Sustainable Scotland and the Big Tent Festival

Well, isn’t 2009 turning into the year when the rather empty social-philosophical concept of ‘postmodernity’ started to look like it meant something – but only if the something meant was a world at the bottom of a very deep rabbit hole where the laws of nature do not hold. Postmodernity in social theory was a loose and not very helpful attempt to describe social relations as a rapidly-changing ‘surface’ which in the volume and intensity of interaction were so great that the surface became self-supporting and the activity below the surface was no longer the defining driver of ‘history’.

Perhaps this is true – for now. Because right now nothing on the surface is linked to anything underneath. The public sector is being battered for spiralling debts – which are mainly due to bailing out (probably criminally) irresponsible private sector buccaneers. The more the private sector turns out to be a giddy realm of uncontrolled venality with no sense of self-control and no plan for how this house of cards will survive other than ‘it must’, the more the public sector is getting it in the neck in the media realm. The public sector (which maintains our infrastructure, educates our workforce, keep it healthy, employs lots of people and purchases very large amounts of goods and services) is a wealth destroyer while venture capitalists and the likes (who brought the country to its knees by borrowing money it had no way to repay, defaulted and then forced the public purse to save the collapsing lenders) are wealth creators. Only in Wonderland could Tom Hunter be a wealth generator when he has been responsible for some of the biggest loan defaults from the Bank of Scotland (he just walked away from billions of pounds of debts as if nothing happened) and when his companies go bankrupt he buys back the profitable bits on the cheap and leaves the creditors due money from him on the non-profitable bits.

Just now we are skelping our way round the Mad Hatter’s table as if we’ll never have to wash a dish again

The usual reference point for all of this is George Orwell – because of the combination of control, linguistic manipulation and surveillance. That was true two years ago (at a time when to say so defined you as being on the ‘margins’) but it’s the wrong analogy now. The techniques remain in place but the controlling authority is falling apart. Two years ago we were told the ‘wealth generators’ were the kings of our era because everyone believed it. Now we are told the same thing precisely because no-one believes it. Will no-one demur from the view that the crisis of capitalism is almost behind us? We are not in 1984 anymore because the wars are running but not being run, the banks can only act like normal if they keep one eye closed and forget yesterday, the CCTV cameras have started catching the watchers. In 1984 the powers that ran Oceania were nothing if not competent and on top of their game. Just now we are skelping our way round the Mad Hatter’s table as if we’ll never have to wash a dish again. Curiouser and curiouser.

But it’s all nonsense; all of it. Postmodernism is a style of architecture, not a way to understand the world. Poverty, war and environmental collapse are not linguistic constructs. The economy isn’t better because we say it is. The reckoning is still underway and once we stop eating those mushrooms, everything will return to its right size again.

Which is why we have dedicated this issue to the question of a sustainable future (and linked it to the Big Tent Festival). If ever there is a realm where the surface has supplanted the core it’s the question of sustaining the planet. After all, everyone is in favour now so there aren’t really any difficult choices to make – buy whatever car you want, fly wherever you want on holiday, vote for whoever you want. You can be confident that we all feel passionately about the penguins and your conscience will be in safe hands with Ford/British Airways/David Cameron. There is nothing to worry about under the surface – capitalism itself is signed up.

More tea, Dormouse?