Friday, 6 February 2009

Winter of Discontent or Spring Clean? (Sorry!)

For Britons of a certain age events this week have a strange resonance.

(1) Snow everywhere making the roads impassible, closing the schools, sending children out to throw snowballs and toboggan into trees.

(2) Talk everywhere of economic recession, depression; companies laying off workers left, right and centre; an atmosphere of financial crisis and monetary gloom.

(3) Wildcat strikes driven by fear of unemployment and articulated through a xenophobic scapegoating of the socially other.

(4) A Labour government clearly in its dog days, fighting the fires of crisis while inescapably aware of its short life expectancy.

(5) Murmurs of a new paradigm, a new conception of economics, the sense of an ending to thirty years of political wisdom favouring the anarchy of unregulated markets and burgeoning debt-driven consumerism.

In short, it's February 1979 all over again! (And Magazine are going on tour - I'm seeing them next week as it goes.)

It's number five which interests me most, of course. Are we heading for a new way of thinking about the world? A new worldview, new values, new lifestyles? Postmodernism was not born in the wastes of 1978-79, though Thatcherism derived all of its political acceptability from the Winter of Discontent's cocktail of arctic weather, strikes, ungovernability, crisis and fear. And it can be argued - as Terry Eagleton, among others, has - that postmodernism was the intellectual response of 1980s leftists to the reactionary politics of Thatcher and Reagan.

However, there are inchoate signs that a thirty-year political cycle is over. A dominant economic paradigm is discredited and played out, at the highest levels at least. Whether postmodernism was the expression of that paradigm is moot, but there is a sense of gears changing. What does this mean culturally? Put another way: what are the politics and the society of digimodernism?

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