That my life doesn’t seem to grow and change is because time itself doesn’t seem to move things on anymore.
Oh yes, things change, but it’s as if the entire world is speeding up its exchanging and obtaining of things already bygone. And when all that happens is that things are circulated faster and faster, little of it seems to have any substance. When one thinks of our present time and what could be seen as new, one thinks of applications, social-media sites; they don’t bring anything new into the world they just stretch out and speed up the circulation of everything that’s already happened in our civilisation (recent technological advances merely turn the world into one giant tin of old photo’s, and all we do as a culture now is constantly browse that tin).
I have never found myself able to allow myself to leave my teenage physique and demeanor behind. Reality would show that I have left it behind, but it doesn’t stop the need to maintain what has already gone.I cling to a past that retroactively becomes more and more massive, as a future never seems conceivable. The more I speak to others (although it is played out in different ways) the more I realised it wasn’t specific to myself.
That I make sure that I can still fit into (some) size 30 waist jeans is merely reflective of a culture that continuously makes sure it can still riff on the past. According to The independent newspaper, the United Kingdom, in terms of soft power (or cultural capital) is ranked as the most influential nation in the world, and if there was ever a nation that has continuously managed to riff on its past (whether the royal spectacles or re-hashes of the same British rock group formula every 5 or so years) it’s the United Kingdom.
+We are trapped in a cultural logic that believes nothing can be done to shape and make a new world. Because of this we are held to ransom by the logic of a system that told us its world is the only world. Our culture has nowhere to turn, and as this systemic logic brings the world into farce, we look further and further backwards, in order to grasp something that we feel we can control, in order to stay sane.
I would speculate that with every crisis the capitalist system has produced this side of the year 2000 that it further entrenches this immersion in things of the past (albeit with modern devices that we rarely try to rationalise). The legitimacy of the system has been smashed by farce after farce; we know we it is failing us, but we cannot perceive away around it, so our world is built out of a past that we can control and predict.
Because we can’t face up to the present, or even acknowledge it, time feels out of joint. This disjunction between time and our experience can be unnervingly evident in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Dotted around every urban settlement up and down the U.K are, what I call, ‘Mary Celeste‘ Developments; never completed housing estates, barred off by metal barriers, and skeletal structures which are frozen in their foetal position. Precisely because we are culturally unable to face up to the present, we usually walk past these spaces and instantly forget about them. But if we make a conscious effort to observe them we are confronted with the disconcerting fact the the financial crisis began half a decade ago, when it doesn’t feel long ago at all. It only feels like it happened a few weeks back, and everything at these construction sites stands, waiting to resume business, as if it were only a temporary blip.
Because we have found ourselves at our cultural dead end (or at least at a blockage in the pipelines of time) the world hasn’t been able to come to terms with the truth that the world has been irreversibly changed from that day on. We can’t really picture the world as it actually is, now, because it gives us the sensation of already being dead, and having an after-death experience. So we wait for things to return to as they were; we wait and wait, and only rarely realise just how much time we have spent waiting.
It’s like we are the new Pompeii, but haven’t realised that we’ve been turned to stone and burried by the normal functioning of time. At times when we can passively flow through this world, without observing or experiencing the world-wide suffering that confirms that the world is still alive, one can be forgiven for at least imagining that the end of the world has already occurred, that we are literally spectres going through the motions unaware of being so, like the fate of the Characters in the film The Others, who do not realise that they are the ghosts haunting the living.
More people now dress like people from the past than the people who lived in them time-periods did. People in the 1960’s thought we’d be walking around in space-suits, but we actually walk around looking more like them than they did. More 1960’s than the 1960’s; more 1980’s than the 1980’s; we are more or less living in a simulation of the past, which helps keep us blind to ‘the desert of the Real’. This is the world of simulcra/hyperreality, understood well by the philosopher Jean Baudrillard in the 80’s and 90’s. Yet he makes it somewhat fantastical/exciting to read; it doesn’t feel like the bleak haunted house our post-recession culture occupies. The ghosts of the past are running out of energy just as we crave them the most; the music/pub/night-out scene which embalmed our culture with cheap drink is now often the arena where you feel most like you’re in spaces haunted by their past (empty pubs).
On a personal level, my predicament could be clumsily described by the previous generation as that of somebody who is “30 going on 18”, but the situation is far more serious. Much of the previous generation often refuse to acknowledge the reasons for this cultural inertia, because they grew up in a time when culture burst forward faster than anything before, only to exhaust itself in the form of tragic endings for many young pop icons. I have to ask myself whether I will be still heading to the “indie music” bars, not knowing where else to go, when I’m pushing 40. Experience of my past ten years, living in a culture that turned up the volume on its IPod every time news arrived of another crisis/catastrophe, is that doing so may be a necessary coping-method.
There seems to be an appropriate analogy between every citizen subjected to global capitalism and a person deemed-mentally ill, restrained in a straight jacket and shut away in a padded cell. Each one of us are being subjected to a process of increased isolation to the point of total disenfranchisement. In the strange time of no time/place of no place we occupy one cannot clearly see whether or not this process has already been completed. The internet can often feel like millions of isolated voices soaked with mental anguish, all screaming into a black hole, perpetuating their inertia. From such an angle, the internet resembles the pinnacle of communication-breakdown rather than the pinnacle of communication technology.
Some of the padded rooms are better endowed; they have more in them to keep the subject distracted, to forget their predicament. But some have little to distract their subjects with, who are continuously shouting and banging – but nobody can hear them.
European scientific discovery showed us how to take apart the living planet bit by bit, to see what it is made of, what qualities things possess, which has given us the ability to harness these qualities with revolutionary potential. But it seemed to be blind to half of what makes life what it is; yet you would be foolish to expect any individual living after centuries of the entrenchment of this logic to have some sort of idea what it was that was missed, even though many sense that something isn’t right. Before anybody could say “stop”, a powerful force has been released that capitalised on the extraction of qualities from the earth for profit: industrial capitalism.
Science now does us an immense disservice by continuing its crusade it has already won against organised religion, when the battle should be within itself (although I recognise this as an oversimplification, many leading scientific figures seem so hell-bent on ridding the world of believers in god, that they ignore that the frontline of science is used for the darkest, most secretive and socially regressive forces active in the world).
Capitalism harnessed scientific discoveries to extract from life to create something that is lifeless/dead: an accumulation of capital. This wealth is abstracted from what John Ruskin said was the real wealth: “life itself”. Like a dissection in a scientific experiment, capital acts on the planet as if with a scalpel, taking everything apart to extract profit from it. If there was ever a feeling that capitalism brought any other sort of progress than that of technological progress specific to its continuation, it has been incidental to it, such as with the creation of a proletariat (in the first industrial areas of the world) who forced capitalism to make a deal with it, otherwise there would have been revolution.
But the improvement in living conditions was fooled, exploited and twisted out of recognition by the power of advertising and capital found a way of extracting from one half of the world by manufacturing desire, envy and greed, and getting the other half to make the products. The white people’s of the first industrial nations were made into consumers, whilst the darker skinned people’s, to whom industrialisation was new, were made into the producers. This sent the people who had initially fought back against capitalism into a sleep-like state, and people began to find themselves alone together; everyone in box rooms, watching boxes of moving images, right next to each other, in sprawling suburbs. Alone, surrounded by material gains that couldn’t satisfy.
Once the labour organisations that had grown up to defend workers were defeated, capital had nothing to stop it growing and growing, and the more it grew, the more it fragmented groups of people; the more it did this the more it could exploit the individual. By the time the old Soviet regimes fell and capital went global, lots of people began to feel that if they couldn’t beat it they might as well join it; now they must be rueing this fatal error.
Everything capitalism sold to us as a token of freedom made us more and more trapped in isolation; cars emptied our streets of familiar faces; cell phones began to cut through conversations like an axe, and as more and more bought them, the more and more societies moulded to their design, making it almost impossible for anyone to be without them.
Forget the internet, now we have Facebook. Facebook may have the appearance of being a format that connects people and groups, but Facebook was an ingenious capitalisation; a capitalisation on a social trend already entrenched. Since the 1980’s an intense engineering of society to make it one of competitive individuals, isolated each individual, quietly disenfranchising them, to the extent that everybody found themselves unwillingly in competition with each other. The creators of Social networking sites picked up on this, to capitalise on the burning need to be recognised, seen as worthy of life and liked by others.
What is the feeling one has when they scroll down a Facebook news feed? It isn’t one of being connected, of being in company, it’s one of anxiety; anxiety over not being good enough, being invisible, being less popular, being left behind, being unattractive, which are all tributary anxieties that flow into the main river of anxiety of our time; anxiety over finances/work – and Facebook is an extension of work, which is why employees shouldn’t be surprised when potential employer’s analyse their profile.
Everything is an extension of work now, putting us in a continuous race to keep ourselves afloat. And individualism has began to show what it really means: freedom to fend off forces that are far too powerful for one person to deal with; a continuous becoming-incarcerated. The sound of what we have found ourselves in is slowly becoming too loud to ignore; but we no longer know how to connect and join forces with other people. Protest marches largely resemble festivals, charity races, that know where and when they will begin and end, than anything that has the potential to upturn the insane march into madness we have been placed on.
This is what I feel has happened; that so many of us have the same feeling; that the anger and anxiety about what is going on is trapped within us, as if it is our bodies that are the padded cells.
The sky is that kind of colour that seems to saturate everything with lifelessness. The kind of day when moving from one metaphysical bubble to another is very much advisable. Even better if you can drape these bubbles in enough shiny stuff as to make convince others that they are desirable places to inhabit. I suppose you lose a little dignity when you cannot do this at all; when the only thing that has colour on such days are the billboards/bus-stop-poster adverts that show a glamour that is seemingly always just out of reach.
Stuck in a room with no reachable community (in areas drained of community), where everything sociable requires purchasing power in order to be reached, in a country of people who have been told time again that the world has ended and that their own lives are now all that matters. So I step outside, with just enough money to catch the only bus out of this village to a nearby gallery – my mind needs it easier today, it’s not a day for staring into the abyss whilst sat in it.
I glance at the young people of this village, hanging around the top shop. A village that offers them nothing but street corners and empty roads to scoot down. They have reached that age when society slowly begins to humiliate them; slowly begins to wear the hopes and dreams down that it helped manufacture in the mind with orgies of images of glamour, the good life, and excitement. It now leaves them to stagnate in grey, underserviced housing estates. Of course they will look for distractions/sugary bursts that can help humour or keep in limbo those slowly-dissapearing hopes and dreams, and who can blame them when it turns into acts that are deemed as anti-social?
To suddenly see yourself as you truly are – socially trapped, with few prospects/a person well down the chart on the all-important ‘who’s-who’ list – must be one of the worst assaults possible on that necessary ego one needs, in this ocean of egos. Perhaps, at this point in time, now I find myself unemployed and lumped back in my parents’ house on the outskirts of an already-neglected town (after a failed attempt to move somewhere else), I realise the difficulty in retaining one’s dignity and a sense of self-worth, and not feeling humiliated whenever seeing other human beings who seem to be faring better. An immense amount of energy and mental strenth is required to maintain well-being and ignore the omnipresent signs that tell you you are worthless and a ‘loser’.
Everything that could have been done to make places more pleasant holes to exist in, everything that could have been done to create an environment that gives meaning and well-being to people has been shit on from a great height by the rights of free enterprise and private property. You either become somebody who is constantly in need of distraction (who have probably now become Facebook/text message addicts), somebody who has a skin as thick as a crocodile’s, or both. There is no real future that one is able to plan for.
Think of the 1960’s film, and cult-classic Kez (situated within the same borough as the village described, and culturally not as far apart as one would expect due to the amount that has changed since the production of the film). The protagonist, Billy Casper, enters the careers/jobs office at the Comprehensive school he attends. He is a young man who has sought constant distraction from his grim existence, to the extent that he cannot apply himself to anything – well, until he pets the Kestrel he names Kez, which gives him a meaning and freedom to life, only for it to be cruely destroyed by the culture he is trapped in. In the interview he cannot think of one job he would like to do; he obviously doesn’t have the capacity and strength to think this far-ahead. All he has in his mind is a desire to get out of that room as soon as possible, and get on with whatever gets him through each day, one by one.
To realise one’s true conditions of existence is, for many, a moment of sheer humiliation, followed by fear. One instead has to constantly spin the plate/keeping in balance the feeling that you “are the man, I am man”, whilst clearly knowing that they have been, by and large, sidelined by society. The best description I heard of the effect of the current government slashing of welfare is one of humiliation; as things get worse and worse, more and more will find it harder to maintain their dignity and a sense of self-worth. Within these coming years we are sure to witness extremities of all reactions to such humiliation; more riots, more drink and drug problems, more acts of random violence, more tribalism, more talent shows providing slim chances of success to ever-more desperate people, prepared to be in ever-more humiliating productions just for an end to the long humiliation.
It isn’t possible to look away from this, and these grey days demand of us that we see the world minus the ideological-enhancement-of our real conditions such distractions help maintain.
It’s not hard to find the crater-sized hole in the ‘Rivers of Blood Speech’ and all its wannabes – that hostilities between different groups of people only really flare up when the material conditions of the majority are either under threat, immiserating, alienating or all three, and then when groups of people who “didn’t used to live around here” appear, they become a tangible source to blame for the suffering that is often too immediate and in the face of people for them to see the roots of its cause.
But as much as we can feel proud and smug about ourselves for acknowledging this and being “better than the bigots on the streets”, knowing that the problem isn’t caused by “all these immigrants”, our acknowledgement does nothing to halt the death drive hidden in the DNA of this social system with dynamics that divide the majority into seemingly competing forces, whilst being invisible enough to escape most of the blame being dealt out. And as there seems to be no end in sight to the amount of austerity and deprivation the system could drag us to, the rise in aggressive tribalism, racist and random attacks seems inevitable.
The frustration in public places is more and more evident; whether people class themselves as liberal, nationalist, socialist or try not to class themselves as anything, all seem more tired, disillusioned and generally more fearful of everything. It’s obvious in the pubs (now like haunted houses, trapped in melancholy clinging to the ‘big nights out’ of the late 1990’s/early 2000’s), the high streets (where, once again, the mood is one of denial of the present, like a place that doesn’t know its own time-period) and the train stations. Random aggression, and scenes where people are in the grips of a breakdown are more common.
In Barnsley town centre last Tuesday ,early afternoon, I saw a man already very intoxicated, throwing punches and squaring up to inanimate objects, such as signposts, like nobody was watching him do so; then making gestures to a man with learning difficulties suggesting he would cut his throat. The police eventually turned up to speak to him, but I was wondering what is outlook on life had become, what is material conditions had become like, in order for him to be reduced to that state.
On Saturday I was at the famously run-down Wakefield Kirkgate station, which always feels like a place murmuring with frustration about life (Wakefield Kirkgate is a real place; it serves a significantly poorer populace that the mainline station, Wakefield Westgate, just half a mile away). Two young men, who by the sounds of their accents must have been either Irish, from a traveller community, or both, were trying to get to Knottingley, a station about 12 miles over to the east. They asked me when their train was, but I had no idea, as I was waiting for a train south, to Barnsley. True, they possessed a bit of ‘laddy’ lairyness, but it wasn’t in anyway aimed at me, nor did they say anything inappropriate.
I left the station for a bit, just to keep the blood flowing in my legs on the cold day, as the train was delayed by 15 minutes. When I came back, the train was delayed by a further ten minutes, and as I walked up the platform I looked back to see the two young men talking to a well-dressed young man who had just appeared on the platform. But there seemed to be an uncomfortable change in exchanges of expression between the two parties, as one of the two men was stood right up to the face of this well-dressed young man.
As I walked back down towards the Shelter, where quite a few more people were gathering now, I heard this well-dressed young man on the phone to somebody, talking about some “crack heads at the station”. How he knew this, I’m not quite sure. I wasn’t sure who had done/said what, but when they returned to talk to him, he reacted in a rude manner to them, which fired to two men up, who then began to get more confrontational with him.
After a few words were exchanged, an older man intervened in the conversation, saying without looking “shut the fuck up”, to which one of the young men said “who are you fucking telling to shut uo, baldy?”. I’m not sure why the older man needed to get involved aggressively, and this is why from the onset I felt the situation would have played out slightly differently if these two men hadn’t evidently got non-English (tax-payer) accents. But he seemed frustrated anyway (everyone there seemed a little frustrated, anyway), and it was making him more frustrated (I saw him take a puff on his inhaler afterwards).
I feared for the emergence of a tribal turn to all this when the old man kept asking “weer’ tha from mate?” (where are you from, mate?) to which the more vocal of the two men replied “yer mothers cunt, mate”, and this resulted in the old man chasing the two men, who really did run like hell (one of them cutting right across the tracks to the platform on the other side), to which he sat back down and began to talk about them to the other people in the shelter, with an air of “we don’t like outsiders” to it.
But the two young men then began to hurl abuse from the other platform. Yes, they were behaving idiotically, but the reactions began to be about who they were/where they were from rather than what they were doing. But they were also obviously scared, as whoever they were trying to get hold of over the phone, they were now trying to get them to come meet them in Wakefield (it’s amazing how well you can hear everything in a half-derelict train station). As they repeated the thing about his mother, the older man started shouting “why dunt tha guh back tu weer tha cem frum? (why don’t you go back to where you came from?) to which they replied “you can’t even speak properly mate”, to which he replied saying something about being from around here, and that they were “fookin’ pakki’s” and that they should “get ovver t’ fukkin tower wi’t rest oh ’em” (get over to that fucking tower with the rest of them), pointing to the Mosque you can see from the station.
(by the way, I’m not mocking the Yorkshire accent here – this is also how I usually speak)
A younger girl chipped in, saying “shut the fuck up, why dunt yer?”, that “if me dad woh ‘ere he’d knock ‘fook art ‘oh ’em” (if my dad was here, he’d knock the fuck out of them). I just felt like the people in the shelter were beginning to team together, and as much as it was probably more down to social cowardice that made me so muted at the beginning of this debacle, I remained mute because I realised I didn’t agree with either of the two, newly formed, parties. Despite the aggressive behaviour of these two young men, it’d raised the ugly tribal side of my home town, Barnsley (I could tell they were all from my home town by the accents); almost a negative/a distortion grown from historical traces/reasons for socialism in the town, taken hold of by fear, resulting often in racism and general hostility towards others.
I have a weird complex with my home town, it seeps into its residents pathology whether they like the place or not, its cultural Psyche makes its subjects unusually porous to it, strange for the relatively small size of the place. It sinks itself into you, whether the cultural of the place fits you or totally alienates you. And due to this I often feel like I owe it big, and it owes me big, only to be forever finding myself disappointed. The anger aroused in the station eventually, (due to the persistence of two young men’s obnoxiousness), eventually revealed a force against them for who they were, rather for what they had done, and it deeply saddened and worried me. My town is enbedded in me (I can’t escape this), and due to this you cannot help but want to see positive forces within it, but time after time it looks for answers from destructive forces (it’s so enbedded, that I would even suggest my own self-destructive moments owe something to it).
I think my frustration over my social cowardice, which always seems to reign supreme in such situations, is a reminder of my nervousness over expecting to see more and more of such random angry events in the coming years in this country. Protests, Occupy movements, even when protests appear to turn violent (well, when a few windows are smashed, in comparison with the many heads the police smash, often before the excuse of retaliation is valid) are likely to grow again, now that the labotomising flag-waving-enforcement of 2012 is done with, and this can only really be a positive. But as a form of reaction, I fear it will be in the minority compared with the disparate destructive reactions in this country.
The landscape being constructed from the genealogy of our culture is of course intended to be the world we have now. As much as we see the brutality of the social gradient, from the private houses, and finance skyscrapers to the corpses of the global poor as they are the first to reap the harvest of climate breakdown, and those who are cultivated to sell their bodies in whatever means as the only means to earn a living, it is still clear that nobody is safe from these destructive dynamics. The lyrics of the late Richie Edwards in the Manic Street Preachers song Motorcycle Emptiness claim that “every where’s death row, everyone’s a victim”; this is the case under a truly global capitalism. Whilst this doesn’t excuse the vast injustices, where more and more millions are being dumped on the waste pile, whilst a minority enjoy the luxuries of kings, it certainly makes the case that we all have an investment in a different the future to the bleak one the logic of capitalism has in store for us and the planet