The Huxwellian 21st century

Things have necessarily been quiet over this past week in terms my internet activity. The explanation is that I had a hardware problem with the power transformer plug for my ISP router. It was an interesting experience to see how I fared whilst becalmed in the cyberspatial doldrums. Anxiety gave way to boredom, although I did attempt to plug the gap with more extensive bouts of reading. I also watched a few TV cookery programmes. Some years ago, I used to spend a lot more time in the kitchen, conjuring up delectable little delights. For some reason, I stopped doing it. I am currently attempting to get back into the swing of culinary adventures, although I find that it is more challenging now that I need to keep more than half an eye on my weight. I’m not sure why I gravitate towards recipes involving oodles of double cream and butter, but somehow I do.

I missed the buzz of streaming my shows to Second Life while my internet was down. Yesterday, I played The Ragged Edge and thoroughly enjoyed myself. That was the first gig since Saturday at Helle’s Angels Club. I shall play my own little venue, Terra Fyrmusica on Saturday and then Cascadia Harmonics on Sunday, as usual. Cascadia is going to close for a virtual rebuild. Tishe, who runs the venue, feels that things have become stale and audience numbers have been dropping. I am told that this is happening across the virtual world and Krel has recently opined that the bloom of live music may have faded from the rose of Second Life gigs. I tend to play to such small audiences that I don’t think it will affect me too much. There has been some discussion about musicians with ‘edge’ not being able to pull in large audiences. I have not been mentioned as a musician with ‘edge’ and I am comfortable with that, at least for the time being. Part of me would like to be able to play melodious tunes on the digital grand piano in the virtual palm court of some splendid hotel of yesteryear. I would love to be able to do justice to the canon of the American Songbook (I am thinking of the sort of thing Rod Stewart has done in the latter phase of his musical career). However, as soon as I start to get comfortable with that notion a small voice nags away in the back of my mind. I have not produced any original music for a while now. Perhaps I will soon. Whilst I think it unlikely that I could manage razor sharp, something in the order of a schoolboy’s blunt penknife should be possible.

Speaking of knives, the scapel is about to be applied to public and social spending in the UK. It doesn’t surprise me. England is no longer a significant maker-of-stuff on the world stage. When I was a postgrad student in Sheffield in the 1970s, it was still possible to hear the pounding of the mills at night, as the world famous Sheffield steel was rolled out. When I later moved up to Sunderland on the Wear, it was possible to see the last of the big ships being constructed and repaired in the yards. There was still a huge coalfield in the Durham region. All that vanished during the decade of the 1980s. And so with production moving to China, Asia and other regions of the previously under-developed world it is perhaps unsurprising that England, the leader of the industrial revolution, should be one of the first to exit as a post-industrial economy. The spending cuts that are due to be announced by the UK government next week will involve staggeringly huge numbers. I grew up as a child in the late 1940s and 1950s in what was quaintly called the years of austerity; basically, the country although victorious from WW2, was totally bankrupt. Life was dour: socks were darned, cuffs and collars were turned, drab economical clothes were handed down from older to younger children. There were ration books with coupons for food, sweets and tobacco.

In the UK, in the foreseeable future, I think that many of our city centres will die as retail business grinds to a halt. The boarded up shop fronts will make it hard to maintain any semblance of civic pride. Anger within the population will lead to disillusionment, especially over politics and politicians. Even if the Labour party does well out of the backlash, the books still have to be balanced. The burden of national debt will not go away. At these times, it is prudent to avoid extreme political solutions, especially those that simplistically look to pass the blame on scapegoats, be they shady bankers, greedy entrepreneurs or convenient minority groups within the existing population.

The concept of the working class is, even now, in the process of semantic disintegration. The strong trades unions of yesteryear retain significance for social historians, but drift towards irrelevance in the contemporary world: there is scant power in a trades union if, in point of fact, hardly any folk are plying that trade. The middle class has traditionally been drawn from senior management in industry, together with those in the main professions. Although there is a rough pecking order, one might lump together accountants, lawyers, doctors, teachers, professors and the like. If the definition of the middle class is extended to what used to be called ‘white collar’, then we may safely bring in quite a few from the civil service and local government. Those middle class who are parasitic on industrial production will, obviously, decline in number. The others are likely to be dependent upon the public purse in one way or another. This purse, so we are told, is more or less empty. The middle class will thus shrink massively.

One might speculate as to what musical genre will be best suited to the coming trials. I have always thought punk to be very close to childish rage, a manifestation of an angry and aggressive id, to draw upon our friend Dr. Freud. The blues would seem to be tied more closely to the sorrow born of too much hard work and exploitation. Although there will be sorrow, I am not sure that the cause is going to be overworking. Maybe the post-industrial blues will be electronic in nature. Something infinitely repetitive and soothing, to while away the endless hours of luxury-deprived boredom. Does Phillip Glass come to mind?

Society will need its opiate, I fear. I don’t think alcohol is up to the job (beer for the workers and  gin & tonic for the middle classes is an image that will fade as the sun finally sets on the industrial age of post-Victorian England). My guess is that a drug will be manufactured that is cheap to make, safe, and will maintain the population in a contented and somewhat soporific state.  Of course, there may at first be outrage. In the end it will be seen as a sensible solution to the problems raised by ever more strident and petutulant demands for the legalisation of cannabis. An essentially medical rhetoric drawing upon the pseudo-psychological lexicon of mood enhancement terms (see Abnormal Psch. 101)  should be enough to placate the more obstreperous members of the House of Commons.

Progress in this direction may come to be taken as evidence that we are drifting closer to Brave New World, as opposed to 1984. However, the number of surveyance  cameras on our streets and in our public buildings has increased exponentially since the year 1984, and the burgeoning sales of large flat-screen TVs can only be described as Orwellian. Perhaps the future will be a cross between the two. Yes, the 21st century is starting to feel decidedly Huxwellian.

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