the language of solidarity #keepitintheground

The Guardian has decided, in the last few weeks and months, to be the vigorously campaigning newspaper it’s always sneakily been.

The difference between being just a newspaper and what I would term that campaigning newspaper I mention above, in a world where politics is now peopled directly by those who would replace the public sphere with a private sphere of fascist impulses, lies only in whether you might sit on the fence and adduce objectivity, or not.

All stances are now political, even where we claim even-handedness: precisely because real politics, the truly representative kind, has had its heart and soul brutally hollowed out by the moneymen (oh, and they’re usually men).

The #keepitintheground environmental campaign, which the Guardian is running as a grand valedictory for its current editor Alan Rusbridger, has renewed my belief that those who set up and run newspapers must remember to do so for the right reasons: not just the “whats” of the matter; more importantly, the “whys” too.

And “whys” lead us way beyond the “objectivity” of an even-handed “he said, she said” parroting of opposing spiels – a parroting that only serves to blunderbuss our confusion; hardly ever serving to properly inform our thought.

In truth, the most positive thing about #keepitintheground is that it’s not being framed as an environmental story at all: it’s a matter, above all, of human solidarity.  It’s a question of survival; not of the planet, for that will outgrow us all.  No, much more specifically, of ourselves as a species.

Will we demonstrate we have matured enough to survive the stupidity of our makers and shakers – of those who occupy positions of privilege the rest of us may never have had the opportunity to grant them?  Will democratic action and participation overcome the inertia of this vested and lazy interest?  Can our society prioritise instincts to the common solidarity I allude to – or will it find it just too challenging a task?

Not so much a necessary task as a tiresome chore.

It may actually be that we are fighting a losing battle against our language and vocabulary.  They do after all say the Eskimos have thirty words or so to say snow – thus communicating its importance.

In English, meanwhile, how many words do we have to communicate the concept of “solidarity”?


There’s “solidarity” of course.

And then?


So how about this following comparison?

I speak Spanish a bit – castellano, I mean.  In castellano we have three words and an easy-to-use phrase to communicate the concept of solidarity: “solidaridad” (solidarity), “solidario/solidaria” (the adjective of solidarity, which we don’t have), “solidariamente” (the adverb, which we don’t have) plus the adverbial construction “de manera solidaria” (in a solidarity-like way, which in English – as you can see – is a pretty ugly construction).

At least three times as many ways of communicating the idea in castellano compared to English.  When I was living there, some years ago now I have to admit, both right and left would use the Spanish vocabulary for communicating the concept interchangeably.  How many on the right here in Britain would ever mouth such ideas?

You’re hobbled when you can’t use an adverb; a noun attached via a preposition is such a clumsy beast; and the lack of an adjective means no one can be that thing without first being couched in an awkward double-noun sort of phrase.

So.  If we are looking to bring right and left together, and in the case of #keepitintheground a common ground will be essential to achieve its objectives, we need to realise what we’re up against: left and right cannot talk about the glory of solidarity without this feeling clunky.  And there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, sexy about clunkiness.

Whilst solidarity is cool and manifest in Mediterranean countries, at least at citizen-level, it is not the case here in Anglo-Saxon Britain or the US: both countries rather at the mercy of the poverty of the language under discussion.

Do we need to invent new vocabulary?  No.  Of course not.  The hashtag #keepitintheground itself will do for the socially-networked moment.

But we must remember that when a language itself has turned its back on a basic human instinct, there will be a sense of confusion at first when we are asked to recover our right, as well as (perhaps) our duty, to manifest it.

The 180,000 signatories of the Guardian‘s petition have shown the confusion can be overcome.

Meanwhile, the letters published this weekend in online and paper versions of the newspaper, my own included, bear witness to a growing clarity amongst those who’ve already committed themselves: this isn’t about our environment; this isn’t about saving the planet; what this is really about is a mature, adult commitment to our species’ future.

An honest and straightforward instinct to survive.

Not at all costs.

Out of solidarity.

the engine of fascism

This is getting tricky.  I read tonight on Labour List that:

A poll conducted by ComRes for The Independent has found that there isn’t substantial support for George Osborne’s economic plan to cut public spending faster.

Only 30% of those asked thought Osborne’s plan – to reduce government spending until the deficit is cleared and the budget in surplus – was the right approach, while 66% disagreed with his proposals.

Reading this, I then tweeted:

So what’ll happen if after the next general election a govt wins which then implements policies 70 percent of voters disagree with? What? >>

<< Wouldn’t that be a very fair definition of fascism?

It’s a possibility.  Meanwhile, a country I love dearly – Spain (where my wife and children were born, where I lived for sixteen fascinating years, where a miracle of democratic change was once forged with considerable persistence and where life is currently challenging on practically all fronts) – looks to pass this kind of legislation:

But in addition to these general measures, there are some aimed specifically at ending the use of the Internet to organize protests:

Those who call for demonstrations through the Internet, social networks, or another other means may also be penalized for having committed a very serious offense.

The circulation of riot images during demonstrations can also constitute a very serious offense, punishable by 600,000€.

Circulating information on the Internet that is understood to be an attack on an individual’s privacy or that of a person’s family, or that contributes to disrupting an operation, will be punished equally with fines up to 600,000€.

The chilling effect that those last three will have on protests is clear. People will be reluctant to express any view that might be interpreted as calling for a demonstration, however vague. Forbidding riot images from being posted will, of course, mean that images of any police brutality against demonstrators are less likely to be circulated widely, removing one of the few brakes on violent police responses. And the last one concerning an “attack on privacy” is so vague that any mention of an individual might well be caught by it. In addition, anyone “insulting” Spain, its symbols or emblems, may be punished with up to a year’s imprisonment.

This, as the techdirt article suggests, is clearly an example some other governments would be only to happy to follow.  Which leads me to ask myself not only whether this would be bad for democracy – it obviously would – but also if it wouldn’t be bad medium-term for the governments themselves.

You can push people only so far.  The question is: when does the passive democracy of the kind we’re experiencing everywhere – where voters kowtow to unemployment levels of up to fifty percent; where governments consistently blame the poorest for a country’s ills; and where the pursuit of a better standard of living becomes the privilege of the wealthy – become the engine of a far deeper fascism than simply that of the elites?

After all, our 20th century outings with the beast showed us only one side: that of Hitlers, Mussolinis and Francos sat atop undemocratic hierarchies which, eventually, in one way or another, imploded, were vanquished or fell apart under their own contradictions.  And those contradictions existed because the ordinary people, whilst under the beck and call of the oppressors’ cronyism, never quite lost their attachment to a wider solidarity.

A solidarity which went hand-in-hand with a broader efficiency.

We could argue, if you like, that the repository of recovery lay in the political and sociocultural souls of the peasants.  A repository which in better times didn’t half end up benefiting the classes that maintained their rule through thick and thin.

Let’s now fast-forward to today.  We live in a world, mightily splintered – mightily distracted too.  Let’s say governments like the Spanish, for the reasons they adduce (they may after all know their own country better than I do), manage to bring in the kind of legislation already described, and more in the medium-term future.  Some will argue, of course, that such legislation is the engine of fascism.  But I wonder, myself, if it’s not more a symptom.  The engine itself being that severe austerity which people like Krugman criticise.

However, whilst the rigid and incompetent governments he describes do their damage, at the same time, in this 21st century fascist reboot, the fascism reaches much deeper into our society.  The repository of the ordinary folk which saved us from previous bouts of fascism is ground into a virtual dust by the persistent barrage of distractions that a latterday world generates.  This is different from before; different from the 20th century.  We lose sight not only of our day-to-day responsibilities but also our longer-term sociocultural fixtures and fittings.  As the information streams scream at us, so we forget who we used to be.  Indeed, the historical re-imagining of that being we once were becomes complete.

What I’m saying, really, is that the engine of 21st century fascism is probably the same as any that came before: severe societal trauma as a result of economic fracture.  But the result will be quite different.

When it’s time for our elite to recover from the economic implosion fascism’s inefficiency always leads to – an implosion which always ultimately affects even the elite itself (serving both as the real driver for recovery as well as the main motivator for a return to political and social justice) – there will be no coherently hard-won citizen-based memory of what we were before the fracture.  The distracted economy will have made sure of that.  Our distracted attention spans will have broken our ability to remain focussed.  The elite will be as lost as the peasants whilst fascism reigned.  They (the elites I mean) really won’t know where to turn.

It is for this reason that unleashing fascism in the 21st century will be treading a path as yet totally untrodden.

And it is for this reason that there may, eventually, be no turning back.


the new country of tolerancia: population, one?

I tweeted this a little hopefully this morning:

Stories like this … make me wonder if there isn’t a “market” for creating a new country of tolerance and real justice.

And “this” being a Telegraph story which has been reported elsewhere, though without too much surprise from anybody any more it would seem:

Anyone convicted of a crime will be required to pay a court charge of up to £600 under Government plans 

Meanwhile, to my attention as a weary soul from quite other times comes a letter from a council not a million miles away from where I live where a schoolchild with 98.5 percent attendance arrives late at the gate – though not at registration – by minutes on one occasion in January (the first time in the whole academic year, in fact) and almost a month later gets an untimely and unhelpful missive, couched in a barely acceptable tone which presumes persistent guilt, and which is hardly likely to make the student in question respond positively to an environment they already sadly have some reason to dislike.

The letter signs off with the following phrase:

[…] Persistent lateness after the close of register and/or unauthorised absence may lead to the issuing of a Fixed Penalty Notice under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996.

As far as I know, though I may be wrong (and am happy to stand corrected), the register in this case wasn’t closed and unauthorised absence was therefore hardly a result.

But I suppose I am more interested in the implications of a wider intolerance, and what to do about it.  From Chris Grayling’s outrageous attempt to further monetise the justice system to the intolerant and tardy reaction from a local council I outline above, it’s clear that tolerance isn’t a 21st century touchstone.  And more specifically in relation to our children, it’s similarly clear they are being driven through long enough school days as it is, where hours upon hours of study without organised breaks pit one subject teacher against another in their attempts to finish syllabuses and hit their overarching targets.  The problem being that no one seems to be examining the impact such uncollaborative work and organisational systems are having on their receptors and objects: the children and adolescents themselves.

Each teacher is in a bubble of often desperate – often despairing – learning goals; none really has the opportunity to take a more holistic approach to their charges as people with responsibilities various, shifting and occasionally rather overwhelming in their lack of institutional coordination.

And such a state of intolerance can be applied to a wider society, I think: from government ministers with tightly focussed portfolios to MPs with party loyalties to voters with frightening difficulties in getting to the end of the month to those sick of politics to those bullied by politics to those who care no longer to listen to the silken promises of millionaires … all of us, I think, in some way or other, see our bonds and ties with others breaking up as personal motivations and dynamics substitute words and concepts like selflessness, altruism, sociability and empathy.

No one is in a position to have an overview of end-to-end process.  And in such a way, end-to-end process on many occasions ceases to properly exist.

This is not good, in my opinion.

I hope you don’t think it is, either.

So then.  What to do about it?  Obviously, creating a state we could choose to call Tolerancia, a new country with regenerated legal, justice, education, welfare, health, social care and governance regimes, a state like-minded souls could all migrate to out of a final resignation about their nations of birth, would require a tremendous effort probably beyond anyone right now – not only financial but persistently and creatively ideological.

Not an easy thing to achieve in any epoch, I guess – but even less so in times like these.

If not some wealthy philanthropist, then, how about crowdfunded attempts to create parallel universes (if you like) in a virtual world of some useful connection.  Yesterday, I posted this paragraph over at (the bold is mine today):

A final thought, then – and a spoiler alert for those of you who like Isaac Asimov but haven’t read everything.  I’ve just read a short story by him, entitled “Robot Visions”, borrowed from Amazon’s Kindle lending library.  In it, “humaniform robots” replace, via “a sad time”, a miserable population of ten billion humans with a stable and happily well-adjusted population of one billion robots.  Decentralised but (supremely) well-communicated communities have replaced decaying cities.  A massive campaign of reforestation has saved a planet from a fate we already see on the horizon today.  Enough there to make one wonder.

And I would so like to see this happen.  A series of web communities where principles of reasonable tolerance were perpetuated; where good people (let’s not tie down the definition side of things for the moment) were able to bring up their families and friendships in an environment of kindness and gentleness; where rights and obligations were properly constitutionalised and not forever open to undermining by much grander forces … well, it’d be fantastic, don’t you think?  So cool, it really would.  So cool.

A series of web communities we could choose to live in and pay our taxes (or not) to; communities which we could emigrate to when in times of real need; perfectly embracing silos, in fact.  But silos where the welfare state was in no danger ever again of reverting into the farewell state.

Tolerancia: a state for everyone who cares.

I’d be the first one.

But maybe, these days, I’d end up being the only one too.