Wednesday, 31 March 2021

WHAT KIND OF SOCIETY DO I WANT - AND IS IT THE SAME AS THE SOCIETY WE NEED?

 I reference my friend, David Siggers in Brent, London, in chapter 5 of 'Dying to Know - Running through a Pandemic' (2021, pending) - as you will have seen if you opened this month's Mailchimp newsletter. David gifted me a newspaper cutting last year that informed me about Brent's terrible position as one of the areas worst-hit by COVID-19 infections and deaths. I then incorporated some of that awful detail into my pandemic story. David is featured in this blogpost of mine from 2017 - see this link here.

More recently, David sent me another gift - this time, a book: 'Alone in Berlin' (1947/2009), written by the German author, Hans Fallada (1893-1947). David wrote: 'the protagonists reminded me of you and other bloggers drip-drip of information against this government'. Thank you, David. Sam Munson in The National wrote that Fallada's work is 'the great novel of German resistance ... (and) deserves a place among the 20th century's best novels of political witness'. Philip Hensher in the Independent describes the book as '(Fallada's) heartbreaking tale of futile resistance in Nazi Berlin'. I am fifty pages in; there are around 600 pages in all. I am hooked. It is gut-wrenching.


When a democracy slipped into dictatorship - and fear governed every encounter


I began my formal resistance to the new government in the UK the day after they were returned to power back in December 2019 - see this link here - but you will have seen if you opened the link that my warnings pre-date that General Election at the end of 2019. From my political and social and spiritual perspective, as a christian socialist, I find what has happened over this last decade - and particularly in this last last year and a half - deeply troubling. 

Who else thinks so? I was inspired to wrote this blogpost today by an article in one of my two daily newspapers: the 'i' (the other one is the 'Morning Star'), written by the columnist, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, under the title: 'Racism and sexism stalk this land that I no longer recognise'. Here are some

extracts:

'I barely recognise this country, my country. what happened to the inclusive, cohesive, upbeat Britain of the 2012 Olympics? I elatedly waved our flag then. Now that flag represents insistent, authoritarian nationalism and is becoming a shoddy way to separate "true" Brits from those millions who are barely tolerated and always suspect.

'Britain's hostile environment is becoming unendurable for liberals, those committed to ethical governance, environmentalists, minorities, recent migrants and asylum seekers, young idealists, and girls and women subjected to constant sexism.


Diane Abbott, Labour  MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, has been subjected to almost unimaginable racist abuse online


Yasmin cites the 'bitter bile' of a 'white, male columnist' that is emitted on people of colour - including herself. His name has been removed from the article. Newspaper owners and their editors can permit only so much licence. Naming and shaming is a step too far, it seems. 

'For those of us at the receiving end, there is nowhere to hide, no redress. The state itself, seized in what the actress Miriam Margoyles describes as a "right-wing coup", has gone rogue. And our Prime Minister is the shining exemplar of that descent into political perdition ... Democracy is corrupted. (My) grief (is) for bygone political principles and probity, trepidation about resurgent, normalised racism and sexism, and the breakdown of civilised discourse.'

Exactly. 

I have a theory that some of you who read me regularly will already have seen taking shape. Naomi Klein in 'The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism' (2007) argues that events such as the Iraq war were undertaken with the intention of pushing through policies that otherwise would have been difficult to achieve. In 2017, Klein wrote that 'I used the term "shock doctrine" to describe the brutal tactic of using the public's disorientation following a collective shock - wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes or natural disasters - to push through radical pro-corporate measures ... this strategy has been a silent partner to the imposition of neoliberalism for more than 40 years.'


This is how disaster capitalism works



I am sure you can anticipate my direction of travel and have grasped the outline of my theory already. The COVID-19 pandemic has been 'facilitated', as they say these days. In New Zealand, herd immunity was dismissed as an 'unthinkable' policy. Here in the UK - and wherever market forces trump respect for human lives - it has become acceptable language. This is how and why the pandemic has established such a brutal and deadly grip on our society. This is how and why we are experiencing policies and measures that were previously unthinkable, enacted under the cover of the pandemic. 

  • The kind of society I want -  and that we need - is one that does not have a Prime Minister making a joke about how "greed and capitalism" had contributed to the success of the vaccination programme in the UK (Wednesday 25 March 2021 - PM addressing a meeting of his back-bench MPs). Johnson deserves ridicule and worse for his warped understanding of this Covid crisis. We have a vaccine because of the success of public-sector investment, the research skills in our universities and the wonderful capacity of an underfunded NHS to rise to a challenge yet again. 
  • The kind of society I want - and that we need - is one that does not have its government resetting the balance of acceptable policing. I thought Kenan Malik in The Observer (14 March 2021) got it spot-on in his piece under the title: 'If you thought the right to protest was inalienable, think again':
'The pandemic has created a public health emergency requiring constraints on our rights and unprecedented levels of policing. By and large, the authorities have gained the consent of the British public to impose such restrictions. The question now is how far an exceptional year has shifted our sense of what is acceptable and to what we will consent.

'One straw in the wind was the attempt by the Metropolitan police to shut down the Reclaim These Streets march on Saturday evening ... Another straw in the wind is the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, published last week ... It's a monstrosity of a bill. At the heart of it is an assault on the ability of people to protest. The government has made it clear that the proposed law is the product of a desire to curtail the kind of protests we saw last summer with Black Lives Matter, on the one hand, and Extinction Rebellion, on the other.  

'The police (would be able ) to curtail a demonstration if they believe "the noise it makes is disrupting the "activities of an organisation" or has a "relevant impact on persons in the vicinity". ... The bill also allows the home secretary to define the meaning of "serious disruption" by "regulation" ... and to do so without parliamentary approval.

'This points to another way the government has made use of the pandemic to reset public expectations. Covid has become an excuse for the executive to bypass parliament, to push through rules on the fly after a nod from the minister, with little transparency or scrutiny. Now it seems the government wants to institutionalise this process.' 


Bristol riots - March 2021 




Neal Ascherson, writing in the current edition of the London Review of Books, reminded me of an egregious example of the Prime Minister's infantile refusal to accept constitutional boundaries. How could I have forgotten? But you do when you are living through a catastrophe and are being bombarded with other instances of misgovernment. Here is Ascherson in fine analytical form:

'... our governments are growing lawless ... Since the 1960s, government decisions have been taken to judicial review and reversed if they are held to be unlawful. Over the years, judicial review has gnawed countless moth-holes in the threadbare blanket of parliamentary sovereignty, resulting in the establishment of a Supreme Court .... The counter-attack is fuelled by the growing arrogance and greed for power of the executive, which is now determined to avenge its humiliation by the Supreme Court in 2019 when it threw out Boris Johnson's illegal attempt to prorogue Parliament. Suella Braverman, the attorney general, spoke for Johnson and many others in this Tory cabinet when she proclaimed that 'we must take back control' from the judiciary (and) that judges were 'trespassing' on 'inherently political terrain'.    

Oh my, oh my - are we in trouble!

Alan Simpson was Labour MP for Nottingham south from 1992 to 2010. Here are his words from an article written in the Morning Star (Monday, 29 March 2021):

'Disaster capitalism is racing into "surveillance and control" politics. ... they are busy constructing a new control framework for the corporate feudalism they expect to follow. Covid-19 has provided the ideal cover for doing so. .... Consider for a moment some of the different "threats" to society. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that Covid-19 will knock 3 per cent off Britain's GDP and Brexit will hit it by another 4 per cent. But as the Stern Review warned back in 2006, our unpreparedness for climate impacts could crash GDP by up to 10 per cent a year. ... (But) the whole panoply of current offsetting and emissions trading turns out to be largely "greenwash". almost every element of Johnson's climate strategy is structured around duplicitous dishonesties.   

I will close on an upbeat note from a popular philosopher, Roman Krznaric, who it seems is also a Triodos bank customer as I am - and for similar reasons. Roman's present focus is on how to think long-term in a short-term world:

'The issue, particularly in wealthy countries, is that we have colonised the future. We see the future as a distant outpost where we can freely dump ecological degradation and risks, as if there was nobody there. The tragedy is that future generations are not here to see the pillaging of their inheritance. Yet we can switch to long-term thinking. How?
  • Deep-time Humility - grasp that we are an eyeblink in cosmic time
  • Legacy Mindset - be remembered well by posterity
  • Intergenerational Justice - consider the seventh generation ahead
  • Cathedral Thinking - plan projects beyond a human lifetime
  • Holistic Forecasting - envision multiple pathways for civilisation
  • Transcendent Goal - strive for one-planet thriving'       

   

Now there is a prescription for a saner world. And it seems to me only such programmes as this will give our world - a world that has so much magnificence amidst its miseries - a chance of surviving. 

         

3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think these bad new restrictions would lead to more protests.
    However, there is a chance that they will not be voted into law.
    It is often only mass protest on the streets that leads to change.
    After months of staying home to avoid the virus perhaps people will feel more like expressing themselves.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for your response, Mary - the threat to the right to protest is very real. As an author, it is very good to know that people are reading what I am writing and sharing.

    ReplyDelete