Angst & Instability

I don’t know anyone who does not suffer from some form of Anxiety. I have written about this variously elsewhere on this site but the more research I do on psychology and philosophy (for work I might add, that is literally my job) the more it seems an inevitability of modern living. I was recently reading Kierkegaard’s ‘Sickness Unto Death’ which he calls Despair, which he defines in the almost comedic way of: “relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation”. Soren was talking about the search for God and the idea of sin or simply a life without God being the eponymous ‘Sickness’, however there is a lot in the text that neatly describes the sort of depression that is on the rise today. For such a short but dense philosophical text, chiefly about God, it is worth the read purely because of its demand for self-exploration and understanding. In it Kierkegaard talks about the idea of ‘embracing oneself’ which is very much a buzzword amongst the positivity movement that is so prevalent today but more than that it grapples with the notion of the infinite and the finite and reconciling our place within both. As such ‘Sickness Unto Death’ can be seen as one of the earliest existential texts.

Even more interestingly Kierkegaard also wrote a text called ‘The Concept of Anxiety’ in 1844. In it he uses the analogy of a man at a cliff edge looking over the edge and being terrified by the drop yet with a compulsion to jump off. This internal conflict is what he defines as Anxiety or Angst: living in indecision. What this signifies is the dread that accompanies an awareness of our own freedom. The immensity of our abilities and our freedom in such a vast, and largely uncaring, universe is powerful and daunting, Kierkegaard recognizes this and gave us the definition for what teenagers around the world are accused of feeling every day. And he was right. What greater kind of indecision and accompanying dread is there in life than the transformation from a near total lack of awareness in childhood to almost too much awareness and understanding in adulthood? Every teenager is afflicted with angst because they have not yet learned to compartmentalize in the way adults do and bury ourselves in the minutiae of everyday life to ignore the immensity of experience and existence. Naturally, as a Christian, Kierkegaard says this is to do with sin and not accepting God but again need not be read that way. The idea of reconciling the finite and the infinite is a struggle which we all deal with. Or at least I thought it was.

HP Lovecraft is a horror writer from the early 20th century who built on this existential dread of reconciling our place in the Universe that was explored in a similar way in fiction by Ambrose Bierce and Robert Chambers but is definitely born of Kierkegaard’s explorations into Despair & Angst. I’m a fan of this type of horror writing and apparently I’m not alone, many things in popular culture at the moment are turning to this kind of existential horror in in either direct or oblique but always interesting ways. I wrote about this resurgence on this site previously too. Despite this it would seem this type of horror is purely the bastion of the straight white male. The thing that prompted me to write this piece was on Twitter recently, someone RTed a quote by William Hutson of the hip-hop group Clipping who said that “Lovecraft’s cosmic pessimism is only terrifying if you’re a straight white man and you thought you were the centre of the universe anyway.” Now an important thing to know about Lovecraft was that he was a racist and anti-semite and these factors undeniably informed his writing. Writing at a time of post war civil rights meant a straight white dude was being confronted by his own existence, specifically (he thought) having his freedoms removed. Now whilst this is certainly true it does little to explain why Ice T recently talked about his love for the Lovecraft story ReAnimator on Twitter or the incredibly horrifying existential confrontation of Get Out that was such an enormous success. And, most tellingly, the cultural penetration of Game of Thrones which is purely about the existential threat of the amorphous Winter, the night that is “dark and full of terrors” and so on, and the futility of our fighting it (a topic explored by Wisecrack). Lovecraft’s brand of existential terror is indeed informed by his problematic beliefs but the genre itself only seems to become more and more potent as the years go by.

Despite the despicable racism, anti-semitism, nationalism and class disparity that continues today, life in the west has improved vastly since the late 19th century. Equality took massive strides forward over the last 50 years and we live in a world of technological wonders like the internet that has increased the living conditions of billions and the rise of automation in industry has given us more free time to do what we love. And yet here we are with all this luxury, realizing how it equally penalizes other nations and cultures, how automation robs people of jobs and their identity, with rising political beliefs of a return to old fashioned segregation and discrimination, sexism and a potent form of nationalism all on the rise not the decline. In short, the whole planet has been confronted with its own freedom and the truly awesome immensity therein and far from embracing this and attempting to make a far more equitable and sympathetic society utilizing all this incredible new tools at our disposal, millions have shied from it. Instead they prefer to close their borders, demand a return to the ‘good old days’, where freedoms were limited, people were told what to do and personal liberties were maintained violently. By extension this can be seen in individuals as much as it can different societies or nations or people.

Friends and family of mine live their lives very differently now to the way I saw it as a kid. With the gig economy and most relationships (of any kind) being cultivated online and therefore needing nothing more than our smart device to run most aspects of daily life, we are given an enormous amount of freedom. With a wealth of things to do, to live and to experience in our time we instead live our lives in increasingly smaller homes and binge-watching season after season of television shows. The response to this is often “well I can’t afford to do anything” which in itself is another existential argument but what we’re essentially saying is we want to forgo our choice i.e. we are living in indecision. Some people are dedicated to moving forward and doing things and smugly tell us about it online in a passive aggressive way that says ‘you should be doing the same, you lazy bum’, others are dedicated to regressing society and become President, whereas I think most of us are the ones stuck in that stasis of indecision, not knowing how to move forward or back and consequently not putting the effort into defining ourselves beyond the roles a steadily dissolving society has given us. We are freer than we have ever been as species (that does not mean there are not people who have little to no freedoms and are not subjugated) and yet far from accepting and utilizing this freedom the vast majority of us either shun it entirely or refuse to do anything with it and that, I believe, is where this epidemic of anxiety has grown from.

Far from being the exclusive malady of the white middle class, I think this existential anxiety is rife amongst humanity today, whatever your belief, creed, colour or nation. The need for creating purpose in our lives and a direction for humanity as whole has never been more necessary but equally never more ignored and therefore, Kierkegaard’s need to reconcile ourselves with the immensity of existence, with God or without, seems to be the ultimate test of our times. If we cannot learn to justify our own existence and our place in the universe we may be heading for a lack of it.

Enframed Online

Please like, subscribe, follow, give me the thumbs up, leave a comment, favourite, retweet etcetera. In the abstract arena of the internet where everyone under the age of 40 makes their living, the currency is in the above listed units. That’s how you get traffic, hits, interactions, views, metrics and so on which equals profit. Somehow. I think it’s from advertising but that’s getting choked these days too so I don’t really know. Either way, both our livelihoods and our own self-worth today are measured in these kinds of metrics making social media a bizarre kind of augmented reality video game like Pokemon Go. Gotta catch em all!

This kind of thinking – technology as a mode of living – was perfectly defined by Heidegger in 1949 as ‘Gestell’ in German or ‘Enframing’ in English. The idea being that for something to exist in the Human world it must be ‘framed’ by us first i.e. something doesn’t really exist to us until we have named it and discovered its purpose. It is a lot more complicated than that but that’s the broad strokes. As such, we have enframed other people to serve the purpose of ‘followers’ or ‘friends’ on social media, they are a literally a resource to be mined, a different node with unique attributes in a system that falls into certain predictable patterns that we can then manipulate for our own ends, literally like a computer. It is perhaps little wonder then with the YouTube vlogger, the influencer and the blog pundit we have ended up with such a right-wing society developing in the west.

Now this hypothesis was developed by Heidegger prior to the invention of digital technologies so I doubt he could have foreseen how prescient this theory was. His perception of it was seeing the totality of vision or everything on Earth as ‘Standing Reserve’ or any matter waiting to be exploited by us (there’s no coincidence the Standing Reserve is used in military vocabulary too). Heidegger saw it as the way humanity has evolved and grown by using the environment to create tools, homes, toys, vehicles, etc but technology in general is our way of life so we must enframe the environment around us to see it as a resource. Whilst this is an accurate way of describing humanity it is equally problematic when it is applied to people. Heidegger himself flirted with Fascism and the Nazi mentality can most definitely be seen as a very extreme method of enframing, i.e. humans as a resource to be exploited. Ironically the current Neoliberal model of Capitalism is also very much the same; seeing people as consumers, artists as creators, art as content, a useful item as product. To enframe is to rob something of its own essence, its own definition of what it is and with every demand for a like and subscribe we are framed as a resource.

For me the fact that a lot of the ‘Alt-Right’ online, who like to troll and abuse anyone not white or male, seem to talk of objectivity, espouse a love for science and demand ‘The Truth’ in every discussion. This search for objectivity which they deem objectively true is an oxymoron. All experience is subjective but their belief in this objectivity reveals how they have enframed everything as a means to serve their way of life. In essence, the various YouTube channels, Facebookers, Celebrity Tweeters, Instagram Influencers and so on that say they are apolitical still enframe their audience as a resource for them to continue living their lives, so are indulging in a type of ‘soft-fascism’. Yes, I’m calling PewDiePie a fascist like everyone else. But seriously, the fact the likes of Milo, Cernovich and Alex Jones do so well online is because they don’t see people, they see metrics and text on a screen, a similar mentality as the various Nazis when asked how they could perform their crimes replied all they were doing was signing bits of paper. Whilst this comparison is admittedly extreme, the dehumanization in both cases is most certainly there.

It’s probably worth pointing out here that I write for a YouTube channel and most of my writing work is published online these days so I am by no means saying the internet is inherently bad but there are significant problems with our relationship with it. I like to think the stuff I write and the way I approach the internet goes some way to assuming the people who view my CONTENT are their own people with their own complex opinions and experiences that they bring to the discussion but I fully admit this is not always the case. Many is the time I have made a criticism of a celebrity or ‘important person’ online only to have them reply in defense. This always depresses me because typically I will stand by the criticism but by no means wished to offend or upset the person, in the same way you may have a criticism of a friend in real life but you would not wish to insult or attack them at a dinner party, I’d like to think I had better manners and was kind enough to know when and how to broach the subject in private. The internet and social media does not lend itself to this way of thinking. I enframe these celebrities as untouchable objects who neither hear nor care about my petty concerns so I can offer my super important hot takes to the world but then I am regularly proved wrong when I get an angry or wounded reply in defense.

I, more than most, have a lot to be grateful for thanks to the internet. It has given me a whole new life, new friends, travel, work and a girlfriend but the reason for that is, I hope, I always see the various people I interact with online as human beings with thoughts and feelings like me. A certain level of empathy is needed in the age of social media that is sorely lacking and has created an enormous amount of issues that has undeniably ruined lives. The alternative now is to just go off grid entirely which presents its own problems in a world where almost every financial transaction, bank, business and relationship is formed or fostered online. For me personally the sheen has definitely left the internet. The novelty of Amazon, YouTube, Social Media, et al has worn off with various scandals and problematic views, actions around tax avoidance, propaganda and misinformation, sales of personal information, abuse, Sexism, Racism, as well as poor customer service, built in obsolescence and much, much more. The Digital Revolution has transformed the world and isn’t stopping now but I think people are starting to predict, if not a Post-Internet Culture, but a culture where the internet is massively reduced in its scope and perhaps a return to more ‘analogue’ methods of interacting and sharing experience and knowledge. By no means does this remove the problems presented by our selfishness or our need to enframe the world as a mine of resources but it would certainly mitigate the impersonal mode by which we’re engaging with people, and the world, at the moment.

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Worst Case & Ariel

“You either love it or you hate it” was the slogan for Marmite because the people who did their marketing were smart enough to know this was the truth and they weren’t convincing non-buyers to get it so they just ran with this idea that had fallen into common vernacular. Bands, Books, People could all be described as “Marmite” meaning you loved or hated it, no middle ground. Today this partisan mentality has extended to EVERYTHING, nothing is seen as middling anymore or can simply be ignored, it is either the greatest thing to have ever happened or the worst. It will either save us or destroy us. The thing I found to be most interesting in all this is how this extends to the topic that has been the preoccupation with popular culture for the last 15 years or so: The Apocalypse.

The Left see an imminent apocalypse due to climate change, economic collapse and escalating wars whereas the Right see it in the rise of political correctness, social justice or just anything that doesn’t grossly benefit white dudes. Now the important distinction here is how both define these futures for society and civilization, for the left it’s a Dystopia that awaits but for the right it’s a Utopia. The pejorative use of the word Utopia has always perplexed me. Why is the idea of a prosperous, equitable society that benefits all seen as such a bad thing? I think the first thing to understand is that the people who complain about “Utopian dreamers” are normally the people currently living in a Utopia themselves: privileged, wealthy white people who have never known real conflict on their shores in their lifetime and are rarely said no to or not catered for, but it also seems to boil down to a total misunderstanding of what Utopia is.

I just finished reading Thomas More’s book ‘Utopia’ which is where we get the word and its general meaning from. Unfortunately, little more than a basic precis is given to us by the modern definition of the word Utopia if you haven’t read the book. The book itself is about a mysterious sailor named Raphael who tells Thomas of an island nation that he visited/discovered off the coast of South America. It is a seemingly ancient society and civilization of total harmony and the more it is described the more we realise how difficult it is to see happening at the time the novel was written but thanks to a surprisingly nuanced and detailed explanation of the different aspects of Utopia by Raphael we can see reflections of the country in our own contemporary society, references to courts and policing, sales and taxation and even home ownership and gardens are discussed as the perfect model for a well maintained civilization. Thus, the most striking thing reading Utopia today is that by the book’s definitions it already exists in the western world, but only here and only to certain class of people.

The other thing that struck me was something that seems slightly abstract about the book: it is not a first-hand account, it is an account of a first-hand account. Anyone who is aware of the ‘Unreliable Narrator’ trope in stories will know this is one way of being given a story that may or may not be true. Or both. Any book you are reading purports itself to be the objective truth, be it written first person or not, you take the story at face value even if you know the person telling the story is subjective. In the case of Utopia you are hearing a subjective account of a subjective account and this places Utopia in an interesting place not just as a book but an idea that has come to define the word. Even in the context which defines the idea of Utopia it is seen from a distance, it is a myth even in its own story explaining it. Utopia is a country viewed from afar, never to be landed on, that we see as perfection but can never attain. Perfection has always been unattainable, as any wise person knows, so Utopia can only ever exists as an idea even in its own story. Therein lies the difference between the Left and Right visions of the next stage of civilization, the left knows aiming for Utopia is doomed to failure for “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp” but we equally fear the reality that a dystopia is achievable due to its definition being founded in very real and present concerns. The Right, however, are the opposite. Their Utopian hell is unlikely to ever happen but they inch ever closer to a dystopian present of their liking and design.

Another text that uses a mythical island to confront us with a form of Utopia and Dystopia is Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. Whilst Prospero’s island is not a Utopia, nothing more than a rock really, it is easy to see the way everything on the island, embodied in Ariel and Caliban, is depicted as being Utopian or Dystopian depictions of humanity. Even the way the survivors of the shipwreck see the island is the opposite to one another:

Adrian:            … the air breathes upon us here most sweetly
Sebastian:        As if it had lungs, and rotten ones.
Gonzalo:         Here is everything advantageous to life.
Antonio:          True; save means to live.
Gonzalo:         How lush and lusty the grass looks! How green!
Antonio:          The ground, indeed, is tawny!
Sebastian:        With an eye of green in’t.

An island that depicts both the best and worst in people seems a perfect sister to More’s Utopia (a text written 100 years before the Tempest) that reflects the problems of the contemporary England of More’s age to a dream-like, mythical place of societal perfection. Prospero even says in his “we are such stuff as dreams are made on” speech, the implication that everything there on the island is false, this “insubstantial pageant”. At the end of the play both the selfish and greedy Caliban and the righteously furious but altruistic Ariel are freed from their servitude to Prospero by him as the survivors along with the Magician himself and his daughter leave the island to return to the ‘real’ world, this could be seen as relinquishing the notion of the dichotomy presented by the island of good and bad or black and white thinking (Ariel in performance is often White, Caliban is typically depicted as Black). As such we could see Prospero’s island as both Utopia and Dystopia that the characters can return to civilization with knowledge of, in the same way as Raphael returned with an understanding of the Utopians.

The point I am trying, laboriously, to reach is that the Hegelian argument of Thesis and Antithesis (the need for two opposing arguments to decide on a synthesized method to progress with) need not be embodied in reality. Diametrically opposed views are useful in debate and thought experiments as there will always be a counter argument for any point of view or belief but its usefulness in day to day life is not beneficial, as we are seeing today. Whilst this may sound like an attempt to say “Can’t we all just get along?” it isn’t. I do not believe in liberalism or centrism, I believe in everyone being educated and intelligent enough to understand an argument from each extreme and be able to utilize this knowledge to better approach a topic as opposed to simply taking an oppositional or dogmatic stance on any given thing. We need be neither Ariel nor Caliban, we can be Raphael and see the ideas of perfection or corruption without making them a reality and know there is something better to aim towards.

Having said all this, I admit this was one hell of a reach. I based this article on the title which was given to me from an autocorrect mistake by my girlfriend when she meant to say ‘worst case scenario’ but I liked it so much I wrote it down to use as a title later. It kinda makes sense though. And I highly recommend reading Utopia, fascinating reading given the current political climate, especially in the UK and USA. There’s nothing wrong with being a Utopian dreamer, Shakespeare clearly was.

American Blood

It’s Independence Day here in America. I’ve been spending a lot of time here over the last three years or so, what with having an American girlfriend and all, and I must say I really do have a lot of love for the country and its people. The British and Americans have that stupid ‘special relationship’ which seems to me to be the same language and a seething resentment for each other but I think most people from either country, once we get past the stereotypes, will enjoy the other’s. That does not mean, however, either country is without faults. Britain is in the throes of some serious existential crises currently and it is costing lives. Being British though I feel much too close to give a proper appraisal of the situation. In America, however, I’m in a unique position to be very close to it yet from a different culture which gives me a slightly more ‘arms-length’ view of the nation. Consequently, after President T*umps election I felt compelled to write something about an outsider’s perspective on the United States. So just before last Christmas I put together a long essay about America’s own existential crisis it is living through but without mentioning the current President. At the time I had just been to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell as well as purchasing my own copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, all of which had profound effect on me. I was aiming at something like Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ (obviously not as good or as impactful but a Brit commenting on the issues facing the Nation’s survival as an Independent Union) in that it is indeed polemical but hopefully poetic too. It’s too long to be submitted to any magazine and no publisher seems particularly interested in a 30 page essay so I sent it to a few close friends out of the blue and received largely positive feedback. It’s been 7 months or so and I don’t think its going to see ‘proper’ print so I decided, on this July 4th, to post it here. Pdf below.

 

America is a great country with a remarkable foundation. The Constitution is the modern blueprint for how to found a Nation and that intellect wins over brute force every time. I really do have a lot of love for America despite its issues (stop being racist and get rid of your guns are the main ones I think) and would love to spend more time here. Every country is going through a difficult time right now and the USA is no exception. I don’t pretend to know the answers but I think I can see what the problem is. So Happy Birthday, America, may there be many more to come.

Now get rid of the orange twerp.

My Summer with Jez

If you cast your minds back to the dim and distant past (those of you who are old enough) some of you may remember the heady June of 1996. It was a hot and bright summer in the southeast and I was freshly free as school had just broken up. The internet was not what it is today. Whilst my Dad had a modem he used it for work, this was in the days of dial up and high cost for usage, as well as the fact you couldn’t pick up the phone while online. All this is to say as an early teen I wasn’t sitting around watching YouTube (it was still a decade away). It was the year of the N64 release but I wouldn’t get my own for a year or two yet (still the best Christmas present I ever got). As such I buried myself in books in my free time or found my one local friend and played outdoors. I also did a lot of writing at the time, telling epic tales that were light rip-offs of other favourite books/films/comics. Whitstable was less gentrified back then, still a bit grotty with the fronts of houses having last seen a lick of paint in the 70s and the front gardens having over grown in a charmingly wild way, pre-Titchmarsh and Co. Mr. Green was yet to takeover the town so the beach was a bit grubby, the notoriously lethal pre-‘health & safety gone mad’ diving platform still stood in the sea, the Neptune was still allowed its outdoor stage for music day and crowds only flocked into the town during July and August for the summer and the Regatta which always reminded me of that scene in Jaws. John Major was still Prime Minister having limped his way out of Black Wednesday 4 years previous to enjoy something of a reinvigoration of the markets that would lead to the now legendary Labour win the next year. The biggest boon at the time was in British culture, Cool Britannia (bleurgh) was on the up, post Grunge music meant giddy hedonism was in the music charts and it has never been so diverse. The world of modern art led by popular mouthpieces Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin was breaking up taboos and causing controversy. Television was enjoying a renaissance thanks to Channel 4 pushing the stuffy old BBC into more esoteric territory with shows like The Word having ended and TFI Friday and the Big Breakfast ruling the airwaves and setting the anarchic tone. In short Thatcher was gone, culture was fun and the sun was shining. Even for a kid as totally disengaged from reality as me the summer of 1996 felt optimistic and happy.

I have no interest in football. Or any sport for that matter. Unfortunately in Britain that doesn’t matter. During our MANY sporting events you are forcibly swept along and in the pre-digital multi channel days of the 90s, programming and discussion of sporting events dominated everything. World Cup 1990 and 94 were unavoidable, Wimbledon is still a source of national pride, the Ashes and the sodding ‘Ball of the Century’, was in every pub, every paper, every radio and television station bumped usual programming to favour overtime and rain stopping play. Into this all permeating culture of sport and summertime came Euro 96. Sick of the previous World Cup I was delighted to have a 4 year break from inescapable football coverage, sadly Euro 96 appeared and, in some ways, proved bigger mainly because it was held in England. What cut through to me most back then was the football superstars of the decade like Lineker, Seamen and Gazza but after 96 I knew all their bloody names and still do (some of them anyway): Pearce, Ince, Southgate, Platt, Shearer, Sheringham, Anderton, Redknapp, Campbell, Neville, Ferdinand and probably a few I’ve forgotten. As usual for England it was a deliriously gleeful charge toward the semi-finals against Germany prompting what I now recognise as rabid xenophobia and jingoism but was dismissed in the Sun(t) as “Bantahh”. We scraped a draw then lost on penalties because Southgate missed, which was soundly mocked to the point of Gareth being sent up in a MacDonald’s advert. As stupid and pointless as it all was, the march to almost glory caught everyone’s imagination created a new vigour in British pride (Scotland did alright too) and combined with our other cultural exports at the time, the mood was jubilant and even got to a spotty 12 year old me. Out of all this came an unlikely hero: Des Lynam who presented the BBC coverage with a dry humour and genuine warmth. He was a long-serving presenter of sport having even been present at the tragic Hillsboro Disaster 7 years previous, but after Euro 96 he was anointed National Treasure status by many. His stoic manner in the face of such hysteria and hyperbole (and bitchin moustache) seemed to capture everyone’s hearts and he still sticks in my mind as the gold standard for this sort of thing.

In a jump forward to the 1998, Britain was off its nut on itself, high on its own supply of British fervour. New Labour were in on a landslide, Conservatism was dead, Lady Diana’s death became a strange outpouring of grief far beyond that of the death of a former royal seeming to personify an overburdening sentimentality that had been growing and every part of culture was on that odd interim moment of being off your face when the jubilant part of the high has worn off but before the comedown when you’re doing everything to fast, too loud, too often and you’re starting to get on everyone’s nerves. Into this rather explosive mix came the metaphorical ‘second pill’ or ‘fifth line of the night’ that was the World Cup, reinvigorating the waning national fervour for Queen and country, Three Lions on a shirt, etc etc. As a sort of metaphor for this decline towards the millennium and the crashing, toilet coating come down that was to follow, England didn’t even make it to the quarter finals. But to coincide with the start of the tournament the BBC aired a one off TV drama written by comedian Arthur Smith and starring the then ultimate footy lout and man behaving badly, Neil Morrissey and a relatively unknown Rachel Weisz, called My Summer with Des. It’s a Rom-a-Com-a-ding-dong very much in the 90s mould of a Curtis-lite Four Weddings-a-like but played out against the backdrop of Euro 96, even featuring cameos by David Seamen and Peter Shilton. Lynam acts as a commentator on the fairly paint by numbers love story and that’s about the extent of it. It wasn’t particularly good or that bad but what it did do was crystalise that strange period in British culture beautifully and only two years later. It acts like a historical document to a bygone era yet made only 36 months after. Britain was different place and everyone seemed to be longing for that carefree time again. It sticks in my mind as a moment that changed my perception of change and of time, I could already be nostalgic for two years ago as the wizened, aged crone of a 14 year old wistfully remembering his youth and the heady days of summer. The summer of 96 still holds an oddly magical, probably mis-remembered charm to it even now. Abiding memories of reading book after book in the sun but every time I walked past any other part of humanity seeing or hearing three lions, or Blur and Oasis still duking it out in the charts, getting that weird green colour wash over your vision when you head inside after being in the sun all day, watching Dad at the sink whistling to the neighbours parrot through the window, cycling to the golf course to watch thunderstorms roll in, using my imagination everyday and filling whole worlds and my hometown with monsters and adventures I can barely summon through the clouds of cynicism these days, performing a newly learned magic trick to anyone I could collar for longer than two seconds and generally getting a lot out of life without realising it.

Everyone has a completely incorrect appraisal of their youth and loves to roll around in the warm, soft down of nostalgia these days. The digital revolution has killed the wonder and many levels of innocence that the pre-9/11 world preyed on and it is unlikely to get it back. With an electorate pummelled by constant innovation, terrorist extremism escalating, foreign wars, rolling news constantly informing you of it, endless REALITY television, meta-post-modernism being the basis of every artistic output, the lack of any centralised culture like the music chart, a shift by the media in response to all this towards clickbait and highly opinionated argument, all of which is another planet compared to the total stupidity and naivety of the 90s.

But this summer…

The snap election this year was met with a groan by the whole nation suffering from a morbid political fatigue post-EU referendum. With all the problems of the above and the cultural, artistic and commentariat class distancing themselves from any sort of collectivist arrangement, engaging instead in the increasingly niche sectors where their ‘fanbase’ can find them and add to the viewer or follower count, these disparate elements of British society looked set to desparingly nod along with the Tory party line and accept the vitriol and ignorance poured into the water supply by the print media.

Except that didn’t happen.

Instead of riding a wave of national pride and cultural fervour like Tony Blair and New Labour, Jeremy Corbyn shot a flare in the air to start the wave machine rolling. And roll the wave did. Anyone on the ground could see not just a meek and faltering optimism growing but a full-throated roar of hope and glee but that was completely either ignored at best or disparaged and insulted at worst by the media, the political parties (including most of the Labour Party) and wealthy business and investors. Unlike in the 90s the national media is not the main source, we are not limited to a small number of radio or television channels, and newspapers, for once the internet had made a community for the electorate to rally to instead of send everyone skittering away to their dens. Contrary to what many say about “not wanting to be dictated to anymore” by the media I find the reverse to be true. The Murdoch papers and TV love to get vox pops, act as your friend, use the chummy, post-modern, self-referential Bantz of the pub, nudge nudge wink wink, we’re all in it together aren’t we readers? mentality. Looking back to 96 when there was a national contest to rally around where we were GIVEN the story of Cool Britannia which became as self fulfilling prophecy and a tweedy Des Lynam warmly and comfortingly guiding us through it all and softening the blow of defeat. Corbyn did the same. He talked at us, gave us a narrative to understand that could be easily passed on and far from being ordered to your civic duty like the Daily Fail, Corbyn gave you his story and said do what you like with it and like Pavlov’s social reflex we gathered round it for warmth in such a bleak and dark time. As things grew bleaker with three terrorist attacks in two months we huddled closer, finding comfort in each other and a collective movement, a community we all fostered. I have never actively read the paper and certainly didn’t as a teen but I know the wave that met Blair’s campaign in 97 was a response to the ground born, cultural dialogue of the mid-nineties. The same is true of Corbyn, we all knew it, we just couldn’t articulate it, had nothing to rally behind. We just needed to be shown what it was that was pissing us all off. And then there it was, plain as day, and everyone who felt it teamed up and we were back to it being part of culture again with Grime superstars behind it, new media behind it, an en masse shift toward community thinking and rejection of the current political model. Everyone in that Establishment HATED it because you couldn’t make money out of it. This was the major difference with the Blair years, that kind of cultural revolution you could market and sell very easily, this kind you can’t. What Corbyn and his Manifesto offered was something not seen since Labour’s last boon in the post war years and it wasn’t just a return to Socialism. It was an interest and investment in contemporary culture. Labour was a Modernist movement in the post WWII era, using modern art and graphics, investing in new technologies and thinking, radical methods of education and restructuring, real boots-in-soil development of ideas and this was what Corbyn and his team understood but the rest of the party didn’t. Blair saw this was already happening and jumped on board instead of the Conservatives who were actively resisting it or just ignoring it. Corbyn wanted in on the ground floor and importantly LISTENED to what was being grumbled, what was wanted, what was needed: Change.

This early summer and Corbyn’s joyous, friendly campaign has created an undeniably buoyant mood (for those that agree with it) in a time of bleak and unremitting horror. His supporters understand the need for change and we voted for it. In droves. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough, largely because most voters (older voters) have not felt the pinch or seen the depravity to which the Conservatives will stoop. The past and nostalgia is comforting, many want the Blair years back but they won’t come. It was an audacious but failed experiment to try and promote that kind of community but appealing to it through centrist politics as opposed to actual community thinking i.e. respecting diversity of opinion and appearance and integrating it into policy not working around it. This election, far from crushing any will I had for the future of this country as a progressive, intelligent and contemporary element of the modern global society, has instead lit that same fire of the will I had way back when. That general feeling of good being done. Its not perfect and we still live in challenging times and I certainly don’t want to go back to the bloody 90s but I do want that sense of optimism and friendliness to return, the element that has been hammered from us these last 15 years. And for the first time since I was 12 it really feels like its back. So with a long hot summer ahead I hope we can all recapture that sense of community, helpfulness, enjoyment and positivity but minus the rose tinted nostalgia.

And all the bloody football.

Designing the Future

 

In a sea of hot-takes and off-the-cuff put-downs regarding the current snap election in the UK, I realise adding yet another one to all the noise has all the effect of a fart in a tannery but I want to look specifically at the aesthetics of these campaigns and how it reveals more than you might think. A close look at the Labour and Conservative manifesto’s graphics can tell you just as much as the policies inside. In addition I want to look at some of the language used by both sides and how that also – literally – speaks volumes for their ideologies. I won’t be looking at policies necessarily and while there is some cross over this isn’t necessarily a criticism of either parties pledges or policies. Here is a link to Labour’s manifesto and the Conservative manifesto so we are all singing from the same hymn sheet.

Let’s start with the most glaring difference between the two: Web optimisation. Labour has dedicated an entire subsection of their site to their manifesto, each section of it has its own webpage making it quicker to load. You scroll or swipe down to carry on reading and on the desktop version an image is justified to the left and remains static. There is a menu for each chapter allowing you to jump easily to the section of the chapter you want to read. This all speeds up load times and is very efficient. The Conservative manifesto is pdf in a media player on a single page of their website. In the page it is small and difficult to read but you can full screen it, however it still displays as a pdf in a book format (complete with animated page turning) and does not fill the browser. The player is much slower to load too due to the more complicated requirements of the animated elements. In addition Labour’s is more web native so downscales well for mobile devices which is how a majority of people will get their first access to it whereas the Conservatives’ relies on the ISSUU player and does not alter its appearance depending on what device you view it from, whilst this maintains consistency cross platform it makes it much harder to read if you’re viewing it on a smaller device. Now, importantly, the Conservative web manifesto is less friendly to the differently abled, certainly people without finger dexterity or who have vision problems, whereas Labour’s is much simpler to use and easier to read.

Now let’s look at font and text layout. The Conservatives have gone for a classical serif-based approach with Garamond (the font this article is written in), Labour instead have gone for the sans-serif, clean lines of Helvetica. As well as being visually opposite to one another the history of these fonts is poles apart too. Garamond was designed by engraver Claude Garamond in the 16th century for old printing presses, Helvetica on the other hand is a modernist font from the 50s by designer Max Miedinger. Generally in English we are used to seeing the printed word in a serif type like Baskerville or Times New Roman (named after the paper it was designed for) as it more readily appeals to our eyes that seek more human handwriting patterns, whereas Helvetica is much more a display font due to its clarity (used in the logos for American Airlines, Toyota, North Face, FedEx). Now on the printed page I’d argue Garamond works better in the lengthier prose sections except it has the effect of making the Conservative manifesto look dense an impenetrable, like the long form prose of a novel. Labour’s font may be plain and rather flat but it looks much easier to take in at a glance and therefore more welcoming. Online however it’s a different story. There are more sans-serif fonts on websites than serif, Helvetica is a fit for purpose multi-platform font that is clear and simple whatever device you read it on, Garamond is not (he said, writing in Garamond). Whilst it is definitely not like other web fonts and certainly looks ‘classier’ it is neither inviting nor easy to read. Unfortunately the Conservatives further compound this illegibility by seriously messing up the kerning (the spacing between characters). The Initial (those big letters that start the chapters) is really badly cramped against the paragraph, to the point of nearly overlapping – a design no no. Labour’s kerning is on point however, plenty of spacing between characters, aided by Helvetica’s clean lines, and a pronounced white box around the Initials Also the Conservatives’ page layout is cluttered and dense, Labour’s is sparse and minimal. The Conservative Manifesto reads more like a text whereas Labour’s reads like a power point presentation. The former is undoubtedly ‘powerful’, with more gravitas, but Labour’s is much more like the bulletin board it should be.

Labour’s Manifesto is much more in keeping with the design aesthetic of today (specifically web design) whereas the Conservatives’ is more like what we picture a formal legal or government document to look like. The latter is very much in keeping with the repeated dirge of ‘Strong and Stable’ and portrays the Conservatives as a more classical, traditional party but it is undeniably drab with it’s dour palette of Black, White and Blue. Labour’s on the other hand looks like every pamphlet you get dropped through the door: bright red, with the white shining cleanly through and – importantly – full colour images and colour coded sections. This speaks of Labour’s idea of inclusion, it is open and inviting with pictures of different people of varying gender and ethnicity. The Conservatives’ speaks more of its belief in individualism and the state stepping back to allow you to imprint you personality on to the policies and their presentation. In both cases both designs are not bad at all, they both reflect the message the party wishes to impart in the content of the writing itself and does so admirably, the point I’m making is that these designs are specifically tailored to appeal to their core voter and any undecided voter. Personally I find the Conservatives’ design to be an ugly, cluttered, austere mess with kerning issues and a shocking lack of understanding about web optimisation, whereas Labour’s is a minimalist, modernist’s wet dream i.e. Me.

Then there is the question of cost. Labour provided a financial break down of their manifesto promise in a separate sheet that broke down the costing. This was due to constant criticism by the press and the other parties that the socialist program was a myth and could not be properly funded. The Conservatives, with no such pressure, have provided no information on how their manifesto pledges will be paid for.

Now let’s look at the language of these manifestos and their respective launches. The Conservatives seem to be pushing the party to the background by constantly referring to Theresa May and her team, her foreword is littered with “I” and “My”, promoting the idea of individuality and (rather ironically given her and the party’s criticism of the ‘identity politics’ around Corbyn) that you would be voting for the leader who is much more popular than her party because apparently people still have the Mummy issues left over from the Thatcher era. Ahem. Labour talk about “we” “us” and “our” promoting their ideology of a shared society, community and a government integrated with the populace instead of one that steps back at times of crisis. Then there was the way the leader’s introduced their manifestos. Alright this is where I really get on my soapbox. Jeremy Corbyn used the same language in introducing his policies in an open airy space, unmolested or delayed by protesters. Theresa May’s however was delayed not just on the day but the manifesto’s printing itself was delayed four times (allegedly). Corbyn spoke of we and you and us and our where May talked of I and me and my. For all the talk of not trusting Corbyn you had better really bloody trust May as her words were that this was “My manifesto … a vision of the country I want this to be after Brexit”. That to me is terrifying and the true politics of identity. She spoke of wanting “to build a country” and that is telling. Brexit to her means destruction. It means the collapse of the previous Britain with its worker’s rights and moves toward equality, so the Conservatives would then have the ability after Brexit to build the country anew in their own image, or should I say hers. Corbyn’s introduction spoke of “unleashing Britain’s potential” after Brexit not attempting to reconstruct and introduced the policies saying “I am very proud to present OUR manifesto”. Believe what you like about the cult of Corbyn he is not the one publicising it, Theresa May – despite point blank denying it – most definitely is relying on the cult of her own.

My personal politics and loathing for the Tories and Theresa May aside what the manifesto launches and the manifestos themselves make plain is what is on offer from either party and not just in the policies themselves. On the one hand you have a severe, cold, austere, classical, stately manifesto of gravitas and great circumstance and on the other you have an open, warm, colourful, modern, simple manifesto of inclusion and assistance. I know which one I’ll be buying a hard copy of.

There’s still time to register to vote. Takes two minutes. Click here. Then vote for anyone except the Tories.

Generation Loss

Generation loss is a term for when something is transferred, replicated into another format or reproduced and the quality decreases incrementally with each copy. This happens across all formats, analogue and digital, be it a negative that has another negative made from it or an online video that is downloaded, no replica is ever perfect. This theory has been explored in science fiction fairly regularly when clones deteriorate at an accelerated rate or when multiple clones are made the later ones are less like the original, this was confirmed when the world famous Dolly the Sheep, the first living clone of an animal, was found to have debilitating arthritis and died relatively young. The more you reproduce something the poorer the reproductions become. Have you ever played chinese whispers? The final phrase, announced after having been heard and retold to a group of people, has suffered from generation loss. The photograph of a beautiful valley reproduced a thousand times becomes and green and blue smudge.

Socialism is (contrary to popular belief) not Communism. Communism is the opposite of Capitalism, Socialism accepts Capitalism but believes in democratic state intervention to curb its excesses. Y’know, the ones that result in people dying or being abused or discriminated against. It’s original meaning, coined by Henri de Saint-Simon, was to refute the individualism espoused by liberal politics i.e. that people prosper when we work together for a common goal as opposed to everyone being “out for themselves”. Socialism developed into a genuine political force in the 19th century and whilst the history of it is convoluted and difficult, one of its first major ‘wins’ can be seen in the Paris Commune of 1871, a short lived French Government post Franco-Prussian War that didn’t result in many decrees being passed but ones that did were significant. The separation of Church and State for instance. But in Britain in 1900 was when socialism took a larger part in the politics of this country. The Labour party was formed under the banner of socialism and rights for workers (hence the name) and overtook the Liberal party as the major opposition to the Conservatives. Since then the Labour party has remained the main ‘other’ party in Parliament.

Rather amazingly Labour’s impact is profound on any British resident. Even people who claim to be adamant Conservatives still believe in an awful lot of socialist principles: free health care, legal aid, social housing (to combat those pesky homeless people who want your change), maternity leave, and a myriad of other things that we in this country, when we are not taking them for granted, overwhelmingly agree with and actively fight to maintain. The post WWII two Labour government developed the Welfare State and the NHS, put many services into public hands by Nationalising things like the Bank of England. After the decimation of land, property and populace wrought by the war something drastic had to be done and Clement Atlee’s Labour Government, with the help of William Beveridge and Aneurin Bevan. developed this rather radical socialist agenda into policy. It worked and within 6 years the country was transformed to the point where, even though the Conservatives won the 1951 election, it was only by accepting these substantial social changes as a rousing success known as the Post-War Consensus. A lot of these ideals did not survive Thatcherism but some did, notably the NHS and the Welfare State and it is rather encouraging that even as Labour shifted right in the 90s many of these ideals were still maintained. Until today.

The generation loss of socialism has come to the point now where it is so muddied and unrecognisable that people cry foul at its nearest mention and, as mentioned earlier, confuse it with the unmitigated disaster of Soviet Communism. With names like Social Justice Warrior, Feminist and Do-Gooder used as pejorative terms this shows the deterioration of an ideology that was seen as a consensus, an objectively beneficial set of economic and ethical principles. From generation to generation we have been handed these political ideas but shuffled in amongst growing disparity in class and increasing austerity from every political party in the UK. This has created a contempt for this mode of political thinking whilst taking the surviving elements still seen as good and repurposing them; the Conservatives notably referred to themselves as the ‘Party of the NHS’. The result is that the Labour Party of 2017, despite having the largest membership of any party and espousing policies that benefit a massive proportion of the country of all classes, is rife with civil war from its own MPs who demand Labour return to its more right leaning ways so it might win the snap election against an unabashed and staggeringly popular Conservative Party that are doubling down on a glassy-eyed nationalism and individualist manifesto. Politics that once saved and united a nation is now dismissed as a chaotic mess and actively maligned as out-of-date and impractical. Socialism’s generation loss has left it barely perceivable from its source.

This is not unique to the UK. You need only look at the dawning of the Trump era of Rule by Whim and Oligarchy, the rise of sanitised Fascism in Le Pen in France, North Korea’s existence under the boot of a Dictator, Syria’s near total collapse under Assad, Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte saying he literally doesn’t give a shit about human rights and is “angry. I will kill people” make it quite clear that in the 70 years since the greatest humanitarian disaster in human history, there has been a deterioration in the memory of that era that revealed to everyone the depths of depravity and unconscionable evil mankind can stoop to under the guise of individualist pride and nationalism. As a child, the values espoused by socialism: fairness, equity and altruism – seemed to be a given, countries and people that did not go along with these kind of egalitarian and (I believed) forward thinking ideas were confronted and taught “that’s not how we do things now”. In the last 3 years or so this seems to have done an about face. Endless reams have been written on the subject, analysing why from every side of the argument but, to me at least, they all fall short of describing the paucity of humanity inherent in nearly every nation across the globe today. That verdant green valley and it’s crystalline blue river, now nothing but a hazy cyan smudge.

When Theresa May wins the General Election in June and England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland become single party Nations, when we leave the EU to our unmitigated detriment due to a myopic and over inflated sense of self worth, it is unlikely anyone reading this will feel the sociological tremors resulting in the genuine catastrophe that awaits. That will be the next generation. The next generation, in the wake of unchecked totalitarian political control, fascist governments, nationalist policy and a total lack of diversity in any field, will lose more than we can comprehend. In just this country alone the NHS will be privatised, the Pound will be one of the lowest valued currencies, class divisions will result in substantial ghettoisation, a hard border in Ireland will plunge us back to ‘The Troubles’ of the 70s that cost thousands of lives, all combined with general economic disparity that will produce a generation bereft of any of the socialist ideals that, ironically, the right wing trumpet as our great institutions. It is the next generation who will be described in history as the Generation of Loss.

Let us hope they develop a radical political idea of working together for a common good. A party of, I dunno, being social?