An older favourite
Monthly Archives: March 2011
There were lots of alternatives on offer on last Saturday’s March for the Alternative. Alternatives to marching. Alternatives to peaceful protest. Alternatives to non-political policing. Alternatives takes on what the other protesters were up to. Alternative tales of how your day went. And ‘alternative’ versions of the the truth in the media the next day. Protesters have had a go at each other and there have been some honourable attempts to bring them back together again (Solidarity Forever).
Unfortunately the one thing the March for the Alternative didn’t deliver was the one thing it claimed to deliver: an alternative future for those marching. The reason for that can be summed up in the fact that it had Ed Miliband at the end of it. Anything that finishes at Ed Miliband has got to be flawed. Not because Ed Miliband is any better or worse than any other leader of recent years, but because Ed Miliband is no better or worse than leaders of recent years.
And the only argument the TUC and anyone else ever has is: They’re better than the Tories. And so we get Ed Miliband at the end of a ‘March for the Alternative’.
Now it’s true that people protested and marched for lots of different reasons on Saturday, but I’m pretty that they all agreed on one thing: when David Cameron said there was no alternative to the cuts, they wanted to scream at their television that he was lying. The first, most basic, most necessary response to There Is No Alternative (TINA) has always got to be: Fuck Tina. Just because your imagination has failed, doesn’t mean mine has. Fuck Tina. We can and we will find alternatives, because we have to, and because we’re pretty sure you’re lying about them not being out there. Fuck Tina.
(As an aside, I once had the passing thought to set up a website called fucktina.com on this very subject, but upon investigating found – unsurprisingly really – that the name is being squatted by someone waiting to make a quick buck from porn providers. Another cunning plan bites the dust.)
So if that’ s why people marched – with the conviction there are alternatives – what was a man deeply complicit in the Blair/Brown regime doing at the end of the march? Not fucking Tina, that’s for sure. Ed Miliband has never fucked Tina. Ed Miliband will never fuck Tina. Ed Miliband is incapable of fucking Tina. But the problem is much worse than that. No one in the Labour party, destroyed by the right wing economic coup that brought Blair to power, will ever fuck Tina. But it’s worse than that even. No party, in our current political system, will ever fuck Tina. It is set up so that those who succeed must fully commit themselves to an undemocratic institution – Parliament. This institution is not made democratic by a vote every few years, whatever we’ve been told. Parliament is a place for powerful people to gather and decide our future. Most of those powerful people are not elected, and the ones who are got there by lying. That sounds extreme but if you think about it for a moment you’ll realise it is a simple statement of fact.
It is my opinion that the only way we can fight for a real alternative in this country is to fight for radical institutional change within the governmental and economic structures that currently manage our lives. This is a very definite and specific thing to ask for: neither revolution, nor policy changes, but changes to the structures themselves. Changes that would let us inside the walls, that would recognise that we can trust ourselves to make the decisions that our leaders currently make. Changes that would recognise the unsustainability of closed institutions like Parliament in a world where information flows more freely, and people are better networked than ever before. Changes that would keep politicians on a much, much shorter leash.
But the first step is to lose the idea that we must choose one party or the other. We must stop acting as though this way of doing things was created by God at the beginning of the Universe. It wasn’t. It’s very recent. It’s not working. We need to stop believing that choosing a party slightly less bad than the other party is an okay way to run a country, that this system is worthy of our hopes and aspirations and skills and knowledge. The Labour party is not the problem in the system, the problem is that we allow professional power-mongers to make our decisions for us in the belief that they know better. They really don’t. On that topic, and just in case you’ve forgotten what Labour is all about. Here’s a reminder of what they’ve done recently:
- Undermined the welfare state
- Prepared the NHS for privatisations
- Started a war of aggression in a country not threatening us
- Been bought by the bankers, had lots of nice dinners with them, and so helped precipitate the financial crisis
- Introduced university tuition fees
- Increased the gap between rich and poor
- Reduced social mobility
- Infected the public sector with a plague of targets and other business-worshipping methods
- Passed a veritable barrage of authoritarian measures
- Sold schools to rich people
- Contributed to anti-immigrant and anti-muslim feeling
- Expressed no doubts about their former leader becoming a millionaire off contacts made during his ‘public service’
- Allowed James Purnell to continue existing
People marched last Saturday for good and honourable reasons and they marched in large numbers. They marched against an essentially undemocratic government that does not care about them and has a deeply-held belief that Money Is Right. Ed Miliband is not offering an alternative, and is certainly not offering institutional reform. He couldn’t if he wanted to. People are often convinced that you can change institutions from the inside. But if the change you want is to give away power, you simply can’t. No institution does that willingly. It doesn’t allow people who would give away power anywhere near the reigns in the first place. That means if we want it, we have to unite and take it. If I’m right, and institutional reform is the way forward, then we all have to fuck Tina together.
I’ve never had group sex before, but they say you should try everything once.
There is an old radical slogan with many variants, along the lines of: ‘The people screwing you over have names and addresses’. It is, I assume, meant to be an implied threat as much as a statement of fact, but I’ve never been sure about its worth. Yes, there are particular people who play a key role in the system that is screwing us over. But I suspect they are infinitely replaceable, and it is the structure of the institutions that I see as the problem.
But despite all that, sometimes you can’t help looking at particular people and thinking: ‘The world really would be better off if you personally had less power and influence’.
David Roland is the top funder of the Conservative party. He set up a hedge fund called Blackfish Capital, which has offices at 5 Saville Row. Apart from being a Tory, and a thief, and probably corrupt, as well as being among the people who lobbied for financial deregulation, he’s an all-round good egg: Guardian profile of David Rowland
So some of us thought we should drop in on him and Blackfish yesterday, since we were in the vicinity anyway. Sadly the offices were closed, even to David Rowland himself:
But there was still a bit of a party, with David Rowland bringing along lots of friends:
I bet David Rowland lobbies for hedge funds even on his days off.
Does it help to focus on individuals within the system who have personal bastard-like qualities? I don’t know, but it can be fun. It can also help underline what kind of world we are fighting against: David Rowland’s world.
Okay, so there is no criteria for success or failure for the Doing Stuff for the Alternative on 26th March. Except for the TUC who presumably want a Labour government. For everyone else, whatever happens on the day itself, I know what’s going to happen on the 28th. Exactly the same thing that happened every other Monday. The 26th will change nothing. It won’t be the revolution. It means nothing in itself, no matter how many people turn out or how many buildings get trashed.
So what’s it good for? I think it’s good for helping solve a bit of a problem that a few people have been noting among anti-cuts campaigners (and let’s be honest, among students in particular). There are an awful lot of activists spending and awful lot of time talking to each other. This is nice, especially if everyone has a cup of tea while doing so, but there may be such a thing as taking it too far. We may have gone too far already.
I’ve noticed a problem that I’ve noticed in activist groups of other kinds over the years, that they start using particular language and thinking in particular ways that makes them very inward-looking. The language is often very definite, and becomes more fixed as time goes on. It sets the group apart from the rest of the world. You have better politics, better actions, better ideas. You take your place in a mythology of your own making as the heroes of the political struggle of the day.
This was, in my opinion, one of the major reasons for the fizzling out of the ‘anti-capitalist movement’ of the late nineties to early 2000s. It wasn’t actually a movement at all. It was a bunch of people who largely agreed with each other spending a lot of time talking to each other. While those in power got on with their stuff, and most people got on with living their lives.
Having seen a couple of the occupations in this latest round of occupations, I’m not even convinced that student activists are talking to other students, let alone talking to people who aren’t students – i.e. most of the population. This is a big problem. And I hear people talking in meetings about ‘making links’ outside there own groups, but I still haven’t seen much doing it.
I also suspect that sectarianism, rearing its ugly head more often than last year, is partly a result of spending too much time talking to each other. It becomes easy to focus on the small difference between each other because you’ve ignored the fact that the majority of the population of the UK doesn’t agree with you, or doesn’t know what they think, or think your methods suck, or simply don’t understand what you’re blithering on about. I suspect the majority of people don’t even know there is an anti-cuts march on the 26th (no, I haven’t done a survey but I would bet money on this). They will see it on the news, and consume it through the mainstream media commentators.
It isn’t easy, getting out of your own circles, partly because the social stratification in Britain is very finely graded and people don’t generally mix much with people unlike them. It’s a really hard thing to do, but if it doesn’t happen, there’s no point in even having these protests. If it doesn’t happen this ‘anti-cuts movement’ ends right here, because it isn’t a movement…yet.
The one thing it’s easy for you to do is your have your own ‘revolution’ (not a useful word I think but that’s for another post) in your own group. If you are already in a privileged position it may well even have some minor impact on the way government works. You can then take on respectable jobs, perhaps in government even, and in thirty years you can be telling your children all about your ‘radical’ youth. This is the 60s and 70s path to revolution and it ends…right where we are now.
So talk to people. For god’s sake talk to people, and not just on the internet. Organise, and not just with the people you know. As for the 26th: the only way anything will happen afterwards is if you spend the day (and night) building up your book of contacts, sharing viewpoints and ideas with people unlike you, and talking about what comes next. And afterwards, when you’re getting angry about the inevitable ignorant and savage media coverage, think about all those people who didn’t come on the 26th, who just saw you on the news, and how you’re going to talk to and organise with them.
This is a post about why everyone should burn books. I’m serious about this. I really think it would be good for people. I know that sounds a bit wrong, but bear with me.
“Do you think I could do some Morris Dancing here?” you say to someone in the park.
“It’s a free country,” they say, meaning that they are free to think you’re a twat as much as you being free to dance there.
And it’s a nice thing to say. It feels good. “It’s a free country.” It rolls off the tongue. It reminds you that the secret police aren’t sitting at the next table, or that there is not, as yet, a law against Morris dancing, despite the offence it causes.
“It’s a free country,” you say, even though you’re a sophisticated person who recognises there is no such thing as absolute truth and that ‘freedom’ can’t be strictly defined.
And even though when you walk into work in the morning you switch into work mode. You may be luckier than most people, but for most people work means not being yourself. It means presenting a polished version of yourself for the approval of your superiors and colleagues. Smile sweetly at the boss as he says something particularly moronic. Shut up about the idiocy of the direction your organisation is going in. Or hint at what you think and be frowned down by the person who controls your wage packet. Pretend to agree with your incompetent boss, then do what it takes to get the job done anyway. Put up with the patronising attitudes of managers, or the insulting and arbitrary pissing around with your wages as a temp worker.
In a country full of people who pride themselves on being individuals I find it weird not that people bow to what their superiors want – you’ve got to put food on the table after all – but that no one seems to notice they are required to give up their individuality when they enter the workplace. “You’re the boss,” we think with a shrug, “Even though you’re a bad boss.” But we don’t say what we think, we feel unable to so. And mostly we do what we’re told, like a bunch of little kiddies. We even convince ourselves that disciplining ourselves to follow the boss’s line is the real maturity.
And maybe you think it’s fine, and maybe you think it’s necessary for organisations to work that way (I don’t), but you can’t pride yourself on being such a fucking individual at the same time. That’s 8 hours a day 5 days a week when you shut your mouth and do what you’re told by people who got to their positions through a bunch of decisions and processes so arbitrary you might as well have picked their names out of a hat. In fact they’d probably be better if they were chosen that way because they wouldn’t be so good at licking the arses of the equally incompetent and/or abusive senior management.
So I was thinking about these contradictions while talking to people in Deptford today about the upcoming demonstration on March 26th and was struck by the number of people who wouldn’t even consider going on a demonstration. They didn’t agree with the cuts, but they just didn’t see themselves as the type of people to go on protests. Which is interesting, because in theory we’re free to say and do whatever we want, in practice the idea of expressing that right on the streets seems almost repellent to many people.
The reason for that? Just habit maybe. Because there are certain things you do and certain things you don’t. And let’s not ask too many questions about why. Perhaps that habit got ingrained with some help from an education system that taught us to be passive and workplaces where we can’t speak our minds. But why worry? It’s just not my thing, that’s the point.
Which is why I think everyone should burn books. Because it’s one of those things you just don’t do. The fact that it’s one of those things nice liberal people don’t do is irrelevant. It’s not the done thing so I think you should do it. I mean, yes, book-burning has a history, but if your choice of books to burn is arbitrary, not censorial, and if it deprives no one of reading material, then what harm does it do?
It’s a free country, they say.
Sort of, I say, piling books on the fire, but if you’re going to follow your habits and call it freedom, I’m going to burn books and suggest you do it too. You’ve had a habit of not burning books. By all means choose Dan Brown to burn. By all means raid the boxes of books even charity shops can’t sell and that would have gone for recycling. The point is, after dancing naked (did I mention that bit before?) round a pile of burning books you might choose never to do it again, but at least it won’t be out of habit.
“This is slavery, not to speak one’s thought.” — Euripides
THIS IS YOUR LOCAL NEIGHBOURHOOD LOUDHAILER. PLEASE LISTEN CAREFULLY TO THIS GOVERNMENT BROADCAST AND MEDITATE UPON ITS CONTENT FOR THE NEXT EIGHT HOURS. THE STABILITY OF YOUR SOCIETY DEPENDS ON IT. ALSO YOUR FOOD VOUCHERS:
THE CORRECT RESPONSE IF YOU FIND THAT THE POLITICAL PARTIES ARE NOT TO YOUR LIKING, OR FULL OF LIARS, OR RIDDLED WITH CORRUPTION, OR UNWILLING TO LISTEN TO PEOPLE, OR IN HOCK TO BANKERS, OR RUN BY PEOPLE YOU WOULDN’T TRUST TO SELL YOU A USED CAR, OR ALL OF THE ABOVE, IS TO SET UP YOUR OWN POLITICAL PARTY.
REPEAT EACH PHRASE AFTER ME: THIS IS A DEMOCRACY. IF I DON’T LIKE THE PARTIES ON OFFER OR THINK THEY DON’T REPRESENT ME, I CAN RUN FOR GOVERNMENT MYSELF OR SET UP MY OWN POLITICAL PARTY. THIS IS A DEMOCRACY. ANYONE CAN RUN FOR ELECTION. THE PUBLIC HAS A CHOICE. THIS IS A DEMOCRACY. THE CORRECT WAY TO CHANGE THINGS IS THROUGH THE BALLOT BOX. WE ARE GRATEFUL THAT WE LIVE IN A DEMOCRACY.
[SHUFFLING NOISE, SOUND OF FLUTTERING PAPERS]
OH WELL. THIS A GOVERNMENT WARNING: THE PATH OF THE BALLOT BOX IS NOT EASY. IT IS ONLY FAIR TO WARN YOU OF THE OBSTACLES TO DEMOCRATIC CHANGE:
1. YOU NEED A LOT OF MONEY TO RUN A SUCCESSFUL POLITICAL PARTY
2. THE PEOPLE WITH MONEY TO SPARE ONLY GIVE IT TO THOSE THEY POLITICALLY AGREE WITH
3. THE PEOPLE WITH MONEY ARE, BY DEFINITION, INVESTED IN THE STATUS QUO
4. THEY ALSO LIKE CHANGE THAT BENEFITS THEM, BUT ARE ACTIVELY AGAINST CHANGE THAT MIGHT SHIFT THE BALANCE OF POWER BETWEEN THEM AND ORDINARY PEOPLE
5. YOU MAY BE ABLE TO ‘CROWD-SOURCE’ YOUR FUNDING, BUT THE OTHER THING YOU NEED IS THE SUPPORT OF THE MEDIA FOR YOUR PARTY TO BE SUCCESSFUL.
6. THE MEDIA IS RUN BY THOSE INVESTED IN THE STATUS QUO, AND IN THE CASE OF MOST OF IT, BY PROFIT-MAKING COMPANIES THAT SELECT PARTIES BASED ON SELF-INTEREST
7. IF THOSE IN CHARGE OF THE MEDIA DO NOT LIKE THE CHANGES YOU PROPOSE THEY WILL CONSTRUCT A NARRATIVE TO PORTRAY YOU AS ‘EXTREMIST’ AND PUSH YOU ONTO THE SIDELINES
8. HAVING NOTED THE DIFFICULTY OF CREATING A SUCCESSFUL POLITICAL PARTY INTERESTED IN REAL CHANGE, YOU MAY WISH TO NOTE THAT MOST OF THE STRUCTURE OF GOVERNMENT IS NOT AT ALL DEMOCRATIC ANYWAY
9. YOUR PARTY WILL THEREFORE BE ATTEMPTING TO EXERCISE CHANGE WITHIN A NON-TRANSPARENT STRUCTURE COMPOSED OF MANY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE, THE ENTIRE MACHINERY OF GOVERNMENT THAT PURSUES ITS OWN AGENDAS AND IS INFLUENCED BY LOBBYING FROM ALL SIDES
10. YOU MAY ALSO NOTE THAT PARLIAMENT ITSELF, THE ENTITY SUPPOSEDLY AT THE CENTRE OF GOVERNMENT, IS NOT A DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTION. IT WAS SET UP TO RESOLVE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN COMPETING GROUPS OF WEALTHY PEOPLE AND THIS IS STILL ITS MAIN FUNCTION
11. THE IDEA THAT GRAFTING ELECTIONS EVERY FEW YEARS ONTO THIS UNDEMOCRATIC INSTITUTION WOULD TURN IT INTO A DEMOCRACY CAN BEST BE DESCRIBED AS A FAILED EXPERIMENT – ONE NOW SADLY REPLICATED AROUND THE WORLD
12. YOU WILL FIND IT WILL BE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU TO ACT DEMOCRATICALLY WITHIN THIS STRUCTURE, SINCE YOU WILL BE EXPOSED TO THE NON-TRANSPARENT INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL PRESSURES THAT – RATHER THAN THE DEBATES IN PARLIAMENT ITSELF – LARGELY DETERMINE WHAT PARLIAMENT PRODUCES
13. OVER TIME YOU MAY SEE THE NEED TO MAKE A SERIES OF COMPROMISES TO ENSURE YOUR GRIP ON POWER. THE COMPROMISES WILL BE MADE BETWEEN YOUR PARTY AND THE MONEY PEOPLE WHO WILL FIND A THOUSAND WAYS TO HOLD YOU TO RANSOM.
14. THESE COMPROMISES WILL BE CLAIMED AS A VICTORY FOR THE MODERATING EFFECTS OF DEMOCRACY, RATHER THAN THE TRIUMPH OF THOSE WITH MONEY, NOW EXERCISING THIER WILL THROUGH THE PARTY THAT WANTED TO REDUCE THEIR INFLUENCE
15. YOUR PARTY WILL NOW BE HELD UP AS A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF HOW NEW PARTIES CAN ENTER INTO THE SYSTEM, AND THUS AS PROOF THAT DEMOCRACY WORKS, EVEN THOUGH IT HAS FAILED TO CHANGE WHAT IT SET OUT TO CHANGE
16. VOTERS WILL ONCE MORE HAVE A CHOICE OF PARTIES THAT ARE ALL THE SAME BECAUSE THEY HAVE COME UNDER THE SAME PRESSURES FROM THE SAME PEOPLE INVESTED IN THE STATUS QUO
BUT PEOPLE OF THE NATION, WHAT CAN WE SAY? THIS IS THE WAY IT WORKS. ONCE AGAIN, REPEAT EACH PHRASE AFTER ME: THIS IS A DEMOCRACY. ANYONE CAN RUN FOR ELECTION. THE PUBLIC HAS A CHOICE. THIS IS A DEMOCRACY. THE CORRECT WAY TO CHANGE THINGS IS THROUGH THE BALLOT BOX.
THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES
I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES
I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES
I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES
I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES
I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES
I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES…
*AHEM* THIS IS THE CHIEF PROPAGANDA OFFICER. PLEASE IGNORE THE…MISTAKES IN THE ANNOUNCEMENT YOU JUST HEARD. THE DEPUTY SUB-MANAGING PROPAGANDA OFFICER HAD BEEN READING TOO MANY FAIRY TALES. HE WILL BE SENT FOR REEDUCATION AT A POLITICAL SCIENCE DEPARTMENT SPONSORED BY GLAXO SMITH-KLINE. MEANWHILE PLEASE CONTINUE AS NORMAL AND FORGET THE ERRORS YOU WERE JUST SUBJECTED TO. BE HAPPY AND PRODUCTIVE. ABOVE ALL, BE GRATEFUL THAT YOU LIVE IN A DEMOCRACY. THIS ENDS TODAY’S GOVERNMENT BROADCAST.
[FIZZZ, CRACKLE, SCREEEEEECH]
I find certain things insidious about life in ‘my’ home country. I came through Heathrow the other day to see a notice by the UK Border Agency telling me that it is illegal to knowingly provide any kind of support to a refugee who has not claimed asylum. Thanks. That’s a nice welcome. Fuck you too. But much more insidious than this, because it permeates everyday life so much more subtly, is noticing that nearly everyone has what I call an Inner Thatcher.
Perhaps people always thought things like ‘I shouldn’t need to depend on anyone else’ and that accounts for Thatcher’s success, or perhaps the propaganda put out by governments and the ideologists who have defend poor weak multi-national corporations since the 1980s has really paid off. Whatever the causes, the ideologies of Thatcher and New Labour are deeply embedded in everyday thinking – to the point that we are often loyal even to the parts of the ideologies that make no sense or cause inner conflicts that would make a committed Communist in the Chinese government blush.
Our Inner Thatcher doesn’t really like welfare for example, meaning that if we have to take benefits many of us do so reluctantly, perhaps making excuses to our friends. “Yeah, I am claiming benefits. I put if off as long as I could because I don’t like taking money from the government unless I have to, but I’m hoping to get a job handing out catalogues in Tesco soon.” I saw that job being performed in Tesco by a middle-aged man today, which is why I thought of it. I’d rather be on the dole and I don’t mind who knows it.
Everyone should stand on their own two feet, says our Inner Thatcher, even if they don’t have two feet. If I can’t do it that signifies a failure on my part. As for those people who live on welfare their whole lives, they are morally corrupt because they refuse to contribute to society. If they cannot save themselves they should be rescued from their fallen state by having their benefits removed.
It seems intuitive to say ‘People shouldn’t depend on state handouts’. Why? It’s just obviously a bad thing, says our Inner Thatcher. And yet people keep having to say it. Over and over again. I feel like anything that has to be repeated so often must be a bit suspect. Things that really are so instinctively true don’t need to be said very much. I’m going to muse upon the righteous preaching of the moral duty to do salaried work in another post. In this one I want to think about the idea that we should stand on our own two feet.
My main problem with the idea is that it’s flat out raving gibberish. As propaganda it’s so ridiculous that it’s the kind of thing you might expect Colonel Gadaffi to come out with on one of his more batshit mental days, except that because so many people say it so often we don’t notice. Unfortunately it doesn’t really square with how any human society has ever worked. It doesn’t square with tribal society, or family-oriented society, or any social setup you care to name. The very idea of society admits that we are dependent on each other. And that is true of our society too. We can’t really get by alone. We need other people. So when we say everyone should stand on their own two feet, which animal are we talking about? Not the human animal. You could probably point to a few people in all of history who have actually done that, living in caves alone and eating berries. Screw berries I say. I want a cooperative society with chocolate cheesecake. I’m not interested in standing on my own two feet.
Apart from the idea being patently nonsense, it is worth asking in what way exactly we are asked to stand on our own two feet. How does our society really work? Is it largely geared towards people standing on their own two feet? Quite the opposite I think: it removes from us much of what other people would consider ordinary life from an early age. Our food is made elsewhere by other people, our popular culture is produced by other people, our infrastructure is designed and created by professionals, our education is still organised in an essentially authoritarian centralised way, our government is in the hands of a privileged professional class, our production in the hands of unaccountable and undemocratic organisations.
Life is created by other people. That is the world we live in. So what are Inner Thatcher is really saying, if it were more honest, is: having removed your ability to think and act to create your own world, you must now play a particular role in this society (that you did not create) in order to provide the input that is required of you (by the forces beyond your control). It’s not quite the same as standing on your own two feet is it? Should we really make moral judgements on people who accept the broader message of society – sit back and let the important people sort things out for you – and apply it across the board with admirable consistency, rather than making the particular exception they are told to make?
Perhaps, you might say, that when people say you should stand on your own two feet, what they mean is that you should work in order to offer something to society in equal exchange for what society provides to you. Okay, nice enough idea and maybe we should try it. But it is quite a radical proposal that would destroy the functioning of the capitalist system. It’s kind of a different debate. It also entirely ignores people’s differing needs.
In conclusion, are you worried about claiming welfare? Then kick your Inner Thatcher in her genitalia (whatever type you believe them to be) and then knee her in the face as she doubles over. No one stands on their own two feet, and now she isn’t either. It probably broke some knightly rule but then the woman never exactly fought fair herself.
I think the government would hate it if anyone did manage without them. If anything about claiming welfare bothers you, it shouldn’t be the measly amount of resources you are handed, but the fact that you may be handed it as a bribe to make you forget that other people are managing your life. To make you forget, in fact, that you live in a society that denies you not exactly the chance to stand on your own two feet (which doesn’t happen) but does deny you, through its endless managerial mechanisms, the chance to stand together voluntarily with other people to create a life you can have some sort of control over.
I am in Rome this weekend visiting someone and if there is one thing I am learning on this trip, it is that people like to build big things. Or more accurately, they like to get other people to build big things for them. It doesn’t matter what it is – temples, churches, stadiums, monuments, anything really – if you can build it big, you should, goes this school of thought.
Presumably this is so that at parties you can drop into conversation that you built this big thing, and the other person goes, “Yeah, I saw that. Man I was impressed. I mean, it was really…big.” And you can shrug nonchalantly and go, “Yeah, it’s pretty big.”
The people ruling Britain are currently involved in building lots of big things for the Olympics so it is evident to everyone that the desire to do it hasn’t gone away. We are taught to admire this tendency: everywhere we go in the world we are told by the guidebooks and by the version of history we learn to go and look at the big things. Look at the Pyramids. Look at Angkor Wat. Look at Machu Picchu. Look at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Most people reading this post probably think that the people who decided to place a bunch of white elephants in a poor part of London are dicks. So I was thinking about the fact that these tourist sites all over the world were built by the dicks of their day. They represent the history of people I would hate. The history of the people who were ordered to fund and build them is largely unknown and can rarely be read in the big things themselves.
There are many prices to be paid for this obsession with big things. One price in Rome is that it is, by and large – and this is going to come as a shock to those who’ve never visited or who’ve only been to the centre – a horribly ugly city. In the centre is a large open-air museum, the historic centre. Around is a bunch of low-rise concrete blocks. Further out still are vast landscapes of brutal concrete blocks jammed together stretching for miles and miles. This is where most people live.
If all the people who built big things in Rome for the last two and half thousand years had instead turned the resources over to its inhabitants to build lots of little things – i.e. decent homes – Rome would be a much nicer city. I’m pretty sure the same could be said about Stratford.
Is it worth being bothered by the tourists sights we now visit? The slavery that built the pyramids was a long time ago I suppose. But I wonder if most people notice that the history they are taught at school is not the history of people like them (unless you go to a top public school, in which case, top marks to you) because it is the history of the people who like to build big things.
I feel like it should be a matter of self-respect for people to reject the notion that those building the Olympic Park are ‘better’ than them, and it should be a matter of self-respect to reject the idea those civilisations and peoples who built big things are better in any way than the civilisations and the people who didn’t – some of whom didn’t because they couldn’t, and some of whom didn’t because, like me, they would think it crass, an incredibly poor use of resources, and an abuse of the people who had to pay for and build the big things.
Perhaps what I’m saying is – and some people might think this a stretch but I think it’s worth thinking about – if we didn’t let ourselves be conned into admiring the pyramids on the grounds they were a ‘great’ achievement, rather than admitting they are really stupid, maybe people would protest a bit more when a small bunch of people decide to build an Olympic Park in a capital with a need for low-cost housing.