Skip to main content
Read page text



At last is has begun. Many people have long been aware that our technological societies are dying, and that only a major change of direction can save them. But on the precise nature or extent of that change there has been little agreement or understanding. The so-called radicals and leftists have been content to assume that the problem has been simply one of a failure to apply the ideology of their particular sect, and that if communist or socialist leaders have chosen courses which have led to more war, more waste, or more mass immiseration, then the failure has been a personal one of leadership, and not one that involves a fresh appraisal of the problem.

It is, of course, absurd to seek to explain the history of any period in terms of this or that leader's ' betrayal', or of the ' cult of personality '. or by the supposed errors of ' revisionism ', and it is even more absurd to seek to explain the drift of events in the complex societies of this century in such terms.

Our societies are dying because they are out of control and are pursuing courses which have disaster structured into their assuptions. One need only plot a graph of fuel consumption and known fuel reserves (about which, of course, there is a lot of guesswork in more than one direction), of population trends and food potential, of the mounting scale of diseases cau sed by stress or deprivation, of the use of high-powered pesticides and other dangerous chemicals, of the spread of thermonuclear weapons and of the appalling new range of gas and germ weapons in a historical climate where the sanctity of human life, to say nothing of its dignity, count for less and less against a rising tide of intolerance and hate, to see that unless these trends a re reversed some catastrophic consequences are bound to break before very long.

These are mainly matters of statitstical assessment, but they are none the less real; to grasp what is happening to individual human persons under the stresses of our rotten megapolitan societies may make greater demands on our imaginative capacities.

There are all sorts of reasons why filing people up in skyscraper blocks of flats is a sure recipe for sociological calamity; the same holds true for herding people into huge impersonal workplaces, for piling them into subtopian agglomerations governed by faceless municipal officers, or for subjecting them to the calculated cacaphony of high pressure advertising, to the crush, din and stress of modern urban transport and the uninhibited intrusions of modern marketing methods. All these situations have a common element: the forces determining them are impersonal-the profit motive, the lust for power in politics, the bureaucratic neurosis for tidiness, and so on. None of them is the product of the wishes of the people whose lives they control and confine.

But man is not born to suffer a perpetual existence of battery-hen docility, whatever the architects, planners and bureaucrats may conjure to the contrary. Apart from his quest for love and truth, he seeks perpetually to create. As if it were an answer to this need, the satisfied ones are apt to point proudly to the advances of voting rights and democracy made over the last century; but in doing so they ignore that the mechanism of U1e ballot box, especially in the business of party organisation, selecting of candidates and the financing of electoral campaigns, has become so corrupt (a minority gathering spoils of power and fat salaries at the expense of the majority) as to cease to be either meaningful or honourable.

Some may think, indeed professors of politics frequently do, that the position of the citizen is safeguarded here by the existence of rival parties. Whether this contention could be true is a moot point; in the societies where it is supposed to operate, it is demonstrably fal se. A party with serious electoral prospects cannot campaign on a single major issue (such as, e.g., unilateral nuclear disarmament); to do so would be to alienate a margin of its own supporters and to fail to attract the margin of support from the centre that is needed for success at the polls. Elections are decided at the margin, hence the need for a ' package deal ' programme which will attract rather than repel a suffi cient margin of uncommitted voters. Since we live in mass societies and a re all subjected to the same conditioning forces, it follows that the uncommitted will ordinarily only respond favourably to what they are conditioned to, and that they will tend to respond negatively to anything of a contrary nature (as any peace activist well knows). Hence the phenomenon of ' the consensus ' that dominates modern politics, with which all main parties seek to identify-instead of projecting distinct policies-and which robs the electorate of any significant choice.

A Persuaded Society

What then determines the consensus ? The question admits a great many answers, but of one it does not. The consensus is not determined by the mass of the people themselves, as the working of any advertising agency will readily confirm. It is indeed in the effects of the work of such agencies, and the forces that finance them, that a large part of the answer is to be found. A society manipulated by hidden persuaders is a persuaded one. Of what then is it persuaded ? The advertisers themselves provide that answer; it is persuaded that an unlimited propensity for the consumption of goods sold for profit is the supreme value of our civilisation . To this end the magnificence of man, to say nothing of an ordinary concern for human wellbeing and self-fulfilment is lost in the worship (it is surely nothing less) of such false gods as the gross national product, the drive for more exports (to pay for more imports as a means to greater exports ... ), the ' value of the pound ', and so on.


My Bookmarks

Skip to main content