If there’s one thing the left nowadays need to do, it’s grow up and accept reality. This, at any rate, is what the Greek government were continually told by their creditors, before they finally capitulated to the great, awful pressure of reality wholesale. And it’s what the supporters of Liz Kendall in particular continually tell the rest of the Labour party: the scale of Labour’s recent electoral defeat means it’s time to grow up and learn some harsh lessons about the electorate and austerity.
Of course, Liz Kendall is for all intents and purposes a Tory, but it’s not just because her policies are all explicitly pro-brutalising the poor: the main thing that makes her a Tory is precisely her orientation towards reality. Good leftists should grow up and face reality, I’m all for that; but accepting reality? This is nonsense. In fact, I’m not sure what a sensible and grown-up attitude to the reality we currently have would look like, if it involved accepting how it basically already is. I mean, we’re not talking about gravity here: we’re talking about the far more destructive force of austerity, something that remains on some level a human thing that we can, in theory, do something about.
It is telling that the people most on the side of reality today are precisely those most shielded from its effects. For instance, in the Telegraph recently some idiot baby by the name of James Kirkup wrote a piece arguing, in short, that anyone thinks the recent agreement between Greece and their creditors was a coup should “grow up and join the real world.” What I found most offensive about this piece is that Kirkup – at least for the purposes of rhetoric – seems to be under no illusions about the destructive effects of continuing austerity on Greece; something that the Greek people had, it cannot be emphasised enough, rejected by a landslide in a recent referendum. Kirkup addresses all of this, alongside the unfair pressure exerted upon Greece by Germany in the negotiations. His conclusion? The situation in Greece is “just a fact of life. Welcome to the real world, kids.”
Well, if I was James Kirkup, someone who is described in his profile as the Telegraph’s “Executive Editor – Politics” and presumably has the salary to match that fancy title, I’d probably find it pretty easy to ‘grow up’ and accept ‘reality’, too. Because I’m not the one who has to fucking live in it. I am not, at least until the world gets a lot more just, the one who reality will impose itself upon with all the force of an earthquake at the speed of a freight train. I am not the one who reality will make starving and destitute, the one whose dreams reality will destroy, the one who needs reality to be radically transformed, if I am ever to even breathe again comfortably and without fear. No: if I was James Kirkup, Executive Editor – Politics at the Daily Telegraph, I could quite happily sit gurgling on my changing table writing thinkpieces de-legitimising the experience of everyone who reality has robbed of a future until my arse finally stopped spewing runny shite.
Here’s the irony: the partisans of reality are the real angry babies, the people who must have the least to do with reality; otherwise they would never prefer it to the alternatives. The partisans of reality today are in truth complete fantasists: people who have no interest in taking into account the real, material effects of what they do – and what they advocate – on people’s lives. Instead they cling to the comfort-blanket of market ideology magical thinking: they suck their thumbs, shake their rattles and scream for everyone to accept their reality, unshakable in the conviction that this must be how things ultimately, unchangeably are. Grow up, they tell us: grow up, capitulate to market forces, and give us our num-num whenever we want it.
Well, as any angry baby must some day find out, there’s only so many times you can bite your num-num while it’s giving you suck until you find yourself sold on the internet or left in a skip. Recently there have been some encouraging signs of anger in Europe: not the petty rage of the angry baby from the picture but the sort of legitimate anger that must result from being kicked in the face by reality one too many times. Most significant of course is the ‘Oxi’ result in Greece, for all the fat lot of good it did anyone in the end. But recent events in UK politics too – the surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader; Mhairi Black’s stirring maiden speech in the Commons – bespeak an increasing momentum behind anti-austerity politics over here. The key thing, of course, is to channel this anger into real socio-economic transformation… and of course the recent history of politics in the UK should hardly make us optimistic that this is what will happen. But perhaps the first step towards doing this is to take control of the debate, by having the courage to say: you’re the angry babies here, and we’re the sensible grown-ups who know how things stand with the real world. For no serious policy on reality today could ever fail to propose its radical transformation.