Which Way is Up?


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I am currently reading the book my husband got me last Valentines day. It is our tradition, to mark the day with a gift to each other of a book. Mine from him was The Rebel by Albert Camus.

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Camus tells us that revolt is inevitable, an inherent part of the human state. And that a second inevitability is that the rebel become in turn the despot. Many examples in history demonstrate the truth of this. Camus refers most often to the French Revolution where perhaps the tendency of rebel to evolve into despot was most vividly, theatrically expressed. I imagine it thus; though the circle, implied in the root of the word revolution may be endless in its durational aspect, actually is an oval, created of two parts, above and below, oppressor and oppressed. It is an oval, like the link in a chain, that flips now and then to give the other side temporary dominion.

In so many political struggles the cry of the collective “Give us power!” is remarkably quickly trumped by the whisper, then the shout “Give me power!” Only a passing knowledge of the human psyche is needed to understand this. The power hungry need a base. They need an engine; the passion and the anger of the oppressed is that engine. Leadership in any field is likely to draw those whose souls are fed by the supplication or the love of others. It is part of our collective flaw.

On a day when Theresa May signs and sends the trigger for Article 50 and reflecting on The Rebel, it struck me that part of the reason that rebellion leads so inevitably to tyranny is that in times when life is shaken up, peace becomes more difficult to achieve as people are woken to their dissatisfactions more generally and thus tyranny is grasped for as a solution. It would be absurd to link our leaving of the EU to revolutions of history that have caused mayhem, death and destruction.  But a shimmer is visible. Whilst it is easy to believe the claim of our inherently revolutionary nature, I would add that most humans are reactionary. There are those on top, there are those underneath and there are the majority in between, the long sides of the chain loop, the oval, reacting. Threatened, they too can become active. But being active is not the same as being revolutionary.

I have wondered recently if the border-patrolling nationalism spearheaded by Trump’s narcissistic panderings and May’s opportunistic, hard-Brexit jingoism has come about as a fear reaction to Isis/Daesh. Not because we are able to blame them for it but because fear is the quickest trigger to reactionary action as opposed to revolutionary action. It is easy, even if it is statistically illogical, to feel threatened by a force that specifically desires your harm. Once aggravated, a few decades of grumbling peace becomes more difficult to achieve.

For years, there have been people fed up with the EU. There has been near constant complaint and dissatisfaction from many, including from remainers such as myself who would not have dreamed of voting to leave. Life went on. Not perhaps in tyranny but for many there was a depth of dissatisfaction and a sense of grievance that quietly hummed away. It is hard to imagine, now the shouting headlines of The Daily Mail and the embarrassing jingoistic stunts of The Sun have proclaimed the expanded bounty of freedom that any such quiet rumbling along will be possible in the near future. As well, the masked Anti-Fas will continue to protest, Black Lives will be protested and protected with no decrease in rage, logically, as no decrease in the very real peril is evidenced, no recompense for astounding historic harms is offered. And the long sides of the chain will continue to react, pushing more and more into one or other camp. Oppressor or oppressed. There is no handshake at the end of the game to tell the losing side they should revert to their quiet, possibly grumbling holding role. The victor will, as victors always do, bear down.

So, which way is up?

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