Looking back at my writing this year is bittersweet. Much of what concerns me about the current state of the world was also a great spur for writing. In previous years I often had to look hard for topics to write about. In 2016, they seemed to come in waves, each hitting me in the face and then yelling at me for not having written about them yet. My problem, therefore, has generally been focusing on any one topic long enough to fashion it into a post. An upshot of this is that I have lots of half-written posts that may finally get finished in 2017.
They are mostly about religion and covering that topic is my writing resolution for the next 12 months. It seems to be one of the few subjects at the moment where I can find readily find hope, not only for the hereafter but also in the possibility of (re)building actual existent communities in the present. That might go some way towards addressing the sense of dislocation that propelled so many people towards the political extremes this year.
And it is of course politics that dominates this list: lots on Brexit, the US elections and reviving liberalism. Weirdly, however, the other topic that has done remarkably well is music. I say weird because I hardly ever write about it. When I do it has tended to be to share factoids. As far as I can recall there are only two occasions on which I attempted something more ambitious. They were both on Leonard Cohen, both written within the past few months and both take top slots in this list.
Aside from the posts below, my favourites and the one on which I got the best feedback were on the folly of thinking Britain is a boat rather than an island and another reflecting on my feelings towards the US following Trump’s victory. I also really liked Rob’s piece on the Stop the War Coalition’s ‘curious’ comfort with non-Western militarism.
As always, thank you for reading. I could do write in a notebook or keep it is a word document but there’s something about having an audience that makes it seem more worthwhile. I know that the internet means you have literally unimaginable choice as to what to read but you have chosen to spend a small part of your time on my writing and that makes me intensely grateful.
“Irving Kristol once quipped that a conservative is “a liberal who’s been mugged by reality”. But as we’ve seen there’s a hard headed case for liberalism. What makes for authoritarianism is not scepticism about humanity but selective optimism that gives some the right to rule over others. The central liberal insight is that power is dangerous – whoever has it.”
I don’t think that presenting a depressing case for liberalism has been a concious mission of mine this year but I seem to have been doing it
Speaking of depressing topics, probably my saddest post of the year was in response to the murder of Jo Cox. A review of MPs being murdered led me to conclude “….it’s important that we grasp that Britons have no special immunity to violence. The UK is not a theatre in which it is safe to shout fire. If you dehumanise an other – be they immigrants or the Tories – you are putting them at risk. If you suggest that our democracy is so broken that change is impossible, you may find someone drawing the implication that it is acceptable to try and force change. And if you present ordinary political disputes as matters of extreme – perhaps existential – importance then maybe someone will take you at your word and react disproportionately.”
My ten step plan for dealing with the aftermath of the Brexit vote. I think it mostly holds up.
Disparaging Senator Sanders’ run for the presidency became a recurring theme of mine. This was my most sustained and policy heavy go at the topic. It mostly centred on the revelation that the funding for his medicare for all proposal – the centrepiece of his policy platform – relied on reducing the federal government’s spending on drugs to less than zero.
This was essentially just me republishing an infographic from Foreign Policy. Autocomplete options from China’s largest search engine indicate that Bulgarian’s milk induced longevity is apparently a thing.
“That makes Brexit an unjustified gamble, which in turn makes it a profoundly unconservative thing to do. It is therefore be surprising that so many members of the Conservative Party back it. And furthermore that they do it in such a thoroughly unconservative way. Rather than wisdom and caution they offer bravado. Rather than warning of the dangers, they ridicule those who do as “merchants of doom” who can be ignored because…uhh…Britain. You will search Burke and Oakeshott’s writings in vain for a passage explaining how exclamations of national machismo can substitute for the hard work of policy making and institution building. Yet that is what many self-proclaimed ‘conservatives’ are in fact doing.”
“When my attempts to explain my illness would fall flat, I’d often wish I could just get out my phone, open up Spotify and play them some Leonard Cohen. If you’ve heard any of his songs, that won’t necessarily come as surprise. He could dramatise misery like a master, hence his songs are exactly the kind of thing that in ordinary language we call ‘depressing’. But it’s more than that. He wasn’t just writing sad songs. He was writing about a specific kind of sadness I recognised.”
I guessed that “the press will overreact to the result on the Democratic side” and that “whatever the outcome in Iowa the [Republican] race will remain turbulent”. The second one was clearly true, still unsure about the other.
It is of course fate that the post the most people see is the one I begin by explaining why I shouldn’t be writing it. Nonetheless, I take it as a vindication of the argument that a lot of people were searching around online for someone to articulate it.