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 “Mindfulness for far-left miserablists”

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 “Reflections on two deaths”

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

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 “Modern Socialism #1: The Craze Not Sweeping The Nation”

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

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 “The NHS in ‘The Apprentice’ Society”

Czech It Out: Politics and Post-Communist Silly Dancing (very belated Part Three)

communist silly dancing final
Post-Communist silliness

Years ago we were writing a trilogy of pontificating half-essays about a trip we made to the Czech Republic. It was called Politics and Post-Communist Silly Dancing, but we never wrote the third bit, due to contain the all-important Silly Dancing, thereby rendering the title baffling to anyone who happened to read parts one and two. Then, recently, we played a very small part in helping a sassy and streetwise young altruist from South Bristol get an EU-funded Czech volunteering gig. She was going to take almost the exact same route as we did when we were in the country – a flight to Prague, where she’d have a day or so to look around, then down the Moravian south-east via a very, very long train ride. And, interest suitably re-engaged, we decided to dig out the notes we’d once intended on turning into a part three and actually turning them into a part three – albeit served with a side-dish of thoughts on Communism as-was, capitalism as-is, and the need for an alternative to both we’ve had since (you can click here for part one, and here for part two).

Death by fascistically efficient train door wouldn’t be an especially pleasant way to start a four and a half hour train voyage across the Czech Republic, but you’d get quite a nice view as the unrelenting steel liquefied your innards, at least until your lifeless husk was eventually flung free within sight of the High Tatras.

Luckily, the Bemolution managed to slink aboard with a few nanometres to spare in the twenty seconds or so the carriage designer had considerately thought to allot on the off-chance a passenger might actually try and get in it. We then spent the bulk of the following journey squashed uncomfortably close to two diabolically snobbish Fabians from Kent, inwardly debating whether the company made the prospect of being crushed in the door slightly more appealing.

After a frenetic few days city-slicking around Prague, we were relocating several hundred miles south-eastwards to the Zlin region of South Moravia, scarcely an hour from the Slovakian border. Our little red speck of Somerset was celebrating twenty years of international friendship with this warm and architecturally distinctive border region, and an array of civic dignitaries plus assorted-hangers on had been invited to mark the occasion. Confusingly, a strange sort of Labour Party field trip had been grafted on the side, too – the political terrain back home meaning that most of said dignitaries were Labour councillors – and small-town diplomacy was being frequently interspersed with get-togethers with the Czech equivalent, the Social Democrats, or CSSD (hence the Kentish Fabians). Someone had dropped out at the last minute, so late they couldn’t get any of their money back, and we were offered their spot on the trip for practically nothing. And that was how, despite disliking taxpayer-subsidised jollies for elected representatives about as much as neoliberalised ex-social democracy, The Bemolution ended up rattling speedily towards a bewildering few days of civic pomp, folk-costumed gay abandon and lashings of 50% proof brain-popping Czech booze. Continue reading “Czech It Out: Politics and Post-Communist Silly Dancing (very belated Part Three)”

Bem Bulletin #1: November 2014 – Julien Blanc, Building Castles and the Negative Dialectics of Myleene Klass

Clash of the titans
Clash of the titans

This month at Bem Towers: we lamented society’s magpie-materialism in the wake of the release of Apple’s iPhone 6; we got annoyed at blatant BBC bias as it stuck to its guns over excluding the Green Party from next year’s leaders’ debates; and in the third and final part of what we might as well call our Pretentious London Trilogy, we finished our politicised amble around the capital in the plutocrat’s den itself, Canary Wharf.

And, on the Bemolutionary turntable this month: wholesome wanky guitar music from the glorious Guitar Trio, in our continuing tribute to dear departed flamenco messiah Paco De Lucia; and squeaky banjo-communist Eugene Chadbourne, with his perennially relevant geopolitical ditty, ‘Dirt’.


In this month’s Bem Bulletin:

1. Welcome to the jungle/first Bem Bulletin

2. The Negative Dialectics of Myleene Klass

3. Julien Blanc, ‘Pickup Artist’

4. Big buildings, wastes of time, wastes of life


1. Welcome to the first Bem Bulletin! In the old, Further Education-related days, the then-embryonic Bemolution put out about two issues of the Bem Bulletin, a rubbish half-satirical newsletter filled with in-jokes written for and read by five people.

Ever on the lookout for ways to avoid having to think of anything original, we’re now nicking the name and sellotaping it to an entirely different concept – namely a new monthly blog feature in which we prod at mainstream news stories we haven’t got the time/mental stamina to cover in customary 1.5k-word shamblo-essay format. On the side, we’re also going recap what we’ve been writing this month and talk about what we’ve got lined up for next. Continue reading “Bem Bulletin #1: November 2014 – Julien Blanc, Building Castles and the Negative Dialectics of Myleene Klass”

London Isn’t Very Equal (Part Three) – Canary Wharf

The oligarch's den
The oligarch’s den

Click here for Part One.

… and here for Part Two.

Our unexpectedly politicised amble around the capital had been equal parts fascinating and grim, but it was time to go. The rubbery sandwiches on the coach back to Somerset weren’t going to eat themselves.

Despite our rampaging cynicism, The Bemolution is a sucker for a poetic conclusion. And of all the places we could’ve ended our London adventure, a climactically big square surrounded by international banks seemed especially apt considering everything we’d seen, thought and talked about along the way.

It was completely by accident. We thought we’d try and squeeze in a last rendezvous with a third friend – sassy and savage-witted writer type from home, spent two maddening years bombarding the capital with fruitless job applications, finally got hired and is now doing quite well – before making a mad dash across London to catch the last escape pod out of Hammersmith Bus Station. Travelling to meet her in Greenwich, our witless provincial brain almost overloaded trying to work out where the Jubilee Line met the DLR – you have to physically leave one station at Canary Wharf and walk to another, it took us an embarrassingly long time to realise. And as we glided ethereally up the escalator and emerged from the glass Teletubby dome of the station entrance, it suddenly hit us that Canary Wharf was that Canary Wharf. Continue reading “London Isn’t Very Equal (Part Three) – Canary Wharf”