Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Age of Stupid gone Starkers!!!

I was going to start this post by saying I can't stand David Starkey but actually that would be untrue.  I think he's wrong-headed, arrogant and grossly over-opinionated. I also believe life has dealt its blows and left him  unable to keep the personal out of his occasional 'out of his box' appearances on Question Time or in the painful Jamie's Dream School.  Now that I've covered my back - not wanting to seem too much like a Starkey apologist - I was nevertheless very taken with what he had to say in his recent series The Churchills.  I  really enjoyed this because Starkey articulated a link between layers of historical narrative: John Churchill's  (the Duke of Marlborough) crucial strategic interventions in the 17th Century 'world war' against Louis XIV and how, through his own biography of his ancestor, Winston Churchill was then able to spot a despot when he saw one in Hitler.

One comment Starkey made spoke to our very current situation though.  He has this overriding contempt for the intellectual capacity our current stable of politicians. He curled his lip and sneered that none of them would be capable of creating the volumes of work put out by the latterday Churchill.  He's right.  Our 'leaders' operate in an intellectual vacuum of olympian proportions.  Those that have produced a tome, have eschewed the work of research  in favour of autobiographies; self publications either to cash in on some imagined fandom or to embark upon puny rationalisations of warmongering or failed economic policy. Oh yes, or indulged in Hollyoakian Westminster gossip.

The situation is bad enough given the complexity of the problems facing the world. Time would eventually resolve many of them in the course of ordinary human endeavour, trial and error. However a devastatingly simple polarity is emerging which must be seen against a disturbing ever-decreasing timescale. It is this: how can we continue to grow and expand in the context of depleting resources and increasing toxicities caused by our innate need to - grow and expand?  (Post growth groups will phrase this slightly differently: should we continue to grow...)

However it is presented, this conundrum has been systematically ignored by the Powers That Be.  The neoliberalism espoused by our three main political parties make it an impossible puzzle for them.  Resolution requires introducing and managing limits that is entirely counter to the neoliberalist position.  The social and economic implications of the sheer scale of what needs to be done demands an intellectual magnitude which eludes the current lot.

It seems to have further escaped them that a societal paradigm change is in process.  The web has allowed the development of deeply-rooted, global social and political  networks that are naturally undermining the old hegemonies.  Those who belong to such groups are astounded at the scale of denial and ignorance from those who are meant to lead us.

Only today my twitter feed had Caroline Lucas writing about many of the ideas put forward by contemporary heavyweight thinkers fully grasping the battle ahead.  She repeats the endless frustration with a government some blogger once described as behaving no better than the string quartet on the deck of the Titanic.

Unsurprisingly, however, big business has seen the writing on the wall. Featured in many debates about the manipulation of global food economics and worries over its workplace practices, Walmart, is a case in point.  They aim for zero waste by 2020, have taken thousands of lorries off the road thereby saving tons of C02 emissions.  This has been achieved through forcing manufacturers of various ilks to deal more in concentrates thereby reducing the size of their packaging.  Their recycling vision is also a stunner, hoping to be entirely energy independent by 2030.  Tesco has long ago taken much of its logistics to the train, cleverly labelling their carriages Less CO2 Rail.  (Lesco - geddit?)  The lesson to be learned here is twofold:  that business leaders have no problem whatsoever interpreting the future and acting on it now, but also that this proclivity is writing on the wall for large corporations to continue their stranglehold on food economies as they become leaner and fitter survivors in the future low carbon age.  Can this be said of populations, cultures and countries whose leaders are in the thrall of Stupid?

As we know social and political networks are espousing different leadership models.  Some will work and some will not, nevertheless the issue of 'leadership' per se is working itself into political discourses at many levels . Why?  Because, as Starkey says, we're 'groping'.  Our current leaders are failing to see the challenge ahead of them.  Much like successive governments in the 1920s and 30s which didn't spot a despot in time, the west continues to spew out second-raters who can't get a grip on a blasted future that is hurtling towards us.  There can be no appeasement.  It didn't work then and it won't work now.

That is the Stark naked truth. 


Marlborough: His Life and Times by Winston Churchill.  Currently unavailable except by special order.  Please email me  at for details.
Limits to Growth by Dennis Meadows and Jorgen Randers
The Courageous State by Richard Murphy
Citizen's Income and Green Economics by Clive Lord (This book uses as its core metaphor the ravaging of Easter Island.  A culture that just couldn't stop until it had no resources left).

The Age of Stupid.  Available from Radish Books £12.50. Phone with card details to: 0113 2694241 

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