This, from Pete Seeger, is as powerful as it always was:
This, from Billy Bragg, equally so:
So which side are you on? Or is that none any more?
I meant – didn’t you know? – Pete Seeger or Billy Bragg …
Actually, I didn’t. But all the big talk, all the chatter that fills our waking days, seems these days to revolve around gadgets, devices, the latest smartphones – and content.
And I guess Seeger and Bragg have been reduced to … well … that. You know. YouTube videos.
That’s what really fires us up. That’s what really gets us excited. A tweet I saw flit past me this morning laid it out perfectly:
Take away their rights, spy on them, lie to them & they don’t get mad. Mess with their gaming servers and they will be furious. #SadButTrue
I realise, now, the purpose of the Third Way. Or maybe, less conspiratorially, the consequence of the Third Way. Maybe those who propagated this way actually did so in pretty good faith. They thought the future lay in choosing from this and that: from combining and picking & mixing trains of contradicting thought – thought which might fruitfully clash and make for better, more inclusive, times.
A kind of cultural dissonance or rub, as I have been known to suggest over the years. Sparks may fly when difference encounters itself. This is good. Fire has kept us warm for millennia. Without sparks, fire would never have existed. Without fire, the warmth of human imagination and creativity would never have had the necessary security to function.
So this consequence of the Third Way I mention above? It disintegrates our ability to choose political sides. It almost makes us wonder if choosing political sides is a simple adornment to far more serious process: like sitting down at a table in a down-market restaurant and selecting either breaded mushrooms or nachos. Who cares either way? The real stuff – the only stuff worth bothering about – is the steak that stumbles out gloriously afterwards.
No matter that giving little thought to a starter affects our ability to properly enjoy the main. Or that a main’s sides – well combined – make a sum of the parts much more of an achievement than the individual ingredients will ever become on their own.
The Third Way made it gradually more impossible for us to know how to choose political sides, and so – almost psychosis-wise – made us permanently anxious about taking not only brave decisions but any decisions at all.
As Paulo Coelho wrote in his book, “Brida”:
You had to take risks, follow some paths and abandon others.
That, precisely that, is what pick & mix politics has made so difficult for us to achieve these days: we think we can have it all; we don’t have to lose anything; on the place-mats of modern civilisation everything and everyone must fit.
Choice becomes something that limits itself to deciding on a Full HD TV: 39 inch or 42 – which shall we go for? How difficult this is … let’s consult a consumer guide and let them take the decision on our behalf.
Or then again, maybe, if we need to choose a political leader, let’s do an online test and see who we most align with – or bloody well not!
Well. Perhaps some of us continue to believe what Coelho consistently does; I’d certainly like to think it were possible. I’d like to believe we can still take risks.
But – inevitably! – there’s another side to the whole biz of choosing sides: what about those with the most to lose from not choosing? What about the rich and unfamous – that just-about-anonymous lot who love to enjoy their limited time on the planet in unexpected privacy?
Do they choose sides? Absolutely! The grand achievement of the secretly moneyed classes is to make us wonder if they aren’t basically unhappy with their situation; for us to conclude that having money is a complex matter and it’s better to continue surviving without.
All the time we live these mostly miserable lives we prefer to live, we aim to stick with, we determinedly struggle under, lives during which we strive to maintain our levels of supreme dissatisfaction with the idea that comfort and material wealth can solve any of our deep-seated problems, we learn little by little not to choose those sides Seeger and Bragg are so clear about.
We learn little by little to forget about taking risks.
We learn little by little to want to leave nothing behind.
We learn little by little to want to have it all – and by so doing, we lose just about everything.