Am I Left or Am I Right?
Once again we return to the superseded left vs right spectrum or is it good vs bad, collectivism vs individualism, state control vs private enterprise, equality vs meritocracy or ecological responsibility vs economic growth? Few real world issues can be simplified on a one-dimensional scale.
Some would now describe some of my opinions as embarrassingly rightwing, an epithet often applied to outmoded ideas. What would I have thought 30 to 40 years ago if I had realised that later in life I would ascribe to fiercely reactionary views on topics as diverse as transgender rights or immigration. Back then I supported sexual freedom between consenting adults and recognised the benefits of cultural exchanges and sustainable migration. I always defended immigrants from the irrational prejudices of angry natives who considered themselves superior to their neighbours recently arrived from far-flung former British colonies. I’ve consistently argued against imperialism, especially that of my own country and its most powerful allies. So what’s changed? Have I suddenly become a gay-bashing xenophobe, intolerant of any divergence from the mainstream British culture of some mythical golden era? Not quite. In truth my core values haven’t changed at all. Society has. Since my adolescent activism in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the neo-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and my brief flirting with the Revolutionary Communist Party, now regrouped as Spiked Online, I may have lost confidence in the ability of a command economy to deliver a socialist utopia. Nonetheless I have steadfastly opposed all military, economic and social policies that I believe will disempower commoners, destabilise functioning societies or strengthen the power-hungry elite who run the military-industrial complex. In essence I’ve advocated environmentalism, anti-militarism, decentralisation and mixed economy social democracy, a practical recognition that only private enterprise is versatile enough to develop the kind of technological innovations we will need in the coming century, but left to its own devices capitalism will always tend towards oligopolies. While I’ve fluctuated from periods of techno-pessimism and techno-optimism, I’ve only recently grasped the true relationship between rapid advances in informatics and biotechnology on the one hand and an unprecedented rate of societal change on the other. I had mistakenly anticipated that a global economic meltdown would have reversed the seemingly unstoppable process of economic and cultural globalisation and with it the growing dominance of mass consumer fetishism. Alas I have to report global cultural homogenisation shows no signs of abating any time soon, but is fast leading us into unchartered territory.
For the life of me I cannot recall any debates back in the 70s and 80s on gay marriage or using limited public resources to allow single parents or gay couples to procreate without an opposite-sex partner through state-subsidised fertility treatment, initially only available for married couples unable to conceive for medical reasons. Before the turn of millennium the idea that a child is best raised with a loving mother and father was uncontroversial. For most of us it was just the received wisdom of thousands of years of human civilisations. Of course, it’s not always possible for children to grow up with their biological parents. They may not have had a steady relationship at the time of conception, the father may have died at war or at work or the mother may have met an early death through an incurable disease. In some dysfunctional families the children may well have been better off if the abusive parent left, but surely we should investigate the socio-economic circumstances that may engender such abusive behaviour. However, until recently we always tried through our extended family and local community to recreate as far as possible the ideal of a mother and father team. My mother spent the first three years of her life in an orphanage before my grandmother, working as a chambermaid, married my step grandfather to form a viable family. When things go wrong, as they inevitably do in life, how should society intervene to give everyone the best chance in life? In just 40 years we have moved from debating sexual freedom to redefining not just marriage but the whole concept of families, who when deprived of their biological foundations become little more than temporary guardians monitored by the state. We’ve transitioned from trying to understand why people may have sexual urges towards others of the same sex to laying the foundations of a brave new world in which procreation is outsourced to fertility clinics.
Do any of these concerns suddenly make me a rabid rightwinger? Certainly not by 1980s standards. I do not want the state interfering unduly with people’s private lives, but believe we should respect natural procreation and biological distinctions.
Nothing disgusts me more than the classic ex-pat mentality, the idea that you can live in a country with a different culture to your own, but expect the locals to adapt to your ways rather than making an effort to learn their language or adopt their customs. In some countries British ex-pats form parallel communities and see locals as mere servants. To some extent the British are lucky for many are eager to learn or practice their English with native speakers. You can visit some Spanish resorts and barely hear any Spanish or Catalan. Until recently I would have dismissed such cultural arrogance as a byproduct of Anglo-American imperialism and may have felt at least in part guilty. Yet today ordinary citizens of nearly all affluent countries feel increasingly alienated by the fast pace of social and cultural change. It doesn’t matter if you’re Swedish, English, Spanish, French, German, Italian or North American, your community and cultural landscape are being socially engineered out of all recognition.
Shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed, Francis Fukuyama wrote the End of History and the Last Man. Western Liberal Democracy had triumphed and the American Dream of personal freedom, entrepreneurialism and civic pride would gradually spread around a peaceful global community of free and independent nations. Yet history has not stood still. The core conservative values of most North Americans and Europeans now appear rather outdated as the liberal elites promote an increasingly illiberal agenda under the false pretexts of multiculturalism, social justice and economic growth. The more they talk about equality, the greater the educational and monetary divide between the new upper classes and the dumbed down masses. The more they talk about diversity, the more cultural homogenisation and migratory flows suppress centuries of gradual cultural evolution, diversification and exchange. The more they talk about social justice, the more they create new categories of people unable to fend for themselves and completely dependent on state handouts. Indeed Mr Fukuyama’s historical stasis lasted little more than a decade. Back in the 1990s it seemed the European Union and North America would gradually converge on the kind of liberal social democracy I could live with and we only had to contend with environmental challenges and regional conflicts that we viewed as hangovers from an intolerant past. However, the emerging transnational elites did not seem content just to make our existing nation states work better in the interests of their citizens, they wanted to replace nation states, the very bedrock of liberal democracy, with regional superstates that would eventually merge into a one world government. This is not some wild conspiracy theory either, mainstream social scientists now openly advocate a borderless world (See the Nation State is an Outdated Concept ). Their only concern is how to sell their postmodern vision of a homogenised world run by enlightened technocrats to the underclasses, still inconveniently attached to their traditional ways.
Parallel Visions of the Future
In the back of my mind I’ve long had three dystopian visions of our future. One is an Orwellian future of absolute state control. Orwell certainly learned much from his experiences in the poverty-stricken European cities of the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War and working in the BBC’s war propaganda department during the 4 short years of the Anglo-Soviet Agreement. Orwell saw how the Soviet system merely empowered a new ruling class and perhaps by 1948 had concluded that the Western World would soon emulate Soviet model. Yet his dystopia lacked sophistication and relied on rather conspicuous means of social surveillance. Aldous Huxley’s 1931 Brave New World seemed for many years little more than a far-fetched sci-fi dystopia that the forces of democracy and liberalism would avert long before the necessary technology became available. Aldous Huxley’s techno-optimism would be blunted by another world war, the 1970s oil crisis and apparent limits to technological progress. My third dystopian scenario would involve no hidden agendas or conspiracies, merely systemic breakdown as technology fails to meet growing demand. James Howard Kunstler is probably one of the most outspoken technopessimists on the planet. He’s written extensively on the myopic idiocy of suburbia (Geography of Nowhere) and the coming energy crisis (The Long Emergency). Others such as Richard Heinberg, author of the Party’s Over and exponent of the peak oil theory, are a little more upbeat as long as we transition to renewable energy, cut consumption and stabilise our population. However, their dire predictions of economic collapse have yet to materialise. The global economy may be built on debt, but the Chinese, Indian, Brazilian and Nigerian economies have continued to grow as have the number of cars, refrigerators and mobile phones. Our enlightened elite may talk about the dangers of climate change, but they are going literally full steam ahead with their global economic growth plans. We may not see it quite that way in the formerly affluent West, but Nigeria’s largest city Lagos is now a sprawling metropolis with over ten million inhabitants and multilane superhighways while India now has nearly as many smartphones as it has inhabitants.
Infantile Left and Paranoid Right
Before the Internet age had begun in earnest, environmental depredation and techno-totalitarianism presented only challenges that transcended traditional political divides. Environmentalism, to me, meant a concern for the long-term sustainability and wellbeing of our society, rather than short-term economic growth. Likewise concern about techno-totalitarianism appealed to traditional liberal values of free speech and individual freedom. I first became aware of political correctness in the early 1990s. Honestly, it just seemed a joke. I really could not see anything wrong with saying chairperson rather than chairman, and never approved of disparaging ethnic markers. Little did I know that hackneyed politically correct speech would soon usher in an age of Orwellian language police and a new concept of hate speech that could suppress viewpoints that would have been mainstream only a couple of decades ago. Today feminists such as Germaine Greer are silenced for expressing honest opinions about transexuals.
The 1990s may have been a relatively tranquil era for Western Europeans and North Americans, but peace was a short-lived illusion. Civil wars continued to rage in the former Yugoslavia and more catastrophically in the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia and much of Central Asia. Under Boris Yeltsin former KGB apparatchiks made billions by taking over former state enterprises, while millions of ordinary Russians starved or froze to death. As bad as the Soviet Union may have been, since the famines of the 1930s and the devastating death toll of the Second World War, the state had tried to provide all citizens with food, shelter and heating. Only the allure of mass consumerism and greater trade with the outside world prevented Russians from voting their former communist masters back into power. Vladimir Putin seemed the natural successor to an increasingly unpopular and alcoholic Boris Yeltsin. As Russia regained confidence and Putin cracked down on the worst abuses of the country’s gangster oligarchs, many of whom left Russia for the US, UK or Israel, Western leaders would wine and dine him for Russia remained a mere shadow of its former self, while NATO had expanded as far as the Baltic States with US military bases in neighbouring Uzbekistan and Mongolia. However, Russia today has turned its back on top-down state control and ironically is more closely aligned with the kind of conservative mentality of strong families, patriotism and minimalistic government common in 1950s USA, while the United States is moving in the opposite direction towards more state and/or corporate control. In 2014 the Russian State account for just 35% of its GDP compared to 48% in the UK, 56% in France and 41% in the US.
Many on the left, or notional left to be more precise, failed to understand the true purpose of New Labour. We criticised it for being too neoliberal and not radical enough. Neoliberal had come to refer to a strand of free market capitalism that wanted to dismantle the welfare state and empower global corporations. At least that was how it seemed in the Thatcher years. To the left, neoliberalism was rightwing and only liberal in terms of the freedom it afforded big business. However, the role of government never really shrank, not even under Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. Welfare and social services continued to grow throughout the 1980s. Inefficient nationalised industries such as steel, coal and car manufacturing were privatised as were later telecoms, railways, electricity and water suppliers, but this masked the growth of transnational organisations responsible for managing every aspect of our lives. Contractors such as Serco, G4S, Capita and Veolia began to run public services as diverse as prisons, refuse collection and accounting. A growing proportion of workers did not make anything or provide any essential services, they just micromanaged a hypercomplex system. More startling has been the growth of the third sector and a vast maze of awareness raising pressure groups and charities who fill a void left by the demise of traditional family and community support structures to cope with permanent social insecurity. Neoliberalism has not led to a new era of individual freedom and small-scale private enterprise, but rather to a steady transfer of power away from traditional nation states, who may intervene to defend local small businesses, to global corporations. Today most small businesses are effectively freelance service providers or skilled workers whose contracts with big business can be terminated at short notice.
However, on lifestyle issues the neoliberal intelligentsia seem perfectly aligned with the trendy left. I only became active on Twitter in 2014, but one of my earliest followers was one Andy Woodfield, who heads up the diversity team of Price Waterhouse Cooper. His tweets are uncomprimisingly positive about all aspects of globalisation and social engineering. I think the PwC language police are in the process of phasing out the adjective ungood as it might trigger the occasional critical thought. Why would an audit firm such as PwC, founded to help large corporations avoid tax, be so concerned with promoting the misnamed Equality and Diversity agenda? Shouldn’t PwC just focus on its core business of accounting? Besides how can they afford such plush and spacious offices in some of the world’s most expensive cities? I used to walk past their shiny office building sandwiched between the Houses of Parliament, City Hall and Ernst and Young’s London HQ. The truth is tax consultancy is only a small part of their operations. Their true role is the creation of a new world order that serves the long-term interests of their corporate clients. They’re in the change management business, overseeing the suppression of traditional cultures and their replacement with a global culture of socially engineered psychoanalysed individuals. Big business has now coopted the language of the old anti-establishment left. They claim to want a fairer, greener, more egalitarian, more inclusive and simply nicer world. Monsanto wants to tackle hunger through biotechnology. Starbucks wants to help African coffee growers through its fairtrade brands. Facebook wants to combat racism, misogyny and homophobia by monitoring social network posts, while HSBC helps young people set up small businesses. Happy consumers can help by choosing brands that reflect ethical responsibility and positive change. Indeed in the mindset of the metropolitan elite, the only bad guys are those who want to limit the freedom of our benevolent global corporations, such as Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump or Bashar Al-Assad. These are the Orwellian Emmanuel Goldsteins of our era, people every progressive person should hate.
Most on the left have long ceased to oppose global corporatocracy. They still rant and rave against greedy energy companies and CEOs, but their main gripe these days is that corporations do not pay enough tax. Translated into English this means the do-gooder left worries that some branches of the global mafia do not sufficiently subsidise local branches of the global mafia. As it happens it’s not in the interests of global retailers such as Amazon for Europeans or North Americans to be so poor that we can’t afford to buy goods online any more. They are perfectly cognisant of the fact that the next wave of automation will render most jobs in manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, food processing and even catering obsolete. Big business needs big government not only to subsidise its customers, but also regulate their behaviour through education, social services, psychiatry and policing. The tamed masses need do be given the illusion of democratic control. Whenever a local government reaches a new social engineering milestone, the progressive classes give themselves a pat on the back as if a grassroots movement has just achieved a breakthrough. Likewise whenever a new technology enables a new service or consumer experience, big business can present itself as a force for social progress. Manufacturers no longer need us as workers, only as loyal consumers and marketers. We should have seen it coming. Right through the first decade of the millennium I marvelled as manufacturers continued to outsource production and lay off workers, while retailers expanded. How can we have an economy in which people only sell products and services, but don’t make anything? I wondered. In a traditional capitalist economy my observation would be perfectly correct. The retail economy relies on wealth ultimately generated by the productive economy, which is increasingly in the hands of global corporations. So why should the likes of Amazon pay more taxes to subsidise consumption in the UK if its real wealth comes from all over the world? Why should it not subsidise Kenyans or Peruvians? Why should it not support social engineering to encourage more people to flock to regions where consumer culture already reigns supreme?
The real political divide is longer between left and right. It’s between conformists and anti-conformists, globalists and nativists, establishment cheerleaders and anti-authoritarians. If you trust the new coalition between statists and corporatists, your rhetoric may sound progressive but you are unmistakably conformist. I, on the other hand, remain a free thinker and support whatever policies seem to redress the balance of power away from unaccountable elites to people like you and me and more important lead to the kind of sustainable society that can best safeguard the future of our descendants.