Saturday, January 28, 2006

Just for people's interest, here is my reading on the political quiz on OkCupid!

You are a

Social Liberal
(68% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(15% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid

And here is my reading from the political compass:

60% Economic Left, 40% Social Liberal

Sorry, but they don't seem to allow me to show the little diagram, which is a shame. Of the two sites, I would actually recommend Political Compass more than the first one (which is American and has a few America specific questions).

So am I surprised by this? Clearly both would put me in the same kind of area, and socially I would say I am pretty liberal. As for economically, though, I wonder. I don't really think of myself as hugely against the capitalist system per se, but simply very aware of the flaws of the system as it is. These tests tend to ask questions about such issues, because they are aware that such issues are big issues to people on either side of the divide, but they then don't distinguish between my answer being no to 'what's best for a multinational corporation is best for the world' meaning I hate capitalism and everything it's built on, and meaning simply that I don't think this is true, but nonetheless the forces of the market and the private sector can, harnessed properly, still be useful to us.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Adbusters: Important and Timely or Childish and Pretentious?

The anitcorporate movement is one of the last great hopes of the left, in more or less any place on Earth you want to name. And I do sincerely believe that the issues raised by this particular corner of the political world are vitally important. In case you're wondering what I'm on about, go and watch The Corporation, or read No Logo, or some Chomsky. It' s been done before, I'm not going to retread it here.

Since having access to an outlet that actually sells Adbusters (Cambridge WHSmiths) I've been buying it. And sure, its political heart is more or less in the right place. But the trouble is, I get the impression half the people involved in its production are more in love with a romantic vision of an underground, shadow-culture driven movement than they are with the actual beliefs.

Now I have no problems with a magazine liking to present itself. When you can find all sorts of commentary on these lines on the internet, a magazine has to make a pleasant experience for readers. That's not my issue. My problem is its tendency to describe movements in extremely nebulous language, to publish articles like its Yomango article (which two letters this month complain about, thank God) carefully avoiding the word 'stealing', to put in pointless pages every now and then whose only purpose seems to be to make angsty teenagers feel like part of something special.

Go on their website's message boards, and you find little but fairly infantile conversations about the problems we face, from people that the right very effectively paint as communists. Are these the best that this movement can attract? Am I missing something? Some very intelligent people are involved in the movement. They make a lot of very good, subtle and nuanced arguments. But beyond the few central texts to the whole thing, the followers of it seem to be, on the whole, a rag-tag bunch of sociopaths and people who simply don't believe business has a place.

And my problem here is that for a fledgling movement, that would be fine. But this isn't, any more. This is now an urgent problem; corporations are lobbying the US government to destroy the environment, some environmentalists are now saying we're already past the point of no return, this stuff is urgent. Many related movements seem to be able to sort themselves out into meaningful, coherent campaigns: Make Poverty History, green groups, and so on. Why does this one, which actually has put its finger on the issue underlying most of the others we face today, not flourished to the same extent?

I tend to shy away from being too tinfoilist about these sorts of thing, but I am beginning to give some credence to the idea that the corporate media actually condition, in a subtle way, people to believe in the system. What Chomsky calls manufacturing consent. Because the people intelligent enough to see the importance of issues like this seem to like to believe in some mysterious controversy over the issue. As far as I can tell, nobody has made a good case for the idea that corporations should be the primary motivator in our lives, certainly never put it to the vote (at least not told people that's what it was; US elections are now a choice between two 'yesses' to the corporate world, pretty much). But people who are intelligent like to think that the world all kind of works the way it does for some reason - they find the idea reassuring - and so they almost ascribe a counter-argument to it all out of good faith that there must be one.

The movement is stuck in a rut, because the only people it is attracting, by and large, are the ones who really want to be dropouts or rebels anyway, the ones attracted to it precisely because it is radical and in the minority. It needs to get itself into the mainstream. And for that to happen, its house organ, Adbusters, needs to grow up a bit. It needs the people who do actually vote to get the message. More of its activists need to get into traditional politics, if only because that guarantees you some coverage by the media. We need to get the message out there carried by the intelligent spokespeople who understand the realities of the movement, not just the immature studenty types who want to stick it to the man.

And we need to do this soon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Just Get On With It

At some point you have to stop wondering what the thing to start your blog off with is, and simply write something. It's not as if anyone will read it anyway. So since there's no great way to get this thing off the ground, I thought I'd write about the first thing that came into my head. Probably this is going to become a ranting area, for things I can't get away with boring people with who I actually know. So, for my first rant: The General Public are Idiots.

One of the genres of TV almost guaranteed to annoy me is those shows where they get some politician, especially Tony Blair, in front of an audience of Ordinary People. I say especially Tony Blair not because I dislike him (in this instance, anyway), but because he's so polite to them. The clip of some woman outside a hospital harrassing him about her relative outside a hospital is one of the most infuriating things I've ever seen. Had I been Blair in this situation, the temptation to tell the woman to just fuck off, or ask what exactly she had in mind for him to do other than just 'have more staff', would have been overpowering.

As you may have guessed if you live in the UK, this has been inspired in particular by this evening's edition of Newsnight, where Blair was forced, as part of his day's PR schedule, to sit in front of a crowd of mainly belligerent tossers, who proceeded to berate him for not solving all their problems himself. Kirsty Wark strode around the hall, firing the audience's questions at Blair in a way clearly calculated to provide the story that The Thick Of It labelled "Politician Looks A Tit" first and foremost, and subordinate to that to actually provide a debate. "How many people here think liberalising the drinking laws was a good idea? ..[no hands go up]... Well there you have it". Oh yeah, well done Kirsty, you're clearly in the right about this. The fruits of hours of government consultation and thought on the subject clearly may as well be torn up and thrown out the window, a roomful of reactionaries in Swindon don't see the point.

"Who here thinks Cannabis should be a Class B drug?". Really? That many? That many people feel Cannabis is as bad as Speed? Or do they actually mean that Class C drugs should be treated more seriously? And how on earth did Blair let them get away with the lazy statement that the declassification 'sent a message to kids that Cannabis is OK'? It's still illegal, it's still possible to go to prison for possesion. Why do politicians put themselves out there for this kind of ritual humiliation, and restrain themselves from giving the audience as good as they get? Why does Tony just sit there, mugging and smiling and looking a pillock on TV, when you can see occasional flashes of exactly the right reaction: Snorts of derision for ludicrously ill-informed opinions. The next politician I see who actually has a go at someone for voicing a frankly stultifying opinion will get my vote straight off.

Why do I get the feeling that, had Blair responded with the correct reaction to the question on GPs not taking appointments he received on Question Time during the 2005 election, he wouldn't have gone on to do as well in the polls (that reaction being 'So you actually think I legislated that GPs' surgeries aren't to take appointments until the morning you want them so we can say we've cut waiting times? What are you, a fucking moron? Just because GPs surgery receptionists are being incredibly cynical and not doing their job properly, that's meant to be my fault is it? And yet, at the same time, there are those of you in the audience who already claim we interfere in the NHS too much. Give me a break here, Christ!')? Why does everyone think they're not only entitled to their opinion, but that it's worth as much as the Prime Minister's. That the fact of the years of careful investment that the government has made into services that people want are subsumed by their personal frustrations?

Cynicism for the political process is one of the most insidious problems we face. When the orthodoxy that politicians 'just talk about things, they never do anything' goes unchallenged, we have a serious problem. So how do politicians communicate to people that actually, they spend a lot of time that we don't really see (unless we watch BBC Parliament) doing things, and that things do change?