2016: A horrible time to be an internationalist

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Look out world, I’m coming for you…

I am having a difficult time at the moment. I say to friends that I can’t hear the “B” word (Brexit – it is painful even to type it) or the “T” word (I can’t even type that, but if I say “orange sociopath” you’ll know what I’m talking about).

I’ve written five blog pieces prior to this one, trying to express and understand my feelings and binned all of them. Hopefully, this one nails my calm, resolute position and I can leave  the rage, frustration, dismay, fear and despair behind as the year closes.

As I’m sure many of you know, 2016 has felt like a disaster for people like me. Liberals? No. In the long run of history, liberals are doing pretty well.

Slavery has disappeared as an industry, for the most part, replaced by metaphorical slavery (McJobs etc) or criminal trafficking, both of which are a blight on humanity, true, but an improvement. Female emancipation is there or thereabouts in most of the civilised world. Even gay marriage is on the statute here and there. As liberal sentiment – and enlightened self-interest – worms its way into global trade and development, things are getting slowly better for billions, whether most of the Left accepts that or not. The data don’t lie.

Liberals have been doing a good, steady job, and progress will continue by inches here and there, with the odd backward lurch.

No, I’m talking about internationalists, people like me. People I’d consider the true liberals. What do I mean by that?

If I had the choice, I would prefer to be stateless. Far from being a ‘hippy’ concept – a term which has always been used to deride those not buckling under the pressure to ‘belong’ – I believe a stateless world should be our overriding goal as a species.

Technology, you see, has finally reached the point where we are on the brink of being able to almost entirely self-actualise, to express ourselves, develop ourselves, to learn and to grow via an ever-expanding global resource of incredible proportions and almost unlimited scope.

What stands in its way is what I have always considered to the be real enemy of humanity: nationalism.

Religion – my former ‘old enemy’ – is a form of mental illness which has inspired and inflicted great suffering on mankind for centuries, but it has many mild forms through which it can do good of a sort, and atheism (heresy, apostasy) only continues to gain ground as science advances. Hurrah for that. (When religion invents a new antibiotic or a treatment for cancer, I’ll give it more brain-space).

But nationalism is, I think, much worse.

The religious often use Stalin and Mao (and sometimes Hitler) as examples of how religion isn’t that bad really because all the real monsters were atheists, but this ignores the fundamental, unsayable point. Stalin, Mao and Hitler weren’t doing what they did on religious or irreligious grounds. Religion was, for each of them, by turns an obstacle and a convenient tool, but ultimately just a sideshow to the main event.

The driving force behind their respective mass slaughters was nationalism, not atheism.

The dark side of nationalism, of course, is racism. It is very much easier to organise a nation around one particular racial group, and very, very challenging to try to organise a nation riven by racial divides (Iraq, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, South Africa off the top of my head, but you can throw in Turkey, Russia, the US, Indonesia and a number of others).

And once you start organising by race, anything ‘other’ can easily be presented as the enemy, especially if it is unfortunate enough to share space with the maniacs with machetes.

We, the human race, have not yet succeeded in escaping our tribal origins. And nationalism is simply a perpetuation of tribalism.

Tribal behaviour, naturalists tell us, is perfectly natural for humans, and even a good thing, originally at least. We are a social species, we evolved in family groups and making those families as extensive as possible was useful for defence, for food-gathering and for development, as we became gradually task-based (women keeping the cave tidy and stopping the pet dinosaurs from eating the kids; the men watching the horizon for the next mammoth).

And so families grew and became tribes, and those tribes went and slaughtered other tribes for resources, land or just for the hell of it.

Nations evolved out of tribes but as the real boundaries between people have started to dissolve, and people in every country have been able to connect with other like-minded people across the world, the nation-state has become the central power-play.

From the absurdity of “Make America Great Again” (it already was, you jerk) to Putin’s tribal land-grab in the Crimea to the turbulence across Europe and the “Take Back Control” movement in the UK, the tribe is kicking back.

I get it, I really do. The world is a big, scary place.

When you only had to compete with people in your own city, making a success of your life was at least straightforward, if not guaranteed.

When you had to compete with the next city and then the next country, things became a little trickier. But compete with the whole world? Yowsa. Way to make those who already feel inadequate feel even more inadequate.

The speed and intensity of social evolution has become too much for some to bear, and the reaction is to draw back, hunker down, rally around the tribe, close the borders, prepare to set up tariff barriers and all manner of other protectionist behaviours. Nobody bothers to ask whom we’re protecting from what, and whose interests we’re really protecting, and at what cost.

Instead of asking and answering the hard questions, nationalism puts on its nice mask – patriotism – and anyone who dares question that is the devil, a true apostate (whisper it: “unpatriotic”).

I genuinely wanted to Remain in Europe not because of the manifold advantages of travel or commerce or any other of a hundred reasons, but because I care less about being British than I care about being something much, much larger than that which is circumscribed by pettifogging local or national concerns where no-one is asking or answering the critical questions.

I have affection for a thousand little things that go along with being British. I’m proud to be British. But I’d still be just as British if we were part of a European superstate or a world superstate. I’d still drink tea. I’d still moan if it were too hot or too cold. I’d still grumble, though I live in one of the most fantastic places on Earth.

But identity is, and should be, a declaration of self, not something forced on you by the location of your birth. You shouldn’t have to be forced to like the Queen, to wave a stupid flag or do anything simply because your mother happened to go into labour in this country, my parents having decided not to move to South Africa shortly before I was born. If they had done so, I’d have been South African. I’d be banging on about the Springboks, pretending I liked biltong and shaking my head at the total mess the country has become. But I digress.

My point is that whatever the country, whatever the flag waving at the top of the flagpole, I’d still be me. Uniquely me. And it would still be my life’s mission to become better at that.

This uniquely-me was born in 1967, when it was still illegal to be gay in the UK. I grew up as a second-class citizen in my own country, unable to marry, unable to access any of the tax or pension benefits bestowed on my straight brethren. Until 1997 I could be arrested and face criminal charges for trying to chat up a man at a bus-stop, whereas they were happily filming adverts and movies where men did just that with a woman. The year before Tony Blair swept away a host of anti-gay legislation, nearly 3,000 gay men got criminal records for doing things straight people took for granted.

And that’s just all the official stuff, never mind hiding your real self at work, being a social pariah if you chose not to, or wondering if you were going to get the crap beaten out of you as you left the pub-with-no-windows-and-no-sign you had to approach like a spy in a James Bond movie watching for the enemy as he attempts the rendez-vous.

Yes, Britain, you made the first 30 years of my life hell, and then the subsequent years pretty grim as homophobia simply went underground like a vampire retreating at dawn.

My life has been right royally fucked up because of you. I’ve succeeded despite you, not thanks to your Union Jack-bedecked cage.

So forgive me if I don’t have a massive upswelling of national pride or particular fondness for the country that was perfectly happy for the genius mathematician Alan Turing to help it win the war, then insisted on trying to castrate him later on.

What most Leavers, the Trumpeters in the US and petty nationalists in any country don’t get is that the nation state is a fraud, an exercise in arbitrary control, an attempt to define us along tribal lines, to give us reasons to hate one another, not reasons to love one another.

I don’t want to be part of a nation as defined by the demagogues. I don’t have a tribe. I just want to be me, and for things to work, for the poor and sick to be taken care of, for society to be great and compassionate and diverse and growing and developing all the time.

I don’t care whether my laws are made in London, Brussels, Beijing or on bloody Mars, as long as they respect the right of the individual to be able to be exactly – and I mean exactly – the person they want to be as long as that does not impinge on someone else’s right to do just the same.

What difference does it make, really, where all this happens?

The “Take Back Control” mob talk about Britain as if it’s one homogenous blob of 63 million people, but it’s not. The only thing that these 63 million all have in common is that they all live within the same invisible lines on a map and are ruled according to those boundaries. That’s it.

So yeah, I’m angry about Brexit and Trump and Putin and Mohdi and Erdowan and Netanyahu and all the other dictators and demagogues and expressions of tin-pot nationalism – “democratically-elected” or otherwise – around the world, and I’m angry that they get to define the terms of debate with their flags and their passports and their national institutions.

Internationalism is the greatest threat to these nasty people, because it threatens the invisible lines on the map they need to be able to exert power over other people. And as long as people choose to define themselves by those invisible lines, the longer they’ll continue to get screwed over by the people with the money and the power.

We had a horrible year in 2016, us internationalists, but the game is far from over.

You may be trying to reset the boundary lines, but you won’t win in the end, because the internet has let the genie out of the bottle, and all bets are off.

 

Trump is a blip. Here’s why.

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So Donald J. Trump is the 45th US President by a healthy margin in the US’s arcane electoral college system despite losing the popular vote, propelled there in part by disaffected white working class voters in a so-called “whitelash”.

Many columnists seem to believe that Trump’s victory was about the economy, but it wasn’t as this fascinating article by Eric Kaufmann, Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London, shows.

Kaufmann helpfully addresses himself to the policy choices of Western governments in the face of the changing tectonics of the for-now dominant white vote. But I think that’s probably largely unimportant, in the long run of geopolitics.

Trump’s sandcastle, built of white anger, white frustration, white fear and – yes, I’m afraid – white greed will be washed away by the tide of history.

His narrow victory over Hillary Clinton is the White Man’s Last Hurrah, because you just can’t fight demographics.

According to the latest statistics, there are 324m people in the US, accounting for 4.35% of the world’s population.

Currently, 62% of the people living in the US are non-Latino/Hispanic whites – whose voting preferences were key to Trump’s electoral success. That’s just about 200m people, or roughly the number of people who live in Brazil or Pakistan.

Now, those 200m people, or rather their ability to elect a President with a military machine more expensive than the next 26 countries put together, are the most powerful group of people on Earth. They have been since 1917, when the US emerged from its isolationist cocoon to intervene in WWI and stake its place as World Leader.

But that 100-year reign is coming to an end. America has been great for over a century, regardless of Trump’s claims that it now isn’t, but the next century will see it becoming relatively less great, by its own narrow definition, with every year that passes.

China, the world’s most populous country, has a population of 1.379bn people, over four times that of the US. India, the second, has 1.33bn. Together they make up 36% of the global total.

While China has jammed on the brakes on the baby front, its population is still growing by 0.49% a year. India is still racking up 1.26%. The US is somewhere in the middle at 0.75% but – here’s the rub – the US fertility rate is just 1.84 births per woman, below the replacement rate of 2.1.

In other words, the core US population is in fact shrinking. It’s only growing thanks to immigration. Not only that, but the white fertility rate is lower than the national rate, at 1.76.

In other words, non-Hispanic white women aren’t having enough babies for the US white population to even stand still in numerical terms. By 2042, non-Hispanic whites will, for the first time in US history, not be the majority of the US population.

Fewer people = less influence. But, most importantly for the world’s biggest market economy, fewer people = smaller market.

China’s economy will be more significant than that of the US by 2018, according to Forbes magazine. It grew initially as a manufacturing economy, with low wages and producing all manner of things, most of which its population couldn’t afford. That is changing. The growth of the Chinese middle-class means it will become less and less dependent on the US as a customer.

India is some way behind in economic terms, but its population will soon surpass China’s, and undergo the same economic densification, fleshing out its own consumer middle class. Brazil and Indonesia will overtake the US in population terms fairly soon and will probably undergo the same process.

The combination of being a shrinking market and China and India becoming larger markets is a double-whammy for the US.

Trumpian economics – tax cuts for the rich (another crack at the discredited notion of “trickledown”), massive cuts to public spending to try to cut the deficit and lower financial regulation (do these people ever learn?) could be a catastrophe.

Far from protecting US jobs, worker ‘protections’ such as tariff barriers and hostile trade deals will only make matters worse. If you don’t believe, I’d heartily recommend you read any of economist Tim Harford’s books, which will explain how protectionism costs jobs and makes industries uncompetitive.

The globalisation genie is already out of the bottle. Not even a personality as big as Trump can stuff it back in.

Personally, I don’t think Trumpian economics will be an enduring thing. As the Brexiteers are finding, it’s far more difficult to make reality the slogans which got you elected. The world is just too complex, too inter-connected and full of infinite layers of mechanisms and committees and treaties and conferences that a blustering narcissist can’t just sweep away like a vexatious lawsuit.

Anyway, who cares? Away from the US, the tide of history will continue. The US will continue to diminish in demographic terms, and therefore as a market, as China, India and the other large, developing countries – with the possible exception of Russia, which is disappearing down a whole ‘nother rabbit hole – get steadily richer.

And as the US economy diminishes in relative importance, so its global power will wane. Just over 100 years ago, the biggest economy in the world was Great Britain’s, and it had a military to match. Today, not so much.

War, and its bastard child, terrorism, are the wild cards in the Trump deck. With due note to Godwin’s Law, Hitler went to war because he knew he had to in order to keep Germany growing in the way he wanted. Countless other demagogues have understood that war shuffles the deck like nothing else.

Trump may resort to it, as Bush did, but I think even that is a dim possibility. There are too many people with too much to lose to trigger the nuclear war that will destroy us all and prevent me from digging out this blog in 20 years time to say “see?”.

Equally, small land wars like Iraq and Afghanistan – while intense, and a prized opportunity for the US military to try out its new toys – are so exhausting and so expensive, with such little real gain for the “victors” that they make for bad politics.

As for the War on Terror, Trump may nuke Raqqah – the ISIS ‘capital’ – but that kind of mass murder of civilians (not exactly unprecedented in US history, let’s face it) will only scandalise the world and unleash whole new waves of complex terror, and I think his generals will persuade him out of it.

He may try to build his Wall. He may try to deport 11 million people. He may try to turn back the clock on social reforms. But ultimately, there is nothing he can do to reverse the tide of history.

The White Man’s time on the Iron Throne is over. And Trump, no matter how much of his larger-than-life persona he is able to translate into policy, will be a blip.

Will Democracy eat itself?

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It strikes me that the main threat to Democracy might be Democracy itself.

Imagine if you will a nightmare scenario where a bunch of manipulative, lying politicians with the collusion of a media hooked on the delicious uncertainty of false equivalence – “Creationism v Evolution, which is right? Join us after this break where we talk to two ‘experts’ for a 50/50 pro/con debate!” – trick millions of people into voting for something which promises easy solutions to complex problems.

Oh, wait, we just had that didn’t we? I’m sure I saw people I don’t care about talking about having watched it on Gogglebox.

Yes, you were tricked. You know you were, you Leftovers. You are just too ashamed to admit that you were taken in by a bunch of ruthless liars led by two journalists – journalists, I mean, really? – and a bloke who thinks smoking doesn’t cause cancer.

You bought a shonky second-hand cut-and-shut pile of crap featuring proven lies, the relentless denial of expert commentary or indeed the validity of expertise itself, absurd equivalences-which-weren’t, planet-busting levels of sophistry and promises so fake they had to be quickly walked back within hours of the vote (eg the “£350m for the NHS” Bus Of Lies, over which the Crown Prosecution Service is currently pondering whether it’s worth pressing criminal charges (hint: they won’t)) and now we’re all driving the lemon. Gee thanks. That’s the last time I give you the PIN number on my card.

Whoever wins the US presidential election – and at the time of writing we were still a day or so away from knowing the result – a proven liar, multiple-bankrupt, racist, misogynist bully who boasts about sexual assault will have managed to get over 40% of voters to turn out for him. 40%+ of a supposedly-educated, supposedly-developed country.

Now, a significant proportion of Trump supporters, are, well, let’s say not exactly the country’s brightest. Not that I think a college education should be a prerequisite for voting. However, those members of the ‘LGBT for Trump’ group, or the woman pictured proudly wearing her ‘Trump can grab ME by the pussy!!’ t-shirt at a rally would, I fear, have their voting licence suspended in the Kingdom of Brandonia, the world’s first truly benign despotic nation (more details to follow…).

But this is far from confined to the US. BBC Radio 4 interviewed a Leave voter in Barnsley the other morning who was surprised at the recent High Court decision on Article 50 because he thought we had already left the EU, the moment the result was announced. Yeah, sure we did. Can I sell you a car, mate? It may look like a lemon…

Such rabid lunacy was only the tip of a whole steaming assberg of “WTF???” which ripped open the side of the SS United Kingdom on its idiotic voyage across the Referendic Ocean, when Captain David Cameron was overcome by hubris and thought he could pilot it between the Swivel-Eyed Rocks of Illusory Control and the Shoals of Complete Indifference. Oops. Times 50.

But this is the problem with democracy. It is no longer fit-for-purpose. The people cannot be trusted. Boaty McBoatface – the name for the new British Antarctic exploration vessel chosen by overwhelming public assent by those people who could be arsed to vote (sound familiar?) – was, happily, overruled by spoilsport elitists in favour of the RRS Sir David Attenborough, with the “fun” name relegated to christening the thing’s secondary lobster-pot or something. And that’s the last time they’ll ever have an online public vote for that kind of thing, believe me. They. The elite, that is. Spoilsports. What do they know?

Boaty McBoatface proves that in a world where the Photoshopping – or otherwise – of Kim Kardashian’s bottom of more general fascination than, oh, I don’t know, the Syrian refugee crisis, that the delicious elixir of Democracy is too, too potent for idiots, who will just abuse it.

Like cannabis, Ecstasy or Spice, Democracy should be banned until we have had time to take a better look at the data. And then ban it.

In our new Post-Facts world of Pretend Equivalence, Creationism is the same as Evolution as long as two commentators can go head to head for five minutes on 24 hour Infotainment, er 24 hour News while we wait for end-to-end coverage of Whitney Houston’s funeral. On Planet P.E., the evidence for Climate Change is the same as Not Believing Experts On Climate Change.

And the endless research, data and expert opinion saying the UK’s best bet was – notwithstanding all its faults – to Remain in the EU became the same as a big fat lie on a big fat bus told by a big fat elitist millionaire buffoon standing in front of it, lying.

On Planet P.E., where the dangerous drug Democracy is running rampage, the environmental scientist gets the same vote on Climate Change as the man who needs to wear a Bacofoil balaclava and hide under the kitchen sink; the highly-trained health & safety officer gets the same vote on transport matters as my sister’s ex-boyfriend, who refused to dim his headlights to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic “because the beams cancel each other out”; and the human rights barrister with 25 years’ experience saving innocents from Death Row gets the same vote on criminal justice reform as the Rotherham taxi-driver who thought voting Leave would “get rid of all the Muslims.” (hint: it won’t, never would and couldn’t possibly in any way, shape or form you utterly thick racist knobhead).

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Democracy in principle, used safely by responsible people, but in our modern, inter-connected, impossibly complex world it’s rather like being a passenger in a car driving towards a cliff when you are pretty convinced the driver a) may not know how to drive, b) may be drunk or high or both, or c) may have a death wish. Or all three. No wonder the Chinese want nothing to do with it.

Like Michael Gove, I like Dungeons & Dragons. Unlike Michael Gove, I rather like experts being in charge of things experts should be in charge of, without being gainsaid by people who not only aren’t experts, but believe they are.

Question is, who’s really more stupid? People who are thicker than a whale omelette (not their fault, generally), or the people who let them at the wheel of the motor when they’re cliff-adjacent? The people who voted Brexit, or the people who let that happen in the first place?

Answers on a postcard to Despairing Elitist Remoaner, Told-You-So, Cliffbottom, Little England.

Four reasons why I’m not a politician

I’m the most opinionated person most of my friends know, capable of stringing-together an argument in many spheres of political life…but I know less than they think!

Troll

 

It has been a common theme of my life that friends occasionally – though less so nowadays – ask why I never went into politics.

I think this is almost always because I’m the most opinionated person they know, and am capable of stringing-together an argument in many spheres of political life, from NHS funding to banking regulation, geopolitics, transport and even the election process itself.

Actually, I have cogent opinions on much less than my friends might imagine. I believe in Climate Change because of the weight of scientific opinion I’ve seen, but I confess that I couldn’t argue down a committed denier. I won’t go near the Arab-Israeli conflict, not because I have friends on both sides (I do) but because I fell out with a very good Jewish friend of mine about it the last time Israel had a crack at Gaza, and you know what, it’s just not worth it. It wasn’t worth offending a dear, kind, passionate friend to post my half-baked (if, I thought, well-intentioned) opinion online. I don’t like being wrong, and I was way out of my depth on that one.

Now, I try to stay out of any issue where I’m just not well-informed enough to argue the case of one side or another, and don’t have any “skin in the game” as they say.

In the case of Palestine, I sympathise with both sides, but can’t truly empathise with either. And so now I stay out of it. I think it’s a good rule, certainly for me.

That’s Reason One for not attempting a political career; the need to have to form an opinion on pretty much every issue from Abortion to Zoning, when you don’t have time to wade through enough material to equip you with good sense.

Reason Two is that I don’t wish to sacrifice everything else in my life in the pursuit of…what exactly? Johnny Marr, ex genius guitarist of 80’s Manchester legends The Smiths, says his interest in party politics ended the day he met Neil Kinnock. “Politicians are fame-hounds,” he told Nick Robinson in an interview with BBC Radio 4 on his new autobiography. There’s a lot of truth in that. And I have a lot of other interests.

Reason Three is that I have wayyyyyyyy too much “history” for a political career. That would make me far too vulnerable to pressure, and risk exposing my family and friends to the kind of BS that our billionaire and corporate media owners and their journalist shills consider to be part-and-parcel of our “free” press. No. Thank. You. The internet has what it has on me, and I don’t intend becoming famous enough (see Reason Two, above) to move the needle from “who cares, who the hell is he anyway?” to “did he now?!”.

Reason Four is that I just do not want to be endlessly trolled. I have spent a lot of the last 15 years working at not taking things personally, after nearly 35 years living in a society in which people take far too many things far too personally far too often, so I’m not too bothered about that. It’s that I find trolls an unpleasant bore. If you have nothing better to do with your time than sit behind a computer and fling the bile of your diseased mind at anyone who disagrees with you, you don’t deserve my time or energy. So, spirited debate, yes. Trolls, no.

My compromise on my lost political career is this blog. I originally set it up two years ago, but then fell back into venting my spleen on my Facebook feed – Corbyn, Brexit, Corbyn again, Trump – until it occurred to me that lots of my lovely friends who can’t stand politics were probably turning off my feed, and I don’t blame them. At times I bored myself.

So now my Facebook feed is for puppies and kittens doing fun things, amazing technology, awesome art, funny clips from YouTube, anime reviews (another writing passion of mine – see www.animationforadults.com) and occasional food, holiday and party selfies.

And the bulk of the politics will come here. Occasional armchair politicking. Unfettered. Leftfield. Sometimes raw. Hopefully interesting.

And fully troll-accessible.

Come and get me.