Where is the new ideology?

It is an old academic political discussion- the end of Ideology- by which I mean the end of the time of battling grand political/economic theories that inspired and fuelled our attempts to understand and shape our society. Thatcher put an end to all that in the UK- not because she had no ideology, but because she cleared the field of all opposition. Capitalism and ‘The Market’ triumphed and gifted us with the so called free movement of capital, trickle down, neoliberalism and globalisation.

Over the next 20 years, nation after nation fell in line, cajoled by the promise of great wealth or manipulated by powerful organisations who needed scarce resources or a new market.

None of this is a surprise, but what is more noticeable is the lack of viable alternative. Sure there are voices of protest- not least the Occupy Movement- but to demand change is not necessarily the same thing as proposing an alternative (I know that the OM are in discussion about all sorts of issues, but I would suggest that no real coherent alternative ideology has yet emerged.)

There was an interesting article in the Guardian today by Aditya Chakrabortty. Here are a couple of quotes;

When the history of how a good crisis went to waste gets written up, it will surely contain a big chapter on the failure of our academic elites. Because just like the politicians, the taxpayer-funded intellectuals at our universities have missed the historic opportunities gifted to them by the financial collapse. And it will be the rest of us who pay the price…

…So have the non-economists grasped their moment? Have they hell. Look at the academic conferences held over the past few weeks, at which the latest and most promising research in each discipline is presented, and it’s as if Lehman Brothers never fell over…

Chakrabortty did a search of recent sociological and social science conferences and academic papers and concluded that pretty much the disciplines were not interested in challenging the core assumptions of the dominant ideology.

So where is the challenge to come from, if not from the academic elite? And more importantly, where are the alternative ideologies going to emerge from?

I watched the two Che Guevara films recently- a time when ideology believed that revolution was possible and even worth killing for. Revolution meant overcoming the ruling elite, empowering the poor and dispossessed and bringing egalitarian justice to society. Whilst I abhor the violence, most of us will instinctively feel the pull of these ideas.

Most of us too will have heard the spoilers- the voices that suggest that such ideas are unrealistic, unobtainable, work against human instincts and have been proved to serially fail because of the repeated failures of communist regimes throughout the world. Therefore the only option left is to continue as we are- with a few tweaks to satisfy the left field.

I want to raise my own voice in protest at this hopelessness. I want to invite my friends into a journey to find a new kind of ideology. We are not there yet, but I think we have some clues;

Start small. Start local.

Buy less, want less, make more.

Reduce waste, increase sharing and holding things in common.

Increase joint social enterprise.

In all things be aware of the impact on those who have little.

In all things be aware of the impact on the environment.

For me, the other academic/social/political group that has been near silent in the offering of a viable alternative is this one- the Church. Because as I look at the economic list above, it seems to me to be also a SPIRITUAL list. Without the life of the Spirit within us, we are mere animals, scratching and scraping at one another for the meatiest parts of the carcass.

So perhaps it all comes down to the word Love. If Economics are subordinate to love, then what might the theories look like? If political science was shaped by love, how might we organise ourselves differently? Even as I write this I feel the rise of cynicism, but- love remains.

I think this is the ideology of the Kingdom of God, and the viral vitality that we can and should bring to all these debates. And we do not have to wait until the universities write papers and hold conferences- because we can make our own small economy now- here.

Idolatry/ideology…

house of commons

So, the politics in the UK takes another strange turn.

The papers are full of details of expenses claimed by Members of Parliament- from the maintenance of moats, to pornographic videos.

The Speaker of the house has resigned during a sitting of parliament- for the first time ever.

Change is in the air- both in terms of the party in power, who may yet be forced to call an early election- and also the pressing need for reform of some aspects of our political system. Whether or not there will be real change, it remains to be seen. The British tend to change constitutional things slowly, and pragmatically.

Is this crisis a good thing? A good shake up and clear out of the system is sometimes good- although the moral and ethical tone of the current debate tends to be a little difficult to stomach- coming as it does from the Daily Telegraph. It is not so long ago that the out-going Conservative party fell into a trough of sleaze and allegations of ministers being bribed with envelopes stuffed with money. The Telegraph had a different set of priorities then.

But the current scandal seems to confirm a base view of politics that views all politicians as ‘the same’, feeding from the same honey pot, out for what they can get. If such a view persists, then our system of democracy is under threat.

The problem with this view for many of us, is that for many years, we believed that all politicians were NOT the same. There were ours, and theirs. Ours were politicians of conscience- men (and women) of passion and integrity- committed to an ideal of social justice and socialist principles. Theirs were out to protect their privileges- slaves to big business and multinationals- committed to maintaining inequality.

This simplistic, dualistic view of the world defined my life for years. It was a comfortable, safe place- which allowed easy categorisation according to ideology for just about everything. Things were either politically correct, or they were not. There is a naive simplicity which is still attractive to me as I remember these things-

Food- chosen according to origin. South Africa and Israel (Apartheid and Palestine) were to be avoided, as was anything by Nestle (Because of their promotion of Baby milk to sub Saharan Africa, with devastating effects.) Meat was forsaken because of the cutting of rainforests to grow beefburgers for MacDonalds, and Tuna was bad because Dolphins died in drift nets.

Clothing- was based on cheap jeans and slogan- laden tee shirts, carrying ‘radical’ messages. Accessories came from Oxfam, or the embryonic fair trade movement.

Music- had a message, or it was not worth listening to. And it had to be out message. There were some exceptions- allowed because they were good fun, and did not explicitly support the enemy.

And so on- you get the picture! All of life was seen through a world view that was defined by a particular politico-ideological perspective.

It was not simple for long. Our Heroes had clay feet. We had Kinnock, who blew it, Smith, who died on us, Blair who sold out and got in bed with Bush, and finally Brown who is merely presiding over the death throes of a party who long ago lost any sense of ideology and value base.

The thing is, I was (and am) a Christian. What I found was that it was possible to approach Jesus through the same narrow perspective. I genuinely believed that it was next to impossible to be a Christian and a Conservative. One meant life and justice for the oppressed, the other meant siding with the oppressors, which Jesus never would. For us, Jesus joined the Labour Movement. He was one of the boys. God was a socialist.

So how much harder is it then, to see the death of ideology over the last 20years? The end of politics driven by passion, and instead the easy slick accommodation of Blair- followed by the brutal prudence of Brown. A Labour Movement that found it possible to join a modern day American Crusade in Iraq and Afghanistan. That thought increased expenditure on health and education was the sum of it’s ambition. That presided over a widening gulf between the rich and poor of the nation.

And now a Labour government that came into power in 1997 promised to clean up politics. It promised a ethical foreign policy, and transparent funding processes…. and yet it ended up 12 years later with- this.

So, to the point of this piece.

Ideology can bring life. It can inspire enormous collective endevour. It pushed us towards a dream of living a better, more sustainable, ethical life. But is always falls short.

And when we promote an ideology above the author of everything- then this becomes, idolatry.

brazen serpent

So let us watch the political twistings and turnings with interest. But let us watch as people whose allegiance is not first to an ideology, but to a King and a New Kingdom.