We hate what the world is becoming because we didn’t realise what it always was.
Many people would like to get back to ‘normal’; the ‘normal’ world in which the wild played no part whatsoever, in which complete, subservient dependence on institutions was a prerequisite for all productive activity, in which children were imprisoned for the first fifteen years of their life in a small, ugly room with adults paid to compel them to do things they do not want to do, in which a tiny technicolour bubble of superabundancy floated upon a global factory of unspeakable misery which required a lifetime of pointless alienating activity, called ‘work’, in order to gain just enough freedom to consume the ugly artifacts one spent one’s life hatefully making, in which love played no meaningful role at all, or truth or beauty. This world of brutal ugliness, totally and perfectly immune to quality and to culture, comprised of miserable people so drained of joy, so cut off from human nature, so completely domesticated, they counted forty years spent either crawling up the mountain of excrement called ‘career’ or passively consuming the centrally-administered narcotic called ‘fun’ to be somehow meaningful. This was ‘normal’.
It is true, now the world has been converted into a locked-down supermax in which we are supposed to only interact with each other through centrally controlled viddy-screens, that what little we had left of culture, freedom, sensate human life and, for the poor, the capacity to cling by the fingernails to the shadow of life for a few more uncomfortable moments have all been, or are about to be, extinguished completely; and it is true that the largely Huxleyan dystopia we lived in a few months ago is removing its mask to reveal a largely Orwellian dystopia; it is certainly true that those who allowed and continue to allow all this to happen are submissive cowards; and it is true that all this is horrendous. But it is not true that life in 2019 was normal, and it is not true that we need to get back to this ‘normal’ world.
Because it is not normal to live in a world of concrete cubes plastered over with exhortations to acquire products that will poison you. It is not normal to squeeze together in a vast drugged mass to passively consume a centrally managed hyper-stimulating spectacle. It is not normal to have nothing to do with the wild outside of a few days strolling round a park. It is not normal to have nothing to do with your neighbours, to live far from your family, in fact far from all the things you need, only able to reach them by engaging in a slow, exhausting, crawl along poisoned alleyways trapped in a little metal box. And it is not normal to be forced into total domesticated dependency on an immense technocratic system for your every need; for your food, your health, your security, for the upkeep of your dwelling and the stability of your mind.
These things are not normal. They are abnormal. They are unnatural, unreal and insane, no less so for existing in a postmodern world which goes to immense trouble to convince its citizens that there is really no such thing as normality, or nature, or reality or sanity; that these things are subjective illusions. They are real and they have been almost completely absent from ‘modern’ human life not just for a year (since the beginning of the lockdown), not just for forty years (since the beginning of late-stage capitalism), not just for a four hundred years (since the beginning of capitalism), but for ten thousand years; since the beginning of civilisation. The roots of abnormality go almost immeasurably deep, full fathom five thousand; and faffing around in the branches will make no difference at all.
The reason why nobody can think of a way out of our rapid slide into a horror that not even our greatest writers could imagine, is because they are trying to escape from an uncomfortable dystopia to a comfortable one. The solution to the problem of children going out of their minds through being strapped, at home, to electronic devices designed to addict them to a cultureless wasteland, is not to send them back into an educational system designed to addict them to the ministrations of professional middle-men paid to enforce mastery of sub-moron tasks that have no other use than the more efficient functioning of a system which treats human beings like disposable pellets. The solution to the problem of not being able to see a doctor unless you win a bizarre lottery that permits five minutes of screen time with a well-qualified functionary of a newly evolving world of bio-fascism, is not to return to a world in which highly institutionalised drug-dispensers are paid to deprive you of the capacity to take care of yourself and send you, patched up and ready to continue producing, back to a workhouse which instantly makes you sick again. The solution to living in a world in which the highest and noblest expression of social participation is to never see another human being again is not to return to a world in which all human interactions which might have an impact on society must occur within institutions designed to ensure that everything unique, spontaneous, generous and unpredictable is annihilated completely. The solution to the horrors of a techno-totalitarian unlife of constant monitoring and surveillance, a nightmarish artificial order of heart-breaking digital loneliness, is not to return to a self-managing technocratic world of constant, purposeless, mindless, expansion, progress and consumption and, consequently, constant destruction of nature, consciousness, conviviality, vernacular sociality, freedom and fellow-feeling.
In 2019 we lived in an entirely abnormal world, a millennial death-cult which had taken possession of the minds of just about everyone on planet earth. There was no real joy anywhere, no wild nature — except for holidays for rich people — and no real culture — the last gasp of collective genius having been extinguished forty years ago. This is why it was, and is, so extraordinarily easy to convince the world to lock itself up in a worldwide online prison. Everyone was already in prison, they were already socially distanced, they were already masked and they were already living a life worse than the plague we were told we were living in; a life of fear. A pretext for making these de facto constraints actual realities was hardly necessary, nor is it necessary for those who own and manage the machine to worry overly about revolt, seeing as prisoners are just clamouring for a little more yard-time, a little more canteen-time, and perhaps a Famous Person to come along and show them how to lose weight.
Not that 2019 was worse than what followed, of course it wasn’t. It goes without saying that I preferred the world we had a year a ago to the one we have today. Even though I’ve long considered culture to be dead, I preferred a world in which I could freely pick through its bones. Even though I’ve always considered the faces of the people around me to be ghastly masks, I preferred life without muzzles. Even though I’ve always hated the law, I preferred not having the aggro of having to continually and conspicuously disobey it. Even though the professional classes give me existential dysentery, life was better when disobeying their moral-hygenic demands wasn’t a legally enforceable sin, tantamount to mass-murder. I preferred a perpetual war in which the Official Enemy lived in a resource-rich country thousands of miles away rather than within my own and everyone else’s body. And even though West Reading, where I live, was grim, I preferred it when the zombie army of haunted scrags on their way to their next suicide attempt were occupied with pubs, football matches and multiplexes. Yes, I prefer having soft prison guards, who are easier to evade, rather than AI lasers, which automatically wipe out dissent; and I prefer living in a prison cell with a window to one without. But it’s still a prison.
There will be no way out of the final descent into the final horrors of civilisation while human minds remain entirely determined by the limits of civilisation; by the addictions, fears and justifying myths that it manufactures. We will only see a meaningful rebellion, one that will actually work, when life is so unbearable that only total revolt makes sense, when the feeble ambitions that have chained us to this miserable shadow-show — nice little job, nice little house, nice bit of fame, a few cashcredits — are perceived as the revolting sops they really are; when the ‘education’ and ‘fun’ and ‘health’ and ‘security’ of the world reveal themselves as the mechanisms of death. Then two things will happen. Most people will go completely out of their minds, and tear their and our lives apart, while a few people will find a quality arising within them that has been absent from human consciousness for a long, long time; fearlessness.
We are all cowards, trained from birth to be anxious about loss, death, uncertainty and change; and this is why the system keeps on winning. A few of us refuse to wear masks, and refuse to lock down, and refuse to obey the medical priesthood and live in fear of their pathogenous devils, and that’s all to the good, but nothing will change until we refuse to work, refuse to log on for society and solidarity, refuse centrally managed fun, refuse professional domination of the commons, refuse rent and tax, refuse property (meaning stolen land and appropriated resources; not things that individuals and communities possess), refuse borders, refuse signposts, refuse advertisements, refuse managers, refuse doctors, refuse governments, refuse teachers, refuse priests, refuse reform, refuse democracy, refuse petitions, refuse scarcity, refuse industrial technology, refuse protests and refuse the idolised abstract image of life that the world forces us to worship. Refuse the entire civilised system. When we refuse to obey civilisation, then life will change.
And I can only refuse civilisation when I refuse that which built it, and that which sustains it; the selfish, self-informed, self. The isolated mental-emotional automaton which took control of human life at the beginning of history and has spent the past 300 generations erecting its image as the perfectly unreal, perfectly addictive, perfectly horrific spectacle we’re all trapped in. Until self and world are overcome both will just get more and more painful, as life always does, no matter what pathetic compromises we make, no matter how we shuffle around the furniture of our fears and addictions in order to stay ‘sane’ and ‘safe’ while the ship sinks, no matter what we do to keep the one, single, dreadful truth of life from our minds; that we each and every one of us die.
This world was built to push death from our minds. At the end of the world, where we now exist, death has been pushed so far from experience it appears less real than a dream; in fact it is only in dreams and stories that it ever appears. We have pushed it from meaningful conversation, we have pushed it from daily life, we have pushed it, literally, from our places of living and we have pushed it from our conscious experience, which is founded on a worship of youth, of light, of gaining power, fame, money and possessions, of a worldly existence which will just go on and on, indefinitely. Although we go to funerals, talk of death, joke about it sometimes, and watch films in which people do nothing but die, we live as if we’ll live forever. When we hear that someone has died we are astonished. Dead!? What!? How is this possible!? I mean every single living thing on earth dies, but I never expected it would happen to him! to her!
It is this denial of death, and its concomitant fear of dirt, disease, chaos, loss, disorder, shit and blood that, at least partly, lies at the root of the world’s blind compliance with the ‘new normal’. This is one reason why it has been the middle-classes that have spearheaded the drive to wrap us all up in antiseptic clingfilm, because they have less to do with death — with uncertainty, with loss, with mud and pain — than those they manage; although we’re all middle-class now, at least in the West, all horrified by the prospect of living for six months less, of eating a slightly wrinkly apple, of smelling of a human being or living in a world where things decay in front of our eyes. Until that changes we’ll be pulled by our upturned noses around the new virtual prison-hospital, until we face the death we will not live.
Fear of death is not the full picture of course. Domesticated man’s profound subservience and pathological attachment to instilled beliefs fills in the rest, although this too is related to fear of the void; for once consciousness of death (love of the void, appreciation of the mystery, acceptance of the uncertain) is taken from experience, worship of bare life, of mere existence, at all costs, is all that people have left. This almost unbearably pathetic fact explains why, again, the middle-classes have been those most enthusiastic about putting their faces under the approaching jack-boots. Aside from living in the most comfortable cells of the new global lock-up and aside from being the beneficiaries of a political system in which wide-ranging ethical decisions are in the hands of technicians (in this case doctors), aside from these two facts the professionals in charge of our lives are hollow, terrified masochists, above all where it matters; at school and at work, through which, despite displays of disobedience, they rise and prosper. This is why the Official Radicals of the left, who are either middle class or have middle-class minds, have a platform at all, despite much, noisy concern for Julian Assange and the Palestinians and the environment, they are essentially and almost irrevocably sterile, submissive and nice. You can only reach the stage on your knees.
The good news is not just that it is possible to face death and to refuse constraints, it is possible do so today, now. In fact it has always been possible. It’s no more difficult to let go of one’s fears and attachments now than it was in 2019. It’s no more difficult to refuse civilisation today than it was in 1979 or 1779. It’s no more difficult to live today as if they day has come than it was when we were first shackled to the chains of Ur. In fact, if anything, it’s easier — just as it is easier to let go of an abusive relationship in which even the pretense of love has been dropped. It may be some time before enough of us are free to unite to make a meaningful material difference to the unworld, to drive a stake through its cracked heart, but the substance of revolution follows from the essence of it, and that substance is not at the end of the rainbow or at the bottom of the ballot box, it is, as one of the first prisoners of the modern world, Franz Kafka, taught us, squirming at our feet.
I’m not talking about airy-fairy self-improvement, mcmindfulness or a vague abstract ‘oh yes, I’m going to die, I know that,’ but actually facing your own mortality — always sooner than you think — and that of the people around you, actually walking through the forest of no-entry signs growing up around us and actually freeing yourself, or starting to free yourself, from your addictions and illusions, every one of which is now answered by and fed from the world, keeping you attached to it. And I’m not talking about protests either, although if you want to go along and find a boyfriend with enough balls to live with some dignity, good on ya, nor am I talking about petitions, which have no use whatsoever, nor am I talking about voting in a nice manager, someone who might push a few helpful buttons on the monolithic torture device we’re all strapped to. I’m talking about total refusal.
I’m talking about giving it all up, at least as best you possibly can. Education? Forget it. A career? Forget it. Pension? Forget it. Relying on the world for anything at all? Forget it! Pornography, superhero films, abstract art, smartphones, video games, social media? Cast them aside. Habitual revenge-wanking, guilt-wanking, despair-wanking? Let ‘em go. Afraid of being alone? Afraid of people? Afraid of love? Afraid of nature? Bored by great art? Bored by silence? Bored by love-making? Bored? These worldly fears and desires must be overcome before the world that feeds them can change. It is only by raising individual consciousness that we can spread the collective word (in the real world that is, not on social media), or effectively home-school, or start local currencies, or local skills shares, or work independently, or even just talk to the neighbours. It is only by occupying long abandoned areas of the individual psyche that we can occupy the appropriated land around us. It is only when we can give up obeying the manager and the politician and the policeman and the landlord within, that we can do so without.
Give up the prison you’ve built over your guts and a way out of the prison we’ve built of the earth will open up. Free your mind and your arse will follow. Die now and avoid the rush.
This is normal.
This is an excerpt from Ad Radicem, an interconnected collection of beautiful, radical essays.