Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Witness The Power Of The Free Market TARDIS

Political apathy is the curse of our age, or so I'm told. As elections approach, up goes the cry -More people vote for Pop Idol than vote in elections!

I've read that we're an apathetic nation because we're more financially secure than ever before, or because we're a feckless crowd of honking geese, happy to scrape endlessly in the grain-bucket of satellite television.

My favourite is The End of History, the significant capitals indicating that there are no more political arguments to be had and that unrestrained free markets are the pinnacle of societal evolution.

Such a view is clearly held by anodyne hack Daniel Finkelstein, who today demonstrates the piercing insight required of Times columnists by summarising the central thesis of Brink Lindsey's The Age of Abundance before picking up his paycheck.

In a nutshell, Finkelstein fervently agrees that the prosperous society of post-war America was single-handedly responsible for the counter-culture, the civil rights and the feminist movements. Such activities could not have existed without the consumerist urge to better oneself, he argues...

"The story of the Sixties is a story of the triumph of economic freedom, of the power of free markets to change lives and produce a more open, exciting society. So why doesn’t the Right embrace it? Why be happy to let the Left colonise memories of that decade?"

See? Had he lived, Dr. Martin Luther King would surely have held stocks in Lockheed-Martin and used the profits to start up his own psychadelic bible business.

Now, to your average Times reader, this is exciting stuff - claim the radical chic of the sixties, clothe yourself in true-blue tie-dye and shout Right on! for the genius of Milton Friedman.

Anyone with the ability to look deeper might question why it is that, in a time when the free market bestrides the globe like a colossus, its cheerleaders feel the need to plunder the crown jewels of cool?

At just the right side of thirty, I hope I can look dispassionately at the revolutionary spirit of the counter-culture. To my eye, it looks less like a glorious uprising against consumerist society than it does an extended beach party with a well stocked bar and some generous drug dealers.

It should tell us more about the type of nation they were revolting against that a few hundred thousand kids smoking grass and bad-mouthing the suits reduced the citizenry to quivering, animal fear, cowering before the sluggish onslaught of the Jefferson Airplane fans.

For all that there were thousands of committed activists and intellectuals achieving great feats in the fight for equality, the aftertaste of the era is Hendrix, long hair and acid. In other words, Finkelstein is essentially placing his boot atop the forty-year-old corpse of an unimpressive revolution that didn't happen on the other side of the planet, and claiming it as a triumph of capitalism.

Were I more emotional, I might hope that such a feeble argument might herald the extinction of the dot-com messiahs who spent the nineties assuring us that we should invest in the wares of their cronies, raking in a tidy profit in the process.

Alas, Finkelstein touches on the true tragedy of the love generation...

"It is a delicious irony that the biggest impact the hippies made was when they were coopted by the mainstream. Soon Booth’s House of Lords gin was being promoted as a way of “taking a stand against conformity” while Clairol took on the slogan “it lets me be me”..."

And how true that is. We're now left with a political culture that looks at protest as something to be feted in foreign lands, and publicly pissed over in British streets. So utterly has political dissent been co-opted into the mainstream - Get your kaffiyeh here, twenty quid! David Beckham/Che Guevara hoodies, in red white and blue! - that even the most massive demonstrations can be casually flicked aside by government in its stampede to plunge the nation into military catastrophe.

Anyone who's seen Taking Liberties will no doubt appreciate the "delicious irony" of a population that regards protest as the childish affectation of self-absorbed adolescents.

So what's responsible for political apathy in the modern era?

It could be that we're all just so delighted with our jobs, our holidays and our wide-screen TVs that none of us feel the need to bother our pretty little minds with political action. Perhaps we have reached the end of history after all?

Or perhaps its because in the last thirty years, every question about the direction of British society has been met with the cry, There is no alternative!

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