We only care when Westerners die

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The more I write these things, the more I realise that I’ve only got about four basic articles in me. I just put out variations on the same core arguments again and again – consumer capitalism is destroying the environment, left-wingers have abandoned the global poor, the political establishment is impervious to radical change, and so on. This one is always the most controversial.

The Manchester Arena attack was sickening. Violence against civilians is always wrong. Hurt the innocent, and you’ve immediately lost the argument. Whatever your cause, you’ve irrevocably damaged it.

Killing children is on another level. It’s hard, if not impossible, to try and put the gravity of it into words, so I won’t try.

After Manchester, 22 people are dead, many of them teenagers. The youngest was eight. Hundreds of people will be dealing with the psychological scars for the rest of their lives – the friends and family of the dead, the injured, bystanders, first responders, and many others.

But around in the world, millions of people are in the same position, if not a much worse one. Continue reading “We only care when Westerners die”

Neck-ache nation: what elite sport, elite politics, and elite worship says about us

elitism collage.jpg

If you like substance and things that matter, it’s not been a very good few months to be alive. Feudal-revivalist royal birthday celebrations. The eye-bulging jingoism of Euro 2016. An abyssal new low for establishment post-truth politics with the EU referendum. False-start leadership elections, grubby will-they-won’t-they political coups. And then the Olympics, where grotesque, mind-mangling amounts of money and resources get blown on a hyper-nationalist willy-waving competition.

But at very least, in its abundance of rubbishness, the summer has left us with some fairly big clues as to what’s gone wrong. We are, after all, hurtling towards a point-of-no-return ecological tipping point, having done more environmental damage in 150 years than any other species has managed in three billion – all to build a civilisation where the richest 10% own half the wealth, use 60% of the resources, and 20,000 people starve to death every day.

Why is the world so cataclysmically shit? I think the summer we’re having points towards one big contributing factor. In fact, all the recent events listed above, the Queen, the football, and so on, are arguably symptomatic of the same underlying phenomenon – a giant, normalised, and, as such, near-universally ignored problem afflicting civilisation as-is. Continue reading “Neck-ache nation: what elite sport, elite politics, and elite worship says about us”

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

Taken 3
Taken 3

The Bemolution ended up watching Taken 3 in a Peckham cinema to numb the pain of a particularly trying day-visit to London.

We could’ve watched award-festooned Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything. We could’ve watched Benjamin Cabbagepatch-starring Alan Turing-focused historical thriller The Imitation Game. But we didn’t, because we have absolutely no taste – and very little interest – in films.

It was distracting, brain-stupefying trash – precisely the kind of cultural output we usually lambast for infantilising whole generations, but hypocritically lap up, in small, strictly-rationed doses at least. Essentially, it’s two hours of wish-fulfilment for aging mid-life crisis survivors, seeing near-sexagenarian Liam Neeson beat (younger) people up, shoot people, torture people, drive fast cars and evade death in ways the film eventually gives up on even trying to explain. It’s dumb, disposable, illogical fun.

Later the same week, gently toasting by a rattling fan heater one evening back in Somerset, we watched 1973’s Magnum Force – the second to star Clint Eastwood as fascist supercop “Dirty” Harry Callahan. Equally violent, even more ethically dubious, and even more fun – an old favourite of ours, in fact.

But both films are politically horrible. So how is it possible to still enjoy them? By switching off the critical bit of your brain and just plonking yourself in front of them, is the short answer.

But even as you do that, there’s another very, very important something you also have to cling to or risk being swayed by bludgeoning right-wingery – the fact that these films aren’t set in the real world, and the things that happen in them, the kinds of values and practices that are celebrated in them, don’t work in the real world. Continue reading “Fantasy fascism: how to enjoy action films, despite the politics”

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)”

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”

London Isn’t Very Equal (Part Two) – To Tower Hamlets

London remains scandalously unequal
London remains scandalously unequal

Click here for Part One

From London and its most gentrified and fake, we go the city at its poorest and most raw.

Leaving gentrified Bermondsey, we went to visit another friend. We knew Compadre #2 from school days in Somerset, when she was a warm, caring, alternative type who wrote and sang her own songs. She still is warm, caring and alternative, thankfully, but has chucked in the guitar and the lashings of emo-standard black eyeliner for a job in a small music promotions company.

It’s laughable to look back on now – especially given where we’d just come from – but at school we called her ‘posh’. She lived in a slightly nicer part of town and her dad had a reasonably well-paid job. In truth, they were just about middle class, and probably didn’t bring in a whole lot more than the average household income.

Now she lives in Tower Hamlets, one of the most glaringly unequal parts of the country, let alone London. It’s hugely deprived – 42% of its children are impoverished, the highest proportion anywhere in Britain, and its richest inhabitants live about 11 years longer than its poorest ones. But it’s just a few minutes east of the oligarch’s den itself, the City, and the gleaming phalluses of the bank buildings dominate the horizon. A relatively small number of super-rich residents pull the borough’s average income up to £58,000 a year – the second-highest in the country – and its proximity to the biggest financial hub outside Wall Street gives it an economy worth £68bn. Its house prices have gone up a mind-bending 43% since last year. Continue reading “London Isn’t Very Equal (Part Two) – To Tower Hamlets”