Mark Steel is a UK comedian and a committed socialist. In “What’s Going On?” he describes his world falling apart. His marriage is collapsing, and at the same time he’s coming to believe that the Socialist Worker’s Party will never be an effective political organization. (Yeah, I know.) All that, and mid-life crises too:
One of the shocking aspects of becoming forty that I hadn’t fully appreciated is that once you get to that age it doesn’t stop. You carry on getting even older than that. There follows another age, called forty-one, then forty-two and each one comes round quicker than the last. You talk to a friend about the day you all went to Southend and played cricket under the biggest pier in the country, saying, ‘Blimey, that must be five years ago now.’ Then you work it out and realize it was in 1989.
I’ve had similar experiences. With the Iraq War now finally over (again, for the time being), it was interesting to read Mark Steel’s recollection of the anti-war protests in the UK. The whole nightmare still seems vaguely surreal to me. There were anti-war protests so huge that you couldn’t see the edges of the crowd, and yet the next day you’d read in the media that everyone supported the war. Now if you look back at poll numbers, even in the US support for invading Iraq without UN approval barely rose above 50% at its peak. And that was after the majority had been confused into believing that Iraq had something to do with 9/11. Within a few months of the war starting, the majority said it had been started under false assumptions and was a mistake. And yet here we are, a trillion dollars down, having caused somewhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000 civilian deaths—we’ll probably never have an accurate figure.
Meanwhile, the super-rich trashed the world economy, and are now trying to squeeze the poor to bail themselves out. People are so angry they’re sleeping in protest camps in cities around the world. But Mark Steel takes a step back to ask the even bigger question: How did we get to the point where it seems universally accepted that profit is the only reason you can possibly having for doing anything? Could we not have proper TV news, not in order to make money (it won’t) but just because we need to have an informed population? Rather than encouraging people to take out student loans to get a college degree so that they can get a better job to pay back the student loans with, couldn’t we go back to encouraging people to go to college because education and knowledge are generally good things, even enjoyable?