A) for the planet’s sake, and B) just to survive, the Left needs to get ‘generic’

The status quo risks the destruction of our species and the ecosystem all life relies on

The status quo risks the destruction of our species and the ecosystem all life relies on

The blogosphere reverberates with people self-importantly telling each other what ‘the Left’ should be doing. What the world and her springer spaniel are clearly crying out for, then, is another deeply unpopular, laughably unlikely ramshackle leftist strategy, hastily rammed in the virtual left-wing suggestion box and probably never seen again. The Bemolution lives to serve.

The Left should radically and unsentimentally revamp itself, turning what is all too often a fossilised remnant of the early twentieth century into something specifically addressing the social, political and ecological here and now. It should drop the blinkered obsession with past ideological battles. Instead, it needs to hammer itself back into contemporary relevance, going back to first principles and relating them afresh to the way the world is today.

Ecological crisis looms, providing humanity with the biggest threat to its continued existence in thousands of years. Faced with probable environmental disaster, caused for the most part by the growth-obsession and chronic waste of a culture skewed in the interests of the scandalously wealthy, we need to radically reshape civilisation and make our species live within its means. A system that has already used and abused millions of individual homo sapiens as disposable tools for enriching tiny minorities, along with squandering the potential of millions more by dismissing them as stupid and/or leaving them to flounder in poverty, is now well on the way to ravaging the planet beyond the point of no return. Continue reading

Neoliberalism Nutshelled

The City of London

The City of London

A shameless, propagandising character assassination on everyone’s favourite wrenchingly unjust set of socioeconomic arrangements.

There’s nothing remotely original left to say about capitalism – or, for that matter, the ecological catastrophe it’s causing in its current neoliberal, hyper-consumerist form. 

Our whole way of life, in the Westernised world at least, is geared around constantly increasing the production and consumption of goods and services that we don’t need. Prevailing economic logic holds that to be ‘healthy’, an economy has to grow about 3% each year. That can’t be achieved by just satisfying real human needs – so instead, society has to create new, artificial needs. Continue reading

Left-Wing Least-Worstism: Unite Or Die

The reason this blog’s cod-philosophical standpoint is called ‘Left-Wing Least-Worstism’ is because of a very un-leftish pessimism. The situation we’re in is abjectly bad.

That might sound extreme – the consensus seems to be that things might be tentatively improving on the political front. Certainly, Occupy and the boisterous anti-cuts movement have provided some much-needed reasons to be almost cheerful. But we need to be brutally realistic – they come after a quarter-century of decline. More tellingly, they had little to do with the ‘established’ Left, instead riding on the free-thinking and initiative of passionate individuals largely operating outside official groups. Continue reading

Left Wing Least Worstism II: Pressing Eco-Matters

93083320CF015_CLIMATE_CHANGWho/what/where/why is the Left circa 2013? Unwisely, the Bemolution is going to have a go at answering that. But before we start banging on about fairly insular aspects of present-day left-wing politics, it’s worth meditating on the big issue underlying all of what will follow – namely the environmental bottom line. Are you sitting uncomfortably? Then we’ll begin.

The world we live in is often crushingly, self-parodyingly bleak. It’s ridden with preventable misery and wobbles on the brink of ecological catastrophe. The minority most capable of doing anything about it – the section of affluent Western societies who aren’t forced to spend all their time and energy just trying to scrape by – has sunk itself in a mire of ignorance, short-sightedness, and unquestioning, mindless excess. And, as a result, addressing either the misery or the catastrophe couldn’t be further from the mainstream political agenda. Hurriedly nut-shelled, that’s the problem we’re faced with. Like a newly-qualified boy-racer who crashes the family Ford Escort on his first run out of town, humanity has squandered its planetary inheritance, doing more damage to the ecosystem in a few hundred years than trillions of previous careful owner-organisms had done in over a billion. Continue reading

Bem

Joe in the politics room, circa 2008

Joe in the politics room, circa 2008

At college, instead of concentrating on my A Levels, I ended up in the middle of a strange, probably cult-like campus subculture we called Bem. I didn’t come up with the name – it was a random nonsense word I think my friend Joe invented one day in a boring Politics lesson, but I can’t really remember. Looking back, it was about not liking the state society was in, and trying to live out an alternative in everything you did.

We were all left-wing. We all hated consumerism, conformism and the slow strangulation of anything interesting and original in the cultural realm. And we all shared the same bleak, surreal sense of humour. Most of all, we were united by the belief that civilisation was terrible. Millions starved, died in droughts, died in childbirth, died of treatable diseases – and the richest, most technologically advanced societies in human history did nothing about it. Most people didn’t even notice, let alone care.

Our fellow students seemed to typify everything that was wrong – shallow, materialistic, self-obsessed. Clueless about the sheer horrifying extent of suffering in the world, and utterly absorbed by the mindless triviality of their own silly little lives. Here was a society where callousness and ignorance was the default setting. And we set about an inevitably doomed but passionately heartfelt attempt to undermine it all by refusing to take it seriously. We were like apocalyptic mini-Chomskys crossed with the Chuckle Brothers.

If I do say so myself, I think our critique of modern society was remarkably insightful for a bunch of grouchy teenagers fresh out of secondary education. But we were still very far from perfect.

For one, we were far too harsh on our fellow students. They weren’t all the feckless neoliberal drones we made them out to be – especially up against the kind of people I’d meet at Cambridge.

We were also distinctly rubbish when it came to actually doing anything about our politics. To be fair, we did a lot of anti-fascism campaigning when the BNP came to town. But most of the time, we were content to just lounge around feeling radical because we listened to Stevie Wonder, The Smiths and Berlin-era Bowie rather than Rihanna and Take That. We were lazy, we were extremely pessimistic, and we were all political mouth and no activist trousers.

When college ended, we all shot off in different directions to get on with being adults. I see some of them regularly, others nowhere near as regularly as I’d like – but however much they’ve changed in the years since, I’d say pretty much all of them have hung on to something of that original outlook.

Partly thanks to the experience of going from a single parent household in the land neoliberalism forgot to Oxbridge and back, I went on to become more political than ever. To the extent that, shockingly, I now sometimes even get out and do some actual activism.

These days, I’m a shambolic mish-mash of far-left atheist vicar and lentil-munching free love hippy. I’m far less cynical about people, and particularly my own generation, which has turned out to be more left-wing and switched on than I ever would’ve imagined in the old days. And yet I dislike the state modern society’s in as much as ever. Most of all, I’m focused on the horrifying scale of preventable humanitarian suffering in the world, and the catastrophic damage humanity is doing to its environment.

In other words, there have been tweaks along the way, but it’s still essentially Bem. I still see politics, music, personal conduct, even having a certain type of sense of humour, as all part of the same thing – a wholesale rejection of a way of life that’s well on the way to being cataclysmic. And when I started a blog in 2011, just about the same time ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ jazz-rapper Gil Scot Heron died, the thing named itself.

Four and a bit years down the line, I’m finally getting round to some of the things I wanted to do with this site when I first started it – talk about an accessible, environmentally-focused modern manifestation of radical socialism. Explain economics in a way that laypeople can understand, and that isn’t skewed in favour of the status quo. Ramble inanely about my own vision of socially engaged atheism-as-a-religion. And I can now officially say that sometimes, occasionally, someone even reads it.

All The Madmen (David Bowie)

Shuffle glibly through David Bowie’s commercial highlights – ‘Heroes’, Changes, Let’s Dance etc – and you won’t come away with the image of a songwriter whose principal thematic ingredients include crippling paranoia, isolation, totalitarianism, dystopia, Nietzchian supermen, the occult, various shades of emotional anguish and madness. In Bowie’s darker work, the last one has proved to be a particular preoccupation. As a boy, the young David was close to his half-brother Terry Burns, a charismatic jazz-buff who introduced Bowie to the scratchy improvisations of Ornette Coleman and was influential in shaping his brother’s later avant-garde proclivities. Terry was also schizophrenic. Continue reading

Blue Labour

Baron Glasman of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill

Baron Glasman of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill

‘Blue Labour’ is the latest faintly ridiculous-sounding political buzz-term to briefly excite the national commentariat, be myopically hailed as having seismic potential, before promptly going the way of the do-do.

As ever, ‘the debate’ is one that’s blazed between about 12 people in North London, without much in the way of impact outside the Comment section of the Guardian. But, unfortunately, it’s the only sign of ideological life detectable from the cadaverous Labour Party. And, as such, is probably worth taking half-seriously, since Labour is far too important, and potentially dangerous, for this kind of thing to be ignored.

Largely the work of the likably bohemian academic and activist Maurice Glasman, an increasingly rare example of a British political figure with a personality and a sense of humour, Blue Labour sells itself as a radical traditionalist alternative to Labour’s prevailing ethos. Continue reading