Sunday 28 May 2023

Within A Toxic System

Irvine Welsh, so you have been warned, writes:

Cards on the table: I’m a rampant opponent of white, bourgeois, male privilege. Events such as the Coronation, or another Biden-Trump stand-off, pull this lunacy into sharp focus. Yes, these ludicrous and deranged media-driven circuses may have little to do with women, black, Asian, gay or trans people. But let’s get this straight: they have absolutely fuck all to do with white working-class men either.

According to liberal conventional wisdom, we are in a post-industrial, post-imperial society where shouty (white) men can no longer trumpet their entitled assumptions unchallenged, and perhaps even have to stand in line. Well, if that’s truly the case, thank fuck for it. After all, imperialism and the patriarchy cost a lot of lives, and gave us wars, bad politics and bad art. And nothing’s changed.

Ironically, however, most of those lives lost in Western society were male, white and working-class; basically, those citizens assumed by the paradigm of class-denying intersectionality to be the enemy of progress.

White working-class males are now recast as the establishment’s salivating attack dogs; the overseers of imperialism, enforcing the bidding of their wealthier masters. Their role in securing most of our human rights — through workplace struggle in the trade unions, strikes, demonstrations, wars and riots — is to be erased from our collective consciousness.

Because some sections of the white working class bought into the reductive neoliberalism of unrestrained capitalism through the Thatcher-Reagan revolution, so the entire group was written off. In the “hierarchy of the oppressed” so beloved of intersectional theory, a (white) penis in the underpants is more important than the lack of an arse in the trousers in determining your place in the world.

So, what excludes white working-class men from this LGBT intersectional paradigm? It can’t be race, as white women are permitted. It can’t be class, as working-class women and black men are allowed in. It can’t even be sex/gender, as gay or bisexual white working-class men and women are included. But perversely, white proletarian men are lumped in with their bourgeois “brethren”; outsiders in this rainbow-coloured festival of the oppressed.

In this bizarre schematic model, working-class football supporters in Liverpool are deemed on the same side as rabid establishment mouthpieces such as The Sun’s Kelvin McKenzie, who demonised, vilified and lied about them. Conversely, black teenagers in inner London estates, continually the victims of harassment by the Metropolitan Police and at the bottom of Britain’s opportunity pile, are ludicrously deigned to have common cause with the privately-educated colonial elites placed strategically in the media and commerce through “equal opportunity” positive discrimination schemes.

There’s something about the bourgeois psyche that produces a visceral reaction to that deadly combination of working-class, white and straight — irrespective of the actual views and life experiences of someone in that grouping.

The decline of class politics and its replacement by the schisms of identity is an integral part of the neoliberal order. After all, one unites and the other divides. The class war was won by the elite in Britain, probably as far back as Orgreave in the 1984 miners’ strike, when organised labour was crushed.

Today, capital rules supreme, steadfastly tightening its hold, aided by a rapacious individualism that has now tipped into a demented narcissism, and a technology concentrated in the hands of corporations and its co-opted governments.

Therefore, in the realms of finance and economics, nothing is now contestable, unless it’s national elites using their power (and manipulating the populace) to try to gain more traction and influence at the expense of the interrelated global ones.

What is presented to us as politics is a hollow civil war of the super wealthy, with the rest of us as pawns. Silver-spooned, daddy-issue Republicans, like Trump and his ilk, have long presented as comic-book versions of the most vulgar, dumbass versions of redneck USA.

This is now Right-wing de rigueur, enabling exploiters to “connect” with a politically and socially displaced white America, which embraces grievance and victimhood as eagerly as any grouping that claims to be oppressed. This folksy affectation is only partly strategic: late capitalism has stupefied its winners as much as its losers.

Hollywood has recycled the potty mouth of the ghetto into the boardroom, where the same tropes are now regurgitated in a decontextualised way, with defiant alienation replaced by entitled arrogance, under the depoliticised posturing of “attitude”.

Meanwhile, digital technology and its deployment solely for private profit through capital accumulation has fucked all our attention spans, and our sense of the past, as completely as George Orwell suggested. (Indeed, there’s little point in saying that: the ubiquity of Orwell as just another internet cliché has completely nullified the power of his message.)

In Britain, I believe that the traditional working man — of all colours — has had a bad rap. Recently, I was out with some old pals, and we were talking about how we’ve stayed close friends down the years, despite life, love and work taking us off in varying directions. One friend went on at length about how his partner and her friends were quite surprised at the continuing bond between us all. It’s a recurrent theme with women I know, who ask, perhaps not unjustly: how can you still be bothered with each other?

Men, whose camaraderie can seem frivolous, built on drinking, football and laughing at each other’s embarrassments, paradoxically tend to stick together down the years more than women, who talk of weightier, more emotional subjects. Several years ago, following a relationship breakdown scenario, I went through a phase where I felt like I was done with male company.

I decided I could do without the gung-ho nature of the archetypal male response to such events: “Forget her. They’re all the same. Get another round up. I’ve left a line out for you in the toilets.” As a result, I basically surrounded myself with my women friends. Not for the first time, they were the ones offering real support and genuine insight into my predicament.

Then you realise: it’s not about thesis and antithesis. There’s always got to be room for a synthesis of different ideas and values. Once more, I’m appreciating the narrow, lazy affirmation that belonging to a mob of men can offer.

The best thing about being a man of my generation is that we’re allowed to get the fuck out of the house. Now I feel for youth who don’t do this so much — they really don’t know what they are missing. When they do, the experience is invariably packaged for them. The biggest indictment you can offer our current dystopia is that we’ve created a society where the old pity the young. That’s just not right.

Masculinity (as well as femininity) is tied to our lost sense of community. As pubs and clubs close down across the country, teenagers are more likely to spend their evenings on Instagram, TikTok, playing video games or on some dubious porn forums than getting drink from the offie and messing around in the park or on abandoned railway lines. A social vacuum has been created at the same time as a dumbed-down visceral communication system has emerged.

This creates a place where someone as pathetic as Andrew Tate can gain a limited sphere of influence. The emergence of such characters would have been impossible in the Nineties. They would have been dismissed as ludicrous wankers in a truly contested, democratic street culture, as opposed to the top-down media one we now live in. Now a noncey, supermarket transgression has gained a foothold, appealing to an entire lost generation of anxious, isolated teenage bedroom wankers, brimming with the sleazy narratives of onscreen porn.

While young people are being stripped of their right to be completely irresponsible — i.e. young — those of us who spent a whole chunk of our change in the last century are often unprepared to let go of our unruly youth, still investing in bad behaviour and the institutions believed to encourage it; the pub, the gig, the nightclub, the rave, the football ground and the traditional workplace. I personally thank the higher powers for those declining bastions.

In their growing absence, the neoliberal state has gutted everyone’s lives of meaning — to the extent that we have little to cling to other than a narcissistic, media-constructed sense of who we are and our supposed entitlement to avoid personal discomfort at all costs. Thus, through toxic social media platforms, proponents of various identities get to sling all sorts of mud at each other, devoid of any social setting and real human interaction.

Generally, it’s an inconsequential battle, in which people are afforded the keyboard warrior’s licence — rewarded by the dopamine hits — to abuse each other with relative impunity. The objective of the game is to goad the other party into an overreach and a subsequent pile-on, with an attendant Twitter ban or, the great weapon of our times, “cancellation”. Generally, however, in those futile wars, no party claims a feasible victory. Nonetheless, the participants are rarely shy of pompously deploying tiresome, overdramatic dictums declaring their cause or viewpoint to be “on the right side of history”.

This nonsense benefits only the continuation of the current bankrupt system. The establishment’s economic, financial and social elites once starved people into compliance; now it lures them into pointless shouting matches, allowing them to stupefy themselves in the process.

So, white men aren’t the only ones rendered toxic by our culture. Every group and demographic, as evidenced by its social media extremists, are fundamentally unhappy with their lot and in existential crisis about who they are in this changing world.

Part of this is the old science of consumer capitalism: keep us feeling bad about ourselves and then give us a product or service or procedure that will make us centred, complete or alive. Ignore the fact that we’re strutting around in a zoo we’ve made for ourselves. Whatever we consume or change or alter, we remain polar bears in the same concrete enclosure, pacing up and down.

The toxicity of white rich men is more consequential than that of the rest of us, which is largely an acting out, a cry for attention. After all, they are seen to have the power to change all this. Only they don’t.

The consciousness-crushing machine they’ve helped create and service brings them no substantive life benefit anymore. Can a man with £400 million in the bank really be poorer than one with £500 million? How many lives do you need to live to spend that?

It’s the accumulation of meaninglessness; the buying of some kind of dominance and largely imagined status over peers. Checking figures from the spreadsheets on their screens. Seeing how efficient a capitalism no longer tied to production is in taking the resources of communities, monetising it, and transferring it to their accounts.

Basically, wasting their lives away in that most futile of pursuits: making non-spendable money, while the years tick by, and dreams of love and laughter are replaced by a rancid resentment and urge to satisfy the ego-driven need for “influence”.

The continuing war of capital upon consciousness, on what makes us human, continues apace. In an economy that can produce everything at zero cost, the wealthy are coming to the end of their ability to control us by paying wages. Now, this can only be done through the steady erosion of human consciousness.

AI is a backstop here, just in case our spirits rebel in reaction to this, and we cut up too rough. After all, a robot or a computer doesn’t need food. And crucially, it’s not changed by anyone looking at it. It is not self-conscious. But if the system can’t make robots quickly enough to replace us, it’ll try to make us all into robots.

“We’re not allowed to say that” is the factory bleat that resonates throughout social media from all we older, toxic, white working-class males. How excited we get on our dopamine hits, when some papier-mâché faced ponce seems to stick it to the poker-arsed gatekeepers of neoliberal morality with a racist or sexist quip — while they (quietly) endorse an economic system of gross inequity that now almost literally defecates on us. Our participation in “politics” is reduced to watching a Frank Drebin from Police Squad/The Naked Gun look-and-soundalike clownishly annoy some uptight disapprover.

What we certainly are allowed to do, is to be nostalgic. The system plays on our need to make sense of our existence by processing our past, but only in a way that all conflict is taken out of it. Thus, our need to validate our lives in a fake “golden age” haze becomes a de facto endorsement of a system that has limited the potential of those lives.

It encourages us to sit around crying into our beer about how things ain’t what they used to be, reconstructing a collective rose-tinted past designed to sustain us in our dotage, while ensuring this state creeps ever closer as mindless aphorisms — ubiquitous, circular — rot our brains. Fuck that. Pick up a book instead. Let’s get educated. The smarter we are, the less easy it is for the unenlightened greed junkies to fuck things up for us.

The world is changing, let’s change with it, but in ways which make sense to us, not to the blueprint of white-collar fascist controllers or soulless tech nerds who need to get properly laid. (They are the ones who’ve swamped our brains and culture with the shabby dictates of their crass dating algorithms.)

If I could make one solitary plea to white working-class men: do not be servile to the upper classes. They are not your amigos. They blithely dispatched your forefathers to the killing fields, and they haven’t gained any greater appreciation or respect for you since.

In broader terms, Trump-Biden 2 or 3 or 4 will not do anything for the citizens of this world that the first one didn’t. Probably much less. Toxic masculinity is just that, because it exists within a toxic system.