I streamed some of the Commons debate yesterday, while pausing to scratch my head over how to get a story straight for a client. There were considered arguments from all corners of the House and I felt as I often do when watching the theatre of Westminster, that I can imagine myself in there. In that school common room. Making splendid speeches, exorting this and that here and there, and seeing, actually in the end, people around me who are rather more 3D than anyone thinks in the outside world. Who are, essentially, human too; sincere, fake, earnest, posturing, caring, disconnected. All of it. Like all of that is in me. I would feel an imperative to speak strongly and demand action. And I would love to find a rallying reason of solid-certain strategic logic to deploy one of the most professional teams of armed personel into the breach to adminster the biting end of our culture to those who have made themselves the walking dead among us, who have cut themselves off from our hopes for a truly liberated humanity.
It’s the story we want to tell. It is an old, reassuring fable of good vs evil, of vampyric hell and holy justice from a mighty arm. Of the Doctor vs the Daleks.
And God knows I half wish it were so. So clear. My dis-ease now, and the reason I came to the conclusion that we should not air strike in Syria this morning, stems from what I did not hear at all in the debate yesterday from the heads of British political culture – a real world strategy that stands any chance of working. Of leading towards making the very difference we want. It wasn’t there. It shockingly, brazenly, wasn’t there.
What was there instead was a stubborn refusal to talk about attacking fascism at life-giving financial source, or how we are co-ordinating a cultural strategy between allies that defunds, disconnects and disenfranchises the Daesh idea on all fronts. Including freeing up the Kurds from our NATO ally, Turkey, or advancing a genuine dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran, or seeing the Gulf states even more engaged, working with real partnership towards the status quo in the whole region evolving much more positively. Of attempting to cut off the fuel of this current fire at some of the sources, so that many of the fires here in Europe might burn out. Nothing. No context. No future vision. No exit strategy. No connected-seeming outlook on the refugee crisis and how this WILL feed it. That greatest upheaval of humanity in a generation that we still have no idea what to do about.
I heard sincere and rousing calls to lofty ideas that only cartoonish dispatriots and terror excusers would dare naysay, but no questions answered about what any of it REALLY means. Most especially for those still living in Syria and the region.
The truth is, in practical terms this is no big change from what we’ve been doing in Iraq for months, in our ongoing support of regional efforts to physically push back the phoney caliphate. So is this really such a big deal in the end? Iraqi ground forces have been making relievingly good progress against Daesh, haven’t they? But for all the mind bending crossed allegiances tangled into Syria right at this point in time, I don’t think Cameron thinks this latest adaptation of our involvement is real war – I think he thinks it’s a usefully strong-looking response that won’t cost us much. Except it will. Further small daily fortunes of actual state cash, and whole lives for those on the ground unlucky enough to live near someone playing at jihadism. Which they all are, of course.
If I were in the Commons, if I were doing a diplomatic job, I would want to give a strong response to my allies and say unequivocally, yes, we’re with you when you call – here’s our air force. I would. But WHAT response is ultimately everything for actual security. True wisdom is usually found in addressing the wider context you’re really making decisions in. Our challenge is as much about influencing our allies to true consensus in their cultural machinations as it is about properly, comprehensively, realistically strangling Daesh into asphyxiated oblivion. But for that we need the story of our vital, hopeful, incredibly possible culture to be much more truthful.
In Britain, this is a government that behaves as though it has no true vision. Its story is thin and old and based on last century’s view of the world when it speaks, and based on expedient immediatism in the offices and corridors of Westminster. It has a cheap philosophy about market forces that doesn’t connect the challenges we face. It sees no value in state assets and will sell absolutely anything in public life to absolutely anyone with the money, even as it thumps the table with the Union flag draped hastily over it to talk about war when it needs to. And it has no scruples at all about the language it uses or the selfishness it splashes about like a plasterer’s cash in hand, or the poor it vilifies and chokes, which is all unsurprising if it represents no vision. If it doesn’t see properly. And however you see it, it was just handed another big victory of confidence in its approach.
Voters think it does represent a vision – they think it means strong self help, and comparatively safe, shrewd economics. But this government invests in old fashioned big business like arms deals and fossil fuels and investment banking and not in the innovations of energy, scientific frontier, creative entrepreneurism, public realm or social justice that really address what challenges humanity is ACTUALLY facing on Earth right now – and what stunning opportunities.
It encourages developers and builders to crack on and build – but it doesn’t care what.
To build a robust culture of freedom partly involves putting our investments where our values are – looking after the poor, encouraging creative thinking and fostering confidence in the individual to realise themselves as themselves. But as a part of the family of humanity on Earth. Because that IS WHAT WE – DUH! – ARE. Which all sounds rather Brave New World. But the practical truth of our survival is that we need each other, and we need each other to be truthfully who we really are. No more hiding and faking and fearing. That’s the great project. To be fine with who we are. All of us. To enshrine it in our cultural reflexes even deeper than our laws. Because it is our fears that undo us.
Ironic that the conservative manifesto of individualism and patriotism actually ultimately leads to faceless giant corporations having all the power from far away.
Air strikes on Syria don’t really defend our cultural hopes. Because they play into the hands of those who would have us carve out Others and Demons and Daleks all too quickly. That’s not my culture. As much as I want to Bunker Buster the bitter old Baathists and deluded, godless zombies of apocalypse who feel no humanity with the people on my street, who see no beauty and joy and feckless frustrating wonder in what we are together – whatever vile depravity people tattoo into their skin over and over and try to carve through the flesh into the bone of others – I know that is the game of the great delusion. Not my game. I must not make it mine. Or the great delusion won another victory.
What IS the story of our own lives? And what is the story we tell our children about the world they find themselves in? Are we only deluding ourselves with phantom tales? Is that all everything is in the end? Or do we fight the great delusion with striking tales of heroic service, innovation, improvisation, creativity, connection, compassion, joy, endeavour, inclusion. Stories of love. Of what the steel-tipped cutting edge of love actually means. That this is what makes us different. And victorious.
I can’t get my own story straight. It’s got no structure and very little drama and most of it is dream sequences involving highly unrealistic characters. But any part I play in making someone else’s history, heritage, memory become a nightmare should give me sleepless nights. And stimulate a REAL plan of action for living.