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Vague forms

Re: ‘The politics of futility’ (NI 536). We all know that liberal democracy in the US is effectively a plutocracy, where the super-rich control political parties and governments through their wealth. What Neil Vallely calls ‘the politics of futility’ is a predictable consequence of the powerlessness that people feel living in such a system. He complains about futility but only reinforces it by claiming that consumer action such as ‘buycotting’ is futile and denying that we have any personal responsibility to tackle systemic problems. His discussion of social capital is just a long-winded way of saying that capitalism tends to colonize all of life. But there is no effective analysis of capitalism. He just wastes valuable writing space attacking nonsense like ‘anti-natalist environmentalism’ (I say ‘nonsense’ because how else is the world to be saved except by our children and their children, etc?). He even criticizes human rights activists for being too focused on the individual – he seems to favour some vague form of collectivism. He talks of a mythical ‘generational divide’ and quotes Grace Blakeley: ‘Why should young people support capitalism when they never expect to own any capital?’ To which the obvious answer is: because it provides them with work, and even a career in some cases. But Vallely (and Blakeley) don’t seem to know this: the fact that under capitalism labour itself is a form of capital.

Peter Somerville Manchester, UK


Get the balance right

Re: NI 536’s Long Read: ‘To believe in the myth that individual behaviour can change society is to cement the logic of futilitarianism.’ Any change to society must stem from individual behaviour, as individuals are the basic unit of any community, movement, institution, and all new ideas must come from individuals or their collaboration. Individual liberty is crucial to facilitating change, but (as your article discusses) ‘individual freedoms’ are also often aggressively defended in the face of greater good for wider society. We need to navigate the balance between individual freedom and other human rights (which indeed, unfortunately, do not always go hand-in-hand).

And in that edition’s What if… on degrowth: ‘planet-friendly activities like public healthcare and regenerative agriculture would be scaled up’. Public healthcare is not necessarily a ‘planet-friendly activity’ (eg it could lead to an increase in the already high pollution from the pharmaceutical industry). Access to quality healthcare and environmental sustainability are both crucial issues but they won’t be achieved through a simple ‘win-win’.

Susannah Fleiss

Pay for time

I welcome Frank Formby’s ‘What if... we took the money out of politics?’ (NI 535). However, I take issue with his proposal that political parties should ‘become entirely volunteer-run organizations’.

Consider the hours of work involved in running the offices of a political party. It is exploitative to expect people to do this for free. Besides, who would be able to? Primarily, people who did not have to worry about earning a living or looking after children. Who wants political parties to be run by such a narrow demographic?

A far better proposal is for political parties to charge modest membership fees and receive match-funding from the state, with no other sources of funding allowed.

Chris Bluemel Southampton, UK

Boring compromise

I like the idea of taking money out of politics (NI 535), but I predict considerable opposition from most of the media to anything that might lead to co-operation and compromise rather than pig-headedness and confrontation. Confrontation makes for eye-catching headlines, whether in print or online. No news may be good news, but good news is no news.

Susan Francis Malvern, UK

True colours

As one of your earliest and continuing subscribers, I have learned to depend upon your consistent concern for justice and your compassion in reporting. Many thanks.

Robert Wild British Columbia, Canada

Why I...

...fight for better buses.

If we’re serious about tackling climate change, addressing inequality and creating thriving local economies, then it’s vital we take back our buses. Since bus deregulation in 1986, we have been held to ransom in the UK by private operators. They have presided over a dramatic decline – cutting routes not considered ‘commercially viable’ and hiking up fares on those remaining. With the Get Glasgow Moving campaign (getglasgowmoving.org), I’m proud to be part of a growing movement demanding change. We want each region to be empowered to bring its buses back into public control and develop world-class, fully-integrated and affordable public transport that prioritizes people and planet – not just bus company profits.

Ellie Harrison, Glasgow, UK