In this last post is two days late, partly because I didn’t want to rush it out but mainly because life has interceded and taken attention away. Today, in this last post on a brief period of peace, I would like to discuss contrariness, negativity and the culture of refusal, and their immense and unrecognised value to humanity. Many of the ideas in this post might come as a small shock to less-travelled American and Australian readers who are not accustomed to the British manner of parsing disaster, of holding out a tarpaulin to plummeting morale and yanking it away at the last minute just for a laugh
As I was walking down the street one day
I saw a house on fire
There was man, shouting and screaming at an upper-storey window
To the crowd that was gathered there below
For he was so afraid
Jump, you fucker, jump.
Jump into this here blanket what we are holding
And you will be all right
He jumped, hit the deck, broke his fucking neck -
There was no blanket
Laugh? We nearly shat.
We had not laughed so much since Grandma died
Or Auntie Mabel caught her left tit in the mangle
We are miserable sinners
–Derek and Clive, Live, 1976
As the American tendency to amiability and good cheer spreads through that part of society that benefits from the pretence that everything is always for the best and that all it takes to live a happy life is a smile and a ‘can-do’ attitude (a phrase which should earn any non-ironic employer of it a stint in a re-education facility and twenty years suspended upside down in salt and scorpions) spreads through the world, carried on the back of globalised TV, those who are minded to look will see value in the contrary and the negative. Culture and public life over the last 10 years has been so anodyne, so glued to the search for superficial consensus, so firmly fixed to action – or inaction – without rocking the boat that we forget that there was a time when mainstream politicians stood up for their principles rather than submerging them in a warm bath of populist politics until they emerged, drowned and bedraggled and unrecognisable, useful only for cattle feed. It is this sort of damp and warm environment in which fiery and passionate leaders germinate.
Europe has been here before, of course, most recently during the interbellum period. This tranche of European history is one that half of Europe wants to forget and the other half desperately wants to keep alive. It was a time of economic hardship, when the financial misfortunes of one country could be traced directly to the actions of another. France’s war reparations were so unreasonable, deliberately, as a means of seizing the German industrial heartlands which were forfeit to France when Germany could no longer pay. By 1923, Germany was bankrupt and a sinister political movement was well on the way to seizing power in Europe.
I know. This hardly sounds like an argument in favour of adversity, but the crucial point is that the Nazis – in common with all totalitarian movements – pursued a strategy of imposing order on the chaos of the time, and of imposing consent where there was dissent. In fact, they knew as well as any illegitimate authority that the most effective tactic was to move hard and publicly against those who dissent only weakly and who have no power in order to discourage the power bases of stronger opposition.
It’s startlingly similar to what we see at the moment. Argument has never been more political, the stakes never higher.
So this is a post for all those who are tired of the cosy cohabitation between powerful financial interests and politicians, of this idle assumed consensus foisted on us by politicians, newspaper editors, TV companies and employers. This is a post for those who know that the free market is just another human construct, no more fundamental than taxes or justice, and that humans can change it if we really want to. It’s for people who know that power should never be trusted, truth should never be assumed and authority should always be challenged.
It’s a message to the contrary.