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'Cool' about the consequences

November 24, 2016 23:20

This week, I caught a YouTube of the (now leathery and septuagenarian) American TV presenter Geraldo Rivera, with protesters outside the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. He had fallen among Palestine activists and was being given a hard time.

One woman shouted: "Free, free Palestine" in his ear, moving as he moved so as to maintain constant aural contact.

Someone else had a keffiyah on the end of a stick and brandished it at the camera. Then, a third person, a young man in a baseball cap and shirt in the Palestinian colours, squirted water from a plastic bottle all over Rivera.

Why? What was the point of such actions? Were Mr R or his audience more likely to be sympathetic to the cause of the activists as a result? Hardly.

The behaviour was as counter-productive from any strategic point of view, as that of the Bernie Sanders supporters on the first day of the convention who booed when he called for support for Hillary Clinton.

Something that has always happened is now happening in a bigger way

Who on earth could such action help other than the person who, presumably, they would least like to see helped, ie Donald Trump?

For, that evening, the booing of a minority literally trumped the quieter but much more numerous support for the nominee.

Noisiness is a misleading factor in assessing strength. After the referendum, a piece I wrote in The Times hoping that there might be a second vote, received the largest number of subscriber comments in the paper's online history.

Most of them disagreed with me, many of them furiously and some of them abusively. One man wrote that it was evident from these comments that no one agreed with me and something to the effect that either the paper should sack me or he would cancel his subscription.

I replied and pointed out that readers' surveys showed that the majority of Times readers wanted to stay in the EU, and that the disparity he was pointing out suggested something else: that commenters were not representative of the readers.

This reply of mine was "recommended" (a simple click does this) by dozens of readers. They weren't noisy, but they were there.

Something is going on. Or rather, something that has always happened is now happening in a bigger way.

It is a kind of noisy activism that has little regard for consequences. So dumping on Hillary might help Trump, so what? They're both part of the system, who cares? In any case it will your fault, not ours, So Jeremy might not get elected and the Tories we profess to hate so much might win by a landslide, so what?

Winning isn't everything, not when you're building a movement of angry people who will change society via an as yet unspecified route.

I long ago left the ranks of the shouting and joined those of the shouted at. In fact, for a while, when I was an official for the National Union of Students, there was an overlap.

One day, when we had an executive meeting to discuss the anti-cuts campaign or something, we were "occupied" by a group of rowdy Trots, one of whom jumped on the table, strutted its length scattering papers, and defied us to remove him. I believe he has now turned up as a member of Brighton Momentum.

The difference is that what was once a small fringe is now tens of thousands of people.

This week, Helen Lewis in the New Statesman linked this phenomenon to social media, pointing out that Jeremy Corbyn has 750,000 Facebook friends and Owen Smith 6,000. In this social media environment, people amplify and rehearse their arguments and grievances, and rarely encounter a contrary view, unless it is espoused by the organs of the more conventional media - which are then dismissed as a result.

It all sent me scurrying for my political dictionary. I found what I was looking for under "situationism".

In essence, this Sixties political philosophy -so influential among students in 1968 - was about creating "situations" to counter the supposed prevailing orthodoxy.

Wikipedia has these as "moments of life deliberately constructed for the purpose of reawakening and pursuing authentic desires, experiencing the feeling of life and adventure".

When that's what you're doing - and having fun doing it - who cares about consequences? Because you (and it's all about you) are being so incredibly cool.

November 24, 2016 23:20

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