Sunday, 13 March 2016

Modern Mythologies and the Social

Joseph Campbell in his Occidental Mythology wrote that
"In the long view of the history of mankind, four essential functions of mythology can be discerned. The first and most distinctive – vitalizing all – is that of eliciting and supporting a sense of awe before the mystery of being. ... The second function of mythology is to render a cosmology, an image of the universe that will support and be supported by this sense of awe before the mystery of the presence and the presence of a mystery. ... A third function of mythology is to support the current social order, to integrate the individual organically with his group ... The fourth function of mythology is to initiate the individual into the order of realities of his own psyche, guiding him toward his own spiritual enrichment and realization."
The unknowability of Being, the invention of meaning around this core of unknowability, the maintenance of social order and personal individuation are 'mythologised' in integral societies. Conservatives pine for this. They think we were both better and happier when these functions were integrated despite the probability that each whole system was inevitably built on invention. There was a disconnect between the actual nature of material reality, society and the individual in their relation to Reality (or Being) as soon as anyone began to think about what was going on. Deep thought does not work well for serious traditionalists. Mythical societies were static societies, not necessarily, despite the claims of the ideologies making use of myths, very ordered or mentally healthy. Trying to construct a myth to restore total order - to the material world, society and the person in an integrated way - may be the dream state of the conservative and it may be true that our species clings to irrational pseudo-order out of fear and anxiety but it is not necessarily true that the species needs to cling to anything that extensive at all.

In our contemporary world, the, four functions have separated out and then fragmented within themselves. It may be that the fragmentation within the functions is the problem rather than the disconnect between the functions. It may be that the disconnection of function is, in fact, a healthy state of affairs and that it is the fragmentation within each function that makes us 'unhealthy'. The attempt, by conservatives and the religious, to integrate forcibly the four functions misses this essential point - that we can live well enough by seeing each function as having a separate purpose but still yearn to have each function function well which it cannot do if it is not coherent in itself.

The contemporary world has an opportunity to accept this situation instead of fighting it. Our mythology of awe is now either simple existentialism or the choice by individuals from a smorgasbord of 'faith-based' choices that can be insulated from the other functions if we wish - New Age beliefs if we insist, Our cosmology can be that of science - the most coherent mythology now on offer even if some may choose incoherent ones existentially - even as, in our heart of hearts, we know that this, at its furthest reaches when it leaves the world of technology and demonstration, has its faith-based aspects. Our current mythology of social order is most in disarray because atomised individuals now know that they cannot easily trust to the competence let alone benignity of their priestly and warrior castes (if ever they could) while the mythology of the person, the narrative that helps construct our individuality, might be talked up by psychotherapists but is, in fact, simply the story we tell ourselves to navigate a society that is fluid and unnerving. 

It is possible to create a myth of non-meaning, trust blindly in science and construct a personal mythology that permits the first two and live well. The problem child in Campbell's short litany is the lack of a viable myth of the social since it is not easy to live well if society is unstable or works against individuation (as most conservative spiritual, religious and social mythologies work against it for many people). In a world that permits the possibility of existentialism (alongside faith-based essentialism), science and psychotherapy and free choice, it is the social that has become problematic. It is the failure of the social to reconstruct itself without God, with Science and yet respectful of 'human rights' that is the crisis of our time. The social does not need the mythologies in the other three areas to be in accord with its own necessary mythology any more than any of those other mythologies require any of the others to function effectively. The revolutions provided by the Enlightenment, Nietzsche and Freud (discredited though he is in detail) provided, eventually, a new coherence but the opportunities provided by Marx were squandered by the Marxists, leaving little behind.

So, this is the next stage - having established that there are things we cannot know and which must be faced with pagan equanimity, that there is no God but only Science as our Faith and that we are captains of our own souls until we die, we now need to establish some kind of social order that requires no deities, can make use of science and technology and respects autonomous individuals but yet has its own independent mythology that can hold it together for the next stage in human development. A mythological 'faith' in the good society is the last of the four corner stones to be put in place before we can move forward as a species. After the current time of troubles, our species will probably construct this new myth once ideological liberalism has gone the way of communism and fascism ... but not before.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Naive and the Cruel - The Ideological Struggle for the Heart of Europe

Part of the pro-European Union pitch relies on the promotion, mostly from Marxist intellectuals and fellow-travellers in the Academy, of a naïve anti-Atlanticist economic model which is designed to appeal to the younger generation. Needless to say, both the Atlanticist neo-liberal and this neo-socialist European model are deeply flawed but the latter is naïve where the former is cruel. Because the former is cruel, the latter becomes attractive and so it must be ripped apart by serious democratic socialists before it gets traction.

The two key issues neither side are addressing are a) the massive impending flow of refugees this year and possibly in subsequent years and b) the economic instability of the Eurozone in the context of a global slowdown not only in Europe but also in China and the US.

These people are not getting it – a perfect storm of an economic system on the edge and massive population shifts for which there has been no preparation does not lead to democratic socialism but to authoritarianism and national populism. And eventually to violence which can only be handled by the surveillance society (and not that either).

The only real solution is the restoration of flexible and responsive national democracies in a framework of internationalism (not supra-nationalism) in which democratic socialists (not neo-socialist liberals) restrain the forces of reaction and maintain ‘civilisation’ before returning to effective long term power and the rebuilding of the welfare commonwealth - and then perhaps returning to the construction of a new collaborative Europe from the ground up.

The economic projects of the European neo-socialists are doomed on massive welfare costs and the revolt of the Middle European middle classes from the taxation and inflation required. A system built on the assumption of constant high economic growth relying on cheap labour and minimal infrastructural investment has been called out by history. Eight years after the 2008 Crash, the reliance on the 'inevitable' up-turn looks more futile than ever. There will eventually be a massive structural up-turn on technological innovation (biotechnology, nanotechnology, AI/robotics) but it will be fiercesomely disruptive and our elites are simple not competent enough to handle it.

Even if they get into power, like the French Popular Front in 1936, our backwards-looking soft Left will be out of it within a year or two. The logic that destroyed Tsipras still exists within the European Project and Varoufakis can appear on TED as many times as he likes with his 'alternative strategy' but it is little more than the same old intellectual failure re-packaged for dim-witted liberals.

Worse, this is not the way to help the refugees or the working population most threatened by break down. Both deserve better - they deserve realists and not idealists, a political class prepared to get stuck in and bring peace to troubled regions, fund reconstruction for destroyed territories, turning camps into viable townships where return is not possible. We must match migration aspirations to labour shortages and not rely on spurious human rights claims and the demand for ever cheaper labour to feed the maw of late capitalism. Liberal internationalist idealism (as opposed to democratic socialist internationalism), the deontological impulse of the cultural studies departments, is at the very root of the murder and mayhem we see across the peripheries of the West.

The liberal idealists who now sit, like Cnut before the waves, at the leading edge of European 'socialism' are worse than simply naive, they are potentially destructive in that naivete, part of a failed elite instead of the vanguard of a new democratic socialist political elite (there I have said it) that will transform the condition of the people under conditions of democracy, technological innovation and socio-economic redistribution within an internationalism of free democratic welfare states.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Labour In Europe - Re-framing Internationalism as Liberal Imperialism

Much could be said about the framing of the Brexit Debate. Perhaps I will come back to this again later - especially on the deliberate confusion of being pro-European and pro-European Union - but in this posting I want to look at the reframing of internationalism by Labour In Europe.

Labour in Europe frames itself as internationalist and anti-nationalist and then associates resistance to the Project as radical nationalist and so fascist. In my earlier posting, I pointed out that this resulted in a strongly implied slur on me at one point in one of their local party presentations - only partially withdrawn, This is disgraceful but to be expected and, as I say there, not helped by some of the idiotic rhetoric of right-wing troglodytes.

In fact, democratic socialist internationalism presupposes the existence of free democratic nation states which collaborate INTER-nationally. What pseudo-democratic Leftists have done is to re-frame the debate so that supra-nationalism (that is something ABOVE nations, creating a SUPER-NATION) becomes, falsely, internationalism.

This is lie and a blatant one. A world of giant imperial SUPERSTATES (the US, the EU, Russia, China and India) is not a world of free democratic nations but is a world of competing empires in which the nations within them act within rules set by the imperial elites in their own interest. The result is the paradox that such supra-nationalism encourages nationalism as we see in the rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party in the United Kingdom and of various forms of national populism within the European Union (or should we say Empire). Those elites are always trying to manage the aspirations of the population instead of understanding them and, then, through engagement and political education, sharing in their fulfilment.

In this context, much is at stake for the British people - that is, to whom we will be subject. The last vestiges of a British Empire small enough to be reformed radically by the exercise of our own democratic political will or a massive European Empire whose very complexity strengthens the hold of its imperial elite over the levers of power.

We should not be surprised that the representatives of these imperial elites at the European level would use any means to retain and expand their power through half-truths, yes, but also through threats such as those we are currently receiving from President Hollande of France. Even an old Etonian like Darius Guppy has castigated Boris Johnson in the Spectator for not seeing that this struggle is one of national self-determination in the face of international capital. If one of the old elite can get it, surely Leftists can!

I would like to think that not all British Leftists are so pusillanimous that they will not question the claims of Labour in Europe and come to their own conclusions based on a careful analysis of the actual consequences to democracy and the economy of the Stay proposal. Recent experience has made me ... pessimistic.

The Labour Party and Its Culture of Pessimism

I saw a smidgeon, but only a smidgeon, of what Iain Duncan Smith has recently been talking about (‘bullying and threats’ from the anti-Brexit campaign) at our local Labour Party this week. I do not want to get this out of proportion. Our local Party is represented by a really decent and civilised group of people who generally treat each other with respect and courtesy. The 'bullying' (such as it was) came from an outsider. It should also be said that some of the grassroots supporters of Brexit on the Right are far more vicious in their own presentation of their case than their opponents and that these Brexit Tweeters lose votes every time they lift their malign little fingers. However, I would have expected far more from the official representative of Labour's campaign to remain within Europe.

I am not interested in naming names. It may just have been an 'off night' but the pro-European Union speaker (there was no representative of the countervailing case) directed comments at the only eurosceptic in the village (me!) which overtly associated my position with that of fascists like Nick Griffin. This was unacceptable and recognised to be unacceptable (he apologised for the 'offence' but not the misrepresenting claim) but a lot of half-truths and claims remained unchallenged and on the record. That's fine up to a point - after all, the party apparat is using a conference decision to claim priority for the pro-European case. This gives it carte blanche, one supposes, to walk all over those of us with a more nuanced vision of democratic socialism and a healthy distrust of Delorsian promises that have not been delivered, are not being delivering and will not be delivered.

It was conveniently not mentioned that the speaker might as equally be associated with Goldman Sachs as I am apparently associated with extreme nationalists but let that pass. Although (to his credit) he came clean about his presumably paid position at The European Parliament, it would also have been nice to have someone represent the Stay Campaign who did not have such an obvious professional interest in the result.

Regardless of all that, my political position was redundant. Not only was there no speaker for the alternative case (which is fine), I was not given the chance to respond to the implied slurs on my character (which was not). I did not expect to be allowed to challenge the misrepresentation and half-truths of the campaign itself and indeed had made that clear but I did think it reasonable that the specific charge of association with nationalistic fascism be refuted (the Chair failed at this point). Whatever! The membership seem totally sold on the European Project regardless of anything that I might have said in any reasoned way. Further intervention on my part would have been useless. I just disliked being treated like that by a 'comrade' who had been placed in a superior position by the decision of the Executive Committee ... if I was not such a tough nut, I think I might reasonably call that 'bullying'. Nor am I alone in this from reports in other parts of the country. It may raise questions for many people whether this liberal internationalist and European Socialist Party is really their natural home but I think that assessment comes later.

I walked away that evening very much more aware of the determination and resources of the soft left machine behind Stay within the Labour Party (with its very glossy and well produced brochure), of the risks that the Party is taking in its potential alienation from its historic working class base (not only on this matter but on the refugee crisis), of the dominance of the left-liberal (rather than democratic socialist) component of the Party and of the lack of fairness and tolerance towards other voices on this issue on the grounds that it was 'party policy'. This reproduces the mentality of past Labour top-down authoritarianism if worn with a relatively velvet glove.

Further reflection has also made realise just how much the party machine is broken in terms of its responsiveness to the twin needs of mobilising and engaging new members and creating a machinery for political education that can act as a transmission belt between the wider population and the 'avant-garde' of party thinking. Again, do not get me wrong - the local Party is friendly, vigorous in its own way, and making serious attempts to professionalise its approach to the electorate. There was an excellent local election policy statement developed by a leading member, albeit one that threatened to be turned into a curate's egg by its need to satisfy the standard liberal-left posturing on some issues.

But rules (which, of course, members can do nothing about) that mean that a member only gets a CLP vote when they go through the palaver of attending a branch meeting and getting elected as a 'delegate', and the way that these delegates are forced into supporting branch resolutions created in meetings which they could not attend, means that many new members sit at the CLP as observers rather than participants, delegates lose an important degree of autonomy in discussing policy and the processes are excessively manipulable by the sort of activist who can give up time at the convenience of the party calendar.  Small branches can also be out-manouevred by the effective organisation of large branches instead of being in the position of persuading the members as a whole on the merits of a case.  Surely members themselves should feel free in their own right to bring up resolutions if they can get sufficient support from other members.

Of course, to be fair, the branch activists are also the ones who organise the machinery that gets candidates into office and so perhaps should have some additional rights but the balance strikes me as wrong. The sort of party reform that has been batted around since the mid-1990s is long over due. It is good to hear that Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, is looking into this and, indeed, according to reports, is giving special attention to the digital issue which includes the particular problem of the possible disenfranchisement of those who do not have digital access. These are complex issues with no easy answers but at least there seems to be some intent to grapple with them under the new Leadership team.

In my own case, as a result of the manner in which the meeting was held this week, I came to a decision that I could not face our local electorate (as requested) in May under conditions where I might be misrepresented as supportive of the European Project simply by virtue of being a Labour candidate and so I withdrew.  Six months of engagement in the Party has started to make me feel uncomfortable on other grounds. The bottom line was that I could see that taking on UKIP in a strongly working class area would be almost impossible under such circumstances making me, suddenly, a pessimist which is not what I want to be - and life is short!

The Party's own aggressive stance on Europe had simply made me more determined than ever to stand for non-fascist and non-racist democratic socialists' argument for Leave and to give that struggle absolute priority, to the exclusion of every other political project, over the next four months. The national pessimism about May seems to have become infectious. I have caught the disease so that saving the nation from supra-nationalism in the greater interests of its working people in the long run suddenly seems so much more important than maintaining the illusory dreams of the jobsworths in the European Parliament. This does not mean that the Labour Party and Labour Movement are not to be supported as the primary voice for progressive politics in the United Kingdom (quite the contrary - they are, sadly, the only voice left!) but it does mean that the support should not be as unconditional as it once was in the days of tribal politics.

As I see it, the Labour Party at the moment has become mired in a 'culture of pessimism' as a result of the disastrous Blair-Brown legacy, the failure in the 2015 Election and the prospect of losing millions of pounds because of some particularly self-interested and vicious Tory legislation. Spend time with any activists working at a national level and they are excessively pessimistic about the prospects for their own Party. They are excessively pessimistic about their own Leadership in many cases. They are certainly ridiculously pessimistic about the opportunities to continue the democratisation and transformation of our own nation. As a result, this culture of pessimism has grabbed hold of an utterly undemocratic belief (for it is a belief) that a Social Europe can do the job that the Party cannot do domestically. This is added to a romantic idealism in which internationalism is reframed as supranationalism, democracy as platonic bureaucratism and the genuine cultural concerns of the working class as proto-fascism.  In other words, these liberal idealists would prefer a bureaucratic Europe to impose their values on the British people rather than persuade the British people to adopt those values itself.  That is not the democratic way and yet what has distinguished the Left in Britain since the days of the Chartists has been its commitment to democracy.