There is an old Saturday Night Live sketch called The Last Voyage of the Star Ship Enterprise in which John Belushi plays Kirk as the ship is boarded by NBC executives that come to inform the crew that the show has been cancelled. The crew refuse to accept the news and try to use their phasers to stun the execs, to no avail, and eventually most of them accept their fate. All but Kirk, who refuses to believe his control of the ship is over and sits in his chair as studio crew dismantle the set around him.
Since June 2016 there have been at least three seismic political events that have started to remove the set around our constructed political realities, shaking to the core a large proportion of our society’s principle movers, shakers and candlestick makers. Just over a year ago everyone thought Britain wouldn’t be crazy enough to vote in favour of leaving an organisation we had embedded ourselves into, fairly successfully, for more than 40 years. That had given us security, a fair amount of economic stability, rights in work and of movement and a nice blue flag.
Bish! Turns out we were crazy enough.
In America, a few months later, no sensible person would’ve thought the American public would have decided a sexual assault boasting, bankrupt, compulsive lying, bell end would make for a good person to have his finger on the nuclear trigger.
Bash! Turns out the American public decided that would be a good idea.
And, last but not least, the result of our own recent general election.
Bosh! While returning to power the same fuckwits who were there before, it went against every assumption the media chatterati held. Resulting in the winners being the losers and the assumed to be annihilated left more powerful than they have been for decades even though, when all is said and done, they lost.
These three events only fit together in one respect – they don’t make sense according to what has gone before. At least in recent decades. They don’t all indicate a swing to either left or right. They don’t necessarily indicate a move away from elites, or at least not all elites. And they don’t, yet, herald any kind of a new dawn. Or, at least, they don’t indicate what the day will be like when the sun finally hoists itself into the sky.
We can argue about all of that, no doubt, but, for me, one of the most interesting things about all of this is witnessing said chatteratti being unable to balance themselves as the ground shakes beneath their well heeled feet. I find it hard to steady myself. I’ve never liked the thought of earthquakes.
After an election evening of joyful schadenfraude watching commentator’s stunned faces scrabbling to articulate how little they understood about anything, much of the liberal commentariat went straight back to their comfort zones the very next day. A handful of right leaning Labour politicians whinged about Corbyn failing to win the election outright. As if the biggest turnaround in polling history was no big thing, despite being undermined by the likes of them since his anointment and the most egregious media onslaught I’ve ever seen. He was still a loser. Nothing had changed. Still they plot.
Iain Martin, a columnist for the Times, announced that the young should be re-educated so that they all agree with him.
This despite the Tory failure to fund education properly for decades and with the still apparent absence of a magic money tree. Anyone who disagreed with him must be misinformed. They can’t possibly have come to a different conclusion. That’s not feasible. He’s more rational than anyone. No doubt about it.
The liberal left has started banging on again about Brexit, as if it heralds all of our impending dooms. Still refusing to acknowledge that several of their heroes – Benn, Skinner, Corbyn himself – have all been anti-EU (and with good reason) and failing to acknowledge that most of the doomsayers are the same people who’ve been wrong about pretty much everything over the last few years.
Prince of political patronisers, Nick Cohen, recently proffered a half apology for calling Corbyn supporters ‘fucking fools‘ for their reckless bringing on of the destruction of the Labour Party and the left in Britain. So unsettled is the Iraq War supporting dickhead that he recently whined that he might give up on politics all together because of how wrong everyone else is. Boo de fucking hoo hoo. Why has this guy still got a job anyway? How often do your opinions have to be proven wrong before an editor decides you might not be worth the paper your opinion pieces are written on?
And on and on. I suppose those whose job it is to know will find it hardest to admit that they don’t.
So unsettled are the liberal class that some have even begun burying their heads into some of the furthest out theories to try and make a sense of the new reality. A recent New Yorker article has it that the recent surprising political and social incidents can best be explained by a reliance on the theory that we may all be living in a massively complex and realistic virtual simulation and some super intelligent nut-job has gotten their hands on the controls. I presume the piece is tongue in cheek but I’d suggest it’s an indication of what the liberal class is allowing itself to consider to explain the collapse of their assumptions and stability. Even if it is tongue in cheek, recently two unnamed billionaires have begun funding a study into whether we are living in such a virtual world so that we might break out of it.
Weirdly named entrepreneur, Elon Musk
(until recently a Trump advisor) argued that the odds of us living in the ‘real’ world are billions to one.
I should say I’m not necessarily disagreeing with that. There’s a fairly strong philosophical and scientific argument that we are living in such a simulation. That argument being, very broadly, that if you can conceive of a superior or advanced intelligence being or race able to create a virtual simulation indistinguishable from ‘reality’ then they would, most likely, create more than one such reality and therefore (there being multiple simulations and only one real reality) the odds are you’re in one of the simulations. On account of them being more of them. Possibly.
Listen I didn’t make this shit up but the logic is sound.
My point is not around the likelihood of the theory though, I’m highlighting instead that more people who would have previously poo-pooed such an idea as irrational or too bizarre now accept its feasibility. Because, in part, they can no longer feel secure in the world they all of a sudden find themselves in and they prefer to entertain the idea that this world isn’t ‘real’ at all.
Perhaps we are living through a rare event in history. A paradigm shift that the self assumed rational world of mainstream political and academic commentary failed to herald but that, perhaps, the cultural world did. In cinema there have been a number of films in recent years dealing with the tearing open of holes in ‘reality’ revealing new dimensional universes. 2015’s Midnight Special dealt with this in the independent world. A story involving Michael Shannon shepherding a young boy who, somehow, straddles separate dimensions, to a location where he can step from ours into the other, where he truly belongs. In TV land Stranger Things has the Upside Down place where everything is almost like a rehash of 80s horror and Spielberg films but not quite as good. In the mainstream world of super-hero movies several recent films have involved this inter-dimensional playground. Thor, Avengers Assemble, Dr Strange all play with this theme. It’s been pointed out by others that superheroes are our modern day gods and mythological figures. And just as with the ancients their stories are a means of a society coming to terms with often paradoxical social problems. But with their underpants outside of their trousers.
The philosopher Alain Badiou theorises that ‘reality’ is based on an ‘inconsistent multiplicity’. In order for us to make sense of it we have to make it a consistent multiplicity but, when we do this, we’re not really seeing the real, full reality. The dominant consensus reality in a culture covers up the inconsistent foundation but that can never be fully discarded and continues to exist socially in an excluded area.
One of the concepts Badiou is most famous for is the Event (capital E). When an Event happens the excluded part comes to the surface and breaks open our perception of the world, giving us the opportunity to rethink it. Events occur in all areas of life – Art, Science, Maths. Falling in love is an Event. But, socially, Events are usually revolts or Revolutions. Badiou talks about the Paris Commune, The Russian Revolution, and the ’68 Revolt in Paris being Events and more recently The Arab Spring. What we are living through right now could be an Event. Everything alters in relation to such an Event (or in relation to the excluded part revealed by the Event). It is a rupture in reality. And it is a declaration that another world is possible.
Events can occur at any time and are not explicable, in the moment that they occur, in the terms of the dominant structure. Which explains why mainstream cultural commentators have no grounds for understanding what is going on when they do occur. They are themselves structurally embedded into the system and so are unbalanced, psychologically, when they happen.
Events however have a requirement. Being ‘impossible’ things (think of those flabbergasted faces on election night), outside the cultural terms of reference from which they emerge they can’t be considered rationally, at least at first. With shifting ground and buildings burning around us we’re forced into deciding whether we are for or against the Event. We have to gamble, to make a leap of faith. As the earthquake splits the ground beneath our feet we have to decide onto which side of the separating earth do we jump? Unless of course you want to be like Wile E Coyote hovering over an abyss for a few moments before the inevitable fall or Belushi’s Kirk, sat on the chair, where he once pretended power, while the panels are taken away and the lights go down.