While flipping channels on the television, in a dazed, distracted stupor, I caught the end of a programme about Nazca lines and it piqued my interest. It brought back a vague, indistinct memory, from my early twenties, of gee-whizz documentaries speculating wildly on the origins and purpose of these mysterious lines in the Peruvian desert, which were only clearly discerned when commercial air travel began over-flying this route, in the 1920s. The explanation that has come to be accepted, on the basis of balance of probabilities, while not universally accepted, is far more prosaic.
Nazca lines are a series of gigantic pictorial representations, mostly of animals, incised in the desert by humans. The lines are known as geoglyphs – drawings on the ground made by removing rocks and earth to create a “negative” image. The rocks which cover the desert have oxidized and weathered to a deep rust colour, and when the top 12-15 inches of rock is removed, light-coloured, high-contrasting sand is exposed. Because there’s so little rain, wind and erosion, the exposed designs have stayed largely intact for 500 to 2000 years. These pictures in the desert, incomprehensible from ground level, were made between 200BC and 600AD, it is thought.
The Nazca lines are elaborate, vast, ingenious, ceremonial, baffling and essentially useless.
The Nazca lines are, if nothing else, a monument to delusional human folly. Believing it would please their Gods; these lines were drawn in the desert in the hope of restoring water supplies and fertility to the soil. It didn’t work. It was never going to. The theory was all wrong. The Nazca’s entire concept of cause and effect was based on faith and delusion, rather than evidence and proof.
The Nazca perished, as a civilisation, despite their evident, ardent devotion to pleasing their sky Gods. It is amazing what lengths they went to, as a society, in order to construct these geoglyphs. Consider the time, resources, opportunity costs, planning, ingenuity and sheer labour that were expended in their construction. A lot of people must have been fully convinced that what they were doing was worthwhile. To endure and persevere, they must have been certain that building these geoglyphs was the right and best thing to do.
Today, there are vast populations that think they are doing the right and best things. They’re convinced that what they’re doing, with every day of their lives, is worthwhile. Faith in neo-liberalist economic theory, market forces, austerity, authority and the NASDAQ is deeply embedded in our culture. It’s a system of worship and people place their faith in these things, these entire systems of belief, to restore decency, prosperity, independence, self-determination, liberty, human dignity, safety, security, a good environment to live in, nutritious food, clean air and water for all. This is how we spend our resources. We endure and persevere, even while these systems of belief so obviously fail to provide what we want them to provide. Just a little more applied effort and all will be well, we think. To question this is heresy.
But, just as the Nazca lines didn’t work, neither will the NASDAQ work. Both will be monuments to our collective ignorance, stupidity and failure to take actions that are actually effective. They will memorialise our collective failure of imagination and courage. Our delusional adherence to markets, as a route to solve all ills, is our modern societies’ equivalent of the Nazca lines – neo-Nazca lines, if you will.
Authoritarianism is a false hope. The belief that some people, if given the right badge and costume, know better than the rest of us how we should all live, is based on a ludicrous conception of the role bestowing the wisdom and judgement on an otherwise fallible, imperfect human being. We tool them up with unspeakable weapons and coercive, blunt force, believing that you can bludgeon people into compliance with any cockamamie idea you choose. It just doesn’t work in practice, yet we delegate to the authorities powers that we, individually, don’t have. We give the chosen, imperfect humans in authority carte blanche to write their own standards of behaviour, giving them literally the power over life and death, when any ordinary individual would never presume to have such rights and unrestricted powers. Is it any wonder they ultimately turn against us, rather than upholding and delivering the good things we all want?
An honest person would admit they have absolutely no idea what’s best for another human being and that they should be allowed to figure out their life choices on their own, without interference, but authoritarians presume to interfere with force. The fatal contradiction at the heart of every authoritarian’s belief system is that they want to control me, but they don’t want me to control them. What they argue for is a power imbalance, with them holding the advantage, not reciprocity.
Austerity is demonstrably a failure. By any rational analysis, it is precisely the wrong thing to be doing and this has been borne out by the data. The reason austerity fails is that a government is not a household and their budgets have very different characteristics. What a government, as currently conceived, is supposed to do is encourage the humans, under its governance, to be productive to provide decency, prosperity, independence, self-determination, liberty, human dignity, safety, security, a good environment to live in, nutritious food, clean air and water for all. If you believe in austerity, however, you start from the position that we, as a society, can’t afford any of that. In which case, why do we even need a government? Austerity is actually an argument for anarchy, except it does so in the most wrong-headed way imaginable.
The American Dream is a sham. We’re led to believe that hard work, patience and determination guarantee that we will all have the good lives we deserve, but we know that misfortune and events beyond our control can scupper that project, for any given individual, at any moment, for no coherent reason. It’s random. You can be riding high, living the American Dream one day and be totally wiped out, through no fault or action of your own, the next. Hard work and diligence offers no guarantees. Some of the hardest working people I know are the worst off. This is not due to any inherent character flaw in their makeup, as the theory insists. It’s the theory that is wrong.
We all turn a blind eye to the fact that those in power are not spending their days in sincere and considered concern about how to do what’s best for the people they represent. Instead, they’re mostly focused on how to cling to or seize more power. We ignore this fact, because it doesn’t fit with our belief system. We’re too busy shifting rocks in the metaphorical desert, to construct a picture of a giant eagle.
Chauvinist pride and jingoistic nationalism do not deliver decency, prosperity, independence, self-determination, liberty, human dignity, safety, security, a good environment to live in, nutritious food, clean air and water for all. They never have and they never will and yet, probably half of people believe it will. Where is the evidence? Why do they cling to this notion? Which sky Gods are they trying to appease?
“Watching international sport is the modern day equivalent of watching Rome burn whilst playing the violin.” – My imaginary mate Neill, with two L’s.
Sectors of our society believe that the biggest problem is immigrants and those collecting benefits, whether or not they are in some way deserving of our collective support. Our default assumption is that they didn’t work hard enough, or else have a flaw in their character and we can’t afford to help them, even if we wanted to. That’s why they’re down and out. Given those assumptions, disciples act in ways that try to “solve” that problem, but it’s not the real problem and the people causing it know it. This is distraction. You’re being had. Both the Leave and Remain campaigns, in this week’s UK referendum, present a false dichotomy, neither of which delivers what is actually required. What we need is something different to what both sides are presenting as their ideal outcome. Every vote that is swayed by these spurious arguments is a neo-Nazca line.
What people cling to as beliefs, their very concept of who they are and the place they live are hopelessly confused, bamboozled and filled with drip-fed, noxious propaganda. Their ideas are a mess. That’s why they’re effectively drawing geoglyphs in the desert. They think they’re doing something that is going to help, rationally, moderately and soberly, unaware that the very theory they base their actions on is utter nonsense. They can’t see that their actions are futile, in the grander scheme of things.
Our current systems of belief, our mammoth, bureaucratic administrations, the organisations and concepts we place our faith in to deliver a better life are, just like Nazca lines, elaborate, vast, ingenious, ceremonial, baffling and essentially useless. They’re neo-Nazca lines. They will stand as lasting monuments to our ineffectual ineptitude, as a society and mark our stubborn refusal to think beyond our self-reinforcing belief systems. We’re going to look like idiots.
If your art is to have any meaning, value, worth and impact, it can’t just be a series of neo-Nazca lines, haphazardly rendered and representing an upholding of human nonsense. They might be beautiful, spectacular, awe-inspiring and only visible from space (or high-flying aircraft), but they serve no useful purpose and they’re a record of placing our faith in idiocy. Please, make art that makes a difference. Don’t settle for blind adherence to crappy ideas.