politics, the google effect – and cameron’s insatiable search?

I’ve only tweeted once @zebrared today.  This was that tweet:

This was provoked by the stories today that government – British government; Tory government at that  (so when was the last time a Tory administration didn’t manifest the most awful of nanny states?) – was aiming, in David Cameron’s words, to push forward his “one-nation” vision by owning benefit claimants’ lives:

The prime minister, David Cameron, will say: “Our one-nation approach is about giving everyone the opportunity to improve their lives, and for some that means dealing with those underlying health issues first and foremost.

“Whether it is drug or alcohol problems, or preventable conditions in terms of obesity, support and treatment will be there for you. And we must look at what we do when people simply say no thanks and refuse that help, but expect taxpayers to carry on funding their benefits.

“Over the next five years, I want to see many more people coming off sick benefit and into work and Carol Black will report back to me on how best to achieve that.”

Black will say: “Addiction to drugs and alcohol, and in some cases extreme obesity, can have a profoundly damaging impact on people’s chances of taking up meaningful employment.”

So much of the above so very disheartens me that I really don’t know where exactly to start at all.  Apart from anything else, it’s the poverty-porn equivalent of blaming rape victims for the experiences they’ve suffered, and for the trauma which inevitably proceeds to muck up their lives.  For when Cameron says we must deal with underlying health issues first and foremost, he is taking onboard in his capacity as politician the right to interfere with the judgements and knowhow of a swathe of other professionals.  It is a clear example of the rank politicisation of everything.

And when he argues that we have significant numbers of people (they must be significant because if they weren’t, government wouldn’t spend time on making the relevant policy) who say no to the help such professionals will be offering, as they (ie the people saying no) simultaneously expect the taxpayer to continue funding their “circumstances”, I’d really like to ask him how he can square “one-nation” ideas with:

  1. arguing that to be in receipt of support from the state gives politicians, more than any other professionals, the right to decide how people live their lives
  2. and in so doing, allows the aforementioned politicians a similar right to let everyone else who is not in receipt of benefits do whatever shit they please

For in essence, what Cameron is constructing is a two-tier humanity:

  1. people on benefits, who are little more than miserable fashion accessories which high-level egos can wave and brandish triumphantly on their way to further personal and work-related success
  2. people off benefits, who can thank the Lord Cameron – for the moment, anyhow – that the state has decided not to stick its bargepole into their affairs

In truth, it’s not a bargepole – Cameron loves the less poverty-stricken, after all.  Numbers – ie those which relate to dosh, obviously – are much easier to quantify and comprehend than emotions, thoughts, being caring and – hey-ho, why not? – even acts of love.

But even as bargepoles are not right now an issue for Cameron himself, there is – for the second group – an element of supping with the devil.  As long as nothing changes, or appears not to be changing, we can sit quietly, broodingly perhaps, whilst we make a pact of silence and conspiratorial resignation with our status of “having been left alone for the while”.  How long it will last we cannot know.  All we know is that at the moment the focus is not on us.

And it’s surely true that the more we do social, the less social we become.  So who really needs to worry too much anyway?  The trend is much bigger than any of us wee individuals.

Neither is managerialism any more the challenge most facing us: if only all we had to deal with was a CEO or two feathering their corporate nests.  No.  This is something much bigger.  This is the politicisation of everything, can’t you see?  Everything and its mother is now the goal of a politics without limits: a politics which seeps into every corner and space of our lives like water into tapestries of ruin.

This is the Google effect, in fact: such politicians have realised they want to get everywhere; they want to see everything; they want to be involved in everyone; and they want to know all about what you want to do, before you even know yourself.

Cameron’s not a politician so much as a flesh-and-blood version of a 21st century search engine, exhibiting monumentally intrusive instincts.

And such search will never give up until you do.  And when you finally do, it’ll turn to your beloved.  Until you beloveds no longer exist as such.  And until neither, as a discrete individual, do you.

outsourcing our souls

I wonder if the online world doesn’t actually provide us with a sense of structure we can easily doublecheck, and an environment of security most would argue is manifestly not the case.  And in such a context, the offline world becomes a real challenge – a really hard call for sensitive souls to deal properly with.

A case in point.

I spent the last couple of days in London.  I’d never used an Oyster card before.  For those of you who don’t know, it’s a contactless payment system to allow you to travel around the city.

I don’t know, even now, how to properly use it.  I don’t feel confident in its using.  I’d much prefer it to have its own LCD screen, which informed you, as and when you needed, how much dosh was left on it; how much you had spent.

But it doesn’t work like that.

Neither is the Underground – nor the other rail & road services which connect off it – a network I understand with the necessary degrees of confidence.  Perhaps familiarity breeds contentment – who knows?  If I spent some time in London, I’m sure I could see it as a real-world equivalent of a blogging CMS; and be as comfortable with that network as I am with online ones.

So what was the purpose of all this stressful travelling around?  I was attending the last public interview of Alan Rusbridger, as editor-in-chief of the Guardian newspaper for the past twenty years or so; an event and a half as it turned out; an event worthy of all the stress I kind of had to endure.

I even got to meet him after the interview; he was pressing the flesh patiently as any politician must.  In a sense, then, being an editor is like being a politician; in the same way, perhaps, as a pope like Pope Francis shows a religious personage can also be political: politically attuned, at the very least.

Before the occasion started, convivial drinks were had by convivial people you’d probably expect to attend such a gathering.  I’m not sure I am exactly that sort of person; but maybe oddballs fit into the Guardian‘s left field too.

The interview lasted around ninety minutes and covered a lot of ground.  It reminded us of historical idiocies: of libel actions built on the sands of massive lies; of the phone-hacking stories; of the Trafigura super-injunctions which in themselves were super-injuncted (if I remember rightly …); of Snowden, the surveilled past he described and the rabbits-in-headlights future we are now living; of that awful billowingly fuel-laced 9/11 frontpage; of this and that and so much more.

What shone through all the way was a steely humanity: a necessary thick skin even notable editors sometimes fail to entirely acquire.  I’m not sure I’ll ever have it; so really not sure I’ll ever be what – otherwise – I might have easily been.

But in the absence of something one would wish to possess, one can only admire more fully those who demonstrate it really can be done.

After the event itself, we went up for the complementary drinks.  In the mix of disinterested and interested souls, there was the whiff of self-representation amongst some of those who attended.  I always feel a little bit uncomfortable on these occasions: it seems bad form to approach someone who’s celebrating their tenure in order to exchange a business card.  But I suppose thick skins do make the world go round.  Or something …

Yes.  Most people seemed older, and didn’t care too much about the impact of their words; but there was one young and gently thoughtful thirteen-year-old who spoke so clearly on the matters he had witnessed, it cheered me up immensely.  As someone who’s part of a generation which has so failed the world, I can only hope more of these youngsters grab what has been our manifest and rank failure, and manage – in some way – to turn it round.

I see my own weaknesses, and wonder if I can ever turn my back story into history.  I’m not sure it’s possible: it’s easy for people to play mind games with me; such an easy sport that like fox hunting, it should surely be outlawed.

Though they do say they want to bring it back, don’t they?

My question, then, I suppose is this: how can we create a world where the mind-gamers don’t trash and poison normal human relations?  How can editors help to edit reality so it reaffirms instead of damages human discourse?  How can the sacred role of journalistic endeavour bring us real truths that’ll pan out like the nuggets we really deserve?

How can we stop the bad editors taking control – of going so far as to outsource our souls?  And how can we ensure that the mischievously good, clearly the Mr Rusbridgers of the world, win on our behalf the battles we need fighting?

Answer me that, and we’ll have solved half of everything that’s currently hurting.

Fail to provide any cogency – and people like myself, at least, who probably see and comprehend far too much of what really happens out there, will simply shrivel away in a morale-sapping decay we could easily call a final resignation.

passive-aggressive democracy

Paul took me a little to task (me being a Labour Party member, by the by), and perhaps fairly at that too, last night.  A couple of his key tweets:

Sorry, should have said: this Labour anti-#bedroomtax thing is a gesture because they know they won’t win.

@zebrared No, I don’t mean that the Bedroom tax shouldn’t be opposed – just that they know they won’t win *this* vote.

@zebrared I’m not disagreeing with their doing it – I just want them to see that their other austerity policies are inconsistent.

@zebrared Oh, I agree. That’s why I find the anti-immigrant and pro-austerity tone in Labour so repellent. It matters.

I replied to the last one with these tweets:

@PaulbernalUK Repellent, yes; myself, inclined to feel (as I said) a wearisome lack of ambition, as well as nerve. Poss solution in latter?

@PaulbernalUK But they would have nerve if our wider democracy (us, the voters) hadn’t been so passive-aggressive over the past four years.

Many have spoken, as austerity has ramped up its control of our lives, of the lack of a coherent (read impactful) response from subjects and citizens almost everywhere.  In countries like Spain I’m talking of young people in situations of fifty percent unemployment rates.  In Britain, whilst social media has occupied itself with letting voters’ steam off, all the same the disadvantaged in society have suffered tremendously from the policy-riven attacks the government has deliberately aimed at them.

Other countries, I am sure, have suffered the same.

Yet we, the people, as a voting and thinking mass, limit ourselves to passively-aggressively denoting the decline of our economy, cultural and wider social tapestry.  We allow ourselves to be horrified, but not to any end.  We allow our governments to horrify us, even as they continue to tighten their vices (vices too, we might argue, in both senses of the word).

So what has made us so passive-aggressive?  Is it social media?  Is it the far longer reach of a comforting consumerism that has made us (kind of) weak in our perceptions and our actions?

In fact, if I continue developing such a train of thought, I’ll begin to sound like the very actors and actresses of austerity’s very own cruelties.  That they believe we are unworthy of modern life is clear.  That they believe, through their privilege, power and wealth, that the aforementioned three horsemen and women justify their own belief in themselves is also undeniable.

But even so, even with all this evidence and conclusion to hand, I am unable to draw a clear understanding of why we have become so passive-aggressive.

All I do know is that I’m pretty sure, in a latterday politics, where parties must enable as much as lead, facilitate as much as teach and allow as much as push, we, the people, have not stepped up to the gauntlet history has thrown down to us.

And for that absence of strength of mind, that lack of perspicacity, we can in no way blame parties like Labour.

A further couple of my own tweets to finish, in relation to this final issue:

@PaulbernalUK Never much been a fan of talking to politicians when they tie us down to their policies: their terrain; aggressively so. >>

@PaulbernalUK << I never believe their promises; they’ll only ever do what benefits them. But more difficult to fake tone & narrative. >>

@PaulbernalUK << Why so much tone & narrative is poor; when convincing, maybe better guarantor than policies “signed” in pre-election blood?

It comes down, as always, to a matter of trust.  We don’t trust them at all; but more seriously, our governors don’t trust us – that is to say, the people … we, the governed.

No wonder we refuse so frequently to take ownership for our hatred, as we continue to persist in hiding behind socially-networked anonymity and semi-anonymity.  Our governors, this Coalition, Cameron, Osborne & Co and all the bloody rest … they’re all doing the same to a greater or lesser degree.

Politically.  Snidely.  Passively-aggressively.

That, essentially, is what modern Western democracy’s become.

A beast which requires fulsome trust on both sides to operate properly.

A beast where trust has been vaporised by the ray-gun of modernity.

A beast where, without the trust I mention, nothing – absolutely nothing – can be done to recover an assertively productive dialogue.

It’s that assertiveness we need now; not the passive-aggressive wailing.

On both sides, too.

If only …