British General Election Feature: The Red Pill
When Einstein first came to America, stepping into a supermarket, the phrase that came to his beautiful mind was “choice paralysis.” While that anecdote may be apocryphal, it reveals a paradox of democracy in America, which is to say democracy under neoliberal-capitalism – there is a litany of choices for soap but never more than one for office.
Neoliberal capitalism is of course the major export of the American empire, its soft power to use the term of Joseph Nye. However, insatiability is the predicament of the neoliberal consumer, who as a result, suffers from being fundamentally insecure. Indeed, the unchecked absolutism of this system has put the entire project of Liberalism itself on the chopping block.
For many decades in the U.S., the U.K., and elsewhere, the democratic choice has been between the economic Neoliberalism of conservatives and the Neoliberal Lite of pseudo-social parties like the Democrats and New Labour. The situation is not much different in the world’s other major economies. China’s neoliberal capitalism is assured by its nature as a one-party state. Moreover, this Capitalism is managed by the authoritarianism of communists, hence its incredible, albeit grotesque growth. Likewise, India too has been consumed wholly by neoliberal capitalism, and for good measure Prime Minister Modi has secured its place with a strong Hindu nationalism.
Since the most recent systematic financial crisis, the masses around the world have begun to notice their electoral choices have been illusory, simply the results of differing advertising campaigns of the same product. In this state of affairs, whereby democratic power has been restricted, we must first recognize our now institutionalized denial. We must look our predicament in the eye by letting the powers that be know, that we are not oblivious to their actions.
The uncomfortable truth is this: the largely free reign of neoliberalism is leading to an end-game. The growing pains of globalization are having severe effects on current generations. This is evidenced by nationalist reactions such as Trump and Brexit. In combination with globalization, exponential advancing technology puts large swathes of labor at risk of losing the menial ground beneath their feet - a ground in which socialized policy could fill in, but it has not had the space.
Moreover, as bred consumers, our societies are not prepared for such eventualities, and our future generations will fare even worse. There is the looming crises of the large fiscal gaps of generational accounting (mismanagement of the welfare state), debt and the false security of credit in almost every major economy. Then there is the intermittent systemic economic failures such as the GFC, which will likely litter our global future all the more commonly. Combine these crises with their doubtlessly panicked responses, plus the ongoing national, cultural, and economic clashes, and sound of the oncoming train becomes quite plangent.
Of course this is all going to be endured during the truculent effects of climate change, mass displacement of peoples, regular humanitarian crises, and the further eradication of industries. The vivid and absurd wealth disparity evident in every country on Earth will only expand. Granted, populism, socialism and xenophobic nationalism were all portents to the last expansion pains caused by globalization - in the mid-twentieth century. But the disease remains the same, and if the neoliberal system is continuously rebooted or treated solely as a symptom with healing methods, as it is today, our sheer helplessness will only become more acute. Denial is a luxury we cannot afford.
It has gone so far in fact, that it has proved, at least eponymously, that Lenin’s Imperialism, The Highest State of Capitalism, was right. Capricious and desperate reactions to these crises, like Trump and Brexit, are poor attempts at Band-Aid solutions. They’re short-sighted and futile ventures, that may dull the pain of bruised cheeks on some of the desperate and ignorant, but at no point works to halt that Orwellian boot stomping on our human face.
The problems brought about by neoliberalism cannot be trusted to be found by neoliberals. In the U.S., Republicans and Democrats fixed the dice a long time ago, and as the D.N.C demonstrated last year by sabotaging the Sanders campaign, they don’t intend to level the playing field. Such is the nature of idiocy - the Democratic Party remains incapable of learning from its mistakes. By continuing to undermine Sanders, the monopolized American political landscape has once again avoided a perfectly good opportunity to stop banging its head against the wall. Indeed, by turning the wall from metaphor to reality, politics has been successfully distracted.
However, across the pond in the United Kingdom, a new opportunity is being offered. On a world-scale it is once again up to the British to take a stand. Now, I am not for a second pretending to argue that Jeremy Corbyn is the answer to a grand and globalized problem. Indeed that would be to make the same solipsistic mistake of the nationalist, to pretend as if national action could solve global crises. However, there needs to be some semblance of socialism in any government attempting to deal with the fallout of the rapid growth and corresponding pains, otherwise there will be no society left in which to pursue Individualism.
It never ceases to amaze how the term ‘socialism’ is understood in America about as well as the term ‘moderation’. Indeed, if I am any kind of socialist, and labels are best discouraged, I am the dandiest kind, which is to say, I am a soul under the socialism of Oscar Wilde. Corbyn is not a representation of Wilde’s socialism, what he represents is a choice, an alternate route, a scenic detour. Voting in a socialist in Britain will not solve global ills, but it will be, given the context of this election, the choice to no longer live in denial.
Clearly, globalization is working; the problem is that it is working a lot harder for a select few - and by its global nature, so too is the global nature of comparison between peoples, such comparison is ripe for resentment. It must also be said, that this is not the first globalization; and the story of the 20th century must be strictly heeded with each step we make. The choice now is to seek the fresh air sorely needed if we are going to find the solutions to the complicated global knot we find ourselves dangling from.
The Ides of May
The British General Election has been described by many as dull. It is, as I’ve suggested anything but. I would even go so far as to call it the most exciting election in recent memory. Why? Because in this election there is the almost unrecognizable presence, even though it is but a sliver, of a real choice; that is to say, a decision between alternatives. On the one hand, the blue pill, the Tory, Theresa May, a conservative neoliberal succumbed to fighting for a Brexit she never wanted. On the other, a peaceable socialist - Jeremy Corbyn, who despite being ignored and sniggered at for his more than three decade political career, is now by some polls, a genuine contender.
When Prime Minister Theresa May called a surprise election for June 8th, a U-Turn on her promise of a 2020 General Election, the likelihood of a conservative victory was almost certain. Most polls had the Conservatives with over a 20-point lead. However, as the election draws nearer, the Labour Party’s new form, a genuine attempt at a New Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, has started to be taken seriously. Indeed, a YouGov poll goes so far as to predict the Tories might actually fall short of a majority, leading to a hung parliament.
Undoubtedly, a single and easily contestable poll using a nascent methodology is not truth, but it is at the very least evidence that many Britons, especially the young, are prepared to support a different type of politics. What was previously a comfortable victory for the Conservatives, and the nail in the coffin of the Labour Party, has suddenly become much less melancholy. But is Labour’s new form a phoenix, or another phony?
According to The Economist, Prime Minister May’s recent decline in the polls stems from a “manifesto misstep” and a “woeful interview.” The “misstep” was a Tory pledge at the manifesto launch that included a new charge on the elderly for social care. The elderly, a key conservative demographic, were about as pleased with the idea of a care charge as they are with the idea of tepid tea. Expectedly then, the pledge was instantly unpopular, like a fart in an elevator. The Tories then quickly reversed the pledge, but like in the elevator, the mood had already been somewhat soured.
The “woeful interview” was last week’s televised appearance of both May and Corbyn, in which both were questioned separately by voters and a frothing Jeremy Paxman. Unlike May, who seemed more evasive of Paxman’s pestering, Corbyn’s cool performance boosted the already steadily rising Labour figures. Moreover, Corbyn’s treatment by Paxman seemingly endeared the Labour leader to the audience. The substance of the interviews can be seen here on Modern Treatise.
Paxman interviews usually have a certain cadence. They begin with a patronizing Paxman playing the more intelligent and moral of the two characters, evidently his own casting. However, by the end of the interview, the roles generally reverse. In Paxman’s interview with Corbyn, he set out to corner the Labour leader into a moral submission. However, Paxman’s moral considerations never delved deep enough to pierce the skin, especially considering he focused on issues like Trident, terrorism and drone strikes - issues that are about as black and white as Nascar.
Paxman, evidently confused with the concept that moral beings are capable of difficult decisions - posited to Corbyn a crass hypothetical about the drone striking of a threatening Islamic militant. Corbyn’s first response was of concern for collateral damage in such an event. Paxman found this response weak, but then decided his moral hypocrisy wasn’t yet obvious enough. So he asked Corbyn how he could be ‘friends’ (in reference to dated comments made about Hamas and Hezbollah) with an organization that has killed innocent women and children? This would be a valid question for a politician to answer, if it hadn’t been the previous question in reverse. The land then seemed ripe to harvest the crops of history, for how could Corbyn love a country so much he wanted to lead it, a ‘country’ that firebombed Dresden for instance? A ‘country’ that oversaw the mass deaths and genocides of peoples across its empire?
I am not here to pursue an argument against England or the British Empire - that argument too is as black and white as the Holi Festival. The point is that Paxman sought to drag Corbyn down, but instead managed to make the Labour Leader look steady and pensive by contrast.
Paxman’s line of questioning attempted to catch Corbyn being ingenuous. In doing so, Paxman completely mistook the climate of the election. In 2017, with the childishly petulant global outcry for a return of the regressive stylings of demagogues and autocrats, Paxman thought it a good barb to try and lance Corbyn for accepting that his political opinion is not singular and absolute. Indeed, Corbyn has clearly relented and allowed Trident to stay in the Labor Party platform, but whatever you can say about Corbyn, that is not the action of an autocrat, and isn’t that the point? Corbyn said it himself: “I am not a dictator.” And frankly, Paxman seemed disappointed.
Evidently, and if only to prove his anti-Leninist disposition, Corbyn’s leadership has seemingly relaxed some of his more fundamentalist socialist ideals. Some might call it capitulation. More forgivingly, although perhaps more accurately too - it could also be called pragmatism. Corbyn has been criticized by many of his “more centrist colleagues” for apparently being more concerned with restoring “Labour’s lost purity” than winning the election. These critics suggested Corbyn saw himself more as a patient Bolshevik soldier, fighting the long fight in order to witness Capitalism collapse and be there to say “I told you so.” Corbyn’s willingness to concede ideological ground in order to better his electoral chances seems to contradict this criticism.
Corbyn’s willingness to accept that some of the old pure rational truths have their faults, and that by amalgamating his opinions with empirical developments, and the wider contexts of an issue, can provide him with steadier ideological footing. The complexity of the political landscape necessitates that ideological prisms need to be considered, not trenchant. The maturity of such a position not only demonstrates that he is serious about leading the country; but also that he has confidence that he can be the jolt of vitality that frees, at least Britain, from the self-denying groove of neoliberal Capitalist catastrophe.
The Oracular Choice
Jeremy Corbyn’s rise, like Sanders’, comes via the spritely energy of the young. One should never underestimate the opinions of the young. After all, it is the young who most easily recognize the empirical fissures in our world. It is children who curiously point out the holes in religion, xenophobia and identity-politics. It is the old who always try to placate candidly youthful observations, lest they point out their elders’ years have been wasted. The youth, more than anyone else, know when something is wrong. It is an instinct many of us sadly grow out of, having grown complacent in the false security of our routines, which protect us from uncomfortable truths.
Globalization and technological advances are unstoppable and growing exponentially. The speed at which many of these effects are taking place means the vast majority are unfairly left behind while a select few reap all the rewards. Many of these effects are landing unfairly on the young. The work-force, especially in the West, is becoming more specified, but simultaneously, and paradoxically, more vague. In order to enter this work-force, the young have to weigh themselves down with immense educational debt, and then, if they did in fact receive an education for that price, they have to endure the torture of knowingly working middle-men jobs that only serve the purpose of keeping the individual in a state of consumption and debt-repayment.
Of course, this is only one (admittedly middle class) example of the bleakness ahead for future generations, but it suggests why the young - many of whom don’t have the luxury of denial, are so open and ready for alternatives. Inevitably, an argument for any kind of socialism meets the retort of utopianism. However, a vote to move left in this election, is not an optimistic vote for a socialist utopian ideal, it is a vote for opening our eyes, and realizing all this coalescence of background noise is in fact an oncoming train. Optimism in such a situation is naught but ignorance and folly.
Indeed, if the claim of utopianism is quelled, the claim of radicalism still continues to be made. As I’ve argued, the solutions to our problems can’t be found within the paradigms that created them. However, many unsure about the future will entertain the idea that allegedly ‘centrist’ ideas are stable and conciliatory enough to get us through. The problem with that argument is that we’ve already tried it, several times actually.
The surest proof of a genuine opportunity - is the sudden arrival of opportunists. With that, may we welcome back to the fray: The Hon: Tony Blair. Blair has returned to reinvigorate “what he calls the ‘progressive center’.” If only Blair could be confronted with that famous question of Saul Bellow: “The center of what?”
Blair rose to power in the mid-90s through the so-called ‘New Labour’, after well over a decade of Thatcherism and conservative government. New Labour was born out of a single strategy: if you can’t beat them, join them. It’s Tory Lite in the same way Democrats are urban Republicans. The only difference being it had a refreshed mandate garnered by a successful advertising campaign, and the character of a leader that could have been sued by Hugh Grant for theft of intellectual property.
To suggest the ideas of New Labour, or the ‘establishment’, is centrist is not a claim of moderation. It is actually a violent act of monopolization. It is to move the center to the right of any middle-ground in a way that seems mollifying, but in actuality, is done with all the care and delicacy of The Hulk on a putting green. It is to hold an election in a democracy riddled with diabetes and drought, and for the choice to be between high-fructose corn syrup American Coca-Cola, and sugar cane sweetened Mexican Coca-Cola. In both cases, the problem is exacerbated, and the money ends up in the same hands.
Pseudo-progressive figures like Blair, Clinton, Obama and most recently Macron are placebos, sugar tablets we’re told are the bringers of change, but change nothing except to spike our mood in order to distract us from our senses. In The Soul of Man Under Socialism, Oscar Wilde argued that superficial debates and actions about how best to alleviate the symptoms of this kind of unbridled runaway capitalism can only ever do just that, and can never reach the source of the problem. It is, of course, difficult for people to get their heads around something other than the system they’re consumed by. Of course, I am not here to suggest Capitalism is a wholly bad thing. On the contrary, it has proved successful for a great many people. But empirically, it cannot be denied the global system is on a catastrophic course.
Understanding our situation, and seeking out a solution, rather than attempting to Band Aid the symptoms of a problem we ignore, like typical middle-aged men, can be the only source for optimism. Only then, when we realize how far we need to progress, can we mention the word ‘Utopia’, the goal of human optimism. As Wilde put it: “progress is the realization of Utopias.”
The truth is, we don’t have a solution to the problem, and even if we did, a national election would do startlingly little to counter what is a global systemic crisis. Why this election is important is because it posits to a relatively engaged electorate, for the first time, a choice between the endemic status quo, and something that at the very least, wants to think differently. We can choose the blue pill - believe whatever you want to believe, and pretend nothing is wrong. Or, we can take the red pill, a pragmatic step toward a more open political landscape that is, at the very least, eligible to search for the solutions we seek.
Now I am not particularly opposed to Theresa May, and indeed some of the Tories ideas have been valid, indeed some of Thatcher’s ideas were valid; especially in regards to the mismanagement of the welfare state and the associated crisis of generational accounting. However, these ideas are once again, solutions to problems the system itself created. What I do approve of is a proper conversation; a conversation is a dialogue requiring differing ideas and perspectives. The political narrative in the Western world has for a long time been the illusion of this conversation, and not the having of it.
To be clear, most polling and figures still have Theresa May and the Tories claiming a majority and being able to form a government. However, Jeremy Corbyn, the figure expected to write Labour’s second and final suicide note, is defying the odds and appealing to many with rational and moderated socialist ideas at a time they are desperately needed. Whether a neoliberal or a socialist government is in power in Britain will likely have little impact on the global crises, but it is at least the choice to stop living in denial. Perhaps a socialist victory in the U.K. will finally convince the moronic Democratic Party that Bernie Sanders was their answer all along.
Truly, the British thrive on the idea that they’re still a force to be reckoned with, if no longer on land and sea, then at least of mind. Indeed, there was a time when the sun wouldn’t dare set on the British Empire, which ruled over a quarter of the world, and did so for a decent portion of that time, as a liberal empire. They defeated Napoleon, and despite the testosterone derived chants of American frat boys, it was the British Empire that won the two world wars. The American military strategy has always been that of the lazy or self-absorbed student in a group project, doing the least they could until at the very last moment when their economic interests demanded it, and then taking all the credit.
The British nostalgia for influence brought Margaret Thatcher, on her political deathbed, back to life through her war for British pride in the Falklands. It is this nostalgic vein that may provide the impulse for the British to stand for another fine hour. There is a phrase from George Bernard Shaw, a phrase oft borrowed by Robert F. Kennedy, that despite its now rather 60s baggage, succinctly represents the complacency and futility of our status quo, and the unprecedented, and abstract task before us: “Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?” Sometimes it is only when we change, and look from a different angle, that we see how stagnant and shuffling we used to be.
This election, like Morpheus, offers us the choice of two pills. The blue bill is the pill of denial, swallow it and believe whatever you want to believe - living a disinterested and thus inexplicably troubled life. The red pill is the choice to be curious and look for solutions to the crises bearing down on our civilization. Remember, all I am offering is the truth, nothing more.