Posts Tagged ‘debate’

I still pay for a television licence, but I can’t remember when I last watched a scheduled broadcast. I used to listen to the BBC on my morning commute, but not for years now. As for commercial radio you know how that goes? You eventually find a tune you like, but before you settle into it, it cuts to an advert followed by a load of verbal drivel from the DJ. So, if I want music I bypass the radio, plug in the Android and listen to MP3. If I want debate or current affairs, I go online, listen to a podcast on a topic that interests me. It cuts out the adverts and the false adversarial baying, and it restores a contemplative calm to the day.

I still have a TV, left over from the noughties, but I only ever cast media to it from other online sources. Broadcast media is expensive to produce and, in a bean-counter culture, the key performance indicators are listener numbers. How do you grow and hold an audience? You present a diet of inflammatory material with the intent to create outrage.

We see this in the mainstream TV and print media, where intelligent and genuine debate is obsolete. But its most prevalent on Social Media, where outrage is manufactured and monetised to a fine science. This was brought home to me when searching online for material on the history of philosophy. That search took me to Bryan Magee and a series of broadcasts he did in the nineteen eighties. What struck me was that such material would never find air-time now. If you want it, you have to go online, but to a layer of the web beneath the bubble-gum of social media.

Yes, the Internet is a repository for all that is the worst in human thinking, but also the very best. It now hosts some of the finest contemporary thought, and acts as curator of our past, preserving valuable material that would otherwise never see the light of day.

Culturally, we have reached a point of transition. We’re living in the so-called post-modern era, but post-modernism has stalled. It has lost itself in a tangle of ideologically defined oppressor/oppressed relationships and has birthed a bewildering spawn of identity politics and endless cultural wars that defy common sense. This basically means any one of us can identify as being the member of an oppressed group. It also means each of us can be accused of oppressing someone else, even if we’ve never met them. Heavens, I sound like a Tory!

The cultural periods of human history mark the stages of our evolution as a species. When evolution stalls, it back-tracks to the last known good position and tries another way. The chaos we see now is the vacuum left by evolution on its hasty retreat from leading edge post-modernism, away from the venal tribalism it has led us into.

Many thinkers have sensed this. Some are pessimistic and predict our demise in the flames of anarchy and planetary heat-death. Others see a glimmer of hope in various online voices. But that debate is complex and subtle and must avoid the outrage between artificially inflated tribal camps. It’s therefore not a debate you’ll ever find in the mainstream news broadcasts, or the magazines now.

Its nexus is an informal group of thinkers and facilitators, the so-called Intellectual Dark Web. Some of its voices, like Ken Wilbur and Jordan Peterson have been around for a long time. They come from a wide range of disciplines, from philosophy and psychology from spirituality and tech. The result is a penetrating analysis of our present ills and a potential way forward. But it involves breaking the post-modern grip. This is already happening anyway. We see it in the reaction of politics. Culturally, the leading edge has adopted neo-Marxist ideals, and the mirror-image of that is political authoritarianism, and proto-fascism. It’s a bewildering paradox to bear witness to.

One of the most influential voices against post-modernism in recent years has been Jordan Peterson’s. What’s striking about Peterson is the degree to which the mainstream pundits, both left and right, misrepresent him. Claimed by the right for his critique of the left, Peterson is a-political but possibly slightly left-liberal. To know him though you have to engage with his material, read his books, sit through his online-lectures. This also takes you to the heart of the intellectual dark web. If you’re looking for sound-bites to define this movement, you’re not of the movement, more the subject of it.

I’m very much of the left when it comes to my own politics, but the left has taken particularly ill to Peterson and that puzzles me because I find him tremendously enlightening, and I can only conclude it’s a tribal reaction to someone telling you something you don’t want to hear. Indeed, his critique of the radical neo-Marxist left, is sobering. As a moderate leftist who has never read Marx, I am mindful of its post-revolutionary slide into the Gulag. The radical Marxists who run our university Humanities departments, seem to have forgotten it. Instead, they have created for us a thousand identity barriers for us to trip over, while leaving out the fact we are, above all human.

As we become more polarized, culturally and politically, the moderates of both camps, left and right, find themselves without a home, find themselves de-platformed from the mainstream for wanting to discuss what, in post-modern terms, are now taboo subjects. So they’ve begun to coalesce around this intellectual dark web. Here the moderate leftists and conservative thinkers engage in meaningful conversation. Online, they are unhindered by sound-bite culture, and don’t need to curtail their presentations to suit a snappy TV editorial format. Peterson’s lectures can last for hours, yet he attracts millions of viewers, so there is a hunger for this material, a hunger for a way out of the bind we find ourselves in.

We are all a mixture of good ideas and bad, we all hold a piece of the truth. Therefore, the way ahead can only be the vector sum of all the truths, as articulate, thinking individuals open themselves up in non-adversarial discussion. But to get to that point requires a degree of sincere debate that is no longer possible via the usual mainstream channels. If you vote conservative I call you a right wing nut job, and you call me a lib-tard commie bastard, both of us intent on nothing more than saving face. That’s a zero sum game, and we should all know the extremes at both ends lead to murder and to lost generations.

With the rise of social media and surveillance capitalism, the Internet looked set to ruin us, and it still might. I don’t know to what extent the Intellectual Dark Web can influence the debate back to common sense, lurking as it does beneath a surface scum of click-baity dross. It seems an unlikely place for the intellect to regroup and to pivot post-modernism away from the disaster it seems to be openly courting. But for now I am lending it my optimism.

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lightning and tornado hitting village

Photo by Ralph W. lambrecht on Pexels.com

On the night of November 28th 2019, Channel 4 broadcast a debate on climate change, on the steps we might take in the UK to put our carbon footprint in order, and provide an example of best practice that others in the world might follow. Leaders of all the main political parties were invited to speak and all agreed something must be done, the only difference between them was how much each would fall over itself trying to outdo the others’ ideas.

At bottom it required a radical move away from carbon based fuels and intensive agribusiness but, with targeted investment, it looked possible, that we might indeed reduce our carbon emissions to zero by 2030. I felt the vision served that night was not one of a defensive decline, but more of a positive, prosperous and sustainable green economy, one built upon a genuine political consensus, and I was heartened by it. The debate was of course part of the build up to the 2019 general election.

Notable by their absence that night were the Conservative party and the Brexit party. The podiums they might have occupied were replaced, much to their annoyance, by dripping ice statues, which spoke volumes to the nation, that those parties had nothing to say about climate change, let alone how to mitigate it. Their crass no-show seemed disastrous, guaranteed to wreck their credibility and severely damage their chances of winning the election.

But the Conservative party romped home to a massive majority and are now in power for the next five, possibly the next ten years. Everything progressive that was debated that night was rendered meaningless, and won’t now happen. This implies the majority of UK voters either don’t care about the impending climate catastrophe or – even as Australia burns and Greenland melts – they still don’t really believe in it.

We can’t wait another ten years to do anything about it. By 2030 all the sensitive ecological tipping points will have been tripped, and savage environmental phenomenon will have settled in on a scale that makes it obvious to even the most egregious denier the planet is adapting itself to our toxic presence with a view to wiping us out.

The feeling among many climate scientists is that even if we act now, and in unison, globally, it’s probably too late to do anything other than stabilise the climate in its present state of distress. Without action, as now seems the case, not just in the UK, but across all the major world powers, vast areas of the planet will become uninhabitable, harvests will fail and future wars will be fought, not over oil but over fresh water, grain and habitable territory. Meanwhile, unimaginable numbers of climate refugees will cross the world trying to find safety in the temperate zones. And they will not be welcomed.

The rich are insulated from the problem by virtue of their wealth. They are buying up land in places like New Zealand in order to build their fortified palaces, complete with zombie apocalypse bunkers, where they imagine they might continue to consume in extraordinary luxury the last of the planet’s resources. Meanwhile, our children will struggle daily in the face of hardship and danger.

So what to do? Well, in my latest work in progress: “Winter on the Hill”, (currently being serialised for free on Wattpad) my protagonist, a former eco-warrior, veteran of street protests, and with a criminal conviction for civil disobedience, surveys the wreckage of that climate debate and the ensuing results of the 2019 election with a cool head. His conclusion? He buys himself a three litre diesel four-wheel drive SUV, takes up hill-walking and, though it’s late in the day for him, he falls in love, more than once. The argument is lost, he says, no sense even debating it any more – just enjoy the next twenty or thirty years as best you can, because that’s all you’ve got left.

He’s an interesting character, at times prickly, and something of a socialist firebrand which may annoy some of you, but he’s also a very persuasive old curmudgeon, and I’ll be spending the next year or so getting to know him. I hope to convince him he’s wrong of course, not about love – I mean good on him for that, the old dog – but that we need him back on the barricades. Oh, and he’s to swap that monstrous diesel for an electric vehicle that won’t pull the skin off a rice pudding.

How do you rate my chances? Well, from the off, and as dispiriting as it is, I’m already tempted to concede that he might be right.

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trees on fire

It was George Orwell who made the observation that nations do not go to war unless the rich believe they can profit by it. In a similar vein, had he been writing today, he might have said the same thing about saving the planet, that unless the rich can be convinced there’s more profit in green technologies than in coal and oil and gas, the earth is bound for a final act of devastating climate change and mass extinction of species, including us. To whit we have recently had the bizarre spectacle of one of the most powerful nations on earth, with a straight face, presenting arguments for the increased use of coal – this at a summit on climate change, and how to avoid it.

There is something deeply disturbing about an otherwise intelligent species that would saw off the final branch of the tree, the branch it’s actually sitting on, in order to continue profiting at the expense of the tree, and even the certainty of it’s own demise. But then profiteering never did pay much heed of future consequences.

The latest reliable figures now give us twelve years to make a difference. This means stopping any further release of carbon and methane into the atmosphere as a result of human activity – carbon from fossil fuel burning, and methane from factory style meat-production – and that means right now.

What is most clear in all of this is that the danger is real, and the effects are already being felt, though mainly by the world’s poor, and that until it is the rich who suffer grievously, nothing will change – but by that time it will be too late. What I’m not so clear about is what happens after that, whether the earth will restore its own equilibrium once it’s rid of the parasitic scourge we have become, or if the changes will be so dramatic we’ll have pushed the planet into a runaway reaction, the end result of which is the global sterility of another Mars. I’m sure the rich think they can ride out any storm, build underground bunkers in New Zealand and survive by eating Soylent Green, that only the ninety nine percent of us will starve. But I remind them that’s not much of an existence when we once had a whole planet to explore and cherish, and then who will be left to tie your shoe-laces?

When we consider the vastness of the universe and the sheer number of planetary systems we now know exist around other stars, it’s logical to assume other forms of intelligent life have arisen. The Drake equation predicts the universe should be positively teeming with life, yet when we listen to the sounds of outer space we detect no sign. Our apparent loneliness is eerie. One of the theories explaining this isolation is that when civilisations have reached a point of technical sophistication whereby their radio signals are so strong they begin leaking into outer space, they’re only a short way from also developing the technologies they’ll eventually destroy themselves with – as in the case of nuclear weapons, or that they’ll find themselves incapable of organising globally to control the effects of over-consumption and over-reliance on sources of energy that are ultimately deadly to the planet.

I know we like to think we’re different, that we’re a plucky species, that we’ll eventually overcome our differences, rise above them and somehow squeak through into that Utopian future. But the signs aren’t promising. Hollywood doesn’t help. It likes its disaster movies, but the good guys always survive in the end, and usually by means of a judiciously timed nuclear explosion. If these movies ended with the earth as a charred cinder and your leading man and lady as no more than bleached bones it might focus minds a bit more.

Nuclear weapons and climate change are the most critical threats facing humanity today, yet to read the news one learns only of the latest twist of BREXIT, and the latest ill judged tweet from the leader of the free world, who anyway assures us climate change IS A HOAX. The last four years have been the warmest recorded. The World Metrological Organisation tells us: sea-level rise, sea ice and glacier melt, and ocean heat and acidification were continuing. Extreme weather had “left a trail of devastation on all continents.”

Of course it’s hard to see what one can do as an individual, apart from spreading the word in the hope someone with more power and influence will see the profit in wind-turbines and photovoltaics and a zero carbon economy, that what does it profit us anyway to go on burning coal if it’s to ultimately cost the earth?

It seems futile merely swapping out all the lightbulbs in my house for LEDs when toffs are still cruising about in Range Rovers, doing 12 miles per gallon. But I did get rid of my last incandescent light bulb recently, and it’s a start, not that it’ll change my energy bill much, but that’s another story. Small things, small steps are the way, I suppose, but twelve years isn’t such a long time for so pressing an emergency, so next time you get the chance to vote, scrutinise your candidate’s stance on climate change and go with whoever promises to wake up and save the planet.

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