Thursday, 31 January 2008

Catastrophe Princesses and other mythical beasts..

Today, Tanya Gold in the Guardian has an interesting take on why so many young women are boozing, shagging around and otherwise checking into rehab wired on cocaine and existential terror: apparently it's celebrity magazines driving us, like so many jimmy-choo'ed lemmings, over the edge of sanity.

In this article, as has been smeared over the covers of every Metro and Reveal for the past twelve months, Britney Spears, Amy 'Wino' Winehouse and other Catastrophe Princesses are wheeled or stretchered out for our scrutiny, evidence of a 'burgeoning trend..of mental illness' amongst young women in the West.

Ms Gold is a high-acheiving woman from a 'nice' family, neither of which preclude her from being shockingly unhappy - I should know, I'm one too. Yes, Gold is in the process of kicking the booze: well done her. So all this sanctimonous twaddle about celebrity culture and size (ugh) zero can't just be an attempt to cash in on a personal sob-story by jumping on the celebrity bandwagon - can it?
Of course not. It's simple, really. The pressure of being a woman in a culture that demands more of you than you can possibly give, the impulse to lash out against the imperfect self, all of this could be solved if we simply switched off the telly and stopped buying Cosmo. After all, girls are so fragile and impressionable that their brittle little brains will break under more than a small amount of pressure to look like Victoria Beckham. Tanya Gold's article plays into the dominant celebrity fantasy of the zeitgeist: that women - especially successful women, and especially beautiful, successful young women - are not strong enough to cope with the pressures of modern living without having their heads confiscated and their children shaved and being stretchered off to Rehab like poor Britney Spears.

In some respects, of course, Gold may have a point. There have been many afternoons, in that black and bile-encrusted teatime of the soul, when I've come to on the carpet, my DMs full of vomit, with an HIV-positive transsexual schoolgirl from southend mopping up the bloodstains on my arms and legs with a copy of The Complete Nietzsche, when I've thought to myself, 'why can't I be more like Cheryl Cole?'

And yes, there have been times, practising Kuburi rope bondage on a rooftop in Haringay with otherwise well-behaved undergraduates from respectable homes, snorting Ketamine off the shrivelled genitals of today's misspent youth and screaming my latest psychotic break to the sky whilst listening to the music of My Chemical Romance, that I've wept for the latest puffball dress or bikini waxing treatment....

There have been nights, getting my nipples pierced by illegal immigrants in Soho, five fags clamped between my teeth, tripping my tits off on a ground-up-and-snorted copy of Heat magazine, that I've wished that I had the figure of Geri Halliwell or the address book of Jade Goody....

And often I've staggered home from binge-drinking in terrible pubs with my pinko commie bisexual friends, mainlining raspberry flirtinis and gang-raping local members of the landed middle-classes with copies of The Socialist Worker, only to bleed my expensively educated brains away in front of Big Brother 18: Stripper Slaughter Nightmare, and on waking to find the words 'what went wrong?' tattoed into my forearms with a blunt stanley knife, I've wondered...what went wrong?

Tell me something I don't know, Tanya, and tell it to me without anodine celebrity name-dropping. Tell me what it's like to be a young (or not so young) woman growing up in a world that wants too much of you.

We are infinitely more fucked up than you realise, and infinitely more in control than the trim-taglined world of 'grown-up' journalism can understand or countenance. We are not catastrophe princesses, fragile and beautiful, living in towers of stacked magazines and slimming guides, waiting to be rescued. You do us a disservice by reducing us to our drinking habits, our eating disorders, and any crushes on Russell Brand we may or may not entertain.

Young women in the West are not as delicate and broken as, perhaps, you would have us be. We may be in the gutter, but we're not just looking at the stars and longing for escape: we're wiping our lips and coming up punching.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Hey, mister! Keep your morals off my sister!

Nice, angry little protest outside the CMF today: real energy from the picketers, and CMF were waiting for us with biscuits and explanatory pamphlets, both of which were crumbly and oversugared. I spent much of the time arguing choice and sexual morality with a gaggle of young women in nice cardigans, and the argument I found myself weaving on the street corner was this:

What we can't agree on isn't fact, but opinion. You're convinced that a divine spark of life begins at conception and must not be snuffed out, and I believe that the process of becoming a whole person with rights takes longer than that and cannot be applied to a jelluloid ball of cells. That's the binary that we can't get beyond. We have no rational way to prove which one of us is right, if in fact either of us is - but until that time, when one or both of us is doubtless going to feel damn silly, we're arguing phantoms.
So let's say, for point of illustration, that you win. Let's say that someone manages to push through a bill severely restricting women's right to legal abortion in the UK, or banning it outright. What happens then?
If you're right, then it has been statistically and historically proven that the actual number of abortions taking place will not change that much. What will change is that far more women and young girls will seek illegal, unsafe abortions, damaging their physical and mental health in the process. There will be a huge boom in black market abortions and shipping of vulnerable women out to countries that do offer legal abortion, leading to massive increases in crime - and not only in crime, but in crime that specifically targets the poorest, most vulnerable and scared members of society, as rich women will always be able to find ways to have abortions, as they always have. Women will be increasingly stigmatised for the sexual and reproductive choices that they will continue to try to make; sexual health and reproduction will become more taboo, returning us to a dark age of social superstition and ignorance. We may, however, save a few thousand christian souls per year, even if we'ved only saved them for lives of poverty and resentment by parents uncared for themselves and unwilling to bear and raise a child, and our consciences as a society will be that much clearer. .
But what if I'm right? What if real human life is contingent upon upbringing and brain development rather than just cell fusion and division? What if the choice to continue a pregnancy really is the choice to make a life or not, rather than the choice to terminate a life that's been forced upon you? If I'm right, and that's the case, then young women will be shunned, stigmatised, criminalised, wounded and left vulnerable and bleeding in backstreets - and all for nothing. All for nothing at all rather than the moral high ground of a few people with pretty religious delusions who happen to be in power.
As I explained to the students outside the CMF, I respect your right to your opinions - as long as they don't turn into law. I respect your right to believe whatever you want to believe, no, more than that, I'll stand up and shout for that right of yours - as long as you don't try and take away my own right to decide for myself. I think religious fanaticsm is an impediment to useful wielding of political power, and frankly I'd rather vote for my local acid-house to be given majority Commons representation.

Gaia vs. the Divine Seed.

And again we come back to the big spitting point, the staking post of the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate: does life begin at conception, or does it begin when the woman decides to continue a pregnancy to term and raise that child? And what does that distinction mean?
I'll tell you what it means. To argue that life begins at conception is implicitly to argue that the sperm - the penetrating seed - is what causes life to happen. Not the formation of a blastocyst, which the sperm catalyses, but life itself becomes contingent upon the entry of that male sperm into the woman. The woman is seen as no more than a baking tray, a patch of bare soil, fertile or unfertile, where the divine seed can grow. She has no agency; she has no autonomy. To act with any such is a heinous, possibly a criminal act if she decides that she doesn't want to play the compliant window-box anymore. To argue that life begins at conception is to argue that life is man-made, that that divine seed comes from man alone, that woman is a convenient incubator and nothing more.

To argue, on the converse, that the woman has a say (indeed, the final say) in life-formation and in life-creation throughout her own pregnancy and beyond is to acknowledge something unthinkable: that women wield the power to create life, a terrifying, world-destroying, frightening power. Acknowledgement of this level of female power is unthinkable in most patriarchal societies, and so the balance is shifted to demonise and criminalise women's excercise of that power, turning us conceptually into scared, subservient baking-ovens.

Knowing our enemy.

The truth is that women have always had abortions; women have aborted pregnancies, safely and unsafely, for as long as women have had babies, and there is, in fact, precious little the patriarchy can do to stop us having either. They can, however, impose their fear of our power onto our bodies, they can make our choices harder to access and criminalise us when we try to exercise them.

The moral and religious right's lobby for so-called 'life' is nothing to do with the rights of the unborn child: if it were, they'd pay more attention to the rights of the many thousands of born children living in poverty and suffering in the UK. The pro-life movement is not even about stopping abortions, since they know full well that abortions happen anyway. The pro-life movement, in fact, not only about restricting and criminalising women's sexual and reproductive choices but about retaining a social paradigm that denies women's essential power, a power which is intimately bound up with the choice to have children - or not to have them. Yes, you can be against the notion of abortion; yes, you can believe, if you're female, that should you fall pregnant accidentally you would continue the pregnancy, and you can be proud of that intent. But if you dare to try to take my choices or my power away from me, or my friends, or my two baby sisters in school; if you dare to frame us as passive trays of fertilisable soil unable to make our own moral and spiritual choices; if you dare to stamp your regressive laws across our bodies, we'll be there to fight back, and you will see us as we can truly be: fully realised, fully sexual, fully confident, fully informed and frankly fucking terrifying. Bring it.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

We will all go together when we go....

Over the past week, Pennyred has been investigating employment law, the minimum wage, disability living allowance reforms (DLA) and other such thrilling indictments on the State of the Union. This was intended as a nice, gentle, sweet-and-teenage proto-socialist rant. I was planning to use the tricolon a lot and perhaps even put in some swears for extra emphasis.

This piece of news
, however, was tucked away in the middle section of the Grauniad today, right under 'Government Proposes Cookery Courses For Fat Children - Jaimie Oliver Declared Home Secretary'. Not to worry you at all, but we (and by 'we' I mean the West, that ultimate 'US' that the UK continues to buy its way into with senseless and brutal defence over-spending) appear to be on the brink of doling out screaming fiery death to millions in the Third World, shortly before succumbing to said fiery death ourselves.

Read it. Then read it again, and see if you can make any logical sense out of what the NATO commission is saying, because god knows I can't. We have to consider pre-emptive attacks (on powers whose allies already have nuclear missiles!) because of:

. Political fanaticism and religious fundamentalism. (Are they suggesting we nuke middle America, then? No, didn't think so.)

· The "dark side" of globalisation, meaning international terrorism, organised crime and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. (We tried that. We've been trying that for five years, and it hasn't worked so far. What the Afghans have in the west's conception of 'weapons of mass destruction' amounts to a few really BIG rocks, and they're still kicking our collective arses. Sorry.)

· Climate change and energy security, entailing a contest for resources and potential "environmental" migration on a mass scale. (Great. So rather than make major systemic changes to the way we're currently destroying our planet, we'll just kill everyone else so that we can have all the oil and water for ourselves and so those filthy poor people in other countries won't come over here begging. Right.)

There used to be a name for this. It was 'Mutually Assured Destruction' (MAD).

So NATO is getting pissy because a bunch of peasants in the gulf are giving them a right kicking, because its member states' (i.e.u.s.a) grip on global resources is threatened, and because it's being humiliated on the world stage by its own ill-conceived attempts to bully the Gulf into submission. Now it wants to whap its big, shiny, fission-powered dick on the table and show the whole world Who Da Man.

This dispute could easily be solved by gathering key heads of state and military leaders in a small (preferably very cold) room and commanding them to unzip. Whip 'em out, boys! We have nothing to lose but our dreams, our loved ones and our lives!

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Stand up for the Pro-Choice Majority!

Genitals and Ladymen: we are mobilising. Having been up all night writing leaflets for Feminist Fightback, here's our stance on pro-choice, a la Pennyred, which will be handed out at various freezing demos over the next few weeks. For those of you who'd rather stay in and stroke the laptop (a very fine plan) here it is in black, white and reddish-pink:

Defend and extend abortion rights.

We believe - no, we know -that women deserve choice. Hard won reproductive freedoms for which previous generations of women have fought are currently facing serious threat. Anti-choice campaigners are using the issue of the time limit to launch their attack on all our reproductive rights. Restricting late abortions will be an initial step towards further limitation of access to our vitally important right to terminate pregnancy legally. In the UK only 1% of abortions are carried out after 22 weeks. Those who do seek terminations after this time are often the most vulnerable of women- young girls, women who did not know they were pregnant and non-english speakers. Abortion legislation needs to be based upon the right to reproductive freedom rather than on tenuous debates about foetal viability.

The pro-choice majority needs to make its voice heard. The anti-choice lobby is becoming increasingly vocal and aggressive in its attacks on women’s rights. In October 2007 they marched through London chanting ‘Women Have a Right to Keep their Legs Shut’, yet still claiming to believe that ‘women deserve better’. We believe that women deserve freedom. The pro-choice majority needs to mobilise a mass movement to show that we are not willing to turn back the clock on reproductive freedoms. We need to do more than simply lobby in parliament: we must get out on the streets and remind people why women will always need access to safe, legal abortions. Feminist Fightback supports proposals in parliament to increase access to terminations early on in a pregnancy but this should not be passed at the cost of restrictions on the time limit. We will countenance no compromise on reproductive freedoms!

We oppose any reduction in the 24-week time limit for access to abortion.

We demand the right to abortion on request (ending the stipulation that a woman get the consent of 2 doctors) up to the legal time limit. We demand that abortion be integrated into the NHS as an ordinary medical service. We demand an end to privatisation and fragmentation in the NHS: increased public funding to guarantee free and equal access abortion. And we demand the extension of abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland.

And that's not all we fussy, selfish women want for ourselves and our daughters. We want improved access to and increased choice of publicly funded contraception. We want honest, comprehensive and confidential sexuality and relationship education for all children, addressing issues of consent and of domestic violence. Most of all, we want a real ‘right to choose’ - this includes the right to have a child free from economic and social pressure. This will require a real living wage for all workers, benefits which can finance a decent standard of living and which rise with earnings, universal publicly funded childcare and an end to the stigmatisation of single mothers.

-and we'd like it soon, with ribbons on and possibly a flask of hot tea, because it's getting a bit nippy out here. Thanks.

Feminist Fightback is a multi-aligned, cross-generational organisation working towards defending and extending the rights, welfare and social freedom of women everywhere. For more information about Feminist Fightback, or to offer your support, visit

Friday, 11 January 2008

Imagination and the overculture: yes, it's fucking political.

There has been a lot of debate following the last post, most of which can be boiled down to the following issue: should subcultures be political? Do all 'alternatives' have a duty to engage? Do we really want to create a better world or do we - as one commentator put it so beautifully - just want to fuck in the ruins?

Let's first define the term 'subculture', which is a filthy slut-word that often flings itself around where it shouldn't, and is generally no better than it ought to be. I here define a subculture as 'a group of people who identify as outside the mainstream (however they choose to define that mainstream) and variously the habits, social mechanisms, musical, fashion-and aesthetic- preferences common to members of that group.' Or, less prissily, a subculture is a bunch of people with strange ideas ganging up against the overculture, creating a behavioural enclave that walls them off from the big, scary world outside. On one end of the scale are Hippies, Goths in all their various guises, Ravers, Emo-kids, Metalheads, Cyber-kids, Indie Rockers, Geeks, Nerds, Roleplayers, sexual deviants, Fan boys- and girls-, Fetish-pros and lifestylers; on the other end are cultures that literally ghetto themselves (more prevalent in the US than over here), political factions and organisations, cultists and anarchists. Because 'chav'(/pikey/townie depending on your location) is a specific class-identifier, I do not include it here; it is worth noting, however, that most members of the above-named subcultures tend to have the disposable income and leisure time particular to a life lived above the poverty line. Which does not mean that they are dismissable, merely that many 'subculture' lifestyles - even the self-professed asceticism of the Hippy movement - indicate at least a lower-middle-class background.

So let's ask ourselves again. Do subculture kids have a duty to engage politically?

I believe, passionately and unequivocally, that they do. Let me tell you why.

What differentiates subcultures from the overculture is no more nor less than the facility of imagination. We have the ability to imagine lives for ourselves which are different, however subtly, from the range of options prescribed to us by the overculture in which we have been raised (unless we have been lucky enough to be raised by hippies). Yes, mainstream capitalist culture tries to hitch us back into the mainframe with varying levels of success, by providing us with shiny toys and clothes to buy and things to do which defuse our political energy. At base level, though, most of us continue to see ourselves as 'other'. And that otherness, combined with the causal imaginative faculties common to most 'alternative' people, is also the starting point of most liberal political energy.

The political Left, too, is differentiated from the Right in that it can imagine possible futures and make the mental leaps necessary in order not to be afraid of change. Political, social and systemic change is exactly what terrifies the Right.

The problem with subcultures is this: they encourage imaginative people, many of whom are by default distressed with the way the world works, to use that power of imagination for escapism rather than for action. Fundamentally, it's easier to create fantasy worlds and elaborate cliques into which to disappear than to change the world that you've got. It's easier to hang out in an exclusively queer-, kink-friendly and fabulous subculture and spend all day arguing about hair extensions than to campaign for gay rights. It's easier to join a roleplaying organisation where you can spend all day pretending to be a world-destroying psychotic wizard/prophet-monk with healing powers/master-thief and heir to a ruined kingdom, than to engage in the long and sometimes arduous process of actually getting involved in the actual power processes that are actually extant in the actual country actually now.

Do we have a duty to engage politically? Damn straight we do. And does that duty fall heaviest on those 'lost' members of the Left who have turned their energies elsewhere? Absolutely. It must be stressed that asking people to engage politically - much like asking them to vote - is not the same as asking them to conform. Making a choice to disempower oneself politically is not just a personal choice - it is harmful to others on your political wavelength, it deepens the divide between the powerful and the disenfranchised in modern apolitical youth culture. Encouraging you to be political is not fascist, conformist or collectivist: it's the difference between urging you strongly to turn up on voting day and holding a gun to your head and telling you to vote for me. Fascist; liberal pro-personal empowerment. One of these things is not like the other.

Not that I'm against subculture escapism per se. In fact, subculture is, by definition, subversive - so long as one doesn't become blinkered. I think there are a good few MPs for whom an afternoon of Dungeons and Dragons would do wonders, or an evening in lurid pink spandex, dreadfalls and goggles. I would personally relish thr opportunity to take David Cameron to Slimelight and buy him a cider and black, possibly watered down with gin. The only politically distasteful elements of the socio-cultural underground are those which choose to deal with a hostile, unsympathetic world by refusing to acknowledge its existence.Not turning up to vote because you're 'not interested' or because 'they're all the same' isn't alternative, or wacky, or cool. It's just plain thick. This is how the bastards gain power. Put down that lollygoth, I'm talking to you.

No. Membership of a subculture does not necessarily mean alternative politics, and I never pretended to believe that it did. I just happen to believe that it should. The progress of liberal agendas is suffering because too many liberal, creative, imaginative people choose to escape entirely into alternative self-reflexive worlds. I believe that we can choose to retain our unique identities whilst not allowing ourslves to be fobbed off with trinkets. I believe that we can be revolutionary and politically switched-on and still have time to put on our make up and head to the crustiest local pub to pick up something multiply pierced and willing. I believe that subculture kids can and should be political.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Cyber without punk?

It's not often I get really, properly angry about alternative fashion and culture, but lately I've been working in a flagship cyber- store in Camden market, and to cap it all I've just started reading Gibson's Pattern Recognition. All of this has got me thinking again about cyberpunk, cyber-culture, and what the subculture signifies. So shall we cyber-?

Right. Cyber-culture is, at baseline, both ridiculously inoffensive and disarmingly radical - despite the fact that a good swathe of participants manage to miss the point entirely. It's a bizarre neon synthesis of goth-, punk-, emo-, rave- and 'urban' cultures that looks hyperbolically towards some arcane design-political paradigm known as 'the future'. The aesthetic is sleek, different, chrome-tinted with an edge of grunge, and the lifestyle attracts scenesters and wannabe kids from every walk of hip London life. Which is great. Or, rather, which would be great if the lifestyle wasn't founded on a basis of conspicuous consumption, taking stimulants and going to clubs.
Hanging around the back of Cyberdog one dark Wednesday night in January, chatting to its body of staff - of assorted ethnicities, gender-and-sexual orientations, all hard-working scene kids under 24, and all completely bonkers - one comes to realise that 'cyber' culture, rather than the break from the mainstream it claims to be, is in fact a crystallisation of UK youth culture. Here we all are: young, mental, working too hard, over-spending on ridiculous clothes and odd, high-maintenance hairstyles, listening to repetitive music , dicking around with each other's hearts. Here we are, cool, stupid, impulsively jacking off to some half-cocked vision of the future dreamed up by roleplayers and scene-savvy designers in loft apartments. Fucked up on booze and boring drugs. Waiting for our futures to start.

That's my problem with cyberculture: it doesn't have a project anymore. Ever since the abandonment of the suffix '-punk' by the cyber- scene, cyberkids have lost their way. We've been caught up in dancing, shopping and the cutting edge facade of the 'future' obsession, blindly hopeful with only a thin layer of really imagining what the future could be like if we put our minds to it, beyond neon pink and sparkly. Even though neon pink and sparkly isn't a bad place to start.

Cyber is no longer really punk, and it's no longer really political. No, it's not enough to yell 'fuck the system', swallow a handful of pills and watch Velvet Goldmine. Again. No, it's not enough to be gay, or bisexual, or to have interesting hair - being a minority does not make one politically aware by default, even if it should. No, it's not enough to be firmly of the opinion that drugs should be legalised and prepared to expound on the topic at parties: the legal status and criminal knock-on effects of illicit substances are important topics, but not compared to, say, the issue of a living minimum wage, or immigration, or how to stop our society turning into the achingly corrupt surveillance state that Gibson and Sterling themselves were warning us about back in the nineties.
Just because something is fun and sexy doesn't necessarily mean it's important, and it's high time we got it through our buzzed-out little heads that this stuff is sexy too- a different kind of sexy, because it's about power, privilege and state-creation. We should be able to rock with that, and if we can't, and if we're too munted or comedowny or spend so much time on our hair and make up on the next General Election day that we don't have time to vote, it's not the system that's got it wrong - it's us, and our tiny attention spans. It doesn't have to be like this.

Cyber can be punk, and it should.

Ultimately, the strange, shy kids who make pilgrimages to Cyberdog on a Saturday come there because they want a better world. Because they're disappointed with the one they've been born intoand want to re-make it. The problem only arises when, distracted by the flashing lights and thumping chords, so many of them stop there. Too many become distracted by the flashy, fashion-conscious elements of the scene forgetting that future-building is not a product, but a process. There is nothing wrong with imagining a future that's cleaner, faster, deeper, weirder, where people can remake their lives and their bodies at whim, one that's more accepting and more exciting than the proto-fascist US hegemony we're being fobbed off with. But you can't buy it online, and you can't reserve entrance tickets, and you won't find it at the bottom of a baggie.

The Revolution is Just a T-Shirt Away

Training the young to imagine possible futures is vital; it was and remains the most important element of cyberpunk as a literary, musical and fashion movement. But creatively imagining a future and working to build it must not stop when one has achieved the look. It's now perfectly normal for cyber-scene kids trotting around Camden never even to have heard of William Gibson, Bruce Sterling or Rudy Rucker, and that's not forgiveable. By all means save up for those dread falls, by all means try the pink pills, but for god's sake read the literature. The world is now leaning more and more towards the nightmare universes imagined by the godpersons of cyberpunk literature - internet access is near-universal in the western world, resources are becoming scarcer, global corporations are gaining power and influence beyond the dreams of some countries. If we want to survive this new world order, then we've got to be ready - not just look ready. If we want to take down systems, if we want to be hackers and independent tech contractors and urban warriors, it's not enough just to recreate the look and gobble MDMA. We've got to put the punk back into cyberpunk.


And now I've caught myself humming Billy Bragg's Waiting for the Great Leap Forward, so it's time to sign off. More coming later about cyber-culture and gender, which I think deserves a whole separate post.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

2008: Say You Want a Revolution...

So, happy bloody new year to all of you, although I doubt, by now, that you're expecting one. It's 2008, it's January, it's bum-numbingly cold, and the doommongers are out in force. Maybe it's just the cold-drizzling leaden skies over Camden town, or maybe the cramped and filthy student flat I'm skulking in; maybe it's just because I'm getting old (at 21-and-a-quarter, my teenage years are a dim and terrible memory of Labour hysteria, anti-war marches and acne cream). But I've never seen a roundup of such dire predictions for the coming 12 months.

The forecast encompasses the dimming of Gordon's star below the horizon of a watery-red Labour sunset; massive gains for the Tories; a scrolling back of funding for public service initiatives; the possibility of further atrocities in the Middle East into which our ridiculously expensive defence capacities will once again be coaxed without the say-so of the people; and everyone ignoring the plight of vulnerable minorities (women, ethnic and sexual minorities, immigrants, the less abled, the young) amid a flurry of belt-tightening neo-conservatism. The new year has barely been flung, red and screaming, onto the January slab of life, and the dreaded r-word is already being whispered in parliament. No, the other r-word, you filth: recession.

As Saint Toynbee points out, there is a middling-to-fair chance that Labour will be able to drag itself out of this hole, or at least make some sort of stoic best of a terrible job. However, 'even if Brown defies the gravity of those predictions, this is not going to be a feelgood year, according to Polly. 'The squeeze on public spending will hurt. The Treasury will say no to everything, with scant petty cash for political easements and soothings of crises. Holding public sector pay to 2% for three years in a row is impossible. A government that ran on the greased rails of public service expansion will feel the unfamiliar pinch of parsimony.'

This is not an altogether bad time to point out that we are living in a house of cards. Western society has become bigger, faster (harder, better, stronger...), more expensive, more demanding, greedier, vastly more populous. We are a resource-hungry society living in a resource-poor world, and yes, I'm talking about fuel, food, air and water, but I'm also all those less vital more tangible things: pretty clothes, fancy shoes, kitchen appliances, books, gadgets, little luxuries, all those things that, in Primo Levi's reasoning, are the glue that holds together the substance of what it means to be human and to be civilised. Everything that keeps us all warm, clean and sane is on the line, and it's on the line in a climate where great swathes of the world's population have been disenfranchised, disinherited, kept poor, stripped of their rights and dignity and culturally fucked over for a very long time indeed - where, all over the country and across the world, they're shouting louder and louder for what is deservedly theirs.

Sooner or later something's gonna give. Capitalist political ideology has stretched to accomodate these extra people, new ideas, conflicting interests, binary pressures - but it can't stretch for much longer. Call me an idealist, a doomsday preacher or a plain old angry young woman, but I truly believe that capitalism is coming to the end stages of what it can accomodate. I believe that the house of cards will fall, and that it will fall in our lifetime. I believe that by our fortieth birthdays, my schoolfriends and I will have inherited a very different sort of world to be in charge of.

In times of crisis and instability it's often the fascists who rise to power - for fear of violating Godwin's Law I'll not mention those GCSE Weimar Germany modules, but the point stands. Conservatives are making gains across Western world, and all the while, the Left fiddles. 30 years on, British Left politics still bears more resemblance to the radical scenes from The Life Of Brian than to any vision of a real, dedicated counter-consensus. To see us through the coming hurricaines with the forces of reason, justice, equality and personal freedom relatively intact, we need a Left that's united; the recent implosion of the Respect party signals just how far we've got to go.

Above all, be brave. That's how Toynbee concludes her piece, and that's the rallying cry that's going to have to serve a deeply divided Left for the next twelve months and beyond. Along with our politicians, we need the courage to be radical. Radically re-thinking our concept of social and economic policy is the only thing that will ensure stability. We need the courage to swallow our differences: the Left, in Europe and America, must cease its interminable bickering and unite as people with one all-encompassing goal: the desire for change, and the belief in the real possibility of a better world. We need a young, creatively-thinking, organised Left which has the creative vision to imagine change, the dedicated unity to plan change, and the organisation to effect it. Above all, in 2008, we must be brave.

For now, though, the first day of the year is drawing to a close, and I have a cup of tea, an electric heater, a joint the size of a baby carrot and a pile of decent socialist sci-fi. Small pleasures in a scary world. Amid copious doom-propheteering and dire political and economic forecasts, we on the young Left will be brave enough to hold together. So bring it on. Bring it all on.