The Despicable Ones: From The Province Of The Cat
Bloomberg reports that the 500 richest people in the world have gained a combined sum of $809 billion since January 2020, $87 billion of it belonging to Jeff Bezos. George Gunn writes on the obscene wealth of the centbillionaires and the abject poverty they leave in their wake.
In the middle of December UNICEF launched a domestic emergency response in the UK for the first time in its more than 70-year history to help feed children hit by the Covid-19 crisis. The UN agency, which is responsible for providing humanitarian aid to children worldwide said the coronavirus pandemic was the most urgent crisis affecting children since the second world war. Jacob Rees-Mogg and other Tory MP’s reacted to this necessary action by sneering out their class hatred from the green quilted leather benches of the Westminster parliament. They are the despicable ones, the black shirt whisperers for a government of bile and deceit, for an executive which suffers from xenophobia, hysterical amnesia and because of their education a fetishistic attraction to useless military hardware, which in their fantasy makes them strong so that they can punish the weak. Just as they did at school.
The post-Brexit world we are slouching towards like a sullen beast will be a place where everyone who is unable to find work but needs to work will be condemned to abject poverty and abandoned by the despicable ones and their lieutenants who currently lord it over us. However, everyone who does not work because they have private means (inherited wealth, hedge fund wind-falls, offshore accounts and the like) which make it unnecessary for them to work, have an incentive in this post-Brexit world to make visible the unrestricted amount of coin in their pockets and leisure time on their hands. What better way to signal the social effects of that coin and that leisure time, moreover, than to show it off decadently as only a truly despicable class can? This is how these despicable ones demarcate social hierarchies and send out messages to the weak and the poor about aspiration and power. This is the social function of The Lottery. Happiness is defined by consumption and meaningless wealth. A demonstration of superior wealth is an aggressive act of possession, even of predation. This society will be controlled and maintained by the promotion of wealth and leisure as the rewards of success: the success of a few who produce nothing over the increasingly meagre wages, poor conditions and decreasing status of the key workers who have so bravely brought us through, hopefully, to the beginning of the end of this tragic pandemic. Their skills, labours and bravery will mean nothing when compared to the status and honours bestowed on those who can make as much money as possible and upon those who promote and protect them. Meanwhile the lorries queue a thousand long either side of La Manche. Food rots and children go hungry. The basic needs of the majority are not the priority of the despicable ones.
The sneering bench loungers of Westminster assume (often correctly) that they own everything. Private ownership as beloved Saint Margaret of Thatcher preached, was infinitely superior to state ownership. This is the Tory belief gospel even though recent history shows us that private ownership of the means of production infers a legal right and a conspiracy to damage the welfare of the workers and even the means of production itself when that is seen as necessary. Where private ownership has been tolerated for a significant period the cost has always been a diversion of resources to service profit rather than need.
There are those who might see the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg simply as a self-interested hedonist rather than a socially manipulative and exploitative predator with a love of cash and an addiction to status. These people usually write or read (or own) the Daily Mail and other red tops and they will tell you that Boris Johnson’s “done deal” with the EU on Christmas Eve, getting one over on Johnny Foreigner, was a spectacular piece of statesmanship and negotiation, rather than the pre-planned set-up it always was, in order to make this despicable Prime Minister the Hero of the Hour and the Saviour of the Nation. They create a false scenario where non-existent conflicts are created so that bumbling Bojo can emerge triumphant at the eleventh hour to surf the media waves on his Union Jack emblazoned board of success. We are supposed to eat it up because we are supposed to know no better. We switch on out flatscreen Xmas TV’s to observe how celebrity culture dominates the mass media. We are invited to watch famous people live out their lives for no reason other than that they are famous. These are the messages of consumption that the despicable ones pump out to the real creators of wealth, the majority. Eat our shit. Made in Chelsea.
Consumption is emulating the powers of the oppressor, which, of course, is what we are told we all desire. If you do not believe me just read Hello magazine. Inferiority inevitably is bestowed on one group (the largest) for not being able to afford the consumption being displayed so graphically and comprehensively by the other group (the smallest). Inferiority and obedience is what the despicable ones desire more than anything else from the majority. They whitewash the previously bulldozed cities of those who alternately embrace, disbelieve and mock the deity of consumption. All genuine ambition and aspiration is bleached and turned to garbage until the bled silence of these cities eats their inhabitants. The despicable ones vibrate their hate-hymns in the red mouth muscles of articulacy and peck out our eyes before we recognise the truth.
In all of this the mass media as a parasitic industry that produces nothing but negative energy, which fuels the social feelings of inadequacy and inferiority amongst those who are disenfranchised by this ruthless and unsentimental monetary system. Brand and commodity fetishism for the majority is the equivalent of the missile-envy fetishism of the despicable bench loungers of Westminster. The self-interested hedonists and free market mythologisers will loot land, industry, the meagre savings of the poor, other countries natural resources whilst the alienated and the unemployed will, when the circumstance allow it, loot shops. In the English city centre riots of 2011 the shops that were targeted were those who sold the must-have brands which make modern life, according to the advertisers, bearable. Those who felt they were being left behind by others consumption ran off into the night with the most sought after logo on their stolen goods. Their hair burnt in the white fire of desperation like small forests of charcoal.
Then there is Google, Apple, Starbucks, Facebook and Amazon. Their brands are part of the necessary and desirous consumption mania because of their associations with must-have types of socially-networked, permanently-online lifestyles. But all have suffered image damage due to their criminal/not criminal complex accounting techniques to separate where they make their money from where they pay their taxes. They are all guilty of fiscal sabotage, of multi-level looting and social irresponsibility and yet their CEO’s get richer every second. In August of this year Jeff Bezos of Amazon became the first person ever to be worth more than £150 billion [a centbillionaire – Ed]. It’s hard to visualise this amount of money but, in comparison, according to Audit Scotland, the Scottish NHS budget in 2018/19 – which delivers life-saving healthcare to 5.46 million people – was £13.4 billion.
According to the campaigning group 38 Degrees, “Despite his wealth, Jeff Bezos has repeatedly taken steps to expand his fortune at the expense of others. People working in Amazon’s warehouses have spoken about shockingly low-pay, mistreatment, unsafe and grueling work conditions. And this year, Amazon found a way to force small businesses that rely on its site to bear the brunt of a new digital services tax, instead of paying it themselves.”
Sadly Jeff Bezos is not the only traveler in this land of avarice. The UK’s largest listed financial firms have handed their board members a near 80% pay rise since 2009. The largest increases have been at Lloyds Banking Group, where top non-executive directors (NEDs) are earning 257% more than in 2009. In the London Stock Exchange Group there has been a 219% rise. The investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown fees have jumped 170%. The Guardian (26.10.20) reported that, “Median pay for the three highest earning non-executive directors (NEDs) in each of the FTSE 100’s 17 financial firms surged from £90,700 in 2009 to £162,000 in 2019.” Which means that board members overseeing the UK’s largest banks, insurance and investment firms are earning 79% more than they did a decade earlier, despite being in part-time roles.
These are the role models which will ride the tide of consumption mania and consumer envy in post-Brexit Britain, where politics will be an extension of reality TV and where discussion about income redistribution will become heresy. These are the harbingers of the despicable ones, the callous ones and the deadly ones. Covid-19, in all its mutations and strains, is not the only fatal virus. Reality is not mocked except by the believers in gated communities and reservations.
2020 was a weary year. It has been swallowed by Time like an oyster. The tabasco and lemon of the pandemic lingers on our memories like the needless death of a child. I fear it will linger a lot longer yet. The despicable ones laugh from one end of powers province to the other, swilling down Chablis and martinis, as clear as tears, in the Oyster House of their indifference. In such a place you can believe one thing in the morning and a different thing at night. You can even own and edit the Daily Mail and proclaim loudly about sovereignty and tariff-free trade to your millions of readers when in fact you are ensuring their inevitable impoverishment, that what they voted for 2016 will do them in 2022.
But what of 2021, the new year coming?
The major political event will be the Scottish election in May when the SNP are expected to gain a sizeable majority. The First Minister will dutifully, and predictably, troop down to London and demand a Section 30 in order to hold a “legal” referendum on Scottish independence. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, riding high on the whitewash of the Brexit “deal” and the fact that the bad news has not come home yet, will predictably say “No!”. Everyone who is active in even the slightest way in the politics of Scottish independence knows this. So why does the First Minister act as if there will be, miraculously, some other, alternative outcome? If the SNP do not want to go the way of the Labour Party in Scotland they had better come up with an answer. Legislating within the limitations of Holyrood for independence would be a start. The readers of Bella Caledonia have not been slow in offering strategies in order to achieve this. Next year will be the year of Plan B whether the “high heid yins” of the like it or not. The people of Scotland require it so the dialogue has begun. Bella Caledonia is the place for dialogue. There will be no Scottish independence referendum in 2021. Discuss.
By way of celebrating the fact that I am still alive I bought myself, just before Xmas, a copy of “The Collected Poems of Hamish Henderson” (Polygon, ISBN 978 184697 5530, edited by Corey Gibson). In his introduction Gibson quotes from a notebook entry Henderson made in the late 1940’s. In it Henderson vents his impatience with the shallow thinking and self-serving cowardice that leads to the drift rightward with age.
“I am sick of hearing mercenary and cynical old men telling me, in order to excuse themselves their complete moral impoverishment and surrender, that ‘the high ideals of youth often have to yield, in this hard world, to less exalted but more practical policies.’
This means that they have abdicated human dignity – that they are numbered for ever among the big battalions.
The idea of dignity is important here, because it is what the despicable ones will deny us. What is Scottish independence for, at it’s base, if not to restore to the Scottish people a sense of dignity?
As Corey Gibson writes, and it is true, “Henderson wrote, sang and agitated for a Scottish socialist republic, for the dissolution of the British Empire and for a reckoning with its legacies; and for a conception of human value incommensurable with exploitation under late capitalism.”
No wonder the despicable ones, both in the British government and the Scottish establishment, hated him. But like all true revolutionaries Hamish Henderson never bothered himself with hate. It was love that motivated him. As 2020 closes and 2021 rises before us like a flight of swans, and the possibility of embracing our collective dignity moves tantalisingly closer, I give you this, which is an adaptation by Hamish Henderson of a passage from Woody Guthrie’s 1965 book “Born To Win”.
“Love forgets all mistakes. Love overcomes all errors, and excuses and pardons and understands the key reason why the mistake, the error, the stumble was made. Love heals all. Love operates faster and surer than space or time or both. Love does not command you, order you, dictate to you. Love asks rather for you to tell its forces what to do, and where to go, and how to build up your planet here by the blueprint plan of your warmest heart’s desire. Love can’t operate on your behalf as long as your own sickly fear will not permit love to operate on your behalf. Your love commands must for ever be just exactly the direct opposite of war’s crazy baseless hatreds. Peace, peace, and sweet sweet peace must be the song of thy tongue tip… Peace is love. Love is peace… Your love command must for all eternity be your peace command.”
It is obvious why such a passage, by way of the Bible, Woody Guthrie and his own re-working, appealed to Hamish Henderson. He had just fought a war against what he thought were the deepest, darkest despicable ones – the Nazis – only to find that the despicable ones had beat him home. Hamish Henderson’s struggle against them was his life’s work, his life’s love. The struggle for Scotland’s democratic future will not stop in 2021. It will go on all our lives. And for those who stand in our way, for those who, as Henderson said, have “abdicated human dignity”, those despicable ones – well, in the words of the poet, “Fuck them.”
Happy New Year.
©George Gunn 2020