Mark Fisher makes some really important points in this interesting blog post, The Happiness of Margaret Thatcher. The stuff about ‘outrage’ – and the important role papers like the Daily Mail play in creating it – seems particularly relevant. As he says, ‘Outrage is not merely impotent, it is actively counterproductive, feeding the very enemy we claim to want to defeat.’ It engenders weariness (‘we wake up in the morning … [and ask] what are we supposed to be outraged about today?’) – and I’d say this is part of a more general class war weariness.
It’s also an example of the way we (the Left, most broadly understood) have been drawn onto enemy terrain. Not only the discourse of ‘welfare’ (‘faring well’ is now bad, is it?), but also that of the economy and growth. Just think of the furore amongst the Left – and I admit it’s captivated me as well, but then I’m a professional economist as well as a communist, so that’s my excuse – over the ‘spreadsheet scandal’. It’s not just a furore: some liberal-left commentators have expressed jubilation that Reinhart and Rogoff’s results have been shown to be flawed. As Fisher says, it’s a ‘liberal leftist compulsion – rife in social media – to point to superficial contradictions in conservative ideology. “‘They believe in small government… until it comes time to control women’s bodies!’ Zing!”’
The question, as ever, is what should we do then? Fisher’s conclusion I think complements George Caffentzis’s argument that ‘speed is not is enough for political effect, momentum (mass times velocity) is necessary as well’ – an argument we repeat in our ‘On shock and organisation’ chapter in this book – and our interest in subjectivities and the affect of winning:
We must engage, just not on its terms. Instead of the ‘hot’ response of outrage (with its immediate nugget of satisfaction, achieved at the cost of a long-term political impotence), we need a cooler stance of appraising the enemy’s weapons and strategies, and thinking about how to counter, overcome and ultimately outwit them. Is a left-wing version of the Mail possible? If not, how could we construct a discursive hub that is as successful for the left as the Mail is for the right? This needs to be part of a broader strategy of devoting our energy and resources to goals and projects that will deliver change in the long term, breaking us out of the short-termism that has become endemic in the age of Twitter. What we need to overturn is something that has been the case since before Thatcher’s rise to power – the tendency for reactionary political forces to be pro-active, and for progressives to be reactive.