Brexit: From Nation State to HalluciNation
A thought experiment: What if the UK really was the canary in the coal mine of capitalism, it being the earliest adopter of industrialization and the first victim of both Daniel Bell and JG Ballard, tracing the course for all the other “developed” nation states of Europe?
If this was true, then we’d finally know the answer to the question left open by Daniel Bell: What comes after successful transition to a fully-formed post-industrial service society? Brexit would then mark the end of a virtualization process: First the country (and nature) disappears, then industry and manufacturing and finally banks and insurances devolve into some databases on remote tax shelter islands.
The nation state is an idea, nothing more, nothing less. So maybe the means of production want to become ideas, too, just like Apple design concepts, transforming steam-powered difference engines first into two-dimensional slivers of silicon and than finally disappearing into thin MacBook air.
The UK as a nation state has reached its peak in the 1990s with Anthony Giddens, Blair, Blur, the Spice Girls and Hardcore Banking. Thatcher-style liberalism had destroyed all rival systems. Third Way ideology and Brit-Pop in its manifold manifestations dominated global culture. Computerized finance had become the leading non-industry — its heart in the City of London. From here on, there would be no revolutions, only disruptions.
But even the most successful political leader needs something like a vision transcending current reality. Where do you go from being reduced to a formula, an algorithm, a brand, total frictionless efficiency? Deprived of vitality, the austerity state can’t help but start hallucinating, like an anchorite in the desert. Austerity is a belief, a religion, it is not allowed to fail.
If the running system fails too many people, deprivation must be turned into a virtue, spawning collective hunger dreams of paradise. There can be no alternative, so you have to hallucinate, re-imagine the past, using children’s books and bad movies as reference points, not even conservative official history storylines.
Of course, the UK will survive even the hardest Brexit, becoming something of a spectral revenant, the planet’s first functioning HalluciNation. The numbers will be OK, as always, because they will be tended to by capable people. But some of the dreamers will never wake up.