A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here.
Spring equinox 2021
Hello all – here’s hoping Sping is twitching wherever you are.
I’m recording the audiobook of William Blake Vs The World next week. This will involve travelling by train and going into London – my first ‘work’ travel for over a year. Being active again is a strange thing to contemplate – during the long weeks of this last lockdown, it felt like spring would never come, and that the world would never open up again. But suddenly the day arrives when it’s time to come out of your chrysalis and there’s nothing you can really do about it except see how your wings look.
If you were of a mind to pre-order this audiobook before it is recorded, that would make it all the more worthwhile. It’s up on audible now.
Something I wrote for the Big Issue years ago, and which I had completely forgotten about, resurfaced on my Twitter this week. I won’t lie, when I saw the headline I did laugh. The article was light and jokey, because the basic idea was seen as outrageous back then. It was not the sort of notion that was allowed out in polite society. I was just being a mischievous cheeky fella, really, as is sometimes necessary.
I think it’s the inclusion of the word ‘just’ that makes the headline.
If you have a minute, it’s worth a quick read. It’s my argument for a maximum wealth law. I was joking, sort of, at the time. Looking at it again, I realise I was unfairly harsh on Albania and Yemen. But I won’t lie, even with the benefit of hindsight I am not able to find fault with the argument. I wonder now how this idea strikes people a few years later, here in 2021.
Here’s why I ask – For all the woes associated with the networked world, one of the great things about it is that people who have traditionally been denied a voice are now being heard. This has been most evident through campaigns like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, as well as giving a voice to the trans community.
But there is another group, beyond gender and race, that has not yet broken through or been heard. This concerns issues of privilege and wealth, and the extent to which society is structured to favour the haves over the have-nots. If deeper awareness of this did become the next big wave of cultural change, demographics alone dictate it would be massive.
Our current situation is best illustrated by Netflix’s big hit series Bridgerton. This takes 21st century attitudes to race and gender and paints the eighteenth century with them, to great success. To the young generation it is aimed at, the way it deals with female agency and diverse casting makes complete sense. In terms of attitudes to wealth and privilege, however, there have been no changes made at all. There is no thought for the servants toiling away while the main families live in luxury. The issue of how those families obtained their wealth is never questioned. It is assumed that the audience will identify with the protagonists, when in all likelihood our great-great-great grandparents were those working away below stairs. As such, Bridgerton is, more or less, a fair summation of how cultural attitudes in the twenty-first century have developed, so far.
There is a huge amount of research which shows the negative impact inequality has on society – I won’t rehash these arguments there, but suffice to say they seem pretty convincing. So far, this hasn’t translated into a mass awakening of privilege-based awareness. I wonder, though, if we might be seeing the first shoots of one? The Wall Street Bets/Gamestop saga last month was interesting in this respect. As you’ll recall, a bunch of individual investors ganged up online in order to buy Gamestop stock, with the intention of ruining major hedge funds that had massively bet against the company.
If you’re read my Future Starts Here book (currently only £1.99 on Kindle!), you’ll probably recognise the metamodern way this was done as a joke, whilst simultaneously also being perfectly serious. But more interesting, perhaps, is that those attacking the hedge fund included both right-wing libertarians and left-wing anti-capitalists. Both groups were aware of how the system is structured to favour big investors over little ones, and saw this as unfair. In all the drama, no-one spoke out in support of the hedge funds. No-one attempted to justify their existence or what they do. The left and the right joining together to attack big finance was clearly something new.
Whether this will be the start of something larger, I don’t know. But it might not take much for wealth and privilege to join race and gender as major issues in the great ongoing cultural realignment.
The worldview of the 20th Century was largely Lovecraftian – people were powerless isolated individuals at the mercy of incomprehensible cosmic forces. Lovecraft was famously so racist that he managed to other the entire universe. This made sense to people raised passively in front of television, but it makes little sense to the generation raised online. They understand that they are a valid part of a huge self-regulating network, and as a result feedback loops and consequences make immense inequalities hard to hide and impossible to justify. Those whose privilege does harm to others can expect a reaction. Perhaps all that it will need is for a clear memeable notion to spread – such as the idea that to be a billionaire is unforgivable, or that to hoard excessive wealth is shameful.
As I write this, the following tweet from mighty Lisa Lovebucket of the Teesside Arts Lab just flashed up:
There is a shift in perspective in that tweet that is hard to argue with.
At the moment, elite schools seem to be a flashpoint – Netflix’s docudrama series Operation Varsity Blues about the US Universities admissions scandal is about to launch, and the accounts of rape culture at Westminster and far too many other English public schools are making harrowing reading. It’s getting increasingly difficult to deny the extent to which these elite schools are churning out pupils emotionally unfit for the 21st century.
Whether all these things find the right story to coallesce around and become a mass movement is another matter, of course. But it’s worth keeping an eye on this subject over the next year or so – we’ll see if anything grows.
On April 25th I’m doing an online Journey to Nutopia event, in which I’ll talk about my next book with Michelle Olley and others – there’s no online link for this yet, but hopefully there will be one soon. Tomorrow’s Journey to Nutopia event should be unmissable – RAW Power, a Robert Anton Wilson night with Daisy Campbell and Rasa from Hilaritas Press.
One of the unexpected things I’ve been sent since the last newsletter was a 7″ single by Dreihasenbild – dark ambient Finnish folk, from Texas. I feel that a good number of subscribers to this newsletter have room in their lives for dark ambient Finnish folk (from Texas), so I’ll leave you with this – Verikuu sulkavan yli.
Until next time!