The Corbyn Effect, Following Thoreau, + The Magic of Bobby Orr

Illustration by Susan Coyne

This Week: The Corbyn Effect, with Naomi Klein, David Graeber, and Pankaj Mishra. Listen today at 2 pm on WBUR, or anytime on our website.

You wouldn’t know it by the cascade of Trump news spewing out of Washington all hours of the day, but we’re hearing rumblings of a new story emerging. Not to overstate things (and some of our commenters think we might have; please join the discussion here at the bottom of the post), but the British election last week and Jeremy Corbyn’s rally felt like a rechanneling of some of that global anger out there. Chomksy would say it was so simple (right there in front of your eyes). A guy, slammed hard by the tabloids and his Tory rivals, said what he meant and meant what he said: A government for the many, not the few. And people, specially young people responded. Time will tell, as the sage said, but our guests this week were onto it. Naomi Klein called it a swerve; Pankaj Mishra, the Age of Anger guy, sees stirrings of real dissaffection with global capitalism, and journalist David Graeber talked about the “efflorescence of resistance” breaking through a culture suffering from despair fatigue. His Baffler piece from a year and a half ago is must reading.

There were literary and musical digressions this week, too. Pankaj Mishra refers to a scene from “Notes From the Underground” where Dostoyevksy writes about London’s World’s Fair in 1851 and the Crystal Palace as a showcase of western technological advances. Turns out we should have listened more closely.

The Crystal Palace

What he was confronting in London in the mid 19th century is a carnival of materialism which was deeply deeply seductive, and he acknowledges its seductiveness and says that this is something that people around the world will not be able to resist — this promise of material prosperity, of endless expansion, of technological advancement continuos progress, but at the same time he’s extremely aware that the promise of that materialism being extended around the world is largely false; it’s hollow and will leave many people extremely dissatisfied. And even for people who manage to fulfill that particular promise, they will not be able to enjoy it to the extent they might think.

But Graeber’s story isn’t just one of despair. He also finds hope in the various utopian ideas that are gaining traction among the younger generation of Brits: ideas like FALC “fully automated luxury communism” and “steampunk”. In some ways these two utopias are at odds with each other: one advocates for the Star Trekification of society, accelerating and (inter)nationalizing our modern tech, eliminating the underlying profit motive, and making a quantum jump into the future. The other says that we’ve been living with the trauma of our post-WWI military tech for far too long. We now need to look and leap back towards the more innocent era of innovation in Victorian England to find our future inspiration.

You can watch Graeber’s own explanation of these ideas in the video clip below:

We might be guilty soon of promoting neoliberalism fatigue (at the very least there might be a new drinking game: when you hear “neoliberalism” on Open Source, you have to take a deep drink of something), but fear not, we’re heading to Walden, and the woods and the rivers in Concord to find traces of Henry David Thoreau for two upcoming shows.

Team Thoreau on HDT’s enchanting river: from left: Frank Horton, Becca DeGregorio, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Conor Gillies, Susan Coyne, Mary McGrath, Alejandro Strong and John Kaag

Yesterday we were guided along the Sudbury and Concord Rivers by the river whisperer and Thoreau channeler, Alejandro Strong, and author John Kaag, whose book American Philosophy we’ve been reading. We didn’t take the week, as Chris wanted, to re-create Thoreau’s trip on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers with his brother, John, but we spent a sublime half day paddling along the river.

“Between earth and heaven, I had often stood on the banks of the Concord, watching the lapse of the current, an emblem of all progress… at last I resolved to launch myself on its bosom, and float whither it would bear me.”

Read along with us: Walden, Thoreau’s journals, and his account of his week on the Conocrd and Merrimack Rivers, and stay tuned for our audio adventures.

We’re also reading:

Bob Dlyan and Roger Mcguinn visit The Mayflower in Plymouth, MA, 1975

After last week’s show (we re-aired our Dylan epic with Christopher Ricks and added Dylan in his own words, reciting his Nobel speech to the piano score by Alan Pasqua), we resolved to read (or reread in some cases, guess who…) Moby Dick. Dylan says Moby Dick inspired more than a few of his songs. Dylan says not to worry what it all means — Melville’s biblical references, scientific theories, Protestant doctrines, and all that stuff about of the sea and sailing ships and whales — so we won’t. Read along with us: roughly two chapters a night, for an end of summer show. Chris loves this version of the book, illustrated by Barry Mosher:

Mr. Amazon (now also Mr. Whole Foods), can get it for you here.

Chris Lydon’s Moment of Zen

Chris Lydon and Bobby Orr; photo by Dick Johnson

Chris Lydon: Nobody’s perfect, but… Have any of us ever seen anybody do anything as well as Bobby Orr played hockey? He had the shocking combination (as in Sugar Ray Robinson) of supreme speed and power, then split-second timing in his passes and breaks, fire in his heart but also calm and dignity at the Lou Gehrig level, even as a teenager. It’s one thing to make a stadium cheer, something else to bring crowds to a hush the way Bobby Orr typically did. It’s a delight to observe that the quiet force of the man is undiminished in the fifty years that the Lydon brothers have watched him studiously. A heroic soul from the Sixties and a living inspiration. Thank you, Bobby Orr!

Til next time,

Mary, Chris, Zach and the Pequod crew




An American conversation with global attitude, on the arts, humanities, and global affairs, hosted by Christopher Lydon.

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An American conversation with global attitude, on the arts, humanities, and global affairs, hosted by Christopher Lydon.

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