By Dan Morrison
When I was 19 and giddy about my impending arrival at university, I tried to read The Rebel by Albert Camus. I hadn’t fully understood the task I had set myself. Two years on, and having read the author’s introduction more times than Donald Trump has unwittingly parodied an idiot, I realise that I’d had little hope then.
I dribbled and drooled as I read his introduction for the first time, fighting off polite requests from concerned fellow South West Trains passengers to use a napkin while I read. Still not fully understanding, I began to convulse and I foamed unbearably when I read:
“In more ingenuous times, when the tyrant razed cities for his own greater glory, when the slave chained to the conqueror’s chariot was dragged through the rejoicing streets… before such naked crimes consciousness could be steady and judgement unclouded. But slave camps under the flag of freedom, massacres justified by philanthropy or the taste for the superhuman, crippled judgement.”
And then the bit that floored me, leaving me lying in a pool of my own discharge, disgruntled passengers trying to pass by me as I made a saliva angel on the carriage floor (I will italicise for effect, of course):
On the day when crime puts on the apparel of innocence, through a curious reversal peculiar to our age, it is innocence that is called on to justify itself…
It is a question of finding out whether innocence, the moment it begins to act, can avoid committing murder.
I read this pre-uni with barely a hair on my chest and a clue about the world. Then I read it again, a few weeks into uni, and then again and again a month or two after.
Weirdly, I found that I knew everything and the hair had spread all over my torso. I’d gone full pretentious student mode with all my certainties about the world and ‘OMG have you seen the latest Vice doc?’
Some people are good, some people are bad- that’s it. Obama was the king and Cameron the dunce. But what about all those civilians Obama killed with his drones and Cameron’s legalisation of same-sex marriage? Hmm.
Now, as I descend very, *very* slowly from my pretension, I wish ol’ Bertie Camus was around to write about today’s times; I don’t think he would say much different. As Josh has written here, today’s seas are stormy and the truth is redundant.
I’ve waxed lyrical about Justin Trudeau, only to be disappointed after a good start. I thought of him as I recently reread that introduction, particularly about innocence.
I can’t work out if he is good, bad or just a shade of one of these two. Where should I stand, or is there any point taking sides in our imperfect world?
I should trust him, Obama and Corbyn more than Trump, they are clearly better people than he is, but I can count on Trump to stick to his unprincipled, nasty principles.
So who is innocent?
Should I don the Che Guevara t-shirt, become an –ite or an –ist?- should I damn them all as phoneys and go my own way?- or finally submit myself to the pragmatic realism that is the scourge of dreaming young folk everywhere?
* * *
Three white blokes have clogged up my newsfeed over the last year. It is these three white men, their contingents and their ideas, that nicely illustrate my problem.
First, there is Jeremy Corbyn, or “Jez” as his comrades (sorrynotsorry) call him. Clearly he is a decent fellow: rides a bike, doesn’t eat meat, has an allotment and a beard. He’s just your regular average decent normal person who used to appear semi-regularly on Russian and Iranian state-backed TV, called Hamas and Hezbollah our friends… did I mention that he doesn’t eat meat?
Oh, and he is an Arsenal fan (I will resist the obvious joke about it all looking nice and pretty yet never winning anything important). He has a strong mandate from people that like him, but not so strong from the country at large, apparently. His populist following is narrow and deeply committed, as opposed to the broad support needed for elections.
I know he doesn’t like Trident, wants to renationalise the railways and wants to change capitalism a bit.
Then there is Justin Trudeau, who is the odd one out in that he is the democratically elected leader of his country.
He’s the first Prime Minister to appear at Pride, he committed to withdrawing Canadian forces from killing people in Syria and Iraq, opened an investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women, talks about evidenced-based policy in terms of marijuana legalisation, and is generally an internet hit for being a feminist, fairly good looking, boxing, that trick where he can fall down stairs without hurting himself, that time he did some cool dancing and for several topless moments.
While he does all these cool things, he’s continued selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, where homosexuals are killed by law and government policy is to bomb, starve, blockade and be generally shit to the already poorest country in the Middle East, Yemen. Despite welcoming Syrian refugees, there are still loads of refugees, asylum seekers and stateless folk in Canadian detention centres, whose only crime seems to have been having been born in the wrong place at the wrong time- there is even a child who has lived their whole life in a Canadian detention centre.
Then we come to Donald Trump: a nativist (in the white American sense), maybe a racist, certainly a moron. He holds similar views to Corbyn on trade. He tells Americans to be scared, fearful of the outside and that only his strong leadership- strong leadership can be read as bullying- can protect them. The ends justify the means, even if the means of waterboarding have proven unsuccessful in the ends of recovering information, for instance.
Also similarly to Corbyn, he leads a populist movement of committed followers, devoid of nuance and full of certainties, struggling to convince the majorities outside of their gaggle.
Those outside the gaggle are, like me, committedly underwhelmed with politics, and unsure that staking ourselves to old school views and disagreements is the way to go, but hoping, naively maybe, that something new might come along.
Navigating all this is hard.
Trumps and Corbynistas no doubt see theirs’ as the moral stance, but their movements are no more than vocal opposition with concerns of varying degrees of legitimacy.
Does power come from morality? Or are the realists right, that morality is determined by power? Questions on this theme are doing the rounds as Labour votes on a new leader. It looks like the party that feels tainted by Blairism- the failures and the successes- is rallying behind the former question.
* * *
And now we are back to innocence and acting; the moment the former begins to act, can it avoid committing murder? Or just doing something bad or compromising?
If you follow Camus’ pondering above, it seems like Trudeau is the guilty one – in taking power he has been forced ‘to act’, whereas the others have not. In acting, JT has been complicit in bad stuff. Corbyn remains the face of a morally uncompromised opposition, and how can guilt be thrown Trump’s way? His campaign has weak philosophical roots, from which it is difficult for a coherent moral worldview to grow.
This is slightly backwards, though.
Take Corbyn (I’ll focus on him, for I have more sympathy for him). You can keep your core beliefs, about tweaking capitalism and ditching Trident, but by not doing things to broaden your appeal, you are complicit in all the disagreeable things the government of the day has done. By ‘acting’ to not compromise and to remain inside the gaggle, you’re handing power elsewhere.
The consequence of electing for more utopia and less reality is that you allow merely the least offensive actor to act. Thus, you are complicit in the results.
In all of these trade-offs, working out if you must stake yourself to one worldview is important but hard. Right now, little more than informed benevolent ambivalence is required of me, but come election time I will again have to make some form of choice- first whether I should support somebody, then whom.
I don’t have a sodding clue what the right thing to do is. Is it morally superior to be the uncompromised, vocal opposition, or to compromise a bit so you can make some positive change while you can?
Or should I just write a book about it for future generations to drool and discharge over?