As I predicted at the beginning of this year, 2017 is proving to be a very bad time to be an authority figure. Donald Trump, America’s Chief Snowflake, is having almost daily meltdowns in the Oval Office, and has been despatched on a glad-handing mission aboard Air Force One to give him something to do while the Republican Party work out how to get rid of him without destroying themselves in the process. It’s all very reminiscent of the barbaric game of musical chairs described in Going Clear: at this stage, the one thing that’s crystal clear is that pretty much the entire GOP machine is implicated, so the whole pack of them are scrabbling around desperate to ensure they aren’t the one whose ass gets hung out to dry. The Machtergreifung of the so-called ‘alt-right’ is proving to be a somewhat less glorious seizure of power than they were promised: Hell, they can’t even lift anymore, bro.
Meanwhile in the UK, Theresa May continues to provide a fascinating case study in how not to behave in the face of the imminent eschaton. After weeks of hiding from voters, engaging in stage-managed photo-ops on deserted industrial estates with bused-in rentacrowds of Party faithful, and wheeling out the tall drink of water she calls a husband for fawning appearances on soft-touch chat shows as Britain’s best-loved couple since
Ian and Myra Posh and Becks, the Plague Nun of the King of All Spite took to Facebook to whine that we were all being jolly, jolly rotten to her, and if she lost only six seats then Corbyn would be in and where would we be then, hmm? Serve us right if we ended up without St Theresa at the helm, she sniffed. And, no doubt, comforted herself with the thought that if she does lose those six seats, and we do wind up led by what she tells us will be a ‘Coalition of Chaos’, and all the accumulated filth of our talk of human rights and democratic process foams up about our waists and we look up to her and shout ‘save us!’, she will look down and whisper ‘no’.
Sensitive girl, our Theresa.
But let’s say Aunt Theresa is right for once – there’s a first time for everything, after all. Let’s say she doesn’t win those six vital seats, let’s say the other parties do all opt to enter into this Chaotic Coalition she’s so afraid of (along with debate, tough interview questions, brown people, the gays, and meeting the voters), let’s say all of that actually happens. My question is: would that be such a bad thing?
Chaos gets a bad rep. Sure, one meaning of the word is ‘complete disorder and confusion’, but chaotic systems in the mathematical sense are ones in which apparent randomness is actually the result of highly complex, dynamically interacting processes. Chaos conceals an implicit, emergent order, an order arising – one is tempted to say Erising – from the interactions and interference patterns of intersecting complex systems. Now ask yourself: which sounds like a more accurate description of reality – a mesh of complex, interacting elements, or Theresa’s World, where the Internet is under strict control, the state owns your house when you die (so much for ‘property-owning democracy beats communism any day’, huh?), and there’s honey still for tea – provided you’re an oligarch who can afford to get it imported, because no British worker wants to bring the harvest in.
We live, or are supposed to live – this government’s contempt for Parliament notwithstanding – in a representative democracy. If our reality is increasingly a world in which complex systems intermesh chaotically – where Brexit-voting pensioners eat cabbage grown by Poles while Czechs watch over them and keep them safe from harm – then why shouldn’t our legislative chamber reflect that? Why should we remain trapped in the zero-sum game of first past the post politics? If it did nothing else the Referendum last year showed us that system is no longer fit for purpose. The electorate, quite simply, is operating at a level of granularity which cannot be accurately represented by simple binary choices.
Which is to be expected. Living as we do in a time of greater apparent disorder, a time when established power structures are being rocked to their foundations, it makes much more sense to lean into the chaos than it does to resist it, or, as Trump, May, and ultimately Putin are trying to do, to surf the chaos current part of the way but then, Cnut-like, to try and bid the tide be still. It doesn’t work like that. Horus simply doesn’t like being told what to do. The Scorpion will stab your back before you ford the river. The fox will eat your chickens, and when you chase her, in your ordered band, your men will be unhorsed. You will die in the woodland, gored by the horn of a tree. Our words for fear and forest share a root, as you will see.
Gradually, as I write this, as you sit here reading it, May, Trump, and even Putin and his Wormtongue, Surkov, are coming to realise that their sneaky little ordo ab chao play is not going to work out the way they hoped. Even if May successfully fends off Corbyn, the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the Labour manifesto has shifted the Overton Window way to the left of what the Tories want. Choosing to make Corbyn and not the manifesto the target of her attacks has the bizarre effect of legitimising the manifesto, of suggesting the daring possibility that the same manifesto, under another leader, might go down like gangbusters. Conversely, May’s ‘if you don’t give all your votes to me then you’ll get him‘ play undermines her own manifesto – but given that said Tory manifesto basically boils down to privatising the NHS, killing foxes, censoring the Internet and stealing your Gran’s house, you can see why she doesn’t want to draw attention there.
A Chaos Coalition forming on June 9th would be no bad thing. English and Scottish Nationalism would at last be forced to find some accommodation. The dangerous polarisation of the country between Leave and Remain could find the space to get more nuanced. As we negotiate between the different factions in our own country, as we see how divided we are, we will realise we need to adopt more flexibility in negotiating with the EU27. An administration which owes its existence to the repudiation of zero-sum games will have less interest in imposing them on others.
A Coalition of Chaos, you say?
Well then I say Io muthafuckin Kaos, Mrs May.