Patriotism: Enemy Terrain

Starmer shagging a flag
Dave Brown, Independent

Keir Starmer’s consultants have suggested a focus on ‘flag’ and ‘patriotism’. It’s not just the left criticizing Keith’s focus-group gestures – the commentariat is also recognising how lacking in ideas he is.

The sycophants have a ready answer: Labour has to seem patriotic to win, everyone thought Corbyn hates Britain, ordinary people like the flag, etc, etc. This is beside the point. The trouble is how empty of content this is. This flag-shagging is nothing but a gesture on terrain thoroughly owned by the right.

That doesn’t mean the left shouldn’t make any forays on this terrain. Matt Widdowson’s thoughtful article on socialist patriotism argues the need to articulate ‘a genuine love of our country and its people — in opposition to the militarism and imperialism’. I’m still personally uncomfortable with British patriotism while we leach off the third world and so forth, but I can see the need of the narrative in electoral strategy.

The trouble is that nobody I’m aware of has ever came closer to articulating this positive vision than Jeremy Corbyn, and he was lambasted as a Britain-hating nutter despite being a mild socdem. The whole territory of patriotism is occupied by rabid Tory nationalism.

Caring about the nation’s poor – unpatriotic. Wanting our services properly run in-house – unpatriotic. Wanting out of the middle east – unpatriotic. Why? Because he thought people in other countries were also human, dislikes the Empire, etc. Corbyn wasn’t a nationalist, which is why everyone got convinced he wasn’t a patriot. The Tories sell all our stuff off to the lowest bidder and treat our people like shit, but they’re ‘patriotic’ because they love poppies and bombs.

Attempts to articulate progressive patriotism in some form will contradict the nationalist poison inherent in the mainstream view of what patriotism means, and thus be branded Britain-hating. Attempts to hang on the coattails of the symbols will be seen as the empty focus-group tripe it is. Why would flag-shaggers go for fake flag-shaggers when Boris is right there, rutting the thing with wild abandon?

The whole thing is hard, and Keith doesn’t get it. I don’t have an easy answer either. The right has overseen over 100,000 Covid deaths and, before that, similar numbers through austerity. They’re still polling around 40%.

Voters this brainwashed will not go for a watered-down version of revanchist nationalism when the real thing is available. It’s possible to articulate a progressive patriotism, but trying to win the right’s culture war by hanging on the flag’s coattails is a fools’ errand.

Why not go for the people who are reachable, with a meaningful platform to address their material circumstances? The thing that could’ve won in 2017, if it weren’t for backstabbing centrists? By all means have a flag in the background of that speech – but still expect the usual suspects to rant about you hating white people.

Someone will be pissed off regardless, but trying to offend nobody won’t inspire anybody.

Two Articles Worried About Zoomer Birthrates

Fellow blogger Phil Ebersole linked two articles for discussion which looked at Gen Z in relation to marriage, etc, from an American conservative viewpoint: Rod Dreher’s No Families, No Kids, No Future and The Flaming Eyeball’s response The Kids Are Not Alright.

My response got a bit long and I haven’t posted for a while, so I’m copying it here too.

#

What on earth is Rod on about? 😆

“We are going to have to endure a civilizational collapse before we begin the Great Relearning. I am beginning to see now why a sociologist I heard speak a few years ago said that losing awareness of the gender binary is going to mean the end of us. He meant that we will lose cultural memory of the basic fact needed to ensure the future of our civilization.”

So birthrates are lower? Fine. It’s not a portent of civilizational collapse or human extinction lmao. There are billions of us! He’s talking as though we’re about to forget how children are made. There will still be straight people, he’s panicking at nothing – not to mention, a bi person and straight/bi partner can have a child!

“A number of readers have pointed out that the “B” in “LGBT” — bisexual — is probably doing a hell of a lot of work in that 30 percent number. This is probably true, but it doesn’t really change much. I’m not sure how many men would want to partner with a woman whose sexual desires are so unstable.”

What… what? What is he on about? His article is absurd.

The other article is a little more interesting but still rather catastrophizing. Note the dogwhistles like “soy boys” and bizarre judgements like “the increase in unappealing [female] grooming habits such dying their hair and cutting it short” – unappealing to who, eh? Aren’t people allowed varied aesthetic sensibilities? Did blue hair cause the fall of Rome?

I’d need to go do research to evaluate the biological claims there regarding testosterone levels, etc. But the social/cultural perspective is too weak to take particularly seriously.

“Modern American leftism […] is mere entropy, fake ugly men dressed as fake ugly women saying fake ugly words. This is why self-hating and freakish progressives can tirelessly work to take over institutions and cancel people, but they can’t create, preserve, or even measure value, so they just run everything into the ground. Despite routing conservatives over and over, they are terminally unhappy because they can’t produce anything of value, they don’t know how to love, and they can never put enough effort in to please their vengeful and jealous god.”

Routing conservatives over and over? Trump was in power for four years, Bernie failed, Biden is center-right by normal standards and has said ‘nothing will fundamentally change’ and that he’d veto M4A. As a progressive I have more serious reasons for some unhappiness than a fuddy conservatives’ ‘blue-hair lesbian on TV’ nonsense.

These writers’ sort of analysis is what happens if someone can only view society through the lens of conservative cultural grievances. No economic or structural perspective whatsoever. They don’t even mention climate change, which is a top-three answer imo for ‘why don’t zoomers want kids as much?’ (two others – money and more free social choice).

As a UK zoomer, my perspective would be that there are concerning issues in the world but I don’t see eye to eye with these particular writers on the problems or solutions.

What Else To Call Them?

Thatcher - starving miners.
Boris - starving minors.

Over 100 Tory backbenchers have complained about ‘abuse’ after Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner used the word ‘scum’ in Parliament.

Recent events provide a decent enough reason these people should be thoroughly shunned. Following footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaigning there was a vote on whether or not to extend free school meals to poor kids in England over the holidays, which lost by 322 votes to 261. Only five Tories voted for the scheme.

Being confronted with the subject of child poverty gets some people even more rabid than usual.

Backbench loon Steve Baker says “Not destroying the currency with excessive QE is also one of our duties.” £12bn on Serco’s failure of Test and Trace is supposed to be affordable while a pittance on feeding families in poverty would destroy the pound – according to a guy who guns for No Deal and wants to return to the gold standard.

A fellow blogger quotes MP Philip Davies’ reply to a constituent:

[P]arents should be primarily responsible for feeding their children rather than the state […] I wonder what we would ask them to be responsible for.

Meanwhile Ben Bradley MP (who previously suggested sterilising the unemployed) is under fire for a tweet suggesting that free school meals vouchers would end up in crack dens:

The Conservative MP had replied to a tweet in which another user had described the free school meals programme as ‘£20 cash direct to a crack den and a brothel’.

He then responded with: “That’s what FSM vouchers in the summer effectively did…”

While various councils, charities and businesses are working to address the need of these families, there is too large a segment of British society which agrees with the above MPs. The same people manic about foreign aid, which they want spent ‘at home’ instead, oppose practically any action to support the nation’s poor.

‘Can’t afford kids? Don’t have them!’ some gobshite is always spouting, apparently unaware that people’s situations can change over 18+ years, that we’re in a pandemic and people have lost jobs or need to somehow manage on a segment of their usual wage, and, crucially, that the kids exist anyway and need food even if the parents are ‘feckless’.

Ideally parents wouldn’t need state help to feed their families – but the fact is, they do. Despite the ravings of every nonce picking up a calculator to tally up the price of potatoes and carrots, people don’t use foodbanks or go hungry for a laugh or because they’re simply shit at financing. They aren’t all on drugs or stupid or wasting it all on fags, telly, and iPhones.

(Someone might have bought something nice before they were poor, good luck jobhunting without phones/internet, and do you expect the poor to have nothing to keep them sane?)

Instead of worrying about a fantasy of feckless parents dependent on the state, let’s talk about the reality – landlords dependent on parasitic leaching of other people’s money, employers dependent on exploiting labour for a pittance, shysters like Serco dependant on hefty public contracts. The Trades Union Congress has pointed out that child poverty in working households has risen 38% since 2010, with government policy behind much of the rise.

Who’s been in power since 2010? Oh, right. The Tory scum. When this is the situation, what else to call them?

Book Reviews (17)

books17

Reform or Revolution? – Rosa Luxemburg

The German revolutionary’s response to Eduard Bernstein, who argued for a path to socialism through gradual reforms, without a revolution.

Reading this felt a bit like watching Rosa put Eduard through a wood chipper. The arguments are fairly accessible to the sort of weirdo who would read this, and when she directly addresses her opponent it’s with an entertaining irascible tone.

She would be disappointed that (as of now) capitalism hasn’t irrevocably collapsed in crisis with the proletariat rising to seize the means – in a sense, she was too optimistic. But other theoretical forecasts are prophetic, such as credit being a ‘mighty instrument for the formation of crises’ (rather than a mitigation, as Bernstein argued).

The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers – Paul Kennedy

Kennedy’s thicc account of the rise and decline of leading powers through economic and military change from 1500 to 2000 was popular with DC wonks on its release in 1988 mainly because of the last chapter – an analysis of existing trends and informed speculation on the near future.

These days the last chapter is more of an example of how a well-educated cautious broadly-liberal American observer saw things in 1988. It’s fascinating that such an intelligent and informed person could be so naive as to refer to ‘fissures [which] often compel the United States to choose between its desire to enhance democratic rights in Latin America and its wish to defeat Marxism’. PAUL, YOU MUG, THE U.S. USES ‘SUPPORTING DEMOCRACY’ AS A RHETORICAL PRETEXT WHILE SPONSORING ANY DICTATOR GOING, YOU’RE TOO SMART TO FALL FOR THIS!

Also intriguing looking back from now is Kennedy’s reference to balancing the three competing priorities facing governments heading to the 21st century – ‘guns’, ‘butter’, and sustained growth – as a very difficult task. Continual economic growth is demanded by capitalism, but is impossible (not merely difficult) due to the threat of climate change, and, indeed, the finite amount of resources and demand – good luck breaking the laws of thermodynamics. It would be interesting to hear his response were he pressed on this point now.

The book is primarily a work of history, looking at how economics, technology, and warfare relate to the global balance of power from 1500-1988/2000. You don’t need to memorise particular battles, names, or dates. Kennedy’s writing is as engaging and narrative-driven as you could expect of something like this.

He explains how Europe became the centre of world power due to its internal competition in technology and trade, with its geography making it difficult for, say, the first country to develop gunpowder to take over the whole continent and have innovation stall there. From there he looks at the leading powers which rose in the continent, and the factors which helped each to prominence as well as those which led to downfall – the Habsburgs, Napoleon; and Britain’s place as an imperial/merchant superpower spurred by the Industrial Revolution. Developing through the two world wars comes the long-predicted ‘bipolar world’ led by the U.S. and Russia, taking Kennedy through to 1988 and fears of nuclear war.

Is this a good book? Yes. Do you need to know a lot of history or economics? No, though you might want google here or there. Did it take me a long time to read, and is it a bit dry? Yes.

Wakenhyrst – Michelle Paver

H/t Matthew Richardson.

A well-paced, character-rich gothic story of a murder in 1913. A manor in a fen; a somewhat unfortunate, bright, ‘plain’ female lead; an overbearing misogynist father figure; superstitious villagers with strong accents. All the familiar tropes – very slickly executed.

The marsh setting is an atmospheric point of contention between Maud and Edmund Stearne, the girl and father whose… difficult… relationship forms the core of the book. Paver alternates a close third-person focused on Maud with an epistolary style, each character’s voice stark and engaging. Young Maud’s understanding of her mother’s regular miscarriages, Edmund’s awful pompous journals, and Maud’s inexorably growing knowledge of what’s really happening around her are well served by the approach, which leaves room for doubting everyone’s reliability.

An atmospheric read, well-researched and suspenseful.

On Beauty – Zadie Smith

A funnier, better characterised, modern adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howards End, about two feuding academic families. The narrative centres on the Belsey family – the white academic father, Howard; black hospital admin Kiki; budding Christian Jerome; self-styled hustler Levi; intensely driven student Zora.

The Belseys alone are diverse and well-realised (though Kiki perhaps less so – a human counter to Howard’s ultra-cerebral nonsense who’s given less chance to shine in her own right); but add in the black conservative Kipps family and you get a lively cast with complex personalities and conflicted relationships driving the plot. Add in other characters: Carl, a rapper thrust into poet’s circles, sensitive to being taken a fool; Claire, a perfect satire of a poet; the delightfully elliptical Jack French and his dictionary… – it’s funny, with powerful, frustrating, and touching encounters.

At times the nods to Forster can ring a little false. The opening awkwardly uses a Forster highbrow style to frame the more natural, effective email exchanges (before the fantastic dialogue introducing the Belseys); making the plot reflect its earlier inspiration sometimes requires unconvincing gambits like Howard not having a mobile phone.

On the whole, though, very entertaining and meaningful.

Leaked Labour Report

These revelations should end any debate around whether Labour’s senior management team, including McNicol, were serious about a Labour government in 2017. To the contrary what this stunning cache of documents reveals is how McNicol – and a tight, unelected circle around him – made every effort to undermine and denigrate that year’s election campaign, frequently stating how they hoped it would fail while simultaneously planning to replace Jeremy Corbyn from as early as January. – Novara Media

A leaked report makes plain the extent to which anti-Corbyn staffers – including former general secretary McNicol – sabotaged the party, actively undermined it in the 2017 election, targeted those they deemed a ‘trot’ (‘anyone left of Gordon Brown’), and intentionally mishandled antisemitism complaints to tar the leadership with their own failures to properly respond to allegations.

This use of antisemitism as a factional football is, of course, grossly antisemitic. The report refers to a case of holocaust denial being sat on, all to help falsely brand the Corbyn wing as antisemitic.

Here is Novara Media’s selection of extracts regarding the 2017 election.

Here is Emilie Oldknow saying she had Tom Watson delay the expulsion of Ken Livingston (for antisemitism) to embarrass Jeremy Corbyn, despite his demanding a resolution.

Here are Rod Liddle’s (apparently he’s a member?) shameful public statements being ignored due to factional allegiance.

You’ll be able to find the full report, if you can stomach it.

This is a true test of Keir Starmer’s commitment to ‘unity’ and ‘fighting antisemitism’. Anyone complicit in this should have no place in politics.

Deportation

deportation protesters
PA

There are many things wrong with the recent mass-deportation to Jamaica.

Recently ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid said: ‘We will always do what we can to protect the public. These are all foreign national offenders – they have all received custodial sentences of 12 months or more. They are responsible for crimes like manslaughter, rape, dealing in class A drugs.’

In a previous deportation to Jamaica last year, he’d also claimed that all deportees were convicted of ‘very serious crimes… like rape and murder, firearms offences and drug-trafficking.’ The article continues: ‘But the Home Office said on Wednesday that of the 29 people deported, just one had been found guilty of murder, while 14 had been convicted [f]or drug offences and one was jailed for dangerous driving.’

Similar patterns with the recent case, as the Morning Star reported leading up to the flight:

[A] man who has lived in Britain since he was 11 is set to be separated from his wife and baby daughter when deported on a charter flight to Jamaica tomorrow.

Reshawn Davis, 30, was detained on Friday and told he would be deported on the second charter flight to the Caribbean island since the Windrush scandal two years ago.

Fifty people are set to be on the flight after serving time for various crimes, the Star reported over the weekend. […]

Mr Davis is being removed from the country on the basis that he was convicted for robbery 10 years ago under the now unlawful “joint enterprise” rule — for which he spent two months in prison — according to the Independent.

He lives with his British wife Tonique Kerr and six-month-old daughter in London and has not committed any crime since his conviction.

The Home Office said that it did not believe his family ties were strong enough to warrant him continuing to live in Britain.

Mr Davis said he is terrified at the possibility of being taken away to Jamaica, where he has not been for nearly 20 years. […]

Shadow immigration secretary Bell Ribiero-Addy had told the Star when the charter flight was announced that people scheduled to be removed are “facing a triple punishment” that “would not be applied to their white peers — sentencing, detention and deportation.” […]

A draft copy of the Windrush Lessons Learned report, leaked to the media on Thursday, said ministers should consider ending the practice of deporting people who arrived in Britain as children.

A fellow blogger quotes Malorie Blackman: ‘As S[h]amima Begum has been stripped of her British citizenship despite being born here, if I refuse to pay my council tax or knock someone over – God forbid – and get done for manslaughter, will I then be deported as my mum was born in Barbados? When exactly did I become ‘temporarily British’?’

That someone like Mr Davis who has done their time, not re-offended, and now has a family here can be ejected elsewhere on a flimsy pretext of public safety should be concerning – exactly the sort of thing most people who complain about  ‘big government’ should but won’t be bothered about.

Members of the cabinet are guilty of drug offences, but their right to remain in the country won’t be in doubt. White British ex-cons – reformed or not, violent crime or not – won’t be separated from their families. You see, people are only such a threat to public safety if they can be made another public’s problem, which in turn justifies doing so. If all murderers and rapists were threats to public safety, not just deportable ones, then we’d have to fund probation services and other things that actually help – and extradite Prince Andrew for questioning!

(By the way, I’m not doing the lame thing of saying Gove, etc, should be punished for doing coke. Decriminalisation is still correct, but we can all see that there’s a hypocrisy around who does/n’t get criminalised, rooted in racial bias and elite power.)

In Rees-Mogg’s time – before he fell through that wormhole – hungry-bread-thieves and other vicious fiends could be shipped off to Australia in a neat imperialist double-whammy. These days all the viable landmasses are claimed by recognised states, which makes implementing systemic racism more complicated.

Of Course We Can Afford It!

Many people are sceptical of the 2019 Labour Manifesto – can we afford it? Where’s the magic money tree?

It’s actually eminently affordable, and would make the economy better for years to come. Here’s how.

It really isn’t that expensive, seriously.

Here’s a graph from The Times (hardly a radical publication!)

Labour manifesto cost graph

Many estimations of the upfront costs are inflated or decontextualised to seem scarier. A few more percent of GDP spent on long-needed investment hardly threatens cataclysm, so stop raving about Venezuela.

We can’t afford to not do this stuff.

Is the economy really working right now? Who for?

Food banks have gone from virtually unknown to a regular feature of life. We have high in-work poverty. Child homelessness has soared by 80%. There are schools asking parents for basic supplies.

I could go on and on. Austerity continues to have a savage toll. It’s not a coincidence that so many things are at a record worst. This didn’t just happen, it was done by the Conservatives (and Lib Dems). It is unnecessary, outrageous, and unforgivable.

Isn’t it curious that when ‘we’ had to tighten our belt, that meant telling an emaciated man to find work but didn’t mean doing anything to slightly inconvenience billionaires?

If we have any pretensions of being a civilised society, we must invest in vital services and support secure work with a living wage. We are supposedly one of the wealthiest nations. We shouldn’t have food banks.

Suppose all this had happened under a Corbyn government. Would you then be talking about ‘socialist bread lines’? Think about that very seriously.

Prof Mariana Mazzucatto says:

[O]verall, the economy is not growing through investment, but private debt-fuelled consumption, putting the ratio of private debt to disposable income back at the level it was before the crisis. And that, not public debt, caused it.

Investment generates returns.

Many sources will compare merely an expected cost (likely an inflated figure) of policies with expected revenue from tax changes. This is tipping the scale – the whole point of investments is to generate some return, whether through savings downstream or growth.

Comparing the economy to household spending – a simple money in, money out – is stupid for many reasons, one of them being that households don’t tend to invest money to gain new income. But this is one of the things public spending should be about (with public welfare being another critical, tragically sidelined priority).

It’s still a flawed analogy, but compare the economy to a business instead. If you run a struggling business, is the only option you have to reduce outgoings? Do you fire all your staff and sell all the chairs? No!

Prof Simon Wren-Lewis concludes:

[A] Labour government implementing all or the major part of this manifesto will mean the economy as a whole will end a decade of low output and wage growth that has stifled UK innovation and productivity growth.

We should ignore the tired old discourse about whether we can pay for it, and focus on the benefits each individual spending increase or investment project might bring, and on the revitalisation of the economy that this manifesto will generate.

And do you realise how wasteful privately owned energy, water, etc is? Nationalising these oligopolies away pays for itself.

Based on intensive empirical research, this paper shows that public ownership of utilities would result in annual savings of just under £8bn – so nationalisation would pay for itself in less than seven years[.]

But the 1970s!’

For heaven’s sake, the 1970s had a specific, complex international context – the fall of Bretton Woods, the OPEC oil embargo… unless you’re prepared to go into the weeds of all this, you simply don’t have an argument. What you have is a tired scare story about the past, when nurses are resorting to food banks today.

A more apt comparison for Labour’s plans would be the modern social democracies – which, far from rerunning the Winter of Discontent, are doing better than us on most meaningful metrics. Many other decent countries have elements of key Labour policies.

Even within the UK, compare Preston’s in-sourcing success to Tory councils almost going bankrupt!

But New Labour ruined the economy!’

1 – This isn’t them any more, thank heavens!

2 – The Tories have had power for a while now – and everything is crumbling.

Ok though, let’s talk about the crash.

Loathe as I am to defend Blair or Brown, let’s acknowledge that the crash was an international crisis that began with US mortgage markets. It would have been difficult to entirely insulate the UK.

Having said that, one of the many big mistakes they made was failing to properly regulate the financial sector. Everybody knows this.

Would the Tories have done it? We know not – if nothing else, they’ve had the reins for a while now and haven’t done so!

As for the ‘no money left’ note: do people not understand what a dark joke is? This is a tradition among leaving ministers.

The only previous example of a similar note being made public came in 1964, when Conservative chancellor of the Exchequer Reginald Maudling left a message in his Whitehall office after being forced out by election defeat, telling his Labour replacement James Callaghan: “Good luck, old cock…. Sorry to leave it in such a mess.”

The problem wasn’t ‘spending too much’ (see the social democracies again), the problem was unstable finance and asset price inflation led growth – which only Labour will finally get us out of by investing in the real economy. Reforms such as a financial transactions tax (disincentivising speculative high-frequency trading in favour of real investments) will help fight the exact issues that burst in 2008.

But Dianne Abbott!’

One MP flubbing an interview once is relevant to a manifesto how?

Phillip Hammond got the cost of HS2 wrong by £20bn in an interview. That by itself surely isn’t enough to completely disregard Hammond or the Tories, is it?

(Let’s not pretend we don’t all know exactly what the double standard is about.)

I’ll tell you something that is relevant to a manifesto, though. The entire conservative party wants to convince you that 20,000 is a higher number than 21,732. Is this what credibility looks like?

(Any Tory MPs reading: if you’re confused about how numbers work, here’s a tip from Big Shaq.)

If the manifesto really is so unaffordable, make honest arguments.

If there are good arguments to be made, why not make them instead of setting up a fake ‘labour manifesto’ website to mislead people?

Temporarily rebranding their press account as an independent fact checker, doctoring a video of Keir Starmer… if our policy is so bad, why resort to desperate underhand tricks?

All the right seems to have is falsehood, easily debunkable canards, and hysterical comparisons to Stalin at the prospect of making corporation tax what it was in 2010. I’m simply not seeing much of real substance.

It seems like what scares leading Tories and their friends isn’t the prospect of Labour ‘trashing the economy’, but changing who it works for. It’s great for them if landlords charge exorbitant rents, bosses pay a pittance to zero-hour workers subsidised by insufficient benefits, and the profits all stack up in tax havens. And if they’ve conned you into agreeing with them, they’re laughing all the way to the Caymans.

The Limits of ‘OK Boomer’

OK Boomer
Shannon O’Connor’s OK BOOMER hoodie.

I’ve seen two articles going round about the ‘OK boomer’ meme – a phrase younger people are using in response to some condescending and reactionary older people and their ideas.

Taylor Lorenz writes in The New York Times:

Nina Kasman […] said that while older generations have always looked down on younger kids or talked about things “back in their day,” she and other teens believe older people are actively hurting young people. “Everybody in Gen Z is affected by the choices of the boomers, that they made and are still making,” she said. “Those choices are hurting us and our future. Everyone in my generation can relate to that experience and we’re all really frustrated by it.”

.

“The reason we make the ‘ok boomer’ merch is because there’s not a lot that I can personally do to reduce the price of college, for example, which was much cheaper for older generations who then made it more expensive,” Ms. Kasman said. “There’s not much I can personally do to restore the environment, which was harmed due to corporate greed of older generations. There’s not much I can personally do to undo political corruption, or fix Congress so it’s not mostly old white men boomers who don’t represent the majority of generations.”

.

In the end, boomer is just a state of mind. Mr. Williams said anyone can be a boomer — with the right attitude. “You don’t like change, you don’t understand new things especially related to technology, you don’t understand equality,” he said. “Being a boomer is just having that attitude, it can apply to whoever is bitter toward change.”

“We’re not taking a jab at boomers as a whole — we’re not going for their lives,” said Christopher Mezher, 18. “If it’s a jab at anyone it’s outdated political figures who try to run our lives.”

And Kalhan Rosenblatt in NBC News:

The word also isn’t exclusively lobbed at older people. Young people often use it against one another if they feel another person their age is being closed-minded or says something that sounds like it came from an older generation.

.

Brennan said when he was recently critiqued by his father for always being on his phone, he used the phrase “OK boomer,” and then explained that older generations were responsible for things like “climate change, the 2008 financial crisis,” and “several wars we should not have been in.”

#

I like the meme. It’s a fun bit of irony, and I can relate to what Nina Kasman said. But – since I’m here to overanalyse things – I find both of its potential uses rest on a limited view of politics.

The purely generational approach is a reactionary one, grouping masses of distinct people together by age to make a simple blame narrative.

Are ‘older generations’ responsible for ‘the 2008 financial crisis’? What, the ones who weren’t in positions of power? The ones who weren’t running the finance sector? The ones who didn’t have any real control over neoliberalism? The ones who opposed it? And didn’t boomers lose out in the crash too?

As Andrew Hart puts it in Jacobin:

“they” are those who have made an idyll of everyone else’s misery; “politics” is the process of seeing who will align to oppose them; “we” are the people who stand together. We have no place in our politics for the bad story of generations.

Nina Kasman refers to the ‘corporate greed of older generations’. But corporations behave like this due to market incentives, not because there aren’t enough zoomers on the board.

There are people of all ages at all parts of the political compass. If you’re angry at boomers, identify the specific thing you’re actually angry about – climate change denial, neoliberalism, etc – and align with all the allies available.

That gives rise to the second form of ‘OK boomer’ – targeting not a generation, but a mindset. And sure, boomer mindset sucks. But then what?

Let’s suppose everyone becomes more open to change, accepts climate science, stops asking to see the manager, becomes more accepting of different groups, etc. That would be good! It would be a great improvement in many areas, particularly for targets of bigotry.

But then what happens to fossil fuel companies, low wages, arms companies, rents, financial imperialism, etc? These issues don’t instantly disappear with zoomer mindset alone.

The roots of major global problems aren’t in people having a boomer mindset. The issues lie in an economy structured for funneling profit to a small class of authoritarian owners instead of for sustainable democratic human flourishing. They arise from economic incentives, the structure of power itself, how classes relate to capital and how interests clash. Mindset does matter, but we have a tendency to fetishise it, to focus on it above material conditions.

The boomer mindset critique suggests that a different way of thinking would produce a different society. There’s certainly some truth to that. But when people are answerable to shareholders, that produces pressure in a certain direction. When someone can get exorbitantly wealthy from environmental recklessness, or by exploiting a workforce, hoping for spontaneous virtue is a weaker response than collectively changing the fundamental incentives and power structures.

OK boomer is just a dank meme I’m overanalysing. But if we don’t want today’s OK boomer to become future decades’ OK zoomer, we need an approach to politics which targets the real roots of the existing order. Casting a whole generation as the enemy is wrong and unhelpful. The critique of boomer mindset is more productive, but still can’t explain the conditions that produced our current state. And thus, cannot by itself show the way out.

The Will of the People

ballot box

Vimes had spent his life on the streets, and had met decent men and fools and people who’d steal a penny from a blind beggar and people who performed silent miracles or desperate crimes every day behind the grubby windows of little houses, but he’d never met The People.

Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

Sometimes we need a strong and stable leader to do whatever they think is best (so long as it matches what we think is best, of course…) with as little oversight as possible.

Me (sorry), Democracy When Convenient

#

We’re hearing a lot of talk about ‘the will of the people’ these days. I think it’s very important to be critical about who gets to interpret what that is.

Societies are big, complex things. One binary vote may give a mandate not for a single specific thing, but for the wide range of potential policies under that umbrella.

It’s in the interest of the Tory-right/Farageists to conflate the 52% leave result with their specific vision of Brexit, and whatever else they wish to package along with that. It’s a useful narrative for them to unilaterally dismiss options as not Brexity enough, and hence against the will of the people.

Remember that before the referendum, Farage said a 52% win for remain ‘would have been unfinished business by a long way. If the remain campaign win two-thirds to one-third that ends it.’ He’s not a good-faith democrat.

A reasonable argument could be made that the overall will averages out as some form of soft Brexit. In any case, I see little evidence that the majority of the populace want to scrap the Working Time Directive, or to have many of the other things the right will seek to exploit Brexit for.

Various commentators warn of the adverse consequences for workers’ health and well-being if the directive is axed. Doing so would remove legal rights to paid holidays, maximum working hours and rest breaks – potentially opening the door to further employer exploitation of workers who have weak bargaining power and/or no collective trade union representation. […]

It seems doubtful that many who voted for Brexit voted to remove legal rights to paid holidays, rest breaks, and maximum hours, hence the spinning of facts by right-wing politicians and media. Many workers may be unaware that these rights originated from EU employment legislation, and what they will lose if they are removed.

#

Proroguing parliament for an extended period to circumvent parliamentary scrutiny represents an attack on principles of representative democracy, as Ash Sarkar says. If this happened in another country, we’d be calling it corrupt and find the excuses for it patently absurd.

People saying that this isn’t weird or undemocratic, but actually an assertion of the voice of The People over slimy politicians, are, implicitly or explicitly, stating a support for direct over representative democracy.

I quite like the idea of having more direct democracy in some form, actually. Millions of people feel distant from the levers of power, out of control of their lives, and they’re not wrong to do so. But any meaningful vision of direct democracy would involve The People being the ones actually holding sovereignty, no?

Giving Boris Johnson – a slimy politician! – a blank check to pursue a particular, highly debatable version of what he argues the will of the people is, is merely a less representative form of representative democracy – particularly as he was chosen by only 0.13% of the population.

Besides, the question of how to interpret the will of the people doesn’t disappear in direct democracy. When does a simple majority win outright, and when is compromise called for? How are the questions framed? I’ve yet to see a good argument that No Deal would genuinely represent the will of the people.

Even if channeling sovereignty to a forceful executive happens to lead to the public getting some of what they want, it’s a risky strategy and a dangerous precedent. It doesn’t actually invest people with more control over their lives or communities. Reducing the role of elected representatives doesn’t necessarily increase the voice of the people: it might just empower someone to pursue their agenda in your name.

#

There are issues where it’s obvious the public doesn’t have what it wants. For example, there’s strong support for rail nationalisation. Would a well-oiled British democracy still let companies like Virgin or Deutsche Bahn rip off an irritated public that’s already subsidised them with taxes?

First Past the Post has various problems as an electoral system:

Even if millions of voters support the same party, if they are thinly spread out they may only get the largest number of votes in a couple of these contests. Tens of thousands of voters supporting the same party and living in the same area will end up with more MPs.

This means the number of MPs a party has in parliament rarely matches their popularity with the public. […]

With a geographical base, parties that are small UK-wide can still do very well. This tends to mean that Westminster’s electoral system benefits nationalist parties. For instance, half of Scottish voters voted for the SNP in 2015, but the SNP won 95 percent of Scotland’s seats. […]

In 2015 a candidate won the Belfast South election with only 9,560 votes, or 24.5% of the total, a record low.

And people like Prof. Richard Wolff argue for expanding democracy into the workplace. Co-ops (or to a lesser extent, reviving unionisation; or Mariana Mazzucato’s ideas about employee representation on boards and ‘stakeholders>shareholders’) would genuinely give the masses more control in their lives, and shift the balance of economic power.

#

I think some liberals are wrong to glibly dismiss ‘the will of the people’ as ‘populist’ rhetoric. That strikes an authoritarian tone to me. But I agree with them that it’s not a great idea to outsource thinking on democracy or how nations should be run to inane tabloid slogans. This stuff is complicated!

The will of the people matters. It’s a legitimate subject. But I don’t trust Boris Johnson or tabloid slogans to tell me what it is.

Diversity is Necessary But Not Sufficient

Johnson Cabinet
Photo by Aaron Chown – WPA Pool/Getty Images

In my thoughts on Theresa May’s resignation announcement speech, I said in response to her comment on being ‘the second female prime minister’ that ‘The Tories love using Thatcher and May to virtue-signal about gender equality, even as their policies materially harm women and a high proportion of Tory MPs are men.’

Now new PM Boris Johnson (yikes!) describes his cabinet as a cabinet ‘for modern Britain’: ‘Mr Johnson has appointed four full cabinet members from BAME backgrounds (17%) as well as two ministers who will attend cabinet – a record for any government.’

To be clear, that representation is a good thing. It’s not as though it would be better somehow to not have it. It is better to have proper diversity than not.

But nor am I a trained seal, clapping mindlessly at these sorts of gestures. Diversity is necessary but not sufficient.

If a cabinet perfectly reflects every demographic but still maintains regressive policy, by what measure is it ‘modern’ or ‘progressive’, aside from in a shallow symbolic – even tokenistic – sense? ‘But there’s PoC in it’ can be an institutional version of the classic ‘I’m not racist, I have a black friend’.

For me, the prime example of the importance of representation vs. the importance of a firm critique of material conditions is the Obama presidency.

I don’t deny the symbolic power of the first black presidency for race relations. It made a lot of racists very mad, which is definitely a sign something good is happening. Many people found it profoundly significant to see themselves represented in the highest office of the land for the first time.

But as Matt Breunig and Ryan Cooper point out, Obama’s neoliberal policy made black Americans materially worse off:

Between 2007 and 2016, the average wealth of the bottom 99 percent dropped by $4,500. Over the same period, the average wealth of the top 1 percent rose by $4.9 million.

This drop hit the housing wealth of African Americans particularly hard.[…]

Because African Americans were disproportionately victimized at all levels of the housing and foreclosure crises, they stood to gain the most from better policy. But because Obama’s approach failed cataclysmically, the first black president in American history turned out to be a disaster for black wealth.

Because of its unwillingness or inability to take a good look at class, liberalism loses sight of the material issues impacting the very demographics it is so vocal about in the cultural sphere. Similarly, white Clintonite winemoms will insist that (cringy quote) ‘black twitter ain’t havin’ no Bernie’ despite many of the PoC they’re patronising actually supporting Sanders because his policy would help their lives.

To a lesser degree, the same principles apply over here with the Johnson cabinet. In our case, it’s conservatism deciding to like ‘identity politics’ as and when it can be used to score cheap points.

Two high-profile examples of Johnson’s cabinet ‘for modern Britain’ are Priti Patel (Home Secretary) and Sajid Javid (Chancellor).

Not that long ago, Priti Patel was led to resign as International Development Secretary after holding secretive meetings with Israeli political and business figures while on holiday. Her voting record is pretty dire by any progressive standard.

As for Sajid Javid, his recent past is, uh, a little concerning:

The man whose company produced the insulation panels on Grenfell Tower has a second job advising the Government on building regulations.

Mark Allen, a technical director for the UK arm of Saint-Gobain, is also a member of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee.

The body makes recommendations about building regulations to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid.

Saint-Gobain is an owner of Celotex, which produced the RS5000 insulation panels used on Grenfell Tower.

His voting record is a bit better, but still pretty bad.

It’s a good thing, not a bad thing, to have diversity in government. But that by itself doesn’t make a government woke, and to say otherwise would be immensely patronising tokenism.

We’ll see commentators crowing about the racial diversity of Johnson’s cabinet one minute then decrying ‘identity politics’ the next; ignoring that cabinet’s corruption and malicious impacts on ordinary Britons while claiming to love the ‘modern Britain’ it ‘represents’.

Beyond electoral politics, diversity is necessary but not sufficient in other areas. There’s a common leftist quip of ‘more trans CEOs!’ and ‘more lesbian drone pilots!’ – the point being that while transphobia, misogyny, etc, etc, are bad and worth addressing in their own right, making corrupt systems and institutions more diverse should never be the end goal.

Yes, end the misogyny behind the glass ceiling. Yes, diversity in boardrooms is a sign of progress. But let’s not end at that low bar – what is the company doing, how is it structured, what sort of economy is it situated within? How are its janitors? Is a company with a trans CEO woke if it sells arms to regressive regimes, or hires death squads to assassinate union leaders?

Shouldn’t nobody be an ICE agent? Shouldn’t nobody help bomb civilians? Shouldn’t companies not be structured like authoritarian governments?

There’s an interesting tendency sometimes to talk as though reality is a turn-based game. ‘You want to do thing! But we need to do other thing!’ Fortunately, it’s possible for a global population of billions to do more than one thing at a time.

In the case of diversity-related cultural issues and of class-based material issues, it’s completely plausible to address both of them together. And if we don’t, we won’t do either of them justice, because they are two sides of the same coin.