Conservatives have tried and true rhetorical tricks for marginalizing dissenters and BBC talking head Jeremy Paxman is a skilled practitioner of this dark art. Dealing from the bottom of the deck throughout the course of his interview several weeks ago with Russell Brand he pulled out two well-worn cards: “Why should we take you seriously if you don’t even bother to vote.” Brand handled this red herring reasonably well by explaining it wasn’t apathy but revulsion that was behind his decision to opt out of democracy’s shell game. Brand believes that none of the politicians offer up the type of real change the times demand.
As deftly as Brand handled himself he should have gone further by asking Paxman to carefully consider his own point of view: that a person of conscience who honestly believes no politician represents his interests should just go vote anyhow. Paxman demands that we slavishly seek to find the least cretinous cretin on the ballot and just put a check mark beside the name. If the list of candidates consisted of Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Pol Pot, Paxman would say, "Never mind, just close your eyes and pick one!" And why do we need to play this little game? To earn the privilege of having Jeremy Paxman take us seriously.
Gambit #2 was the “Show me the plan” tactic. Even John Lennon fell for this with his insistence that: “We’d all love to see the plan” in his classic song “Revolution”. The implication here is that the dissenter (Brand) is not credible unless he can produce a complete manifesto which will describe how the world will work post-revolution. This was used with great success to undermine the credibility of the “Occupy” movement.
It’s unclear how dissenters throughout history would have measured up to this requirement. The British certainly could have used a Paxman or two prior to the American Revolution. He could have button-holed a participant of the Boston Tea Party, running away from the harbour, still dressed as an Indian, and asked “What possible reason could you have for this wanton destruction of property!” “No taxation without representation!” might be short-winded reply. “Right, you hate our current system, but what do you want to replace it with? Where is your plan?” No doubt this would have been met with a dumbfounded mumble or perhaps the pre-revolutionary Paxman would have lucked out and intercepted one of the truly enlightened who could have responded “Patience my good man, some of our smartest people are convening a Continental Congress and creating something called a Constitution. In the meantime we are just trying to convey this simple message “We’re agitated as hell and we’re not going to tolerate it indefinitely”. Or words to that effect.
Surely, anyone of us has the right to speak out about what they observe to be wrong with our world. I, for one, claim that right irregardless of what Jeremy Paxman may think about it. You, in turn, can agree, disagree or react with bored indifference. That is your right. But don’t you dare claim I have no right to express my observations until I have produced a fully formed manifesto, unless you want a fork jammed in your forehead. Metaphorically speaking of course. I abhor violence except when its on TV. Then I absolutely love it!
Folks, I’m so done with these glib sons of bitches whose inertia is sending our species headlong towards oblivion. Freedom of speech comes with no strings attached. We have the right to dissent, to say out loud to the political/corporate establishment… you don’t get my silent complicity in this, and don’t be surprised if I actively try to do you in.
I will concede, however, that if you wish to be a spokesperson or leader for a certain cause you will likely gain more traction if you can articulate a policy or two which would fix the problems you are so passionate about. But while you are putting your cards on the table you should insist that the arrogant conservative across the table put their cards on the table as well. Quid pro quo, as our friend Hannibal Lector taught us.
In the interview in question Paxman should have been forced to come clean. If he is going to insert his cynicism into the discussion he needs to state the conservative POV he believes in. No more drive-by smears. “Well now Jeremy”, Brand might have asked, “where do you, yourself, stand on global warming? Okay fine, you agree it is a real problem and it is man-made. Do you feel our politicians are doing enough to address it? No? Neither do I. But, and here is where we might differ, I believe our current system is a collusion between a political class and a corporate class who work behind the scenes to prevent the type of change which is needed ”. Now we are getting somewhere!
The one point of the interview where Paxman revealed himself to be a conservative apologist was when he declared that such issues are complicated but the political class are, in fact, working on it. “Bull roar!” I say. (I haven’t actually heard “bull roar” since I was a kid in Peterborough but I’m trying to bring it back. For you kids out there it is typically used in mixed company where the use of “bullshit!” is a tad risky.)
Complicated Jeremy? I say let’s make a start anyway and see just how complicated these issues are. Policy by policy, brick by brick we can build solutions to any problem we face, such as global warming. But first we have to get all the conservatives, libertarians, cowboy capitalists and their well-paid shills out of the goddamn way.
We human beings actually have a decent track record of responding to environmental challenges. The Great Plagues of Europe became history once nascent scientists, engineers and, yes, governments worked together to conceive and build sewer systems, garbage disposal programs and water treatment programs. Socialism 1, Capitalism 0.
In North America in the 1930’s the Great Plains suffered through the “Dust Bowl”. It was an environmental catastrophe of bibilical proportions, alleviated not by prayer but by government regulation (that's right, the R word). Farmers were paid by the government to adopt new farming practises such as letting the fields go fallow every other year. Socialism 2, Capitalism 0.
In London in the 1950s the smog got so bad you couldn’t see more than 3 feet in front of you. At the time coal was the primary source of heat. Environmental legislation led to a reduction in air pollution. Financial incentives were offered to householders to replace open coal fires with alternatives. Socialism 3, Capitalism 0.
Similarly, Los Angeles and smog became virtually synonymous, but California has led the way by legislating cleaner cars and the air quality in LA has dramatically improved. Socialism 4, Capitalism 0
And going back to the future about 200 years ago, London was being devastated by fires which destroyed entire neighbourhoods. The viability of the city itself was being called into question. A fire-fighting service had to be created which was steadily made more effective by one government funded invention after another. (Yes, the fire hose had to be invented as did a system of getting the required quantities of water to where it was needed.) Today we have building codes, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors all mandated by government regulation, all of which the libertarians would rip out if given half a chance. Socialism 5, Capitalism 0.
So you see, Jeremy, addressing environmental problems are not really all that complicated, except for those of you think socialism is a dirty word. Granted, in some of the examples above the technological obstacles were daunting, but once the political will was summoned and the people’s money allocated it was simply a matter of time before human ingenuity won the day. The real obstacles in our way are man-made but, fortunately, they are as impermanent as a puff of wind from Mr. Paxman’s crumpet-hole.