In Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, the unnamed island which hosts the dramatic action is ruled over by Prospero, a benign despot modeled on those Renaissance thinkers who were part magician, part philosopher and part alchemist. Prospero’s two servants are very different creatures. Ariel is angelic, a pure and marvelous spirit devoted to Prospero. Caliban, by contrast, is an ignorant, lumbering brute who resents the debt he owes to Prospero, who released him from a tree in which he had been imprisoned by his previous mistress, the witch Sycorax. Caliban flies into a rage when he sees his misshapen reflection in a mirror. Ariel and Caliban, for those interested in symbolism and allegory, can easily be made to fit the pattern of man’s dualistic nature. It would have been a tradition familiar to the Bard, although we no longer have access to it.
Despite – or perhaps owing to – the sickening amount of money lavished on this country’s dysfunctional education ‘system’, few children will ever again grow up to draw lessons from Shakespeare, or even bother to read him. We live in a country where a man called Jeremy Clarkson features on advertisements declaring that he would rather stick needles in his eyes than read Shakespeare. Thus, a man whose fame comes from genuflecting in front of motor cars steals a line from a Jack Nicholson film to tell us to turn our backs on our greatest author. Happy days. But I digress. Regarding our current spate of anti-bank demonstrations, I can’t help but see Caliban’s offspring camped out by St Paul’s Cathedral.
The expanding American Occupy movement is already showing its hidden colours. Demonstrators defecate on police cars, spit at marines and coast guards, and unfurl banners reading Solidarity with Palestine. Our homegrown UK version is, for now, more benign, a small oasis of genuine puzzlement peopled by small-time bedlamites with time on their hands and nothing more useful to do. But to pay attention to these string-pull dollies is instructive.
Listening to the inchoate, free-associative nonsense coming from those interviewed during the Occupy the Stock Exchange jamboree, I detect self-loathing and impotent rage, as the raggle-taggle band of British metropolitan indignados struggle to come to terms with their failure to grasp their own complicity in what has happened to the British economy. Thus, as yesterday’s London Evening Standard pointed out, they do not see the inherent contradictions in tweeting their quarter-baked economic pronouncements on machines made by the very corporations they want so much to despise, or wearing masks from the film V for Vendetta, made by one of America’s top 100 companies. The expensive training shoes so many of them will be wearing are the signs of their membership of the financial freemasonry they think they hate.
The problem with raging against the banks and corporations is that they paid your train fare to the demonstration. Attacking bankers – and that may become as literal as it is now metaphorical – makes as much sense as angrily shaking the fence of a vineyard, furious with the vigneron for getting drunk. The banks are no more to blame for the crisis in the money system than the enterprising eastern European arriviste can be blamed for unregulated immigration. Mankind is damned to grasp what it thinks will lead to self-betterment if is placed within easy reach. This is the psychology of looter and banker alike.
But when you behold a political class who have taken it on themselves to regulate, organise and micro-manage every aspect of the lives of those people it is supposed simply to serve, and yet failed to regulate the one small section of the population who can really burn down the house, and you go on to fail to make that class the target of your ire, you are only showing your brute ignorance. You are Caliban before the mirror.
Apparently, the most coherent and best-received speech given at yesterday’s idiot’s agora was that of an accountant, himself sick of the escalating spiral of greed he saw among the new elites. The average CEO’s salary in 1970, he informed a puzzled carnival, was thirty times the national average. That figure is now 400. A shocking figure, but not the result of any mythical free market. Instead, the game was rigged from the start by the banker’s friend, the political gauleiter. This fiscal mine collapse was orchestrated in club and on golf course, in villa, private jet and corporate hospitality box. Orwell’s dictum that England is a family with the wrong members in control should be tattooed on the arm of every incoming Right Honourable Member as they enter the House of Commons.
The machineries of economic collapse are now well and truly reaching a higher gear. Memo to future generations; live within your means and leave the printing presses for the writers. Personally, it’s my belief that mankind, in terms of its social evolution, is barely ready for the baby bouncer, and I think this obsession with shiny things will pass, as will the addiction to the nipple of the state. But a severe illness will get worse before it gets better. I’ll let Caliban have the last word;
We shall lose our time,
And all be turned to barnacles, or to apes,
With foreheads villainous low.