I’ve just finished watching the much-anticipated three-hour-long documentary, Hypernormalisation’, by Adam Curtis, on iPlayer. This is only the latest in a long series of disturbing, controversial and thought-provoking pieces by Curtis, which includes ‘The Power of Nightmares’, ‘The Trap’ and ‘Bitter Lake’. I count myself as a fan of his work. I found it fascinating. His stories are of course ‘big history’ with sweeping themes, much generalisation and sometimes over-simplified links but that is only to be expected if he is to make us think about big ideas and big trends beyond our local and recent experiences. We do need to do that. The reservations we might have of Curtis are no greater than, probably less than, those we needed to have of Edward Gibbon’s ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ and they are not enough to reject him unless you want to hide away entirely from confronting the awful abuses of power that happen on the world stage but which inevitably change your local realities. Here’s what Wikipedia says about Curtis, for background:
‘Curtis says that his favourite theme is “power and how it works in society”, and his works explore areas of sociology, psychology, philosophy and political history. Curtis describes his work as journalism that happens to be expounded via the medium of film.’
Note that Curtis makes no claim to be other than a journalist. He’s not claiming to have done any more than to have provoked us into thinking about what is happening in our lives. I think this means that some of his critics who accuse him of being a conspiracy theorist are missing the point. Other critics have identified repetitive, predictable even clichéd patterns in his work but it’s quite easy to do this kind of thing with any important creative figure. Marx, Freud and Darwin can all be parodied but it doesn’t mean that their ideas are unimportant. Bob Dylan has just received the Nobel Prize for Literature yet his lyrics are a gift to any half-witted parodist. It’s so much easier to be smart in this way than it is to say something important in the first place.
What is Hypernormalisation saying about the World? Well, it’s a very gloomy dystopian view which suggests very little hope for us to be able to live meaningful lives any more. Here’s my take. From the mid-1970s, these developments produced a world in which people have nothing to believe in other than material consumption and self-absorption:
- Powerful corporate and right-wing interests (Reagan, Thatcher) combined to undermine and to destroy the post-war consensus on managing capitalism in the interests of the majority.
- US foreign policy under Henry Kissinger conspired to divide and to weaken the Arab world ostensibly to maintain stability but, by betraying Syria and Assad Snr especially, in effect released uncontrollable Islamist forces and the ‘weapon of the weak’ – suicide bombing.
- The take-over of politics by the banks and the corporations and their blind belief in the ability of market forces to control society made voting seem pointless.
- The acceptance by politicians of a new role as mere managers of the electorate in a market-dominated society further weakened the idea of democracy.
- The failure of the ‘Facebook rebellions’ in the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements because, unlike Marxist rebels in the past, they had no idea of the kind of society they wanted to create once they had temporary control of the streets
- The massive growth of militant Islamism rushing in to fill the void of ideas created by the defeat of the Facebook rebellions and the return of old military and corporate power gave millions a reason to live and some, of course, a reason to die
- The Brexit and Trump rebellions in the England and the US emerged as examples of hopelessly inarticulate, politically incoherent and damaging, but understandable, responses to the failure of traditional politics, in larger countries
So, what hope is there for Scotland in this? Paradoxically, our size, our geography and our current lack of power may help. Look at Iceland. They’ve jailed corrupt bankers, restored their economy and, best of all, given their lives a new sense of purpose in self-determination. Feeling you can control your life is in itself a reason to live. Their small population, strong sense of identity, resilient social justice and fairness values and their physical isolation have been crucial in this. Look at Catalonia and the Basque country. Look also at the relative contentment of the populations of smaller nation states like Denmark, Norway and New Zealand.
Scotland can do likewise. The Yes Movement and its accompanying train of sub-movements, against Trident, fracking and TTIP, for land reform and for greater equality, built on a strong yet inclusive sense of civic national identity can help us to create a new society based on meaningful relationships. As with Iceland, self-determination and the subsequent feeling of being in control can be reason enough to live. Only our dying Unionist groups and corrupt media stand in the way.