Tuesday, 17 December 2013

From just inside the end of history



I had this drafted out on paper, and in my head in numerous forms. In the end, I feel it's going to vomit out of me in some mixture of Alexander de Tocqueville, Lao Tzu, and myself. It's a wrap-up.

"Abandon all despair ye who enter here."

It's written above the door of City Lights book store and publisher, in downtown San Francisco, where Kerouac and Ginsberg used to hang out. I love America for that line, and others like it. American civil society live the most embattled struggle for progressive values, in the most decrepit and culturally ransacked society you could imagine. Amongst this climate they maintain hope, and they demonstrate great resourcefulness and determination. I don't like their frequent obsession for branded clothing, for dentistry, and I can sometimes find their manners insincere, but in regards their politics, I have the greatest of admiration for them, and Europe could learn from this attitude. Without that initial optimism, no start can ever be made.

I should begin this bluntly, my mandate to speak in such forthright terms. There was a large bowie knife on a tabletop in Flagstaff, Arizona, belonging to a girl of the gentlest nature and the slightest build. I made a joke about the knife. She responded. "We have quite a big rape problem in Flagstaff... the college boys will buy you a drink and think they're entitled to you." I was at a truck stop outside Indianapolis. The skin of the prostitutes is stained grey, from where the crystal meth makes them scratch at their faces. Methamphetamine happens in more than just fifty-minute episodes of compulsive viewing. The television in the corner of the restaurant has an advert for solicitors, they will help you get compensation if your teenage son has developed breast-like symptoms from a specific drug he was prescribed. I see one of the prostitutes leaving the cab of the truck beside the one I'm sitting in, she makes no effort to conceal herself pulling back into her jeans, dropping enormous breasts back into the cup of a red bra. Modesto is here, it barely scratches the surface of what I've seen. In San Francisco you will see a homeless woman pull down her pyjama bottoms and piss on the street. I can relativise with the best of them, no doubting those guys aren't suffering the misery I would be were I to live in Modesto, but still, objectively, life ain't good for them, and eventually relativism becomes nihilism.

I've spoken to gun-owning, gentle-hearted anarchists living out in the woods of Ohio. "Hell... I like people... but sure... if I didn't and I'd decided to kill myself, absolutely I can see how someone would decide to take a few down with him." America needs to address gun ownership, they need to do it so that people can stop getting murdered. Even more urgently than this, however, and something even liberal America misses, the country needs a frank discussion on why their society produces so many deeply and pathologically misanthropic individuals, people who want to kill their fellow citizens to begin with. America's mental health problem is national as much as it is individual. If you're paying attention... this country will drive you insane. That should be the starting point for the discussion, and though America is furthest down the track, the rest of the world is following suit. As the same anarchist put it... "we're just the canary in the mineshaft." In terms of Britain, Miliband must move further and boldly towards public-spirited, progressive politics. Cameron, and all his cabinet, with the exception of Ken Clarke, ought to do the Castleragh and fuck off. Adam Smith wrote about the necessity of the Invisible Hand of the Free Market. He also wrote of the necessity of the Iron Fist of government.

"That government is best which governs least" is written at the opening of Henry Thoreau's treatise, Civil Disobedience. The idiom has been appropriated by many of the extreme views in contemporary US politics, but is omnipotent in the global cancer that is neoliberal politics. It should be noted that Thoreau envisaged a society of physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually healthy humans who had no need for governance. He was not referring to the diabetic, overweight, consistently distracted, emotionally disconnected and spiritually impoverished societies into which we are being led. Left to the Koch brothers et al to decide our fate in a post-government anarchy, I believe the efforts of our civil society would soon be bent to reestablishing a government. We should not, therefore, aspire to dismantle government, but to make it  better. In some instances, this would involve making it stronger rather than weaker. Americans in particular ought learn this lesson, and know that Thoreau would most likely have approved of the government passing Obamacare, even in forms stronger than it eventually managed.

I've heard my style of prose judged to be grandiloquent and embellished, as if I were writing in some sort of antique style belonging to the nineteenth century. I sense the likeness too, but the style is in no way forced, as some have suggested, and the thoughts are as they leave my head. What forms this type of writing is not really stylistic at all, more a sense of importance and emotional urgency. This urgency was acceptable in the nineteenth century, and is embarrassing in the twenty-first. I'm writing in it now because 1. it's by far the easiest way the words come out, and 2. if this language is nineteenth-century, then so too are the magnitude of our social problems. Melodramatic though it sounds, people are dying from our social ills, their lives are being ruined, and that requires a greater sense of emergency than our post-emotional society ordinarily affords.

I grew up in a town in the Midlands, BBC radio showed up once, to record a programme on "Broken Britain", after a mother killed herself and her disabled daughter with a hose from the car exhaust, that being the most effective way to stop the bullying. A mentally ill woman was beaten to death and her house set on fire. These are not even the only two instances of murder I can dredge from the place where I grew up. In my language... whether written or spoken, I still swear too much, I know. I slowly, I think, get away from the "angry young man" moniker I was given after my cycling world record, but still, I'm furious. I'm bouncing off the walls, and these rough edges are the result of that. To be honest, I wouldn't mind spreading my rough edges around a little further. We're in a mess. A fucking mess, and progressive politicians will find themselves unable to convince people of the need for change whilst advocating in any way that our current system works. Declare the scale of the disaster, and you begin to forge a mandate... it's worked for both UKIP and the Tea Party.

Last night I touched down at JFK, I was sitting on top of the landing gear and I could see Manhattan glowing. When you're sitting right on top of the landing gear and you're looking at Manhattan at night, as the wheels thud down beneath your feet, it makes you think humans are doing a pretty OK job of things. I imagine politicians experience this kind of view quite a lot.

In spite of all of the gloom above, I am positive. Because in my head is an openness and a sense of liberty, and if my head can be freed from the ills and false-promises of our social and political dialogue, then I see no reason why the same cannot be achieved with others. I don't see enemies when I look at the world any longer, certainly there is opposition, but no enemies. Once you've resolved that even your staunchest opponent has a heart that can be won round, you gain a strength far greater than that which you can find in the mere will to defeat another.

I want to write a twenty-first century Democracy in America... it's important that people still believe they can do these things, that they can redefine an understanding of even the biggest political constructs. Where people do not do as much, the constructs become stagnant, empty words without any emotional value. This is where the concept of Democracy now resides... it's driftwood, not even a shipwreck. I grew up outside of the system that now rejects my CV at every opportunity. I'm fine with that. If I had grown up inside the cultures of that world, I wouldn't have this ambition, and harder though that makes life, I'll take the ambition over the job security.



"Abandon all despair ye who enter here."


1 comment:

  1. That line is a rather pertinent recommendation to our national character. I always thought Hunter Thompson had captured it pretty well with his book title "Kingdom of Fear." In light of that, I'll propose a title then for the 21st century de Tocqueville reincarnation: "Oligarchy in America"

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