2007 - 2021

Time for the Red Pill

The functioning of democracy (such as it is) runs (in theory at least) by a process of government with ministers and departments and shadow ministers to hold them to account. There’s quite a lot of evidence that this has broken down in UK parliamentary politics, both in Westminster and Holyrood. It’s not just that the UK government is failing to act “in the national interest” but that the opposition are too. If Keir Starmer thinks his role in life is rubber-stamping the Tories agenda, tamed and triangulated within an inch of his life, the opposition in Holyrood thinks it’s role is as a thrawn hyper-partisan reflexively negative body of Unionist Groupthink. The results of both approach are the regurgitation of a stale one-dimensional and hopeless politics devoid of ideas common sense or an iota of originality. The process seems to throw up both governments and oppositions that are scared: scared of the voters, scared of the media, scared of the corporate world and scared of being so publicly and so obviously out of their depth.

Opposition Ranks

The sense of drift and chaos and lethargy and venal incompetence is so strong you sometimes wonder if all of the institutions and structures are beyond repair and that the cultures are so toxic and self-serving they need to be torn down and completely replaced.

This goes across all parties and both parliaments.

The failure of the Scottish Government in social and health policy has resulted in us seeing 1,264 drug-related deaths registered in Scotland in 2019, which is we’re told an increase of 6% from 1,187 in 2018, according to the National Records of Scotland. It’s a national disgrace and tragedy. So too is the spectacle that followed of the problem being passed around with glee as either a weapon to attack the SNP or (just as perversely) as an issue to be deflected as ‘SNP Baad’.

Should Joe Fitzpatrick resign? Of course he fucking should. Any other response is a sign of contempt not just for the thousands of people who have died but his obvious failure in office. But I can’t actually remember the last time someone in power resigned, or was sacked for public failure. Such inaction drains public office of credibility.

But our drugs crisis speaks to a wider political problem. Politics has become a performative act played out by bad actors. As multi-faceted crisis deepen their inability and in-authenticity is revealed leaving us with the pitiful spectacle of Matt Hancock fake-blubbing on live telly. Possibly the most pathetic moment in the last decade (I invite competition).

 

 

Pick your crisis and witness your fake and useless response, whether its drugs, Brexit or climate.

While our global pandemic has Man Actor Hancock weeping and Baron Foulkes embarrassing himself, our climate emergency has institutionalised ineptitude and complacency.

As Kevin Anderson and Isak Stoddard have it (Beyond a climate of comfortable ignorance’):

“What we currently have is polished green tweaks, a focus on efficiency rather than absolute emissions, rousing speeches by ministers, academics rewarded for evermore reductionist tinkering, journalists regurgitating soothing technical balms – and with anyone daring to ask system-level questions quickly admonished and silenced.  And as the decade passes and today’s great and the good good have either retired with their ill-gotten gains to Tuscany or are pushing up the daises beneath a headstone of titles, gongs and prizes, so our children will begin witnessing the legacy of climate chaos we have knowingly bequeathed them.”

 

This problem of being incapable of seeing ‘system level’ problems (and therefore system level solutions) is endemic in a political world that operates at the level of spectacle. What we are left with is the constant shuffling of compromise, half-measures, ameliorative policy options and half-baked ideas that have passed through the focus-group and sifted through the party hierarchy.

As Anderson and Stoddard put it: “…without a rapid sea change in the policy environment, the future for both humankind and many ecosystems looks bleak. For thirty years we’ve swallowed the delusion offered by the blue pill, nonsense models of utopian tech and cheery tales of green growth. But in 2020, even the blue pill dealers are having their doubts. Perhaps now is the time to embrace the unpalatable reality revealed by the red pill?”

It’s a dangerous cycle this – of contempt for politics and politicians – and complete inability to admit mistakes or power without consequence. This leads to a public cleaving to their child self. As James O’Brien puts it:

“‘People who hear what they want to hear for emotional reasons have won…”

This spiral downwards accelerates: politicians who are performers in a spectacle rather than people developing credible social policy, ideas or alternatives invite contempt and distrust and as this attitude beds-in the wilder and more reactionary forces have more and more opportunity as the scape-goat politics of the hard-right and the whispers of wild conspiracy collude. Blatant and constant pportunism and narrow personal political interest are the defining characteristics of our political sphere.

 

This is not to say there are no good people in public office nor that all politicians are the same. But we need to be able to take grown-up difficult decisions about our world and we need leadership in crisis, whether that’s admitting failure or telling the public difficult truths. We need to stop telling ourselves “cheery tales” and face the unpalatable reality which, you may have noticed, is all around us.

Comments (18)

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  1. Mark Bevis says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion (although you could probably work it out with maths) that Hopium will kill far more people than any kind of structured Degrowth ever will.

    Drowning people will grasp any straws if it means they don’t have to change their standard of living downwards in a voluntary way. The latest hopium I see, even from climate scientists, is a “low carbon” budget/economy/growth/energy/thingamunny*.

    I’m now officially bored of the mantra of low carbon energy – it’s a myth. To build the massive amounts of renewables on the wish list (at the same time as dismantling the fossil fuel industry) requires an enormous amount of fossil fuel burning – there are no solar or wind powered steel works that reach 1200*C to smelt steel. There are no EV articulated lorries capable of carrying wind turbine blades up a remote hillside. There are no EV mining excavators or solar powered drill bits.
    Any so-called green new deal is just a license for the fossil fuel industry to receive even more subsidies than they already do ($5trillion pa worldwide).

    The only low carbon system is a low energy use one.

    I saw the Kevin Anderson video on another Bella blog post saying that Scotland must reduce carbon emissions by 10% pa for the next decade, just to meet Paris agreements. I found it telling that he framed his arguement only in terms of the Paris agreement, not in terms of actually what is going to happen.
    He must know however that the Paris agreement won’t actually stop runaway climate change, the cuts have to be far deeper than those agreed, especially as the world has done nowt about their agreements since 2015, but actually increased emissions and increased energy use since. (65% increase in both since 2010)
    What he should be saying is that not only must we reduce emissions, we must reduce energy use. In the case of the rich western nations, by 90% in that same decade.

    Kevin Anderson is right to consider responses from a Scotland point of view, this should be the big takeaway from that video. Every region, county, city, community should be allowed to formulate their own responses to systems collapse (it’s not just climate change don’t you know) as the more local an agreed response, the more democracy and the more resilience you can build in.

    As for useless politicians, it should have been a requirement that all MPs serve 6 months on Universal Credit as training, before they sit in the house(s), without any external economic support. It should have also be a requirement that they cannot have other jobs (other than royalties from any previous writing/art). It is of course too late for that now. The whole charade of our political systems will fade into nothingness as Mother Nature wreaks her revenge, or put more politely, Gaia rebalances the Earth systems to a newer stable regime at a +4*C world.

    *substitute your word of choice

    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      ‘Every region, county, city, community should be allowed to formulate their own responses to systems collapse…’

      Yep, I suspect/hope that this is what will happen when our global systems eventually and inevitably do collapse; people will, not out of any form of bourgeois idealism but as needs must, spontaneously come together in communities of interest (‘communes’, ‘syndicates’, ‘soviets’, ‘co-ops’, ‘gangs’, ‘manors’, ‘neighbourhoods’, or whatever) to technologically produce their means of subsistence (i.e. to ‘survive’), with those syndicates themselves pooling in series of subsidiary councils, again not idealistically but pragmatically, as and when and how they’re required, in response to the exigencies of material existence, to trade and to cooperate on matters of mutual interest.

      I ‘hope’, I say, because, otherwise, we’ll be unsustainable as a form of life, and cockroaches shall inherit the earth.

    2. J Galt says:

      I would say that you are rapidly getting what you want.

      This “event” we are all living through will soon morph into the Green New Deal.

      The travel industry is permanently changed, the mega air hubs will sprout weeds and the enormous floating, garish theme-parks of the cruise industry will find their way to the beach at Alang a decade early.

      Your average middle class Joe/Josephine will consider it his/her patriotic and climatic duty to only have his/her two weeks in Tenerife once every two years rather than every year. Instead of three tin boxes outside on the driveway he/she might have to get by with two.

      However with AI rapidly taking over even “professional” middle class jobs, Joe and Josephine may not be able to enjoy even that level of consumption for long before joining the rest of us at the bottom of the heap!

      1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

        I also suspect capitalist relations of production will evolve in such a way as to enable the production of non-productive (‘meaningless’) employment, which people will consume for the reward of then being able to consume the goods created by the increasingly automated production of the real economy.

        1. J Galt says:

          The basic problem is that the ruling powers that be (that does not include the politicians) don’t need lots of “producers” any more however they still require lots of consumers.

          The future for your average Scottish male of school age may well be sitting around playing computer games on state UBI, perhaps doing a couple of shifts a week in a warehouse to make up a survival grade income.

          As there is less and less need for skilled workers there has been, and will be, increasingly less need for education. And the education authorities have responded by offering a dumbed down system of kid-on “qualifications” and fantasy in the classroom.

          1. Or it may be that working less, buying less, producing less is a good thing not only for ecological viability but for humanity?

            We currently have an issue with overwork and underemployment as well as the environmental catastrophe of extractivism.

          2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Yes, as Marx says, capitalism has abolished scarcity. Our productivity as a species is now so high that no one needs to spend their lives engaged exclusively in acquiring their means of subsistence. Much (most?) employment today is largely about and certainly tending towards maintaining social discipline and oiling the wheels of consumption.

            And, yes, our education system is a product of the relations of production that now obtain, as increasing automation has abolished the need for a trained workforce. Again, the system has become less about producing skilled workers and more about delivering childcare and discipline, as expressed (for example) in the four civic virtues or ‘capacities’ enshrined at the heart of the Scottish government’s Curriculum for Excellence.

          3. J Galt says:

            Would that your idyll could come true!

  2. Tom Ultuous says:

    The fascist mantra is “Please masters, make everyone’s life as miserable as our own”. They’re getting there.

    The way the world is going makes you wonder (to paraphrase Sting) “Don’t the gravy trainers love their children too?”

  3. Axel P Kulit says:

    “there are no solar or wind powered steel works that reach 1200*C to smelt steel. There are no EV articulated lorries capable of carrying wind turbine blades up a remote hillside. There are no EV mining excavators or solar powered drill bits.”

    Progress is being made

    https://www.energymatters.com.au/renewable-news/laverton-solar-power-steelworks/

    https://www.miningpeople.com.au/news/how-the-mining-industry-is-using-solar-power

    I suspect we are up against industry inertia rather than lack of progress.

    On the other hand reverting to traditional low energy mining techniques will create more jobs. (sarcasm?)

  4. Alistair Taylor says:

    Great arti<le, Mike, thank you.
    And great input in the <omments.

    "working less, buying less, et> good for humanity”. Absolutely.

    We work less. Therefore we have more time to do things. But instead of wallowing in a despair of self-pity, (of whatever, “unemployment/video games/drugs/TV/booze/endless internet/blaming “government”), we find our friends, we go for a walk, we go visit granny and help her out.

    Sure, you may <all me "simplisti<". (It wou;dn't be the first time, ha).
    But, i take that as a <ompliment. Perhaps…. I don't know. Ah dinnae ken. Simple Sophia said.

    Anyway, anyway, daylights burning in B< (british <olumbia) and i'm going for a ski. If any of you raggle taggle unemployed youths want to tag along, that's fine with me. and then we'll have a <uppa tea and a homemade S<one. And there's a pot o' lentil soup on the stove. Help yersel'. It's free. As the best things in life are.
    Then a rerun of "Lo<al Hero" or maybe "the Matrix" this eve. A beer and a <hit-hat. And the <rai< wis guid.

    "and where do you see yourself in a million years time, Alistair?" the guy from Royal Dut<h Shell didn't say at the interview in the Geology dept of Glasgow Uni.

  5. Me Bungo Pony says:

    Re the Joe Fitzpatrick thing; with the economy, social security and drugs policy all reserved to Westminster I’m at a loss as to what he could effectively do to mitigate it. Drug addiction and poverty are often bed fellows and without the ability to meaningfully tackle it, the Scottish govt is hamstrung.

  6. SleepingDog says:

    Since I grew up partly on a diet of dystopian and catastrophe science fiction often by popular British writers, I do not recognize any picture of a homogenous mass of people hypnotized by futurist techno-optimism. In fact, I recall such techno-optimist futurists being politely mocked through the decades, and their industry links noted. I do not remember the series at the time, but watching The Brack Report drama about British energy options in the 1980s (8/10th way through its repeat on Talking Pictures TV) it is the sense of crisis and failure that overrides any rosy belief in the future. Not only fiction. The opening episode of James Burke’s Connections hammered home the short-sharp steps to societal collapse. There was no real respite from Cold War anxieties as new threats were identified, created or imagined. The environmental movement grew throughout this period.

    Nor do I remember any golden period of trust in politicians, although there have been notable troughs. Since the UK has no unified, codified constitution available for public scrutiny, nor any direct democratic means to amend, options to make the kind of systemic changes required by planetary realism were not offered. The political party system could be seen as a bodge to give voters in representative-democracy elections a minimal way of predicting how their candidate might vote in Parliament, as an alternative to simple deference to an otherwise unaccountable (for a term) authority. System-scepticism may be a major factor behind why about a third of the electorate do not vote in general elections.

    However, behind all this is a mass of changes and activity apparently aimed at keeping parts of the status quo afloat and steering UK policy towards the interests of small, powerful, influential groups. These changes are often strongly opposed by activist groups and reformers, but maybe these struggles often fly under the public radar. My hope for an independent Scotland is that we move from the UK-wide system of a minority political class governing a majority subordinate class, and bring almost everyone into the political class. Not to foster localism, but to engage at every level and every scale of politics.

    Where I may disagree with many is that I think we have many systems in play: many capitalisms, many communisms; a lot of royalism, imperialism and theocracy in the UK; a great deal of anarchism filling the spaces between; and many other interweaving systems of tradition, patriarchy, radical non-conformism, environmentalism and so on, with exclusive cliques rubbing against internationalist civic movements. We have ego-dominance politics and ancestor-worship politics. We have superstition old and new. None of this fits neatly into the political party system, which does a really poor job (intentionally, of course) of representing the complexity of Britishesque politics (a lot of which takes place out of the public gaze anyway).

    I think a constitutional convention might be the best way to bring all (or most) of this into the public domain of discourse, but again, some people will insist on seeing any suggestion in the light of it belonging to one or other party manifesto and backing/rejecting it on those grounds. Yet if you are looking to let a genie out of the bottle, there are few better options that I can see at present (and again, people with status to lose might back off in fright from that prospect).

    1. Axel P Kulit says:

      my guess is that the idea of a constitutional convention, floated by Labour not the Tories who might actually enable to do something to implement it, is being seen as a way to preserve the UK and introduce de facto Federalism. It can also be seen as a way to prevent radical change that would disadvantage those with power, status and money.

      Regardless of my cynicism it will not happen because it would mean England having to share power with the other nations of this nominally United Kingdom.

      I consider it a fairytale told to keep the children quiet.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Axel P Kulit, hardly a fairytale. The UK is an international outlier, an extreme exception to the global norm of having a codified constitution:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_national_constitutions
        A convention is a common path to a codified constitution.

        There is so much cruft in the British imperial quasi-constitution that our constitutional ‘experts’ are more theologians than political scientists, and crises develop on the basis of confusion, abuse, gaps, secrecy and bonkers traditions. The massive elephant is the royal prerogative and all the problems that stem from past-ancient regimes. In software engineering terms, this is technical debt, and the longer you put fixing it off, the less fit for purpose it becomes and the more likely it is to break down (although for the British establishment, the quasi-constitution may serve a different and functional purpose than that of providing good governance and democracy).

        We are not still treating diseases with leeches, going into battle wielding pikes and muskets, or relying on priests to tell us how the world was created. So why are we still using a quasi-constitution that originates in medieval hereditary theologically-legitimised monarchy, while in the modern world the humblest of states can patch and update their codified constitutions to add, for example, ecological and animal rights (if enough people want them)? Henry VIII powers of Parliamentary-bypass, really? (now that does sound like something out of a fairytale)

      2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

        Yep, Labour can promise anything it likes; the country ain’t going for it.

    2. Josef Ó Luain says:

      Yes indeed, SD, Talking Pictures T.V. Oft times, a wonderfully grainy depiction of our one-time, unthinking irreverence towards the Establishment and its child-like prescriptions and assumptions. Free-to-air for all to witness, too.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Josef Ó Luain, I don’t know what movies you have been watching on Talking Pictures TV, but amongst the propaganda films there have been many movies that are much more critical of, say, WW2 and post-WW2 British society than most of the mainstream movies I see today that cover the period (with a rosy glow). It is a bit like the controversy historian Richard Toye wrote himself into when his book provided evidence that Churchill’s war speeches were often unpopular at the time. I have never seen a modern British film which is substantially critical of Churchill, in spite of the extensive material. A recent documentary did contrast the propaganda movie In Which We Serve (1942) with the real-life disaster-prone naval career of the incompetent, reckless and crew-killing Lord Mountbatten aboard HMS Kelly, which is in line with your comments. But other movies that TPtv have shown include The Ship That Died of Shame (1955), which is a quite damning perspective on British society, its criminality and militarism. Other postwar movies shown have depicted sympathetic IRA characters and unsympathetic naked British racism. In other shown movies, social criticism is implied by the usual indirect means of satire and parable etc.

        Actually, a lot of the content seems relatively mature in pitch, and often apparently not dumbed down for audiences (the Brack Report cover of energy options is almost exhausting). It is an odd thing about our modern culture that ‘adult’ is associated with gore, violence, sex, depravity etc., rather than concerns of making weighty and complex decisions about the future.

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