This week I’ve been power-washed by a greasy wave of negativity from the outside world, and society at large. I am not someone who can complain about his individual existence. To do so, given my position in society when compared to the entire species, would be a selfish rabbit-hole of pure madness. However, I tend to wake up every morning and take the weight of the world on my shoulders, before climbing out of bed and carrying it with me to breakfast.
I don’t believe that I’ve truly enjoyed an unburdened morning meal since early 2016.
I understand that this is something I don’t need to do, because beyond a handful of small actions, I cannot effect any change. I’m also aware that through a few greater actions, I could effect an increased amount of change. In other words, I know that I’m not doing enough, I’m simply reacting and allowing these events to happen to me.
Documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis describes this as “Oh Dear-ism”.
Curtis has expanded on this term in various interviews and his more recent documentaries. He goes on to personally define “Oh Dear-ism” as largely a leftist reaction to the encroaching right-wing politics of our time. That all of these horrible things are happening to society, but nobody has a coherent answer. I would argue that in late-2017 and 2018 we’ve perhaps seen the beginning of the end of this era of Oh Dear-ism. In that movements like #MeToo and March For Our Lives have effected some change in the world.
Although, how many prosecutions and convictions have been made in #MeToo? And how many weeks or days are we away from the next mass-shooting? Did we effect any change? Or was it just more of the illusion of change?
An interesting point that Curtis has raised in recent interviews has been the idea of a change to the system in the left vs the right. He states that for years the left in the west talked about revolution, and pushed for a new way that made society more equal, but they repeatedly failed. Occupy Wall Street is a great example of one of these failed movements. It’s probably too early to tell which of the modern movements will end up on the same pile.
Meanwhile, the right remained mostly dormant. Since the late-80s both the US and UK have lived under either right-wing or centrist governments. No matter what some people may think, both New Labour and the Obama Administration were very much centrist politicians. They were certainly far removed from prior socialist and progressive governments of the 20th century. So, a relative status-quo remained in society, whilst the left called out for a change.
Then, 2016 happened. And after nearly three decades of proposed and failed change from the marginalised left, fringe right-wing politics managed to change the course of history, nearly overnight. Both Trump and Brexit can be viewed as perfect case studies. They were two campaigns that projected heavily right-wing ideologies, that suddenly drummed up the support of average citizens who previously weren’t associated with such extremist views.
Both campaigns promoted division, and sneered at unity. Both campaigns have been proven to effectively utilise misinformation, the source of which is still under legal debate. And the figureheads of both campaigns, Trump and Nigel Farage, were two men who were previously seen as ridiculous individuals, who’re not qualified to talk on any serious subject. We actively mocked them for decades in the media, and yet, they became the leading voices in a legitimate political revolution.
For decades, those who promoted equality and fairness tried to buck the system and failed. It only took the opposing force one year. Conspiracy theorists can speculate that a hard, right-wing wave has been in the planning stages for just as long, but as far as the public is concerned, it happened practically overnight.
My point here is that it’s all very interesting. With every passing day, I’m attempting to turn my waking anger and fury at the injustice of it all, into questions about the whys and the hows. The way I calm myself down on the emerging selfish politics of the world, and find myself being able to eat a lunchtime meal without a cloud over my head, is through thought.
I believe that education, information and knowledge are power. I can also see that a lack of education, misinformation and lack of knowledge are the power of the wave that I find myself in direct disagreement with. So, I often look to history and much wiser people than myself for answers.
Something I’ve constantly wrestled with is the ‘whys’ of the vote. Why did people, people who I know are just “normal” members of society, vote for movements that we need to travel back to the 1930s to find “normal” people supporting?
After some initial research I found myself lead to yet another Adam Curtis documentary. In 2002 he made a series of four films, titled The Century of the Self. In these films he explores how psychoanalysis and PR have effected the direction of society for the last hundred years. Specifically looking at the impacts of Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud Edward Bernays.
“This series is about how those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.” – Adam Curtis, mission statement for The Century of the Self
In this series of films, I found satisfying answers as to why people involved in counter-culture in the 1970s, voted for Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s. And using this information on the topic of individualism, I could apply the same theory to the wave we’re seeing now. To an extent of course, there’s something else going on this time, something that I will attempt to be increasingly thoughtful about.
I’m not going to regurgitate and re-write the video-essays of Curtis. I’ll simply recommend finding this series on YouTube. At the very least, even if you don’t buy into the theories presented, it’s an excellent history of the dominant western political movements of the 20th century, and a history of psychoanalysis.
I don’t want to be angry at the world whilst I’m eating my cornflakes. So I’m going to continue to learn the whys of the chaos, and be more mindful in engaging my analytical thought-processes before internally (or even externally) conversing with my emotions.
That’s not to say that I still won’t feel. Because the world has, and will, always be heavy.
I also encourage you to continue to feel, because empathy for those around us is a trait that we “Oh Dear-ists” can still hold on to. It’s just that, with every passing day, I can’t help but think that the emotional reaction isn’t enough. And that the new right-wing wave are perfectly content for their opponents to simply react, because it’s a reaction that they can see and therefore control.
What’s the answer to it all? Maybe there still isn’t one. Or maybe we all need to go away, and have a good think, before we can make a coherent conclusion.
Today is Saturday, June 23rd and I’ll leave you with one of Adam Curtis’ favourite criticisms of his own work:
“He’s like a guy pushing a supermarket trolley along a motorway, that’s filled up with old bits of film, shouting at passing cars.”