It’s been disconcerting, bleak weekend of intense contrasts. On the one hand, there has been saturation coverage of the Jubilee. You can’t avoid it. It’s everywhere. Some of it is rather entertaining. But that happy gloss of patriotism is a veneer. There are things going on that are being squeezed out of our attention and view. I never like that. I feel unsettled.
My view toward the Jubilee is ambivalent. I get it. She’s a grand old lady. I know why people want to celebrate their Britishness (however they define or fail to precisely define that term) and I am in sympathy with their need for a good “knees up”. I understand. I don’t hold anybody in contempt for being a fan of the pomp and circumstance (though I cannot, for the life of me, find out what the word “circumstance” actually means, in this context). However, I can’t help thinking, in some intuitive corner of my mind, that some of the adherence to the feel-good factor is a manifestation of wilful ignorance and malice toward the people we ought to be concerned most about, at least in some cases. It’s a nagging feeling that something isn’t quite what it seems.
Yes, we should be concerned about a nonagenarian standing for hours in the rain on a cold day and then being taken ill, but there are nonagenarians all over the country, many of whom also wore grand dress uniforms at one time in their lives, who can’t afford the rising cost of fuel. We don’t know about those people at all. We have fuel poverty in this supposedly affluent nation. How can that be? Austerity bites hardest those least able to fend off the assault. Who can even name one of the sixty or so people hospitalised, suffering exposure, due to watching the flotilla out in the elements? The nation’s Brutishness is seldom celebrated and barely acknowledged. It’s a dirty secret, not discussed at all in polite company, to those more concerned with their bunting and union jacks.
There is a very good movie that ought to be required viewing for those that wish to understand how power conspires. The movie is “Z” and I recommend it to you, though it will probably profoundly depress you. Here is a trailer for the film, which is still available on DVD.
It’s about a political assassination and how it is covered up. The message of the movie is stark. This stuff goes on around you and it has not been curbed. Not being aware of it or not acknowledging it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Few of the guilty ever have their wings clipped in any significant way and the innocent pay with their lives. The movie is forty years old, but it was an award winner, on its release. The problem with it is that having watched it, you come to understand that in forty years, nothing has changed. Despite the best efforts of this film maker, his cast and crew, to open our eyes and compel us to cause change, the message has not been heeded. We didn’t listen. The same thing can and does happen today. We are in thrall to the power of myths and manipulated by the myth makers. This film shows how the myths are made and maintained.
Coincidentally, another video came to my attention, this weekend. If you don’t believe that we’re fed myths and trained to believe in them without question, then you should take a moment to listen to a theologian who has spent his entire career examining the mechanics, consequences and purposes behind religious myths. When it comes to myths, he knows a thing or two. He’s made an academic study of them and published books about them. Myths are his specialist subject.
He has, latterly, had a lot to say about the use of myths in the political arena. This video is worth watching in its entirety. Its credible, calm, rational conclusion is that the manipulation of us all, with created myths, is readily demonstrable, through sound reasoning and dispassionate, logical examination of the evidence. Further, he goes on to say that myths have been used as the sole basis and justification for policies and actions which ought to be halted immediately, for the sake of the survival of humanity. No bunting or cream teas, I grant you, but worth your time, attention and concern, nevertheless:
There are many myths to which we all obediently subscribe. Everyone knows about presenteeism. That’s where people struggle on, despite being ill or injured, for fear of being replaced by somebody else just like them. That myth of instant, commoditised, interchangeability actually isn’t true at all. There has, so far as we know, been nobody that can replace Jimi Hendrix, Freddie Mercury or David Beckham, at the peak of their powers. We’ve waited, but even though there have been people that caught something of the genius of these people, history shows that they were utterly unique. In fact, each one, if ill or injured, could have justifiably said, “no, you’ll have to wait for me until I am well”, yet in every case, the myth that “the show must go on” prevailed, as if such people were two a penny. Not a single one of these unique talents had the confidence to believe they were special and irreplaceable.
Twitter is a hotbed of user-generated myths. If you spend any time on there, you learn that people hide behind masks. They are, perhaps sensibly, unwilling to expose their vulnerability. Some fear for their privacy, others to prevent being subject to mass, gratuitous offensiveness. People are guarded. They don’t connect with each other in any truly deep or meaningful way. It is, in many ways, a masked ball, where everybody is engaged in an elaborate and ongoing charade.
Consequently, social network timelines are crammed with the mundane, the trivial, the superficial, the meaningless and the banal. Nobody wants to cause offence, except those who gain pleasure by deliberately causing offence. Is it any wonder that you can quickly develop the sense, which extrapolates to the whole world you live in, of being adrift, rudderless, in a sea of superficiality? We’re mere flotsam on an ocean of trivialities, it seems. We cling doggedly to the wreckage of the official myths we’re fed and the ones we all create. We bob endlessly, with our heads just above the water line, beneath which we drown.
Meanwhile, in the real world, our politicians, with dubious mandate, plot to finish off the only planet we have at a faster rate, for private profit, as if they have somewhere else to go, when the planet is laid waste:
But we don’t care. We’re too busy maintaining face on our timelines and having a good time with our street parties, picnics and patriotic cakes. We’re making puns and funny jokes about what we see on television. It’s all very jolly.
Despite hard data, available to us for decades, that austerity has never worked, in all of history, our leaders and the decision makers that influence all of our lives persist in wrong-headed, readily discredited policies, to benefit a few plutocrats:
Maybe the plutocrats think they have somewhere else to go, when they have laid waste to the economy. And there is mounting evidence that, like all previous austerity drives, the current one already has demonstrably failed:
This was not given a moment of thought or coverage, during live coverage of the flotilla. Wouldn’t seem right, would it? Inappropriate. Despite living in hard, difficult times and being told, by our monarch at the opening of parliament, that we need to unite and cut spending, we throw a £275 million party anyway, paid for by the public purse. And we all join in with glee. After all, there will be balloons, flags, light shows and fireworks.
While we look to the skies and hope the rain will hold off for long enough to present an outdoor concert, greater and more ominous storm clouds are forming:
Some might not understand the significance of the global money supply shrinking. Some may not know why it matters to every inhabitant of earth. Think of it this way. Money is nothing more than a trading token – a bubble gum card you can exchange for goods and services. It is nothing more than a proxy for human effort. We need it only to lubricate the engine of the economy. It’s like oil. Without the steady flow of money, to all moving parts of the economic engine we call the global economy (including Greece – no pun intended) and without enough of it to keep everything moving, the engine of the economy seizes up. If you have ever seen what happens to an engine when all the oil leaks away, I can assure you that it is sudden and spectacular.
What the report above says is that money, like engine oil, is leaking away. It’s draining. Where is it going? It’s going into frozen, long term savings and into commodities. So the value isn’t gone. It just cannot have the effect of making the economy continue to work. Yes, this depends entirely on what is counted in the definition of the global money supply (so-called M1), because it excludes barter, complementary currencies and digital currencies like Bitcoin, but it does indicate that for most of us, we are in for perhaps decades of stagnation, youth unemployment, unrest, indignados, lives on hold, falling births, broken marriages, sub standard housing, underemployment, post-college indebtedness and feeling hemmed in and trapped – all for want of better organising how the trading tokens flow. Is that what we choose? Have alternatives been proposed and adequately discussed? Of course not! The agenda is controlled by those who benefit most from the status quo. Keep watching the marching band, red uniforms, bearskins, flaming beacons and official sixty one gun salutes, ok?
Ironically, all of these articles came to my attention via quiet social media posts, but they were not discussed there at all. People really are concerned, but they dare not let on. Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.
My reaction to this contrast between jubilation and the stories coming to dim light while it all goes on is not to feel satisfied, safe and comfortable, which I guess I am supposed to feel, during such a patriotic outpouring and celebration. My feeling is one of intense discomfort and concern. Rome is burning and our smoke alarms have no batteries. Pass me a fiddle.
That isn’t to say that every now and then we don’t get a small drop of truth, in this lake of louche mendacity, from some concerned artist or other. There have been documentary film makers that exposed the truth, protest song writers and feature film makers that dramatised events of significance, to open our minds. We’ve had the odd hard-hitting playwright and visual artist that has spoken out, lucidly and courageously, against tyranny, oppression, war (particularly the Vietnam war), official corruption, plutocracy, inequality, poverty, hunger, abuses of humanity and so on. They’ve been vocal. They’ve caught our attention. They made us look, listen and think. And yet, after forty years of trying, it hasn’t made any practical difference at all. We still have tyranny, oppression, war, bloody dictators, plutocrats, torture, greed, injustice and crime in high places. It’s all still in place, untroubled by the artists’ protests. Many of the artists were persecuted and killed. Their blow against the machine didn’t make a big enough impact. We didn’t unite around them.
Other artists, perhaps noting the futility of resistance, or seeing advantage in so doing, have been willing tools of propaganda and have acted to plant and reinforce the myths we’re all supposed to believe. They’ve made it harder for the rest of us to see the truth, dazzled by their technical abilities to deliver ideology unfavourable to us, in a sugar coated form that we will happily swallow. Bad artists.
Still other artists, seeing the waste of time that protest seems to be and repulsed by joining the dark side, spend their artistic lives creating banal, trite, empty, optional, meaningless, insubstantial, ignorable, inoffensive, worthless artistic statements, devoid of any content or point of view. Lots of paintings of extinct, imagined country sides. Lots of vases of flowers in delicate water colour tones. Lots of conceptual art that says and means nothing, except that which we, as the audience, try to reverse engineer into it. Sharks in formaldehyde. Endless, repeated canvasses with coloured dots. Emptiness. Heartlessness.
It is only in relatively recent times that artists have been indoctrinated to believe that their art was all about themselves. As Jack White of the White Stripes said, a hundred years ago, a song writer asked to write a song would write it about some community event, like a mining disaster or a loss of people at sea. It’s only lately that when a song writer says “I” in their song, it is taken as an autobiographical confession. Of course, this obsession with self is a side effect of a policy of dividing and ruling. It’s why the artists that write, paint and sing about themselves are actually playing into the hands of those that don’t want us to compare notes and rise up against them. Should we be so focused on our own suffering? Shouldn’t we turn our attention to improving the lot of our fellow man?
At the root of the problem, for both artists and others, is our stubborn unwillingness to deconstruct the myths and take them apart, looking for what’s inside and how they work. We can’t seem to break the myth that the people in charge, the authorities – our authorities, are pure and noble. We cannot accept that, frequently, they are little more than common criminals. Being a politician is now so discredited a profession that no decent person would contemplate entry into that profession, yet we want to maintain the contrary position. It’s a funny contradiction to hold that politicians are disreputable, but that their actions, when applied through our institutions of state in the so-called national interest, are always beyond reproach. How can that be?
We cannot acknowledge that criminals have obtained high office, for perhaps one hundred and fifty years or more, or that these criminals have held the power to destroy us all like a capricious toddler with a casual plaything. We can’t accept that our institutions are broken and have been broken for a long time, despite the mounting, unarguable evidence abundantly available and before our eyes. After all, what would it mean to our self image, our conception of our patriotism or our notions of nationhood, which hold that, no matter what happens, we’re the good guys and that if we do bad, we made an honest mistake or it was the work of some isolated, rogue, bad apples? What if deconstructing the myth shows that we’ve all been complicit and duplicitous in some unconscionable crimes and injustices, carried out in our name, perhaps with our tacit support, or perhaps due to our lack of oversight and willingness to challenge those we elect or empower through the accumulation of wealth? Is it our wilful ignorance and malice towards people different or less fortunate than us that permits crimes in high places to carry on unabated? Maybe our failure to call out the evil of others makes us default accomplices. In not recognising and confronting it, we allow it to flourish and continue. Pass me another union jack cupcake.
Carl Sagan said, “The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true.”
So while we watched the splendid boats sail down the river, accompanied by sycophantic television presenters, fawning over a very rich and privileged family at a distance, people who had no choice in the matter, for fear of being plunged into even more desperate straits, were treated like this, as if they were enforced labour:
This is how our government and its appointed agencies behave, during a celebration of nationhood and jubilation at the reign of a monarch. Austerity in action.
Artists have tremendous power, which they rarely use. They have the skills needed to create the narrative and agenda for thought. Without artists, the powerful have little ability in this. Artists, therefore, hold all the cards. They are the gatekeepers of thought. What they say and show can profoundly influence everybody. With such a power, they should be making a positive difference to the world, not kowtowing to the wealthy, to line their own pockets, at the expense of everybody else. Artists can and should use their imaginations to propose alternative possibilities and to create new, positive myths about how things could be. Not to fool the populace, but to inspire them to bring that better future into being. Imagination and emotionally affecting communication is what artists do best. They can envision a brighter future and influence everybody else to bring it into existence.
If they do that, the art they create might, at first glance, appear to be superficial and trivial on the surface, but if it is part of a narrative for a better future, it speaks to a mindset that is all about creation, not destruction, possibility, not austerity and beauty, not ugliness. Isn’t that what the nation and the world needs more than anything, at present? Why celebrate a faded and increasingly irrelevant, albeit glorious past, based around a now dwindling empire, when we could unite around the goal of lifting humanity out of its self imposed misery? In order to invent poverty, we had to first invent a monetary system – a monetary system that has singularly failed to remedy what it created. Before money, everything belonged to everyone. The only trouble was there wasn’t a good way to trade the application of skills and effort. We solved one problem, but caused so many others. Maybe it’s time to redesign the economic lubricant.
I’m aware that this entire post will be dismissed by some as curmudgeonly grumpiness by an anti-monarchist. That is not true. Enjoyment is a very important part of life and I am not against a nation relaxing and partying. In fact, I think it’s essential. However, I don’t think we should adopt a position of perpetual hedonism, superficiality and false positivity, simply to avoid the hard work of having the make the world a better place to exist in. We’ve been neglecting that task. You can see the consequences of that neglect all around you. I think attending to the problem is actually pressing and so once the bunting comes down, we had better get busy. A better reason for jubilation will be finding some effective solutions for the problems we all face.
Artists can do more than they do to imagine and inspire. They can dream up solutions and illustrate them in clear, easily grasped ways. That’s part of the artists’ stock in trade. But in order to be credible, authentic, caring artists, making artistic statements of real importance to humanity, we have to find a way to rise above the sea of superficiality. Otherwise, we’ll simply sink without a trace.
Unfortunately, I bet most people reading this post will not read the articles in the links in full or watch the videos recommended. That’s a pity. It’s sad, but probably true.
Yet I still hope not.