24 May 2008

Chaos requires anaesthesia

‘A little poison now and then: that maketh pleasant dreams. And much poison at last for a pleasant death.’
Former Auditor General Sir John Bourn has given us a sketch of what a mediocratised civil service looks like.
Too many schemes today are like the structures children build with toy bricks — unbalanced, constantly wobbling, complicated to shore up and only too likely to come tumbling down — as in the arrangements for child support, and in the recent ill thought-out schemes for capital gains tax and the taxation of non-domiciled residents, which had to be amended even before they were put into operation ...

The machinery of government is in constant turmoil — new departments and authorities being set up and older ones shut down or amalgamated. Such churning costs millions of pounds and is largely irrelevant to the programmes and projects that have to be implemented ...

Time and again, the rapid movement of officials between widely differing jobs — often every two or three years — means that the wheel has to be reinvented repeatedly.
Contemporary government seems to be obsessed by presentation and the resulting need for continual rebranding. In other words, it suffers from the same style-over-substance syndrome that we see in contemporary high culture and academia. But does anyone really care?

In mediocracy what matters is what the majority thinks, or what it can be manipulated into thinking. Social consensus is the only criterion of reality. Since society sees what is presented rather than what is behind the image, appearance becomes more important than substance. Naming and labelling are social activities; their significance therefore outweighs the question of content.

Mediocracy is essentially an ethos of stasis. However, it needs to wage constant war against those who might threaten this stasis. Paradoxically, the struggle to maintain stasis is aided by undermining stability. Chaos in the social realm is helpful; it is loss of control in the cultural realm which must be avoided.

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The LA Times’s Meghan Daum on the cultural journey from Sixties to Noughties:
If we're looking for a yardstick to measure how people's feelings about consciousness have changed over 40 years, we could do worse than to consider the enormous philosophical gulf between LSD and, say, Prozac. Whereas one purports to expand the mind, the other belongs to a class of drugs whose phenomenal success rests largely on their ability to keep the mind from expanding into uncomfortable places ...

No wonder no one does LSD anymore! It's utterly incompatible with the contemporary American lifestyle. You have to make time for it, you can't multitask while you're on it, plus it might be unpleasant. Ecstasy, on the other hand, is known to offer a one-dimensional, blissfully brainless high ...

Antidepressants, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control, are the most widely prescribed drug in the country, might not make people love the world, but they can be highly effective in keeping them from hating it.
Anaesthesia is important in keeping the citizens of a mediocracy sufficiently mindless, in order to avoid potential discomfort turning into criticism. (Though the few unwilling to be doped — whether by means of chemicals or mind-rotting pseudoculture — will find that the platforms of distribution available for the dissemination of their criticisms are confined to those despised by the elite.)

The well-adjusted individual in a mediocracy does not concern himself with the question of whether the changes that are happening around him are desirable. He is sufficiently mature and sophisticated to appreciate that the people in power are trained experts, who know more about the relevant issues than he does.

Certain phenomena, which might once have been experienced as alarming, need to be seen as inevitable signs of modernisation. These include such things as lying by officials, dumbing down, dismantling of civil liberties, increasing aggression, and the redefinition of terms and concepts.