Sunday , May 26 2019

Postmodern politics

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In an interview with the Times Jess Phillips says of May and Corbyn: There is an old-fashionedness about both of them. They are of a bygone era. It’s a bit like The Good Life – she’s Margo and he’s Tom. Their politics are so seventies. It’s hate migrants, love miners. They’re both in this terrible situation where they’re very traditional, very stubborn, bloody difficult people. This is a false equivalence. There’s a massive difference between the two. May’s hatred of migrants has ruined lives: caused the deportation of British citizens, forced people out of work and denied them healthcare. Corbyn’s 70s politics has had done much less damage*. What we have here is an example of a dominant but under-appreciated feature of our age - a postmodern politics in which words and appearances

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In an interview with the Times Jess Phillips says of May and Corbyn:

There is an old-fashionedness about both of them. They are of a bygone era. It’s a bit like The Good Life – she’s Margo and he’s Tom. Their politics are so seventies. It’s hate migrants, love miners. They’re both in this terrible situation where they’re very traditional, very stubborn, bloody difficult people.

This is a false equivalence. There’s a massive difference between the two. May’s hatred of migrants has ruined lives: caused the deportation of British citizens, forced people out of work and denied them healthcare. Corbyn’s 70s politics has had done much less damage*.

What we have here is an example of a dominant but under-appreciated feature of our age - a postmodern politics in which words and appearances are everything and consequences and reality are nothing. Ba1

Now, I stress that Ms Phillips is perhaps the least of offenders here: her stance on domestic violence, for example, betokens a lively awareness of ground truth.

Instead, what she’s given us is an example of something described elsewhere in the Times by Janice Turner. As she says “deeds matter far less than words”. So, for example, Davos men “espouse philanthropy while recoiling at any mention of tax”, and men who take private jets can establish their green credentials with just a few words.

There are though, many more examples:

 - Brexiters obsess about trade deals, oblivious to the fact that these do little to actually boost trade, and to the fact that membership of the EU is not the binding constraint upon the UK exporting more to non-EU countries. This makes sense only if we regard trade deals as an end in themselves, an expression of our sovereignty rather than as a means to greater prosperity.

 - The Tories and centrists – with the connivance of the BBC – have redefined the economy to mean the public finances, where what matters is giving the impression of being in control of government borrowing: the truth, of course, is that no such control exists as government borrowing is the counterpart of private net saving. As John Kay has said, we have “government by announcement” in which policy statements are all that matter to the exclusion of ground truth.

 - The BBC is keen to report splits and gaffes but recoils from detailed policy analysis. As John Humphrys said when asking what type of Brexit Leavers wanted, this is “all getting a wee bit technical and I’m sure people are fed up to the back teeth of all this talk of stuff most of us don’t clearly understand.” That was more than two years after the referendum; in a rational reality-based policy the issue would have been resolved long ago.

 - The likelihood that austerity has shortened life expectancy and caused tens of thousands of deaths has been under-reported on the BBC. And when somebody tries to mention this fact – as Aditya Chakrabortty did on Question Time last year – they are treated as if they have committed a gross solecism. Which in fact they have – of bringing reality into a politics which attempts to deny it.   

 - For the centre and right, the financial crisis was like the Gulf war for Jean Baudrillard: it did not take place (pdf). They show no sign of having learned that capitalism is more fragile and less dynamic that we thought in the 1990s, and so we require very different economic policies.  

What we have, therefore, is a politics of hyper-reality wherein:

What passes for reality is a network of images and signs without an external referent, such that what is represented is representation itself. 

Our problem is not merely that politics has been distorted by fake news and Russian money. It is that mainstream politicians, and much of the media, has effaced reality almost completely.

* Yes, he might well have emboldened anti-semites – but the material damage this has done to Jews is not (yet?) comparable to that done to many of the Windrush generation.

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