It is all so fragile

My wife and I are working our way through the first series of the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale at the moment. It makes for disturbing, and at times harrowing viewing. Thought-provoking on many levels. And the thoughts it provokes can be dark, indeed. Comparisons will doubtless be deemed invidious. But, as a study of power relationships, it is for me very reminiscent of Orwell’s Animal Farm. But The Handmaid’s Tale is very much more affecting. It will make you angry. It will make you afraid. It will lead you to despair of humanity. Because, for all it’s extremes, Atwood’s vividly imagined dystopia is horribly credible.

One of the things that struck me as most frightening about the TV dramatisation was the the way in which the descent into this dystopia is portrayed as happening almost unnoticed by people intent on the pursuit of what quickly come to seem ludicrously trivial gratifications. It was this, too, which put me in mind of Animal Farm. Each stage in the process of moving from democratic civilisation to barbaric totalitarianism appears, in isolation, perfectly reasonable. Or a passing phenomenon. Later, extraordinary measures are deemed necessary to deal with exceptional circumstances. Acceptance of each step in the process paves the way for tolerance of the next. Until there is no way back. Too late, the realisation dawns that what has been so casually squandered can never be recovered.

How fragile it all is!

Could this happen in real life? Is it already happening? If Margaret Atwood is right, we may be unaware. We may already have accepted too much. We may already have developed the tolerance which will allow our rights and freedoms to slip away from us. Not wrenched from our grasp, but given up without demur. Almost as if we were relieved to be freed from the responsibilities which are the necessary corollary of those rights and freedoms.

Brexit looms! Scotland is about to be forced out of the EU against the democratic will of Scotland’s people. That is serious. It is an outrage. And yet we see in the meek acceptance or dutiful rationalisation of this outrage precisely the dumb, fatal complacency that is so powerfully conveyed in The Handmaid’s Tale. We see the same failure – or refusal – to look beyond and beneath immediate events. As ever, we are distracted by talk of economic consequences. Brexit will destroy jobs! Brexit will cost each of us £2,456.76 per year! Brexit will mean empty shelves in the supermarkets and delicatessens! We are constantly encouraged to focus on those gratifications that we have yet to see as ludicrously trivial. Will we learn before it is too late?

Will we lift our eyes and see beyond Brexit to see the dismantling of Scotland’s democratic institutions and the decimation of our public services and all the other extraordinary measures that will be deemed necessary to deal with exceptional circumstances? Will we look beneath the seemingly benign bungling and entertaining eccentricities of the British political elite foisted on us by the Union and discern through the fog of media distortion a regime with motives hardly less malign that that portrayed by Margaret Atwood?

Will we remember that, only a few short weeks ago, the idea of the UK Parliament being prorogued to allow the British executive a free hand would have been, if not unthinkable, then hardly the topic of serious political discourse? Will we realise that the mere fact of the ‘suspension’ of democratically elected parliaments being discussed is part of the process by which the public consciousness is prepared for the actuality? Today’s fodder for political anoraks imperceptibly metamorphoses into tomorrow’s inevitability. And it’s somehow OK because we knew it was going to happen.

Will we think to follow this chain of developments even further? Perhaps to the invoking of the Civil Contingencies Act, with all that this entails? Or will we tell ourselves, and each other, that there is no chain; no connection; no linkage leading from one to the next? Will we see only isolated developments, each of which can be comfortably ignored or readily rationalised?

Will we all wake up one day to find ourselves in a world of nightmares, and wonder how it could have happened?

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7 thoughts on “It is all so fragile

  1. Like you, Mr Bell, I have watched each episode in this descent into madness with deep misgivings about what might happen. There is a bovine, dumb acceptance of things now among so many that it makes me feel ill. Just last night I listened to some woman warble on about the new Love Island or Strictly or some other equally distracting TV programme designed for the masses. Far from setting myself up as some intellectual giant, I can see just how easy it is to distract a population beyond the point of no return, and, although I am a fan of neither, I do watch some pretty mind-numbing stuff myself. However, from an early age, I realized that my brain was not the kind that could switch itself off easily for very long, and that has been a source of much misgiving, one way or another. It never ceases to amaze me the lengths that human beings go to, to deny reality when that denial will produce a far harder time than facing up to it. Hope is one thing, as Pandora might have said, but bovine denial is quite another. We are sleep-walking into a nightmare. The European carries an article about how Karadzic, the Balkans war criminal, who is serving a life sentence for abominable crimes against humanity, is fast becoming an icon of the right. This monstrous excuse for a human being is being lauded as a hero in right-wing rhetoric. This psychopath, who enabled countless deaths and rapes and tortures of people who were once neighbours of the people who did these despicable things to them, is fast becoming a modern hero. Dystopia has arrived.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hard to disagree, Lorna. To rephrase Orwell (I know, we all do it)

      “So long as they (the Electorate) continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance… they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them … petty quarrels with neighbors, self-regarding xenophobia, Reality TV, booze and above all, the Lottery filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.”


  2. Much of what you post here, Peter, could also easily apply to what has become of the Social Security system.
    It has been almost destroyed by the Westminster regime of tories Lib Dems support. And when we see the enormous cost wasted on Universal Credit, close on 20 billion, it is truly shocking, and the cost to lives of so many.
    We have arrived at that point you describe so very well.

    As to Scotland, we are at a loss to figure the inaction of the Sottish Govt.
    Yes, we know they don’t want UK to leave EU, but they are not going to stop that.Their duty is to stop Scotland leaving, and how it unfolds in England should be a secondary consideration.
    Don’t they ever stop to think for just a moment, it shouldn’t be be about how Scotland would fair if England leaves, but how would England get by, with Scotland inside EU, and they, outside?
    Rather than focus on us having checks at the Border, how about putting that to the English side, how would they like to deal with that scenario?
    For just perhaps,Scotland being in EU, might encourage England to remain?
    As it is, with us all being forced out, there is nothing to want to keep the majority in England to want to reconsider it enough.
    SNP should just be focusing on Scotland, and leave the others to their own solutions.
    For as we see, October is going to come, and UK is going to be out, and Scotland too.
    What then of the SNP pledges of this and that not being acceptable?
    They will already have accepted it by then!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your point about the inaction of the Scottish Government strikes a chord with me. It seems to me that the leaders of the SNP have adopted a British ( i.e. English) vision, rather than a Scottish one. It may be unwitting, but by contemplating joining with the British parties to stop Brexit, they are acknowledging a normativity and legitimacy of the British ( i.e. English), one-nation state and its rule over Scotland.

      They may have a plan up their sleeves, but I wish that they would tell us that they do, even if for strategic reasons they cannot give the details. I fear that, unless other leaders of the YES movement do not take the matter out of the SNP’s hands and act for independence, the SNP will lose us our independence.


  3. I’m seriously thinking of starting a crowd funder to raise money for the building of guillotines we will need to rid this land of the imperial masters…


  4. I am desperate to not believe the underlying theme of this blog… But I can’t help myself. I do believe it. Are we already too far gone into the dystopian ‘future’ to put the brakes on? How long before troops are needed to “maintain order” at food banks and empty supermarkets? How long before someone or someones fires the first bullet or plants the first bomb or burns the first building? UK society is on the brink, not just of the Brexit cliff, but of a totally alien totalitarian chasm that would have been completely unthinkable to any sane person just a few short years ago. Or maybe my paranoia has morphed so I am now no longer capable of seeing or judging what any “sane” man might think… I’m getting very very worried.


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