Punch and Judy. The grim and glum reality of opportunism is today more and more prevalent, more and more accessed, acquiesced, more or more or less bad, worse than before. We are confronted on all sides by both overt and covert ‘research’ groups, by think tanks and lobbyists, who have decided – in a climate of total war – that we need to attend to (the control of) the global public sphere. The tanksters are interested in ideas, in projects and in strategies, they are interested in the management of feelings, the orchestration of responses, they are interested in refining a certain clarity of message. They bring us bread and circuses – both stale.
Their boosterism says nothing. The climate they encourage thrives on the sentiment of abstract disengagement – alongside the promulgation of procedure and the ‘dictatorship of the secretariat’ – they persuade us that we abjure our interest or involvement in political questions because a) things are too complex and b) complexity needs to be controlled.
These people are sceptics who rail against scepticism. They present themselves as those who present answers, but the way they do so cynically narrows the space of answers to a tightly controlled furrow. The engagement they favour is disengagement except on their own studiously abstract terms. There is no room for the questioning of sceptics in their cynical world.
And then they sometimes claim they are for democracy – but not broadband democracy or open debate – rather a pay-per-view, programme management, narrowcasting, niche-market democracy. Their democracy excludes debate, questions, objections and alternatives. They have long ago vetoed the possibility of thinking outside the box, for there lies danger, difference, a multiplicity that cannot be corralled. The box must always have a brand mark, a slogan, a font or a strapline – sometimes just a colour (the colour is always drab).
They promote their insights as research, as scholarship, as traditional values and as wisdom – but they are faceless, passionless, automatons – going though the motions (jack boots are not far away, but they forgo them for frequent flyer miles and airport lounge privileges).
I do of course think there are more than two sides – the lines shift and the players change, sometimes swapping, sometimes double agents. But there are some, the best you can say of them is that while they are one of ‘them’, they do at least talk like ‘us’. We should carefully watch these ones especially.
Who are they? In fact they are us. Turn again Dick Whittington, Turn again.
And why Dick Whittington? – see here for both the real and the Pantomime story, where a cloth-merchant adventurer pilfers some gold, travels to the orient to get rich, and returns to London to become Mayor. OK, this all happened 700 years ago, but the cat seems to have nine lives. These are notes for Pantomime Terror – inaugural on 30/09/08 (5.30, IGLT Goldsmiths).