The Gatwick Airport Interview: Mary Harrington - Horse-Girl on TERF Island
The Reactionary Feminist on Bio-Libertarianism vs. Bio-Realism, the Sexual Marketplace, Satanic America, Liberalism and Post-Liberalism, & Bongland 10s
Historically, my encounters with English women tend to all go the same way: they are very drunk and loud, belligerent, but still make themselves easily available. It’s usually after around 10 minutes that we realize that we are in the market for other goods and she will angrily tell me that she only is interested in sexy black men anyway, while I explain to them that Winston Churchill was a war criminal.
This time was no exception. I met a very fake-tanned Mary Harrington at Gatwick Airport, already drunk with her female friends even though it was only 6:10am. They were on their way to Magaluf, or parts thereabout. Mary reluctantly took the time to sit with me for this interview before boarding her flight.
It's late May 1997, and you and your lot are on your way to South Croydon to check out a set by LTJ Bukem (because one of your male suitors liked to read Select Magazine and thought that the idea of "Progressive Drum and Bass" sounded very cool, even though it was absolute dross in retrospect). You are wearing very colourful and loud baggy jeans that are three sizes too large for your thin frame, a too tight baby-tee, that ridiculous oversized chain from your belt buckle to your back pocket, and a whistle around your neck. The MDMA threatens to kick in just a bit too soon, but that's okay....you can handle whatever comes your way. After all, you have been granted acceptance into Oxford and are looking to celebrate joining the elite of Cool Britannia. Your girlfriends are rather bourgeois in their tastes: secretly enjoying The Spice Girls and wanting to snog the foppish Hugh Grant. Not for you, Mary. After all, you are a Steiner Girl, the product of a robust education. For you, it has to be a man of wit and intellect.....of elegance and charm….a father figure. For Mary Harrington, it's Stephen Fry. How crushed were you when the man of your dreams went on to marry his own son?
Not nearly as crushed as you will be to discover that 1) I went to my first rave in 1998, after arriving at Oxford, and that it wasn’t drum n’ bass at all but the far more cringe psychedelic trance; also 2) my most persistent teenage crush was not Stephen Fry but Axl Rose, which is even more cringe (though by no means my most cringe crush ever, which is so cringe I will never divulge, least of all to you); and 3) by my late teens I was a permanently scowling skinhead with multiple piercings who read Nietzsche in the bath, so no one invited me anywhere, let alone to an LTJ Bukem set in South Croydon.
You are, admittedly, a Horse-Girl. You belong to the Horsey Set. This has immense ramifications and allows for all sorts of wild speculation. We will be discussing pipelines (and slippery slopes) later in this interview, but I cannot help to bring up the Horse-Girl-to-Journalist Pipeline as you must be at least the fifth example that I have now encountered. Does sitting up high on a horse lead directly to the smug, self-satisfaction that is required to be a part of the Disinformation Class? Can men compete?
Being a rugged Central European, you may not be aware that in England there are in fact two kinds of Horse Girl. The sort you describe is Type 1, the Pony Club type: all coltish legs and aristocratic cheekbones, a generous clothing allowance and a mummy with a Range Rover who drives them to Hunter Trials. If you’re currently having sordid thoughts about Horse Girls, I guarantee you’re having them about a Type 1.
The Type 2 Horse Girl is not like that at all. She’s deeply socially awkward, and feels like she’s doing adolescence all wrong. She works unpaid every Saturday at the local stables, ostensibly in exchange for lessons but really so she can spend all day with animals rather than having to talk to anyone. She may graduate to sharing the care of a horse with another Type 2. If she didn’t live near a riding stables, the Type 2 Horse Girl of my youth would be into Huggy Bear and self-harm; today she’d be into Phoebe Bridgers and identifying as non-binary. I hope I’ve made my meaning clear by now.
If the journos you’re thinking of sailed gracefully from Oxford (via a leg-up from a close relative) to a career writing fun, frothy pieces about wedding shoes or being sick on your glamorous godmother, they were probably Type 1 Horse Girls. I was a Type 2, and never imagined I’d end up falling accidentally into journalism aged 40, after 20 years in the copywriting salt-mines and a stint as a stay-at-home mum.
"The beauty of the English Rose shall never perish from this Earth." I think I've mangled a line from poetry or literature, or have combined a few into something new. Regardless of which is true, we must march on. Back in the early days of the internet, there was this Front Hole Person who would irritate many of us footie fans discussing the English Premiership. She claimed to be the 'most well-known female Spurs (Tottenham, a team in Northern London) fan in the world". Naturally, no one listened to her nor paid attention to her when she discussed the game. But she did leave us with one bit of insight: when discussing the beauty of the English Rose, she explained to us that English women all have proper and lovely bits, but when you put them together the end product is rather lacking. This is what is now known as the "Bongland 10". The Bongland 10 is completely unaware/oblivious as to how ridiculous she looks in public when she tarts herself up to Slapper perfection. Yet she has an iron will and determination to show off her lady parts to all comers, and a level of self-confidence that even Ronaldo could never achieve. Can you illustrate her to us in terms of class, economics, and culture?
Not sure I can contribute much to the anthropology of the Bongland 10 that Alex Kaschuta didn’t already cover. Regardless, I’ll add a few speculative points from the deep cultural history of these islands. Recall that the Anglo character is a hybrid, formed from successive invasions of these islands first by Saxons, then Vikings, then Normans. Now, imagine being an ordinary young woman under these conditions: minding your own business while fully expecting yet another wave of bloodthirsty nutjobs to swarm over the horizon tomorrow. Under those conditions your priority will be having fun while you can, and (sometimes) making the best of terrible sex.
Before I get vigorously cancelled for implying that British women secretly want to be ravaged by tall, warlike Scandi types made swole by rowing and battle (a wholly implausible idea) I’ll suggest a second archetypal form of the Bongland 10: Chaucer’s Wife of Bath. She’s been married several times, her husbands all seem to pre-decease her for some reason, and she’s now having a blast going on the 14th century equivalent of cruise holidays and generally not being bossed about. The Wife of Bath is the rightful Pokemon evolution of the Bongland 10: a cheerful no-nonsense woman in middle age, who likes sex, does what she wants, and takes no crap from anyone.
In summary then: the Bongland 10 has tap-roots deep into the cultural history of our islands. The only people who really, truly look down their noses at her are the chinless descendants of England’s Norman aristocracy, who see her as someone with greater capacity to enjoy life (and wear a lime green minidress in horizontal rain while chugging pints from a plastic cup) than they could manage in a trillion years.
HOT SEXXX and the British Class System
Speaking of class: without understanding class dynamics in England, one cannot at all understand the country and its culture. Yet so, so many foreigners, particularly North Americans, are rather ignorant when it comes to this phenomenon even though it's telegraphed throughout English culture, whether in older literature or plays, or more recently, television, film, and music. The Pulp song "Common People" immediately comes to my Gen X mind, but it's only one of so, so many examples. The question that I am trying to route myself towards asking you revolves around what I see as the abdication of the Middle and Upper Middle classes in their traditional role of shepherding the lower English classes who seem to be in social free-fall. They are becoming (or have become) almost feral. I think about the grooming gangs of the Midlands and further north, and besides the immigration aspect, there is the largely overlooked element as to why these very, very young teen girls are drinking and drugging with men twice and three times their own age and how they have found themselves in a position to do so? Where did the controls go?
The basis for my theories about pretty much everything are ‘memes plus material conditions’. I argued here that elites abandoned bourgeois hypocrisy in the 19th century – largely at the instigation of John Stuart Mill – in the sincere belief that liberating people who are too smart to need moral codes would be worth the risk posed by stripping these codes from everyone else.
History rather suggests Mill was wrong, but meanwhile we’ve been left with an elite committed to the moral project of abolishing social norms, while resolutely ignoring (or straightforwardly economically benefiting from) the carnage resulting among people less well-equipped than they are to externalise social costs or mitigate unexpected negative side-effects.
If that’s the meme, on material conditions my suspicion is that mass media is a key factor in this process. And mass media destroyed elite paternalism by ripping away the veil of aristocratic mystery: after all, the ruling class never lives up to whatever moral code they’re busy imposing on the rest of us. They’ve always fornicated, always lied, always stolen. That doesn’t make the moral code itself less important; but when there’s a national press (or, now, internet) there to point out every time they’re hypocrites, it’s much harder to sustain the faith that our supposed moral betters actually abide by whatever they’re telling us all to do.
Where do we go from here? One possibility is the emergence of an elite that simply doesn’t care when they’re called on their hypocrisy. Last week’s Met Gala pictures suggest this is already happening. Whether we have much time for the morals they’re now handing down is another question.
A culture of Pleasure Maximization seems to be dominant in your country. Yet pleasure and joy are two very different concepts that might seem similar to a young person, but with maturity comes the realization that they are not. Dopamine, particularly dopamine receptors, are central to pleasure. You have previously discussed what you term the "Dopamine Machine" and how we are increasingly slaves to it.
One focus of user experience design is hacking the brain’s reward centres, leveraging the dopamine hit of each positive response so we stay hooked and compulsively engaging with social media platforms. I have very few vices left these days, but one I still haven’t kicked is smartphone doomscrolling. I’d love to have the moral strength to buy a ‘dumb phone’ but I just can’t do it yet. I’m too hooked. Twitter occupies almost exactly the same niche for me as smoking once did.
Pervasive internet porn is the most intense, parasitic and exploitative form of the dopamine-industrial complex. When you engage with it, you don’t just get a dopamine hit, you get an actual orgasm. The rewiring is speedy and powerful: Pascal Gobry has written about its neurobiological effects, and they are not pretty. ‘Dopamine fasting’ has been reported as a trend among tech bros, in the name of greater agency and self-mastery. In my view the #nofap guys are doing the same thing, albeit further down the social hierarchy.
And it’s no coincidence that a culture of self-indulgence that wants us all in hock to the dopamine machine paints the #nofappers as morally suspect losers. But they aren’t losers. They’re pushing heroically back against the entire massed weight of a culture of dissolution, in pretty much the only way left an ordinary guy: asserting their freedom to decline the offer of slavery to the dopamine machine.
The liberalization of sex since the Sexual Revolution has created a saturated market, albeit a rather lopsided one in which a small percentage of males are hoarding the vast bulk of heterosexual intercourse (while gay men now live in a pharma-backed and state-subsidized culture of plenty). The commodification of the individual has allowed for 'sex positivity' to gain acceptance, and 'sex work' alongside it. Moral restrictions have fallen to the wayside, and borders blurred. For instance, you detail the Instagram-to-OnlyFans Pipeline, a slippery slope of sorts.
Yet you also claim that there is a rise of 'sex negativity' among teenage girls. This is no doubt in reaction to what you have described above. RETVRN (to Tradition) is a meme, and we can never go home, but public morality has been historically shown to be cyclical in nature.
Your girl for discussing the coming sexual counterrevolution is Katherine Dee, aka Default Friend, who’s been documenting this for some time. But I made a small contribution here with the argument that the sexual revolution is (as ever) meme plus material conditions. After all, the 1960s was not the first period in history where there’s been a push for looser sexual morals. But the key difference was the availability of reliable contraception: a material change that for the first time ever allowed sexual behaviour to be uncoupled from its biological consequences, thus unprecedentedly enabling women to have sex like men.
Two things have since become increasingly apparent: Firstly, this revolution didn’t (as some hoped) result in a free-form flourishing of polymorphous sensuality that would liberate all of us for neverending jouissance. Sex is too visceral and important for that. The first Playboy club opened within a year of the Pill being legalised: sex was promptly re-instrumentalised by the market, and its so-called ‘liberation’ can be more accurately described as a death-blow to those social norms that had previously defended sexuality from commerce. A friend recently told me that when she confessed to her boomer mum that she once worked as a cam girl, her mum just applauded her for managing to extract some value from men. The logical endpoint of this dynamic is the pornographic dopamine machine, which hurts both men and women in different and complementary ways.
Secondly, women have increasingly realised that reordering sex to commerce – or just fucking around in the style of the most lubricious men – is a poor fit for women’s evolved preferences and actual life priorities (the majority of us still want kids, despite what the NYT wants you to believe). Despite all the best efforts of pill-pushers, boomers, porn barons, Vogue and Cosmo and all the rest of it, a majority of women still yearn for tender lovemaking and long-term partnership and babies. (I suspect a majority of men actually do as well.) Add it all up, and we’re starting to see a backlash against ‘sex-positivity’ in favour of interpersonal intimacy. In my view this is good and necessary, though it will almost certainly over-correct and bring its own unexpected costs.
Portion of the Interview Where I Hand Mary the Shovel To Dig Her Own Grave
Your sisters in the USA have not managed to put up a fight against the Trans Movement like you and your fellow Brits have done so up until this point in time. British Feminists have battled so viciously against this new trend that the UK has been christened "TERF Island". The arguments for and against on both sides of the Atlantic mirror one another, but why have British Feminists been able to push back harder in comparison to Americans?
As ever: memes plus material conditions. A number of factors feed into the uniqueness of Terf Island, not least the fact that American-style individualism is what you get when there’s a Protestant revolution but no one reins in its excesses with a dose of royal restoration and (after a bit more arguing) constitutional monarchy. Or to put it another way, when I look at the vulnerability of a culture built on radical individualism to frankly unhinged ideas about our capacity to self-define radically in opposition even to our own bodies, I’ve never been more glad we booted the Puritans out.
But it’s not just that England managed to whip the really loony Nonconformists into shape a little, or just evict them. Our legal and cultural environment is very different to America. For one thing, Terf Island has ‘Prosecco 4Chan’, also known as Mumsnet, a forum where Britain’s women congregate after graduating from life as a Bongland 10 into the sunny uplands of motherhood. Being the spiritual descendants of the Wife of Bath, this group of course has little time for dumb shit like the claim that ‘woman’ is an inner feeling and nothing to do with dangly bits.
We also have the Equality Act, which (for all its faults) helps to defang some of the more extreme activism, not least by defining ‘gender reassignment’ and ‘sex’ separately as protected characteristics. And the financial and medical incentives for escalating adoption of gender medicine are different within insurance-based and socialised healthcare systems.
Where medical care is insurance-based, there’s an obvious incentive by providers to keep expanding the scope of provision, and the complexity of treatments; where it’s taxpayer-funded, the opposite incentive applies. So it’s not a coincidence that the approach to youth gender medicine is considerably more cautious in countries where healthcare is funded out of taxation. This isn’t to say the NHS doesn’t have plenty of flaws – it does – but in this respect at least its systemic instincts are quite conservative.
Is it true that there is a "Nazi to Trans Activist" pipeline. Is this a wild exaggeration to draw attention to TERF arguments? Or is there something actually here that almost everyone is not privy to?
I’ve only actually seen one former Nazi memelord embrace life as a trans rights activist, though I’ve heard of others. I suspect people who go for one form of deranged Very Online subculture are often prone to ping-ponging between them all, sometimes at great speed. Anyway, all internet rabbit-holes eventually lead to sissy hypnoporn, so maybe it’s not just the Nazis who end up there.
I have tried to put myself in the shoes of feminists these past few years, and what I see is major advances for the cause (whether you believe these advances are positive or negative is irrelevant to the point here) that have been sandbagged by law and culture, only to see them threatened by a meteor-like event in the form of Trans Activism. Everything that has been achieved can now so easily be upended and overturned by biological men with a chip on their shoulder and with all sorts of hormones injected into their bodies. TERFs, in particular, now find themselves de facto on the side of many reactionaries when it comes to gender and sexual relations, a situation that very few saw coming. The biggest threat comes from Gender Ideology and what you refer to as "Meat Lego".
Trying to classify the arguments we’re having in the biotech age in ‘left’ and ‘right’ boxes is meaningless, because it’s all biopolitics now and the old boxes simply don’t make sense any more. The key emerging fight, as I see it, is between bio-libertarians and bio-realists. Bio-libertarians think, broadly speaking, that there should be no limits whatsoever on our right to manipulate the natural world, whether ‘out there’ via burning up natural resources, strip-mining, weather engineering or whatever, or ‘in there’ via remodelling animal or human bodies. Bio-realists assert rather that there are indeed natural limits, that we as organisms exist in dialogue with those limits, and that we should build our culture with half an eye on them both at micro and macro scale.
The contours of this fight are only gradually becoming clear, but the most extreme bio-libertarians are those transhumanists who want to re-imagine humans as beings of pure identity, and our bodies as meat to be remodelled at will. I describe this vision as ‘Meat Lego Mindset’, and it’s increasingly clear that this worldview is bad news for women.
If you see no natural limits to meddling with the human organism obviously you’ll want to kick off by meddling with growing new lives, which is very much women’s beat at present. And once you go there, you’re into the terrain of extra-uterine gestation, using women as spare parts for uterus transplants into trans-identified males, commercial surrogacy and other delightful phenomena all of which seem to me less than ideal for many of the women involved.
As I mentioned above, TERFs now find themselves in a de facto alliance with icky reactionaries, much like how classic liberals do as well as they perceive radicals from the left threatening their core principles. The temptation of hard rightists such as myself is to let feminists (and classic liberals) reap what they have sown. You have gone many steps further and now describe yourself as a 'reactionary feminist', going so far as to writing a book that makes the 'feminist case for patriarchy'. What is the case? How much of this is a reaction to the Trans Movement? How responsible are the various strands of feminism for your reactionary turn? How big of an impact did getting married and having a child make on your political and philosophical development? You were a radical lefty in your 20s.
On ‘reactionary’, I borrowed that boo-word to describe myself after a lengthy argument with a friend over the political value of the term ‘post-liberal’. At the end of this argument I concluded that my friend was right, and in truth a ‘post-liberal’ is just a reactionary who doesn’t inhale. What ‘reactionary’ actually means as a political programme is harder to define; for me it functions mostly as provocation and placeholder, and if you ask me to be more specific I’ll quote the most literate reactionary of all, the Colombian philosopher Nicolás Gómez Dávila: “The pure reactionary is not a dreamer of abolished pasts, but a hunter of sacred shades on the eternal hills.”
But as well as being a placeholder, I use ‘reactionary’ to state two things: firstly that I don’t believe in progress, and secondly that (as ‘reactionary’ modifies feminism) I don’t believe there’s such a thing as ‘patriarchy’. Or to put it another way, I think the phenomena characterised as ‘patriarchy’ exist, and have often been rubbish for women, but they’re not evidence of some eternal animus of the bepenised for the be-uterus’d. It’s (again) memes plus material conditions: and the core material condition in this case is the reproductive asymmetry of male and female humans and the different pressures (including evolutionary ones) that places us under.
The book I’m now working on discusses all this at greater length. I did briefly consider titling it ‘The Feminist Case for Patriarchy’, though I’m just not enough of a troll to follow through on that, so the working title is now Feminism Against Progress. But inasmuch as I want to make the case for seeing both female- and male-coded social norms throughout history in terms of memes plus material conditions (rather than as trans-historical outworkings of some colossal anti-female conspiracy theory), I suppose it will end up being at least in part an argument for a more charitable reading of some phenomena routinely dismissed as ‘patriarchal’.
I also think we’ve run out of road where it comes to pursuing women’s political interests independent of, or in opposition to men. If we’re to get out of the atomised mess we’re now in, we need to work cooperatively across the sexes to figure out a new settlement capable of resisting the biolibertarians now hard at work installing cyborg theocracy over our heads. We can’t do that if we’re still having stupid arguments about whether or not men gathering away from the presence of women constitutes ‘toxic masculinity’.
As regards leaving the feminists to stew in their own juice, you’re not the first person from your corner of the political compass to say something along the lines of ‘you made your bed ladies, now lie in it’. You’ll hear no dissent from me on the view that much of what’s currently bedevilling feminists is itself the mutant spawn of feminism, and specifically of the mid-century effort to separate ‘sex’ from ‘gender’ in the interests of prying women’s social role away from the presumption that our capacity to birth and raise children was actually an obligation to do so.
But leaving feminists to ‘reap what they sow’ would also be the most colossal self-own. Because what’s happening now is much bigger than just a few feminists getting (as you might view it) their come-uppance. I argued here that the drive to give legal standing to gender self-identification is a wedge campaign for a far more wide-reaching effort to abolish the idea of human nature as such, and mostly serves the bio-libertarian political interests of people who stand to gain from re-engineering human bodies.
That might be biotech firms, or it might be the kind of people who think it’s a great idea to reduce human carbon emissions by genetically engineering humans to be allergic to meat so we’re all happy in the pod eating bugs. Either way, a necessary precondition for embarking on such projects is getting rid of the idea that there’s anything natural, normative or unchangeable about the human body, and the easiest place to start with that is by convincing people that biological sex is an oppressive construct.
More plainly, my view is that trans rights is a deregulatory drive directly comparable to what happened in Big Finance in the 1980s. It’s transhumanism wearing civil rights as a skin suit. If it succeeds, the ramifications will affect all of us. So yeah, I suppose you and your hard-right friends could stand there cheering on the rollout of cyborg theocracy, to own the feminists, but don’t then complain when the bioengineers come for your kids as well.
Right now, whether or not you agree with the TERFs about why biolibertarianism is a bad thing, a handful of radical feminists are Horatius keeping the bridge. If we don’t want Rome overrun by Assyrians, or in this case human-machine hybrids who think treble-masking toddlers is an act of love, I’d say it’s probably more urgent to provide military support and throw down later about whether or not patriarchy is a thing.
You also claim that there is a 'war on love'. Who here is pitted against whom? Is this a conscious war? How is it conducted?
I said ‘war on relationships’ rather than on ‘love’, though in a sense of ‘love’ conceived more widely than just the sexual kind I guess they’re not so different. vIn the heuristic of ‘memes plus material conditions’, in this case the meme is independent selfhood and the key material condition is the internet.
I wrote here about what I call ‘Aella’s Law’, which is to say the power law internet platforms impose on all social forms, stripping away interpersonal structures and institutions and radically centralising both network connections and network benefits. Over the last two decades this power law has gradually overtaken a range of social institutions under the banner of ‘disintermediation’. But the imposition of lockdowns and other restrictions on interpersonal interaction over the last year and a half has radically accelerated the rollout of Aella’s Law across areas of social life that had previously resisted it: churches, local groups, and so on.
Whether it’s calculated or not, the cumulative effect has been a relentless war of attrition on all the ways in which we depend on one another, derive meaning from our relationships to one another, and create shared meaning in collaboration with one another. What increasingly seems to replace these distributed forms of meaning-making is individuals either hyper-focused on a brittle self-created form identity (imagined as independent of others’ perceptions), or else politics as a form of self-expression, focused only on the very biggest scale which as ordinary plebs we can only participate in emptily and without clear political objectives.
Mary on Liberalism and Post-Liberalism
I recently profiled your very, very provocative essay on Satanism, in which you conclude that it is simply the logical end point of liberalism in that it elevates the individual and his or her earthly desires, absent any duty, above that of the collective. You also trace this to the Protestant Reformation. People gave me shit for not pushing back on this.
I’m amused by the idea that it might be me, a mild-mannered facepoasting mum from the Shires, who manages to get you, a notorious Right Wing Twitter Anon, somehow cancelled by an angry moral majority. But yes: my thesis is that modern Satanism is hard to distinguish from the culture in general because a liberalism that rejects grounding in anything greater than selfhood is profoundly Satanic.
You and I may differ in our views on gay and lesbian equality – in my view it’s legitimate for people in same-sex relationships to want to be left alone to live prosocial lives of bourgeois respectability. But I suspect we converge again in our views on what the ‘Pride’ movement has become. That is to say, not the once-modest case for extending bourgeois respectability to include people like my late great-aunt, a staunch Tory and lifelong public servant who lived a blameless existence in Suffolk with her ‘friend’ of many decades, a soft-spoken hairdresser who bore a strong resemblance to Margaret Thatcher. It’s morphed from this into an increasingly pseudo-religious celebration of individual self-definition and pride in all its forms: a profoundly Satanic nexus that now has its own religious symbol (the rainbow flag) and a month-long sacred feast of selfhood every summer.
Anna Khachiyan says that "we are all liberals now", and I think she makes a strong point. You instead claim that all politics now is post-liberal. What do you mean by that?
Obviously I can’t speak for Anna but I suspect that to state ‘we are all liberals now’ is not so different from stating that all politics is post-liberal. Because to be a liberal is to presume something from which we can be liberated; if we’re all liberals, but the liberatory mechanism is still running, then inevitably it’ll turn to liberating us from liberalism itself. All politics is now post-liberal, and all post-liberalism turns out to be different flavours of biopolitics.
I think you can see this post-liberal biopolitics taking a few competing turns at the moment. The subset of conservatism that usually gets called ‘post-liberal’ is in most cases tepid social conservatism with a side order of big-state intervention. In other words, largely tweed-wearing Chesterton-pilled hobbit fantasy. I had some hopes for this vision pre-pandemic, but witnessing what’s happened since early 2020 I’m not sure it has such a great prognosis.
Elsewhere, the steppe-fantasies common among your egg-slonking brethren are another post-liberal vibe. And so is the High Modernist flavoured technocracy favoured by Benjamin Bratton and his monstrous cyborg hive, where human ‘caring’ is re-framed as the act of voluntarily refraining from any intimate contact with others so we can all hygienically interface with the platforms that order and surveil us.
One of my main themes these past few years is how liberalism has taken a rather authoritarian turn, in which the concept of democracy is increasingly defined more narrowly by the powers-that-be, to exclude those who values and policies they reject, even if they engage in what we once accepted as liberal democracy. You have instead focused on 'democracy-like rituals'.
Democracy is screwed, because parents have long since lost interest in raising the kind of children that make functional democratic subjects. You have to be able to withstand a bit of schoolyard bullying to develop the resilience needed for the kind of debate that’s foundational to democracy, and we put a lot of effort into making sure children never experience that. Studies have shown kids raised by helicopter parents are much more likely to prefer governance that’s both therapeutic and authoritarian, and this isn’t really surprising when you think about it. Enough of the kids raised in this way are now adults that it’s starting to move the needle politically.
Also, as David Runciman said in How Democracy Ends, “the information technology revolution has completely altered the terms on which democracy must operate.” If I were feeling really gloomy I’d argue that the tilt away from democracy having any meaningful force began the moment the franchise became universal, as that’s also the point where ever-greater areas of governance started to be outsourced to permanent bureaucracies and thus removed from direct contact with the political process.
A related line of questioning might wonder whether there’s any way round this, given that governing a modern state is simply too complex for even elected politicians to have a very useful grasp of what’s going on, let alone a largely politically disengaged regular voter.
In any case, between the rise of the internet, the bleeding-away of political agency into de-politicised technocracies, and preference of helicopter-parented millennials for cuddly totalitarianism, democracy is toast. This is a done deal; we’re already living in a post-democratic age.
We’re routinely threatened with the spectre of ‘authoritarianism’, always external to our own regime and often, now, conflated with anomalous instances where the democratic process still has an effect on the machinery of power, such as with Brexit. Such events are generally framed as the antithesis of democracy. And post-democracy naturally doesn’t take the form of some kind of overtly authoritarian regime replacing our voting rituals. But the cumulative effect of these trends is that the world is in general more interested in dumb culture war shit, Westminster court politics or voting out the bad dancers on Strictly than it is with getting stuck into dull-but-essential issues like aviation policy or rules of origin regulations for raw meat.
Gen X vs. Gen X
Oasis were shit, except for the first album. Blur were superior in comparison. Ride were criminally underrated. Spiritualized deserve a lot more attention. Many balked at the packaging of "Britpop", but for me the real crime is that it UK popular music went directly off of a cliff some time around 1998. So much energy and creativity was there (Portishead, Massive Attack, all those electronic bands and producers), yet it seemed to evaporate like mist.
I date the moment my teens properly started from seeing the Manic Street Preachers live in Hemel Hempstead, before Ritchie went AWOL and they turned into a pound-shop Guns N’ Roses. But it’s baked into the logic of boomer-consumer ‘rebellion’ that everyone sells out in the end. I mean, whatsisface out of Blur is a fucking cheesemaker.
You’re right that the hinge moment where the rebellion-to-sellout half-life started radically shrinking was 1998, because that’s when all the early adopters got internet. But the real moment pop culture died was 2007, when the first iPhone launched and they locked Britney away. That was the year the internet ate reality. The gap between rebellion and sellout has now shrunk to the interval between taking a photo and uploading it. Welcome to post-culture, along with post-democracy. We hope you enjoy your Satanic life of self-creation in the pod.
Let’s get back to governance for a second. How about we use innovative decentralised digital systems to enable young people to fund cooperative tontine savings and investment pools that build their nest eggs and pay out according to their actuarial fortune in later life, incentivised through the tax code?
I’m a middle-aged Home Counties mum, not a crypto nerd. Ask Indian Bronson.
Then let’s talk about something that you’re much more familiar with. Women have long been taught to be ashamed of their vulvas, with increasing numbers turning to cosmetic surgery in pursuit of genital ‘perfection’. But a new generation is fighting back.
I have nothing to add to your observation except this short video from (when else?) 2007, that perfectly encapsulates both what I think of cosmetic fanny surgery and also where we all now are as a culture.
We are unfortunately all out of time. Off you go to Magaluf, Mary.