Without Remedy and Regard

Political slogans, whether good, tasteful or not, have an ability to persist in the memory. The “Keep Calm and Carry On” slogan that was produced in 1939 on posters to motivate British people through the ensuing Second World War, has re-emerged in recent years as twee homeware, marketing slogans, parodied to no end. It’s souvenir level in taste but many say that this represents the British character (those that are into that kind of thing); for some the polite, repressed, reluctant nature that people associate with Britishness is tied up in that mantra – just keep calm and just keep moving forward. It may have been emblematic of its times then, but it’s also emblematic of the times now. Ironic and self-conscious, its popularity and resurgence probably comes on the back of recent years fashions of vintage, re-selling, regenerating.

Now in the wake of the EU referendum, one asks how this is possible, one asks if this is tjat kind of Britain any more. It’s impossible to keep calm because nobody has any idea of what is happening, or going to happen, and as a result, one can not simply keep plodding on in a familiar direction. Keeping calm and carrying on also relies on a feeling of togetherness, no matter the ideology, and when at war that’s happening domestically as well as internationally, you would feel that regardless of political persuasion, togetherness is the only way you can physically and psychologically survive a war.

Of course, Britain has comprehensively shown its divides, quite literally split in half, as 48% and 52% differed in their vote on the E.U. The young and the old are divided as the demographics showed similar vote percentages but in the opposite directions; the two major political parties are split between themselves; the United Kingdom is split as Scotland and Northern Ireland voted for remain, where England and Wales voted leave; and England is split between its liberal and professional metropolises and its towns and boroughs across the rest of the country.

And yet, this does not seem like a particularly divisive vote. Remain and leave are of course opposite terms and in terms of legislation, Britain in and out of the E.U are separate realities, but paradoxically, on the way to the polling station, it felt like that this was a vote between two different kinds of capitalism and inequality. It felt like a vote between a more obvious and fascist kind of capitalism, or the kind of capitalism that we’re familiar with in the form of neoliberalism. Post-referendum there was a wave of both obvious anger and cynicism, but an odder feeling of regret by those that voted leave, or considered voting leave, disbelieving that it had actually happened.

Social media allows us all to be experts (ahem), and whilst there are those that continue to propound their views, we have to honestly say that nobody really knows how the E.U operates both in relation to the UK and itself. You cannot help but feel that this is something that shouldn’t have been given to a vote, as Alistair Campbell suggested. For many of us, the E.U’s forty-eight years of existence means that it’s a mechanism that many people will not have lived without in their adult lives. There are many reasons to dislike its function, left and right. Whilst it claims to have been devised to bring together a continent ravaged by war and fascism, it was developed to accelerate those decimated economies. The introduction of the single currency has been disastrous. And so it replicates an emerging problem of sounding like a typically left, socialist sounding idea, a redistribution of wealth, and open borders, yet run by bureaucrats and bankers as a neoliberal project . This has been ramified when it has imposed austerity on countries like Greece.

Britain then could take back control of free movement, it’s economy and trade laws. Political Economist Will Davies has written about how that slogan is “a piece of political genius. It worked on every level between the macroeconomic and the psychoanalytic…to be a person without control is to be the butt of cruel jokes, to be potentially embarrassed in public. It potentially reduces one’s independence…it spoke directly to this feeling of inadequacy and embarrassment, then promised to eradicate it.” He also points to how this feeling of regret that some leave voters are now feeling is in part related to a feeling that this wasn’t a vote oriented to any kind of vision of the future. As he notes, Thatcher and Reagan came in to power promising a better future and one can still hear Tony Blair sauntering on to D:ream’s ‘Things can only get better’. But this apparent feeling of guilt and regret are feelings that instead operate in a conjecture between the present and the past, a persistent, almost spectral feeling of a past event creating a persisting, damning feeling of the present. It refuses to be comprehended and locate itself in a linear history, yet has an overwhelming feeling of causality. But guilt can also be irrational and demobilising, creating a reality that never actually happened, unlike when rationally and logically it preaches acceptance and teaches us some kind of lesson to right in the future. This referendum result cannot be amended despite the efforts of an online petition and we’re now living in a reality that doesn’t feel real and that we can’t retract. We can’t say we’ve learnt from it and we’ll never do it again. We can’t accept it. Where it might have promised a reality of leaving it all behind, it has instead done the opposite and created a guilty unreality.

We shouldn’t be, and I don’t think people are, surprised by the public retraction of many of leave’s proposals in the wake. It was only an hour so after the result that Farage said that the £350 billion saved by not being in the E.U wouldn’t necessarily go to the NHS; Daniel Hannan later said that immigration would not be stopped and there would still be E.U. nationals arriving in the country, and there was also the claim that Article 50 would not be invoked quickly and the process would be taken slowly and cautiously. Well, this already under threat as officials of other E.U. countries have stated that they want Britain to initiate its leaving sooner rather than later. And rightly so, the E.U is in a precarious position now, and after all, this isn’t Britain’s domain any more. You wouldn’t want the old tenants of a home you’ve just bought hanging around would you?

So what did the vote signify? I can admit to considering leave, believing that it may initiate the kind of political change that would inspire a left regeneration, but couldn’t do so knowing that it would be playing into the hands of the likes of Boris Johnson and Farage. There was no brigadier of the left advocating it, laying out a logical plan. Even though I would be considered one of the younger, University leaving, city-dwellers I despise that liberal, sanctimonious rhetoric. Davies says then that this a vote of self-sabotage. Indeed it almost seems a mocking of democracy, a rejection of a future; a meaningless vote and the apotheosis of what democracy promises to its citizens – an option to potentially be part of the construction of a country’s future governance.

In typical white, working-class heartlands, there were strong results for leave, and this is one of the saddest aspects of the referendum. Nobody can be blamed for voting leave, nobody can be blamed for voting for anything. There are irrational racists who will have voted both leave and remain, but this swing from a voice of the left, to become a vote for the right has been developing for a longer period of time than this referendum. It was concretely evident in the last general election when there were swings from Labour to UKIP in places like the North East. Who knows the definitive moment that people began to realise that they had been abandoned for a liberal project of globalisation, but they are not be blamed for voting the way they did.

We know the lies of politicians, and just because people may have less University degrees than you, it doesn’t mean that they don’t know that politicians lie, or are more susceptible to believing ideological rhetoric. That is the core problem of the liberal left; it still believes enlightenment can be achieved by removing the veil of ideology. So here is the feeling that the result, as Davies said, was one of self-harm, one of nihilism and hatred to all those from different backgrounds and positions (and of course, there are the typical votes from those on the right we would expect to vote leave).

I have been critical of Jeremy Corbyn; a half-arsed remain campaign (which appears now as a conceited leave campaign), half-arsed Prime Minister’s questions, and a half-arsed history teacher look. Corbyn’s resignation would be counter-intuitive. But despite the bids of no motion, public denunciations (he should be used to this by now), and the droves of resignations Corbyn’s speech on the following Saturday however sounded like the rhetoric a left so desired, and more importantly it avoided any kind of sanctimonious liberal assaults, and showed a genuine understanding of those that old heartlands that voted leave (and the Guardian, in typical liberal fashion seems to be reporting with glee both the chaos of the Conservatives and of a Corbyn led Labour). It has been the the only credible and measured talk that has left anybody’s lips, and yet they continue to revolt against him. The fact of the matter is that the majority of Labour members support him. The E.U referendum was based on lies and propaganda but the problem with Corbyn is that he appears to be surrounded by a delirium of unbreakable support, as if his position is fragile, there is no room for criticism and consequently progress. Despite preaching a brand of more honest politics then, and he may well be, Corbyn is a person impossible to infer. There’s been a year of ‘capitalism in its current form’ rhetoric and only now has their been anything which sounds progressive.

I sit here thinking about the pointlessness of words and rhetoric (after admittedly writing 2000 of them, the title of which comes from Macbeth). Many words that escape a politician’s mouth are empty and conceited. ‘Make Britain great again, take back control’. As with all political slogans, they are constructed for politicians and the voter to project their political and personal desires on to. One things for sure, the era of keeping calm and carrying on appears to be over. Nobody is taking control of anything at the moment, and maybe that slogan that was so genius, has been confounded, or unconsciously confounded by voters who don’t actually believe taking control is possible. Western liberal democracy has never looked in such a precarious position, and Fukuyama’s notion that we’re living in a post-ideological world has been replaced by a feeling that we’re living on the verge of a precipice, and that there is a different kind of history and many different potential futures possible. It’s a pregnant feeling after a mistaken union of opposites, like a regretful one-night stand, and nobody knows what the resulting form will look like, but it must be dealt with. It feels like an ironic action that has actually had a forceful and real recrimination. But through it, ironically, irony has been defeated, because it operates on a plane of knowing a reality, where now, nobody knows what is going to happen or happening. A second referendum is unlikely despite the efforts of an online petition (and a referendum isn’t binding. Scotland could veto it but i doubt they will). Both parties are now challenged by deep fissures, and although Labour may appear to be in turmoil, there is a chaos beginning to surround the ‘winning’ leave voters as they now must comprehend and reckon with their success, and the remaining Conservatives who were in remain. Maybe a snap-election would be the best thing to hope for with a left coalition going against whatever formed on the right,but continuing that feeling of disbelief, even the leave campaigners appear to be struggling to comprehend this new state that Britain finds itself in.

Even the wise old maxims seem redundant now. First as tragedy then as farce? It is the Conservatives that are enduring their tragedy, a martyred leader and a more stark than expected division, whereas Labour continue to play out the farce. Every rise of fascism bears witness to a failed revolution? They’re not clichés but wisdom has gone out of the window. But what can a cliché teach us? Cliché’s withhold some kind of truth and there is an old sporting one along the lines of ‘History in the making’. It actually seems at odds with a western, capitalist rhetoric, because it was Marx who after all said, that ‘History does nothing; it does not possess immense riches, it does not fight battles. It is men, real, living, who do all this.’ History is made and produced.

What is history, both personal and collective? Are we at the expense or the driving of its forces? On an individual level, in the anxious person’s mind when there is an overwhelming feeling of inescapable dread and fear, and past events continue to re-live themselves, it is impossible to keep calm. But it’s not impossible to carry on and a lot of the fear comes from the fact that it feels like an individual battle. And so, when a past event refuses to fit into our personal story, refusing to be repressed, alienating us from the self we believe that we know, eventually, not necessarily a lesson, but a meaningful history can be made of it. Only then will the future appear for the making.

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How They Make The News

On one day in September, this year, a seventh of the world’s population logged onto Facebook, which means that one billion people logged into Facebook on one solitary day. Where those have tried before (eg.Myspace), nobody knows what the formula is that has made Facebook connect with one billion people, not forgetting the rest that didn’t choose to go on the internet that day. Maybe Facebook entered the world at the right time, away from the juvenility of Myspace, the chaviness of Bebo, the middle-classness of twitter.

However, If you’ve logged out of Facebook from your device or computer, you’re greeted  by  the image of generic depersonalised male and female heads like you see on public toilet doors, situated around a picture of the flat-world, with dotted lines connecting them. It is here you realise that Facebook is the true global product. It hides behind its plainness and simplicity, where inevitably, ridiculous, complex computer systems developed by ridiculously intelligent Harvard students, who perhaps mirroring their site, and a potential pioneer of the technology-fetishisation culture (think: turtleneck), do not dress like the billionaires they are, and wear simple, unbranded garments.

It is something that has either helped or has actually has globalised the world, the final cog in the system.  There may be McDonald’s and Coca-Cola on offer in the remotest parts of the world now, but these are anybody’s McDonald’s, or anybody’s Coca-Cola can that has been dispensed on the ground after consumption. This is unlike Facebook, because if you leave Facebook behind in the meta-garbage of the internet, everybody knows that it is yours. Unlike other social networking sites, you have no choice over what you call yourself –  you are merely you. Or at least, you are a representative of the name you were given at birth, unless you eschew this and generate a weird pseudonym for yourself. But even if you were to do that, who would you end up ‘friending ’ anyway? Undoubtedly you would only be wanting to look at the people you know, or people who don’t want you to know who you are, so you can look into their lives for your own conceited purposes. Facebook has completely re-altered the way we think about our private and public selves, and the fact that it promises you with the possibility of looking at somebody else’s private-self it has one hell of a USP.

A modern, hard kernel of identity is a thing of the past coming out of the postmodern era, giving way to the notion that it is something that we’re continually constructing. Of course, Facebook does not allow us to peer into the deep and dark of somebody’s private life, but lets us believe we are. No, the fact we use our ‘real’ names doesn’t hide the fact that we’re not really being ourselves. We’re still trying to make people laugh and  cry. We’re still striving desperately to be liked. The old modern notion that if we take the mask off of somebody we can therefore reveal the truth is not so simple now. We’re wearing more masks than ever, endlessly constructing ourselves in endless situations, and sites like Facebook make this an even more complicated process. Perhaps coming on the back of the wave of reality T.V, where actors are playing ‘themselves’, where is the real of person in all this? We’re wearing masks in private now, so maybe as Žižek suggests, there is now more truth in the mask.

This kind of paradoxical falsity, where the private is not really the private, the social networking site is anti-social is like the global world that is not really global. We still have borders and boundaries, fences and patrols, and nobody is experiencing this lie right now, more than the Syrian refugees. As I write, they’re being tear-gassed and water-cannoned on the Hungarian border. All around Europe, countries and communities are proudly claiming that they welcome refugees. Here, in the United Kingdom however, it is as usual displaying its pandering centre-ground liberal tone of we will let some in but not all of them. Britain is apparently quite full and cannot afford any more nationalities or immigrants. Originally, David Cameron said that the UK would take in 3000 refugees; this is about the size of Framlingham, a tiny town in Sussex. And before you think that the United Kingdom is responsible for taking in more refugees and immigrants than anybody else in the past, think again. It is the developing countries as a whole, that hold the most refugees. Yes, developing, because migration, cheap, circulation of labour, is fundamental to the process of capitalism. And it is perhaps no surprise that two of the biggest economies in the world (America and Germany) are first and second in holding immigrants and refugees.

What the social media world allows you to do of course, is give an immediate opinion on this event. Or, what might be more appropriate, social media allows you to give an immediate reaction. The immigrant crisis is one of the many topics that could be used as an example of the point that is trying to be made here:  that the social media world highlights the contradictions that must be abided by in the globalised world. The image most synonymous with the crisis is that of the dead, three year old being carried away from the shores by officials.  It’s harrowing and defining and it will persist in the collective memory, in the way the protester in Tiananmen square does. There is moral outrage from the liberals saying that this is a result of the rich countries not helping, and the right claim absurdities like, that the majority of these migrants are men, cowardly abandoning their wives and their children, to carry on the jihadist war abroad .  Unfortunately, Katie Hopkins at the UKIP conference, who seemed to be on the cusp of making a pertinent point about the reproduction of the image in the media age (long after the liberals had jumped on her case), bypassed this with her usual, narcissistic, egotistical fame-seeking desperation. The image had served its purpose – it had shocked.  Yet can the left-liberals use it as a wholesale justification?  Surely this is as reactionary as the right claiming that it is sensationalised.

Now let’s remember the collective term for the likes of Facebook, Twitter, etc. Social – media. It is the media effectively created and dictated by its users. Twitter trends become the news.  And what this new form of media has is many thousands, millions of critics and voices with their apparently ‘real’ personas (in the case of Facebook) dictating their ‘real’ or perceived, genuine  voices.  And because we’re behind the veil of our real name, we think that we’re actually embodying our real self on there, yet the correlation between the thoughts and displays of thoughts on social media and the actual living, moving act are unlikely to be the same. The hardline anti-immigrationist Britain First sharing person on Facebook is very unlikely to proclaim these views in real, living life apart from with those they are very comfortable with. Like most people, they will be that liberal, polite, job-going or seeking, tolerant citizen of society.

And here is the paradox: slacktivism became a common term several years ago to describe those who vociferously expound their political views on social media, yet do not replicate this action in real life; yet hey are active, extremely active,  in the generating of the media and news by which others watch and contribute now.

Usually it is the people expounding the right-wing views that are leaped upon by the moral liberals. But it is not something just restricted to the right with its memes that try to justify in its bold type, anti-immigration and wars in the Middle East, at the sake of British troops. This is something that those on the left, or those who believe themselves to be on the left also revel in doing. Curiously, what you might observe is that, those before the election, who would try and situate themselves on the left, would display this by attacking those on the right. This I reasoned in a recent blog post, was because nobody knows what the left is anymore in the United Kingdom. Older voters have long abandoned the notion, for the security of their white collar jobs, and the young barely know what it means. Since then, something cataclysmic has happened in the face of politics, by the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn.  Now those who were leapfrogging from Labour, to the Greens, to other minority parties, now seem to have come back to the red-masted Labour party. You can even change your profile picture, so that it has a banner saying “I’ve voted Corbyn”, which is a curious thing to see considering there were many propounding not to be Labour voters before the election.

Politics is fickle and in doing so, we’ve learnt to be fickle with it. Corbyn’s credentials certainly appear to be left, and indeed it does point to a fissure in party politics that hasn’t been seen in decades. However what kind of left is it? In Baudrillard’s America (1986) he asked: “what situation will result from this progressive disenfranchisement (which is already taking a violent turn under a Reagan and Thatcher)?”  Now we know the answer to that – this world we live in now. “In Reagan, a system of values that was formerly effective turns into something ideal and imaginary”: on Facebook we believe we are endorsing, connecting, doing, when in fact we are doing the complete opposite. And this is not some kind of false consciousness, because we know we are not doing anything. Corbyn is left, but the sweeping tide of disillusioned liberal lefties that have heralded his uprising, have done so without any level of scrutiny by those on the left, because there is not a left, and only those wishing they knew how to be. Instead they have  seized upon the first opportunity that has presented itself. The left was a movement formed out of action, and the empowerment to mobilise the working classes; nobody is going to be able to do that sat behind a computer.

This isn’t one of those Franzen-esque, grumbling Luddite posts about the totalitarianism of the internet. And it is also not a statement that the internet will lead to nothing, because things have happened through the use of the far-reaching implications that the internet can offer. The internet appears to give you a voice, and it does, but only a very small one, and that voice is usually just the echo of somebody else’s (yes, just like this blog-post). Behind the veneer of the online radical lies an office worker, and in reading this blog, how do you know that I’m not sat at my desk-job now, when I should be selling insurance? The mask may be taken away to reveal another mask, that like the rest of them, claims to be the real you.

What happens to the Labour party in the run-up to the next election is now anybody’s guess. There is a light sneaking through the cracks suggesting that the centre-liberal politics that has dominated in recent times, is being broken apart. I don’t think Corbyn is the man (also, anybody who is behind Corbyn owes an unacknowledged debt to Ed Milliband), because Labour isn’t necessarily the party to revive the left anymore, and looks a more Harold Wilson/Tony Benn left. What it requires, is a reformulation of the left as the likes of Žižek continually suggest, and how Fredric Jameson does here, coming out of this neoliberal age: “No future is conceivable however, from which the deeper ideological commitment to politics – that is to say, left politics – is absent…and even a fully postmodernised First World society will not lack young people whose temperament and values are genuinely left ones and embrace visions of radical social change repressed by the norms of a business society” (taken from, Late Marxism… 1990).

To exemplify the liberal – centre position, and how the reactionary, populist media is not just restricted to those on the right, just look how the liberal-lefties, usually ready to pounce on the moral high-ground, took great pleasure in the David Cameron and the Pig scandal; something that has no bearing on the political debate whatsoever, regardless of whether it actually happened or not. Gutter press for one is gutter press for all (and they clearly did not realise that by endorsing the story they were endorsing Lord Ashcroft, a major donor to the Tory Party, so rather than weaken the Tories, in the long-run it would probably have strengthened them).

Žižek, uses the example of Horkheimer’s dictum, and as I’ve used in past, should perhaps follow the reasoning that, those who don’t want to talk critically about being on the liberal-left, should also keep quiet about those on the right. “Then they came for me…” begins the eponymous last line of Martin Niemöller’s famous poem, but now, there’s nobody left to speak for me, because I’m not on Facebook.