In their efforts to identify youthful susceptibility to brutal other-worldly ideologies, the security authorities in Britain came up with at least one compelling characteristic which may make certain young people receptive to the call to violence. They have spoken of the ‘impressionability’ of some young men and women; their ‘vulnerability’, open to beliefs and dogmas that invite to action, no matter how destructive.
This state of mind is not, of course, confined to Britain. We may call it ‘suggestibility’; availability to any appeal for clear, unequivocal – preferably heroic – initiatives, that promise release from the immobilism induced by atrophied political discourse; in Britain, that means from a post-industrial paralysis, which leaves significant numbers rejected and excluded, who are expected to wait for the market to summon them into low-paid, often mind-destroying labour. In India, it refers to those millions of young people hovering on the margins of employment and barred from the Elysium of perpetual consumption.
The received political response to this is always a promise that all will be well ‘tomorrow’ – the jobs of the future, the road to prosperity, the better world that awaits us, if only we will yield to the necessities of the hour. This means for too many in the world, numb consent to remain a part of that ‘reserve army’, familiar in the long history of labour.
No one really knows what the much anticipated ‘economy of the future’ will bring; certainly not the blind visionaries of the short-term, the custodians of bottom lines that look no further than that supra-temporal division of time known as the ‘financial year’
But there is more to this for a generation to whom hope is frozen; whose attendance is required in the chill antechambers of futurity, the waiting rooms of the time to come, when all will be sunshine and joy.
For no one really knows what the much anticipated ‘economy of the future’ will bring; certainly not the blind visionaries of the short-term, the custodians of bottom lines that look no further than that supra-temporal division of time known as the ‘financial year’. Above all, people are expected to heed the voices in the air proclaiming the presence on the market of this or that must-have item, the latest model, the newest offer, the indispensable object of desire, of the existence of which no one had any inkling, until the publicity-machines started working at full speed to bring to our distracted attention the desirability of whatever new thing will make somebody else rich.
Erasure of memory
In other words, generations are growing up with a sense of market-expectancy, looking for – what is it? – relief, satisfaction, meaning – from whatever is destined to become an indispensable necessity in our lives tomorrow, conceived, created and conveyed to us by the kindly openers of our eyes to the novelties of technology, the devices and gadgets which are now the vital intermediaries of our connectedness with each other and with the wider world.
The market requires receptiveness to whatever must be sold next in the paramount interest of economic growth. It is expected that people will lie fallow as uncultivated fields; virgin (not, of course, in the sexual sense) of resources that might furnish the inner life with more ample and self-determined objectives than those stilled by the purchase of whatever new thing captures attention, drawn, as it must be, to the great displays of merchandise in the world.
It goes without saying that a prerequisite for this attentiveness exacts an erasure of memory; a tabula rasa, (not, in the sense that John Locke meant, but as a willed elimination of history); above all a forgetting of how to answer needs and provide satisfactions for ourselves and others from within the depleted storehouse of human resourcefulness. In this way receptivity is created; a sense of anticipation, and a response to the captivating summons of market stimuli.
Buying in all that is necessary for a full life is at war with a humanity that must express itself in this world, leave some mark upon the materiality of existence
This may appear, especially to those who derive great gain from it, the best of all possible worlds: human desire matched with the prodigious capacity of the global productive machine. But to those of whom little else is required than that they remain in a state of alertness to market signals, it seems – not necessarily at a conscious level – an inadequate demand on their intelligence and capabilities. For it is as great a human need to create, to make and do, to act in the world, as it is to have one’s needs answered in the passive voice – to be adequately fed, clothed, housed, watered, entertained, distracted. It is felt by many to be an insulting underexercise of their faculties, and a denial of their ability – and wish – to answer at least some of their own needs, especially the need for purpose and self-fulfilment. Buying in all that is necessary for a full life is at war with a humanity that must express itself in this world, leave some mark upon the materiality of existence. For many people, this objective was fulfilled in work that made daily necessities, objects of demonstrable utility, sometimes not without a certain beauty; a possibility annulled by a market become global.
Brainwashed by commerce
Into this vacuum creep prohibited ideologies, an attraction to forbidden and clandestine actions. Although this vacancy of spirit may have been created by commerce specifically to prepare people to welcome the diversions and attractions of its own making, the way is also opened up for less desirable ideas, beliefs or values.
Fundamentalisms of all kinds find fertile terrain here; the fundamentalisms of the market itself, which send people to scramble and fight with each other over the possession of cheap goods on sales days, most recently during the imported celebration of Black Friday in the days before the Christmas potlatch. Some will devote their energies to the making of money, which will procure them an even greater proportion of pre-desired goods and services in the world. Others, discontented with this unseemly obsession, craft for themselves other meanings of life, other achievements and ways to self-fulfilment; many benign and humane: people devote their lives to tending the sick and raising up the unfortunate; to the rigours of physical self-discipline, or to the pursuit of pleasure, sex or food.
But some will seek solace elsewhere, in the savage appeal of absolute ideologies, of racial supremacy or totalising religious belief. The lure of jihad should be seen in this context, particularly when so many young people are beset by prejudice, exclusion, worklessness and the cruel consolations of drugs, alcohol or crime. It is no accident that prisons serve as a recruiting ground for extreme religious beliefs: people misled by the shameful seductions of mind-altering substances, readily move on to exaltations that change minds even more radically and irreversibly.
It is a pity that those in charge of ‘deradicalisation’ programmes, whose work it is to understand and anticipate the dangerous deviancies of the lost and the angry, appear to have only a faint understanding of the society that produces them. The project of security personnel, whose mission is ‘to make us safe’ is severely handicapped, if they are unable to turn a more critical eye upon the context in which young people are waylaid and transformed by those who offer them illusions of meaning and distortions of purpose that have, in reality, been struck from their lives. When we – properly – condemn ‘brainwashing’ by alien ideologies and belief-systems as inadmissible infringements of human liberty, we might wonder why brainwashing by commerce is blessed as the highest freedom.