Incoming from Society

The thick mélange of material and symbols in which we live has its own logic, somehow raging independently of us – even though we created it. Like the surface of the sun, our own imaginings flare out towards us, approaching menacingly from outside. 

At the very height of civilization, life changed, work got harder, faster, with more checks and tests and bureaucracy and performance indicators. Everyone was suspect. All were commodities. Information was something that gave competitive advantage. Attention was monetorised.

As if through a puncture – this will be of no surprise – meaning drained from the world. So much lying and advertising, spin, ‘choice architecture’ and ‘genuine fakery’ meant that “words lost their meaning.” Thucydides said this was what destroyed the ancient Greek world and it happened again with us. We tore up communities and, in our institutional life, gagged on a foaming fantasy of administration. Many dedicated their entire working lives to these convoluted figments, to the dumb calculation of cartoon measurements and absurd, childlike, metrics.

Learning to appear to be busy, to uphold and believe the values of the institution, to appear to give value, to have been trained, to meet standards. With breath-taking gullibility, we wandered into believing our public institutions and profit-chasing companies were trying to provide goods and services, whereas in truth, their cloying mission statements concealed a world of abject dysfunction, primitive hierarchic behaviour and wasted knowledge. The orientation to appearances drilled a fundamentally defensive cognitive posture, one forever in fear of attack by the media or the overly litigious. This was ‘audit culture’, swamped by ‘rituals of verification.’ This was the solar flare that came at us from the world outside – a social process independent of our beliefs. One no longer ‘looked after Grandma’, but instead generated units of ‘social care.’ One did not teach, but met ‘learning objectives’. What had been coordinated by talking and trust was thereby ‘colonised’ by administration.

That foam, though, yellow and sticky and sprayed down the throat by soldiers; that froth of administration, whipped up as real: it shows how institutions can slip so easily into sleep, drifting in small steps to at last emerge, blinking, far from their core purposes, vulnerable and bloody.

Privileged enclaves, isolated, entitled, cognitively sealed but also defensive and fearful. Dysfunctional institutions increasingly laid bare; we peered in, shocked to see that our ruling elites were no match for the global risks to come. Their primary purpose, to secure the safety of citizens, was finally replaced by the simple urge to save themselves.

To SEGMENT 8: Outward from the Mind