It is not often that I quote the ever-groaning Grauniad pundit George Monbiot, but today I cannot help it, for yesterday he was in fine form. In a column which focuses on the rise of the plutocrats in contemporary democracy, and the nature of consumer freedom, Monbiot opines…
“The question is not confined to politics. Almost universally we now seem content to lead a proxy life, a counter-life, of vicarious, illusory relationships, of secondhand pleasures, of atomisation without individuation. Those who possess some disposable income are extraordinarily free, by comparison to almost all our great-grandparents, but we tend to act as if we have been placed under house arrest. With the amount most of us spend on home entertainment, we could probably buy a horse and play buzkashi every weekend. But we would rather stare at an illuminated box, watching other people jumping up and down and screaming. Our political constraint is one aspect of a wider inhibition, a wider failure to be free.”
We all have the potential to be free, but for some reason many choose not to exercise it. This failure to make the most of our hard-won liberties cannot be blamed solely on the plutocrats, as many on the left do, Monbiot possibly included, but an ever growing income inequality, in which, to provide a particularly stark example, the richest 85 individuals control as much economic wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population, certainly doesn’t help.
With money comes political power, and only a popular majority, with its members celebrating their individuality while at the same time acting with a degree of social cohesion, can overcome this. In the absence of such a majority we are left with a Society of the Spectacle run riot.