- Her opposition to the Other Now, Iris concluded, was not dissimilar to her contempt for Lear. Just as a slight reduction of inequality in the name of social democracy only paved the way for a revival of inequality later on, so the Other Now had merely prolonged the reign of markets over societies — which is, of course, why Eva had warmed to it in the end. As her exchanges with Siris drew to a close, Iris saw it all clearly. Her dream was freedom from, not of, the market — a dream that the Other Now dashed perhaps even more decisively than capitalism ever had. Was the Other Now’s corpo-syndicalism not better than capitalism? Sure it was. But was it worth the candle if its outcome was a society in which Esmeralda, along with her Soho Address, could be snuffed out so easily?
- ‘Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease that rewires rodent brains in such a way that it reduces their fear of cats,’ Costa explained. ‘When the reckless mice are devoured, the parasite reproduces in the cats’ intestines and then spreads through their faeces to infect more mice who in turn become vulnerable to cats. And so on.’ This guy is a complete weirdo, thought Thomas. I like him. ‘I’ve been watching you,’ continued Costa, ‘playing that game on your tablet. You have the symptoms of digital toxoplasmosis painted all over your face.’ Thomas was more curious than offended. ‘If I am the rodent,’ he asked, playing along, ‘then what’s the parasite? And where are the cats?’ ‘I didn’t mean that you are the rodent,’ replied Costa. ‘No, your attention is. Big tech gobbles it up through these games you play, while the invisible parasite breeds through their search engines and apps, making it harder and harder for you to hold on to your autonomy, to your capacity to direct your attention where you choose. Freed of fear of slavery, you surrender more and more to them.’
- trahana soup, accompanied by the obligatory glass of raki,
- ‘You won’t remember,’ he said, ‘having been so young at the time, but before 2020 politics in democratic countries was different. It was almost like a game, with the parties resembling teams who had good or bad days on the pitch, scoring or conceding points that propelled them up or down a league table which, at season’s end, determined who got the ultimate prize: the opportunity to form a government — without of course really being in power. But then, all of a sudden, in 2020 the general feeling that politicians were not really in control gave way to the realization that governments everywhere — not just in China and Russia and authoritarian states, but the supposedly liberal ones too — possessed immense powers. With the arrival of the virus came the twenty-four-hour curfew, the closure of the local pub, the ban on walking through the park, the suspension of sport, the emptying of theatres, the silencing of music venues. All notions of a minimal state mindful of its limits and eager to cede power to individuals went out of the window. Many salivated at this show of raw state power. Even free-marketeers like Eva here, who had spent their lives shouting down any suggestion of even the most modest boost in public spending, demanded the sort of state control of the economy not seen since Leonid Brezhnev was running the Kremlin. Across the world, the state funded private firms’ wage bills, renationalized utilities and took shares in airlines, car makers, even banks. From the first week of lockdown, the pandemic stripped away the veneer of politics to reveal the boorish reality underneath: that some people have the power to tell the rest what to do.’ ‘That’s exactly what I mean,’ said Thomas. ‘If you don’t control others, they will control you. It’s inescapable.’ ‘Yes, in that sense you’re right,’ conceded Costa. ‘As Lenin said, politics is about who does what to whom, nothing more. But what 2020 did not do, I’m sorry to say, is what some naïve leftists had hoped it might: revive state power as a power for good.’ ‘Not all of us were naïve, let me tell you,’ interjected Iris. ‘As I tried to remind those absurdly optimistic fools at the time, the right wing has never really been opposed to state power. Thatcher left the British state larger, more powerful and more concentrated than she found it. It was never about the village baker or the local butcher. Thatcherism grasped that an authoritarian state was needed to support markets controlled by corporations and banks. Why should they hesitate for a moment in 2008 or in 2020 to unleash massive government intervention to preserve that power? Those leftists fantasized about a renaissance of the commons, of public goods, of a new consensus on the common interest. They completely confused state power with people power. And besides, they forgot the essential lesson of the 1930s: economic depression is a breeding ground for political monsters.’
- Epiphanies are an illusion that our minds conjure up to explain our failure to realize the obvious earlier.
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- A futurist since he had read Marinetti’s 1909 Futurist Manifesto at a tender age,
- ‘Animals and computers always have practical reasons for doing things,’ retorted Iris. ‘This is why they never do great things! To achieve true greatness, genuine freedom, you must be like the sculptor who sets aside her ego before chiselling a statue, surrendering fully to the feeling that she will go berserk unless she gives it form. Not being a bully is like a great work of art that you sweat long and hard to produce for no reason other than that you must. Just as art is, and can only be, an end in itself, so good things happen only for their own sake, for the hell of it — not because our desires drive them but only after we restrain those desires. Ironically, it is only then that our desires can be satisfied, as a by-product of our success in not being their slaves.’ For Iris, doing something for nothing was not merely possible but the prerequisite for a good life. Her subversive belief that reciprocity sucks, that life should not be lived on the basis of one quid pro quo after the next, was the reason she had been so moved by Esmeralda’s Soho Address — and so devastated by the news of her violent death. For Esmeralda’s words were a paean to the seditious idea that had motivated Iris since she was a girl: that love, happiness and freedom meant losing one’s self in another, not merely exchanging or transacting with another.
- As a feminist freedom junkie, Iris knew the past was a horrible place, especially for women, but that was not a good reason to praise the present. Similarly, the hideousness of Our Now was not a good reason to leave for the Other Now, even if it constituted a remarkable improvement. ‘I applaud Esmeralda, Akwesi, Eve, Ebo and the other OC rebels for eradicating capitalism, and I do not criticize them for preserving money and markets and those other financial instruments to get things done. Until we live in a world where material needs have been eliminated by Star Trek replicators on every wall, things like money and auctions will remain essential. Until that happens, the only alternative is the Soviet-like rationing system that vested horrid arbitrary power in the ugliest of bureaucrats.’