Decay, decrepitude, dereliction: and their benefits post-Brexit

In Uncategorized on March 14, 2018 at 4:01 pm

James Joyce summed up Brexiteers: “The whole Anglo-Saxon spirit… the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence, the slow yet efficient intelligence, the sexual apathy, the calculating taciturnity.” Which I’ll come on to. But firstly, my car. It slid down a snow-covered Yorkshire hillside recently, saved only by a convenient wall. Neatly scarring both left-side passenger doors. This matched impressive damage to the driver’s side. Last year I drove off from a car park space into the adjacent lamp-post. Having driven off from two petrol stations without paying, and ending up on the police national computer, some sort of rot has set in. Yorkshire Police were humane: “when we looked at the CCTV you didn’t have a balaclava on sir, so we assumed you might not be an arch-criminal”. 

My own question is do I restore my car to its former mass mid-market glory. Or leave the scars. That I need a car to exist is itself a problem. Getting a bus from Golcar to Huddersfield, or Carlisle to Cockermouth, is lovely. You meet people on the bus. It is a social space. It is humanising and healing. Unlike the train. My problem was getting back from Cockermouth. There was no bus back. I rode on to Workington bus depot. Then walked to the railway station. Which is breathtaking by the way. A space that makes you want to miss your train. The train thundered back without the spirit of the bus.

I have decided to leave the car disrepaired. A talking point. In ‘shit-order’ as army-types say to recruits. Retired soldiers grow pony-tails, and join biker gangs, as not only a form of irony, but in a restoration of their battered identities. That you submit to depersonalisation though is not unconscious. We all do it. Uniforms are strangely liberating. And leaving the EU is not dissimilar. We want out of EU-order. Partly as we could not dominate this space. Remaining meant an inability to rule. There were never enough who like Queen Mary could say: “When I am dead and cut open, they will find Philip and Calais inscribed on my heart.”

When interviewed by Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs a young Brexiteer called Robinson Crusoe said he didn’t want the complete works of Shakespeare as he was: “the prince and lord of the whole island; I had the lives of all my subjects at my absolute command.” He was not the first Alpha Male to be washed up on a beach then appoint himself master of all he surveyed. Crusoe set about recreating a small version of York on his island. Even re-creating a country retreat on the other side of the island. He didn’t co-exist, he dominated. The ecosystem made no sense to him, so he hacked at it madly. The fear of the unknown meant he rebuilt his known world in this unknown world. He neither understood his environment nor sought to. Crusoe’s domination was his own decay. He was destroying the ecosystem to keep his self recognisable.

The world is in the process of being stockaded by global capital. It is a known system. The Russians have planted their flag 4.3km down on the seabed next door to the Artic Circle to stake a claim to oil and liquefied natural gas. The Americans own the moon likewise. Possession is nine tenths of the law. But here and there there are little beaches on which new communities are forming who have no intention of capitalising their space. In fact non-ownership, and non-possession is the goal. We do not want to colonise the space. Letting go of this desire is a letting go of globalised power. Once you have communities not taking part in this form of power, a new economy forms.

The failure of leadership to build a society we can be content with has thrown up the word ‘resilience’. Children are taken outdoors by their school teachers to recover their ability to cope via physical challenges. Employers want resilient staff to cope with globalisation and its effects. These efforts are like the Dutch Boy with his finger in the dyke. The world we have built is creaking under hyper-possession.

If nine million modern globalised and educated Indians apply for 18,000 railway jobs, then that is a lot of disaffection. Globalised possession is at the root of our discontents. I had a heated debate about ‘purpose’ with a colleague. Modern purpose is an extended enclosure Act. A repeated legalisation of life. Where society cannot negotiate it resorts to the law. Once you propose to modern middle-class educated Indians that their taking part in Western modernity will lead to happiness through capital you are storing up the pathology that emerged in America following their 1950s revolution. John Updike’s characterisation of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom surviving plastic motels and sweaty cheapened sex aches off the page.

That Indians submit to Rabbit’s journey is interesting. But their submission will accelerate the West towards a conversation about capital. British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn’s achievement is to make Tories rehearse their arguments all over again. Which they now cannot do without considerable embarrassment. The Tory Front Bench look like the teaching staff at the grammar school prize giving ceremony. That the Labour Front Bench look like the local comprehensive’s staff room is neither here nor there.

Musing aside the structure of capital means it pushes people outwards from each other. Getting back from capital ownership is harder as you have to go on to Workington, as it were. My parents entered a Christian commune in Sussex in the 1950s. Intent on sharing everything together. Former Royal Navy commanders handed their Jaguars over. It was hell! My mother said. My brother ran away back to Suffolk at 15. Then to Fleet Street. And Murdoch. My four sisters were gone by 15 and 17. Spread to four corners of the Home Counties. To be loving wives to Crusoes (such were men of socially-mobile 1960s/70s, especially when hovering around London and its dormitories – in stark contrast to the stasis of now. London’s effect on aspiration is chemical). But it wasn’t hell for everyone. They were radicals. But they still couldn’t express meaningfully amongst themselves what they were doing. Its members gradually crept back into mainstream existence.

Community built without a narrative remains overpowered by capital. My father took a house round the corner from the commune. As a private man he was affected by the long-legacy of a community that couldn’t narrate its self. Community born in modernity has to play a different game. Acknowledging we are ethnically modern, and find ourselves playing the game of capital by its rules means a fairly epic conversation about what possession is. What it is to possess our lives, and things. About life journeys. And how to decay appropriately. To fall out of capital into community.

Stephen Hawking died yesterday as a demi-god of science. Worshipped for his inspirational battle against physical limitation. But the impression you had was of a man speaking through the decay of physical prowess. The winsome figure added a vulnerability and humility to his thinking. In the Knowledge-Era where the mind is Queen, Hawking still was a Robinson Crusoe. Planting his barley seeds self-consciously. His use of modal verbs like ‘is’ unapologetically ruins scientific credibility all over again. The most important epistemological question now is ‘why science?’ This is so offensive that reactions to it must be studied as much as the question itself.

Science, Christianity, modernity are not community friendly. But they are all decaying nicely. Jeremy Corbyn’s mother knitted him a jumper, and an identity. His decay is electable. Battered and shambolic is a route to community. One of my community leader friends, who never gets back to me, ever, when challenged said: ‘leaders need to leave by the back door’. As a respected figure in his community, he has got something. Shambolic disinterested leaders are offering meaningful decay. A lead away from capital. Capital of course always gets back to you. Relentlessly. That capital cannot leave its community alone is part of the mental health epidemic.

You cannot enter a space without capital as dominant narrative. A decrepitude, a turning up late, or not all, in battered automobiles, with soup-stained clothing has its possibilities.

British vaudevillian Ken Dodd died just before Hawking. Dodd offered banality that was so nauseating it could only be funny. One of my best pals tartly responded: “He has always turned my stomach with his banal nonsense and how people laugh along with him, I sometimes wonder if it is more pity for a poor jester than anything else.” That Dodd was an under-performing King’s fool is an interesting thought. But he was a link to a world that fought middle-class oppressiveness. As Britain climbed socially we quietly admired those who remained in Channel 4 Shameless communities, free from university education, and respectable marriages that pleased both mother and father. Christianity got into bed with respectability and needs a quickie divorce for it to recover its credibility.

The value of Brexit then. Is that once we are out we can really screw up! If the EU took the Anglo-Saxons by the elbow for forty years, trying to explain secular humanism to the snotty-nosed kid at the back with the NHS glasses, it has not worked. The common woman has kicked Belgian bureaucracy in the balls quite firmly. And we will pay for it. The chance now is to rot back into a mulch of our own making. To the eurocrat the British Isles was a deserted island to escape from. The British are a people of the sea. Angela Merkel is of the sea, but also of the forest. Sea people don’t get forest people. Central Europe is much further from Britain than one hour plane rides. The island race need to see the sea regularly. Plus see the books. The sea exposes people in a way the forest doesn’t. Royal Navy commanders stayed at sea sometimes for ten years at a stretch without ever setting foot on dry land. Their reading of wind and wave won. I suspect others will follow Britain out of the Club.

But Brexit is a form of natural decay. Supra-nationalism will in time look terrifying and we will wonder what on earth we were doing. As we now look on Communism with horror (and affection). The link between the EU and global capital is now relatively obvious. Neo-liberalism is largely setting markets free from government intervention. The EU could not intervene as it was not a political entity. But remained an idea that was unlikely to achieve its federal ambitions. Without a unified identity people will not sign-up. Identity being the great driver of political affiliation. The EU means little to the ordinary voter, other than a necessary vehicle for securing a post-war dividend. For Britain to not just exit EU collectivisation, but also return to a pre-Victorian dereliction is on the cards. We think we can Make Great Britain Again (MaGBA) but I propose we make it slightly decrepit. Like a Ken Dodd performance. A sort of inclusive communal banality that counters Grand Projects.







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