Friday, 12 October 2012

Swear More: On the Hyperinflation of Dissent

Some recent contributions on Twitter, intended as a show of dissent to the three main-party political conferences, have been underwhelming, stark evidence of a Left that cannot find its voice.

One of the remarkable features of key speeches given at the party conferences was a more-than-ever "presidential" style: big on embarrassingly mindless rhetoric, and featuring personal anecdotes and intimate details. The way to win votes now, it appears, is to emote without content, exhort without substance, and look people straight in the eye without having anything else to say. This is not surprising. Britain, after all, is in the full swing of post-Fordist, corporatist, "non-stop inertia," in which mode what counts is feeling it. Genuine, innovative responses to the financial crisis seem a lifetime away; any kind of response to the environmental crisis is all but unheard of: there is nothing being done, nothing to be done, but proceed (towards a doomsday that will be riddled with the same old socio-economic divisions that have been the great achievement of neoliberalism) with the feeling that we are all one big family, one nation, striving together, and having a lovely time...

What can be done in opposition to this tide of yummy nihilism is indeed a difficult question. But, let me offer an opinion as to what at least ought not to be indulged in: the kind of name-calling, negativist, endlessly cynical, insatiably dissatisfied, ad hominem rhetoric that has characterized some of the offerings on Twitter in recent times. Not because such rhetoric is "exactly what you'd expect from loony lefties," but because such rhetoric is exactly what you'd expect from anyone. Ed Miliband spoke, totally cynically, utterly emptily, about one nation channeling the Olympic spirit into the forging of a new age; where, then, is the gain in speaking, totally cynically, utterly emptily, about the fucking totally cynical, fucking one nation crap, typical of fucking New Labour fucking anyway? Politicians now, like the people they do represent, are subject to the hyperinflation of experience that demands that we lay ourselves prostrate with hyperbole when the slightest occasion presents itself to do so; any kind of resistance, then, must begin by attempting to reclaim the voice of reasonable dissent. Think of it as dealing with an infant (we are all infants in the one big happy nation, after all): when a child begins to act unreasonably, you can either meet senseless volume on its own terms and contribute to the kind of headless escalation in which the child, much more than you, will feel at home; or you can value mature reasonableness sufficiently to remain its representative throughout. Or, you can strike a blow. Not so easy nowadays, of course, but...

In these times, when the substance of what is said is almost endlessly exchangeable, when we are all of us inured to the "it could always be otherwise" orthodoxy of our soft-skills society, style is all. And style now is personal, emotional, hyperbolic. That is enough for us to feel at home. Michael Gove is a friend, a stalwart to steer the course of our nation's children's and grandchildren's education through these troubled waters and out into a new and calmer future; or Michael Gove is a fucking fiend, a jumped-up, typical Tory, Latin-pushing prissy...Doesn't make much difference, you see. Once you've got the style right - personal, emotional, hyperbolic - it hardly matters whether you surf or ski...

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