Just the thing
After decades of subscribing, I didn’t find it helpful to keep reading about the latest depressing atrocity against people and nature that I was helpless to remedy. Then came the 500th issue, full of encouraging accounts of successes and courageous people around the world, and Vanessa Baird’s reflections on what it takes to have courage.
I think that these days, people are so heavily assaulted by bad news, from everywhere, that they have become numbed-out and too discouraged to respond. So, positive examples, as well as ‘how-to’ material, are better suited to inspire folks work towards a better world. They offer reassurance that things aren’t completely hopeless.
Bringing out the best
An addiction to more
Jeremy Seabrook’s excellent and insightful article ‘A pretence of progress’ (NI 500), highlights the fate of most (all?) progressive movements, whether now or in the context of historical events such as the French or Russian revolutions.
Ultimately, such movements have been commandeered or co-opted by those addicted to the mantra of ‘more’. I don’t call it greed because that is too facile, but humankind has an addiction to ‘more’ in its manifold forms, not all of which are material.
The Enlightenment gave birth to the Liberal Establishment which, while we were all sleeping or celebrating, was commandeered by a worldwide neoliberal junta, which inevitably begat the catastrophic global inequality we now face; and the consequent powerful rejection of, and backlash against, all that liberalism stands for, such as freedom, reason, science, truth and equality.
In rejecting the principles of liberal and enlightened civilization, the Trumps, Le Pens and Farages of this world are indeed ‘one of us’, as their supporters put it, despite benefiting from those principles; and the promise of further power and riches is no doubt an addictive driver for the harnessing of widespread confusion, bigotry, fear and fury to their ambitions.
The cycle will run its course. Progressives and liberals everywhere need to promote and facilitate that natural process by engaging with the supporters of such demagogues, while uniting globally to counter the likely onset of a third world war.
Although Jeremy Seabrook (NI 500) nods towards Britain’s ‘golden age’ being built on colonialism, his account of the rise and eventual demise of the ‘settlement’ (social contract) fails to situate these in geopolitical terms, specifically the rise and demise of the USSR. Misguided and doomed though it was, it provided competition to ‘Western’ capital while it existed, necessitating an accommodation with labour.
If China is afraid of military encirclement by the US, the worst thing it can do is play the regional bully and build military bases on reefs and islands belonging to neighbouring nations – that will only increase US concerns about China’s intentions. The Spratly Islands may be 12,000 kilometres from the US but the ‘day of infamy’ surprise attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor in 1941 has not been forgotten, making the US regard Asia as being crucial to its national security. Chinese military expansionism will only increase US concerns and increase the risk of military conflict.
Could China win a hot war against the US? No, the best outcome it could hope for would be mutually assured destruction. If the Chinese leadership genuinely wants to avoid conflict it needs to respect the rights of others instead of stomping on its neighbours with military boots, and work co-operatively to find peaceful solutions to the problems it perceives: solutions that are fair to its neighbours, not just in its own perceived national interest.
With a subject as sensitive and liable to misunderstanding and misinterpretation as euthanasia (‘Matters of life and death’, NI 497), it may be helpful to be more specific with the terminology. The article was about voluntary euthanasia, and the concept should always have been referred to as such.
Grain of salt
While I appreciate your good intentions in promoting ‘World Fiction’ (NI 496), I want to add a cautionary note. The stories you featured were written in English, mostly by writers who have settled in prosperous English-speaking Western countries and have access to major media outlets and publishers.
As such, I would take the noble claim of ‘World Fiction’ and ‘diversity’ with a grain of salt. These claims would be more valid if even one story was originally published in a native language and engaged directly with native issues.
Rich countries and their publishers decide the production of this literature. Here it is useful to remember Karl Marx’s words, who noted mass-commercialization and homogeneity of literary production as early as 1888: ‘From the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.’ This English-language Western literature with labels of ‘racial’ and ‘ethnic’ diversity has more to do with the new economics of literary production.
There is much to consider when deciding if trade unions (NI 495) are still the agents of positive change that they so undoubtedly have been at various points in the past. One mode of social improvement that was not discussed was the huge investing/divesting power that some unions possess. The Ontario Teachers’ Federation in Canada, for instance, controls assets in excess of $170 billion. Unfortunately, in this case, the fund directors have failed to shy away from lucrative, yet destructive, industries such as mining, the tar sands and even fast-food chains.