches are useless, except to make a point and to populate Police databases of potential troublemakers and violence is self-defeating if we seek to resist, and to evolve the argument, then what can we do?

I feel a little strange here, because the more obvious signs of things changing are in the USA, while I'm a Brit. Despite the rise in violence towards ethnic minorities in the UK my country is managing to resist the sort of muscular rightwing rhetoric that a lot of Americans favour, the last threats to abortion where defeated and to my knowledge there is no appetite to legislate punitively against legal abortions. Similarly, gay equality, such as it is, seems safe and the arguments against sexual reassignment surgery are dwindling (at least it's a trend now, not an abomination in the sight of a fictional deity). However, these elements do exist in my country, there is a danger that someone will see the merits of striking out against minorities. All that sort of lurch to the nastier part of the Right requires is uncertainty, lack of food and purpose and someone will decide to adopt some useful idiots.

Some might say that Anonymous have the right idea, except that their video warning to the UK government a few years ago never seemed to render any results, or if they did they were hushed up by state machinery and never trickled out into the public domain. That is not to say they did not find anything, but that as the Panama Papers and the investigation into paedophilia in the British state showed last year, the current hegemony has become adept at distraction and deflection from issues that would threaten the current order. There is an argument that we need better hackers, I guess, but I'm not sure that's the answer.

We can talk to our representatives, to the parties they belong to. We can make sure they understand that their survival at Westminster or Capitol Hill, or wherever, depends on doing what we ask. Or we can debate with them, trying to win them over to our cause. Of course, many will ignore us, choosing to favour their careers or the party over their constituents. If that happens, don't forget it, vote for someone else, raise their lack of representation at another time, like during a Hustings.

One thing I hope we'll see is the rebirth of serious investigative journalism on both sides of the Atlantic. With the press corp exiled from the White House, and Trump's reaction to a question from a British journalist at the press conference he held with Theresa May, the need to dig into what's hidden and expose it to the world has gained a new urgency. While 'fake news' will become the rallying cry of those in power, as they try to shift attention elsewhere (and they will distract and deflect as best they can) a strong press can work wonders.

Beyond that, I guess we have to go back to basics. We have to talk to people, educate them (hard to do, the myths and legends of politics are harder to slay than dragons), argue openly and passionately for what we believe while keeping our heads If style. We must listen, and not turn away people who have different beliefs and we must be kind because all of us are human.

This may be a useful link to positive activism: http://www.trueactivist.com/10-ways-to-make-positive-change-in-the-world/. If you know of other good sites, please post them below, to start building a resource for anyone who needs it.

*Many thanks to Adrian Middleton for mentioning this on Facebook.
** I found these quotes in Grant Morrison's magnus opus Invisibles, I'm not Dick scholar.