Looking Back

Yes, I’m unoriginal for making a post about the anniversary of the world trade centre attacks. It’s not even a very good one. Just some thoughts thrown out.

I didn’t have a reaction to the attacks when they happened – I don’t even really remember what I was doing at the time. I was largely apolitical back then, so my response was mainly confusion and intrigued observation of the various responses being offered all around me.

It was in the reaction to the attacks and the following events (‘the war on terror’) that I underwent a lot of my politicisation – though whether this was because of those events, or just personal development, I’m not sure.

That politicisation took a long time to really get anywhere though. It was about 5 years before I moved decisively to the hard left, and in the intervening period I tried on most of the available outfits: at times I was anti-war, at times I was pro-war, at times I was a liberal, a classical liberal, or a ‘decent’ lefty. Most of the time I think I was just devil’s advocate against whoever I was talking to. Ha, oh yes, and at one point I stood in a mock election as a Liberal Democrat candidate.

More broadly, I feel as though the world trade centre attacks somewhat frame a certain political period, with the worldwide recession framing it from the other end.

I don’t know whether that period is really very meaningful from an objective point of view, but I think it was very meaningful to me, because it gave me the co-ordinates within which politics always worked. Because I hadn’t taken much of an interest in politics before around 2001, my political awareness of the world has always involved: Bush is US president; 9/11 has happened; we are at war in Afghanistan and Iraq; everyone is talking about ‘terrorism’, and conversely about ‘attacks on civil liberties’; the UK government is labour, but they’re all right-wing bastards; ‘Islam’ is a politically contested symbol; etc.

Now that’s changed, at least symbolically – there’s a different US president, the economy is talked about more than foreign policy, and pretty soon there will be a Conservative government in Britain. A lot of other people, older than me, or with a more politicised childhood, will have experience of such things from the past, from the ‘pre-9/11’ period. I don’t, so it will be interesting.

Reflecting on how my circumstances affected the formation of my beliefs, I’m actually relatively confident though. If I had jumped straight onto a particular bandwagon in 2003 or so, and then stuck to it and defended it for years, I might worry that my beliefs were the contingent outcome a particular situation – that if things had been slightly different, I’d have believed something completely opposed. And to an extent obviously that’s true – I didn’t build myself from scratch, after all.

But I do flatter myself that a small difference in circumstances wouldn’t have made a big difference in my eventual beliefs – precisely because I held off from committing to anything for something like 6 years (5 years to become a communist, then another year to add ‘anarcho’ on the front – I’m focusing here on ‘conventionally political’ topics, I think my relationship to feminism had a different sort of pathway). While I never went very far to the right, I do recall at one point toying with ‘right-wing Marxism’, which supports free market globalisation as the best way to ‘develop’ capitalism towards its fullness and then eventual self-overcoming.

Anyway, that’s some thoughts. The test, I suppose, will be over how the politics – both explicit stated positions and the equally important set of ‘instincts’ and responses that guide judgement of particular cases – that I developed in the 2001-2008 period work in the coming years.

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