Saturday, 23 May 2015


I'm reading Roland Barthes, in my spare time, which is the kind of thing I can never do over too extended a period before I begin feeling like a pretentious arsehole. It has occurred to me that there may be more to this aversion than the more workaday, knee-jerk why-are-you-reading-weirdo-Frenchy-eggheads conventional societal reaction. I suspect it has more to do with my ambivalent attitude towards religion and mainly towards the alternative secular triumphalism most obviously evident in weirdo Frenchy eggheads but basically apparent pretty much everywhere secularism manages to take root.

My basic perception is this: Politicians and capitalists and religious leaders repress us by demanding obedience, narrow-mindedness and, basically, hatred of the Other. They kind of suck. On the other end of the spectrum, scientists and intellectuals and professional secularists repress our spirituality, emotionality, imagination and even capacity for hope. For Barthes, there is nothing to anything beyond bourgeois and petit-bourgeois mystification and diversion from exploitation and structured inequality.

I'm not saying I don't take a side in this political struggle, because I most definitely do - basically for reasons of solidarity - but the lesser of these two evils is still pretty damn evil, or at least harmful. Thinking critically about things never made anybody happy, and never got anybody as excited as a patently uneducated and uncritical 9-year-old could get about train engines for reasons he would never be able to explain to you. And that's what being a human is really about. The problem is that not everybody gets an opportunity to follow and express that; not the gaps in salaries and GDPs. And scientists and intellectuals seem to routinely miss the point - to even miss why the other side got so many followers in the first place. Because at least those guys don't require you to be dead inside before they hand out a membership card.

What is common to both of these opposing camps is that they are placed firmly in the elite. They talk of reform and change and improvement and even occasionally of revolution but the status quo supplies them with an enormous amount of prestige and they seem motivated to maintain it, whether they realise this or not. Having people actually emancipated, actually free to feel and think and do without looking over their shoulders to make sure they're following the rules of either obedience or hipster-cynical-subversive-obedience is not something anybody seems particularly interested in. Feelings of superiority over the idiot masses appear generally more tempting.

True salvation for the idiot masses could only come, I think, from hippies. From pot-smokers. From this guy:

I think Barthes is right, and it is basically a problem of the bourgeois order that we look at The Dude and think, "he's lazy", instead of thinking "here's a guy who knows how to enjoy life without getting in anybody else's way." Why do we immediately think of his contribution to the economy? He's a spiritual asset. That's worth much much more.

I was reminded of a quote of Orwell's this week: "The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it." We are all, individually, fighting a war for economic growth and a war for "knowledge" and neither of these is serving us particularly well. What we really need is self-acceptance, and pride in failing to meet meaningless and repressive criteria.

It matters because you feel it, not because it gains anybody's approval. If only disapproval wasn't so scary.