Position Reserved, at various times, has been an outlet for exploring a variety of cultural and political issues of interest to me as well as a means of putting my case and the facts in controversial areas where the mainstream media have failed to 'get it right'. I am, with perhaps just very rare future interventions 'for the record', reducing activity, not only because of pressure of work but also because I may have run out of things to say in public. This posting says most of what I have left to say until the world changes again: then my opinions may have to change in response. From now on, you are likely to get only very rare personal ruminations as the mood takes me, maybe odd discussions of obscure academic papers that don't fit with my Goodreads account or anywhere else and, of course, statements of fact if some malign media half-wit decides to have another go at me.
There are three great lessons learned from several years of writing these posts.
First, that search for some special meaning in the world is pretty futile. The world is as it is. It should be understood just as it is. This is not simply a matter of having a prejudice towards science but having an essential scepticism towards all human narratives. The questions have always to be - who invented the narrative and for what purpose and who is using the narrative and why as well as whether a narrative is true. Truth is a sticky issue. Many facts are not recoverable. All facts are interpretable. A moderate scepticism about all stories we tell ourselves, while understanding that narratives are still necessary for society to function, is the way forward.
The end game is thus detachment but with a degree of compassion for peoples' need to tell stories and a decision somewhere along the line to construct a workable but flexible story for oneself that best accords with the facts of one's condition in life. In my case, my narrative is rather workaday. Having exhausted most evenues surrounding the magical and the spiritual and the ideological, I am really perfectly happy just to go with the flow now and maintain an ethic of civilised survival. My core values are what they always were - a mish-mash of existentialism, libertarianism and basic compassion for the weakest and most troubled.
Second, the melange of social narratives criss-crossing our culture and competing with each other have now gone beyond a joke. It is easy to condemn the dreamers and ideologues as stupid but even the most formally intelligent seem to have extended their psychological flaws and preferences into complex systems and structures that seek to bend reality to their will. There is nothing more deviantly sinister than the human ego that denies that it is an ego. Again, detachment and a determination to stand one's ground with one's own story, while being questioning about its own validity against the facts, is easily the best stance. Social existence is a brutal struggle within a framework of accepted conventions and order and it should be seen as such. It cannot be otherwise and those looking for reason and perfection are doomed to disappointment. Two areas of recent life brought this into focus.
The Exaro experience, whether good or bad in the sum, demonstrated the degree to which power manipulates narrative. The conduct of the mainstream media in this matter made me understand, without condoning, the resistance of populists to the claim that their propagandistic fake news was actually any worse than the constant devious manipulation of the MSM. It often struck me that the MSM's real gripe with Trump was that he was exposing their monopoly of falsehoods by simply making what they do subtly be done more crassly.
Fortunately the internet permits the individual to challenge the MSM on the record (which is what I have done on several occasions) knowing that, while the exercise is rather futile, the bulk of MSM coverage is equally transient and distrusted by anyone with half a brain. At least there are now many voices telling half-truths and porkie pies rather than just a few with presumed authority - that is progress of a sort since the detached observer can now compare far more narratives and then use their judgment to come up with some rough approximation of reality.Admittedly, most apparently highly educated people seem to have a problem with their judging faculty but, hey (as Tony Blair used to say), you can't have everything.
The second area of interest was and remains transhumanism which I intend to remain involved with, albeit in my classically detached way. This is a school of thought of considerable importance in translating the coming technological revolution into sets of questions that need asking and which still pass most politicians by. This community has produced creative ideas around the application of innovation like cryptocurrencies and technologies like automation. It has promoted ideas that are now being looked at by policy-makers such as Universal Basic Income. It has also created, however, some insanely apocalyptic thinking about existential risk and a quasi-religious narrative that can make practical men like me cringe with embarrassment.
And why? Because too many of the enthusiastic nerds and engineers involved still read too much science fiction and find themselves driven by their own extrapolations and weak understanding of 'really existing humans' rather by any understanding of social and political reality. Still, although the hysteria surrounding these communities and their often shambolic organisation is a bit depressing at times, nevertheless, these are the people throwing up all the ideas now about the possibilities for humanity, ideas that correct our stupid belief in certainties. Square the flaccid complacent folk culture of the establishment with the trans-human lunacies and you might yet get to see a pathway to understanding future probabilities.
Finally, there is politics. Oh my God, politics! This has become the art of posturing one's story as if your powerlessness mattered, at least as far as most social media discourse is concerned. Most people simply do not understand the nature of power and how to use it. They cannot accept that simply having strong opinions is too often just posturing that expresses psychological anxieties or is a primitive demand for respect in the ape-like world of social competition yet moves the world not one jot forward. We all have opinions but few of us truly understand where power actually lies, when and where we can make some small difference and how acquiring more power by its very nature shapes us into the victims of our own wielding of it if we are not aware of what is happening to us. We all need to make positive decisions on how to use the little power that we have effectively and with full understanding of probable consequences.
I have come to the view that politics must be treated either as a cynical game played by moral inadequates (which is not to my taste) or be considered as an expression of core sentiments and values, beyond conventional morality, where one chooses rationally to see through the expression of our prejudices according to the power that one actually has. There are people out there who we should not want to have any power because of their intrinsic irrationalities and cruelties. Representative national democracy still strikes me as the best means of keeping these wolves off our backs even if our representatives are deeply flawed and not always the sharpest tools in the box.
Most people's values are rarely thought about, contradictory and situational but they do make up who we are and democracy squares millions of confused world views into something broadly consensual. Reforming the machinery of it all (as liberal nerds want to do) is less important than reforming the informations flows and education that enable people to make better judgments in their own interest and according to their own values. Even sociopaths have rights in this respect if only to balance out those dangerous radical empaths who think so much of themselves. To cut the posturing, I certainly put the economic and personal survival of myself and my immediate family first and anyone who doesn't do the same is already probably someone who needs to be kept an eye on.
Beyond that, I have a hierarchy of values which include the general sanctity of life (a Catholic upbringing), a loathing of bullying and sympathy for the underdog, a gut patriotism for soil though not blood, a distaste for people who break promises without clear explanation, a distaste for the use of secrecy to gain advantage and a prejudice against all forms of abstract universalism. There is also a belief in the benefit of pragmatic non-ideological flexibility that permits opinions and actions to change easily with new information. Part of that pragmatism is that you cannot take on the burdens of the world ... concern should start with the self and work outwards through concentric circles lest one become the sort of humanitarian Napoleon who destroys the world in order to save it. Much liberal universalism strikes me as being derived from immaturity and anxiety in weakly formed selves who are unable to build an independent existence outside the group-think of the ideologically like-minded.
I also seem to have been surrounded, through Brexit and recent political events, by many people who have taken what values they have out of their mental box but then constructed rigid systems from them that seem not only completely out of kilter with the facts but drives them to believe that things could be as they never can be. This is the idiotic politics of naive idealism, wide-eyed hope that almost always presages great cruelties and incompetencies. It is compounded by the hysteria of the media whose interpretative and analytical skills are barely existent in the drive to tell stories thoroughly detached from reality. Reading the FT on Brexit is watching a sort of cultural oozalum bird in full flight. Watching the BBC is like watching a rather confused old dear try to deal with the i-phone someone gave them for Christmas. Reading the Daily Mail is like being cornered by a perpectually snarling mad dog.
Over the last few years, I have decided that I don't really like people who don't have clear values (I have no problem with people whose core values are not mine) and who cover up their feelings with ideology and pretence. I have removed them quietly and without rancour from my social circle as intrinsically rather stupid and boring. Those who cover their class interest or personal interest with a coating of emotional idealism, whether it be their stake in the NGO industry or their interest in cheap labour to keep their fluffy businesses going, are perhaps the ones who most exhibit 'mauvaise faux'. Unfashionably, I still have an admiration for people who can put personal material interest second to personal values and I always prefer the ruthless materialist who knows that he is a ruthless materialist to the self-deluding clown who pretends they are not.
My own ideological positions are simple, pragmatic and contingent - for Brexit, for an intelligent democratic socialism (which, in my opinion, is only possible under conditions where sovereign democratic nation states can be abstracted from regulatory empires) and then for strong national defence directed at peace. War should be the ruthless defence of the homeland and never more. But even these are flexible positions. Brexit is a necessity for example but I see no reason why it should require a primitive and inflexible nationalism. I would go with the Corbyn-McDonnell approach if I trusted the Labour Party more, while I see no inflexible nationalism in the Johnson-Gove position. In other words, once Brexit is decided (as it has been), there is every reason to go with the flow of national consensus (which actually there is, despite the whining of Remoaners and the posturing of the Populists) and then and only then engage in struggle over whether it is to be a Brexit for Labour or a Brexit for Capital. The behaviour of Remainers is now a national embarrassment.
The same apples to democratic socialism. My heart is very much with Corbyn and McDonnell and I find myself cheering much of their speeches but then I look at the detail and sometimes blanch. The aspirations are great - they are mostly my aspirations - but then I look at my own experience in international affairs and the market and I see that the populist promises currently under offer, combined with the failed ideological liberalism of the still dominant soft Left of the Party, create reasons for serious concern. Will we see a twentieth century welfarism, shorn of warfarism, that still fails to understand the massive import of the coming technological revolution, fails to lead it and misses the boat just as Globalisation 2.0 takes hold as a mix of anarcho-capitalism, strong nation states and decaying authoritarian empires? Quite possibly.
At the moment, I see little more than platitudes reminsicent of Harold Wilson's 'white heat' and a weak sub-Marxist understanding of power. At the time of writing, I feel disinclined to renew my Party Membership in September. It would be better to become, once again, truly independent and observe with my customary detachment, employing what tiny power I have very carefully in the direction of understanding and managing Globalisation 2.0 rather than granting it to a mass party of semi-educated enthusiasts whose programme seems doomed to disappoint. Once Brexit is done, one might reconsider one's position.
However, all in all, I know what I want. I want a smooth Brexit broadly along the current Government's lines. Accordingly and logically, I want a stable Tory minority Government until that is completed precisely because the PLP and Labour activist membership cannot be trusted on the issue. This does not seem compatible with Labour Party membership for the next two years or so. And then, two or three years on, I want to see a strong and stable, radicalised and intelligent Labour Party come to power with a working majority of 50 or so to implement a programme of democratic socialism better than the one we saw in the catch-all 'package of measures' Manifesto of a few weeks ago. Brexit first, a credible democratic socialism second, Globalisation 2.0 third.