I don’t like feeling cynical, but it’s certainly how I’ve been feeling over this weekend when the whole country appeared obsessed with Live8. Good intentions. Free fun for all. Yes, my heart turned over at Paul McCartney singing ‘Long and Winding Road’. Even if the event's premise was facile, it’s prominence provoked discussion which was sometimes less facile. I suppose the main reason it depressed me was the breezy co-option by the UK government of both the concerts and Saturday’s 225,000-strong demonstration in Edinburgh: We welcome this. We’re on your side. You’re helping us to hold out for the right things at G8 and in the EU. Such bullshit. Maybe 10% of it not bullshit – the small voice inside the Labour politician that remembers what s/he may once have believed. It’s playing right into their hands. They can mouth a few virtuous things and come out of the Summit saying, well, we tried, it’s all the others who don’t want to challenge the prevailing financial order.
I don’t like feeling cynical. I once was not. I once was a member, an activist, a believer in radicals joining the mainstream and changing things. After working with politicians for many years, it’s not that I think they are necessarily ill-intentioned; more that I saw how anyone prepared to live such a crazy life has to be motivated mostly by ego – which seriously limits what we may realistically expect of them. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve almost come full circle, become again the lost little nihilist I was at 18 when I’d just foresworn my teenage Conservatism (I met some rich, elitist people at my rich, elitist university and the scales fell from my eyes) and had yet to discover any alternatives.
Not quite. Being present, being kind, trying to see myself clearly so I can see others clearly – this is certainly revolutionary, but is it enough?
Fortunately, there are good people out there holding a serious and lively debate about this, not just feeling miserable about it! One is Ethan Zuckerman, whose blog I'm delighted to have found. I guess I'm NOT reverting to nihilism, but do need to find a new context for active world citizenship. People like Ethan and many of those to whom his blog links give me hope that I may just find it.
¶ 2:01 pm
My favorite definition of "cynic" is "an idealist who's tired of being disappointed." Perhaps you qualify...?
Whilst of a similar vintage to you & thus long accustomed to the chicanery & cant of power politics, I sympathise with your ideological exhaustion. But I retain a little more faith in some of the moving spirits behind the broad movement of which Live 8 has been the garish public face. If, by continuing to trumpet loudly their support for the Live 8 initiatives the G8 ministers hope that we won't have noticed their miserable failure to address practically the issue of fair trade for Africa (& beyond), things will get very nasty indeed. Few of those 225,000 people in Edinburgh will accommodate 'breezy co-option' readily & profound scepticism at governmental good intentions is at an all-time low. The old Labour Party push-over factor that shut us up back in the days of the Aldermaston Marches simply doesn't work any more.
So, laudable though it may be, being kind is not enough. Whatever the odds & however ludicrously insurmountable the obstacles seem, we have to keep pushing. That philosophical Algerian goalie had it down pat: 'Il faut croire Sisyphe heureux'.
Yeah, you're right Dick, and mostly, I'm AM still a little Sisyphus in my own way, which is probably why I felt so uncomfortable that this weekend's events left me cold. I expect if the G8 protests had been nearer to me and I'd taken part I would not have felt the same. I'd at least have felt I was in the right place, even if I have a lot less faith than I used to have in the likely results.
My dad worked in the House of Commons and knew every politician since Stanley Baldwin. He remained a conservative all his life - but not because he respected Tory politicians. Most of the ones he really liked were Labour ones - or ex-Labour ones. He adored Shirley Williams. LOATHED M. Thatcher. When I suggested maybe the niceness/not niceness (his definition) of people reflected their politics, he couldn't seem to see it. Cynic? Yes and no. Very odd. When I turned left at university he said 'oh you'll grow out of it.' I didn't. But like you, having marched, campaigned etc etc, I'm weary of it. 'Here we go again.' Not least having to start all over again to recover earlier gains. `BLOODY THATCHER. A relief having someone to blame though. Blair will do for now. But he's minor.
Granny P, how interesting about your Dad, and good for him that he admitted to finding some of his political opponents nice people. I would once have responded just as you did. Sadly, my experience doesn't bear this out. I only worked with Labour politicians (and their counterparts from around the world) and most of them were emphatically NOT nice, in fact some of those I found most objectionable were the most radical/uncompromising/feminist - everything I most admired. Maybe being a beleaguered minority is bad for the personality! Shirley Williams, I can believe.
Nothing pains me more than discovering cynicism in myself, havng fought against it for so mnay years, so I've got much sympathy for what you say here. I too was left cold by the Live 8 hoopla, mainly because it is still just so removed from real understanding and genuine sharing. Perhaps it's the best we can hope for in these media- and celebrity-driven times - and that is very discouraging. As for the radical feminists, I know what you mean. As I get older, I find myself valuing really good, kind people more than almost anything else. The fact that they still exist almost everywhere, across all boundaries and beliefs, does keep the cynicism somewhat at bay.