Archives For Words
By Thomas Barlow
Like many people I am only just getting over my horror and disgust at the scenes that we witnessed this Black Friday.
Instead of people working together to provide for each other, have a nice time and a jolly festive season, our consumerist system has managed to bring us to its’ desired conclusion.
We are not to feel sense or rationale any longer ,we are to fight like dogs for pieces of trash that will never fill the emotional void in our lives – or ease the suffering of our ever diminishing bank accounts.
We punch and kick each other to buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, for a festival we’ve long forgotten the meaning of.
Funnily enough up until the Victorian era Christmas had little to do with presents, and was deemed too pagan and Catholic to celebrate for centuries after the reformation.
Cynics are not far wrong to suggest that it was a holiday that was built up in the Victorian era to sell pictured cards, though it’s stated purpose was far more charitable thanks to Dickens.
Dickens was the most moral proponent of the spirit of Christmas, and re-introduced the ideas of festivity, gift giving and charity.
So Christmas is a weird hotch potch festival, of northern European paganism, Catholic Christianity and Victorian charity and revivalism.
The antecedents of Black Friday are definitely not charitable. It was named by police officers in the US to describe the the misery of what they were going to have to face, coupled with the smog and dirt produced by the mass movement of shoppers.
Consumerism and inequality has always been at the heart of the modern Christmas as well, though.
Christmas trees were introduced by the German/British Royal Family and copied by the pilent populaces of the US and Europe and St Nicholas (Father Christmas) had his coat changed from green to red by Coca Cola.
For many of us, though, the modern consumerism is too much.
It has loomed large over all of us for a long time already.
Like the Christmas gifts I found in the local garage in August, it is never too early to start worrying about what you are going to spend your money on.
Black Friday, in this context, is peak abhorrent behaviour,then.
We look on with a mixture of disgust and voyeuristic excitement at the ‘dregs’ of society battling it out for a pointless bargain.
However a shop steward friend of mine pointed out the hypocrisy of the middle class judging the scrums from their armchairs (like myself).
“Question for those who were disgusted by peoples’ actions yesterday: What’s a more blatant example of rank consumerism – cramming into a supermarket in the middle of the night to get 70% of a vacuum OR cramming into a German Xmas Market stall on a Saturday morning to pay £8 for a hotdog and £50 for an ornament your three year old could make at school for a fiver?”
It is true, there are Gladiatorial elements to this, the rich watch on and tut and giggle as poor people fight for them, like Cambodian pauper children paid to beat the hell out of each other.
This does not explain or excuse the rotteness of Black Friday though.
The scenes we have witnessed across the UK show signs of a society that is sinking far past the ability to make any common emotional connection on the basis of anything other than competition and ownership of objects.
Unlike the middle class arbiters of tasteful behaviour, I actually don’t have two pennies to rub together.
My Dad, a big Beatles fan, recognising the financial state the whole family is in, sent us the following text:
“No presents for Christmas. All you need is Love!”
Idealistic as the tone may sound, the relief my brother and I feel is tangible.
Up to our eyes in debt, and unaware of what on Earth our parents might need any longer, the thought of just relaxing with my family, eating well, drinking and staying warm actually sounds like a holiday.
For many people it won’t be a holiday.
Most of us have to force ourselves through a scrum of family politics, present ranking and a constant eye on our bank account. For others it will be a lot worse, old people freezing through the winter, struggling to heat or eat, women in shelters, children in homes, homeless people trying to find a place to live.
The preceding two months (at least) of this situation is non stop push to buy, buy, buy, a it in someway is going to fill the gap that genuine connection to other human beings might actually fill.
It is an old trope, and we have heard it before, but whether we are buying our German hotdog, or our ASDA widescreens, we don’t seem to be any happier. And we certainly are no better off.
I leave it to my Salfordian friend to point out the obvious again;
“I don’t like the concept of Black Friday. I think it’s a shame that it’s a thing over here now. However, I wish the middle class left would stop moralising. People are poor. When things are cheap (especially before Xmas), they buy them. Yes it’s a shame that we live in a society where we are defined by what we own, but people with money sitting around tutting and casting scorn from their high horses is hardly going to change that, is it?”
It is easy and enjoyable to feel superior, but let’s actually try and challenge the conditions that create the need and desire for cheap goods in a world of plenty.
We need to organise, not moralise.
I hear that there will be a push to organise for an austerity Christmas next year – buy nothing, support rolling blockades, strike for the living wage, spread love. Now that’s a Christmas I could enjoy!
I leave you with a man who seems to have a good idea for what we should and shouldn’t be doing.
They say nationalism grows when people start to think that their past is better than their future.
It is not hard to see why we romanticise a mythical past in this country right now – and why we have seen a rise in reactionary nationalism.
The robbery of all our wealth by the bankers and politicians has left us divided and angry, blaming immigrants and poor people for joblessness, poverty, declining real wages, longer hours, insecure work and the many other trials that blight our daily lives now.
Our education is being privatised, sold off to religious groups and corporations through free schools. University is an expense that can never be paid back. It is no longer a place for learning, but a place to turn yourself into the ultimate economic unit.
The NHS, Pensions and Welfare as we know it will probably not exist within a decade.
We are the first generation in modern history to be poorer than our parents.
We are all in debt now – mortgages, university, credit cards, payday loans – we are all chasing that chimera of a moment when we finally get caught up.
Even our nation is in this kind of debt, one that can never be repaid, or even really afforded.
And with all of this we are now a people without a future. It has been sold off – financially packaged and redistributed to us as reminder letters, and personal financial advice, and ‘careful planning’. Austerity is our future.
Of course, this is all a mirage. Money is no more real than debt. They are both ideas. We can say no. We can refuse to pay.
However those ideas are as real as the bailiffs who come to collect them. So what are we to do?
No one seems to be offering solutions, politicians are barely even lying any longer – they all say we face even worse times ahead.
But another future is possible.
Across the UK and the world people are living the change we want to see. Housing, energy , food, arts, banks and all the other good things are being created in cooperatives and localities all over.
These are owned by the people who use them and they are created for the benefit of all, not just for the profit of a few. They help people provide more of what we need and work less.
There is hope through 3D printing, the internet, and other technology that – if we keep it free and usable for all – we can create another world directly, without any interference from above.
Resistance is occurring globally – from the slums of Rio, to the cities of China, from the streets of the UK, to the squares of Egypt. Too many places and too many people to count and standing up and saying ‘Enough Already!’.
For the first time in human history we can create a truly global change, no longer looking to just solving problems within our own borders – or within the borders of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability and the other divides we see as so fundamental.
These are borders reinforced in the mind, and used by the powerful to keep us divided. They can be destroyed by us as they were created by them.
We know any truly liberatory change will have to come for all us, or not at all.
If we work together, learn from the mistakes of the past, be prepared to make new mistakes, and create and resist with joy and determination then we can imagine a better world.
We can believe another world is possible.
We can reclaim our future.
Read the rest of our Reclaim Series (search ‘Reclaim’) to find out more about the different ways we can reclaim our future together – and how people are already doing it.
“I strode into that politician’s office ready to take his vision and weld it to words that would swell the breast and demand action to make that vision a reality.
“What do you want to say” I asked him.
“Oh well, we were rather hoping you would suggest something good,” the politician replied.
“My friends, I was I confess, stunned. I, the speechwriter, was being asked not just to contribute the form but the content. And in asking that I understood that what mattered to the politician was not that I suggest a way to persuade people of a policy the politician believed in, but simply that I say something that was pleasing.
“And that moment, in a nutshell, seemed to capture all that was wrong with modern politics.
“The rhetoric of modern politics is no longer about persuading others of the rightness of one’s position. It is about mobilising sufficient numbers of those who already share our prejudices. It is about getting out the vote.
“Now if the shock of my realisation reflects only my own naivety, it reflects calculated understanding on the part of our politicians. That approach takes advantage of our own psychology and modern technology exacerbates those cognitive biases.
“Research tells us that we experience pleasure when hearing arguments that confirm our existing prejudices.
“Meanwhile, the Internet and Satellite TV offer a multitude of refuges where we may hear only the view that pleasingly accords with our own. And on the rare occasion the disagreeable voices intrude, we can simply block them or un-friend them.
“Against these trends, there is no counter pressure.
“The information resource that is the Internet is frequently more burden than boon. The sheer torrent of information making it impossible to sort the accurate signals from the biased and irrational noise.
“In this world, no politician is incentivised to educate or to persuade people of harsh truths. They all want to be re-elected. If nothing else their salary and pensions depend on it. It’s a cruel jobs market and nobody wants to be flung on it with one night’s warning and a CV that reads simply ‘spent the last 5 years shouting and answering angry letters.’
“So when a politician speaks now, it is not to bridge a divide but to confirm prejudice. It is to rouse his loyal troops to action. Now if you believe, as I do, that however rational it may be as a response to the nature of our current system, a political rhetoric that does not seek to engage but to divide, is not the right way to make decisions, then you agree with me that there is a problem.
“Now it’s no good identifying a problem without at least pretending to offer a solution. So I do. Not so much in the expectation that it will be enacted, but because in thinking about my solution, we might more clearly understand the nature of the problem.”
By Jack Turner
People for whom “I really found myself in India” is not a derogatory term, modern politics is only seen through a prism of there being a right answer which must be sought and found and then proselytised from the mountain top so that the ignorance of the enlightened can be lifted.
The third way centrist slant of politics emerged in the 90’s as a way of moving forward from union labour vs unrestricted capital argument. It worked because like the explosion of cheap credit, it gave people a feeling of having gained something immediately without the exhaustion of working through the details.
Alongside the repeal of Glass-Steagall, Clinton’s other far reaching damage to the global political landscape was that finding a centrist argument meant winning the argument.
Political expediency has always lead to telling people what they want to hear, but by moving to the centre, each side has lost their fundamental reason for entering the argument in the first place. With no opposition it does not resolve conflict, it just provides one direction with which to deal with it.
Not having an argument is not the same as reaching a compromise, it just misses the complexity required to understand the other points of view. Without the argument, there is just conclusion whilst skipping the fulfilment that comes from having your point validated by being heard. This is what is driving the easily dismissed sense of apathy subscribed to the greater part of the population. I don’t see it as apathy. Rather, it is the unrequited fury at not only not being heard with the myriad of grievances that any populace has, but that the framing of any discussion which deals with the progress of our country does not even have the mechanism for those grievances to be given relevance.
This energy dammed through the lack of structural change does not erupt in violence for the most part but instead spills over into fantasy expressed through the disingenuous nature of the 24hour news cycle, extolling an Orwellian ever present with no past and a conjectured future. It’s the baseless transitory nature of our political class that endears such little trust. With the lack of shared experience that comes from x% of MP’s coming from private schools, x% from two universities, x% sitting on board of directors in and out of office, the sense of sacrifice resulting from seeing classmates at the same exclusive institutions just further distorts an already myopic world view.
Is this figure gormless or Gormly
Tide crashing against it
or staring out majestically
Will it speak in this soliloquy
Silent or are you deaf to its pleas
Feckless or futility
The road less traveled is
the plaster cast of the upper caste
which is wrapped with the mythology
that hard work isn’t built
on the supine backs of the huddled mass
That require just a cup of tea
to perspire at the daily grind
which they thought was left behind when
last they lay their heads on
their scared bed
For they too have folk stories
that offer comfort on cold and frosty mornings
that the lots of we, can be changed by the
that ours is not to do and die
but to strive for
rather than survive
so that the farthest flung apple
from our tree
will grow to see
a tectonic shift that will
take from them and give to
If that comes to exist
rain washed granite
will show inscribed
“Here stood a figure who could have been alive.”
“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
“Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
“Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
“Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”