Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

For many of my generation this has been a summer to remember. Yes, the UK weather has  been reliably shit and we made it to the semi finals of Wimbledon, but what has been remarkable has been the general feeling that the world’s going a bit crazy. Youth throughout Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and even our tranquil little island have been, to varying degrees, pissed off. However, journalists, politicians, academics and even us on the street and in the camps are  finding it difficult to articulate exactly why we are pissed off and what we are going to do about it.

We are either in or have recently completed an education system in which we learn how to pass tests. We are told to stay in this system in order to get a great job with which we can buy a house and fill it with loads of consumer shit that we are told will make us happy, not wait, make us who we are. The reality, however, is that we spend hours filling out endless application forms, begging, pleading, lying (selling ourselves) for jobs that simply don’t exist, will just be given to the director’s nephew, or consist of unpaid internships.

Those of us lucky enough to get a job don’t earn enough to buy a house or start a family as prices have been rising faster than wages. At the same time, we get taxed more and more not for schools or hospitals but to pay off a debt we did not accrue and for wars we did not start. Our taxes that do stay in the country line the pockets of politicians and are spent on a police force that infiltrates environmental groups, stops us, searches us, and is far from accountable. And when it’s not the state fucking us, it’s everyone else. Your phone company overcharges you, your landlord steals your deposit and the kids down the road steal your bike. What is more, all the shit you buy that hasn’t been stolen is designed to break after a year anyway. Life sometimes just feels like a constant struggle not to get fucked.

We get home from work (if we had any) and we turn on our TV and flip through a selection of property shows about houses we can’t buy or cooking shows about food we can’t be bothered to cook ourselves. We turn on the radio and listen to music that is either a repackaged cover or could have been written by a computer. We go to the cinema to watch either a remake  or a film that makes up for its abysmal script with special effects and a free pair of glasses. Maybe for a weekend we go to a festival where we pay £150 to camp in a field, jump around in the mud and get pissed on £4 a paper cup of Carling (supposedly beer). We know it’s shit, but what makes it worse is that we get told it’s shit by people who spend their weekends looking at lines, dots and messed up beds in ‘art galleries’ and get pissed on wine that has subtle hints of wild berry and oak.

We turn on the news or buy a paper for some ‘serious’ stuff which consists of celebrity gossip and politicians talking absolute crap about how to ‘manage us’ which basically boils down to how they are going to increase GDP. To achieve this, two parties offer us different packages  of contradictory policies and muddled ideology that must have enlightenment political theorists turning in their graves. We are told we must go to war to secure peace, give up our liberty to secure our… liberty and give up our healthcare, education and jobs in order to remain ‘prosperous’. Rather than production, our economy is based on consumption. The few things we do produce, we pack up and send off to overseas countries who, in turn, produce exactly the same shit and send it to us.

We are a country based on democracy and human rights that lays out the red carpet for Saudi Arabian dictators, sells arms to repressive regimes and is complicit in kidnap, torture and murder the world other. We have a permanent seat on the UN security council which consists of the world’s top 5 arms producers presiding over world peace.

Even science, a discipline which should be above all this irrationality, can no longer provide us with answers. Instead of tackling malaria or other easily treatable infectious diseases, medicine seems more concerned with the task of categorizing every known ‘thing’ into whether it causes or prevents cancer. Companies pay for study after study untill they get a result that suits them and anyone can prove anything with statistics.

Now this is an obvious exaggeration. There are great politicians, teachers and doctors out there and people still make some great films, music, art and TV. and science has made some fantastic progress in the last 10 years. However, what is baffling is how the nonsensical seems to be slowly winning over the rational: good teachers and doctors are exasperated at being underpaid and overworked; good politicians (oxymoron?) are seeing resignation to be less if and more when; funding is being cut  to all arts and science that does not yield an immediate profit. What got us so pissed off was that the cuts did not involve the cutting of corruption, red tape, beurocracy, bankers’ bonuses, subsidies to our arms industry, links with dictatorial regimes and our dependence on fossil fuels. It meant the cutting of everything we’ve achieved in our societies in modern history.

Cuts throughout Europe have bought us to the edge of the abyss. We are staring at a future in which 2 + 2 must equal 5 simply in order to accommodate the inherent contradictions of western capitalist society and we are scared. But what is really scary is that these contradictions and irrationalities are deeply imbedded in our individual and collective psych. The solution invariably involves changing ourselves which is a lot to ask from societies used to changing others to suit their needs. However, if we fail to change ourselves we are likley to have changed forced upon us from without, which will be far more painfull.

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world — that is the myth of the atomic age — as in being able to remake ourselves” – Mohandas K. Gandhi


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“If I keep listening to it I won’t finish the Revolution…..Can anyone who has heard this music, I mean truly heard it, really be a bad person?” Said Vladimir Ilyich Lenin of Beethoven’s Appassionata. Have a listen, if you will, while you read this post.

Lenin went on to lead a revolution in Russia that would change the world, for better for worse, for ever. Despite the fall of the Soviet Union, the socialist doctrine the revolution was based on continues to play a prominent role in modern political discourse. Many question its relevance today, many still swear by it. Like it or not, it is still the main recourse of the political left in their search for an alternative to the inequality and social injustice of the modern world.

To do this, the left must brush aside some inconvenient historical and present day facts. However, we can only recourse to extenuating circumstances and political realities for so long in excusing the violent disregard for humanity associated with many socialist regimes. This is not in anyway to make a Fukuyama-esque proclamation that capitalism is the only way forward, but it is to recognise that there must be something at the heart of socialist doctrine that accounts for the failure of communism to provide us with an alternative to capitalism.

Simple observation of historical realities has lead many intelligent people to conclude, as Churchill put it, that Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried. Churchill, although a great and intelligent man was a conservative (well, no one’s perfect).

What is clear from a study of 20th century history is that neither capitalism nor communism have delivered the progress they promised, for the left this entails a difficult deconstruction of doctrine and theory held so dear for so long.

Marxism was at best a criticism of Capitalism, at worst, the Gulags. In fact, Das Kapital was not so much about communism as it was a critical examination of capitalism. Marx even praised Capitalism. Here we see how, from the start, communism existed within the same modernist framework as capitalism. It remained a positivist, determinist model which failed to grasp the human essence. The material was placed above the human entailing the future inhumanity of many communist regimes.

In East Germany the stated Mission of the Stasi was to ‘know everything’. But how is this possible in a world of infinite possibilities?

Now stop.

Listen to the Music, watch the pianist’s hands.

No matter how much we study music, how many rules are discovered and theories put forward, you couldn’t programme them into a giant mega super computer and expect it to produce anything like what you are listening to now. True, we can all feel the beauty, but we will never be able to quantify it, we will never be able to know it. The same is true for our concept of justice and, as Isiah Berlin put it, ‘If you think you know what justice is, you are probably going to start killing people’.

Communism, being a scientific theory cannot compute the immaterial; the act or state of ‘not knowing’. Hence, progress is measured by production and consumption rather than what we truly value as humans; music, art, sport, love, spirituality, happiness, community, the immaterial without which our lives would be empty.

In this modern world we seem to have forgotten what really fulfils us. We guzzle resources to satiate our hunger yet never fill the void. Instead we are destroying the physical world upon which our potential to express ourselves as human beings is based. Socialism promises to increase production by redistributing its means; as an ends in itself this simply represents the mortgaging of our future on this planet in order to meet our immediate material demands.

Whatever our future alternatives to our present day system are they must recognise that the immaterial is both infinite and the true form of human expression. Yes, we rely on the material for our very existence, but there is enough of this to go around if we all stop squabbling over it. Now, sit back, listen to the rest of the Appassionata and have a think about what you love; is it material?

“I am incapable of conceiving infinity, and yet I do not accept finity” – Simon de Beauvoir

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The residents of Khayelitsha, a township on the eastern outskirts of Cape Town, were rejoicing, deliriously swirling in fits of joy as the long awaited news reached them. On the back of the Mandela Park housing scandal which saw the Western Cape MEC for housing deliver only 5 of the 437 houses that were promised by the city of Cape Town.  Amidst the toilet saga which leaves hundreds of households with unfinished, unroofed external toilets, a West End play came to town!

A play of this caliber, of such international acclaim should be well received, especially considering the ‘pay as much as you can’ ticket price. However, the reception was rather subdued. Does this come as any surprise? Effectively you are bringing a show steeped in white middle class culture and expecting a distinctly African culture to embrace it. People are right to be skeptical about this cultural fusion. I understand what the organizers of this event were trying to achieve; as director Sean Mathias admirably states “We wanted to bring our production to the people of Khayelitsha in a venue that is accessible and at a price everyone can afford, and in this way properly honour the notion of ‘touring’”. Despite these admirable sentiments I can’t help wondering if this was sincerely an act which upholds the spirit of ‘touring’ or was it a cleverly executed publicity ploy?

Was it appropriate for a West End show to flounce into a community that is struggling to establish adequate sanitation, education infrastructure, sufficient housing, or a basic income level? On my way there we picked up a couple of hitchhikers and asked if they had heard of the play, ‘yeah yeah I heard something about that’. You didn’t want to go then? I inquired. A violent click erupted and a sound ‘CHA…I ain’t got no money’. The very assumption that this woman had the choice to go was perhaps ignorant, and the car was plunged into silence as we reflected upon our arrival in the township to see a West End play that the locals couldn’t afford. ‘Pay as much as you can’ was rather insulting considering people would buy more food for their family if they ‘could’, they would re-roof their house for the winter if they ‘could’, and they probably wouldn’t be chomping at the bit to see Waiting for Godot if they ‘could’.

On the other hand what harm does it do? Other than being exposed to an alien pastime and experiencing theatre at a level never before imagined, it is hardly a malicious act. Publicity stunt or not it has gathered white South African’s in a hitherto ‘excluded’ area. This recreated the atmosphere of the multi-racial, multi-ethnic fan parks of the World Cup, which was the first time South Africans stood up and noticed the beauty and unity of their people. Even those who have not made it out to the township will have talked about the prospect of going, or at the very least it will have been discussed. With this discussion, true feelings and fears will have emerged, hopefully with an element of introspection. Self reflection concerning the sub conscious prejudices that we harbor should be a positive action.

The positive vibes of the event were plainly evident during the show, which was a fusion of slapstick actions with a colossal underlying message. Whether this message was effectively portrayed is not important. Godot being a pseudonym for God, the questioning of a life spent waiting for a non-existent character, encountering along the way the struggles of reality, and the repetitive nature of a life spent waiting; all this was slightly, and perhaps wisely diluted. So, the opening speech was delivered solely in Xhosa, the audience of black, white and coloured people rose in a standing ovation, and everyone went home with a warm theatre buzz! It was nothing but a success, but was it appropriate? As Waiting for Godot departs the residents who for ‘one night only’ were witness to world class theatre are left waiting for houses, roofing, food, education, sanitation, opportunity, and dignity! Saving and campaigning for the next theatre performance is probably not high on their list of priorities!

I am interested to hear peoples opinions on the Waiting for Godot performance in Khayletisha, please comment.

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