Friday, 12 August 2011

The long, cold summer

Watching recent news unfurling a blanket of media coverage I'm struck by a typical bank holiday mix of anxiety and glee.

There's a fairground of attempts to rationalise events while we worry about where the next explosion will occur, yet also revelry in the simple fact of visceral combinations of shock and excitement. Dodgems in one direction, a Helter Skelter in the other. Freak shows and fortune tellers standing apart.

It doesn't matter which tent people gravitate towards there is a pervading mood ennervated by the certainty that something is happening. We may not know what that something is, but there is a sense that it is heading somewhere - and where that may be is inspiring a mixture of fear, trepidation, anticipation and agitiation. Only one thing is for certain: the momentum is irresistible. Just roll up and jump on the ride - it'll keep you on the edge of your seat.

In the big top are our representatives in Parliament, driven onwards by the circulations around and about.

The strong men have immediately diagnosed a 'sickness' in society, clowns express the outpourings of pain and tragedy while jugglers try to keep as many arguments in the air at one time as possible. But if you're now arguing about missing the performace the signs were there if you knew and cared where to look.

Even the plain fact that Parliament has now been recalled from recess twice in a matter of weeks should give an hint of the underlying carousel, even stepping back to the general election debate the over-reliance on security concerns were clearly exposed.

All that restraint and repression could only lead in one direction.

Media commentators and activists of all sorts were enthused about the prospects of social media technologies to aid engagement and enable us to break out of the chains, fueled by growing public competence in the ability to harness developing techniches for their usage. Cyber-warfare in Georgia was followed by protesters in Tehran using technology to organise and the first seedlings of innovation began to germinate.

A second idealistic stage marked by spring uprisings against Arab dictatorships and dissent at the official responses to the global financial crisis has now been struck by the growing reality that the situation on the ground isn't changed by warm words and consensus among the savvier classes possessing the vital commodity in this new media age - access.

And we could have realised this when the vultures began to circle over the breathing corpse of the old politics during the expenses scandal.

Perhaps we were correct that an unaccountable political culture using allowances to boost incomes was indicative of a tired and out-of-touch elite whose irresponsible complacency had allowed a combination of crises in banking and finance to balloon, but perhaps also we were able to use this to distract ourselves from the urgent requirement for effective solutions. From Barings Bank and Enron to credit default swaps and debt-financing the crumbling edifice masking corrupt and unsustainable practises could no longer be denied, but how could we prevent major collapses without storing up bigger problems?

When the rumbling phone-hacking scandal reached its' more recent zenith we saw how corporate and institutional elites became interwoven as narrow personal interests subsumed any wider public interests and treated individuals as fodder for the all-consuming machine. From Ant & Dec's profiteering to the scurrilous 'investigative' methods of reporters the true sensation was that and in how commercial imperatives were able to trump all else. And now the anger at those incidents which found no meaningful expression to channel itself has trickled its' way down to street level.

We might condemn or celebrate the criminality and attempts at bringing the return of order, but in doing so we are manipulating ourselves and allowing ourselves to be manipulated at every stage of the way by those more cynical and aware of the potential. So unless the public take the shock as a general wake-up call about the political impacts of every single choice and action then it won't end here; these few nights will be reviewed as a mild precursor of the devastating frosts ahead.

In classic British style, the situation is like a schoolyard scrap where even impassive observers are whisked into the baying crowd, egging-on the expression of animal impulses by chosen victims until the spectacle of confrontation satisfies the hunger of the impoverished powers that be. If we can't be patient for tomorrow's circus, then they'll tell us to amuse ourselves by fighting over the availability of cake while they amuse themselves by admonishing those who do!

There's nothing better than the milling around on the pier expectantly hoping to taste the possibility of a life less ordinary... or so we've been told. The thrill of the exclusive; the fantasy of the unbelievable; the yearning for the unobtainable - it's what makes us pliable, able to tolerate the moment... and willing to pay almost any price.

But this year rain on St Swithin's Day was followed in accordance with the prophecy by a drab and dreary summer - so no wonder then the lure of recuperation by the seaside was less appealling than a swift return to the Westminster hearth this year. What ambitious politico would want to huddle in their deckchair as they watch the incoming tide under a setting sun and fail to hold it back? It's chilling!


Tim Trent said...

The hindsiggt merchants peddle clarity of vision where it was never opaque in the first place.

When the target is a family run neighbourhood florist or is a sofa factory one starts to realise that Occam's razor is the only way to analyse this.

Rioting is fun, especially if you are stupid enough to think you can get away with it.

Now we have lost much of the progress we were making to rein in the excesses of police 'zeal' when patrolling peaceful demonstrations, and all thanks to groups of halfwits having fun.

Oranjepan said...

Maybe we should look at different definitions of fun...

For instance I'm told eating burning hot chili or running a marathon can be 'fun'. Exhilarating and rewarding they may be, but not my idea of fun.

What's your idea of fun?

Orbilia said...

Like your article a lot. The recent events you re-cap remind me of making soup in that there seems to be a lot of scum rising to the top. In my more optimistic moments I see this as a surfacing of corruption and hope that the bleaching light of the sun will eventually result in reform. Then there are my pessimistic thoughts and then anger :


Tim Trent said...

Ah, fun. A great many things are fun, and a great many of those we agree, as a society, are fun that we do not approve of, do delegated powers to our elected representatives to outlaw and then police.

Fun that affects no-one else differs from fun that affects someone else. Fun that affects someone else positively includes sex, tickling (up to a certain point, after which it becomes unpleasant), simple practical jokes with no lasting harm taken by the victim and so many other things. A simple garden bonfire is fun.

Take that bonfire to the high street and burn someone else's property either without consent or in such a manner as to endanger other property, life or limb, and that fu of watching the flames becomes a criminal act as well.

It's fun having a loud sociable party. It's not fun for the neighbours when it goes on past a reasonable time at night and they wish to sleep, but the walls are so thin one may as well be in the same room and the party.

The fun of sex is not fun of the other party is raped, abused, or in other manner coerced to do something against their will. It was doubtless 'fun' for the Roman Catholic priests to undertake the industrial scale abuse so many of them seem to have undertaken worldwide, but the great majority of their victims did not find t fun and have felt dirtied and damaged by unwanted attentions from men "just having fun"

I imagine the boat tours from Scandinavia, whatever it was called back then, to invade, rape and pillage other tribes, countries, regions, fiefdoms and so forth were great fun. Unless, that is, you were raped, pillaged or killed

We legislate against such things. We, as nations, arm ourselves against such things. We do this because we wish to live in peace and wish unpleasant things to be outlawed in order to allow our society, an amorphous thing, to function as we desire it to.

But such things are, nonetheless, fun, yes even for the sexual predator. After all, no-one would volunteer to do things like these were they not enjoyable.

So that is 'the' idea of fun. My idea of fun is something that makes me feel good, happy, energised. I like things that give me a frisson of fear, so, while physically capable, I sailed very fast small boats, paddles kayaks down rapid rivers.

I was given the chance to drive a very fast car round the Goodwood race circuit and found it intellectually as well as physically challenging.

I find intellectual challenges fun. I recently had a walking holiday in the Lake District where I walked(!) up a crag that was just outside my level of competence. Afterwards that was fun, but not so much during it.

I find a garden bonfire to be fun.

But defining fun is far harder. It must be fun to take mind altering drugs, otherwise why do it? They are just not to my taste, not even alcohol nowadays. It was fun to sneak my first cigarette whe I was about eight, but I don't smoke. It was fun to get served in a pub when I was 14, but the beer tasted foul and there was so much of it.

No commentator has said that participating in a riot is not fun, have you noticed? They simply say, rightly, that rioting is bad.


I think Tim is talking about hedonism or existentialism - any psychopath will tell you what fun is but it's all in the mind.