2015: The year of living philosophically?

2015: The year of living philosophically?


Farewell 2014, but may your turning tides continue to sweep us between the icebergs and whirlpools of political despair and environmental collapse, toward the hard-won shores of a fairer world. For though global disasters and injustices only seemed to intensify this year – climate change, Syria bleeding into Iraq, Israel’s genocidal attack on Gaza, Ebola, Boko Haram, racist executions on the streets of America, and in the UK the continued dismantling of the NHS and the ethnic cleansing of the poor, to name but a few on-going explosions – it was also a year of significant victories for participatory democracy. Everywhere, people power is steadily rising, and with it a tangible sense of my favourite metaphor of 2014: sea change. For if Scylla and Charybdis also represent the Right and old Left, the nimblest ships sailing through them are whole new political paradigms – personally, I’m entering 2015 buoyed up by my recent discoveries of metamodernism and transmodernism, philosophies which view human difference as strength, and place ecology, feminism, anti-racism, equality and spirituality at the very heart of their concerns.

To start with, as Rebecca Solnit has argued persuasively, it was a watershed year for feminism, twelve months in which women demanded like never before an absolute end to rape culture, and began to win not just the argument but legal battles and international acclaim. Solnit discusses protests, hashtags, Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize, the courage of survivors ‘handing the shame back’ to the perpetrators. In Britain, a decisive moment was the conviction of Rolf Harris on the basis that women who had never met each other, but all told the same story could not be lying. Not every survivor of sexual abuse will benefit by public disclosure or legal action, but I hope 2015 brings more and more women, girls, men and boys to safe places where they are believed.

It was also a year when global fossil fuel divestment became a credible goal; the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign scored serious moral and economic hits against Israeli occupation and apartheid; Afro-Americans and their allies stormed the streets to protest racist police violence; Syrians continued to mount their phenomenal resistance to tyranny; disabled people insisted on being heard in the debates on assisted dying, and Ukrainians took a stand against Putin’s paramilitaries.  I was invigorated by opportunities to participate how and when I could: joining the Green Party, speaking for cultural boycott at the autumn’s Battle of Ideas event, organising a meeting of diverse artist-activists at Fabrica Gallery, and visiting Ukraine to meet writers and activists there. I was also pleased to be appointed the University of Chichester English and Creative Writing Department Equality and Diversity champion, a position that will help me contribute to positive changes within not just my university, but also the wider field of British higher education.

Diversity can sometimes be hidden. This year many writers responded to the suicide of Robin Williams by openly challenging myths around mental illness. I took my own mental health seriously, in counselling and CBT sessions developing new ways to think about and manage my chronic depression and anxiety. As a result I feel happier and better able to direct my energies to rewarding endeavours. Taking a step back from social media in favour of books and personal encounters, I’ve also poured myself into my writing, completing a long essay on Ukraine currently seeking a publisher, and the second book in The Gaia Chronicles, Rook Song, due out on February 5th.

I’ve been calling Rook Song a ‘polyphonic hymn to human diversity’, though perhaps it is also a battle cry . . .  A novel must create its own world, but also reflect the one we all live in, and for me as a writer that means engaging with politics and, more recently, political philosophy. Why philosophy? Because in neoconservatism and its mirror image, neoliberalism, in post-Soviet totalitarianism, in religious fundamentalism from ISIL to Christian Zionism, we’re up against massive ideological forces endangering the very possibility of life on this planet. As individuals or special focus groups we don’t have a chance of survival: even as we fight our own corners and water our own gardens we need to find ways to unite. Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek says we need new ‘masters’ – not leaders who tell us what we can’t do or think, but people like Chelsea Manning who show us we can all do far more than we dream possible. We also need to reconceptualise our overwhelmingly complex world in ways that empower us to act within it for the greater good. Eco-feminism has always been there for me, as have the basic principles of Marxism and solidarity with post-colonial and other struggles, but against the fragmentation of the old Left and consumerism’s paralysis of choice, an even more dynamic interconnectivity is required: generous philosophies that draw art, spirituality, literature, psychology, academia, and personal growth into the fold.

One such emerging gestalt is metamodernism. Coined in 2010 by two Dutch cultural theorists, the term describes the new ‘structure of feeling’ evident in the global shift toward social and political networking. Incorporating yet also rejecting postmodernist skepticism, metamodernism spins back into play notions of truth, authenticity and individual agency, urging passionate, eclectic and interpersonal resistance to the demoralising power of governments, corporations and the mass media. As Point 8 of the Manifesto has it:

We propose a pragmatic romanticism unhindered by ideological anchorage. Thus, metamodernism shall be defined as the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt, in pursuit of a plurality of disparate and elusive horizons. We must go forth and oscillate!

I like the capacious sense here of openness to the other, the rejoicing in multiplicity, the bold attempt to move beyond the postmodern spectacle to something more like vision. I also like the inclusivity of celebrating everyday acts of collaboration and communication. But if I am going to oscillate in 2015, then my alternative pole will be transmodernism, which – as I understand it so far – also moves between and beyond modernism and postmodernism, but with a more profoundly global reach. Founded by Argentine-Mexican philosopher Enrique Dussel, transmodernism also celebrates diversity and embraces radical change, but it also respects the traditional structures of feeling of non-Western societies – religious faith, social beliefs and customs – and insists that any struggle for equality must honour these deep-rooted identities. According to leading proponent, the editor of Critical Muslim, Ziauddin Sardar:

We need to bring the life-enhancing aspects of tradition and the best aspects of modernity together. They need to be synthesized into a new way of looking at things . . . [Transmodernism is a] critically engaging process that takes the best of what was already there. It doesn’t disconnect you from history, but builds upon elements that can take you forward.

As a Palestinian solidarity campaigner and Tarot card reader this makes sense to me, while as an SF writer and lecturer I’m also interested in transmodernism’s central role in the emerging academic discipline of Future Studies. As Malala told the UN in 2013, ‘education is the only solution’. For now, on the crest of this small wave of optimism, I will leave you to surf into 2015!

Photo: Catlin Arctic Survey ice fireworks

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