This is a cross-post by Twll Dun
When a major cultural icon passes away, it’s generally customary to say a few words, if you are someone in high office. David Cameron, being Prime Minister, popped up with this:
It’s probably a little blandly polished for my liking. But, you know what? I think it’s broadly true. Cameron is of an age that he would have imbibed mass culture around him, and I’ve no doubt that he – he has ears, after all – would enjoy some Bowie numbers.
This didn’t stop the Twitterati leaping up to basically accuse him of insincerity and showmanship. Of course, if he hadn’t said a word, he would have been attacked for that. As it is, he’s attacked for capitalising somehow. I don’t understand the logic. He’s won his final general election, he won’t be Prime Minister by the time the next one arrives, and even if he was planning on staying, I don’t think there is a vital demographic that will be swayed by the fact he paid tribute to David Bowie 4 years ago.
Similarly, George Osborne paid tribute. Again, a brief message:
There’s very little in this one could question truly. Osborne is known to be a music fan (an NWA aficionado, of all things). He’s of the right age. What is there to doubt?
This was probably one of the politest responses Osborne received from the nay-sayers but also one of the most baffling.
This is David Bowie, right? Spent the 70s alternating between talk of the Nietzschian superman, the need for a fascist leader, and dabbling with Crowley and The Golden Dawn. Man, I love his music and everything but seriously, that’s not a liberal-left manifesto for you.
Similarly, if one went down the alley of talking about Bowie’s appeal and image as the King of the freaks and weirdos, well, OK, but what precisely were those weirdos defining themselves against? A stultifyingly conformist consensus, where the centre of gravity was very much on the statist centre-left.
The point of the above is not to make the claim for a Bowie of the right. I wouldn’t do that just as much as I wouldn’t make a claim for a Bowie of the left. It’s simply to point out that like all great artists, you have your own Bowie, and his own personal politics (nebulous and amorphous as they often were) were dwarfed by your reading of him. He both manipulated his image to the nth degree and at the same time allowed you to read into him. Not a blank canvas, more an abstract work of art.
This post isn’t really about Bowie, to be honest. He was a great artist and I felt a sense of loss when I heard the news, but it isn’t about him.
It’s more about a tendency that – or feels as though it does, at the very least – grows ever more pronounced. The tendency is currently strongest on my side of the political landscape, but I can remember a time when it held sway over my opposite numbers and I have no doubt it will again.
The tendency is for othering our political opponents. Dehumanising them. Demonising them.
I’ve indulged in a fair bit of criticism in this blog of the Corbyn leadership and perhaps sometimes I’ve overstepped the mark, and if so, mea culpa. I’ll try to be more measured in my critique. But currently the left (and, again, I’m entirely certain next time around the right will indulge in this tendency, and I’ll try and call them out on this, but this is my side indulging in it at present) seems utterly convinced that Tory politicians are on this planet to do evil. No human emotion is allowed them.
David Cameron is so venal he uses his son’s death as camouflage for selling off the NHS. They kill people, deliberately, through benefits sanctions and austerity. They bomb the Middle East out of bloodlust and imperial vanity, for oil and for global power. And they pretend to have opinions on the deaths of musicians because, oh, I don’t know, poll ratings? And so on, and so forth.
There is another way to approach this. That is to say Cameron’s policies are wrong headed. That he is blinded by the lens of ideology. That he is incompetent or foolish. That for all you know, he may be a perfectly decent human being who wants the best for the world but he is disconnected from what it is like to be a low paid worker struggling to find housing, relying on in work benefits.
It is, I admit, a tougher battle to fight – you will have to marshal your evidence and your arguments. You will have to prove your case. There is none of the easy satisfaction of the sneer and the snark, the accusation of malice or corruption.
It is, however, the way the left will win again. Nor by strawmanning your opponents arguments but by steelmanning them.
Assume they are acting in good faith and win the argument against their best arguments, not the easy tap-in goal in front of the home crowd but the grimly fought away match in the pouring rain.
And besides, it’s cleaner, less corrosive to the body politic, and leaves you feeling better about yourself. Perhaps try it?