The piece below is from the D.i.Y. CULTURE#9 COVID-19(84) – Dystopian Visions edition
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For D.i.Y.Culture by Ruth Kinna – anarchist and writer
Do you remember that evening at the beach? The golden moon hung full-orbed in the sky, and a road of silver stretched across the softly undulating sea … How beautiful it was, and how you both enjoyed it … You walked home in silence; your hearts beating with emotion; in thought too deep for words. You felt at peace with the world, and yet your blood ran hot with passion, for you trod on air. It would have been hard to do a shameful deed, or harboured an ignoble thought. The poetry of the universe had crept into your soul.
William C. Owen. That Evening At the Beach
You are beginning, I can see, to realize what that world will be like. But in the end you will do more than understand it. You will accept it, welcome it, become part of it.’ Winston had recovered himself sufficiently to speak. ‘You can’t!’ he said weakly. ‘What do you mean by that remark, Winston?’ ‘You could not create such a world as you have just described. It is a dream. It is impossible.’ ‘Why?’ ‘It is impossible to found a civilization on fear and hatred and cruelty. It would never endure.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘It would have no vitality. It would disintegrate. It would commit suicide.’ ‘Nonsense. You are under the impression that hatred is more exhausting than love. Why should it be?
George Orwell, 1984
Let’s say that utopia is the hope of what we can achieve, and dystopia is the dread of losing things we hold dear. Where are we now on this spectrum?
We live in surveillance society, for sure. But the government appears incapable of tracking and tracing the coronavirus. There is a strong trend towards the depoliticization of policy. The new mantra, ‘taking the right decisions at the right time’ is a riff on Tony Blair’s ‘the right thing to do’. The difference is that the latest refrain replaces moral judgment with scientific reason. So, once ‘we get through this’ the politicians can just blame the experts for all the ‘missteps’ in virus control. Naming and numbering policy phases makes it seem like there’s a plan. But guess what it is: a twenty-second handwash to quickly relieve the government of responsibility for slowness, incompetence and inconsistency: deaths, stress and looming economic collapse.
Johnson’s administration hasn’t let Spock’s Vulcan logic oust Bones’ human empathy entirely. While handing over the bridge of the Enterprise to the first officer, the captain has led a national care campaign for front-line workers, especially medics. Seizing the moment, advertisers are also milking honest, heart-felt ‘thank-yous to all essential workers’. Gratitude is fast becoming an essential tagline, tricking us into thinking that precarious workers are happy enough to feel valued for the small part they play helping others through the crisis. Compared to that, a pay rise would be demeaning, wouldn’t it?
There’s more doublespeak in the lifting of lockdown, though it’s more complicated than Big Brother’s crisp messaging. The headline, LOCKDOWN IS PROTECTION (save lives, save our NHS!) looks out of kilter with Michael Gove’s byline, LOCKDOWN IS IMPRISONMENT. But it’s not a contradiction. Obedience to law is essential for survival. Overcoming fear of death is the key to liberation through work. In both cases, individual judgement gives way to compulsion. If the police don’t get you, the ending of the furlough will.
Dystopian dread hangs over us as government admits that its ‘socialist’ turn won’t, as first anticipated, ensure the economy bounces back. Apparently, they’ll be no return to austerity, either. What does the future hold? Once the scientists have been disgraced for misadvising ministers, it might just be a vacuum.