First published on The Alternative UK July 27, 2017
As a working musician, at the end of every gig I play, I bow to my audience. I do this because on stage I am in a position of power. I have the loudest voice in the room and these people have respected me enough to offer their attention, support and vocal appreciation. For that, I bow to them – a bow of debt and gratitude. Those with power should always bow to those without. It’s only by the willing assent of the people that such power is maintained.
In recent years, spurred on by social media, alternative voices questioning received wisdoms and old school power structures, voices that once sat in the political wilderness, are growing in strength. Whether it be standing against the ideology of Austerity, the collapse of the traditional Labour vote in Scotland and subsequent embrace of the SNP, the dominance of Jeremy Corbyn in England or the explosion of new political movements like Momentum, Occupy and The Alternative UK… It all points to a perceptual evolution in how our society views entrenched authority.
The time is approaching to discuss in a wider public sphere, how our ideas of respect and deference are the reverse of what they should be. It’s a simple truth that Rousseau argued for over 250 years ago – “No man has any natural authority over his fellow men.” And yet humans tend to accept power and truth based on what the rest of society accepts, whether that is the legitimacy of an unelected monarch, or ingrained political/cultural concepts such as austerity or neo-liberal capitalism.
Collective mainstream media silence at the appearance of the hitherto non-existent Magic Money Tree to pay for Buckingham Palace repairs and a Tory/DUP coalition, still speaks volumes about how far we have to go in our relationships with established power. But one look at a younger generation at the forefront of embracing political change – alongside broader cultural memes in gender fluidity and sexual diversity – gives an indication of the threat to established orders.
(And this in turn explains a growing reactionary sentiment from defenders of ‘traditional’ values- Islamic State, Alt Right, Trumpist masculinity and UKIP xenophobia being among the most visible avatars.)
The unexpected UK electoral support for Jeremy Corbyn, a noted republican socialist, is the biggest sign yet that something is afoot. Success for Corbyn, a man so firmly outside the establishment that he has refused to bow to the mainstream media, a pacifist refusing to bow on national television to the baying hordes of nuclear fanatics demanding he incinerate millions – even if it costs him the top job – demonstrates that unquestioned, mainstream ideologies are coming under scrutiny across the board.
The cracks in the façade of social deference to established power were clear to see as far back as the Scottish independence referendum. The “Yes” vote, campaigning on social justice issues brought worried Westminster politicians north of the border making any promise they could think of to allay a potential separatist victory.
The public’s growing disquiet with Austerity is yet another step in challenging all the other assumed ‘truths’ that those in power insist upon. Similarly the Brexit vote, though misguided, was in many voters minds a chance to reject the ideals of ‘the elite.’ Yet blindly lashing out at those who would lord over us prevents any deeper analysis of our own culpability in perpetuating the way things are.
We should turn our attention to the myriad subtle ways that power structures seek to create deference. Can we stop bowing in our television viewing figures to the privileged children of millionaires on shows like Made In Chelsea, our fascination, our longing for their lives, an act of capitulation and encouragement to those who would have us forever bow to power and wealth?
Systemic cultural change is required – and is possible. It’s what authority fears the most. To bow to anyone or anything because they have “assumed” power, or because social convention or tradition expects it is at best absurd and at worst, an abdication of your own agency in this world.
Maybe the new truth we have to learn, when we finally understand that all is up for rigorous analysis and possible rejection, is this: Bow to no individual or institution. Not to politicians or presidents or priests, not to royalty or gods or millionaires or generals. All these individuals should instead be bowing to you, their audience, the people that allow them to sustain those positions.
This is the great truth that has been covered up, lost in the deification of authority, money and inherited privilege. Once you begin to question the absurdity of these old-fashioned ideas you will realise one simple truth – We must not bow to the powerful. They must bow to us.