Thursday, January 14, 2016

Where Would The Citizens' Politics Lead Us?

As Bernie Sanders catches up with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump raves and rages, and Jeremy Corbyn holds on - even if rather precariously - at the British Labour Party, we can reasonably think that an era of anti-Politics has began. The slick politics of the mid-90s, when Centrism took hold, but all it meant was a breed of cynical politicians who stood for nothing but the craving of power (brilliantly represented in Frank Underwood in the US version of The House of Cards), seems all but gone. Ideology, of sensible and insensible variety, is back in the mix, all over again.

This is counter-intuitive. As we entered the Age of the Millennial, we were expecting a sweeping victory for those smooth-tongued Centrists, who wanted to hold the centre-stage, but not any ground in anything else. The millennial would be, we expected, products of a 'liquid' modernity,  for whom the pursuit of pleasure, rather than any fixed commitment, is all pervasive. But their surging support for all these new politicians who 'stand for something', and simultaneous ringing rejection of the 'reed-in-the-wind' politics, now tells a different story. One could say this is the characteristic search for certainty of a generation growing up in the aftermath of the financial crisis. But, the other explanation, more optimistic, is that this is the final turning of the corner of a global generation, united in the shock of discovery that the middle class dream is a con.

Is this, then, the end of the post-modern age, when our social beings were atomised - every person for himself - and our collective consciousness withered? This was a time when no one stood for anything because there was nothing to stand for. The only pursuit of civilised life was, at least for a time being, that of more material acquisition, fuelled by the insane possibility of ever-expanding private debt.  One could feel richer by kicking the can down the road, protests were subsumed in tokenism, arguments were framed around interests and not ideas, and identities were an aggregate of the possessions.

Just as the monstrosities of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia made aware on the limits of social compliance, it seems that the recession has taught a generation that came of age in its midst a disillusionment with the standard-issue middle class story. The anti-Politics rage, expressed in choosing the idiosyncratic leaders and ideologies, seem to represent an urge to find roots, the authenticity that we have let go in most spheres of public life.

That the middle class dream is stunted, is true. The collusion of policy-makers with interests has gone too far, undermining the combative fairness that keep a democratic society, for all its failings, healthy. All the estates have come together as one, perhaps far too cosily, and one set of ideas has become too dominant, all too concentrated, and opened up a space for contrarian views. So, is this the inflection point, when a new set of ideas emerge, or just another false start, for some to proclaim an apocalypse that ends in a whimper?

So far, it seems to be the latter, indeed. For all the disillusionment, the millennial identities are concentrated around the 'coolgevity' (I made that up to mean how long it remains cool) of our devices, and so seems the politics. Sanders, Trump and Corbyn are departures from the usual, may even be a wake-up call, but not signs of lasting change. In Trump, it is apparent how misdirected this anger can be, and how easily the voices could be usurped by a demagogue. In others, like India's Kejriwal, a man of similar intentions, there is a fragmented activism, some flurry of honest engagement, even a touch of sincere anger, but that departure is only partial, as they wrestle with the dominant doctrines of the age. Their rhetoric of change is not the moral call that we long to hear, but rather a manager's manifesto. Reading too much into it is deluding ourselves.

Perhaps such a stalemate is indeed the fate. Revolutions are too painful for people that have, and it has been pushed to the margin of ideas. But the lure, and the fear, of revolution has also obscured other possible ideas of change, limiting the intent to change to mere demagoguery that we see ascendant today. And, in the end, disillusionment lie, perhaps in its most complete form - Hopelessness! It happened before, and this time around, Millennials are just riding the same train, the same rickety edifice that look coolly retro, a blast from past, but to be discarded as one grows up into responsibility. This is not, is not, the moral rage that would change the world.





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