The Regional Studies association – Irish Branch Newsletter Issue 15 can be accessed here.

Justin Doran, Hon. Secretary
Regional Studies Association – Irish Branch (RSAI)
Email: justin.doran@ucc.ie

Previously published in today’s Irish Examiner

The election of a ‘New Republic’ government is a possibility, but it depends on Sinn Féin turning down coalition with FF or FG and implementing leftist policies.

IT IS very possible that in the next general election, whether it is in 2015 or 2016, the Irish people will vote for the most dramatic transformation in politics since the foundation of the State.

The recent elections, opinion polls, and Irish Water protests suggest that a coalition combining Sinn Féin, a new leftist party, independents, and small parties could form the next government. This would be the first leftist government in our history.
There is widespread citizen disaffection with establishment politics, stemming from the Government’s failure to deliver their promised “democratic revolution” and protect the vulnerable and communities.

Growing numbers of people do not feel represented by FG, FF or Labour and have shown they are willing to vote for radically different parties and independents. Polls show that almost half of voters want a new party to be formed and two thirds do not trust the current party political system.

I have described this as a fracturing of the social contract between the population and the establishment parties that has been part of the republic since its foundation. It is this fracturing that presents the possibility for a fundamental transformation of Ireland towards equitable economic development and a society of social justice.

But this is not guaranteed. Many commentators still assert that there is an inherent conservatism within the Irish voter which will mean that, when faced with choosing a government, the majority will vote for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

The status quo of austerity, neoliberalism, inequality, and privatisation could, in fact, be strengthened in the coming election if the independent sentiment is captured by a new party of the right, such as the Reform Alliance, as they are likely to support Fine Gael to remain in government. This would also be continued through a Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael coalition, which is a real possibility as indicated by their current pacts in councils across the country.

The formation of a broad leftist government depends, therefore, on the ability of leftist parties and independents to put forward a coherent policy that can gain sufficient support from the anti-establishment vote.

It will also require the formation of a new party or broad alliance that would represent and involve a break with all the old politics and include those who are protesting for a “New Republic” of democracy, solidarity, community, environmental sustainability and equality. Community groups and campaigns, anti-water-charges groups, NGOs, trade unions, and independents could play a key role in setting up this party. The reality is that politics is as emotional as it is logical. Those in favour of a leftist government need to create a vision based on values and policies that connect with a majority.

There is, despite the caricatures of division, much ground for agreement on the left and protest movements in regard to an alternative policy programme. A review of the left party proposals and campaigns since the crisis shows that almost all would agree with the following six key areas that could form the basis of a leftist programme for government:

1. Reversing water and household charges and the aspects of austerity that have affected the most vulnerable, such as cuts to disability, lone parents and community services;
2. Standing up to the EU to achieve a significant writedown on Ireland’s bank-related debt and a writedown of mortgage arrears for struggling families, similar to that done by Iceland;
3. Addressing inequality through increased wages for the lower paid;
4. An historic expansion of public investment to provide social and low-cost housing, state-provided affordable childcare, improved transport (eg light rail in Cork, Galway, and Limerick), and a public health system that would end the apartheid between public and private healthcare;
5. A series of referendums on returning power to local areas and communities and enshrining basic rights in the constitution such water, housing, health, and welfare;
6. A state and indigenous-led economic strategy centred on environmental technology and moving us away from the dependency on multinationals, thus enabling the creation of employment.

This programme could be funded through the saving of €2bn a year on debt interest payments, extension of our deficit targets, a wealth tax, a 3% increase in corporation tax, changes to private pension reliefs, the financial transaction tax, stimulus investment from Europe, and extracting a greater return (or nationalising) from our natural resources (gas, water, seas, wind).

The state-led economic development and public investment would also provide significant multiplier impacts such as increased tax revenue and reduced unemployment spend. These are not utopian policies. They are implemented by countries much more successful than Ireland and by those that have avoided the boom-bust neoliberal model, such as Sweden, France, Denmark and Austria.

But the formation of such an alternative New Republic government depends on Sinn Féin’s willingness to turn down coalition with FF or FG and become a leftist party that is prepared to implement these policies. It would also depend on getting agreement with the smaller socialist parties. Would they be willing to support such a progressive leftist government?

It will also require additional support, possibly in the range of 20 seats. This is where a new party is necessary and left independents, unions, and protest movements have a key role to play. If these groups and left-wing, or anti-establishment, independents (eg Thomas Pringle, Catherine Murphy, John Halligan, Richard Boyd Barrett etc) do not attempt to form a coherent political alternative they are in danger of leaving the independent political vote to be usurped by a potential new ‘PD-like’ party of the right led by Shane Ross or Lucinda Creighton.

The current period suggests political earthquakes are on the agenda. Spain’s new Podemos party has, in the space of a year, gained such support that it is equal to the country’s two largest parties. Its politics is one of a critique of austerity, the failure of Europe to protect crisis countries, the return to democracy for the majority and not the elite and international markets, a greater role for public services and improved workers rights and conditions.

Combining this with demands for community, and social justice in a new party in Ireland could offer a politics that would win significant support from the anti-establishment vote and return 20 to 30 seats in the next Dáil.

It all depends on who steps forward.

Rory Hearne

A depressing confession: I find it increasingly difficult to imagine a radical left alternative (RLA) taking shape anywhere, as perhaps my recent posts here and here indicate. It’s not that I am a TINA-tout, as Matthew Sparke, whose text on globalization I’m using with Cian O’Callaghan, puts it. There is an alternative. There are alternatives. But geography. Geography.

Ok, so let’s say Irish voters elect a government with a RLA mandate. Let’s hope so. What then? I don’t doubt for a second – and if I’m off, please correct me – that Ireland’s credit rating would sink immediately once the financial world believes an RLA government will emerge here. These guys would have a quick scan of what’s on the cards.

They might, for example, have a look at the taxation agenda (or other proposed policies, all of them with a radical progressive slant). The backdrop here, of course, is that rich people are quite astute when it comes to moving their money around. Not all can, or will. Lots of capital is fixed in place, not quite as mobile as we might think. Still, will the necessary sorts of progressive taxation policies, such as increases in higher rates of income or wealth taxes (but I’d hope also some reductions in sales taxes), scare off some, lots; or, maybe just enough? And what will the credit ratings agencies make of that? Surely they’d hit us. An RLA government here would be such an outlier amidst a wider geography of neoliberal and conservative – fascist? – governments across Europe. Maybe it’d all pass. Maybe we could get by for a while – or at least for the duration of the government’s term i.e. long enough for the sorts of progressive changes people might vote for to be made – without needing to borrow. Maybe.

But then there’s our debts. The orthodoxy – economists will scream: not the orthodoxy, the fact you idiot! – is that even an RLA government would need to keep making payments on all the socialised bank. But I’ve no doubt that, if an RLA government did indeed come into office, one of its promises would need to be that it’d cancel the debt. And there’s a bloody good argument for doing so, on ethical grounds if nothing else. Moreover, it’s costing us so much in real hard cash terms. Hard to fathom.

So what if we defaulted? Let’s run quickly through this scenario. Think about that wider geography. A neoliberal world where bank debts get socialised. Where ‘good governance’ says “ don’t default”. So again, it’s us here in Ireland as a massive outlier. A pariah. A Zimbabwe or a Venezuela in the Atlantic. Can an RLA government survive that? Probably yes. But if the taxation agenda is one thing that’d frighten the ratings agencies, defaulting would be something else entirely. If nothing else, it’d be an interesting time. It’d be risky. Europe would throw a fit. Our RLA Finance Minister would be in for an earful. Again, that wider geography: not just credit ratings agencies and their pals, but our supposed allies in Europe.

Consider finally our much-needed inward investors. They wouldn’t leave, would they? Surely they’d bargain. If conditions weren’t right, they’d push for changes. So maybe an RLA government wouldn’t have too much to worry about. Hmmm.

But there’s an underlying issue here: one of the arguments for an RLA government is precisely that too many workers work for low pay, often in unpleasant circumstances, lacking a sense of security. And while, yes (or no?), maybe the inward investors are less likely to employ people in these sorts of ways, the fact is that the cost of labour as a whole is kept low in Ireland by suppliers, services firms, contractors, who do rely on a ‘flexible’ workforce. We need a new RLA government to design legislation to fix this. It isn’t just about what firms do. They’re allowed to make workers flexible. Our governments don’t regulate them enough. Our unions are too weak to do anything about it. This is precisely the imbalance that rankles. It’s precisely one of the root causes of generally widening inequality here and elsewhere. So let’s say an RLA government comes into office. It pushes for legislation. But won’t it then come into conflict with EU directives on labour or services? What then? Is leaving Europe on the cards? Should it be? I’m deadly serious here: Can we have socialism a radical left alternative in one country?

Alistair Fraser

With NAMA recently entering into its fifth year, Maynooth Geography’s Rory Hearne considers what it has achived. Published in today’s Irish Times

The government’s new Social Housing Strategy correctly identifies the underfunding of the provision of social housing and rising rents in the private sector as the principal causes underlying the current housing crisis. Unfortunately it continues this underfunding as the 2015 social housing budget will be just half of what it was in 2008. Furthermore, the Strategy failed to radically reform NAMA, which is the largest housing agency and property developer in the state. This leaves a fundamental contradiction in housing policy.

While the government expresses a strong concern to address the 90,000 households on the waiting lists it is, at the same time, actively encouraging NAMA to sell off its residential and land assets in the form of ‘packaged portfolios of property’, at the highest possible price, to international and Irish capital investors. The Strategy did not alter NAMA’s primary objective to achieve a maximum commercial return to the state. The uncomfortable truth is that those who will benefit most from current government housing policy, and NAMA in particular, are international wealthy investors and banks, developers and landlords and not the ordinary Irish people who have paid dearly for the write downs on development loans transferred to NAMA.

The reality is that NAMA is playing a significant role in worsening the housing crisis through its sale of assets to Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). The government encouraged the setting up of Irish based REITs in 2012 through generous tax breaks. Irish REITs are being set up to take advantage of high yield returns from investment in the ‘recovering’ Irish property market. One newly formed REIT is the Irish Residential Properties which includes large property investors from Canada and finance from the UK based Barclays bank. Another REIT, Hibernia, has billionaire investor George Soros’ funds amongst their shareholders. Irish Residential Properties bought the ‘Orange’ portfolio from NAMA for €211m which included 716 residential apartments in Dublin. NAMA advertised that the portfolio would provide a residential rental income of €10.6m and ‘significant rental growth potential over the near and longer term’. Selling to such investors with this expected rate of return will clearly provide a huge upward pressure on residential rents in the coming years.

NAMA is also likely to have a major influence on the residential property market through its intention to provide over 22,000 units in Dublin (half of expected demand in Dublin) and surrounding counties by 2019 through the use of existing units and 1,500 hectares of development land. It is doing this through partnerships with developers including the provision of at least €1bn in finance. However, the objective to ensure a maximum commercial return means that NAMA will make certain these units are sold at the highest possible price thus inflating prices further.

Although we don’t hear much about it, NAMA has a mandate to ‘contribute to the social and economic development of the State’. It achieves this through its provision of social housing yet only 736 units have been delivered. The new Housing Strategy includes an expansion of NAMA’s Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) set up to sell or lease NAMA residential properties for social housing but only plans to deliver 2,250 units by 2020.

NAMA’s current trajectory is wrong if we want to develop a sustainable economy and society. Its need for rental growth is likely to be one of the reasons the government is refusing to give private tenants (who are the majority of those on social housing waiting lists) relief through the introduction of rent controls. By pushing for maximum commercial returns NAMA is working against the interests of those looking for an affordable and secure home. It is continuing the speculative asset approach to housing that fuelled the crisis. This promotes residential property as a commodity rather than a social good that is developed primarily to meet people’s housing needs.

NAMA is facilitating a massive transfer of wealth (income) created by the Irish people to foreign and domestic capitalist investors. It exemplifies all that is wrong with the current model of financial neoliberal capitalism. Rather than investing in the ‘real’ economy and social requirements it is promoting speculative finance. The result is rising inequality and a more unstable system. The legacy of socializing the costs of the banking crisis in Ireland has been widespread social devastation. NAMA is embedding this for decades to come.

But the government can still reorientate NAMA to play a key role in addressing the housing crisis. It could genuinely expand NAMA’s SPV by transferring the majority of NAMA’s residential development units and land into it. NAMA could then provide 15,000 social housing and 7000 low-cost rented units managed by housing associations by 2020. These could be excellently planned, environmentally sustainable and model community developments in areas such as the 25 acre Glass Bottle Site in Ringsend. Such a social stimulus could help repair some of the societal damage caused during the crisis. If this means NAMA doesn’t make a profit it is important to highlight that those most affected by that will be the private (mainly international) investors who own fifty one percent of NAMA’s shares. Furthermore, NAMA was also set up so that if it makes a loss a surcharge can be introduced on the profits of the financial institutions.

When our financial system was in peril there was no obstacle too large for our political establishment and the state to overcome. Now we face an equivalent crisis in terms of the fundamental housing needs and rights of hundreds of thousands of our citizens. It is legitimate to ask why the same radical approach that determinedly did ‘whatever was needed to be done’ is not applied to the housing crisis. It appears it is because the government is unwilling to stand up to the financial and property investors and transform the residential property market into a system to meet housing needs.
Rory Hearne

New book by by Sean Phelan, Neoliberalism, Media and the Political, some of which discusses Ireland.

Neoliberalism, Media and the Political presents a novel critical analysis of the condition of media and journalism in neoliberal cultures. Emphasizing neoliberalism’s status as a political ideology that is simultaneously hostile to politics, the argument is grounded in empirical illustrations from different social contexts, including post-Rogernomics New Zealand, Celtic Tiger Ireland, the Leveson Inquiry into the UK press, and the climate-sceptic blogosphere. Phelan draws on a variety of theoretical sources, especially Laclau and Bourdieu, to affirm the importance of neoliberalism as an analytical concept. Yet, he also interrogates how critiques of neoliberalism – in media research and elsewhere – can reduce social practices to the category of neoliberal. Against the image of a monolithic free-market ideology that imposes itself on other domains, the book identifies the potential sites of a cultural politics within neoliberalized media regimes.

Table of contents
Introduction: Disfiguring Neoliberalism
1. Articulating Neoliberalism in Critical Media and Communication Studies
2. Neoliberal Discourse: Theory, History and Trajectories
3. Neoliberal Logics and Field Theory
4. Neoliberalism and Media Democracy: A Representative Anecdote from Post-Rogernomics New Zealand
5. The Journalistic Habitus and the Realist Style
6. Media Cultures, Anti-Politics and the ‘Climategate’ Affair
7. Neoliberal Imaginaries, Press Freedom and the Politics of Leveson
8. Media Rituals and the ‘Celtic Tiger': The Neoliberal Nation and its Transnational Circulation
Conclusion: The Possibility of a Radical Media Politics

Ireland After NAMA has turned five years old. Happy birthday to us!

Any sense of celebration, however, almost immediately gives way to a reflection on the circumstances that led to the genesis of the blog and the events that have fed its life and thoughts for the past five years. So we felt a useful way to mark the event might be to reflect a bit on Ireland’s crisis five years on.

After all, Ireland After NAMA is a child of the crisis. Established by a group of academics, mostly in the discipline of Geography but also encompassing other disciplines such as Sociology and Planning, the initial impetus was two-fold: a desire to collectively understand the quickly shifting sands of Ireland’s crisis and to find ways to respond to this that were more proactive and publically oriented. Part of this rationale was a sense that public discourse was characterised by macro-economic perspectives that paid little attention to the social impacts that were going to play out through the crisis.

The title of the blog itself reflected this: the establishment of NAMA – which had been formulised into law the month before, and as such is also five years old – being a high-level policy response, implemented in a reactive fashion, which would profoundly affect Irish society. With NAMA now expected to wind up its operations sooner than expected, or at least change its mandate to one of ‘development’ rather than ‘asset management’, it is possible that the blog will be ‘after NAMA’ in a different sense.

Our modest hope at the outset was that the blog would provide a platform for Irish geographers, sociologists, and other social scientists to contribute analysis and opinion to public debates about the crisis, to highlight how this plays out in socially and spatially unevenly ways, and to act as a counterbalance to the predominance of particular strands of economics in public debate.

The experiment quickly exceeded our expectations in terms of readership, partly as a result of posts on the issue of housing vacancy and unfinished estates attaining a level of ‘viral’ popularity that catapulted particular contributors of the blog into the media spotlight. But, as conversations with various people over the years have attested to, this was also a reflection of a burgeoning public appetite for alternative sources of news and analysis. Moreover, the blog also gave the possibility to highlight some of the less discussed elements of geographical research that has emerged throughout the last number of years.

The philosopher Peter Sloterdijk makes the point that the word ‘crisis’ has its roots in a Greek term denoting a cross-roads, a decisive turning point in which things can go one way or another. Ireland After NAMA was the product of such a cross-roads. The early stages, in particular, were experienced by us as a combination of dread and excitement at the rapidly mounting debris of the economic collapse and the capacity for progressive transformations that this seemed to simultaneously engender.

The years that have followed have seen a waxing and waning, though never an erasure, of this feeling that change is possible. On the one hand, the broad government response to the crisis has been one of redoubled neoliberalism. Ireland’s crisis has tended to be explained in terms of rogue individuals and wayward policies rather than systemic problems, while the resultant set of policy responses have broadly supported market logics at the expense of social redistribution to the most vulnerable sections of society, who have also taken the brunt of austerity measures.

hoardingsreturn

Hoardings Return

For many of us it has been disheartening to see the collective energies of various sections of society, who were calling out systemic failure and calling for systemic change, being ignored in favour of the continuation of an increasingly regressive and destructive status quo. The quick and easy return of an uncritical attitude towards property development has been particularly jarring for obvious reasons. Such an approach to crisis ‘fixing’ seems likely only to sow the seeds of a further crisis further down the road, one with perhaps much worse social impacts than the current one. This is perhaps another frustration of watching the logic of property development take hold once more. That sense of inevitability that comes with a lack of tangible change in the political economic structures that led to the crisis in the first place.

waterprotestDublin11Oct14b_large

Water Protests 2014

There are many aspects of Ireland’s crisis trajectory that can be brought to mind to make us angry or despondent, to dissipate hope and institute a cynical inertia. But to judge the transformations of the last five years against the initial flurry of dread and excitement is to privilege the flare over the incremental changes that this flare has fed.

Much has changed in these five years indeed. It is easy to see this at present with the ever rising tide of water protests creating a context of revolutionary sentiment that has been impossible for the political and media establishment to ignore. Even a few months ago this seemed unlikely. The new narrative of economic recovery was quickly becoming normalised and Fine Gael were predicting comfortable re-election if they could just stay on message that their policies of economic liberalism and austerity were working. The macro-economic picture of supposed economic recovery was touted as unambiguous fact, despite not being felt by the population. Yet, we are now on the precipice of a very different moment as this confidence has crumbled amidst mounting protests.

This is testament to the momentum of the campaign and to the capacity for change that popular and organised protest can bring. But aside from the immediate issue and the mobilisation around it, it is also indicative of just how much underlying attitudes in Ireland have changed over the course of the crisis. While successive Irish governments have met a neoliberal crisis with neoliberal solutions the consensus around such measures is far from hegemonic.

This is the result of the multiple activities of multiple groups of people, both overtly political and more mundane, over the course of the five years of crisis. Included in this are campaigns around mortgage arrears, the right to housing, the destruction of the community sector, and a range of other issues. But also included are the shifting content of pub conversations, community gatherings, and a host of other everyday activities. We would hope that over the years posts on Ireland After NAMA have been helpful in expanding the contours of such debates.

However, this blog has been only one small part of an ecosystem of new social media that emerged out of a perceived need. While the mainstream media has in many ways returned to its conservative default position, there is now a much healthier ecology of alternative media outlets. A host of blogs and more formalised publications such as Rabble or The Journal.ie, for example have gone some way to filling a vacuum that presented itself in the immediate aftermath of the crash. Ireland After NAMA continues to form a part, though not a central one, in these evolving media ecosystems.

Perhaps more importantly, with five years of posts it has become a record and a repository of material on the crisis and the evolution of ways of thinking about it over time. This and other similar archives will in years to come provide a record of how issues and events evolved over the course of the crisis and how we struggled to understand them as they happened.

It is probably fair to say that we now have a more detailed understanding of events leading to Ireland’s crisis. But in many ways we are still in and not beyond this crisis. Indeed, in a recent article the geographer Brett Christophers suggests that it is problematic to speak of the ‘the crisis’ as a singular event and reminds us that a crisis for one country or one group of people is often the opposite for another; such is the nature of capitalism. As such, Ireland is still (to re-appropriate a well-known foundation myth) ‘dancing on the cross-roads’ of crisis. This certainly means that there is still a lot of pain, suffering, and hardship. But it also means that we can still choose which road to take.

As my unfortunate 2nd years are finding out just now, I like that old way of viewing globalization as ‘a web of interconnections’. Migration patterns, new trading relationships, new information flows: they add up to a web connecting us all.

Like a web, for sure, once we’re in it, we can’t escape. There’s no way out. Adjust, be activated. Enact globalized neoliberalism. Embrace it. Become its Apprentice; enter the Dragon’s Den with your latest business idea (your café, restaurant, gizmo, app, whatever).

Likewise, for the (democratic, or otherwise) state somewhere outside the rich world, there’s no development path anymore. The WTO makes sure of that. In the hope of never seeing any more NICs (South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan) trying to enter the rich-world club, it strips away the mechanisms used by those states to nurture capitalist firms such as Samsung: ‘no more tariffs, guys; quit those subsidies, all those supports you’re so fond of, y’know, the ones that protected your nascent industries, gave them that leg-up you knew you had to give them’.

In this sense, globalization goes ahead and connects societies up to a web of interconnections, but it then doesn’t let them get anywhere within it. They’re only there to be eaten. Their consumers are there to buy rich-world goods; their workers to work, in one form or another (sometimes as actual employees, perhaps much more often merely as distant sub- or pracari-contractors) for rich-world firms.

We’re doomed here. This is no place to be. We can try hard. We can try to be entrepreneurial, to be brave. But we’re not gonna make it. This is no way for us all to live. Sure, life isn’t just a grim time. There’s love, bonds to connect us, sports, education, beer. But we need to find something else, surely to God.

And so here we meet up with the earthly backdrop to Interstellar, the big hot movie at the moment. Earth is doomed. Luckily, there are some signs of hope. A clandestine group of creative experts – those working in the knowledge economy? – has been working out of sight of everyone else. They’ve noticed something hopeful. A worm hole – oi, don’t laugh – has been found lurking near Saturn. If we dedicate our energies, some of us can reach it, even go through it. Damn it, man, some already have. They’ve been entrepreneurial.

Of course, we can’t all go; no, most of us will just be left behind to rot and die, although there is a slight chance – if the worm hole does lead us to a brighter, golden future – that we might all be saved.

No prizes for guessing, but a few do go. They’re all Americans, but it’s Hollywood. And shock horror, they do make it through the worm hole. Maybe there is hope. Praise be to the entrepreneurial subject!

But then here’s the thing. There are three worlds over/up/back there and none of them offer us an alternative to planet Earth. One is incredibly stormy, with massive tsunamis. In international political-economy terms, it’s sort of the Japanese option: crisis after crisis, an uneasy existence, not worth dying for. Another is so cold and barren, sort of Soviet-gulag-Siberian, sort of contemporary North Korea in winter. That won’t do, either.

There is, however, one final planet. It might do the job. It’s going to be hard work to make it an option, but hey: we’re entrepreneurial. And Americans are used to taking a place, colonizing it, re-populating it, adjusting it to their ways of life. Bingo, then: we have a new frontier and God knows that’s just what we need, if we’re ever to escape this place.

It’s all sort of entertaining. To me, though, what’s really striking about Interstellar is that we only truly reach this final planet after some wiggly-jiggly crazy physics stuff. Basically, our hero leaps into a black hole – I said, don’t laugh – and in doing so somehow manages to learn how to operate in a fifth dimension, which then lets him shape events in his past in such a way that earth can be saved and his return secured.

I’ll be honest: I was bamboozled. It was sort of like Quantum Leap on whiskey & steroids. But there’s a lesson in what happens.

Before we ever reach this third planet – the new frontier – all of us humans have to take something on board. Without learning how to control gravity, there’s simply no escape. Sure, we can leap through a worm hole or whatever, and find distant planets and all that, but we’ll never reach the truly golden one. (In Interstellar, it’s because our heroes run out of fuel. It’s only because our man gets into the fifth dimension that we/humans/Americans eventually get to the new planet.)

Here on earth, we also can go ahead and look for an alternative: a set of more reformist, state-centred capitalist ideas, or even a set of socialist sort of ideas. We can mess about us much as we like, but Interstellar teaches us that it won’t get us anywhere. There is no alternative. It’s neoliberal globalized capitalism for us all, like it or lump it. Get on with it. Activate yourself. Be good.

There’s more. Even if one day we think we’ve learned something new and can now go ahead and put it to good use to change society – in Interstellar, the idea is that we need to learn how to control gravity, as they (us in the future?) have, and then we can go about leaving worm holes around the place – all that awaits us is the frontier, populated by a select-few entrepreneurial scientific-engineering types, led by a clandestine state working behind our backs, offering nothing but the same old problems that got us here in the first place. So maybe there is an escape from Earth, but the (final? next?) frontier won’t operate any differently from what we’re already used to. Go ahead and dream, but be realistic, folks. By all means try to control gravity; it won’t get you anywhere different. There is no other society.

This brings me back to globalization. What a fate. Wageless life. Precarity. A planet of slums. Drone strikes. Austerity. Diffuse governance. Fake democracy. Maybe some work; maybe for some.

But then again maybe – and is this all Hollywood’s logic wants us to focus on? – well, maybe some good times. There’s love, bonds to connect us, sports, education, beer. Movies. Yay. Do we really need to find anything else?

Alistair Fraser

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