Somewhere in his book Whoops, John Lanchester writes that “the western liberal democracies are the most admirable societies that have ever existed.”
My instinctive reaction as a confirmed Long Emergenista was “oh no they’re not. They are fool’s paradises where objectionable elites dose unwitting masses with atrocious pabulum in an ultimately-doomed attempt to preserve the unsustainable.”
Then I thought about it for a moment and had to admit that the western democracy I live in is actually pretty admirable and paradisical by almost any historical standard.
Admirable if only for the freedom of speech it allows the great majority of citizens (for what that’s worth when everyone is talking and no one is listening). And paradisical because …well look around. Guaranteed warmth, medical care and food for a higher proportion of the population than ever before. And on top of that there are myriad diversions, from the internet to easy travel to anywhere in the world, that are cheap as chips when they’re not actually free.
Joe Bageant’s hologram is taking over the world. Simultaneously seductive and repellent, it permeates the mass psyche through the medium of a billion LCD screens.
Knowing it to be an imposter, an aberrative artefact of fossil-fuelled machine consciousness, is no defence. Resisting its pull is exhausting: eventually you long for the sleep that eventually claimed every last living person in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and to wake up reprogrammed to consume with the contented persistence of a grazing herbivore.
Is this how things looked to the citizens of post-peak Rome? It was obvious that the empire was crumbling and their economy cannibalising itself. But their magnificent, modern city was surely eternal, and anyway why worry while the bread kept coming and the circuses just got better every week?
Probably. But hey, my new 7-inch tablet has finished charging. And I feel so tired. Maybe I’ll just have a little nap. Then I can stop worrying until I wake up. As a fool in a fool’s paradise.