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The Vacuum Issue 8 spacer Issue 8
Anything Can Happen
by Colin Darke
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One advantage of buying cheap, imported cigarettes and tobacco, apart from the reduced cost, is that they don't carry the "Smoking Kills" warnings that cover nearly 50% of the packaging of those produced for the domestic market. These warnings may not be enough to convince many of us to stop smoking, but they certainly instil serious anxiety every time we reach for a fag.
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State-induced paranoia pervades our lives in numerous ways, visibly in regard to health and safety. Television advertisements advising us on the dangers of driving are amongst the most violent images we see, warning us to wear safety belts ("They say the one not wearing a seat belt did the damage.") and not to drink alcohol before driving ("Could you live with the guilt?").
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These interventions by the state are arguably benign, protecting us from our own irresponsibility, but the relationships between individual, society and state in which they play a part are oppressive ones.
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There are problematic ideological inconsistencies thrown up here. Thatcherite libertarianism, which famously asserts that there's no such thing as society, despises what it describes as the "nanny state", but it was the Thatcher government which spent so much money and resources during the AIDS scare in the eighties, with its Hammer horror advertising campaign and encouragement of television specials showing pop stars putting condoms on dildos (and all this while many of her MPs were screaming their right-wing anti-gay and anti-sex-outside-marriage hysteria).
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There are economic contradictions too. Warnings against the dangers of alcohol and tobacco, if successful, would save considerable amounts of health service expenditure, but would at the same time place the state in conflict with the industries which produce the dangerous commodities. As the primary role of the state is to protect the economic and political interests of the ruling class (including fag and booze producers), this appears to be an irreconcilable contradiction.
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Or at least it would be if they did it properly, instead of in the half-hearted, bullshitty, industry-tempered way we're used to. Alcohol companies sponsor anti-drink campaigns at Christmas, cigarette companies sponsor research into the effects of tobacco on health. The message is thus efficiently diluted and the capitalism/state symbiosis remains intact.
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The nanny state should, then, be looked on with suspicion, but not for the reasons put forward by conservative libertarianism. The paranoia produced by the protective state, acting with our own interests at heart, serves to strengthen its oppressive role - oppression of "its" population, and, with our democratic support, the imperialism which causes so much suffering for people beyond its own borders.
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The state forms and reforms itself according to the most effective means of achieving its aims of protecting and extending outwards the class-divided basis of the economic structure of society. It knows very well that this means is fear. A paranoid populace is one which will turn to the state for protection and happily surrender itself to its demands, far more hazardous than the dangers from which it looks to be saved.
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9/11, then, was a gift to George W Bush and his administration. As we watched the news coverage of the event, looped videos behind the talking heads, the repetition burning into our retinas and consciousness, our shock turned to paranoia and this built up as we became desensitised to the immediate reality of what we were seeing and, as the images of the attacks became more beautiful and less real, we all said in unison that nothing would ever be the same again.
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And we were right. But we weren't scared of terrorist attack, no matter how impressed we were by the scale and efficiency of this particular campaign. We were scared of Bush, of the state terror he would inflict, of the reduction in human rights we anticipated, the increase in violence that Bush and his allies would inflict on the already-suffering people of the developing world.
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We'd all had a good laugh at the way the buffoon had been "elected", at the debacle in Florida, like school kids giggling at teacher's bad toupée, but this is nevertheless the leader of the western world and, like Winston Smith sucking on the hole in his tooth, we love him.
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With love comes trust. Why would our leaders lie to us, when we know they have our best interests at heart? They protect us from our own stupidity and ignorance. They have sophisticated intelligence, and understand the world far better than we do. How else could we have known that Iraq held such huge stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction? How else could we have known that these could be activated in only forty-five minutes? How foolish we felt about our protests against the war, when these realities were made clear.
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So much of our criticism takes this kind of self-satisfied form. But sarcasm, whether or not it's the lowest form of wit, is an expression of weakness. The most dangerously effective result of state-induced paranoia is the belief that change is impossible, that revolution is an out-of-date pipedream. So we've replaced it with the postmodern irony that makes us feel superior to those who control us, while allowing that control to take a tighter grip.
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Revolution, as laughably unfashionable as the big hair of the eighties, remains the only means of removing this grip. The last paragraph of the last completed chapter of Lenin's 1917 State and Revolution reads:
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The distortion and hushing up of the question as to the relation of a proletarian revolution to the state could not fail to play an immense rôle at a time when the states, with their swollen military apparatus as a consequence of imperialist rivalry, had become monstrous military beasts devouring the lives of millions of people, in order to decide whether England or Germany - this or that finance capital - should dominate the world.
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Very different historical circumstances, for sure, but the distortions and the hushings-up have a disturbing familiarity.
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