I was recently discussing with a comrade in arms why there has not been more resistance to the Austerity agenda and the dismantling of the Welfare State. My comrade suggested that it was because the masses were more interested in football and The X Factor. This started me thinking…
If working people really are more interested in the football and the X Factor than the destruction of the NHS, the transfer of public assets to private owners at knock down prices, the withdrawal of benefits, the corruption of the political class, the corporate canker destroying our democracy and the increasingly tyrannical management of most work-places, then surely working people must either be stupid or these problems are not significantly impacting on their lives. i.e. working people must be either stupid or happy.
But there is of course a third reason, which is that working people are all too well aware that their lives are being made harder and harder and harder by successive government policies but the reason they do not fight is because they have internalised the TINA narrative (There Is No Alternative), and profoundly believing there is ‘nothing to be done’, they survive psychologically by ‘looking the other way’ and diverting themselves with football and The X Factor, etc.
I think most people know only too well what an unfair gravy train they are serving but they just don’t think it can be changed.
To live, like I do, in a world where I constantly acknowledge and confront unfairness, injustice and corruption is frankly often pretty tough going and IF you believe there is ‘nothing to be done’ why would you put yourself through it?
IF the world really cannot be changed, IF there will always be the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless; IF the strong will always take what they want and the weak can do nothing to stop them; then what’s the point in fighting this inevitable reality?
For some of course the consequence of accepting this harsh nihilistic vision and the profound injustice of human reality , is that they use any means necessary to make sure they become (or remain) one of the rich and powerful themselves. To these people ‘justice’ is irrelevant, the only issue is ‘winning’, because by winning you become rich and powerful and that is the only justification needed for wealth and power, to ‘win’ it by taking it from others.
There are some deluded fools, mainly in the educated middle-class, who still believe they live in a ‘civilised’ and ‘just’ society, in which hard-work, merit and ‘playing by the rules’ will bring you, if not riches, at least a comfortable life with a modicum of status. For these people attempting to change the system is illegitimate because the system is already working – for them. [To be honest as neoliberalism attacks and seeks to undermine the autonomy and power of professional ‘interest groups’ (Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers, Lecturers, Engineers, Architects etc), this group is diminishing year on year.]
But the majority of working people do not fit in either of these categories. They neither have the talents nor the ruthless desire to ‘win’ at all costs required by the nihilist capitalists, but they are not naive enough to ‘believe’ in the underlying benevolence and justice of the system like the middle-class ‘professionals’ who operate that system on behalf of the nihilists.
Most people are all too well aware of what is being done to them, maybe not in a theoretical or analytical way, but they sure as hell know they are being shafted because it bloody well hurst, even if they are not sure by whom or why they are being shafted. But believing this shafting is ‘inevitable’ and that there is, “Nothing to be done,” they are simply forced to ‘lie back and think of England’, to desperately try not to think about it, to try and divert themselves with the football and The X Factor, to try and find meaning in their lives by their consumer choices and by concerning themselves only with the domestic, with home-making and with family; to use the day-to-day ‘busy-ness’ of their own lives to hide the under-lying reality of those lives from themselves.
To fight for economic and political change involves hard-work and risk, people have to believe that such change is possible to embark on the struggle.
I look at this in some detail on the Culture Matters blog here.
The result of all this? People go mad. The moments of clarity when the underlying reality is revealed are too much to bear. 1 in 4 people will experience serious mental illness in their lifetime. Our world is so wonderful that 25% of us are going mad. In addition to this underlying anxiety and anxiety based illnesses like OCD are epidemic. We’re all literally being driven insane!
Now for me personally the situation is a bit different because psychologically I don’t have any choice but to fight, it’s just the way I’m made. But I often wish it weren’t so. I often wish I could believe that, “Everything in God’s world is as God wants it,” that those in power are competent and benign, that hard-work and talent will bring success, that love will conquer all and that goodness will somehow be rewarded.
Unfortunately I am unable to convince myself that any of these are true, nor am I able to allow myself to be sufficiently diverted by Star Wars or Dr Who or Eastenders or the spectacle of Strictly or whatever. In fact far from diverting me these spectacular entertainments merely reflect back to me the structural injustices and ruthless brutality of the capitalist nihilists who run our world. For me there is no escape in cultural diversion.
And so for me, unlike most people, the only way to survive psychologically is to fight, and so I do, God help me, sometimes with joy and a spirit of solidarity and community, but often simply because it is that or descend into madness.