I think what we have been experiencing in the last decade or more is not a political argument between the Right and the Left. It has been the politics of denial vs. the politics of protest.
What we are starting to see is the politics of protest becoming the politics of hope. Rather than just condemning the shortcomings of the old system, we are now starting to talk about what the new one should look like. This is a change from negative to positive energy that I believe can only gather strength and momentum.
The politics of denial arises from a conservative mindset that believes that you can keep everything in a constant state, just as it always was, familiar, safe, business-as-usual. This mindset simply denies the negative impact of business as usual. It denies the poverty and suffering caused to individuals. It denies the impoverishment of cultural life, and the stifling of enterprise, innovation and creativity caused by an economic system that is no longer fit for purpose. It denies, above all, the fatal impact on the natural environment – on Earth’s life support systems.
It is a mindset most often held by those who benefit most from business-as-usual, but those who suffer most can also cling tenaciously to it. The socially inequitable structures of power and wealth distribution that are locked into “business as usual” engender a sense of fear and insecurity in society as a whole. As a result people stick limpet-like to the old and familiar. The closest analogy is the wife who stays in an abusive relationship because her self-worth is at such a low ebb she is more afraid of the unchartered territory beyond the abuse than she is of the abuse itself.
The more the evidence against the status quo mounts, the more strident are the voices of denial. When spurious evidence fails them, they resort to downright lies. When the lies start to wear thin, they resort to bullying and coercion. The more you challenge them, the dirtier they fight. We’ve danced a long way down that road to hell already. How far do we have to go, I wonder, before the dancers realise where the siren voices are leading them?
The opposition to the politics of denial has, up to now, been the politics of protest. It is a constant reaction to the outrages of the denialists, a constant cry of pain from the victims – mainly from the spokespeople of victims who have no voice. The politics of denial simply does not acknowledge the pain and suffering of the poor and disenfranchised, the sick, the homeless, the refugees. Of wildlife, farm animals, or the Earth herself. Every petition, every pressure group, every protest and demonstration has been a reaction against something. But that’s all it’s been. It has no agency. It’s continually fighting on ground of the enemy’s choosing.
During the EU referendum there was never really a positive campaign to remain in the EU, there was just a campaign against Brexit. The Remainers gave the Brexit argument a power and agency it inherently lacked – because the Remain campaign was so negative, it made Brexit look like a positive step. So huge numbers of people who felt the pain of “business as usual”, without having the first idea what disease was causing that pain, voted for something totally bereft of all meaning and content. Brexit only looked good because it had been so attacked and vilified by those opposed to it. Implementing it cannot be other than a complete disaster, because we are replacing a stable and productive agreement with our European neighbours with an empty vessel, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. The effect on the UK economy, coming on top of COVID-19 and the biggest global recession we have ever experienced will be catastrophic. But I fear we will have to live through it now to learn that lesson.
Which brings me to the politics of hope, which is sorely needed with such a bleak prospect ahead of us. What we are beginning to see emerge in the new world COVID-19 has created is a coming together of all the channels of protest behind an agenda of positive change. We are beginning to see a consensus arising around prioritising the wellbeing of people and planet over the broken record of economic growth.
There remains a huge battle to be fought against the entrenched and powerful forces of business as usual. They have individuals held prisoner under the cosh of economic dependency, in debt and enslaved to a system that is shrivelling their souls and destroying the ecosystem we live in. Resistance to the broken record is difficult and painful and sometimes it is too much to ask of people who need to protect their families and vulnerable dependants.
The politics of hope provides escape routes for such people. It builds communities that support them, local economies that work for them, a network of colleagues and neighbours who respect and care for them. Only by growing the capacity and infrastructure that supports a mutual aid response to economic collapse can we move forward and rebuild a human civilisation fit for the 21st century.
It’s a massive change that will affect every single aspect of our lives. It can’t be done through the power structure of the old system with all the dysfunctional attributes of control-freakery embedded in it – the hero-syndrome of people in positions of power; the measurement dysfunction that underpins so much of our organisational structure; and the money-myth that disables our ability to create true wealth. It is a change that has to come from the bottom up, a grassroots movement that simply sidelines the centralised authority unless or until that centralised authority aligns itself with the direction of travel. Democratic politics is not about politicians telling people what to think through a sophisticated media circus feeding lies, half truths and fake news to a divided, unhappy and fearful population of disconnected individuals. It is about the people collectively telling politicians what kind of society we want, and holding them to account for delivering it. We need to re-connect politics to the lives, activities, hopes, aspirations and needs of ordinary people.
The UK Government has abdicated all responsibility for governing the country in the interests of the people of the country, and it is time to start asking why we are letting them have power over our lives? How does lying and conning their way to an election victory give them the right to wreck our economy, destroy our public services and eviscerate our communities? The bunch of incompetents currently holding office at Westminster got into power because they understood that it is not possible to control the “global village” we now live in. What they have done is hijack that myth of control to line their own pockets. But the more people realise that it is a complete myth that humans are ‘in control’ of nature, or the economy, or any of the chaotic adaptive systems in which we live, the more we can start to understand how things do work. As we grow in wisdom, so we are able to wean ourselves off the poisonous narrative of blame and heroism that is paralysing human society with hate, misery, fear and insecurity.
Things work in ecosystems. Through a myriad different connections and interdependencies. We do not need control. We need connection. Human beings are both sovereign individuals and social animals – we need connection, communication and understanding.
It is a long journey we’re setting out on, but the longest journey starts with a single step. That single step is for each of us, individually, to learn how to respect life, human and otherwise. We can talk about where we go from there.