Generic Left: And Now For More Of That Scintillating Political Positioning Stuff (Part 1)

Occupy: quite a good example of Generic Left
Occupy: quite a good example of Generic Left

Last time around, the Bemolution ended up trying to articulate its own slightly garbled political position almost by accident, in amongst saying lots of pessimistic things about the state of the political Left more broadly.

The aim, as almost always, was to make the case for a major revamp of left-wing politics – a modern reincarnation of classic leftist ideals that’s inclusive, non-dogmatic, and not tangled up in the baffling ideological splits and squabbles of the previous century.

This was deemed necessary because of the terrifying likelihood of radical politics otherwise sinking without trace, right at the point in human history where, as we obliviously barrel towards environmental annihilation, it’s needed more urgently than ever.

The Bemolution then had the crazed idea that we might’ve been on to something, and that by talking about our own moderately deranged political position we could counter-intuitively help make that case – proving even a worldview as strange and head-scratchingly obscure as ours fits in the same left-wing box as a lot of more orthodox radical politics.

Somehow, this blog ended up with a position far left of anything that prevails in our stultifying political mainstream without ever having brushed up against Karl Marx.

The Bemolution doesn’t look at the world through a Marxist framework. We try to be tolerantly non-Marxist rather than anti-. That’s despite perennial exasperation with the dogged inflexibility, jargon-speak and Bolshevik fixation of a sizeable wedge of the Marxist Left.

As long as injustice exists, people are always going to reach for the most prominent anti-capitalist in human history. But if radical politics is ever going to spread beyond a tiny, dwindling elite, the Left needs to get generic.

It needs to hack through last century’s theological jungle and get back to the basic, timeless ideals that have underpinned all left-wing thinking. And then, relating them anew to the grisly situation humanity finds itself in now, it needs to use them to build a broad, straight-talking alternative around which the ever-fractious Left can unite, expand, and rescue itself from history’s wheelie bin.

When we talk about a Generic Left, we really just mean a set of left-wing principles shared by all sorts of radicals. It’s not supposed to kill off and replace anyone’s deeper philosophical perspectives. Instead, the idea is simply to emphasise the shared values that transcend technical, ideological differences – the vague hope being that they can be used as a basis for co-operation at a time when the obstacles facing the Left are more mountainous than they have been in generations. In short, we need to welcome anyone who wants to ice neoliberalism, without making them sign up to any particular pseudo-religious belief system.

Buddha and Rousseau

Which obviously includes our pseudo-religious belief system. Over about a decade, the Bemolution has scavenged bits and pieces from Buddhism, atheist existentialism, Judeo-Christian morality, natural history and various other intellectual sources it probably should’ve left well alone and Blue Petered them into a strange, rickety worldview.

Life post-god is inherently meaningless. There isn’t any booming commandment to live your existence in this way or that way or according to those flyblown Ruritanian standards anymore. People are free to lead their lives the way they want to, to make their own meaning. And most of us have used that as an excuse to scuttle off down selfish, insular little cul-de-sacs, shutting out imposingly big life questions and the idea we have a moral responsibility to anyone outside our immediate social circle.

In a sense, we’ve kept the worst things about religion while jettisoning its key redeeming features – retained the pettiness, the small-mindedness, the instinctive conservatism and the unquestioning acceptance of the status quo while scrapping the selflessness, generosity and indiscriminate compassion demonstrated by god-botherers at their best.

The result has been a kind of insular hyper-individualism, which, despite its social and ethical disastrousness, has served an arbitrarily privileged slice of humanity quite well.

They’ve been able to pull apart the post-war welfare consensus that guaranteed everyone a decent standard of living, replacing it with a debt-fuelled, consumption-crazed economic model that drowns people in petty distractions and magpie-materialism even as it bulldozes their quality of life.

Here, a tiny minority has got grotesquely rich at the expense of everyone else. A precariously positioned majority is forced to work harder, for longer, for less, while dazzling wealth at the top masks wrenching deprivation at the bottom. In the global South, millions of people are left to suffer incomprehensibly for reasons the West could fairly easily prevent. Worldwide, waste, excess and a commitment to endless economic growth have ravaged a fragile ecosystem to near-collapse.

There could hardly be a more comprehensive, ego-popping indictment of our way of life. Humanity is more technologically advanced, culturally sophisticated and globe-straddlingly powerful now than at any time in its history. But millions are left to die through lack of the most basic life essentials, while we in the more cosseted parts of the world ignorantly fritter our time and money away, obsessed with ourselves and neither knowing nor caring about what goes on outside our personal bubble.

If that situation is ever going to change, we need to sweep away all that crushingly petty cultural bric-a-brac, wrench ourselves away from the trivial particulars of our day-to-day existences and fall back on the cosmically big picture.

We’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that distinctions between nationalities, income brackets, ethnicities, the inhabitants of different geographical areas, are in any way meaningful. Largely, this is because as a civilisation we’re ludicrously short-sighted.

Take a long view of human history, or, more mind-blowingly, the history of the planet, and these petty divisions are quickly obliterated. In Earth’s four and half billion year existence to date, humanity has only been around for a cosmic blink of an eye. We’re the unspeakably, improbably miraculous result of a one in a trillion chance happening. Despite towering odds against, this planet developed life, that life survived long enough to diversify and evolve into things bigger than a single cell, which in turn, over billions of years, evolved in things with arms and legs and brains, and, eventually, too many cars and mortgages.

In certain schools of Buddhism, they teach you to be more compassionate by making you imagine that everything is your mother. At some stage during the never-ending reincarnational flume ride, the logic runs, mammy’s spiritual essence has inhabited everything alive. As much as it sounds like a grand cosmological Your Mum joke, the gist is that you should treat all creatures with the same compassion and respect.

The Bemolution likes to put its own atheist spin on the same concept. About three billion years ago, there was only really one kind of microscopic organism in existence. Everything alive today – every plant, tree, animal and member of the Osmonds – is descended from those bacterial blobs. We all stem from that biological singularity, and the cultural barriers we erect between us and the supposedly ‘lesser’ plants and animals around us, let alone those that we use to separate one bit of humanity from another, are fairly ludicrous.

Put any two homo sapiens in a room and, if can switch off your socially-ingrained superficiality – judging them on their weight, height, hair colour or skin pigmentation – you’ll find they’re practically identical, both physically and in terms of their needs and capabilities.

It’s a rough but fundamental equality that’s been distorted for the last ten thousand years or so – not all that long at all, ecologically speaking – by the emergence, then predominance of private wealth. As much as it tries not to be twattily over-intellectual, the Bemolution can’t resist quoting eighteenth-century Swiss thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

“The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, to whom it first occurred to say this is mine, and found people sufficiently simple to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many miseries and horrors Mankind would have been spared by him who, pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had cried out to his kind: “beware of listening to this imposter; you are lost if you forget that the fruits are everyone’s and the Earth no-one’s”.”

Click here for Part Two.