The Jellyfish Tribe
The raw and the cooked and the giving of the slip
Call me a cynic or an anarchist – sometimes I’m both at once - but these days I find it impossible to trust anything which comes to me with a seal of authority stamped upon it. In fact, the minute I am told that an ‘expert’, a state-sanctioned authority, a scientific body or a mainstream media organisation has ‘fact checked’ what I’ve just heard, I instinctively dismiss it. I’m not defending this as a healthy response. I’d much prefer it not to be my response at all. But I know it is an increasingly common reaction, even – and perhaps especially – amongst people who were trained from birth to follow the rules.
I was once one of those people. I’m a lower-middle class suburban British bloke from Generation X who was brought up to believe that the system broadly worked and was mostly fair, at least for people like me. The government did its best, though sometimes the wrong people got in; the police were here to help; there were career ladders and housing ladders and all sorts of other ladders, and if you worked hard and behaved responsibly and got married and paid your taxes and turned up to work on time, then society would reward you for it.
Of course, this was a partial story, as all stories are. Plenty of people would have cackled cynically at it from the start, while others, including me, disabused themselves of it by degrees. I spent thirty years writing about the degradation of nature and culture by the system of state-capitalist technocracy that I’ve taken to calling the Machine, so I thought I had a hard-bitten insouciance about the state of play. But the last few years have taught me that I was still too naive. That ‘social contract’ with the state that I apparently entered into at birth, despite having never signed a thing – it turned out that a part of me must still have believed in it after all.
Not any more.
As I say, it’s not just me. The growing loss of faith across the West in our institutions, leaders and representatives in recent years is like nothing else I’ve seen in my lifetime. When, I wonder, did that contract begin to expire? Maybe in 2003, when the lies with which the US and UK launched the Iraq war were so blatant that even those telling them seemed unconvinced. Or perhaps when the near-collapse of the global economy in 2008 brought the real impact of Machine globalisation, which had long been felt in the poor parts of the world, home to people in the West. Or maybe in 2016, when Brexit happened and Donald Trump happened and European ‘populism’ happened, and suddenly liberal globalism was under attack in its heartlands. From then on, we learned that populism was fascism and elected presidents were Russian agents and nationhood was white supremacy and free speech was ‘hate speech’, and while we were still trying to work through all that, along came covid and we all fell into the rabbit hole forever.
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