I felt me slipping in and out of consciousness
I felt me slipping in and out of consciousness”
Lyrics taken From Harrowdown Hill, from Thom Yorke’s 2006 album Eraser
This collection of thoughts were brought together in the midst of hearing of the British ConDem government’s plans to extend powers of security services to monitor the web, meaning “(t)he authorities will be able to establish patterns by seeing who we send texts and emails to and how frequently, which websites we visit and what we download and the people we phone and how often” (from blog page A World to Win: http://aw2w.blogspot.co.uk/) and hearing about “courtroom secrecy proposals“ which would allow “ministers to decide what material could be concealed from the public, the media and even claimants during civil trials” (The Guardian, 4Th April 2012) which parliament’s human rights committee criticised for, among many things, causing harm to “the principle of open justice”, thus basically potentially allowing certain trials to to be undertaken behind an iron curtain of sorts.
David Cameron added his defence, saying the government needed to take every step to make the country safe (The Guardian, 4Th April). Despite this being highly hypocritical, by proclaiming safety and peace are his highest priority, in a month when he jetted off to East Asia to try to persuade countries such a Japan and Indonesia to buy British-made weapons, the more pressing questing is what do they see as being a threat to safety? Teresa May added ‘ordinary people’ have nothing to fear. But again, what is meant by ordinary people? The contrasting of a fictional do-gooder with a devious monster creates an image in the cultural imagination which allows for a simple binary, frozen in time interpretation of innocent next to guilty. From this you get the common rhetoric on the street of “if you’ve done nothing wrong, then what’s the problem?” which sends shivers down the back of anyone who cannot dismiss these things so clearly.
They only need to look back 10 years or so to see how flawed such rhetoric is; to see the frightening advance of the security and surveillance complex following the terror attacks of 9/11. Despite the news that anger from back-bencher’s in the coalition has stalled these plans, one only need to look back to see that there’s little doubt as to where we are heading. Writing about the growth of the security state, once the social state had begun to dissolve, sociologist Zygmunt Bauman writes that “once visited upon the human world, fear acquires its own momentum and development logic and needs little attention and hardly any additional investment to grow and spread – unstoppably” (Liquid Times, 2007). We are in the midst of this swelling.
These plans for tighter security extend much further in their aims than merely watching the spectres of terrorism or paedophilia which haunt our society; they will have to watch many more, who up to now believed this nation was one with the eternal right of free speech. It seems to me as if the entire anti-capitalist movement, which incorporates many more than what the media would suggest, isn’t quite sure yet what to do next, after a 18 month period in which the idea of a Left and a belief that capitalism can be challenged has gained credibility (at least outside the mainstream again). I think this is because it realises the challenge it must now face is much larger than (most camps) expected.
The government, protecting an ever more clean cut type of capitalism, will obviously find this (rise in anti-capitalism) alarming. ‘Safety and security’ for many with vested interests will require the silencing of such voices, as the cuts really begin to bite. What we may now possess as potential for a better future, is more than equally matched by a fear of what those who would wish to prevent this would do. In my darkest moments I fear to what extend our still-viewed-as democracy could descend.
But we forget the threat so fast, more or less as soon as it falls from the media’s gaze (I’m finishing off this blog over a week now since I heard of these threats, and I too feel worryingly less concerned about it, precisely because it has fallen from the front page and so fallen from our topics of debate). Like with the way we don’t fear climate change as much now it’s on the news significantly less – due to the drug addict-like obsession our world has with economic growth post-recession crushing anything that may stand in its way like sustainability – we feel much calmer, as if it must all be OK now; like sheep sitting back down now the dog is no longer in the field.
The aforementioned song lyrics are taken from Harrowdown hill, by Thom Yorke (The Eraser, 2006): they repeat over and over in my mind when I start to become concerned about how we all forget about frightening indicators of Power’s capabilities, as they slip to the back of the cultural memory as new news stories, of a more trivial and more thought-numbing nature push more troubling stories right to back, like old clothes you forget you have. Harrowdown Hill was where David Kelly, whilst under intense pressure, being a weapons inspector looking for evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Husain’s Iraq hence being a liability for the government’s need to maintain The Lie post-invasion died, from (officially) suicide, or was (as is suspected by many) bunked off.
This is possibly what is the most frightening about all of this: collective amnesia, and how any story, no matter how damaging to the power structure, can be pushed away from sight. This needn’t be done through techniques similar to an Orwellian memory hole, but just by maintaining the course for the vast majority of the information we receive with an abundance of what is more distracting rather than informative. And it is so hard to remember, to keep on ones mind on events which bear significance to our own liberties. I think this is what scares me about the recent new legislative plans: that one day people may go missing in the night, be detained without rights, but it will just slip from cultural memory, again and again: the spectacular society needn’t have ways of deleting unfavourable information, because the Memory hole is in every citizen’s mind.
Returning (historically) to how we got here, surely once it has been stated that “there is no alternative” to a way of running our world (no matter what particular way that may be) the totalitarian potential lurking behind the statement will eventually, over time, be enacted in brutal repression of anyone/anything that disagrees with it. Looking at it from this angle, are the current “constraints imposed on certain freedoms – some of them unheard since The Magna Charta” (Bauman, Liquid Times, 2007) inevitable out-comes from the final ‘triumph’ of capitalism, achieved in Britain in the 1980’s?
A dictatorship isn’t actualised in one clean sweep, it takes years of gradual erosion, manipulating a culture’s ability for memory-loss, to maintain an illusion that everything is the same has it has always been. Already maintaining a pretence of democracy, don’t be so sure that our western ‘democracies’ still couldn’t descend further. If it’s a one-way process, then we need to pull the rug from under the entire process.
The idea for Ill-Equipped was sparked by an article titled ‘pancake people’ in the Magazine Adbusters; a term used to described the mental make-up of humans being tossed around in the info-frenzied world of endless updated techno-gadgets: a wide, far-reaching, grasp of information (piling up on us at an insane rate), but empty of depth and context. Then there was a not very well heard of Novel named Feed by M.T Anderson, which perhaps portrays one of the bleakest futures in which consumerism in a super techno-advanced age runs amok; dumbing down an entire nation, making them incapable of deep thought and empathy, whilst the environment (the less fortunate parts of the human race) collapses around them. There was also my experience of becoming slowly saturated into the computer-run world of tasks and duties, where work becomes blurred with spare time, and, as Thom Yorke sings on his very relevant (to the first decade of the 21st century) album Eraser “there’s no time to analyse/to think things through”.
I became concerned that this ‘spreading-out’ of our minds, as too many things fight for our attention, would surely make us more indifferent, lacking empathy, thus unable to truly understand what is happening to the surrounding world, which is plagued by pressing issues, possibly never to have been matched in their sheer scale. We are expected to know so much about so many things; gone are the days when humans had a small collection of things that they could devote their selves to. The system convinces us that we need to be informed about everything, need to see everything, which usually results in nothing more than an addiction to gossip on mobile phones/social networking sites. This makes it very difficult to retain any deep-rooted beliefs and makes it an uphill struggle to prevent the thinning-out of our thoughts. Most information is also massively infiltrated by advertising, which begs us not to think of anything much but the material appearance of ourselves and our immediate cravings. But at the same time we are ‘advised’ to search for relaxation, whilst in reality the world of endless tasks (endless emails to answers, endless codes/passwords to remember) we are propelled into makes the caffeine-fueled life of Red Bull/Expresso drinking seem the like the only way of staying in tune.
Instead of pancakes, I wanted to use satellites for the heads of the people; wide, thin, great at transmitting and receiving information, but the information lacks context and depth. The figures stand on islands/or upturned boats in the rising waters, stranded and helpless; transfixed by the constant information they are receiving; blinkered to their pending demise. They are hardwired to all the information they could need, but are immobilised by years of being passive and are ill-equipped to deal with living in a world which requires deep knowledge rather than an information deluge.
And this points to what all of my concerns can be traced to: the destruction of the planet (climate change); it deals a severe blow to my hopes of us having the ability to perceive a new world and prevent the scenarios which would occur when we reach a tipping point. But, like Thom Yorke, I speak as as culprit/victim too. I also get webbed down in a physical world dominated by a hurtling cyberspace, sending text messages which seem ‘urgent’ at the time, needing caffeine-fixes to get through the day. As I fear the ‘thinning out of thinking’ I am also thinking of myself.