Tuesday, 2 March 2010
One Generation of Tlonists1: As the World Falls Down
(Hopefully part of a series on my generation trapped in a philosophical cul de sac)
I: We could be Heroes
Ours is a hero generation, at least according to Laurie Penny. We are similar to our grandparents apparently. OK, we haven’t had dogfights with Stuka divebombers or ME109s or gone mano a mano with the Waffen SS, but more of us are becoming young conservatives. Conservative Future, according to Penny 'appear to believe in equality'.
Whilst I cannot really share Laurie Penny’s ability to bask in the glory of the swelling membership of this group, I do share her view that ours is a generation that faces a lot of problems and is perhaps notable for lacking an intellectual mooring. Also quite liked the Bowiesque conclusion:
'My generation's ambitions, like our pop stars, are ambitious, bland and bourgeois. But with the world falling down around our ears, can anyone blame us?'
II: Plastic boots and Plastic Hats and you think you know where it’s at
Ms Penny’s pride in our generation for supporting the Tories is swelled even more because a friend gave up on being a priestess of the church of England and decided to become a climate change protestor. Presumably becoming one of those insufferable self-righteous spoilt brats who go around annoying people rather than engaging in intelligent debate about reducing carbon.
Speaking of environmentalism brings me onto a considerably more trenchant and intelligent thinker than Penny, Anatoly Karlin, who thinks that the way ahead should be even more radical.
III: The sleep of reason produces monsters (which many find more interesting)
Anatoly is an advocate of Green Communism, wants to create a collapse party, and thinks that we should adopt a combination of grass-roots activism and a system of government: 'in which promotion and honors are to be based on the judgments of peers on one's competence and commitment to the cause'.
Very commendable and best of luck. But whilst I support a lot of his ideas, I’m quite certain they will fail to gain support as long as we delude ourselves that 'rationality' itself is something that wins popularity. Please, read Anatoly's thoughts for yourselves but I will give reasons why I am sceptical of how successful such a movement would be.
We only need look at one of Anatoly’s central justifications for the system: Anthropogenic Global Warming. However, the Anthropogenic Global Warming view is collapsing in the population because (frankly) they don’t have the most interesting story. The counter-story: that there is an evil and patronising cabal of science-priests who are using ‘global warming’ to control the economy and possibly tax air is the more interesting story. It can even make some people feel good about being ignorant.
The pro-AGW groups will protest that 90% of peer reviewed research supports the view that AGW is real and it’s ridiculous to think that scientists would conspire against petroleum groups.
But that’s politically irrelevant frankly. If faced with the dilemma of the most rational or most interesting narrative, people will go for the second. Especially if it means that they get to play at being tough dissidents against the forces of conformity. And this especially if they personify the forces of conformity. Call it the SUV paradox: SUVs are astoundingly ugly and expensive vehicles that people only buy to keep up with the Joneses. But due to the AGW theory, many Americans and Brits like to think they are showing Promethean defiance and individuality by owning one.
IV: What is to be Done?
Depends on whom you ask. I suppose for Ms Penny it means being increasingly shrill and self-righteous. According to Anatoly we need to reclaim ‘old left’ traditions of strong rationality (albeit more culturally liberal and more economically conservative). As a long time supporter of lefty causes (though who generally hates British left wing culture and papers), I'm afraid I think that rationality is a cul de sac.
I suspect that the left has lost many democratic arguments because the right has been a lot more cunning about exploiting gullibility and idiocy. Just look at how the Christian coalition were faced with the choice of 1) Accepting that they were astoundingly stupid for putting their trust in Hal Lindsey (who ‘prophesised’ that the USSR would bring about Armageddon) or 2) Deciding they were wise for listening to Hal (despite his little booboo, as it were) and that Iraq was the new enemy mentioned in Bible prophecy.
Some Western leftists might whinge that were right all along about the Iraqis not especially wanting to be bombed and the potential of Bush/Cheney to act as nation builders. They are right, but they are missing the point that no-one listened to them the first time so why do they think anyone will in future?
Look at how they failed to mine the rich seam of stupidity and gullibility in the militia movements? Surely they could have asked if Abu Ghraib was a blueprint for Big Government plans in Wisconsin? Surely they could have used the 'thin edge of the wedge' argument so favoured by conservatives to block healthcare to say that Washington would start by bombing Baghdad and then Boulder and Baton Rouge?
Maybe they could have pointed out that the Cheney/Bush junta bore an uncanny resemblance to the Corporate Fascism in Total Recall? But no, the new ethical issues only gave mainstream liberal-leftists new excuses for stabbing each other in the back ('I don't support Bush, but my friend X should not imply moral equivalence...') and pointing quaking J’accuse fingers at leftists with guts like Gore Vidal, George Galloway, Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky.
In truth, if people have rational plans they will have to dress them up in interesting clothes. Politics is a blend of the rational and romantic. This may not be a pleasant truism to all. But it is one we have to acknowledge if we are to achieve anything.
However, I think that concepts of left and right/ environmentalist and AGW-sceptic are like most 20th Century ideas, just like an ourboros biting its tail. The problem with most ideals of the modern era is that they are reactions to specific problems and when a counter-theory is proposed then they stagnate intellectually whilst getting increasingly savage. We only need look at what left and right have become in Britain: how savage the Tories and New Labour are towards each other, when their differences are so insignificant.
V: I Got Another Idea
I named this series ‘Generation of Tlonists’ as a quote from Jorge Louis Borges. This story is about a plan to reform the world drastically by firstly inventing a more beautiful world and then gently incorporating this world into our own. All the sciences and humanities are re-invented. My own view is that only a change of this magnitude can stop our society from stagnating and collapsing. Only this could really bring about a system ruled by any kind of rationality.
In the epilogue Borges mentions Nazism and Bolshevism to demonstrate how people have a craving for a system that has order and symmetry, though implies that these have both been overtaken by Tlonism.
This only seems natural: Fascism and Communism were both reactions to industrialisation and the erosion of feudalism. That they both claimed millions of lives is not to deny that philosophically they were fairly minor variations on Western industrial societies. This in itself may be why they are monstrous.
It seems to me that Liberal Democracy has been eating itself both intellectually and spiritually. Whilst we do not have a totalitarian system banning/ burning books, it seems that our heritage could be lost through ignorance rather than through totalitarianism.
Unfortunately the drivel produced by the 19th Century, about the awful and shallow rich, continues to be published and read, whilst the real intellectual golden age of Ancient Athens has been forgotten. The ethical and aesthetic standard of the Ancient Greeks reflects our age of spin-doctors and X-factor very badly. Which is especially bad news for a nation sustained on the myth of progress.
Ancient Greece would be a good model for a Tlonist takeover of the modern age. But this will have to be the end of my first post.
Everything I've written was bullshit by the way. But my very point is that we need to speak bullshit to redefine rationality. We must free ourselves from the delusion that rationality will win without the crutch of dreams.