Archives for category: Anarchism

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A couple of years ago my wife and I went on a holiday to the beautiful Greek island of Kefalonia and stumbled upon a house that so unashamedly proclaimed its whimsical good humour to the world at large that it was impossible not to stop and stare… and point… and smile… and take pictures… and generally fulfill every annoying tourist cliché in the book. Decked out from top to toe in a resplendent raspberry and vivid lime green, the place really did emanate its very own wave lengths of positive energy. Seriously, if you’d fiddled around with the dial of a transistor radio in the near vicinity, you’d have been able to have listened to the place humming happy little tunes to itself as it watched the world go by without a care in the world.

And whenever springtime rolls around again… and nature starts throwing a bit of colour about… and the miasmic drabness of a suburban winter finally starts to recede from view – I always find myself thinking back to that raspberry and lime green house with an overwhelming sense of nostalgic benevolence, and a seemingly instinctive desire for a radical injection of humour and vivacity into this woefully utilitarian world we seem to have built for ourselves.

If only the genius behind that resplendent Greek masterpiece were given free reign over the entirety of a modern city! How many dull grey office blocks would be transformed into 3 dimensional cubist masterpieces? How many cement grey subways would be commandeered for the artistic free-play of our alienated youth? How many toxic advertising billboards could be replaced with actual paintings? And I don’t mean the commissioned monstrosities knocked up by the Oxbridge turtleneck brigade for their boyhood friends in local government… or the cold pretentious oddities offered up (with sneering indifference) by your average urban architect hoping to surf his way to fame and notoriety on a wave of controversial reportage – I mean real art, and real city planning, and real building design by real people of the community. Fuck it. Why can’t the old fisherman from number 7 be given somewhere to memorialize the memory of his dead wife in sea shells? Why can’t the kids from the local junior school bedazzle the pavements around the local park with a hundred thousand painted sunflowers? Why can’t we draw smiley faces on the roundabouts… and grow strawberries up the railings of municipal buildings… and have stenciled processions of black and white doves for zebra crossings?

Why so drab?

Why so grey?

Why so serious?

Can there be any cultural crime as heinous as a societies loss of its own sense of humour?

Where in the name of God will we find ourselves if we start taking things too seriously?

Let’s face it – histories back-catalogue of particularly serious societies doesn’t exactly make for comfortable reading…

At the end of Jacques Tati’s seminal cinematic masterpiece “Playtime”, a sterile modernist Paris of glass, and steel, and right-angles is transformed into a giant fairground, where roundabouts become carousels and the world dances happily along to the sound of a circus organ. It was a desperate and brilliant plea for a more human version of reality – and as I endure my morning commute, crawling across the belly of a dead cement giant in my miserable little space-pod, I can’t help thinking that tati’s passionate plea is more relevant today than ever before.

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Capitalism presents us with a world largely stripped of playfulness and spontaneity because these are the human characteristics most deeply threatening to a society that functions upon principles of “absolute predictability and remote control from the centre” (Mumford). To the architects of a production rather than a demand based economy, the very idea that the people should be free to do as they please, to act in random or unexpected ways, is a terrifying concept – for what if the people were to suddenly lurch sideways into a spontaneous samba renaissance whilst they were supposed to be buying microwaves? What if they were to lose interest in upgrading their games consoles and their home cinema systems and started playing dominoes with their neighbours instead? To the greed driven capitalist psyche, the concepts of unhindered cultural development and genuine freedom of choice are abominations of free will. If the people stopped buying what they were told to buy, if they demonstrated genuine variety and individuality in their tastes and their interests, the financial markets of the world would quickly collapse under the destructive weight of a super-abundance of worthless and unwanted consumer goods. Thus, the entire capitalist racket hinges upon the coercive principle that the people must be made to behave in as predictable and obedient a fashion as possible at all times.

It is a depressing realisation that any society in which millions of people are centrally governed by a small capitalist elite must by its very nature, work upon principles of generality and mass appeal; the variations and deviations of the individual, be they brilliant or sublime, have no place in a system founded upon principles of servile predictability and enforced order. Thus, encoded into the very fabric of mass governance and control is the guiding principle of absolute banality. It is this increasingly bland and mechanistic model of society, with its flick switch predictability and its blind obedience to a centrally planned, profit driven culture that marks the true cost of contemporary consumerism upon the soul of man.

The teenager, beaming at his new mobile phone as he dies of boredom in a classroom, is not a teenager fulfilled by the wonders of the world before him or the opportunities for play that the world presents. The triple headed suction valve of the housewives new vacuum cleaner is, no doubt, an impressive technological feat, but after the smell of new plastic has worn off, the drudgery of her housework remains stubbornly intact. The joys mankind is afforded within the disabling limitations of an enforced mediocrity are scarcely joyful at all. For with every purchase of the latest gadget, with every music trend that is reverently followed, with every diet fad that comes and goes, humanity affirms the burial of its own creative principles.

The “freedom” to choose between a blue sweater and a red sweater cannot, in any meaningful sense of the word, be considered a freedom… and there can be no such thing as a moderately free society because freedom exists only as an absolute. It therefore follows that the freedoms we are presented with as consumers of the capitalist programme are not freedoms at all, but false freedoms… and what are false freedoms, if not systems of control and limitation – the prefabricated “spontaneities” of a system that fears the genuine intellectual and artistic play of its people. For in the free play of the mind exist the seeds of revolution.

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