And you? he asks, jerking the blanket off me. Are you happy to have less, so that others can have more?
No, I say, jerking the blanket right back again. I’m not happy to have less. No one wants to have less. I don’t want anything to change. (I say this as if things haven’t changed already.)
We both know, of course, that we are avoiding the real question: What is right?
It should be about needs, he says, not wants.
Should, I quote, is the worst word in the English language.
Needs, not wants. I turn the phrase over slowly in my mind, and cannot help recalling the interwar magazines I once studied. I remember my own rising anxiety as I watched the journalists discover what truly lay behind the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain. Still reeling from the First World War and the Depression, the USSR’s ‘great experiment’ represented the hope of many, back then, for a more humane future. It was heartbreaking to watch that hope turn to dust in the strange real-time induced by the archive’s dry old pages, as the writers realised that there was no socialist, communist utopia. There was just another dictator (yet another man) promising power for himself, poverty for all, and death and torture for the many.
I learned, from that research, to fear the utopian impulse. I saw how it blinds those who are driven by it—and drawn to it—and, most of all, I saw the dangerous power of those shrewd enough to harness it. In other words, I saw how the notion of utopia is fundamentally fascistic, paradoxically dystopic: yearned-for Better Worlds might turn out to be any damn thing at all, but they are always about total domination and total control.
Fuck your socialism, I say to him, and fuck every other wholesome bullshit theory that denies the devil in each and every one of us.
Speak for yourself, he says, denying—as always—the devil in himself.
I like capitalism, I reply, though only to provoke him (for ‘like’ is not what I mean at all). It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is: the triumph of pure bloody savagery. ‘Survival of the fittest’ is the only theory I know that’s as true on the page as it is in reality.
I recall the first weeks of this disaster, how we looked on as some people panic-bought toilet paper and pasta—while others stocked up on guns and ammo. Many acted shocked at the semi-automatic sensibilities of the latter—presumably because it was easier to be appalled than to confront such people’s evident belief in violence as the norm. The gun-toters seem to understand best that anyone might do anything when their back’s against a wall. Perhaps they believe—or know?—that we’ve never stopped living in the jungle.
He leans over, kisses me, and says. Nighty night. Don’t let the Reds under the bed bite! Ha ha! Then, as infuriatingly as ever, he goes straight to sleep. (The Sleep of the Just, he’s called it, when I’ve complained jealously about it.)
I lie beside him—fizzing—and wonder if my fears are founded: for, rationally or not, it isn’t the illness that scares me in these strange, suspended days, but only (and as ever) people.
People who see in this ‘unprecedented crisis’ an opportunity.
People who are always so bloody certain of their certainties.
People who wish to make the world—like their Gods—in their own image.
People who seek power over anything other than themselves—especially people who pretend to be doing otherwise. (For it’s as true as ever: better the devil you know. You can fight, run from, deal with, talk to—even make an ally of—a devil you can see. A devil is only, after all, a fallen angel.)
Those who rejoice that we’re witnessing the death throes of capitalism must be as high as fucking kites. Disaster capitalism and surveillance capitalism—the military- and medical-industrial complexes—all existed long before this: this crisis just might be their heyday. For, surely, our government’s overnight conversion to Keynesianism is temporary, not heroically compelled by humanity but by something much more banal: a need to stabilise the economy—and placate the suddenly vulnerable middle class. Left will flip back to Right again, just as easily. And then?
This is what will remain: a bigger, more desperate—more exploitable—underclass, and a porked-up police state. For, while everyone’s been distracted, the government has passed all sorts of extraordinary laws without oversight or consultation—the crisis itself apparently granting automatic, unquestionable justification. It’s for your own good. We know what’s best. Do what you’re told for the sake of the everyone else. Though the social safety net will disappear—as quickly as it came—you can be sure that these new laws will stay in place. No-one gives up power—gives up anything—once they’ve got it.
Already we’re hearing the corrupt paternalistic blackmail of: We’ll give you your normal lives back, IF…
Freely unsafe. Safely unfree. Of course, nothing quite fits into such dichotomies, but I will always—always—fear the unsafe ‘safety’ imposed by those in authority.
I turn off the light, lie in the pitching dark, and listen to his breathing deepen. Needs, wants. For the hundredth time I wonder how he—who is nothing less than a refugee from the former Yugoslavia—can be so idealistic, so naive. Even I—just a child watching TV in the Antipodes—felt a shiver when I heard that strange new whispered word: Srebrenica. If everyone’s needs were met in that great communist, socialist state, why did it implode once its leader (yet another dictator, yet another man) died?
His only answer to this is: It was a great country! It was—before they fucked it up! (They. Not I, not we—as if his family’s choice to flee was not, itself, part of the catabolic equation; was not, itself, suggestive of the true nature of that republic.)
Perhaps that is the cure for the rot that corrodes the heart of every idealist’s utopia: stupid, sentimental, revisionist nostalgia.
As I finally drift into dreams I wonder how time will see us treat these surreal suspended days. Will we forget them—as we so often forget the truths we learn in the night? Or will we do what we normally do: simply remember what we want to—just as we believe what we want to. Remembering and forgetting are only forms of delusion, after all—as useful, and as dangerous, as any other.
This text was first published at Arena Online: https://arena.org.au/rewilding-part-iii/
Image credit: https://unsplash.com/@usgs