The Language of the Soul

(written after the UK election of 2015, when the conservatives won an unexpected victory — reposting now from my personal site)

Inspired to write a blog post of my own by some really thought provoking ideas from a guy called Dougald Hine. He feels like a kindred soul, and from a couple of veiled references on his blog, I suspect that he’s been to some of the same ‘experimental’ festivals and communities I have.

He basically argues that the left/progressives right now need to start learning to speak in the language of the soul.

He quotes Margaret Thatcher saying “economics is the method: the object is to change the soul”, meaning that the ideology of neoliberalism, was a very deliberate, individualistic project of reshaping society and individuals.

“The people at the top of today’s Labour party, a few of whom I’ve crossed paths with over the years, are in no way equipped to operate in the territory of the soul — so it’s probably going to take the help of some of us who’ve been a long way outside the pale of politics-as-we-know-it, if we’re going to work out how to do this.”

He goes on to say that the right has a monopoly on all of the instinctive, emotional, non-rational arguments — the old attachments to blood and soil underpinning the rise of UKIP and the Conservatives.

“It’s a terrible mistake to cede the territory of the intuitive, the emotional, the unconscious, the irrational to the far right. It’s only by people of good will engaging with these sides of ourselves, at a cultural as well as an individual level, that we can prevent a political “return of the repressed”. We need to go there vigilantly, but we need to go there.”

So how could we as progressives begin to structure an argument on those terms? What are the instinctive — intuitive — irrational drives that we need to appeal to? And what’s more, how do we construct a narrative that attacks neoliberalism at its core and start to create a new story — one that speaks the language of the soul?

Surely it has to attack the roots of the neoliberalism project, the idea of the autonymous individual itself. Instead it has to say that the individual is actually a central point in a set of networks; social and cultural structures, support structures like cultural influences, parental expectations and the rest.

How would it be for a political leader to come out and say clearly, “I succeeded because I was lucky, I had parents who expected me to do well, I had mentors and contacts who opened doors for me. It’s not about money and it’s not about class — it’s about the expectations and support networks that you are surrounded by — and I will do my best to foster that same support for everybody.”

Many have pointed out that the neoliberalism project itself is contradictory — it argues that it liberates the individual by reducing the role of government and leaving more money in your pocket through lower taxes, but the actual effect is that by steadily stripping away the social support, you remove the networks that allowed the individual to thrive. It’s a false god.

It’s also a spiritual language, to recognise that separation, of me from you, us from them, is an illusion. It’s a Buddhist/Taoist/Mystic realisation that we are all one consciousness. This is also the territory of the soul, and it has huge political consequences.

Not all the emotionals and instincts of the soul are threatening to the left, it also contains a deep instinctive drive for fairness.

Labour was onto something with the proposal to close the loophole on non-doms, those who don’t pay tax in this country but continue to live here. All the Conservatives could do in response was to say ‘those wealthy people might leave the country’.

To which the progressives have to say ‘let them’ — if they don’t pay tax here, they should leave. Even if it DID affect the UK’s finances negatively — we would more than make up for the loss in the gain in social cohesion.

We need to take that argument much further — aggressively closing all the tax loopholes on individuals and businesses and calling their bluff on leaving the UK. Most won’t, the UK is still a great place to live — and if they do, if they would leave the country rather than pay their fair share on tax — we have to say — go on then, we don’t want you here.

Tax avoidance and gaming the system has to be made as culturally toxic as possible, as it’s hugely corrosive to the instinctive sense of solidarity that we need to build.

There are a raft more political ideas that come from the rejection of Margaret Thatcher’s cult of the individual. It won’t happen overnight, but I’m hopeful that the next five years will allow progressives to come together and start articulating that vision of the post-neoliberalist world, where inequality, individualism and separation becomes deeply unfashionable.