Ignore your cynical sentiments, GE2019 is truly a chance to overcome the politics of despair.
As the 2010s draw to a close, I am thinking of the late Mark Fisher. I first discovered his book ‘Capitalist Realism’ in the summer of 2010, and as I subsequently began to discover his many articles and essays kept upon his blog page Kpunk, it was like I’d opened a concealed crate inside of which were forbidden fruits; the most imaginative use of pop cultural metaphor to explain experiences of life in the 21st century that I’d experienced myself but never had the language to articulate.
It’s not too vast an overstatement to say I’d only then recently learned how to read and right properly. I’d recently finished an art degree in my home town. My experiences growing up were far more insular than I’d ever realised, but Fisher’s work opened my eyes to a way of understanding politics, philosophy and mental health that was sincerely intimate; poetic without being poetry.
It’s not unreasonable to suggest that when this man, who I’d seen speak but never met, took his own life in 2017, I was gutted. I admit, throughout the 2010s, I used to anticipate his next blog or publication, like I was waiting for a pair of eyes, so I could see the latest cultural-political developments, feeling like my perceptions were being placed within the most trustworthy of hands.
Yet dig beneath the surface, and you’ll find an entire online literature inspired by Fisher: it clearly wasn’t just myself who’d found by solace and friendship with the words he used. Fisher’s writings were like a public secret for a large section of society that, for numerous reasons, felt like their life narrative had broken down in the first and specifically the second decade of the 21st century.
An old friend/work colleague, who knew Fisher (although he’s since taken the blog down) talked of how Fisher ‘wagered on a shared experience’. There was a humanity, intimacy in his writings that made you feel you were in a safe space, whoever you were – whereas much ‘left’ identifying literature can often make you feel more ashamed and lonely than before. Anybody could resonate with Mark Fisher’s words.
In 2015 he posted a series blogs that I believe are his most inspiring. Amidst the tepid uncertainty and then the outpouring of disbelief that many experienced around the time of the 2015 Conservative Party election victory, Fisher did the unthinkable and offered his hand to Conservative voters; sympathising with the resulting worldview of a ‘jaded’ and politically-disengaged work force, too ‘overworked’ to be more engaged in life and politics, and ‘told they must work harder’.
Arguing that true democracy is actually a joyful, Fisher used the philosophy of Spinoza, to see collective life how it could be, by no unreasonable stretch of the imagination. Seeing contemporary Conservative sentiment, especially in a ‘burnt out protestant country like England’, as the result of a state of collective disempowerment, and a pervading ‘depressive realism’, we can see our boozed-up, car-dependent, self consumed country not as a result of bad people making bad choices, but as ‘sad passions’ that result from the lonely and disempowering experience of contemporary life. When many people talk about collectives, they often have a strange way of making you feel on the outside; when Fisher talks of a Red Plenty – it’s a picture of a collective that is open to all, in spite of our bespoke experiences and hang ups.
It’s the first time I can recall, off hand, feeling accepted and no longer guilt-ridden when thinking about politics. I do seriously wonder how much influence these writings had on the rise of Jeremy Corbyn a month or so afterwards: whatever you think of Corbyn, there was a clear desire to overcome a politics of despair behind his ascendancy.
Yet, much as happened in the past 4 and half years, not to mention the loss of Fisher’s ‘eyes’ to navigate us through times that have used all of us as emotional punchbags.
The space to discuss self-acceptance, and liking yourself ‘no matter who you are’ is lacking when it comes to politics. But I’m writing, here, not because I feel I ought to, but because I want to. Self acceptance, believing my own experiences, my own eyes (!), no longer living in the shadow of my imposter syndrome.
If we end up with a Labour Party government, or a coalition led by the Labour party in December, I seriously believe it will be the first time in my adult life where we have a political project that offers us the chance of a better world. What I mean is that it’s the first time in my life I can recall a realistic chance of changing a pervading sense that life is only getting worse.
In recent years my instinct has always been to defend the reason a large percentage of this country voted for Brexit. I believed, still do, that the rage of ‘Leave’ saw the Referendum as a ripened target upon which to impress a myriad of the felt injuries of contemporary English life (Some of them class-based, but certainly not all!) that previous general elections simply bypassed.
3 years down the line, I believe we can now observe how the cream of the establishment (or ruling class) react like the kind of parasitic organism that will rip off part of its own body so that another part thrives. The British ruling class instinctively knew that it could devour it’s formal flesh (‘the liberal elite’) in order that another part, a limb, could flourish, by appealing to the popular discontent in a way the other part couldn’t. In 2016, Brexit was a populist reaction against the establishment, whereas voting for the Brexit Party/Conservatives in 2019 is a total capitulation to those very forces.
I still believe the Leave vote rebellion was an affirmation of ‘a thousand cuts’ of contemporary British life (as a friend said). Brexit was a rebellion against a sense that nobody in politics cared that life was getting slowly worse. What we need now is a rebellion in affirmation of a better world.
In 2009 I was pretty much convinced that the world would only get worse. Framed in a pre-austerity climate change context, what was coming felt so abstract, but nonetheless a hopeless situation. The reality was far from anticipated; hitting my 30s in the middle of a decade that has felt deeply cruel in many ways; we leave the 2010s a more divided, competitive, and lonely society than when we entered it. Although most of the injuries of this decade are personal to my own journey, I truly resonate with the idea that this has been a lost decade.
I’m on a different part of my journey now, only in that I know I am leaving this part of my life behind – learning to work on myself, so that some form of self-care can remain no matter what the socio-political landscape looks like, and where I find myself within it.
But as a country that is struggling, as we secretly know, with loneliness, addiction, depression and anxiety, struggling to ignore the poverty on our streets (if you aren’t directly affected, you’re certainly affected by living in a place where such suffering is visible); as such a country, why make things even harder for ourselves?
I’m trying my hardest to understand the reasons so many people would rather vote for a continuation, intensification of this. Is it really anything to do with a fear of being taxed more, a fear of some communist take-over? Really?
Is it more a case of what a friend called ‘societal Stockholm syndrome’? A rebellion against the prospect of being free from our sadness, our depression?
It’s clear that this election won’t be won on facts, on objective truth. I think we can see from recent years that people are more than ever willing to believe whatever floats their boat, despite a dumper truck full of the facts. The bafflement comes when people can see these facts, but for some reason have aligned with a politics that doesn’t appear to have their interests at heart.
Look, I’m not one to judge, at all. I’ve also believed distorted things, not out of ignorance, but that to stop believing them would require a huge shift in my perception of life. For most my adult life I’ve believed stories about myself, in order not to try to challenge my own unhappiness, because it felt like the hardest thing in the world to do.
Crazy as it sounds, when the perception of life, your life, has been ringfenced by a politics of despair for years, and suddenly there’s somebody saying “it doesn’t have to be like this anymore”, it can be very frightening. We’re not just asking people to vote in a different political project, we’re asking them to go through therapy; asking them to take a chance on changing their own personal journeys, no longer to be defined by the bitter feelings that accumulate through the countless disempowering and disillusioning encounters that characterize the road-congested, scam-wary, ‘rip off’ Britain of the last 20/30 years.
Part of my own promise to myself (so my life journey doesn’t relapse into this decade’s bad habits) is to no longer identify ‘being saved’ by some external factor, be it a political change, or a incoming lover rescuing me. Similarly to not get sucked into the whirlpool of political spleen, which is more negatively harmful for myself than others.
I want joyous, lighter experiences in life. One’s I’ve always blocked.
But we live in a world, and if the world feels a little lighter and softer, it will make doing this so much easier.
Please don’t help continue this politics of despair!