For the first time since the Second World War, St Paul’s Cathedral in London is closed, a few hundred people camped outside to protest against capitalism having achieved what previously required the might of the Luftwaffe at its peak. Apparently the health and safety of visitors would be endangered by having to pass through the encampment. I think the cathedral authorities had in mind the risk of crush caused by too many people in a small space, although they would certainly also have been in grave danger of expiring from exposure to the sheer high-mindedness of the happy campers.
Basically, I ought to be fairly sympathetic to these protestors. They don’t like capitalism, and nor do I. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to really love protests or protestors much either. They are in their very nature, irritatingly attention-seeking exercises, and the ones that get the most attention are basically made up of the kind of annoying professionally discontented people who can afford to spend all their time tooling around occupying things because they don’t have jobs yet or won’t take jobs because that’s selling out, man. In this particular case, you also have to suspect that they’re basically all shallow atheists who don’t get that a church is anything other than a kind of museum or that the carrying on of worship there might be of intrinsic importance, and so feel free to demonstrate there.
No doubt I should be mature enough to be able to put aside dislike for the people concerned and look at the merits of their case, but in practice I never can. It was the same with the late Brian Haw, who was spectacularly brown-nosed by parts of the media, when all I could see was a half-crazy, unwashed guy who’d been disowned by his own wife and, having started his protest to stop the invasion of Iraq, insisted on carrying on when he’d clearly failed to achieve this. “Your cause is righteous. Unfortunately, you are still a dick.”
Somewhere lurking beneath this dislike, I think, is fear that one day one of these half-arsed anti-capitalist protests might actually bring down capitalism. This is partly because the result would most likely be an unholy mess. None of these people have the slightest idea of what would replace it economically and all they have to offer on the political side is a mind-numbingly tedious process of decision-making by consensus that falls apart as soon as you apply it to any group larger than a village and any decision more complicated than “what shall we have for breakfast?” However, it’s also because there is a remote chance that they might actually make this idiotic plan work, and where would I be then? I can’t see the Brave New World having much space for apathy, cynicism and snark; Brave New Worlds never do. But that’s basically what I have to offer.
I’ve just finished reading Ursula Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed, which is basically about the struggles of a physicist in an anarchist society on an alien planet. One of its big themes is the inherent authoritarianism at the heart of anarchism. The society in the novel, whilst it doesn’t have police, prisons or formal governmental structures, has a variety of ways of bringing social pressure on those who don’t conform, including anyone who’s seen as excessively individualistic. If the anti-capitalist protestors by some miracle ever succeed, that’s how it would end up – Big Brother with a hug and a nice cup of tea. I’d rather live in a society in which I lack faith but which really doesn’t care that I do than one in which I would equally lack faith but which would care.