One point five, still alive. The apparent political disaster of the Copenhagen climate talks left me unmoved; the apparent political success at Paris leaves me feeling the same way. That is not because I do not care about potentially catastrophic climate change (though the issue bores me to tears), a big clean-up that doesn’t move us forward per se — although it has obviously promoted rapid development of renewables — and the potential democratisation and universalisation of energy generation.

One’s lack of enthusiasm is prompted partly by the fact that a lot of this roller-coaster of despair and hope seems premised on the idea that we might avoid major, transformative climate change over the next century, and that we have to simply prepare for that — culturally and psychologically, as much as organisationally. The belief we could avoid it — rather than simply limit to serious instead of catastrophic — appears to involve a belief that, at some point, moments of collective rationality appear in international relations. For a corrective to this, see Europe, 1914. Copenhagen seemed a false disaster, Paris a false breakthrough.

As has been pointed out, it is politically useful — there is now a commitment to hold nations to a rallying point good for a decade worth of momentum-building. But it is only useful for that. There still remains no movement or strategy such as drove, say, the labour and socialist movements in the early 20th century. Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything is comprehensive and convincing; it should also exist in a 40-page version, which can be sent around/handed out/printed in poster form, etc. There should be a simple book that refutes the denialists, argument by argument; there isn’t, a quarter of a century after denialism began. Every activist should know enough of the science to refute the major denialist conneries — the spurious “pause”, the land-station temperature boondoggle, the albedo excuse. They don’t, because too many are from a humanities background and won’t do the hard work.

From now till whenever, the issue will be won, if it is to be won honestly, by convincing one person at a time, in what the old Marxist Tony Cliff called “the primitive accumulation of cadres” — the work spent arguing around people close to you, convincing them there is now no alternative to the truth of climate change and the need for global structural change to deal with it. There’s a lot of image-based propaganda around, a lot of expert discourse, a lot of lobbying. But there’s a missing middle to the climate movement, in part a result of an elite’s reliance on their trajectory as a rising dominant class to solve the political issues. Paris, in the summer, when it sizzles. Just not at six degrees above.

Cruzing for a bruising. With the US election malarkey heading towards a slowdown, of sorts, for the holiday season — we can’t call it Christmas, ’cause there’s a war on Christmas, the Muslims have won — the field appears to be shaking out further. Jeb Bush, barring miracles, is all but gone, his national ranking at 4%, and his Iowa and New Hampshire rankings at around 5-7%. Crazy Ben Carson has dipped back to around third, at 12-16%, across various states. Marco Rubio, seen as the rising hope of the GOP establishment, has fallen back to fourth, at around 10%. And Donald Trump continues to rule the roost, winning not only the national polls, but every state poll individually. His numbers are running at 25-30%. The longed-for collapse of the Donald’s numbers hasn’t occurred, and it’s difficult to see what he could do or say that would cause them to, in the five weeks after Christm- the holidays, before the Iowa primary on February 3.

So now all attention has turned to the new second-runner, Ted Cruz, the Texas senator once seen as a nativist and government saboteur far beyond the pale, and now taking on the mantle of establishment candidate. Cruz (born in Canada) has risen to prominence on fierce anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric, calls to build a wall on the Mexican border, denunciation of the deal with Iran to stop WMD development. He’s criticised fellow Republicans for trying to govern, rather than mount an insurgency against the Obama administration. He is, in other words, the spare Trump, the one the Donald’s supporters may surge to when the notion of putting Trump up against Clinton just becomes too ridiculous. The Republican primaries would — the party establishment firmly hopes — become a contest between Cruz and Rubio. Cruz represents a nativism that might have a chance of winning if sufficient disgruntled white voters can be tempted over from the other side, or from non-voting. Rubio represents a more inclusive approach — supportive of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants — that might grab a good section of the Hispanic vote (who voted for Reagan in large numbers). But his selection would also dismay the party’s nativist groupings, to the point of non-support — or active withdrawal to a third party. I wonder who could lead it?

Clemgate. Clementine Ford has a right to deal with the vile online abuse hurled against her in any way she sees fit — even acknowledging that the question of whether you should get someone sacked for such is one with many dimensions. One might also observe that there are difficulties in finding any strategy to deal with it, if you stick within the frame of “social” media itself. Surely it’s obvious by now what the truth of social media — especially Twitter — is? It desocialises. The distancing form of the media abolishes the inhibition of aggressive impulses that would otherwise occur in face-to-face, or one-to-one (i.e. phone) conversations. The person tweeting alone, to the world, or as a DM, is thus in a space between the outside and the inside — i.e. social life and the thoughts in their head. So of course a stream of vile things will come out, especially from certain types of men, because the vile things are continuously circulating in their heads. Perhaps this will diminish as the technology ages and the novelty of such a space wears off — just as cities started to become less violent as people became more accustomed to living cheek-by-jowl, and less eager to take advantage of the fact that you could reach out and stab someone in the throat because they happened to be annoying you.

But it’s possible that the aggression won’t cease. Twitter’s function, or one of them, has become that of an exhaust valve for the substantial degree of social repression we have to exercise in everyday life — in public, in the workplace, etc, by means of codes of conduct, non-discrimination, non-harassment, etc. In earlier eras, a lot of this was contained in external codes like manners and formality (the appeal of Mad Men was in part a nostalgia for this — the clothes, fixed gender roles in an office, etc, were simply tracks one ran along in human relations).

There’s also a class and gender function — Twitter is open to a lot of men who feel sidelined by the new economy and culture, and identify rising professional women as the manifestation of that. That’s doubly so when responding to someone whose writing is heavily prescriptive on such issues.

Such men, and quite a few women as well, groove on the anonymity, the disinhibition — and the knowledge that the communication will reach its target.

Responding to this product of social atomisation, at the level of social atomisation, is unlikely to diminish it, whatever particular strategy is chosen. Why would any counter-act at that level change the frequency of occurrence, since it merely confirms the process and the effect? There might be a political-moral case for heavier regimes of regulation (and a case against as well), but as a practical matter they are simply going to add more of the sort of social power that a lot of these people believe themselves to be replying to, in a sort of punk, transgressive way.

The only way to counter the effects of atomisation and desocialisation is to de-atomise and resocialise social life. How that is done in the arena of “social” media remains to be seen.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey