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The Dude Derides

To me, a very interesting aspect of Boris Johnson’s assumption of the premiership yesterday was the fact that both the Daily Telegraph and The Independent picked up instantly on the word ‘dude’ in his acceptance speech. Both papers understood this as a reference to The Dude, hairy anti-hero of the Coen Brothers comic film ‘The Big Lebowski’, played by Jeff Bridges. The Dude has become a cult hero: ex-60s radical, sunk into alcoholism of a rather sumptuous kind (White Russian cocktails), reluctantly forced to be a makeshift private detective. Unflappably cool, partly thanks to his vodka intake, his motto is ‘The Dude Abides’.

In invoking this Bridges character Boris is making a clever appeal to a largeish proportion of the voting population who find him amusing, entertaining and unlike the typical politician. His political allegiances may be fluidly variable but this doesn’t deter this particular audience, who despise most other politicians as humourless charlatans. Boris is a humorous…
Recent posts

The Legacy Of 1968

In my last blog post I mentioned that I was preparing to present at a conference organised by the University of East London called ‘The Legacy of 1968’ (which went ahead with great success). When preparing my contribution I looked around for material and recalled that with my late co-author David Robins I'd once written an article for the journal New Formations (Issue 39, Winter 1999-2000), which compressed the arguments of our about-to-be published book Cool Rules, into eight pages. That book, full title 'Cool Rules: Anatomy of An Attitude' was entirely devoted to analysing the attitudes of the 1968 counterculture.

I dug out that article and was pleasantly surprised by how well it still stands up. In fact there’s nothing in it that I would want to retract 19 years later, though there is one huge thing that I would wish to insert were I writing it now. That is the unexpected economic crash of 2007-8 and its profound effects throughout the world. Our argument in Cool Rules w…

The Three Tribes of Austerity

If the 50 years following 1918 witnessed the slow and erratic ascendance of social democracy (punctuated and accelerated by WWII) then the 50 years since have witnessed its equally slow and erratic dismantling. It was eventually Keynes ‘The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money’ rather than Kapital which provided the theoretical understanding of that ascendancy, and in my opinion James K Galbraith’s ‘The Predator State’ is the nearest we have yet to an analysis of its demise.

In his recent article ‘The Three Tribes of Austerity' (on the Project Syndicate website) Yanis Varoufakis has suggested an enhancement of Galbraith’s thesis, one that renders the picture with somewhat higher resolution, by sorting the predators into three different species. Varoufakis of course had enlisted the advice of Galbraith during his doomed spell of trying to defend the Greek economy from EU predation, and a whiff of doom is still detectable in his article.

Can Social Democracy be revived?

While preparing to participate in a conference on the Legacy of 1968, it occurred to me that this year sees another equally momentous anniversary, the end of World War One in November 1918. My deeply-suppressed numerological instinct took over for a second, and made me notice that 1968 is the exact mid-point of the century 1918-2018. Is there any significance in that? What was happening during that century? It then struck me quite forcibly that one thing that was happening during that century was Social Democracy. It arrived slowly, tragically, haltingly to dominate the Western World out of the chaotic aftermath of WWI, which had completely overthrown the 19th century liberal order. It wasn’t always called by that name: it appeared, still does, as Christian Democracy, as the US New Deal, as the Welfare State and even as ‘wet’ Conservatism in Britain. 

One can plausibly argue that 1968 marked the peak of Western social democracy and the birth of its libertarian nemesis: that year saw th…

Weaponised Identity

The antisemitism accusation has become the most devastating weapon in
the far-right's arsenal of lies and fake news. In a secularising age
there are few moral absolutes available, but the strongest of them is
memory of and horror of the Holocaust, which is taught to all
schoolchildren. The next strongest is the innocence of childhood,
which makes accusation of paedophilia a weapon too.
Both these accusations are in effect unanswerable, because no evidence
can be presented to prove a negative. It's the "Have you stopped beating
your wife?" effect, the accusation itself doing the damage regardless
of evidence. It's the lowest form of argument, and a measure of the
sheer rottenness of the current Right, who have themselves abandoned
all moral principle.
It was very disturbing to see Elon Musk - who is a hero to many of my
tech colleagues - descend to their level over the Thai Cave rescue.
As Phil Cohen has pointed out to me, weaponising racism and sexism forms part of the methodo…

Loren Eiseley: Poet Of Evolution

Dick Pountain 25/02/05

I originally wrote this essay in 2005 as the introduction to an anthology of Loren Eiseley’s works whose publication was to be sponsored by my late business partner Felix Dennis. 

This anthology never appeared, due to apparently insuperable copyright issues, and I present my introduction here as a smaller attempt to resurrect Eiseley’s reputation, a project that could hardly be more topical…

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — o — — — — — — — — — — — — — — In 1968 Professor Loren Corey Eiseley was rated among the most admired nature writers in the USA, and his dramatically personal essays on archaeology, fossil hunting, evolution, human origins and animal behaviour were devoured by fascinated lay readers in highbrow magazines from The American Scholar to Scientific American and Harper’s. His first essay collection ‘The Immense Journey’, published in 1957, sold 500,000 copies over the next decade. When men landed on the moon in July 1969, Eiseley was the first author commis…