Welcome to Wonderland
Welcome to Wonderland, with its capital city the Absurdist metropolis on the Thames and its outlying Territories to the North and West. It’s a land on fire with no coherent national plan for coping with the new climate reality, which most of its leaders, currently on a two-month permanent media-loop on all frequencies have anything to say about at all. To the south the countries main port has been declared a ‘critical incident’ as travellers face six-hour queues. It’s all the fault of the neighbouring country apparently. The port first keeled-over back in Easter when disruption was caused by a shortage of ferries, following the largest ferry-operator mass sacking of its crew by a zoom call.
Wonderland is a place of multiple failure, where nothing works but nobody cares.
Now the CoronaBrexit is morphing into and warping with climate breakdown and responses are hindered in Wonderland by all being subject to a taboo. No-one can or should really confront the realities of these man-made, carefully curated and self-inflicted disasters, for to face them would be to face complicity and the torrent of lies and disinformation that is the sub-strata of the place.
For the virus we have long been told ‘it is over’ and need not look too closely into the long-term effects, just get on with our work. With Brexit we should just pretend that none of this is really happening and it’s all going great, and lets please just refer to the manifestation of climate breakdown as a ‘Heatwave’. The bastardisation of language is a key moment in any society’s descent into the chaos and fire of a new totalitarianism, and its been an ever-present in the slide to the far-right under twelve years of Tory rule, replete with the slogans “all in it together“; “take back control“; “strong and stable“; “for hardworking people“; “get Brexit done“; “Britain deserves better” and so on and on until now we are asked to rally around “a clean start” or the billionaire ex-Chancellor’s idea that we should “restore trust, rebuild the economy and reunite the country” as if they were an incoming cohort of fresh young things rather than the degenerate regime smeared in this language of lies and culpable for all of this.
As we sit like the Caterpillar atop our mushroom smoking our hookah we watch the Queen of Hearts appear out of nowhere. The Conservative party candidate’s and notional leaders become more absurd at every turn. Now we are told Liz Truss is ‘leading the free world’.
In Burnsian terms “To see ourselves as others see us” is a gift, and it needed a German journalist Annette Dittert to write:
“… to fall down a rabbit hole means to stumble into a bizarre and disorientating alternate reality, where black is white and white is black. And that is precisely where we are now, in the so-called “post-Johnson era”. He is gone, but he isn’t. His former colleagues are outraged about his behaviour, but nobody wants to say a bad word about him. Brexit is done, but then it isn’t, and instead needs to be saved from the traitors. Welcome to Alice’s world.”
A Fun Adventure
In fact one of the Tory ‘candidates’ — it doesn’t matter which one — started to speak of “getting Brexit re-done” — as if slogans and mind-blowingly stupid exercises in self-harm could be endlessly regurgitated and spat out into the public discourse to be consumed over and over and over by a public dehydrated and mesmerised by the spectacle haunting them. This is, apparently, where we are.
The notion of a “fresh start” shines out from the litany of slogans that — when gathered together — seem all the more sinister.
Annette Dittert again notes: “The opportunity for a fresh start after Johnson’s imminent departure has already been wasted. No one in the race for the Tory party leadership has come out against the Johnsonian disregard for constitutional norms, the breaches of international law, or the manifest cruelty (and, most probably, utter illegality) of the Rwanda deportation policy. And for that reason, it really doesn’t matter which of the surviving candidates succeed him at No 10.”
“What is worse, none of the would-be successors has the courage to question the founding myth behind all this chaos: Brexit. None of them will admit that the latter is little more than a mirage. With his all but fact-free approach, Johnson was the ideal politician to sell the benefits of this illusion shimmering on the horizon: out of his mouth, destroying the decades-long pillars of UK economic and foreign policy was not a hazardous undertaking, but merely a fun adventure. The Brexit ultras happily ignored his lies until they no longer could, for fear of inviting scrutiny of his biggest fraud.”
In Wonderland you can watch the political goalposts and ideas being moved in real-time through the lens of a media that seems to buckle as it happens. This is a ‘fun adventure’ after all.
How should the residents of Wonderland respond?
I’m reminded that this is not, as the lazy-culture often defaults to, in any sense ‘Orwellian’. 2022 is not 1984. We are much more ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’ as Neil Postman had it than under the jackboot, though that is, in itself a privilege and a conceit. In Postman’s book he distinguishes the Orwellian vision of the future, in which totalitarian governments seize individual rights, from that offered by Huxley in Brave New World, where people medicate themselves into bliss, thereby voluntarily sacrificing their rights. Postman viewed contemporary entertainment culture as a present-day “soma”, the fictitious pleasure drug in Brave New World, by means of which rights are exchanged for entertainment.
Wonderland is only possible because of the dopamine of surround-sound-soma taking many different forms. But it’s also sustained by a sense of ‘reflective-impotence’ a self-taught belief of absolute loss of control, and a growing perception of a ‘mandatory individualism’, that has increased and been magnified through the Long 1980s and beyond, only now crashing and burning on the reality that our lifestyle hyper-consumerism is the root cause not the solution of our climate catastrophe.
To step out of the madness, to walk away from Wonderland or wake up from the absurdism we have to reject the daily dose of medication, reject the idea that we are individuals operating in isolation and cultivate the outrage that is the antidote to accepting the inevitable.
Hope has a bad name. I blame Obama. But it’s a necessary part of human existence. As Walter Benjamin put it: “It is only for the sake of those without hope that hope is given to us.”