It’s not just easy, but inevitable, to become despondent about the political, social, cultural and economic future of South Africa and the global network within which it exists. Much of what we can make out about the circumstances of the nation and the world suggest that we are in a state of chronic slow decline which is most likely to become precipitous decline within the next decade or so.
There are many ways of coping with this. One is to take so many happy pills that one wears a permanent grin under any and all circumstances, including imminent death in grotesque agony. A related method is to close down all access to the outer world, stopping reading the newspapers, listening to the radio or watching TV or accessing the Internet, and thus supplying a private Freedom From Information Act, because, like Oedipus, what could we see that could bring us joy?
Unfortunately, an easier method is to accept that, despite the absurdity of almost all the propaganda generated to deceive us by the media, and despite the obvious mendacity of the ruling class and its corporate and governmental agents, everything is for the best and what we are told three times (or three times three times, or three times three times three times) is true. So many people are prepared to march along the paths that the press and the politicians and the pundits tell them to follow.
The problem with believing lies is not just that you will inevitably be led to do the wrong thing — the real problem is that you lose contact with the right thing, with the idea that you might gain access to the right thing, that you might be able to think for yourself, let alone act for yourself. Being a willing participant in your deception means abandoning all individuality; you become a person in a pod, a volunteer for the Matrix. You then are unable to take action even when it is clearly necessary and when the proper action is blindingly obvious — and as for when the situation is obscure, and it is not clear whom one should support or what is to be done, you might as well never have been born, for all the use you would be to anyone else.
And that’s the real problem; we have to act as a collective, or we are lost, and the more people who cannot participate in any such collective, and who do not believe in participating in such collectives, the more likely it is that the bad guys will win.
Ah yes, the bad guys. They’re out there. But, yes, they’re also in here. So how to distinguish between the bad guys and the bad guys? Which evil scumbag who’s out to get us should you support? You have to choose between Clinton and Trump, between the narcissistic psychopath with a jawbreaking record of evil-doing, and — well, actually, the other one is the same, isn’t he? Or she?
So those who have a desire to gain political understanding in order to take political action in order to reverse the chaos which seems to be impending, face the immense difficult of not being able to know what needs to be done. The media are a mass of disinformation — again, the only thing to do is to try to pursue the least bad disinformation, which usually means that the disinformer is concerned with falsifying reality in a relatively narrow zone. Someone who hates a particular person, or a category of persons, might tell some of the truth about other people.
But the problem is that virtually all the narrow disinformers are incapable of gaining access to information for themselves. They rely on the Internet for their information, and are therefore obliged to sift through a mass of disinformation and attempt to distinguish what is bogus. Often this means that they are deceived by plausible but bogus information, or by half-truths used to conceal a greater lie. Which means that it is very dangerous to assume that even the most seemingly honest Internet commentator (often this means, the commentator who says what the observer wants to hear) is either genuinely honest, or accurate in response.
Which, again, is depressing.
The solution, then, is to cleave to personal experience, what there is of it, and to impressions of trustworthiness, which relies heavily upon knowledge of the speaker’s class allegiances, but also upon their private loyalties. If you know that everybody around you is short of cash, if you can see the vast numbers of beggars on the streets and the people desperate for jobs, and if you can see the huge public infrastructures going unmaintained, then you know that the country is in bad socio-economic condition, and you can take things from there. The solution, obviously, is to increase the amount of money going to people who have jobs (at the moment everyone except the very rich are going backwards, as is admitted by the media bragging about how people’s income is going up by as much as 1% a quarter — which is lower even than the fake inflation figures). Then the solution is also to create jobs. And the solution is to maintain public infrastructures. And there are lots of other solutions, but at least personal experience shows you what the answer is.
Then you cast about for people talking about how to resolve these problems, and you discover that virtually everybody is talking about how vitally important it is for the very rich to hang on to the wealth via intensified property rights, how essential it is to keep salaries low by crushing organised labour and eliminating the minimum wage, and how necessary it is to allow public infrastructure to continue crumbling in order to keep taxes low and to preserve the policy of austerity. Everybody who says these things must know that they are the opposite of what is actually needed. Therefore, they are lying. Therefore one casts about for people who are saying the opposite. There actually are a few such people out there, even though not all of them can be trusted to fulfil their claims.
But, more importantly, it is important to campaign for the real stuff. And once one has started campaigning for the real stuff, it is also important to recognise that there is more real stuff out there, and that there is an enormous majority of people out there who are massively worried about the real stuff, the people whom the propaganda and the lies are designed to deceive and confuse. If only those people can be spoken to — and most of them are at least dimly aware of what is really going on — then they would rise up and shake off the shallowly-embedded parasites on the body politic, the journalists and lawyers and politicians and NGOs and pundits who are all working for the plutocracy. And then it might be possible to do something about the power of the plutocracy.
So the thing to do is to keep one’s eye on the main issue and ignore all the lies. Without, however, simply sticking your fingers in your ears and ignoring all inputs because (as the liars say) everybody is a liar and everybody is corrupt except the few individuals whom the liars are promoting. Abandoning hope means that the liars will win.
We really have to get down to it. But it’s not easy.