An unholy alliance of post-modern commercialism, exploited technology and triumphant crony-capitalism – especially since the 2008 financial crisis – has ruined society’s confidence in itself. The “Silent Generation” are dead or demented. Boomers know they’re next, grasping their bloated assets as they double down on competitive greed as if it’s ideology with a future. Generation X, inheritors of the Boomer bullshit, baffled by the failed promise of the neoliberal nineties and the sheer scale of the problem, has retreated along tribal lines: blame the foreigner, blame the wealthy, blame the feckless Millennials.
Who’s left? Youth (that is to say, naïveté) retains its energy, as is natural, because it has yet to be used and abused. Entrenched power (sociopath big money) retains influence by default, gingerly navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of social media activism and austerity populism, making hay while the sun shines. Meantime the years pass and those few billionaires not mesmerized by acquisition pursue forlorn ark projects in the crosshairs of stockmarket speculators waiting for their moment to strike.
The rest of us – billions of citizen participants – ignorant or indoctrinated or simply impotent – have spent the last thirty years living through a never-ending ouroboros of cultural reboots. The cycle somehow continues to shrink in spite of the many new mass-communication tools, as these are in turn appropriated by the inertia of profit and lassitude.
Old-fashioned tropes delivered with conviction by the best looking (i.e. best suited) snake-oil salesmen are mistaken for revelations; and whole populations are suckered into acting on their worst instincts against their best interests time and time again. The vital energy of youth is coerced and harassed by dazed parents and confused grandparents, to be sacrificed at the altar of greed for the avarice of the rich and powerful and the latest corporate consumer ephemera.
This is our 21st century spin on utilitarianism. It’s a society without heritage that’s locked into models part-designed part-evolved, to fill indentured days with duty and drip-fed reward. Human nature isn’t always noble or brave and, for all it may be destroying the planet, this devil’s bargain is a depressingly stable and functional habit . It is a society not entirely undemocratic, when all’s said and done; but should it be acceptable when turkeys keep voting for Christmas?
For those who’ve let their eyes open wide enough to see the world as it is, the outlook must seem bleak. It is. What’s more, it’s rotten to the very core.
The Voice of Things
Forty years—aye, and several more—ago, When I paced the headlands loosed from dull employ, The waves huzza’d like a multitude below, In the sway of an all-including joy Without cloy. Blankly I walked there a double decade after, When thwarts had flung their toils in front of me, And I heard the waters wagging in a long ironic laughter At the lot of men, and all the vapoury Things that be. Wheeling change has set me again standing where Once I heard the waves huzza at Lammas-tide; But they supplicate now—like a congregation there Who murmur the Confession—I outside, Prayer denied.