What’s left of what I believe

XKCD strip on nihilism
NaBloPoMo November 2012The main reason I’ve allowed this blog to fall into misuse over the past couple of years is that I stopped writing about politics. While my original concept behind this blog was always to write in the intersection between politics and geekery, at some point – specifically in May 2010 – I decided I could no longer really afford to vent my undiluted spleen about the state of the nation and had to start being a little more diplomatic and careful about what I say.

The problem is, I’m a little all-or-nothing and being careful quickly lead to me saying nothing at all. I figured it would get easier once the spotlight was off after the AV referendum; it didn’t. I figured I could be much less careful after I’d quit the party and thus my views became instantly irrelevant in the media’s eyes, but at that point I acquired a new problem: how can I write about politics without it either coming across as or actually being score settling following my resignation? I exchanged one set of anxieties for another and sclerosis quickly settled in once again.

And so, here I am, writing a blog about politics – which once again is really all about me. This is my problem in a nutshell. All I can do is plead for sympathy from you, dear reader: after 16 years, quitting a political party really is a big deal. It’s a wrench. It is no surprise at all that nearly eight months on I’m still a little defined by it. But at least you now know why it is that I’d much rather be writing about comics or, if you’ve seen my tumblr, even more esoteric things.

My article in September about quitting the Liberal Democrats had an interesting response. It was surprisingly positive, but I found it strange how so many people told me that they either loved or hated it but didn’t really engage with the issues at all. I had several Clegg loyalists tell me how much they loved it; curious given that I was not exactly nice about him. My favourite response was from a friend who told me that he agreed with “35% of it”. It was a strangely precise figure, yet he wouldn’t expand on what he actually meant by it.

Most of the negative feedback I did get from it, other than the abuse, centred around the accusation that I was being cynical and didn’t have anything constructive to say. I think the latter was fair comment and pretty much sums up where I am politically at the moment, but there is a difference between cynicism and nihilism. I don’t think I am cynical – indeed my decision to quit the party was about as far from cynical as it was possible to get. I took the decision to walk away rather that to stay on the inside and just feel bitter about things. The fact that I don’t have a fully worked out alternative to what the Lib Dems, and for that matter, politics more widely, doesn’t make me a cynic – it just makes me average.

But yes, I am a political nihilist at the moment, and as someone used to having a cause I can assure you that’s far more of a problem for me than it is for anybody else. All I have is a few scraps of ideas about what a possible way forward might look like, and they can be summed up as follows:

  • Triangulation is a doomed strategy for any political party – doubly so if you aren’t either Labour or the Conservatives. The people leading the political debate right now are the outliers who are working outside of the political mainstream but are successfully shifting the centre-ground to their direction simply by being well organised and disciplined. Right now, sadly, for the most part that means the weird axis of economic libertarians and social authoritarians who are exemplified by the Tea Party in the US but operate in different forms around the world. They aren’t succeeding electorally, but they don’t really need to. Everyone else is dancing to their tune.
  • Capitalism as we know it needs to die. Not trade, not commerce, but the system which commodifies and seeks to squeeze wealth from everything from people to ideas and natural resources is utterly anathema in terms of what humanity needs to do to survive the next millennium. That means critically reassessing what we regard as capital and property and thus what we believe can and cannot be owned. I feel I’ve just used a load of meaningless words there, but it makes sense to me. In terms of specific examples this means a fundamental shift from income and sales taxes onto things like land value taxation, and a massive global crackdown on the drift widening intellectual property laws to mean that every aspect of our culture ultimately becomes owned by a corporation out to make a quick buck.
  • It’s too bloody easy to blame the politicians. Our politico-economic system and media have infantilised the public, but as information technology spreads so does the onus on individuals to accept responsibility for the health of their democracy and culture. We have the tools to create a much better world, yet most people just sit there like good little consumers waiting for someone else to do it for them, and consider passively shrugging about it to be the mature response for when they don’t.

Beyond that? I’m lost. I have no idea about how you take those notions and turn them into something tangible which has any chance of being implemented. But I’m thinking about it – a lot. And perhaps I should write about it here a bit more often.


  1. I agreed about 75% with your article about quitting the Liberal Democrats. I never managed to put aside a couple of hours to write a response, but look forward to reading your future thoughts.

  2. Of your three points, #1 is undeniably true. But giving up triangulation is an enormously risky strategy for a political leader, because it makes them very personally accountable for future electoral failures. It’s easy for a politician to talk about “realism” or the need to frame policies within the range acceptable to the median voter, because this allows them to abdicate personal responsibility (beyond the formal “taking responsibility for [xyz]” that everyone does even if they don’t mean it) and pin the blame for failure on those damned circumstances that so confined their choices. Clegg can undoubtedly tell a very good story about how he simply had no choice but to do the things he has done, but this lets him away from the fact that he did have a choice and chose the easiest option.

    Point #2 gets to the heart of what the debate for the next 20 years needs to be about. It also reveals how hard it is to talk about. Do we need policies, like LVT or copyright reform, or do we need broad objectives such as “replacing capitalism”? As a technocratically-minded person, it’s the policies that tend to sway me, but I doubt that this works for most people. I’m not sure how the intellectual heavy lifting that turns these ideas into a programme for government is going to take place; are we still meant to believe that this can be done by people collaborating on the internet, or is that idea out of fashion already?

    Can’t do anything but agree with #3 either.

    I guess the challenge can be stated as such: we know roughly what we want, and what we want is sufficiently differentiated from what the mainstream is capable of offering that the finer details of exactly how long copyright should apply for, or exactly what rate LVT should be charged at, are largely irrelevant; given this, how should people who believe in some approximation of your world-view cooperate to bring it about?

    My suspicion is that there’s some unavoidable hard work in doing dull policy analysis to figure out if any of these ideas are feasible, and in communicating these ideas to the kind of people who would be receptive to them. I guess this is what think tanks are supposed to do, but most of them seem either ineffective or unimaginative.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.