Who controls the world? Whose actions – whether deliberate or not – have led society to the myriad points of collapse it now appears to be teetering upon? Who caused the rise of the far right across the world? Who caused Brexit? Who caused ISIS? Who caused mass inequality and starvation in some parts of the world, coupled with huge volumes of food waste in others? Why are poor people still dying of curable diseases?
Who – who, who, who – are the right people for the tolerant, liberal, progressives of the world to get angry at? Who are, Sam Jordison (writer of the Crap Towns series of books, host of the Guardian’s “Reading Group” and co-director of independent literary publisher Galley Beggar Press) asks, the true Enemies of the People?
Diving into recent, modern and ancient history, Jordison profiles the fifty people he believes have caused the most serious problems to afflict the modern world. Who are they? What are the reasons for their inclusions? Well, I’m not going to list them all here, but Jordison’s very commuter-friendly book offers a series of witty tirades and explorations into why [he believes] the world we live in is as it is, and why that’s bad.
Enemies of the People was published on the 1st June 2017, which although being less than two weeks ago [when typing], one chapter has already aged considerably badly: the one on Jeremy Corbyn. Who knew the transformation that man would go through during the election cycle? No one, including Sam Jordison. Miraculously, everyone who isn’t a raging Tory likes Corbyn now, so several pages about the man’s incompetence are amusingly anachronistic, following recent events.
The book consists of fifty chapters, each about an individual (most are men, most are white, but not all are both), and these chapters vary in length from around 2/3 pages to 5/6. So, basically, lots of short, bite-size, pieces. Article length, rather than essay length, like casual journalism rather than academic history. These are accessible articles, offering both fact and opinion, ordered carefully so the more obscure figures/complicated ideas are explained at the start of the book. I.e. we learn about Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand’s ideologies in lots of detail (as they keep cropping up), likewise the actions and opinions of Henry Kissinger.
There is a bit of an American focus, but Jordison argues that this is deserved, due to so much recent Western political thought coming from the US. There’s a lot about Trump, about Reagan, about Nixon, but also about Blair and Thatcher and Hitler and Mao. This is a wide-reaching book, looking to the recent spread of the “alt-right” and the risks of artificial intelligence developing a purpose (i.e. a “mind”) of its own, as well as exploring reasons for the continuation of the Vietnam War, the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the spread of offensive ideologies by global media brands. Well, the spread of offensive ideologies by some global media brands. There is a conspicuous absence in the book, and it’s easy to understand why.
Enemies of the People is published by HarperCollins, so there’s no chapter on a certain elderly, white, male, Australian who many people view as the embodiment of evil. Yes, Jordison’s publisher is owned by News Corp, and that’s why it fails to address the many sins of Rupert Murdoch, an absence made all the more conspicuous given the amount of detail given over to other figures who have (or have had) serious media clout (including Paul Dacre and Piers Morgan). Chris Martin even gets a profile, and although dullifying rock music is a heinous thing, it doesn’t compare with the sleazy political manoeuvrings of Jerry Hall’s husband.
Obviously – obviously obviously obviously – there’s no way Jordison [and HarperCollins] were going to put out a book including a chapter that insults the owner of the publisher, just as no one entering the Galley Beggar Short Story Prize is going to submit a piece criticising the way Jordison runs his publishing house. Compromise, alas, is essential in life. What interests me is when that decision was made. Did Jordison write a chapter on Murdoch and send it to his editor, or did he not bother? Does Jordison genuinely believe that Kim Kardashian West and Mel Gibson have done more wide, international, societal damage than Rupert Murdoch? Maybe he does, it’s an intriguing issue, and one I will definitely raise when I interview Jordison, who’s a forthcoming guest on the next batch of Triumph of the Now TV. He may not want to talk about it, though, which I suppose is fair enough. In fact, having posted this before filming he may cancel due to orders from his Murdochian overlords. We’ll have to see.
The absence of Murdoch and the dated piece about “the absolute boy” aside, Enemies of the People is great. Though there isn’t any stringent referencing, as long as one believes that what Jordison presents as facts are indeed facts (they chime with my own political opinions so I’m not especially moved to challenge them), then this is a hugely informative little book. With its short sections, a witty, confident, narratorial voice and lots of recounted anecdotes that sometimes disgust and regularly amuse, this is a great non-fiction book with a similar tone to Mark Singer’s Trump & Me, though with a much wider focus. Jordison’s take down of Osama bin Laden as little more than a proto-vlogger is a particular highlight.
There’s a lot of information, and I learnt about:
- why the American right is crazy about BOTH free market economics AND god;
- why Islamic extremism was deliberately funded by the West during the Cold War;
- how the invention of talk radio is deeply associated with quack medicine;
- how Ayn Rand disproved her own ideology;
- why William the Conqueror caused class inequalities that still exist today.
Enemies of the People would suit both being read quickly as a bleak indictment of the society we live in, or slowly as occasional angry excerpts to amuse the curious liberal. It’s informative, it’s entertaining, it’s infotainment. It’s the kind of thing podcasts and Radio 4 panel shows are made about. It’s funny, it’s engaging, it’s good.