Out from a small cathedral

 

I have not blogged for a long time and I doubt anyone is to upset by this, but here I will try to put down thoughts about recent developments.

There is no great mystery as to why I have not written much recently. During the coalition government and even the early months of the Conservative government, I felt like writing could make some sort of a difference. Perhaps it would only cause 10 or 15 friends to think differently about a topic, or bring more evidence to attention of a couple of people on twitter, or encourage someone to research more themselves I see both sides of an issue. I was interested in writing for writing’s sake, I had strong feelings about the mistakes and missed opportunities I felt the coalition was making, so I was energised to write about these things.

Since the referendum, the elevation of Theresa May and finally the election of Donald Trump, I’ve become numb but not comfortable. The direction and momentum of politics and the dominant culture so clearly moving away from the incremental progress I would like to see that it feels like there is no point making small interventions in causes like feminism, social justice, censorship, or Internet freedom.

At the same time, I feel like I have much less useful to say about anything. I won’t bang on about how we have “had enough of experts” except to note with a muted but ever mounting dismay that a great many victorious levers still fail to appreciate the very real difficulties of Brexit, and still fail to prepare any kind of innovative tactics or even baseline sensible approach. There are honourable exceptions such as Roland Smith and Andrew Lillico on the Leave side, Ben Judah on the Remain side, who are at least thinking tactically about how we might enter Brexit negotiations and what we might want from them. Public discussion over these questions is not so much pathetic as non-existent. We have been blinded by debate over triggering article 50 which is, if not meaningless, then one of the most flagrant examples of seeing one tree rather than the forest that I have ever heard of.

Just as I don’t think there’s much point discussing the fall of experts, I’m dismayed by how much now is attributed to fake news or post truth politics. These are both meaningless terms. People have always lied on the Internet, politicians have always lied, and in any case there is a large amount of what is now called fake news which is in fact highly biased news: this has always existed, even in whichever democratic golden age you choose to dream of.

Comparisons to the rise of the Nazi party or of Mussolini or Franco are of little use here. Trump has not come to power through overt violence or an outright fascist message. It seems to me utterly pointless for academics to debate whether and to what extent Trump or his cabinet are fascist: we can all agree that he is awful and needs to be resisted, and we do not need a new label to enable this.

I used to worry about the little Eichmann theory. This is the idea that evil can triumph if ordinary people just slot into a bad machine and do as they are told, or excel at what tasks they have been set. I thought of the machine as late capitalism, the way it locks in exploitation of the developing world and enables wealthy societies to justify inequality, poverty, state-sponsored cruelty. I don’t really worry about this anymore. There are enough people who are beyond little Eihmanns, who are openly consciously pushing for changes I detest, that navelgazing and wondering whether buying a particular T-shirt or coffee is a bad choice is hopelessly self-indulgent. (One of the many contradictions within this post.)

I have been on three protests in the last month. I have absolutely no idea whether this is any use. If I try to consider historical periods I know best, I would say most protests are futile unless they have very clear goals and a distinct enemy who might heed them. I was encouraged to hear that Donald Trump was visibly upset by the size and multiplicity of protests the day after his inauguration, which highlighted women’s rights around the world. Is upsetting him a useful victory? I imagine the man is upset several times an hour.

Protesting for centrist, centre-left or progressive causes with an element of racial justice and harmony actually helps the man in his media manipulation efforts: the more we do it, the more he will be able to point the damning finger at us social justice warrior snowflakes, the elitist enemy within, and rally his own troops. Does that mean we should not protest? I have no idea. At the moment I will keep going because I cannot see what else useful to do, other than donate to charities that seek to fix the problems he is causing and to proper journalism to hold him to account.

Proper journalism. That brings me on to the echo chamber. Through having worked for a centre-right organisation and on a topic mainly supported by the centre-right, I am fortunate enough to follow a lot of people with whom I disagree on social media. I no longer read right-wing publications often, but I think I challenge myself a reasonable amount. I will happily recommend thoughtful right-wing writers if anyone is looking to expand their media consumption outside of their bubble, although I’m sure readers but very able to do this themselves.

For good anti-Trump writing, see:
Nick Cohen, Guardian

David Frum, Atlantic

Rom Rosenbaum, LA Review of Books

For Brexit read: Dominic Cummings, his blog

 

My final observation is simply this: my friends and I will be fine.

This was the tragedy of the 2015 election, of the referendum, of trump. For the educated middle-class white intelligentsia, everything bad that is happening is abstract. Right-wing media can and does use this point to make it look like our opposition is insincere or hypocritical. I reject this: if you’re willing to spend time and effort pushing for something that does not help your immediate interests or those of your social group, surely it is logical that you have actually thought about the issue and are demonstrating compassion and empathy?

A pessimistic reading would be that the right media attempts to shame the progressive middle class out of political action: we must not be ashamed. Of course people like me should follow the direction and example of issue-specific protesters like Black Lives Matter or March for Women so we do not undermine or model the message. But that does not mean we cannot support it.

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