Sunday, 31 December 2017
The Cosmopolitan & The Polytopian
Firstly let me apologise to those generous, kind and wise beings who have already pledged to turn the Anglarchist into a reality. I have somewhat neglected my role in crowdfunding; a situation which I hope to address in 2018. My negligence was due in part to my working a seven-day week throughout 2017 to help create Bentley Urban Farm; an upcycled market garden which hopes to combat the problems of food poverty and food deserts in Doncaster. But, if truth be told, I have also been a little over cautious because some early responses to the Anglarchist left me somewhat conflicted.
I am a child of the left. I stood on my first picket line at the age of 14 when the state decided to wage war on the mining town where I lived. Over the years I was militantly involved with workers’ rights, anti-fascism, animal rights, social justice and ecological resistance — and I have the scars to prove it. But as soon as I talked positively about the land I call home, amongst people who should know me quite well by now, I was met with a barrage of warnings, accusations and distancings.
The lowest point came when the Twitteratti accused my co-editor, Paul Kingsnorth, of outright fascism because of his anti-globalist viewpoint. Anyone who knows Paul, will know the nonsense of this. I do, of course, understand why people are particularly sensitive to the rise of fascism in the early 21st Century. We are living through a political, economic, social and ecological crisis, the scale of which has never been seen before. Hackneyed ideologies fall short of describing the problem — let alone offering a viable solution — and the dominant neoliberal ideology has lost its power to beguile all but the most loyal — and prosperous — of its advocates. In short — and this is something Paul has argued for throughout his work — we are in desperate need of counter-narratives; new stories which will guide us through the crises we now face.
Those stories are emerging. Around the world people are creating innovative, compassionate and beautiful solutions to the problems inflicted upon them by global neoliberalism. All too often they are co-opted — or, worse still, crushed… — by dominant economic forces (Occupy anyone?) before they have gained the maturity and momentum needed to bring about radical and lasting change. But in an age of mass communication, even the briefest glimpse of true freedom is enough to send ripples across the planet and inspire the next small step towards a braver, brighter world.
The Earth has been rapidly smalled by advances in communication and travel. What we do — every choice we make and every action we take — touches millions of lives; both human and other. The fairytale of nationhood has never seemed sillier. This is, for those who can afford it, the most cosmopolitan of worlds. I myself, as an aforementioned child of the left, am a proud cosmopolitan. In relative terms I am a poor man in my own country and I rarely get the chance to leave South Yorkshire, let alone the UK, but my greatest pleasure in life is to read Latin American magical realism whilst drinking Jamaican rum, wearing Japanese jeans, an Italian shirt and English shoes —possibly with a little Russian electronica playing in the background for added atmospherics.
The power of the neoliberal economic system lies in its ability to transcend borders. Its cruelty, crass inequity and hegemonic dominance stem from the denial of letting human beings do the same. The goal of the left should be simple. To allow every human being to fully and freely reach their full potential without hindrance from poverty, bigotry, authority, ignorance or malice. To do so, it must fight for freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of speech. Unfortunately the authoritarian left has proved that it can be just as crippling as the authoritarian right we it comes to these freedoms. Indeed, it is a shift towards authoritarianism on all sides, rather than fascism alone, which defines the political climate of the early 21st Century. Ideological borders are as damaging to freedom as national borders. The cosmopolitan must, by their very nature, oppose borders of any kind. Any authoritarian who believes themselves a cosmopolitan is grossly mistaken.
Unlike Paul, I was never a beleaver. I have little time for bureaucracies of any ilk, but as something of a technophile and lover of the sciences, I have always admired what a borderless Europe did for the advancement of science, technology and medicine. Imagine what would happen if this principle were writ large? If all of humanity’s knowledge were also allowed to transcend borders? Unfortunately the Schengen Agreement itself has proved an obstacle to such dreams and has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises Europe has seen since the Second World War. Britain’s abandonment of the European Single Market would become a complete irrelevance if we were to take a true step towards freedom and abandon all national borders.
You may say I’m a dreamer. Perhaps, but in the words of John Winston Ono Lennon: “I’m not the only one.” Open borders is one of the key points in Rutger Bregman’s Utopia For Realists: And How We Can Get There. Personally I am drawn much closer to the vision of William Morris than I am to Bregman’s, but I applaud any vision which sets out a new path for the world without recourse to long disproved 19th Century authoritarian ideologies. Bregman realises that free movement would prove damaging in a world which remained economically inequitable. People would simply follow the money and create tidal waves of boom and bust which would ultimately serve only a tiny minority — I can feel the lusty breath of the crisis capitalists on the back of my neck as I write these words. Bregman’s solution is to build an equitable economy through the introduction of universal income and the creation of a 15-hour working week — queue an exhalation of stagnant puritan breath now, as they reel from the idea of human beings having more time to enjoy themselves. I share Bregman’s concerns regarding economic equality, but as a creative and an aesthete I would also take steps to ensure that a journey through open borders was a journey worth taking.
Europe may have freed over 400 million of its people from the tyranny of its internal borders, but at the same time it slowly surrendered itself to an altogether different yoke. Across Europe the unique and the wonderful have given way to the grey McMediocrity of the Clone Town. It is becoming ever harder to avoid feelings of deja vu as we travel.
Everywhere we go we are faced with all too familiar streets, lined with similarly clothed people, frequenting exactly the same shops. Even the supposed antithesis to the corporate norm, the hipster movement, has become a victim of this hegemonotony, with every cloned town having its own cloned boho region awash with sourdough bakeries and craft-beer bars which are independently owned, but which still manage to look exactly the same whether you’re in Savamala or Shoreditch. We have already lost far too much to the hegemony of neoliberalism to risk any further decline in the quality and diversity of humanity’s cultural output. The Clone Town is a symptom of the cultural heat-death that a singular global culture — any singular global culture, be it neoliberal, socialist, communist or hipster — will ultimately inflict upon the world.
As the majority of European towns become contemptuously familiar, those which retain an element of uniqueness — places like Venice and Barcelona — are slowly drowned by the sheer volume of tourists desperate to sample the last vestiges of autonomy and otherness. But we face much greater problems than bored tourists. As with any ecology, diversity lies at the heart of cultural evolution. For a human culture to evolve and thrive it must be able to draw from the widest possible gene pool. Travel will only continue to broaden the mind if it offers a breadth of experience.
Much is said nowadays about exploitative cultural appropriation, but where there is true cultural diversity this negative, exploitative situation can be countered by more positive forms of cultural exchange. Unimaginative and greedy t-shirt manufacturers are undoubtedly guilty of devaluing indigenous American culture and European colonialism brought one of the greatest genocides in human history to their continent. Although it is not nearly enough to outweigh the damage done and can hardly be seen as compensation, the unintended introduction of the horse to the Americas did however lead to one of the most ecologically enlightened and spiritually inspirational of all human cultures; the North American Plains Indian.
Variety is not only the spice of life, it is the engine for evolutionary change. The only global utopia worth living in — and the only one which does not risk stagnation through dogma — is a polytopia. A world of wonderfully different geographical regions and diverse cultures in which every single human being — and non-human being for that matter… — has the right to roam freely. Imagine if culture and creativity, rather than crass economics, were the main reasons behind choosing a place to live. The more you enjoyed a region’s lifestyle, the more inclined you would be to stay. And if a region wanted to attract more people it would have to offer something special, unique and — most importantly — welcoming, to encourage new visitors and new arrivals.
My vision for a polytopian world is, of course, a pipe dream. I can’t change the world. But I can work to inspire change where I live. This is what I have been doing collaboratively for the last seven years with the Doncopolitan, an arts and culture magazine for Doncaster created to prove that there is no such thing as a ‘cultural desert’. This is also my motivation behind the Anglarchist, because if we do not celebrate the radical history of England, and if we do not put forward a brighter, braver, more polytopian vision for everyone who has made England their home, then the real fascists will have won.
If you agree, then please support the Anglarchist. Better still, submit your vision for radical England. This is a a polytopian vision after all, so the more the merrier.