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“There is no greater illusion than fear” Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching – Chapter 46)

As with most proverbs, “it takes a village to raise a child” was probably something of a truism at one time or another in the history of human “development”. Indeed, just repeating the phrase brings to mind sepia tinted images of apple-cheeked peasants passing around children like so many bags of potatoes; dandling them on sturdy knees in village squares; clipping them round the ear for stealing cider from the pantry. Today of course, things are different, and as we’re shuttled back and forth in our drab little space pods – soulless commuter belt to sterile grey office, sterile grey office to soulless commuter belt (perhaps, if we’re really lucky, the palliative misery of a designated “consumer experience” in a prefab leisure park) there is no village anymore – even in the “city neighbourhood” sense of the word – and the concept of a communal “child of the village” was buried under the same shopping centre car park as the village itself.

Try speaking to a random 5 year old from the end of your street in a lot of urban environments and you’re likely to end up being chased around the estate by a gang of pitch-fork wielding Sun readers who won’t consider themselves to have performed their civic duty until they’ve bounced your head off the nearest pavement and mailed your severed balls to a testing laboratory in Sweden. Maybe not, maybe that’s too much of an exaggeration… but the fear is real. And it’s the same fear that a man feels when he accidently finds himself walking in the same direction as a lone female on an empty street and his heart sinks into his boots when he sees her make the same turn he’s about to make himself:

“Shit! Maybe I should speed up and overtake her so she knows I’m not a weirdo? But If I speed up she’ll think I’m trying to grab her or something… no don’t cross the street there, that’s where I need to cross the street… bollocks… maybe I should just shout something out to reassure her… but that would look well dodgy… Fuck! She keeps glancing over her shoulder? Maybe I should just turn around and find another route… but then I’m likely to get reported to the cops for being some sort of stalker… man, I’m gonna end up on Crimewatch or something… Wait a minute… I’ve got it! I’ll pretend I need to tie my shoelaces until she’s gone.”

Can there be anything as damned depressing and isolating as living in the grips of such a pandemic of social paranoia?

And yet this is where we find ourselves, bolted into the confines of a Fritz Lang nightmare – trapped by the geographical inhumanity of the modern city; ever more fragmented by the continual division of space, time, labour, leisure, race and “community”; driven into our own personal wildernesses of alienation and social-disconnect by a capital driven system that places production and consumption before the wellbeing of its own species! Here we are, terrified of our own shadows lest they tie us to a chair and pull out our toenails; the age of omniscient danger, the age of heightened surveillance, the age of magnified fear… and distrust… and intolerance. Clinging to whatever limited forms of familiarity and safety we can find. Panicked into submission by a horror of “the Other” and compliant to the whims and dictates of anything that promises to make it all go away. It’s the same old Hell and redemption racket we’ve always been sold, only this time it invades our living rooms and our earphones, every waking minute of our media augmented reality. This it seems, is where the fantasies of the industrial and technological ages have finally landed us – a naturally sociable and playful mammal (the greatest communicative force in the known universe no less) trapped in a perverse dystopian farce whereby the second we step out of the hermetically sealed safety of our immediate circle, everyone we walk past in the street, or sit next to on a bus, or queue behind in the supermarket, is quite literally (in a manner that would have been utterly incomprehensible to previous generations) a complete and total stranger.

Stranger.

Stranger danger.

“Don’t talk to strangers”

“I don’t know what it is but there’s something very strange about Frank”

“It’s not that we don’t like him dear, it’s just that he’s a bit… y’know… strange…”

Stranger. The very word is loaded with such negative connotations that random man X and random woman Y quickly cease to be neutral unknown quantities in the eye of the scared and alienated observer and morph into a strange amalgam of Jungian archetype, and media fuelled hate figure. The orthodox Muslim with the flowing robes and long black beard could only be a terrorist. The teenager with his hand in his pocket is probably concealing a razor blade. That man over there by the coffee stall has brown skin – very suspicious – better look away quickly. The two ladies with the short skirts, they look Polish. I bet they work in the sex industry. I wonder if they smoke crack? That old lady with the ancient shopping bags and the old world shawl – ten to one she pisses herself, better not get too close, a question of hygiene. Look! The big guy in the overalls who’s dragging his leg! Fuck! Hide the kids! he’ll kill the lot of us! And what about the wino at the bus stop – should I run in terror before he starts breathing his alcohol fumes in my face and babbling about Jesus like the maniac I’ve already written him off as, or should I treat him with the condescension of charity and assume that his addiction requires the infantilism of a clean living citizen such as myself? That way, when he tells me to fuck off… I can shake all over with moral indignation and call the cops because he’s causing a scene. A good citizen. A dutiful citizen. Protecting the world from strangers.

Stranger.

Stranger danger.

Don’t talk to strangers…

…until your world is so fucking narrow that you’re crawling along the length of it like a rat in a drainpipe. Don’t talk to strangers, watch TV instead – it’s safer that way. Don’t look at that beautiful girl with the innocent smile and the honey coloured hair, her boyfriend might stick you with a knife – re-edit the banality of your own existence on facebook instead, it’s safer that way. Don’t go outside, there are homosexuals there, and teenagers, and immigrants, and people that talk to children they don’t know, and all sorts of dangerous strangers – stay in your house and play those little games on your mobile phone until it’s time to go to bed. Seriously, it’s safer that way. Being human is dangerous. Turn yourself off. Turn yourself into a robot. Turn yourself into a square of fucking carpet and lay low for a while. Shoot yourself in the back of the head so that you can resist the temptation to go outside forever. Stay safe.

Forget about freedom, forget about spontaneity, forget about playfulness and creativity and the bird-twittering joy of human contact, just keep your head down and buy more stuff. After all, this is the age of Capitalism, it’s your civic duty to buy more stuff. The economy depends upon it. If you stop buying more stuff the wheels will fall off. Forget about human contact. Focus on consumer goods – bright and shiny bits of plastic, the soothing fishbowl glow of a blue screen; safe and dead and passive. And if you feel bored or lonely, or you’re not quite sure what it is you feel anymore, or maybe you gave up even trying to feel anything a long time ago, then just buy even more stuff… and keep buying it… until you’ve got enough electronic gadgets and gizmos to pacify your consciousness on a more or less permanent basis … or go to the cinema to take your mind off it… but don’t forget to buy the dustbin full of popcorn and the giant tub of coke…it’s your duty… and don’t sit next to anyone if you can help it, they might try and touch you up in the dark… and don’t talk to anyone about how shit you thought the film was on the way out of the theatre in case they turn out to be a bit of a psycho or they’re related to the director… and for god sake don’t get a taxi back home, the drivers are usually foreigners, and what they do is, they drive you out of town to a bit of waste-land and then they execute you like at the end of Kafka’s The Trial so they can steal your wallet and mail your shoes to their relatives over-seas… and don’t get the bus because for some reason the bus is always full of angry drunk white-trash coming back from a night out… make sure you get a friend to drive you home… and if you don’t have any friends left you’ll have to skip the beer and drive yourself… but don’t forget to lock your doors because you go through some pretty dodgy neighbourhoods to get back home… and someone might try to jack the car… and make sure you’ve got your keys ready before you get to the door because of the rapists… and if you make it home, congratulations… you can now go on facebook and tell everyone what a marvelous time you’ve been having, happy in the knowledge that your life is so rich and full with the cacophony of human experience.