Mindfulness for far-left miserablists

samadhibuddhabernie

As you’ve probably noticed, the world is phenomenally bad at the moment. The future’s not looking especially rosy for civilisation.

Then again, that’s been the case for a long time – and the fact that liberal metropolitans are wigging out so spectacularly over the (admittedly rubbish) news re the American Presidency shows just how detached people are from looming ecological disaster, immense, inexpressible suffering in developing countries, et cetera, et cetera, et cereta. But I digress.

Strange/stressful/horrible are these times in which we live. And, in order to 1) survive the mental ordeal of living through them, and 2) be as effective as we can be when it comes to trying to make them better, we have to take care of ourselves. Continue reading

Reflections on two deaths

pjimage

Last month my A-Level politics teacher dropped dead. Of the three lecturers I had at college, only one’s now still alive, and in the last week I’ve been thinking about the two that aren’t.

At the time, I took them completely for granted. I liked them, more than enough to want to keep in touch with them after I left, but in both cases I didn’t – I assumed they would be around forever. There was no rush to get back in contact, because they would always be there. And I only appreciated how much they’d impacted my life until after they were dead.

Benjamin died first. He taught me second year English Literature from 2008 to 2009, and was a kind, happy, sweet-natured man who brought gasket-blowing enthusiasm and an almost childlike sense of wonder to everything he did.

He was posh, floppy-haired and sheltered – his innocence and thorough-going ignorance of the modern world could range from quaint and endearing to borderline frightening. He was so utterly devoid of cynicism you worried someone would scam him or harm him or otherwise take advantage of his unsullied good nature. Sometimes I wondered how he’d made it to his late thirties without exposure to the grittier realities of life. Occasionally, it was annoying. More often than not, it made him an exceptionally pleasant person to be around. Continue reading

(my alternative) Best of Bowie

David Bowie’s music is probably more important to me than anyone else’s. But the tracks that mean the most aren’t the ones you’re likely to find on a Best of Bowie-type compilation – or the ones that have been used to score innumerable unoriginal TV career retrospectives in the month since he died.

That’s not me being hipster for the sake of it – dismissing songs simply because they’re popular. I’ve just never liked Changes, Heroes, Rebel Rebel, Jean Genie, Let’s Dance and the like as much as some of his lesser known – and, yes, more experimental – material.

So I sat and made my own Best of Bowie compilation. Then turned it into a Youtube playlist in (rough) chronological order. It’s heavy on ’69-’80 album tracks, and very light on poppy singles and anything from ’81 and onwards (until you get to Blackstar, which I’ve included in its entirety because I genuinely think, to employ a well-worn Bowie-fan cliché, it’s his best album since 1980’s Scary Monsters). It also contains two tracks from Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, which is as much a Bowie album as an Iggy one.

I doubt very much anyone who isn’t me will sit and listen to it from start to finish – most of the people that come here come for the politics after all. But it’s been a labour of love. I adore every song I’ve included here, and happen to think that, taken together, it’s a showcase of some of the most brilliant, iconoclastic, fearlessly creative rock music ever made.

Bem Bulletin #4: February 2015 -We Don’t Live In A Democracy Special, starring Lord Fink, Peter Oborne, Jack Straw, Malcolm Rikfind and Capitalism

democracyThis month: we wrote something outlining what for the moment we’re calling Modern Socialism, an attempt at a non-dogmatic, ecologically-sound twenty-first century redefinition of radical Left politics. It’s really what this blog was started for, and it only took us four years to finally get round to it. And that’s about it, because we spent most of February helping someone recover from major heart surgery, so here’s a list of fairly recent posts for you to peruse instead.

Fantasy fascism: how to enjoy action films, despite the politics

Podemos and pragmatic radicalism

Bemolutionary Mix-Tape 2014

Doing It For The Kids: The environment, the future, and whether they have one

The NHS in ‘The Apprentice’ society

That said, given that it’s been such a glorious month for British democracy, we still found the time for an extra-specially long Bem Bulletin to celebrate.

Music: Jimmy Witherspoon & Robben Ford; Paco de Lucia (on the first anniversary of his death) with John McLaughlin


In this month’s Bem Bulletin:

  1. Tax Avoidance for Everyone
  2. Peter Oborne and the Corporate Media
  3. Cash for Access
  4. Taking Liberties
  5. I Married ISIS

Continue reading

Modern Socialism #1: The Craze Not Sweeping The Nation

modern socialist triangle

Not the Modern Socialist triangle, but nice and spinny nonetheless

THE GIST: As the name suggests, Modern Socialism is an attempt to modernise socialism. It’s not about ‘modernisation’ in the toxic, principles-shedding, status quo-pandering New Labour sense of the word. It’s about revamping the radical left into something far more open, accessible, flexible and ecologically-focused.

The Marxes and Engelses of the world thought they’d created a ‘scientific’ socialism, one based on processes and principles they’d divined from studying economics, sociology and history – and that therefore was much better than the wishy-washing moralising of the socialisms that had come before. But a lot of their ‘scientific’ analysis was wrong. A lot of their predictions didn’t come to pass. Meanwhile, it’s always going to be wrong that millionaires exist in a world where people starve.

Rather than some grand, sweeping theory of everything, Modern Socialism needs to be more humble – a values system and a set of priorities used to approach the problems the species faces. A lot of these (appropriately) red lines should be the same ones the Left has always had – egalitarianism, libertarianism, public ownership of crucial services and industries, etc. But there are also areas the conventional Left has tended to neglect, and, unfortunately, they happen to be staggeringly important.

Unforgivably often, left-wingers have ignored immense human suffering in the global South, caused by entirely preventable poverty, starvation and disease. They’ve also been distinctly rubbish about embracing eco-politics on a planet where another hundred or so years of the status quo will probably leave the environment irreparably damaged – and our prospects of survival along with it.

To be properly viable in the twenty-first century, we need a socialism that’s both radically humanitarian and ecological – that takes humanitarian suffering as seriously as it takes anything, and that aims at making genuinely sustainable, egalitarian societies free from dependence on economic growth. Continue reading

Bem Bulletin #2: Glittery Festive Special – Austerity, Porn and Gordon Brown

Occupy Christmas

Occupy Christmas

This month: we finally finished a trilogy of bits about our travels in the Czech Republic, Communism as-was and capitalism as-is that we started in 2012; we got angry at how society lionises business and fawns over the richest, as typified by the BBC’s The Apprentice, and how it neglects, belittles and abuses NHS personnel; and we contrasted the way in which modern parents dote almost obsessively on their offspring, while doing, thinking, or, apparently, caring very little about the climate catastrophe that might rob them of a future.

… And, music-wise: funky Nigerian afrobeat from Fela Kuti, and banal ‘50s country and western.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, it’s Christmas time, and the Bemolution is communicating with you from its fairylit inner sanctum, swimming in tinsel and shovelling grotesque quantities of chocolate log down itself.

We don’t celebrate birthdays (exceptions made for young children or the impressively old), or like ceremony in general, but we officially do quite like Christmas. Not enough to suspend our miserablist current affairs-prodding, of course. But it at least encourages people to squeeze a trickle of festive goodwill to the rest of the species from their neoliberalised granite-hearts, and stop trying to compete each other into the dust long enough to eat their own bodyweight in turkey and Brussels sprouts.

Anyway – to business.


In this month’s Bem Bulletin

1. George Osborne’s Autumn Statement

1 and a bit. … And Sociopaths in power

2. Porn Censorship and the Tyranny of the Vanilla

3. The Life and Times of Gordon Brown

4. Jim Murphy, Neil Findlay, Scottish Labour

5. Obligatory Christmas Commercialisation Whinge Continue reading

The NHS in ‘The Apprentice’ Society

Sugar and friends

Sugar and friends

Caring is out. Ruthlessness is in. That’s neoliberal morality.

Recently I had cause to partake of the National Health Service – or, more specifically, I had to accompany someone to an appointment at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, which at least involved riding an NHS-provided bus, sitting in a nice warm NHS waiting room and watching repeats of Grand Designs on an NHS TV.

I’ve been fortunate enough not to need the health service much. Yet. I still think it’s the greatest political achievement in the history of British statecraft. Given that national politics has been monopolised by nest-feathering plutocrats since time immemorial, it admittedly hasn’t got much competition for the title.

As the kind of lentil-munching ultra-leftist the Daily Mail presumes uses the Union Jack to mop the floor, I’m constitutionally obliged to hate dumb, tub-thumping patriotism in all its forms. But if there is something about ‘being British’ that’s genuinely worth being proud of – rather than a piss-poor football team, a plasticated Barbie and Ken monarchy, and a millions-enslaving, famine-inducing, continents-sundering imperial past – it’s the fact that our society commits to providing high-quality healthcare free at the point of use to anyone who needs it.

The NHS was born out of that dismayingly brief period, more of an blip when you look back on it, when top-drawer politics wasn’t entirely dominated by said nest-feathering plutocrats. “No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means”, proclaimed Nye Bevan, post-war Health Minister, lovely Welsh socialist and exemplary human being.

In the decades since, national politics has slowly but steadily reverted to business as usual. Now we’ve reached a critical mass of high-functioning sociopaths in positions of power, the NHS, like everything else left over from that bountiful five minutes of post-war welfarism, is under relentless attack. Continue reading