I charm you and tell you of the boys I hate
All the girls I hate
All the words I hate
The clothes I hate
How I’ll never be anything I hate…
Bitterness can be a problem, even when you’re out of school uniform. It’s a particular problem for political writers, bloggers very much included. You hate the Other Side, they must be evil and contemptible to do what they do – but, if they genuinely are evil and contemptible, you can’t do anything except hate them, and keep on saying how you hate them. As I wrote back here,
There’s something obsessive, almost paranoid about those posts – See? See? I told you they were a bunch of bastards, and now they’ve as good as admitted it! Look, it says so here! All you really achieve with a post like that is to feed your obsession, making yourself – and anybody who shares it – feel righteously justified. Which is never a good look.
To be more precise, it’s a hateful, joyless look – and if you’re not careful the wind will change, and it’ll stick.
We socialists are not fanatics or timeservers. We are socialists because we see the prospect which life holds out for all working people. We want the commitment of workers who laugh and love, and want to end the wretchedness and despair which shuts love and laughter out of so many lives.
Well, 1977 is a long, long time ago, but Foot’s words survive beyond his sad decline and premature death to resonate in the present. When you’ve read anything written by any of the assorted dickheads mentioned above, have you ever, even once, got the impression that “love and laughter” matter a damn to any of them
I almost agree with this line of argument (never mind for a moment who the ‘assorted dickheads’ are): too much radical writing is both bitter and twisted, substituting vituperation for reasoning and personal attack for critique. I almost agree, but not quite. Here’s the whole of the sentence:
When you’ve read anything written by any of the assorted dickheads mentioned above, have you ever, even once, got the impression that “love and laughter” matter a damn to any of them, or even mean anything much at all to people so repulsively stuffed to the gills with hatred, resentment and self-regard that any allegation, any misrepresentation, however trivial or ludicrous, will do, as long as it suits their wholly negative purposes?
Elsewhere in the same post we read that the Left represented by these people is “a pandemonium of sectarian infighting, self-righteous posturing, academic wankfests and just plain barking at the Moon”; that they’re liars and fantasists, characterised by “dishonesty, paranoia and mauvaise foi“; and that they’re fascists or Stalinists, or at best the fellow-travellers of fascists or Stalinists.
Enough! or too much. (William Blake said that.) Fortunately there aren’t very many of these people, when you get down to it. There’s Louis Proyect; there are Mike Marqusee, D.D. Guttenplan and Andrew Murray; there’s Chris Bertram, and then there’s
Phil Edwards of Actually Existing, who never uses one plain word where 15 pretentious words will do, thinks it’s mighty clever and original to pretend that there’s nothing to choose between liberal democracy and dictatorship because – in a deeper reality accessible only to the mighty clever and original – they’re both “undemocratic” (what do you mean, he should define his terms? he’s a poet, don’t you know)
I don’t think I’ve ever been accused of both pretentiousness and mauvaise foi before. But it’s true, I write poetry, which clearly implies… Actually it doesn’t imply anything in particular, but it gives people who don’t like what I write something to sneer at. Which is nice for them.
The post they’re talking about, anyway, is here; I think the paragraph in question is reasonably clear, but if it does look as if I’m saying that there’s nothing to choose between liberal democracy and dictatorship – or that it’s unclear what I mean by the word ‘democratic’ – let me know in the comments. But not anonymously: henceforth I’ll only read anonymous and pseudonymous comments on this blog if I already know your real name or can find it out easily. Anything else gets deleted.
It’s a bit funny to see a critique of life-denying sectarianism being advanced by writers who themselves seem so repulsively stuffed to the gills with hatred, resentment and self-regard that any allegation, any misrepresentation, however trivial or ludicrous, will do, as long as it suits their wholly negative purposes. It’s a bit funny to have all this pointing of fingers and naming of names coming from people who appear to have operated under pseudonyms since 1998. (I say ‘people’, but the operative word may be ‘person’; we’ve got no way of knowing that there is more than one person behind P.S. Burton, James Masterson, Ben Illin and the rest of their clever sobriquets.) It’s a bit funny, but I’m not laughing.