Full title: The Social Distance Between Us – How Remote Politics Wrecked Britain
Oh boy this is a hard book to stomach. But it should be essential reading on school curricula, not just in the UK but worldwide.
(Like that’s ever going to happen.)
I really admire McGarvey for writing The Social Distance Between Us. For having the hope and determination to be able to take such a close, hard look at social inequality and still have the energy to plead for change.
The first section is a raw, moving and painful exposé of hardship, from poor housing and homelessness to addiction, mental health issues, prejudice and all the other myriad ways that the disadvantaged suffer.
Socioeconomic disparity is the root of most of the evil in the world, whether it comes from greed and the desire for power at all costs, or from fear and the desire to maintain the status quo. Most people bewail the fate of the poor but want ‘someone else’ to make it go away.
McGarvey points the finger at politicians, the wealthy, the ‘fortunate’, etc. Even at the well-meaning Leftists. His chapter on the Radical Left is masterful. The ‘moderate’ and lefty middle class applaud the values of the radical Left but don’t want their own provilege to disappear. As he argues, public debate produces little but hot air and “organised resistance is what has historically tipped the scales.” The Left, he says, has largely squandered the opportunities presented by digital communication for organising mass resistance, and handled the media poorly, getting lost in what and whom the Left stands for and “descending deeper into philosophical or theoretical rabbit holes”.
Referring to media mishandling, he accuses the Left of “impulsively crisis-hop[ping] from one calamity to the next, in an attempt to weave together a coherent anti-capitalist narrative.”
“The Left no longer defines itself but is defined by its opponents and detractors. […] it is now … both irrelevant and ubiquitous, useless and menacing, full of snowflakes…” He describes this as a hideous fiction that has gone viral because it felt right, not because it was true.
The very firmness of a Leftist’s ideology makes them an ‘idealogical battletank,’ “bound by the strictures (and vanity) of the idealogical overseer,” without the agility to compete with the “conservative’s ability to change course at a moment’s notice or a centrist’s brass neck to do the same but make it appear less of a compromise.”
He goes on to praise the people working on the ground for change, and who succeed in achieving important improvements. Unfortunately, these activists are not the people active and visible in the media or in higher political roles.
He is particularly scathing talking about policing of language around identity politics, explaining (better than I am doing here) how by focusing on pointing fingers at whoever is using the ‘wrong’ language — relying on “passive aggression, language and speech policing, punitive shame cultures and smears”, rather than actually entering the arena and contending with nationalist populism and identity politics — the Left handed a blank cheque to right-wing agitators to dominate the discourse.
He pulls it all back to class, asserting that the left should focus firmly on social class, which compounds all the ills suffered by women and minority groups. All-inclusive social equality should be what the Left stands for.
McGarvey is self-aware. “It’s far trickier to touch the topic of class when you’ve made a few quid,” he says, Becoming wealthier has made his life immeasurably easier, although these days he tries to stay close to his working class roots; his personal trainer and his cleaner are working class, ha!
It’s more scary to fight against oppression and all the trappings of social distance when we are afraid of losing what we have been given or what’ we’ve earned by our own hard work. Our “incorruptible principles” develop a “sudden and convenient elasticity” at some point. Affluence pampers you.
In the final chapter, McGarvey lays out solutions. They are interesting, but when viewed from a [continental] European perspective, he’s really only describing what we already have here, to a greater or lesser extent (more equitable access to education, stronger unions, and a range of other benefits more developed in European socialist economies…). But Europe isn’t in great shape either, with increasing disparities between the wealthy and the poor, and rising national populism. To be honest I think the world is f*cked. We should ALL be out in the street being anarchists, to bring the system to its knees and build anew. The only way out is revolution, not evolution. Unfortunately, I’m really scared of revolution….
Thanks to Netgalley, the author and the publisher for providing an ARC. All my reviews are 100% honest no matter how I acquire the book.
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