Friendship and politics

5 Feb

Most of my friends are liberals who do not share the political outlook I’ve come to, these past few years. Since I don’t choose friends on that basis, and nor in the main do they, this does not usually pose any great problem. My posts, even on matters as serious as Syria and Putin, are tacitly set to one side as we speak of other things over coffee, a walk or a pint.

But on two issues, Brexit and the defeat of Clinton, it’s been harder to agree to differ. I’ve lost friends; distant ones to be sure, but all counted with me and I felt the loss. A few of those taking exception, however, are dear to me. Happily, in each case the friendship held up, aided by a timely switch from writing’s narrow bandwidth to the more nuanced capacities and instant feedback loops of speech – also known as picking up the bloody phone.
The quandary the Left faces is twofold:  how to oppose Trumpians, and other neo-nationalist insurgencies, without serving the interests of neoliberalism; and how to oppose neoliberalism without serving the interests of the neo-nationalists.  CounterPunch, 30/1/17
Enter another person dear to me, Jackie. She is or was a Hillary admirer. (Its only because of her I actually read Hard Choices.) That admiration may have dimmed but she still stands with most of my friends in seeing Clinton as lesser evil. In my experience that view is always premised on deprioritising her deeds as Secretary of State, and/or on the belief Trump’s foreign policies will be worse. On the latter I take seriously the possibility he may  unleash even more carnage, and right now am wondering if we’ve swapped the prospect of war with Russia for one of war with China, but too many who offer this as a certainty strike me as overly confident on the point.

To cut to the chase, Jackie gave me an ear-bending last week. Truth is, she was a tad sharp. She may have thought so too because next day she brought me coffee with a chocolate. Why, she asked, didn’t I write down my fundamental premises so she could see where I was coming from with all of this? Chocolate or no, I thought the idea daft and said so. (Drawing, I hasten to add, on every last nuance afforded by spoken English and my deep wells of emotional intelligence.) HTF could I do that? Surely the onus was on her to acquaint herself with my writing and let me know where she disagreed or sought clarification?

But I too softened my stance. Was this not an opportunity, not only for enriching our state of domestic bliss but honing my own axioms and assumptions?

So here we go.

Situations arise on the world stage, filtered and packaged for us by corporate media. Those we do not simply ignore – itself an ideological act – we make sense of within belief frameworks whose ontologies lie beyond the scope of this post. (They also vary person to person, though less perhaps than we in the individualist west like to believe.) My analyses of world events and situations are shaped by and give focus to more general conclusions drawn as my blog content shifted, with no a-priori intent on my part, from film reviews .. through travel .. higher education casualisation .. higher education marketisation .. privatisation UK .. privatisation global .. to a reappraisal of what drives the west’s wars on Asia, Middle East, Africa and Latin America; and what informs its rising tensions with Russia and China.

It’s been a movement of emphasis rather than strict linear progression. I write few film reviews these days but do as much travel writing as ever. As a proportion of my (increased) total output, however, politics now dominate – witness the newly updated search-by-category menu (right sidebar). My understandings of such as Brexit, Corbyn, Putin, Syria, Ukraine and the 2016 US election are, again, informed by core conclusions reached or rediscovered in the course of that progression in my writing. These are that:

Capitalism, which freed humanity from slavery and feudalism, has long ceased to play any useful role in human development. Its benefits are in absolute if not relative terms solely to the narrow interests of a ruling class defined by its monopoly ownership of the means of wealth creation. This monopoly ownership ensures that wealth is produced only when and where profitable, not when and where needed.

Too few grasp capitalism’s most basic reality; an overriding imperative of chasing the highest return on capitals which must take priority over any other factor: peace, human welfare, social justice, democracy, rule of law and ultimately the ability of the planet to sustain human life. See Privatise the world! Monetise it all!

Capitalism reached the stage of imperialism (as distinct from colonialism) more than a century ago, as transnational companies and states in the North extract super-profits by way of an arms-length exploitation of abundant cheap labour – with wages held down by a mix of factors, not least fear and state coercion – in the global South. Boycotting Primark may help us feel good about ourselves but, since  the exploitation is an important source of tax revenues in the North, the issue is too generalised, too systemic and too entrenched to be affected by such gestures.

(I’m in a readers’ group studying John Smith’s invaluable though empirically dense work, Imperialism. Expect an essay-length post on the relevance of Marx’s labour theory of value to the cruel deception, encapsulated in the term ‘developing world’, that the global South can ever  ‘catch up’ with the North. It can’t, and the reason is painfully simple. The North is ahead of the South because it is cheating the South.)

Imperialism drives almost all modern conflict: either in the form of inter-imperial rivalry or of imperialism, usually America led, disciplining non-compliant imperialised nations.

The discourse on any given war, on climate change, on stupendous inequality, on the 2008 crisis and much more is framed by overarching narratives woven by the fourth estate: not just billionaire media, but also liberal organs like Guardian, Huffington Post and the BBC; these latter performing a vital role in spinning a pluralist chimera. On secondary issues like which party wins office, and important but tertiary issues like abortion or gay marriage, the centrist media will – in business-as-usual times that preclude the rise of a Corbyn or Trump – host vigorous debate. But on matters of existential import to Capital, debate narrows to questions of style and presentation or arcane geekspeak. None of the mainstream media would or – given their patterns of ownership and revenue streams – could  challenge in any real and sustained way the axiom, unstated and non negotiable, that the profit motive mediated by market forces is the best conceivable way to match wealth creation to human need. So the fact, for example, that the planet’s eight richest men own the same wealth as its poorest three and a half billion is to be deplored and alleviated by ‘overseas aid’, but may not be spoken of consistently  as the product of an inexorable systemic logic.

(The rise of social media, and of online access to alternative media sources – be these anti capitalist, conspiracist or simply presenting the viewpoints of demonised states – poses a challenge for corporate media and ruling class as a whole. It’s too early to tell how serious a challenge it will prove, and how that ruling class will respond, but for now there is no disputing that it does  pose a challenge, as seen in the current moral panic on ‘fake news’.)

The west is experiencing dislocation as a social contract premised on cold war with the USSR, postwar boom and Keynesian economics unravels. This has sharpened tensions between on the one hand a liberal elite of professionals part-shielded from the effects, including immigration, of neoliberalism; on the other, blue collar workers more exposed. These tensions came to the fore, albeit in ways flawed by narrow understandings on both sides of such trigger issues as race and gender, in two of last year’s key events: Brexit and the election of rightwing populist, Donald Trump.

(Narrow understanding of race and gender leaves socially conservative blue collar workers insufficiently aware of how inequalities on those fronts reinforce their own exploitation. It also leaves liberals, too often lacking the most elementary grasp of class, imperialism and even ‘foreign policy’, denouncing Trump’s racism and sexism while failing to see that the victims of America’s ceaseless violence overseas, and more generally the North’s super-exploitation of the global South, have been disproportionately brown and, only slightly less obviously, female.)

Alongside that conflict within the post-1991/post-2008 global North, we are seeing rising tensions between a USA on the wane but still by far the world’s most dangerous power, and an increasingly assertive China and Russia. See Perilous Days.

That pretty much covers it. If we disagree on Brexit or Trump – or on what they signify – you’ll likely find the underlying causes above. As far as I’m concerned we can still remain or become friends, for reasons given in my first paragraph, but now you at least know where I stand on two of 2016’s most toxic divides. You also know, in outline, what informs my still evolving views on Russia, Syria and Ukraine, and why they are so far removed from the conventional wisdom. Or as I see it, from ruling class narratives.

As for the dilemma posed in the CounterPunch extract, paragraph two above, I pick my faltering way through a moral and political maze of the kind times of polarisation always throw up. I’ve made clear in other posts my views on the muddled thinking – I don’t call it hypocrisy – driving liberal outpourings of grief and childish incandescence over Trump’s victory. But this isn’t a one-way street. I’ve also seen, in others’ writings and my own internal processes, a tendency to overreact; to defend the indefensible when a great deal about Donald Trump is precisely that.

My point of anchorage here, a principle I strive to keep in view, is that I’m not in the business of declaring Trump ‘better’ than Clinton. My argument is that neither offer any solution to, since both have only self-serving understandings of, the grave problems confronting the human race. They and the interests they represent have nothing to trade but further nightmares.




6 Replies to “Friendship and politics

  1. Where to begin? For sure we are where we are on many of these issues, not least of which is the two complex package of issues labelled as Brexit and Trump. The question is, where do we go from here?

    On the latter of those two there seems to exist, at least on the US side of the Atlantic, a narrative that attempts to place the responsibility for the election of Trump on the ‘left’, particularly within the Democratic Party, which as one writer this weekend on Counterpunch noted shifts ever rightwards with every defeat over recent decades. Such a narrative seems to inform what I would regard as a similar state of denial on this side of the Atlantic amongst those who psychologically attatched themselves to the Hillary Clinton candidacy, choosing to ignore both the head to head poll predictions and her record which pointed any rational analysis towards her unsuitability.

    This represents a key feature of consideration of the where we go from here question in that it was never the so called ‘left’ of the Democratic Party and their counterparts in the UK who were responsible for Trump. Instead it was too many self styled “progressives” who completely failed Chomsky 101 – if it’s wrong when others do something it’s also wrong when ‘we’ do it. An observation as true at the level of political parties as it is of nation states. Thus, too many self proclaimed progressives – many of them who have been hitting the streets since the day the result was announced – gave a free pass to Obama because he was a Democrat/one of ‘us’/ looked and acted cool etc over the record numbers of deadly drone strikes; numbers of whistleblowers prosecuted and even hounded to death; wars of choice which destroyed whole societies; and deportations of Latinos amongst a range of other issues which they would be screaming the house down if it were a Bush or a Trump doing the same.

    The time to hit the streets was at the Democratic Convention when the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Clintons had been caught red handed gerrymandering the nominee election and stealing votes from the only candidate the polls consistently found had a chance of preventing a Trump Presidency (with all that now entails). Instead, too many of the same people who hit the streets several months too late and who stayed silent over the issues listed above because it was a black Democratic President responsible, joined in an artificial induced chorus of ‘The Russians are Coming! The Russians are coming!” to distract attention from the real criminal voting and election hacking here in order to anoint a candidate who was hawkish on confronting Russia and whose inadequacies included the destruction of Libya and the introduction of a fascist regime onto the borders of a Russia that was invaded by fascists and Nazi’s only a few generations ago.

    Fact is that as a direct result of this failure and partisanship on the part of those who chose to give Hillary Clinton and the upper echolons of the DNC a free ride over this the effective choice back k in November was between two branches of Corporate fascism.

    If anyone should shoulder responsibility for Trump being where he is now it is this section of those joining in the current waves of street demonstrations and protests. This is important and significant simply because their previous record of behaviour, either passive or active, now acts as an albatross around opposition to what is happening and any actions to oppose it. Every time we hit the streets over one issue or another now and the coming period the previous silance and free passes will be used to discredit that opposition. A case not so much of shooting ourselves in the foot more blowing our own heads off.
    One example will suffice here:

    Unless those in this camp are prepared to accept their own culpability in getting us where we are now perhaps the best contribution they could make is to go through a period of both silence and abstinence to enable everyone else to have a better chance of clearing up the mess they have contributed to.

    On the first of those two issues, Brexit, two observations occur. The past seven months or so since the referendum have been a disappointment in terms of the promises those actively voting and supporting exit made to the rest of the population. Everyone was led to understand that ‘taking back control’ would provide an opportunity to improve all aspects of our society. An elected head of state and upper chamber; a written constitution rather than one in which self interested rentiers interpret as we go along for their own narrow advantage; a fit for purpose electoral system rather than the current establishment cartel; improved consumer and environmental protection and regulation; proper regulatory control of finance and the out of control City of London; a fit for purpose tax system which does not have payee and SME taxpayers subsidising the lack of contributions from monopolistic corporate interests and so on.

    Instead, for the majority of this group leaving the EU is all about a Hard Brexit. Forget about any of the above and more this outcome, which they would die in a ditch for, is about every dumb utterance which comes out of May’s mouth. From a low or zero tax tax haven and a TTIP style trade deal for US Corporations from big Pharma to the agricultural business cartels controlling the genetic production material through to free rein for a bonfire of workers, consumer and environmental protection. The consistent cry, echoing that of the Orange Order ‘WE are the people’ in NI and Scotland is ‘no surrender’, up to and including forcibly telling everyone in the population outside of their exclusive 17 million strong group who disagrees with them by a single iota on this malice in blunderland Brexit wish list to not only STFU but also to get out of “their country.”

    It surely cannot be too long before the scenes shown in the video clip on a Manchester bus here

    are repeated with the difference being not someone of another ethnic origin being the target but a white English working man or women who is opposed to this Hard Brexit package.

    Fact is, not all blue collar workers are so in lined. Most of us do have a functioning brain and themakority of those taking this position are just embarrassing windbag with no real clout when it comes to elections. Just consider the two council by elections on Thursday in Rotherham. In the context of the demographics of the grooming scandal in Rotherham in recent times and seven months of Brexit behind their sails UKIP lost a seat to Labour in Dinnington and saw their vote go down from around 29% in May 2016 to 12.9% in Brinsworth, with the Lib Dems taking the seat from Labour.

    The second observation is that regardless of the way in which too many blue collar communities have been treated by economic neo liberalism/globalisation and political neo conservative there is no excuse not only for the active behaviour demonstrated by the above clip on a Manchester bus but also the passive behaviour of those who let that kind of behaviour pass unchallenged. Which is where we came in with the Trump issue.

    Fact is that friendship is also about reliability, people being there for each other (as well as strangers). That operates collectively as well, as at the individual level.

    • You’ll not be surprised to hear I agree with most of this. I’d like to home in though on your last three paras. First, “not all blue collar workers are so in lined [aligned?].” Agreed. I was painting in broad brush strokes here, my main focus on poor grasp of racial and gender oppression as the monopoly of neither group. Second, “no excuse”. Also agreed. Third, “friendship is about reliability”. Ditto. I’m the last person to deny the solidarity forged in struggle. When it comes to interpersonal relations, though, and this is what I was addressing, I’ve found little correlation of political views with such universal virtues as generosity, loyalty and courage. I strive to leave room for the distinct possibility that the one person to leap into my burning home and drag me clear may also be a fascist. Shit, she might even shop at Primark!

    • It’s possible, Mister Stiggins, Pickwick Papers is a tad reductive – overly sweeping even – on this point. I speak as one who once joined a ‘spiritual’ cult whose leader reduced the human condition to three letters: E-G-O, not even an acronym. He failed, as for a time did I, to see that while pursuit of narrow self interest seems an ever present aspect of humanity, it is (a) tempered by other aspects – since, incapable of solo survival, we are social as well as individuated animals – and (b) no excuse for organising the fulfillment of our material needs by way of a system which promotes that aspect at the expense of all others.

  2. A wonderful read Philip. It’s both enlightening and encouraging to reflect on what you say regarding enriching your state of domestic bliss while honing your own axioms and assumptions. If only we could all feel the magic of “And oh that magic feeling…, nowhere to go”. Love to you and Jackie xx

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