When my good friend Merrick went on at the Speaker’s Forum at this year’s Glastonbury Festival, he got slotted in before the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. This is what happened:
When he first posted about it, someone piped up with concerns about Merrick’s tone.
The third question regards the (to me) overly aggressive attitude you took whilst you were talking about the Liberal Democrats. I was wondering how you thought it would come across to the general population of the UK? I compare this to the amiable way that Nick Clegg spoke after you.
Our culture’s gone through many cycles of upheaval, greater and lesser anger against the State and the failings of our elected representatives (and the lack of real alternative offered by their rivals). Direct action seeped into mainstream consciousness in the 1990s, mainly through environmental activism such as anti-road and anti-GM protests.
As the scientific evidence of the seriousness of our ecological blundering mounted, and the blundering continued apace, many assumed that the (supposedly) incoherent, “angry” approach to political action had failed. Corporations and the bland public reality they’ve created dominate, so the only game left is to work from within, they said. It’s the “smart” way forward; ranting from the sidelines simply engenders conflict and stand-offs, and doesn’t win over the public at large. People like “nice”, so that’s what we need to give them if we want to win them over.
There’s rarely a day goes by now that doesn’t show this attitude to be a load of shit. Of course, any intelligent person recognizes the value of tactics. However, I question the automatic association of anger with incoherence. I think this is a legacy of a culture—and I’m especially talking about my own country here, England—that seems constitutionally uncomfortable with strong human emotions. We lose coherence when angry because we’re entering alien territory, natural emotional landscapes that we’ve been alienated from.
Hatred, as Primal Scream said, will eat you whole, and has to be let go of. But all too often, in therapy, politics, and society in general, we confuse these twisted emotional brambles with the healthy shoots of anger. Our lack of emotional literacy leaves us prey to those who want us to “let go”, when actually they’re talking about repressing.
Merrick got quite a few boos at Glastonbury. The commenter on his blog took this as an indication that, if even such a left-leaning audience as Glastonbury Festival booed, the public at large would react badly to the anger expressed at the Lib Dem’s failure to offer a real alternative. Therefore, we should tone down our anger, and be more “amiable”, like Clegg. Better still, we could “let go” of our anger…
If you’re not angry—at least sometimes—at 99% of politicians today, you’re blind or numb, or both. And if you think the way forward is to publically make our emotions conform to the flattened landscape that is preferred by politics and corporations, where most of us are forced to live much of the time, you’re wrong. This public landscape, where spontaneous emotion is distrusted, and emotion and intelligence are forced apart, is the medium through which our catastrophic disconnection from nature and each other is expressed.
Anger isn’t a “solution”, and focused on to the exclusion of joy, sadness, compassion, and the rest of the spectrum (a reasonable working definition of “hate”), it can become as much of a distortion of humanity as its repression. But it’s precisely the amiable fuzziness, the tactical avoidance of anything uncomfortable or unseemly, of people like Clegg that has us continuing our trajectory towards ecological collapse.
The apocalypse is enabled with a whimper, not a bang.