Monday, 16 January 2017

The Age of Something or Other

I read an article some time back by Garrison Keillor lamenting the triumph of Trump.  My life is probably quite similar to Keillor’s - courtesy of a moment in history that allowed a working class girl to get an education that was denied to her foremothers and forefathers. 

The pleasant middle class lifestyle choices Keillor refers to - which he places on a higher plane than the likes of watching football - rest on the backs of others; not just the low paid workers and pool of reserve labour in his own country, but the workers of all the countries to which American capital has fled in pursuit of greater profits.

The distribution of social benefits does not occur within an impartial meritocracy and Keillor’s claims about the ability of the children of an American waitress still being able to become physicists, ring very hollow in the face of the mountain of disadvantage that all poor people have to climb in order to ‘succeed’. 

Exceptional talent, exceptional luck, being exceptionally driven or a combination of all three may see the children of poor people succeed, but they are the exception to the rule that poverty blights lives. As I have written elsewhere, it's a very powerful trap and those who manage to escape it often leave a part of themselves locked in its jaws.

The people who voted for Trump are widely typified as beer swilling, football watching, crotch-scratching, racist, homophobic misogynists. No doubt quite a few are one or more of those things but, among those voted for him, there will also be some essentially good people who have good reason to feel aggrieved about the political class and its machinations on behalf of the global corporatocracy. 

Around 1 in  2 of those Americans who voted - against all the expectations of the Clinton camp, the media pundits and, it seems, sections of the deep state - were persuaded to see Trump as someone who would stand up to the politicos and fight their corner, make America great (ie feared / respected  / envied) again.  What is sad and bad for them - and the rest of us - is they were royally conned but arguably no more than other people were conned by Obama’s oratorical skill, affability and urbanity. Or, for that matter, by Clinton’s dry credentialism.

Clinton was undoubtedly the most qualified candidate having acquired an impressive array of experience during her long career as a politician. But you do have to ask, qualified to do what?  A measure of what she intended to do may be found in the fact that she raised a vast sum of money to fight for the presidency but precious little was spent on reaching out to the almost 1 in 2 Americans who were not registered to vote. 

There's no doubt surely in any sensible person's mind, about Clinton's loyalty to the neo-conservative project. That proven loyalty is why the financial world and the deep state both expected and were content for her to win. 

Trump’s a paid up dynastic member of the American corporate class. He’s the product of high privilege. He’s not as patrician as George W Bush but his ‘man of the people’ act is just as contrived and phoney.  He's not the champion of the downtrodden; like his father before him, he got where he is by doing the treading. 

The reason Trump succeeded was he tapped into the deep vein of anger, fear and resentment felt by people who have been acculturated into believing that a degree of privilege is their birthright.  He claims to stand for domestic business interests in opposition to shadowy, poorly defined ‘foreign’ interests. He glosses over the fact that US Main Street is subservient to, and dependent upon Globalised Wall Street and the changing of that arrangement will require the changing of the whole world.

He’s changed the actors and some lines in the script but he won’t be able to deliver on his vague promises to change the plot and he will have to find a scapegoat to blame his failures on - assuming the US deep state doesn’t dispose of him first.

It's stating the blindingly obvious that the global corporate class has no real national loyalties; it will use nationalism and patriotism as weapons of social control but its members, for the most part, care only about money and power -  how to make it and how to keep it. 

The political class serves global economic interests that are inimical to the interests of a large and growing number of people.  It forms an essential buffer zone between the corporatists and the world they must, as a condition of their own existence, exploit - and is amply rewarded for its services. 

There are others who provide more tangential support - by voting correctly, paying taxes, being patriotic, playing the game and marching off to war when convinced enough of the awfulness and threat of whoever is today's enemy. It all works - as long as the great unwashed are content to remain dirty and downtrodden.  

The people who have voted for Trump are not the great unwashed. For the most part, Trump supporters are still on the track to 'success' -  they've just lost the slight starting line advantage they once had and they're blaming that on all the wrong people.

Obama's subservience to global interests quickly became apparent.  Clinton's has never been in question.  A bit of tinkering around the social margins and making some concessions to the formal and informal rights of groups of people who’ve been marginalized, but essentially acting to advance the power and interests of global finance capitalism and the military-industrial complex.

The main thrust of the neo-conservative project with its monetarist economic theory was to facilitate the operation of transnational corporations - by definition - companies which operate and extend across national boundaries and which, of necessity, seek to reduce the power and influence of national governments that might want to regulate business.  

It's an ideology that came to the fore in Reagan's administration and has been implemented with varying degrees of fervour by every US administration since.  Controls on the export of capital are removed, jobs are exported and/or labour is imported with the sole objective of driving down labour and other production costs in order to increase profits.  Profits are privatized and production costs are socialised as far as is achievable. This is why American primary industry crumbled and why its manufacturing base has been decimated.  

There's no place for nationalism in global neo-conservatism EXCEPT as a weapon of social control. If a form of revolutionary nationalism were to threaten global interests- it would be crushed mercilessly.  

Reactionary nationalism - which is usually draped in the national flag - is useful because it diverts, divides and inflames.  It makes some people say and do unconscionable things - such as advocating or participating in the slaughter of others. 

There are many in both the Republican and the Democratic parties who want to take US into yet another war – as usual disguising their aggressive imperialistic intent with rhetoric about patriotism and the defence of the ‘free world’.  Trump may well have to defer to them to stay in power.

Trump appealed to the vein of reactionary nationalism that runs both wide and deep in American society by claiming to support American national interests against external ones.  That may well have been genuine but even if it was genuine it was naive and is unlikely to survive the unprecedented tidal wave of propaganda, mockery and opprobrium that has engulfed him even before he has been inaugurated.  He will either have to capitulate to the globalists or they will destroy him – cheered on by those who detest him.

If his ego will not allow him to defer, the question is how will his opponents get rid of him without unleashing the potential for civil unrest?

If the bulk of the media are to be believed, a large proportion of those who voted for Trump are heavily armed bigots – some of whom, logic suggests, will be in the police and the army reserves.  How then, to persuade all those people who see Trump as the saviour of their America that their idol has clay feet, without unleashing the father of all rightwing backlashes?

When propagandists want to sow division and discord, they harness their ideological plough to a team of deep and ugly prejudices. The fields that they plough have been well fertilised by tons of shit and blood so growing a good crop of fear and rage towards the other is easy.  Trouble is you reap what you sow and fear and rage are not always easily directed. 

It gets all the more messy when the loss of secure employment has resulted in the loss of working class collectives, and when those who should be the voices of reason and common-sense are too busy arguing among themselves about whose interests are primary. 

In the context of the wider individualisation and social isolation promoted by neo-conservatism, the destruction of working class collectives has meant that a key means of organizing, educating and mobilising large numbers of people has been lost. 

The neo-cons' destruction and hamstringing of trade unions was not just about wages and conditions, it was about fragmenting and isolating those people whose stake in their society was about to be reduced to a splinter.

It’s also apparent that liberalism's not an absolute any more than bigotry is.  Political conservatives can be kind and forgiving people in some circumstances and political radicals can be cruel and retributive in some circumstances.  You have only to trawl through Twitter when the political liberals and radicals are in hot pursuit of someone who has been deemed to have breached protocols to see that.  

The degree of and attachment to social liberalism often correlates with the degree of actual and potential economic security and social mobility. The more threatening and unnerving the world is, or can be made to seem, the more likely some are to be drawn to simple answers and authoritarian conservatism.  

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Year From Hell

I joked about 2016 being the quintessential year from hell but let's be realistic - it wasn't. It was just another year in which - as usual - millions of humans died, many of them horribly and many while still very young.  

It also happened to be a year in which a few more celebrities than usual shuffled off their mortal coil - and in which the amplification of their deaths was perhaps a useful diversion from some momentous political and ecological developments.

Of the celebrities who died in 2016 - a fair proportion of them were in their 80s and 90s so their deaths are hardly unexpected or tragic, and some of them were younger people, a number of whom who had lived in ways that may not have been conducive to longevity.  So where was the tragedy?

In the past people created myths and legends about both the living and the dead - often as a comfort against the harsh realities of their own lives and the awareness of their own impermanence.  We still do - we just use digital media to do it these days instead of folk stories. 

Myths and legends about the great, the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly have also been used as tools of social control. A lot of our modern myths are the product of the many publicists and spin doctors employed by those who have a vested interest in promoting certain aspects of a deceased person's character and life - to divert the masses or, more prosaically, to sell stuff.

These days, thanks to digital media, we're more immediately aware of the lives and the deaths of celebrities and are bombarded with words and images mourning their passing and eulogising them to, and sometimes beyond the point of commonsense and reason.   Great dollops of faux sentiment and schmaltz fly off the screen, blurring the real world which continues in all its usual awfulness.  

Of course it's sad when people who have touched our lives die, but these are people most of us have absolutely no connection with and never will, whose true personalities and worth we can never really know and who, through film and recordings, actually remain as 'alive' to us plebeians as they ever were.  

The celebrities who attract this sort of media attention when they die are usually very rich. Their personal losses, trials and tribulations, their battles with addiction or illness - were all buffered by fame and by great wealth which enabled them to  buy the very best of everything - from legal representation to medical care. They were all cushioned by the downy pillow of privilege - not an abstract political construct but real advantages and immunities. 

I can't say I thought overly much about George Michael - either as a singer or as a person.  He wasn't a great musician but he was a talented pop singer and I'm prepared to believe that he had a good heart.  However, the acts of generosity he was lauded for after his death have to be put into the perspective of his massive fortune and his on-going earning capacity from royalties.  For someone who is worth £100m to donate £15k to someone  - is - objectively speaking - no more remarkable an act of generosity than a pensioner giving £1 to a homeless person.

I can't say I gave much thought to Carrie Fisher either.  I have never seen any Star Wars films -  although I could think I have given the ubiquity that was created by the cynical mass marketing of Stars Wars' ephemera - but I did like her in the Blues Brothers. I have also never read any of her books, but she seemed like a refreshingly honest person especially when judged by the standards of the plastic world she lived in,  in which honesty is notable more for its absence than presence.

David Bowie - who I didn't like as a musician and who I never forgave for his flirtation with fascism - died younger than someone of his wealth might be expected to, but that was not 'stop the world I want to get off' level tragedy.  He'd abused his body when he was young, he had lived his life to the full and died a rich, happy and fulfilled person, or so we are told.

I loved Leonard Cohen as an artist and I felt very sad at his death but I know that he would be the first to acknowledge how privileged a life he had led and I suspect he would have approached the amplified mourning of his death at the age of 82 with his usual laconic humour.

I lost my younger brother in August to liver failure. He was Carrie Fisher's age. I also lost two other close family members and, towards the end of the year, the husband of a good friend died. He was the same age as my husband.  

I've watched my once highly intelligent and fiercely independent mother sink into a half life of immobility, incontinence, confusion and periods of terror when the reality of her situation breaks through the drug-induced fog in which her carers keep her.

I'm aware that 2016 - like all other years - saw the deaths of millions of children under 5, most of whom need not have died.  Millions of others have lives full of misery, fear and deprivation.

I'm aware that much about our first world way of life is polluting, wasteful, cruel and asocial and looks likely to become more so.

I'm aware that we have not slowed our insane dash towards mass extinctions of other species, and I'm also aware that we're on a slide to what may literally be the war to end all wars.

In this context I'm sorry, but the deaths of a few famous and highly privileged people - however delightful, talented, good, kind and generous we believe those people to be – really do need to be put into a broader perspective.