Monday, April 08, 2013

Two-Tone: An Alternative Iron Lady Obit

I said I see no joy,
I see only sorrow,
I see no chance of your bright new tomorrow.

So stand down Margaret,
stand down please,
stand down Margaret.

The Iron Lady hath finally melted away.

The encomiums have begun for the way she, together with Ronald Reagan, "transformed" the economies of Great Britain, the United States, and the entire international, capitalist enterprise.

There is less commentary on exactly what the transformation resulted in, since the alternative to the current no-pay/low-pay, low-security, highly-policed model would necessarily come from the left, and that can't happen.

The highway scribe lived through the elections and political changes wrought by Thatcher, Reagan, the Chicago School of Economics, and the aptly named Laffer tax curve.

highwayscribery was young and, like most young people, marginalized by society (or at least slumming it). His life was lived on city streets. Music was his inner compass and political weathervane.

The "latest" tunes of those times had been charged by electric currents of reggae and West Indies roots music into a languishing rock 'n roll scene. Clapton and Patty moved to Jamaica. Bob Marley rocked Madison Square.

One result of these artistic novelties was the "two-tone" movement of musicians that mixed white and black players into combos specializing in reggae and its funky step-sister, "ska," all aptly conjured and represented by our black-and-white visual at top.

"Don't call me Ska-Face!"

The Specials led the charge. Others trod the path they'd hacked into our consciousness, such as Madness and Bad Manners. These bands were political, leftist, and organically anti-racist.

The English Beat summarized youth sentiment from Kings Road to Washington Square with "Whine or Grine/Stand Down Margaret," quoted in the opening and here again:

you tell me how can it work in this all white law?
what a short, sharp lesson?
what a third world war?

oh stand down Margaret,
stand down please,
stand down Margaret.

The feeling among young hipsters throughout the western world was one of dread as the New Right took back our parents' benefits, reduced our college grants, leveled our artistic districts for the benefit of corporate development, and basically ended the world as we knew it, in exchange for something sort-of promising in an open-ended way, but more dangerous and less socially cohesive.

Thatcher and Reagan returned to the callous use of violence after it had fallen into discredit as a diplomatic tool. They came with a cure to the "Vietnam syndrome," which the right claimed was afflicting those who'd heeded the sobering lessons of that horrid national experience.

It viewed this new and cautious wisdom as some kind of retreat and gave it a name suggesting illness, rather than an evolution in our collective understanding about war's true costs.

So, those of us in the two-tone movement (and of draft age) did not much care for Maggie and Ronnie, for their policies were directed straight at us. Reagan's America went docilely along with him, but the Labour Party and its union allies stood strong to save their lives.

Now, "The Iron Lady" did not pick up the moniker from a tool she got good at wielding in a laundry shop. She got it for being willing to unleash the police state on those whom she had backed into a corner and forced to grab a pitchfork.

She won, but the rest of us lost.

In her 2012 autobiography, "Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?"  British scribe Jeanette Winterson explained how she, a working class gal with few prospects or advantages, came to vote for Thatcher in May of 1979.

Winterson noted that the Brit left -- the unions and the Labour Party apparatus -- had been slow to equally engage women in their efforts. She liked that Thatcher was a woman and was swayed by her arguments for a society of greater risk and reward.

She recalled an existential apathy on the left, to which the scribe can attest. Although he did not vote for Reagan, highwayscribery was one with the country that some kind of change was needed. That the U.S. was in the doldrums.

As Winterson noted, we were all snookered.

Reagan and Thatcher, she wrote, "broke forever" the post-World War II political consensus that had endured for 30 years. That consensus had both the right and left agreeing that rebuilding Western economies could not be done through, "unregulated labor, unstable prices, no provision for the sick or the old or the unemployed. We were going to need a lot of housing, plenty of jobs, a welfare state, nationalisation of utilities and transport."

The consensus, she opined, represented "a real advance in human consciousness towards collective responsibility; an understanding that we owed something not only to our flag or to our country, to our children or our families, but to each other. Society, Civilization. Culture."

This winning recipe did not, she noted, spring from Victorian values, but from the "superior arguments of socialism."

The demise of this ideal was as sobering for her as it has been for millions worldwide:

"I did not realize that when money becomes the core value, then education drives towards utility or that the life of the mind will not be counted as good unless it produces measurable results. That public services will no longer be important. That an alternative life to getting and spending will become very difficult as cheap housing disappears. That when communities are destroyed only misery and intolerance are left.

"I did not know that Thatcherism would fund its economic miracle by selling off all our nationalised assets and industries.

"I did not realise the consequences of privatising society."

But she does now, as do those who were adversely affected by Thatcher's policies, even if those penning today's remembrances do not.