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Twitter Users Ponder What Awoke Them Politically

By Petr Knava | Social Media | August 7, 2020 |

By Petr Knava | Social Media | August 7, 2020 |


I grew up in the nineties, during an economic boom when climate change wasn’t real and everyone was happy.

I mean, nah. Obviously not.

Climate change very much was real. Just distant enough that the powers-that-be could marginalise it and frame it as a ‘fringe’ issue. The chickens had not started coming home to roost in a way they are now which meant the effects of capitalist climate change can no longer be denied. In the nineties, distraction was easier. While activists and scientists were sounding the alarm that our rate of carbon emissions was climbing alarmingly—and that we were on track to produce more greenhouse gases in a few decades than in a few centuries, with predictably dire consequences—fossil fuel industries were busy seeding disinformation, politicians were lost in corporations’ pockets, and the corporate media failed at every stage to reflect in any way the scale of the crisis.

As for the economy, the UK began the nineties with a colossal recession, and though the latter part of the decade—the main part I remember—brought with it a huge atmosphere of hope in the form of one charismatic New Labour politician, it wasn’t long before his charming grin showed revealed itself to be a Thatcherite rictus bringing with it an embedding of the status quo and a priming of the ground for what was to come after. The US may well have experienced a strong economic boom in the decade, but as Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz put it in his book, ‘The Roaring Nineties: Why We’re Paying the Price for the Greediest Decade in History’:

[M]uch of the wealth that had been seemingly created in the Roaring Nineties was nothing more than a phantasm, that much of the wealth was “stolen” property, acquired through misleading accounting and tax scams, in an economy where corporate governance had failed, and failed badly. But for the lucky few who had cashed in, there was the basis to found a new set of dynasties. At least the railroad barons of the nineteenth century, who used political influence to attain their riches, left behind a legacy of railroads, of hard capital, which bound the country together and energized its growth. What was the legacy of so many of the dot-com millionaires and billionaires, the executives of Enron, Global Crossing, WorldCom, and Adelphi, other than the horror stories which would regale future generations?

When I think of the nineties, the unifying theme seems to be ‘betrayal of hope’. As a child, hope is one of the driving forces of life. The expansion of your horizon appears as if it will on forever, your possibilities multiplying endlessly. This might be true for all eras, but to come of age in the nineties and new Millennium was to see that hope dashed against the rocks of reality in a really stark fashion. Faux progressive politicians from Clinton to Blair to Obama promised new dawns while waging endless wars and enabling capitalism’s destruction of the planet as well as the housing and job markets. It’s almost as if Eomer was speaking directly to those of us coming of age around then: ‘Do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands.’

The thing about hope loss of course is that it often comes with an awakening. A political shock that lets you see how the real world works—a ‘squeegeing of your third eye’ as Bill Hicks put it once. There was a Twitter thread the other day that touched on this topic, that asked the question: What radicalised you? ‘Radicalised’ is one choice of word that others might simply call: Awoke. Both are valid. For me and many of my generation, that moment was the Iraq War. Perhaps the supreme crime of the modern era. An obviously illegal and immoral war of racist imperialist aggression and cynical capitalist geopoliticking, opposed by millions of us around the globe, that went ahead despite one of the largest protest events in human history. Even for those of us who had been keeping an eye on the workings of the world before that was a real ‘no going back’ moment. Obviously describing the awakening of one’s political consciousness in terms of a single moment is an inherently reductive act, but nevertheless it provides some food for thought and an interesting insight into different perspectives. Anyway here’s that Twitter thread:

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Petr is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.

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