Democracy is dying of AIDS
(Written 2008 and first published in Fenris Wolf 4, 2011, by Edda Publishing, Stockholm)
I have a problem with my immune system. I detest its politics.
When a virus enters my body, it is only doing what any living thing would do, looking for a comfortable environment in which to multiply. But my immune system goes into ’red alert’ – raising a fever, violent sneezing, runny nose, local inflamation and all the reactionary responses of a military regime. If a few cells in my body break out from their daily drudgery and decide to do something creative, they will be immediately ostracised, cut off and ejected as a potential cancer in the body corporate. Some day I’ll need hip replacements – my legs will really need them and yet they will only be passed by my antibodies if sweetened by a significant shipment of drugs. I cannot even enjoy a cup of coffee on an empty stomach without a severe purging from my over-vigilant system.
It is not easy to point a finger, for the immune system comprises a highly complex symbiotic culture of local interests dispersed throughout my body, and yet I can identify a common thread of xenophobia, dogmatism, reactionary values and the militarism of a police state linking all those parts. I hate its politics and detest the way that, just like a military state, the immune system demands enemies to keep it from degenerating. Bored soldiers will inevitably get drunk and find some joint to trash – and in my case it is the joints of my fingers. Arthritic auto-immune attacks on the hands of a writer are unwelcome, and I resent them.
So, am I saying that I do not like my immune system?
No! Please don’t get me wrong. As a relatively healthy 65 year old I respect and deeply appreciate everything it has done for me. When I witness old friends and those around me suffering the torments of cancer or a defective immune system I am heartily grateful for my own vigilante force and its relentless purging of so many invaders and rebels. Like a quiet white South African neighbourhood in the apartheid days, the health of my body owes more to border patrols than poIitical correctness. I cannot help feeling grateful, but still don’t like its politics.
I do however have a sneaking admiration – and it is hard to admit this in polite society – for the HIV virus. We have all tasted rejection at some time in our lives, but the feeling is especially poignant for a little known author. Haven’t I yearned at times to be able to outwit the publishing industry’s own immune system, to break through its defences and infect some editor with a madness that will force them to reach into the reject bin, pull out my manuscript and scream ”This is brilliant! A seminal work of genius! How much can we afford for a truly headline-grabbing advance!”?
I admire the HIV virus because, for those of us who detest the politics of the old regime, it stirs up dreams of revolution, creative new beginnings and accelerated evolution as the barriers of prejudice and conformity are broken down. And yet, as with so many rebellions, I am appalled at what eventually follows.
I need to explore this ghastly paradox, and yet I cannot bear to explore further within me, for I am a little squeamish about bodily functions. I wish my body could be as some vegetable – an apple or pumpkin – just flesh all through without all those smelly internal organs. So I’ll turn my attention to society’s immune systems instead.
Democracy is a major player in a society’s immune system, evolved in ancient Greece to keep tyranny at bay. But virus evolve fast and even from early times new types of tyrant have exploited the democratic process itself to get into power – Hitler being the prime example of our times. But democracy is still only one factor within a highly complex system.
Britain in the 1950s was a severely wounded nation, convalescing from the sickness of war. But we had our pride and would boast that ”Hitler could never have happened here”. At the time I do believe we were right, for Britain still had an exceptionally strong immune system then. But 20 years later Thatcher came into power under the same ”law and order” banner used by Hitler decades earlier, and we began to witness how HIV works its wretched spell.
No, we did not actually see it, for the virus works by misdirection. The very broad front of any immune system requires an equally broad attack, and that calls for a campaign that remains unrecognised until too late. Misdirection leads the eye away by raising popular campaigns elsewhere.
Although integrated over a broad front, the assault must be analysed part by part. Begin with the trade unions, the part of the immune system that monitors and confronts the many potential tyrannies of management and working conditions. Of course the unions had the usual vices of any immune system – xenophobia, militancy, reaction etc – and it was easy to find stories of highly motivated workers being forced to ”work to rule” and so on. So it was not difficult to win support, especially in the management classes, for union reform and, when that invoked the expected militant reaction, to use that as an excuse to escalate the attack into ”breaking the unions”.
But why was this allowed by the working classes? Because they were too busy cheering on campaigns elsewhere in the system. There was plenty to attack in the City with the stock market’s version of the ”closed shop”, the old boy network and walls of discretion. Its politics stank just as foully, and yet it takes the wisdom of hindsight to recognise that the old boy network and public school values did offer some measure of immune response to the sort of excesses that led to economic collapse once finance was de-regulated and opened to the wide (and not so old) boys. And the City itself was too busy applauding the breaking of the unions to offer much resistance.
Newspapers also play a key immune role as a watchdog against corruption. But in the late 70s the media were paid off with favours from the government in return for their support. While Murdoch’s and Thatcher’s systems each congratulated themselves that they were winning control of the other, in retrospect it is clear that both were succumbing to the same viral infection.
How parents cheered when it was suggested that the waywardness of youth was not their fault at all, but could all be blamed on a defiant teaching establishment stuck with discredited educational theories from the 1960s – a part of the immune system that aimed to protect society by teaching its members to think instead of repeat by rote. So Britain let her schools and culture of education be discredited because it was too busy applauding the assault on single mothers as the true cause of all ills…
And so the assault on the immune system progressed. Each part of the whole such an easy target, so easy to win support for an attack on its many vices – the closed shops, the elitism and militant reactionary tendencies. No part of Britain’s immune system was above criticism from the reformers and yet, as a whole, it was what had once allowed us to say ”Hitler could never happen here” and it did keep many other such diseases at bay. The system, so needing to be reformed and revitalised, was instead eroded or dismantled until even the very thing it existed to protect and maintain, namely ”society”, was itself dismantled and deemed to be an illusion.
For those who did not heed the longer term implications of the neocon, neolib, Thatcher virus, it was fun while it lasted. So many rotten reactionary institutions being broken up or rendered impotent, that it was all too easy to overlook what they had evolved to protect and what they were created to resist.
After the revolution, after HIV has done its work, then comes full blown AIDS – a new government from a party that had once been part of the immune system but now itself upholding the values of the invading virus. Legal processes against corruption are now subject to financial interests, and the case against arms dealer corruption was quietly shelved by the Prime Minister.
Look further afield and we see so many other establishments in their dying throes. In South Africa the very antibodies created to fight corruption are used to lever the more competent or scrupulous operatives from their posts. There used to be a Buddhist saying ”If the finger is pointing at the Moon, look at the Moon, not the finger”; in politics it should become ”if a finger is pointing, just look at the pointer”. If society is not actually sick it is only because it no longer exists.
I feel angry. To be more specific I feel reactionary, militant, dogmatic and something akin to a form of xenophobia against all ideas alien to common humanity.
I would appear to have embodied the very politics that I so detest. I am no more part of society, for I am an individual – and yet the immune system that once stood to defend society has found a refuge within my soul.
This paradox is widespread. We live in a time when, in an inversion of the Platonic ideal, the masses are becoming more ethical whilst the rulers grow increasingly corrupt.
Fellow rebels – should such exist – let us unite!