Cave Writing: Selections from Whatonomy’s Prison Notebooks

Take my hand. Take two.

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.” Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks

In consideration of our rising predicament, I have as much clue as the next blogger. Like you, I’m reduced to reading handwritten notes snapshot upside-down and tightly-held in the too-rosy fists of preppy think-tankers as they rush from Downing Street briefings to their waiting cars.

2016, for many of us, seems to have heralded an ending of the political orthodoxy of liberalism. On both left and right, this has been celebrated as a collapse in the primacy of neo-liberalism. In the middle, it has been decried as a bitter flight to the margins by the white working classes, the disenfranchised and angry nostalgists fed by fake news and the evermore strident frothings of mainstream press. We are living through a time of diminishing nuance: the political sphere is at risk of becoming a Venn diagram with no overlapping circles. Dialogue, amidst the blizzard of tweets from leaders high on rhetoric and low on grammar, is being replaced by a ferocity of communication that can only hasten our slide into a more chaotic conflict.

In our economies, we are sold visions of improbably peaceful autonomy. In our media, we are regaled with bloated nationalistic souffle – both nostalgic, bunting-bound and strangely competitive. In education, we are buffetted between nostalgic fantasies of grammar schools and brutal futurisms of fragmented education markets – all of which will be guided by key performance indicators (none of which will be graceful).

Looking down the list of celebrity deaths this year, it is tempting to conclude that politically and culturally, we are experiencing a protracted night of both long knives and the soul. Leonard Cohen, Caroline Aherne, David Bowie, Victoria Wood, Prince, Carla Lane, Gene Wilder and Muhammad Ali are among the many, much-loved that we’ve lost. These losses have a quiet profundity and closure – our experience of such loss has a cathartic burn that will polish our memories of those lost.

But when it comes to Aleppo and to the corpses in the Med, there’s no such healing grief; on all sides only anger and fear.

I laugh to think that we tell ourselves that we live in an era of postmodernity, of post-truth – an age after everything. Can we really be so sure that we have reached beyond endpoints? Recent events have demonstrated that we certainly don’t live in a Utopian post-communist era. Make no mistake: we remain trapped, boiling in a protracted modernity shot through with corrosive striations of superstition, name-calling and counter-accusation.

My challenge for the coming year is to remain alive to the horrors of this interregnum of morbid symptoms. In practical terms, that means I must acknowledge and develop my political position and be more participative in fruitful debate. I will join #WomenEd and I will join Blue Labour; but that will simply be a starting point – the beginning of conversation and action. Action is, after all, the only means by which a thing might be born, is it not?

I will refuse categorization; I will dance about all Venn, but I will remain true to hope. I trust that you want the best for the world, no matter how we differ in our strategies. And I trust in our dialogue, and its power to inch us upward, rung by rung, ever closer to the truth.

But above all, I will assert my right to do all of the above with a scorching mirth. Sauron’s eye will have nothing on me (and, in any case, isn’t half so funny).

My children, like yours, have been born – and we have a duty to ensure that they remain so.

Let’s leave this cave, holding hands.

“The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned. I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks


4 thoughts on “Cave Writing: Selections from Whatonomy’s Prison Notebooks

  1. “I will refuse categorization” and “I will join #WomenEd” are contradictory – go down the route of identity politics if you will my friend, but don’t pretend that’s not what you are doing. These issues come with ideological and philosophical roots that can’t just be cast aside.

    As for the fake news, the mainstream media seems to be leading the way – I would urge you to watch and, perhaps which I barely saw covered, the protests being ignored (unlike the ones outside Trump rallies). It’s not that these will change your mind politically but it shows the extent to which the MSM was weaving a narrative and what I was being shown on television did not match the experience of some of those who went on to vote Trump. Including the ethnic minorities who have been swept under the carpet because it would involve revising some ideas about the coalition that brought Trump to power. But without the whole picture one can’t understand the phenomenon.

    Hope you have a good Christmas and New Year!!

    Liked by 1 person

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