Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jam tomorrow

One of the bright spots of this unexpectedly tough spring has been the re-reading of Orwell's Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters. Such magnificent voice. He was certainly no saint and had many unpleasant traits (as we all do), many blind spots. No matter: integrity, honesty and tolerance will shine through. We have not seen his like since, not many ages have. Curiously it was his democratic socialism that striked me this time quite powerfully: how decent, how civilized would his ideal society be. Especially in comparison with us: our hedonistic, uncaring, semi-sadistic consumer society based on capital and profit. Surely, if we were better, we would be Orwellian socialists, somewhat austere, tolerant and informal, arguing about gardening and perfect cups of tea over pints of bitter before the last orders - that come early in the evening, then vanishing into the soft English night still discussing in good humour, perfectly equal, perfectly free...

But we are not better, we are what we are, and so the social democrats had to solve the class problem by making almost everyone a part of the middle class by taxation, welfare structures and decent universal education. And when almost everyone became middle class, they promptly shod any traces of socialist inclinations - which is why the democratic left is in such serious intellectual (if not always electoral) difficulties in most of the West. And now that the social democratic balance of interests is slowly but surely eroding in favour of capital and corporations, there is no vibrant intellectual alternative, no credible voice of dissent and progress, unlike in Orwell's own era. I wonder what he would now say? In any case, his proposition I suppose was never really on offer - we are what we are. Having stumbled into the social democratic solution (I am still amazed how well functioning that set of balances were: no actor too strong, no interest pre-dominant) we are now stumbling out of it, irresponsibly speeding ahead towards who knows what further collapses of morality and ethics.