The Thursday after Donald “The J is for Genius” Trump was elected, I found myself desperately in need of real ale.
There I stood, ordering a pint of “Anarchy” when Rachael, the excellent human being serving said pint of delicious ale, remarked that I was really rather enjoying emphasising the word “Anarchy”.
“I’d like a pint of delicious Anarchy”, I said. “It’s something we’re all going to need a drop more of from now on”, I muttered to myself as Rachael retrieved a flagon of it from the magical booze-dispensing aparatus.
Of course when I say “Anarchy”, I expect many of you will instantly envision a “Mad Max” style free-for-all world where anything goes. This is not the case. “Anarchy” simply means “free from hierarchical structure”, there’s actually no chaos or lawlessness implicit in its etymology. Furthermore, thanks to unchecked free-market capitalism we appear to already be living in a state of perpetual chaos. Something certainly needs to change. I think whoever you are and whichever way you voted when it comes to Trump or Brexit, we at least have that in common.
What I’ve observed over the last few years and in 2016 in particular are two interrelated phenomena:
Firstly, there seems to be an effort by establishment forces to, funnily enough, establish/maintain some form of stability. By seeking this over progressive change they of course achieve the opposite of stability.
Secondly, citizens seem to have become polarised such that they either broadly align with a predominantly right-wing led agenda for change or cling on to a centrist/left-wing led “keep everything the same and hope that things somehow get better”.
The brilliance of the former is that not only does it defeat the latter based on its ability to offer an alternative narrative where the left offers none, but it also speaks to the emotional side of the human. Something the left often seems to entirely forget about.
Looking at the first of these phenomena we can liken it to trying to place a pontoon into a harbour in an attempt to quell the waves. It might work at first. It will resist the motion of the water and offer something for people to lash their boats to. However, when the storm gets too great you don’t want your boat lashed to anything or it will be dashed to bits. That is my crap metaphorical attempt at explaining how establishment forces such as media, traditional political parties and liberal commentators have tried to deal with the changes that are happening and sadly the boats in that harbour are the last vestages of Western Democracy as we know it.
Regarding the second of these phenomena, I think people are voting for a specific type of change. They’re hankering after a sort of imagined past. A hailing to a time that never really existed. Take the Trump slogan for example “Make America Great Again”. The key word here is “Again”. There are certainly people more qualified than I to make sweeping statements about an entire nation’s history but fuck it, the elephant in the room:
America never was that great. There, I said it, I feel better. America never was that great. At least not after white people started showing up. That whole peaceful tribal period before was pretty cool and there are positive arguments for the (ironically anarchic) period known as the “pre-revolutionary utopia” but it all started going pear shaped when the tribes were killed off, when the buffalo were slain and slaves were shipped there to build a way of luxury and ease for their masters. They wouldn’t have had to make up an “American Dream” if the waking reality was really worth the hype.
I’m not completely slating America here, I think it’s originated some of the greatest music, film and technological advances the world has ever known but it’s important to understand that the societal structure has largely served the upper echelons for years and that in recent years this wealth and power distortion has become more profound than in any other nation on earth.
Britain’s “Brexit” campaign used slogans like “We want our country back”, and “Take back control”. The key word this time is “Back”. The idea is a harkening back to an imagined past when living standards where higher, citizens (or, more properly in a monarchy led democracy, “Subjects”) had a say in things and, frankly, there weren’t so many pesky foreigners here.
I’m not being naive about immigration. It’s true to say that there has been vast immigration to this country but the idea that the same ruling elite who demonize and dehumanise these people based on their faith or place of birth somehow gives more of a damn about “native” Britishers is a very naive position to take. Furthermore, free movement of labour is a fundamental condition for free-market capitalism. Put simply, you won’t stop migration unless you alter the economic system driving it. Departure from a treatise is not enough. Just look at Modi’s recent comments during May’s tour there.
Nations never teach credible, self-critical histories. It just doesn’t serve those in power to do so. Why make people wise to the tricks of the past when you might very well have to crack the same whips in the future.
It’s no surprise then that many Brits, including some whom I count as close friends, felt justified in making statements like “We can just get our empire back”.
Apart from the non-viability of maintaining longterm dominion over large parts of the globe, the idea that “empire” is something to be yearned for shows a basic misunderstanding of what it meant. Yes it enriched this nation beyond belief and reason but even at its height, empire failed to significantly improve the living standards of the ordinary Brit. Trade with other self-determined states has done far more for us in this regard.
The other significant point to make about empire is that it is precisely that kind of obscene wealth distortion that causes migration in the first place. If we’d left more of the wealth where it was then fewer people would migrate in search of it and all nations would prosper more through the benefits of commerce.
Moving on from historical musings, let’s get back to the theme that connects the Trump and Brexit votes. Key words, “Again” and “Back”. You know who else are chasing after a cleansed, imagined past where everything was supposedly glorious? ISIS. And what a bunch of pricks they’ve turned out to be.
Call me crazy here but am I the only one who’s actually more interested in where we’re going?!
It seems that we’re only interested in change if it feels familiar. Then is it really change at all?
Let’s look at some underlying realities of our world that are rarely discussed in the media and certainly never make it as far as the politcal sphere or pro-wrestling style debates.
1) An infinite growth economy on a planet with finite resources is a lie. Think about that statement. Try to refute it… OK, that didn’t work… Try again…. OK, that didn’t work either. You know what else doesn’t work? A fractional reserve fiat currency banking system that demands continual economic growth from a planet with the same basic stuff. We’re currently using about 160% of Earth’s annual resources every year and our banking system still isn’t satisfied. If that seems abstract to you, just think about the number of times your employer has told you about a growth target that they have in mind. The reason for this is that there is no such thing as “enough” production as far as the current form of capitalism is concerned. By the way, critisising capitalism is completely OK. It doesn’t make you communist. Doesn’t even make you bi-communist. Just means you’re open minded.
2) Automation is going to make about 47% of jobs extinct/obsolete according to this study now Donald Trump could be the world’s best businessman and smartest economist but neither he nor a single other member of the political oligarchy will be able to add real job numbers in an environment such as that. Besides this, machines and computers are supposed to do our jobs and free us from the drudgery of labour such that we might evolve. There’s no earthly good in automating all the boring crap we have to do if we’re going to go around making up more stupid tasks for ourselves… “Let’s build a wall”…No Donald, let’s shut the fuck up and face the facts of automation.
3) The spiritual vacuum of the West.
OK, admit it. That made you uncomfortable. You either felt defiant or affronted or a little bit exposed. Common reactions:
A) “I go to church. All right not that often since that awkward business with the paedo priest but I have faith”
B) “I don’t have a proclaimed religion but I feel myself to be a spiritual person”
C) “I go to *insert place of worship here* all the time. Maybe if more people had the faith I did, things would be different.”
If your reaction was A, or similar, we need to talk. You’ll be putting up a tree soon. You don’t know why. It’s tradition. It’s a nice thing to do at this time of year. You like the smell of pine. Everyone loves presents. It’s the season of good will to all men. Apart from the offseason when you have to stand on each other’s heads to earn the money to pay for the tree and the presents.
Don’t despair though, there is a fire within you that has been burning since the dawn of time. You just need to find it again. Clue: it’s not in your shopping bag.
If your reaction was B, you’re probably going along with much of what A is doing for the purpose of keeping up appearances/tradition. Perhaps you struggle to imagine another way to do things. That’s OK. There’s a fire burning within you. It’s been burning since the dawn of time. Find it.
Ye of faith, who chose C. Sorry, everyone’s reading this hoping that I’ll serve you with some truth. Truth is that if your fire is genuinely ignited by faith that’s bloody fantastic – look at Muhammad Ali, look at Ghandi, look at Malcolm X. The greats of all time. Emulate their behaviour and you won’t go far wrong.
There is of course, always, the fundamentalist. The one who is so sure in their faith and so passionate that they seek to impose it upon/inspire it within everyone else. To you I say this, (from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy the movie), “I know [he] can be beaten because he’s a fanatic. And the fanatic is always concealing a hidden doubt.”
Yes that’s right. If you’re a fanatic, you really have no faith at all. And if you have no faith at all, I refer you to A and B.
Now… back to looking forward…
Some drastic changes are needed if we take these three statements to be even broadly true (there’s plenty of evidence in support of them, some links I have included but for more on point 3 I suggest you look back at the history of human philosophy and literature and keep reading until you get where I’m coming from.)
Now changes… ch-ch-ch-changes…
You’ve leaned forwards… you’re expecting things.
No I don’t have all the answers. I’m not Donald Trump for one thing.
I do have a small set of recommendations for a better tomorrow though and would like these to be a starting point for other, more learned and reverent souls to chip in with their suggestions… letters to the usual address @LaurenceAvent on Twitter…
1) We abandon celebrity culture and the obsession of ego.We’re closer than we think on this one. When Kim K’s butt breaks the internet we can only surely be a matter of years away from a collective “fuck this” where we realise that we’re all ensouled, beautiful human beings and that we can learn a great deal from the wonder of shared experience.
My favourite poet Anthony Anaxagorou is beginning a podcast in 2017 aimed at inviting artists and non-artists both known and relatively unknown to contribute to discussions both in their fields of specialism and beyond. This is fantastically important work and we need more of this kind of thing to help us appreciate that genius is within each of us if we only seek it.
2) We work on ways to defeat the dominant global power structure.
Sounds easy eh? It’s harder since mass surveillance became an accepted norm. It’s harder since extra-judicial killings and torture have gone unchallenged in the hands of Obama because, let’s face it, he’s cooler than most of us (see previous point on dissolution of ego). But it’s not impossible. Firstly the underlying realities of this world that I mentioned earlier mean that the dominance of that power structure is fading. Sadly dying stars burn brightest so we’ll have a fight on our hands thanks to the recent consolidations of power that have gone on. We do have numbers on our side though. We also have mathematics on our side in another way. Encryption. I realise I’m writing this on a WordPress account and you’re hardly going to marvel at my technical prowess. However, it’s not beyond any of us with a laptop to install and configure Tor. Neither is it beyond the reach of most smartphone users to install Signal and Whatsapp. Beyond this there are innumerable clever and interesting ways to safeguard communications. In a world where journalists and peace activists are targeted there is no such thing as “nothing to hide”, I’m a non-violent person but even I found the word “Bomb” in a historical search of my Facebook conversations (I was referencing a knowledge bomb like the classy nerd I am). My point is that it’s all in the way that they frame it so it’s best to use proper encryption. Better “nothing to surveil” than “nothing to hide”.
3) We build a sustainable world economic model that caters for our needs whether physical, intellectual or spiritual. Another easy sounding one. Sorry, I know we were supposed to give up being advocates for peace some time in the late 90’s but some of us didn’t, OK?
Think about it, peace barely gets a serious mention these days. Why? Because our current economic model demands arms sales. Most of us instinctively think of Obama as being a relatively liberal president (whether you define that as good or bad is entirely up to you) but under him and Hillary Clinton the sales of arms to Saudi Arabia doubled compared to that of the errr less liberal Bush administration. No wonder people didn’t want more of the same when it’s put that way.
Carl Sagan put it beautifully: “An organism at war with itself is doomed.”
4) We stop deluding ourselves that the “lesser of two evils” is somehow a legitimate alternative. Wikileaks have shown us that the DNC fixed the Democrat primaries in favour of Clinton over Sanders. This is a classic example of the aforementioned “stability” move by establishment backfiring awkardly. They wanted a continuation of what Obama had presided over and this again boils down to an unwillingness to confront an uncertain future. I say it’s better that we do confront it and we do so together.
5) We need to stop censoring each other on account of someone being “offended”. You’ll very rarely hear me agree with Milo just as you’ll very rarely hear me impersonate other poisonous snakes and reptiles but he has tapped into an undercurrent that’s very real. There are too many people who have been made to feel inferior for the views they hold. Although offence should never be the goal, we should allow each other more leeway. Stanley Cohen, the brilliant human rights lawyer gave a speech in which he said,
“There is no such thing as protected speech, there is no such thing as hate speech, there is no such thing as suppressed speech. Speech is speech. You let it come out, you let people make their decisions, if they don’t fuckin’ like it, they can turn off Fox, they can turn off CBS, they can shut down and stop listening to Cohen, and walk out the door; it’s speech.”
Freedom of speech, therefore, needs to be much more absolute if we are to truly reap the rewards of a free and open society. The nutters will be exposed as nutters by their own words and the intelligent, gifted orators will shine through. A great example of this in action is the British Nationalist Party. For ages they were barred from appearing on BBC debates and their membership and status steadily swelled. The moment Nick “I’m only eating curry ironically” Griffin appeared on Question time and opened his mouth the BNP all but collapsed. You don’t beat ignorance by ignoring it. You beat it by affording it the opportunity to fail on its own merits. As much as I support diversity, equality and feminism, if we’re honest with ourselves we find that the left have an appalling track record when it comes to trying to censor their opponents. An open, honest and fair debate is actually much more powerful than one in which your opponent is restricted in their range of attacks. Have more faith in your own argument.
6) Realise that playing the “Left-Right game” in which you allow yourself to be defined by a political spectrum that has never served your interests…guess what?… Doesn’t serve your interests! Not only does it create a dangerous polarisation and division of society (does the phrase “divide and conquer” ring any bells?) but it also drags sensible people in both camps away from sensible moral positions in the name of political persuasion. Reasonable right-wingers end up aligning themselves politically with racists and left-wingers end up denying the existence of human nature and the benefits of competition in the name of an imaginary “fairness” from which they invariably find a way of exempting themselves.
7) Build an education system that educates.
I know it sounds crazy but hear me out here…
The word “educate” comes from the Latin root “educe” meaning to lead out or draw out what is within. We need an educational approach that helps people understand what they already know. One that actually uses our knowledge of neuroscience, in particular neuroplasticity. One that doesn’t tell children “you’re just hard wired that way” but acknowledges that we’re all soft wired and every part of our brains can be altered to become better at the things we practice. We need a system that creates genuinely free-thinking, critical, empathic and awakened citizens. If we had that, do you really think we would end up having a ridiculous choice to make like Trump vs Clinton?
8) It’s crap that I have to bring this up but I do… Race. No such fucking thing. Scientists have shown that there is statistically greater genetic variation between individual humans than there is between any supposed racial or ethnic group. That’s it. End of discussion. Quelle-surprise we’re all the same.
9) With 8 in mind, the last point I guess I want to make is that we have to learn to display love to all the humans. Now I’m sure you think I’m about to be preachy and moralistic about this. Perhaps I am. What I want to say is that I recently had a discussion on a train with a middle class, middle aged Guardian reader from middle England who was utterly mortified at the election of Trump. She was worried about the next generation, she was worried about the implications for minorities, think “Won’t somebody pleeease think of the children?!” woman from The Simpsons…
Anyway, on three occasions during our journey, we were interrupted from our thoughts, discussions or crosswords by a man who smelled of stale alcohol.
The first time he bundled past somewhat unsteadily. She turned up her nose. No shame in that. The smell wasn’t pleasant.
The second time he stopped and engaged her friend in conversation and spoke with her frankly about the fact that he wanted alcohol. He was breaking down as he explained he was on his way to rehab and he was desperate for a drink. Rightly, no change was offered and he moved on. The woman entered into a brief discussion as to the merits of doing anything and whether or not he was genuine and returned to her crossword, shrugging as she did so, and remarking, “Oh well, I suppose it’s nice to have some entertainment.”
Entertainment? Are you fucking serious? That’s someone’s life you ignorant ****.
The man came past a third time, stopped and apologised for his earlier outburst and said that he was quite embarrassed before moving on. Again, the “entertainment” comment.
I got up to go to the buffet car the next time he passed and bore first hand witness to this man breaking down. He was begging, pleading with me and with the lady serving sandwiches. We explained calmly that we could not give him booze and we empathised with him. I introduced myself. His name I’ll abbreviate here to “J”, he was on his way to rehab in Somerset and was utterly beside himself. He called his wife and I briefly spoke with her, reassuring her that we would not give him booze and that he would make it to rehab. Eventually J became less agitated. He accepted that he would not be served and that we had his best interests, not judgement at heart.
The woman who had referred to him as “entertainment” was the same who had “coo-ed” at a baby as it was brought past. Sorry, but you don’t get to “coo” at babies until you can treat all the people with love. Bill Hicks made this point in his standup shows “Love the people that are already here!” He remarked. Perhaps that’s all we have to do. The rest will come.
Anyway, it’s passed midnight, I’m over 3500 words now so I reckon I’ll conclude my vision of the future here for now.
I’d love to hear from anyone who made it to the end of this if only to know what sort of brilliantly disciplined/troubled soul could do such a thing.
I wish you all a very good night and a very hearty swig from the fountain of delicious Anarchy.