Friday, March 28, 2008

Filtering the Alan Knott-Craig Way

I know when I lived overseas, we'd see a lot of shocking and embarrassing footage some South Africans never see. Being so far from home, it is easy to say: they need to do this, or, they need to do that. And it always struck me - how come the people there, on the ground, never get around to doing anything?

The reason is because every now and then, some bright spark reminds us of how lucky we are, how positive we need to be. Alan Knott-Craig's brilliance is epitomised in his closing sentence: 'ignore the doomsayers, adjust your geyser and make yourself some coffee.' Thanks Craig. Ever heard the saying: ignorance is bliss.

There's a character who epitomises where this positive (but also self-serving) brilliance gets you. His name is Cypher, in the Matrix.

Cypher: You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize?
[Takes a bite of steak]
Cypher: Ignorance is bliss.

What Cypher then does is engineer a scheme that gets him sitting nice and pretty, but basically sabotages his pals.

I get the gist. In the middle of struggle or trouble, lies opportunity. I am not going to nauseate you (or me) by listing the issues of our time. What I will say is that we are about to exit an extraordinary phase. Because we were born into the 20th century (and so were our parents), there is a nutty sense that this is how it will always be (and somehow, that this is how it always was). Actually, even the idea of suburbia is comparatively fucking new. Suburbia was dreamed up after World War 2. It has barely existed for one generation, let alone two. Guess what? Your children are unlikely to live in a house, built on a patch of land (a mini farm), connecting it to the city by motorway, with vehicles ferrying single human occupants there and back. Sorry, it's not going to happen. It's likely that even in this lifetime, you will spend the last years of your life working on a farm, or fighting in The Infinite War (which is a war for resources), or both.

The shift from motor cars to...well, not being able to use them on such a massive scale - the shift away from the world's highway systems is imminent. And here you have a guy asking you to sit back and relax and make a cup of fucking coffee? There is absolutely nothing wrong with being positive, and being optimistic. I welcome that - by all means. But to shut down your capacity for critical thinking (hey, what's not working here, where will this fucked up attitude get us in 5 years) and basically set up posters for ignorance, BE IGNORANT, BE HAPPY, EVERYTHING'S FINE that's scandalous.

A final note, a sort've a crucial one: I often have conversations with a banking dude, and I'm very aware of the way the press sets up their information. Our paradigm is that growth is good, unlimited growth, and growth no matter what the cost. This is in the name of 'greed is good'. It's also in the name of making money, getting richer. As long as we grow, companies (and Mr. Craig) get richer. It doesn't matter to them if another road is paved through a veld, or if twenty more trucks roar off an assembly line. All that matters is that 'subscribers are up'. And how do you stimulate demand? By making sure your market is happy. And how do you do that? You tell them to be happy. You associate your useless product with happy associations. You bullshit them that by buying something - by being an automaton and a consumer - that's their purpose, and the gilded road to happiness. Actually it's only the gilded road for the okes making the products they're trying to sell to you.

And when all these things happen that we need to ignore with buckets of positive smoke, when we can't afford to drive to Cape Town, or to buy a nice big steak, they will be able to afford it. Because at the end of the day, all the costs are passed down to the poorest. It's in their interest to keep us ignorant, and if you can't see that, you totally deserve to be played for a fool.

No comments: