Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Culture War - What Is It Good For?

Many commentators have noted the curious divergence between capitalism (as conventionally understood) and the British Conservative party, previously regarded as the party of capitalism.

David Edgerton sees globalization as a contributory cause of this divergence. 

Today there is no such thing as British national capitalism. London is a place where world capitalism does business – no longer one where British capitalism does the world’s business. Everywhere in the UK there are foreign-owned enterprises. October 2019

Thus the Conservative party is no longer stabilised by a powerful organic connection to capital, either nationally or locally.

Chris Dillow suggests that the Conservative (Tory) party positively benefits from the economic decline consequent on this divergence.

If economic stagnation promotes populism and reaction – and history shows that it does – then a lack of growth actually serves Tory interests, because it will further bolster social conservatism. In politics, failure can sometimes work better than success. There can be positive feedback loops. October 2020

Dillow is not convinced that the Tories are smart enough for this to be a deliberate policy: it could be simply that these behaviours are reinforced by something akin to Natural Selection. This would appear to be yet another example of the maxim to which this blog owes its name: POSIWID - Purpose Of System Is What It Does.

Dillow has noted this kind of effect on his blog before. 

What people (or the media?) want from politicians is not an ability to take decisions, which requires the recognition of uncertainty. Instead, they want is a false sense of certainty, a strong leader with a clear direction. And this demand favours macho politicians, even if they are poor decision-makers. September 2012

And if complicated global economic systems are not amenable to such clear political direction, it is tempting for politicians to offer false clarity about less complicated subjects. As Andrew Anthony notes

while it’s not easy to express an informed opinion about the effect of collateralised debt obligations on the American housing market, it doesn’t take a doctorate to decide whether a statue should be pulled down, or to work up an unbending judgment about the character of the Duchess of Sussex.

Hence the shift from economic argument to culture wars.


So what happened to capitalism? When I invoked POSIWID in the comments underneath his September 2012 post, Chris Dillow replied that the state exists to support capitalist hierarchies, which is very much a POSIWID kind of assertion. But which capitalist hierarchies does the British state support nowadays? 

Update October 2021

Nesrine Malik's latest article takes a deeper look into the insidious workings of the culture wars, and makes a similar point to Dillow's.

Economic instability actually helps maintain this jittery status quo: the more volatile life is under the Tories, the more likely people are to be afraid of it getting out of control.
(I obviously need to get a copy of her book.)

Andrew Anthony, Everything you wanted to know about the culture wars – but were afraid to ask (The Guardian, 13 June 2021)

Chris Dillow, The Machismo Paradox (Stumbling and Mumbling, 11 September 2012)

Chris Dillow, The Economic Basis of Culture Wars (Stumbling and Mumbling, 24 October 2020) 

David Edgerton, Brexit is a necessary crisis – it reveals Britain’s true place in the world (The Guardian, 9 October 2019)

Nesrine Malik, The Tories have persuaded voters there’s a threat worse than fuel shortages (The Guardian, 10 October 2021)

McKenzie Wark, The Long Counter-Revolution (Public Seminar, 29 October 2014)


See also Explaining Natural Selection (January 2021)

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