Kick-offs, and kickings-into-touch

Paul Raven @ 07-02-2011

Just a quick one: among the folk among my Twitter cloud, this list of potential explanations from the BBC’s Paul Mason for “why everything’s kicking off” at the moment did the rounds maybe three times over the course of the weekend, and with some justification. A few highlights:

6. Horizontalism has become endemic because technology makes it easy: it kills vertical hierarchies spontaneously, whereas before – and the quintessential experience of the 20th century – was the killing of dissent within movements, the channeling of movements and their bureaucratisaton.

16. There is no Cold War, and the War on Terror is not as effective as the Cold War was in solidifying elites against change. Egypt is proving to be a worked example of this: though it is highly likely things will spiral out of control, post Mubarak – as in all the colour revolutons – the dire warnings of the US right that this will lead to Islamism are a “meme” that has not taken off. In fact you could make an interesting study of how the meme starts, blossoms and fades away over the space of 12 days. To be clear: I am not saying they are wrong – only that the fear of an Islamist takeover in Egypt has not been strong enough to swing the US presidency or the media behind Mubarak.

A minty-fresh blast of optimistic air, there. Well, James Nicoll is oftn quoted as saying “whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts”; in a naked remix thereof, I’ll say that whenever I feel my chest swell with optimism about current events, I read Bruce Sterling. Here’s the Chairman’s point-by-point besnarking of Mason’s list; by way of balance, two highlights:

4. They are not prone to traditional and endemic ideologies: Labourism, Islamism, Fianna Fail Catholicism etc… in fact hermetic ideologies of all forms are rejected. (((Unless you count Birtherism and climate-denial as hermetic ideologies, ’cause they are)))

14. In addition to a day off, you can “mix and match”: I have met people who do community organizing one day, and the next are on a flotilla to Gaza; then they pop up working for a think tank on sustainable energy; then they’re writing a book about something completely different. I was astonished to find people I had interviewed inside the UCL occupation blogging from Tahrir Square this week. (((Revolution of the Dilettantes! Good luck getting these multitasking mayflies to govern anything.)))

I remember asking Sterling in an interview I ran here a while back what made him feel positive about the next few decades, and I quite deservedly got my own naive arse served to me on a plate*:

I don’t even do “positive” and “negative” potential. I sincerely think that attitude makes people actively stupid about the future.

[…]

History is what it is. Major change-drivers, true historical forces, they have little to do with people’s innate need for pep-talk. If you want to help people deal with futurity, you need to think talk and act in a way that clarifies the situation — not within mental frameworks that are dystopian, utopian, miserabilist, hunky-dory, apocaphiliac, Singularitarian, millennialist… wishful thinking just isn’t serious thinking. We’re wishful about the future because it hasn’t happened yet, but the future is history. Tomorrow is quite similar to all the other days in history, with the quite small difference that it’s personally happening to us.

Anything that’s got “potential” has always got some positive and negative potential. Otherwise it’s not even “potential.”

I try hard to live that lesson these days. Some days, of course – especially in difficult times – you just want to feel a little bit better about tomorrow. Which is fair enough, I guess, so long as you stay aware that it’s just soma, and don’t smoke the stuff 24/7…

… athough, of course, that’s probably the sound of me arguing in favour of my own mental crutches.

[ * I actually got off lightly; I don’t remember where I saw it, but someone was talking about having interviewed Sterling and asking him at the end “was there anything I missed?”, to which Sterling replied “no, you asked all the usual questions”. Ouch. ]

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