Tuesday, 23 October 2012

It is right that...


John Harris of The Guardian, characterizes the rhetoric of the parliamentary Left: 
Essentially, you sling together one or two cliches, at least one word or phrase (such as "reboot") that suggests you own a computer, and a couple of propositions that it would be impossible to argue against (a la "Feed the world" or "Make trade fair"). You then chuck in some apparently oxymoronic ideas, to make yourself look a bit clever.
The ingredients here - truism, tautology, technology and oxymoron - just about summarize the pass to which the dominant mode of language, and therefore of experience, has now come. But not quite. For, Harris omits to mention the final piece of the puzzle: the superfluous insistence that "it is right that", as in, "I believe that it is right that we should make the bankers pay..." I challenge you to listen to one parliamentarian speak for more than one minute without witnessing the "it is right that" insertion.

To what does all of this tend? T.J. Clark describes societies such as ours as being comprised of "isolate obedient 'individuals' with the technical support to match." And this is precisely how such 'individuals' speak.

Full of the cynicism that is the hallmark of our times, a cynicism which has long since relinquished the expectation that anything actually means anything, we 'individuals' rarely motivate ourselves to anything other than cliche. If nothing means anything anyway (and I am not saying that this cynicism is self-conscious), the thing that is easiest to say is as good as anything else...

But this is a cynicism tempered by a low-level but constant "feeling for" the marginalized (small children, nice-looking animals, stay-at-home-mummys, gay best-friends...), which "feeling for" achieves adequate expression via the kind of utterly abstract, all-inclusive, nonsense that has trickled down from the postmodern intellectualism of difference, liminalities, and others - "Feed the world" is just another way of saying, "We must theorize plurality within commonality..."

The oxymoron, for its part, is merely the inverse of the truism and the tautology: what does it matter that one is inconsistent, when the grounds for consistency have receded and there can be no content to anything anyway; and abandoning the anachronistic demand that we avoid contradicting ourselves opens up so much space for communication that it's a no-brainer at this stage - "Sitting around the table as a family is the most important thing to us"; "I've already eaten"...

As for the language of technology: it gives expression to that irresistible sense that the world is both at our finger-tips and beyond our reach, both there for us and utterly outside of our comprehension, both under and beyond our control - your new Virgin Media set-up is overwhelmingly responsive except for those times when it is bewilderingly unresponsive...

But isolate, obedient individuals are not the stuff for society, as Clark argues; David Harvey (A Brief History of Neoliberalism) points to this as the reason for the upsurge in popularity of neoconservatism in the US, which effectively adds to the neoliberal pot the important ingredients of religious fundamentalism and/or militant patriotism, as top-down galvanizers of an otherwise dangerously-unconnected populace. There are versions of both of these galvanizers at play in Britain too - albeit, less religious and more secular-moral, (slightly) less militant and more remember-to-smile Olympic. And their catchphrase is: "It is right that..."

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