I Dumb Down: ‘The Segregation of Dissent’ by E.P. Thompson

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EP Thompson

Spooky prescience from the author of ‘The Making of the English Working Class’

Historians are classically shit at prophesising anything, but, back in early ‘60s, a Marxist one predicted the future.

The BBC had just aired a three-part lecture series attacking the New Left – the then-emerging movement of radical students and academics calling for a socialist politics beyond Stalinism and watery Western social democracy. And E.P. Thompson, one of the highest-profile New Leftists, set about writing his own talk in response.

Originally, the intention was to get it broadcast on the BBC. If Auntie was happy to transmit three hours of reactionary propaganda, the reasoning ran, it would surely have to give the New Left some sort of right to reply.

But when the Corporation rejected Thompson’s lecture, he turned it into an essay instead. Continue reading “I Dumb Down: ‘The Segregation of Dissent’ by E.P. Thompson”

I dumb down

Dumbo

I am dumb. A plodder. Terminally middlebrow. Incurably unintellectual. I know this, and I made peace with it a long time ago.

But a lot of new generation leftists are anything but. Their cleverness is astounding. Whenever I watch or listen to something from groups like Novara, I’m bowled over by their ability to hold so much information in their heads.

It’s not just facts and figures – it’s complex theoretical understandings. They don’t just know and grasp Derrida and Lefebvre and Bordieu and so many others, but they can effortlessly apply them to everyday situations in a way that makes sense.

I can’t do that. But what I can do is dumb down. Continue reading “I dumb down”

“Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by Michael Wolff

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It’s been titillating liberal-centrists and topping best-seller lists since January, but Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury is trashy and overrated.

Essentially, Wolff, a provocative columnist for the Hollywood Reporter, spent a year wandering around the White House talking to key members of team Trump.

The result was a book. Trump hoped it would be a flattering one — he’d liked a piece Wolff had done on him during the election, and given him free rein of the West Wing off the back of it. But it isn’t.
Continue reading ““Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by Michael Wolff”

For a multimillion-dollar distraction, Black Panther is quite radical

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I went to see Black Panther for my birthday, and thought it was very good. I don’t usually like films, or the cinema, or birthdays, but a mate convinced me to give all three a try, and for once I was only vaguely disappointed.

I can’t fully endorse it – they spent $200m making a comic book movie while thousands of people (a lot them African), starved to death. But for a stonkingly profligate corporate blockbuster, Black Panther is fairly radical.

It’s the first mainstream film I’ve seen in years, possibly ever, that has meaningful politics – not so much black nationalism as black internationalism. Incredibly, Marvel, wholly-owned subsidiary of the multi-billion-dollar Walt Disney Company, has put out a pan-Africanist superhero movie. Continue reading “For a multimillion-dollar distraction, Black Panther is quite radical”

New Year’s Resolutions are a waste of time, so here are mine.

new year eve

New Year’s Resolutions are a waste of time, so here are mine.

1. Use the internet less.

The internet isn’t just a bottomless well of procrastination excuses. It changes how you treat people. We act as if words on a page (or on a screen) are the most vital building blocks of human communication — and to be fair, we’d struggle to do much without them. But on their own, they’re extremely limited.

Trying to discuss or debate using words alone — without the millions of tiny nuances you can convey with tone of voice, hand gestures, facial expressions and so on — is like using a sledgehammer when what you really need is a scalpel. All brute force, no finesse. Continue reading “New Year’s Resolutions are a waste of time, so here are mine.”

I like Christmas, but I don’t know why

xmas

I always tell myself I like Christmas, but the older I get, the harder it is to pinpoint why.

I think it’s 90% nostalgia. Memories of big, sparkly 1990s Christmasses, primary school discos, Wham! and Paul McCartney, relatives since disintegrated, communities since dispersed.

Present-day Yule is nothing like that. And my mounting cynicism and deepening politicisation have gradually knocked the baubles off what’s left.

When I was a kid, I loved the presents. Then I turned into a hardcore anti-consumerist. After that, I liked it for the food. Then I went environmental vegetarian (and developed a stomach condition that makes me feel sick whenever I eat anything that isn’t lentil and vegetable mush, but that’s a hypochondriac odyssey in of itself). Continue reading “I like Christmas, but I don’t know why”

An Oxmas Carol

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A long addendum to the post about Oxbridge. A few days after finishing it, I ended up in Oxford – partly through sickening hypocrisy, partly because I wanted to visit one of my oldest and closest friends who studies there.

It was interesting for two reasons: one, because it reaffirmed everything I remembered about Oxbridge. And two, because it was a rare chance to commune with someone with a very similar worldview to mine.

Oxford is different to Cambridge. It’s noisier and busier, and there’s a lot more of it. It’s a city. Cambridge is just a glorified town.

But the universities are near-identical. They’re both made up of thirty-odd self-contained ‘colleges’, fabulously rich and bafflingly archaic. And they both serve the same mainly white, wealthy, South-Eastern demographic. Continue reading “An Oxmas Carol”