I remember what it was like before he arrived. I, like most,
drifted through a life that I believed was free and full of choice but with
hindsight, was no freer than a battery hen. Even they must believe they have
some choice should they peck the wire cage again, should they try to
shuffle the left or the right foot this time, should they cry out or remain
silent? These are choices, limited but choices nonetheless.
That was the life that I, we led before Seth. It was so full of
nothing. We made ourselves so busy doing nothing but at the time it felt very
important, rewarding even. Looking back now, I see that it was entirely vacuous
and from my current vantage point, what we used to do with our lives seems so
utterly pointless. But at the time, it appeared good, worthwhile.
We spent the majority of our time consuming. It was all we did
really. Consumption was the core of everything we did and very few of us, if we
are honest now, could say that we did anything that wasnt some form of
consumption and one of the main things we feasted on was time. We acted as
though we had nothing but time and devoured it aimlessly, mainly through TV.
Our TV schedule was composed almost entirely of
reality TV and we were deluged with it. Every channel, all 100-odd
of them, crammed with people just like you and I doing ordinary things just
like you and I. There was the rich, spoiled set from West London showing us how
they drank Champagne and attempted to hang out with royalty but to balance that
out, we got the pretendy-rich from the north east who did the same but on a
We watched the tribulations of the nations aristocrats and
the endearing foibles that result from generations of inbreeding. We watched
the same format but from the perspective of the housing estates and the
marvelled at the honesty delivered by generations of poverty. We watched people
sleeping in hotels, we watched them go shopping, we even watched them watch TV.
The whole point was that no matter who you were, what part of society you
identified with, you could see yourself and others like you and
relate. They were just like us their lives were just like
Only they werent real and nor, it would
transpire, were our own. What we were told was real life in these shows was in
fact staged and crafted to appear real. These lives were facsimiles of real
life, what the producers estimated we took to be real life. Judging with
hindsight is simplistic but its so clear now that our own lives were as
staged and controlled as those we saw on TV. We just didnt see it, we
were too distracted.
When it wasnt reality programmes, TV was showing us all
the things that we could buy and have and own and possess, all the things that
would make our lives better, more complete. And how we responded. We were
deeply patriotic in our consumption. Hundreds of thousands of us, millions,
scuttling about the streets eying and buying, aimlessly, pointlessly,
purchasing things desperate for the day we could throw them away so we could
buy all over again. We were hungry and this was the sustenance we believed we
needed because we were told it was every day we were told to buy stuff,
stuff that would show we loved our families more than our neighbour, stuff to
express how successful we were, stuff that would shape our identities. We would
buy, buy, buy and then sit back and let the consumption define us.
It told us that we were wealthy, dynamic, deserving and bound
for greater things. We could look at our accumulations and know that we were
excelling, had greater taste and had greater access to the good things in life.
Sofas from department stores, clothes from designers we had never heard of,
food from artisan bakeries, holidays to increasingly far flung places and back
again Thailand became the new Benidrom to such an extent that people
started going to Benidrom again. It was a hipster thing. We were all living the
good life. How did we know it was the good life? Because all the things we
bought and where we bought them told us so. That was what comforted many of us
having stuff meant having meaning and we were happy to live that lie.
Better that than mentally unravelling at the bus stop on a cold, wet Wednesday
morning waiting for more work.
When we werent consuming we were doing just that, working.
We prided ourselves on our understanding that work was a means to an end and
that we were an improvement on our forefathers who had identified themselves by
their employment. Those wet Wednesday mornings were made bearable because our
destination was not what identified us. It was what the job could buy that
mattered. We had advanced since the days of our ancestors work was not a
point of pride. It was simply a means to get money to allow us to craft our
true identity, give us the means to cut and paste ourselves into those
commercial images of holiday, motoring, socialising and well being. We worked,
whatever it was we did, to attain those social ideals that we felt entitled to
and knew could be ours. Everyone could join in you just needed the
If you didnt earn enough, you could always borrow. That
was never a problem as the accumulation of debt was your patriotic duty. If you
werent borrowing and buying you were putting the economy and jobs at
risk. It was our collective responsibility to ensure that all those trinkets
and summer promises were bought and in return our own hunger was satisfied with
that plaster of identity that we so readily applied. The banks encouraged it
too the more we borrowed, the more they could skim away. They were the
great untouchables, the ones who held the keys to our identity, the health of
the economy and the stability of our government. Its not that they were
the bad guys everyone was complicit in it. Its just that some, the
bankers in the main, came out of it better than most.
There was no respite from the merry go round of consumption and
deception. On the train or the bus to work or on your lunch break or on Sunday
afternoons, were the newspapers. They wrote as though they were on our side
they exhibited the outrage that we knew we should feel towards those
thieving politicians, the paedophiles, the greedy bankers, the ungrateful
celebrities that we saw on our TV. But on every second page, in between these
calls to moral arms, were the adverts Those terrible stories you
read in our pages, they screamed. Forget them. Look here. We have a
sale on flat screen TVs, we got half price sofas and how about a bit of
insurance to salve those insecurities?
The papers were part of the problem too, boxing us in, telling
us how to feel and behave; what to like and dislike. Similar to the
politicians, they purported to be the voice of the people, merely reflecting
what we were feeling and the more you saw it, believed it, the more you
understood that this was in fact the way you should feel. We had lost the power
of thought and self realisation. We believed we had both but it was a mirage, a
hoodwink and we, despite what anyone will tell you today, happily accepted
this. We walked into it, some with their eyes open and some closed but we all
walked arm in arm in this great charade, gleefully, heading for the department
stores and the airports. It didnt matter that it was a lie, not really,
not when our belies were filled with all those products, outrage and security.
To put it bluntly, we were a nation of toddlers. Knowing simpletons.
It sounds insane that we accepted it but if you are surrounded
by it and it is all you know, you get used to it. It becomes normal, even
desirable. But then you know how that feels, dont you?
Overseeing all of this, engineering these grasps for meaning and
identity, our need to feed ourselves and what was left of our souls, were the
politicians. They had always been there, a paternalistic body that made sure
the big things like the economy - delivering our jobs, our consumption and
ultimately our identity functioned. We knew they were living off the
cream of the land, identikit droids perpetuating their own class, lying to us
at every turn, telling us what they believed we wanted to hear. But we also
knew we needed them. They were tasteless, crass and acutely self-serving but we
accepted that we needed them.
Who else could run the country, negotiate with foreign powers,
shepherd the economy, keep the banks in check, keep our streets safe, clean and
functioning? Who else could make sure that society did not crumble and fall
into anarchy? As irritating as it was, we knew we needed them but crucially,
they also needed us. They needed our votes, our validation in order for them to
assume their positions of power for without the people, there could be no
politicians. We took solace in that fact. It was all we had really.
And so we lived those lives until Seth showed up. It was Seth
who showed us we were living a mass, collective lie, one that only the
politicians and the financiers benefited from. He showed us that we did not
live in anything like a free state, that we did not need to take our identity
cues from what we bought or owned, that the reality we thought we lived in was
in fact a construction, a myth and, most terrifying and exhilarating of all,
that we did not need the politicians, leaders of any kind. He showed us they
were an outdated class no longer serving any purpose but their own and that we
could have a more fulfilling and vital existence without them.
It was Seth who finally set us free from this patriarchal
existence and convinced us that as a species, we had evolved enough to take
care of ourselves and no longer needed to be led anywhere by anyone. We knew
individually and collectively what we wanted so why, he argued so persuasively,
should we hand that responsibility, the very essence of our existence, over to
If Seth hadnt shown us the way, we would still be drifting
through a false, misleading existence, an unsatisfying approximation of what
life should be. We owed him everything.
How we progressed from acquisitive cattle to where we are today
deserves an explanation and as I stumbled into the centre of it all, this great
revolution of systems and minds, I will take on the responsibility of
explaining to the future what we did, how we did it and why we did it.
Ours is not a tale of triumph over adversity or the people
winning out over the state and nor is it a story of spirituality conquering
consumerism. Its none of those things. It is the story of how the selfish
collective came to control itself and a nation. My tale may be ugly at times,
may not be to your taste but stick with me as I and the majority of the people
know the existence we lead now is real, democracy taken to its natural
conclusion. The society we live in now is the truest representation
of the collective human condition and even when times are dark and the
experiment falters, we know we have to maintain, continue down this road for
the only other option is to return to the life that you are living today and
nothing, absolutely nothing, will convince us to do that.