Change-a-lujah

US anti-consumerism campaigner Rev Billy reports from Hellnar, on the western tip of Iceland - a sur

This morning we walked across on a grassy bluff to look out at the ocean, and found a crater, with jagged black rock walls. But then we noticed that it had the sounds of gulls coming out of its depths, and angling around it we discovered sunlight shimmering down there. We found that it was a cave that made its way to the sea.

This is one of those surreal Edens, like Patagonia, in which the earth stares down human beings and dares us to believe. Believe in what? The answer would be: impossible things. Mysterious complexity that encourages a response of meditation as much as science. It’s good for us to be here. Tomorrow we return to New York. Back to the daunting task of slowing down American Consumerism.

In fact this place makes us feel as if the jig is up for the retail world back home. The thing that product-life can’t possibly do, not the new iPhone or Shrek 3, is greet the mind with this level of complexity. And we need it like we need breathing. Amen? Of all the things that are routinely promised by corporations as they hawk their products: youth, status, sex – the glaring lack is complexity. Products must per se be dumber than nature, and thus dumber than people.

Just lately, the complexity of nature has been obvious to the average lay person, as the climate crisis has stood up like a brilliant student at the back of the class and suddenly recited a physics of a hundred feedback loops of sunlight and trapped gasses and ice. We have felt this here, being so far north, amid glaciers and lava fields, and hearing the native talk of seasons gone by. And the Greening of the Corporation appears laughably late in the day in the land of the midnight sun. Shopping our way out of this? Are we that stupid? This earth isn’t.

I predict an uprising against this great dumbing down by product-life. A withdrawal from middle class habits because they are less interesting. There is something in human beings that must demand the complexity in which we were created and evolved. This evening we climbed up through one of these caves, up from the black stone beach, and pulling ourselves up to the grassy edge at the top, we found a snowy mountain peak awaiting us in the sky above. Breath-taking, barely imaginable, so complexified, how could this be? We were given, then, something from the earth that we can bring to face down the corporation’s reduced world. Children, from nature we came, and to save ourselves, to this higher art of living we shall return.

Change-a-lujah!

Reverend Billy is a US anti-consumerism campaigner. He and his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir spend their time “singing and preaching for local economies and real experience”. They argue backing away from the the product will put the “odd back in god
Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.