This week, exhausted by the news, I dragged myself out of the house to a book fair, where I came across a new collection of utopian fiction by radical women.
Yes, dear reader. Laurie Penny is searching for comfort in this cruel, cruel world:
When basic survival seems like a stretch goal, caught as we are between the rich and the rising seas, hope feels like an unaffordable luxury. The precise words I used to the bookseller were: “Shut up and take my money.”
Currently touring the United States, after touring much of Europe and visiting Australia, Laurie is once again explaining how hard it is to be radically left-wing, to be Laurie Penny, and how exhausting she finds the news.
There has never been a more urgent time for utopian ideas, precisely because the concept of a better world has never felt further away… Utopias require that we do the difficult, necessary work of envisioning a better world. This is why imagination is the first, best weapon of radicals and progressives.
And being radical and progressive herself, and of course heroic, Laurie is doing that “difficult, necessary work” before our very eyes, at a venue near you, by railing against “late-capitalist patriarchy.”
From the anti-war movement to Occupy Wall Street to the reimagined Corbynite Labour party, everyone on the left are [sic] used to hearing… that we cannot point out what’s wrong with politics without instantly suggesting an alternative. This is nonsensical.
Expecting moral coherence and some concession to practicality is, says Laurie, “a great way of shutting down dissent.”
If you were being beaten up by a gang of armed thugs, you would be within your rights to demand that they stop doing so without listing alternative places they might land their blows – “not in my face” is enough. It is difficult to think clearly about a better world when you’re trying to protect your soft parts from heavy boots.
Because forcibly ‘occupying’ the entrance to St Paul’s Cathedral, as Laurie and her comrades did in 2011, and blathering about “revolution” and an unspecified “new world order” – and then being laughed at as self-flattering and pretentious – that’s exactly like “being beaten up by a gang of armed thugs.” During the commotion in question, Laurie explained that the failure to generate a coherent, remotely practical set of demands – any at all - was due to “attacks from a hostile press while surviving sub-zero temperatures in central London.” Needless to say, during the ‘occupation’ the temperature in central London was, while Autumnal, never close to sub-zero.
And remember, Ms Penny’s nakedly partisan involvement in such things - appointing herself an Occupy mouthpiece and romanticiser-in-chief, all in the guise of “reporting” - is what earned our self-described radical that year-long stint at Harvard, free of charge, where she was crowned a “leader in journalism.” Such is the extent to which our hero is shunned and oppressed by the hetero-patriarchal establishment. And yet she is, we’re told, “marginalised” and “marked as other,” except of course when she’s on TV, or Five Live, or Radio 4, or reviewing the papers for the BBC, or when airing her various and bewildering concerns in the pages of the Guardian, the New Statesman and the Independent. Or when on international book tours.
Most leftists do have an idea of the sort of world they would prefer to see. Many of us have several. It’s just very hard to get us to talk about it,
for the simple, human reason that we’re worried we’ll be laughed at.
So fearless, so terribly brave.
And who would dare laugh at Laurie’s beliefs? Among them, that the World Cup is merely “organised sadism” that “violently excludes more than half the people,” and that for leftists the modern campus is akin to suffering “a military dictatorship,” being as they are so incredibly put-upon, and that businesses can afford to pay everyone high wages because, obviously, they don’t need to be competitive.
The journey is more important than the destination, but without a destination in mind there is no journey.
Gosh. How very Zen. Of course, a cynic might say that declaring oneself radical is so much easier to sustain if one doesn’t have to define a practical alternative to whatever’s being seethed about on any given day, and if one doesn’t have to consider finite resources and finite public goodwill. And if instead all one has to do is tell people repeatedly how radical one is, and how radical one’s thoughts and policies would be, if ever they were articulated. It’s one thing to amuse oneself by teaching small children to say “smash monogamy” and “destroy marriage,” then waiting for applause. It’s another thing entirely to ponder what might happen if enough people actually did those things, and what it might cost.