The Victim, the Quisling, and the Wayfinder

If your penchant is to understand humanity then there is plenty to amuse and distract you these days. We are all getting worked up into a dither of indignant disquiet about events occurring in every corner of the modern world. Indeed the levels of provocation are reaching a breadth and an intensity that is unprecedented.

Propaganda produced by corporate media barons like Rupert Murdoch is unambiguously aimed at preserving social compliance. It does this by stoking confusion, anxiety and fear. The foil to this emotional clutter is spectator sports — and plenty of them. We are induced to watch melodrama posing as news, or celebrities behaving badly, and are beguiled by the dross of reality television. All of this is cynically marketed as evidence that everything is just fine, that crises like global warming are fictions, and that our love of money should be on the same footing as the love we have for our sons and daughters. Interpretation? We should stop fretting and complaining, allow business to mind its own business, and leave those we elect to public office to get on with the task of governing the rest of us.

This seems to be functioning like some sinister clockwork. It diverts our attention away from the failure of the neoliberal economic machine that is in a state of collapse wherever we look. The show is dazzlingly spectacular when all is said and done — a mesmerizing, Cirque du Soleil kind of performance, where the music is louder and more raucous every moment that passes, and the antics of a few crazy clowns cause the crowd to gasp in spellbound wonder, anticipating the next daring act. Few people want to ponder existential challenges in that kind of environment. But that itself is a massive problem.

Objective analyses point to Donald Trump’s presidential posturing as brash buffoonery. Such games are dangerous nevertheless and, in this case, also cast a spotlight on the worrying lack of unity in the “united” states of North America.

It doesn’t stop there of course. For this entertainment is a wildly inclusive spectacle. It embraces everything from the juvenile follies of Kim in North Korea and the irrational utterances of Prayuth in Thailand, to the narcissistic hashtags of the twitterati and voyeurs who scour social media looking for any evidence that will prove we are all prisoners of an advanced intelligence or characters in some kind of digital simulation game.

Add to that already volatile cocktail Geert Wilders’ flop in the Dutch elections, which was actually another example of how activism can work to preserve the will of the people, the idea of Marine La Pen winning in France, the trauma of the UK’s Brexit continuing to signal an imminent breakdown across the “united” kingdom, Greece’s continuing indebtedness, and politicians of all persuasions now openly embracing lies and corruption, and we can only sit back in amazement and wonder what is left that can possibly surprise us!

Extreme ideologies are running amok — which also possibly denotes their demise. The ultra-wealthy are doing everything in their power to protect their money. Central banks are playing manipulative games with their currencies. The technocracy continues to be seduced by its own narcissistic magic. And shining like a stuttering laser beam through all of this is an incumbent elite convinced of its own prowess, constantly patching up the present, yet failing to address even the most basic psychological and spiritual needs of the human family.

In truth it seems as though we have opened the lid on a Pandora’s box from which every single evil has been released.

If we try to look away we will accept this farce at face value, most likely becoming anxious or depressed, and convinced by the sheer weight of an indoctrination that subsumes all rational thought. We will begin to accept everything we are told and invariably blame each another for causing such a distressing state of affairs. The bizarre mantra of religious fundamentalism will take hold of our senses. We will conceive of and inflate the most innocuous traits of those who worship different gods, or who wear garments unlike our own. The only trends we will take seriously are the alleged rise of neo-fascism, racism and nationalistic xenophobia. This will generate hate while reinforcing ingrained prejudices and, above all else, incite an impulse to compete and fight back. To look away is the choice of the victim.

If we look down, in an attempt to ignore or moderate events, we may succeed in escaping the more extreme sensations of despair and anguish. But to disconnect in this manner will anesthetise our feelings and stifle any ability to resist. By looking down we rely on hope — hope that things are not as bad as they seem, hope that the world can return to some semblance of normality, but without our direct involvement. To look down is to slink into the silence of shadows — to pretend that this is none of our concern. To look down is the choice of the quisling.

But if we look up we may begin to discern patterns that make sense. We might interpret all of the current confusion as part of an inevitable evolution from one kind of society to another — a transition from the serf-powered colonial empires of industrial capitalism to a more universally empathic, ecologically resilient, post-capitalist common wealth.

Looking up we might regard with some disparagement the unsettling nature of the rotting cadaver that passes for authentic leadership, yet garner hope from knowing that the opaque curtain concealing the lie of orthodox economics has been lifted — displayed like the Wizard of Oz for all to see and to mock.

Once the illusionist’s fabulous trick has been explained it is impossible for the deception to be maintained. There can be no retreat for humanity now that the secret of predatory capitalism has been discredited and is out in the open. A world that works for everyone must be our path now. But we still need to navigate that path. To look up is the choice of the wayfinder.

Philosopher-Activist and Executive Director at Centre for the Future