There’s a quickening in the air, don’t you think? Oil shocks, the Warming, the Dimming, tectonic shifts, Torture Mania, War Without End, etc, which adds fuel to the religious revival. The death of a Pope is great spectacle, and the grief of his followers is moving. But when you stand back from it all, Catholicism is little more than a branded superstition. (As are other faiths). Rome has a global reach, gilded ceremonies, an infallible figurehead; giving it a dream run as reality TV. Nothing can compete, not even the British Crown.
The Holy Roman TV Empire has a moral component, both for good and for ill, even if it demands from adherents breathtaking leaps of imagination. However, in the end it’s a brand, like Coca Cola, with similar colour hues, and must fight to maintain market share. So the deeper question is this, regardless of the next Pope’s identity: how does the corporatisation of the planet affect everyday life?
For anyone who travels the roads of the world, the quickening psychic pulse is a major threat. When driving to and from the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, it is not unusual to be jammed between a pair of semi trailers who race the clock, and each other. The last time it happened to me, both of the horn blaring behemoths were branded Woolworths, their signage singing of dewy melons and crisp lettuce, as the rear truck clawed at my side, horns blaring, edging me into the misty kerb. Another suicide mission in the service of cost cutting, I thought, after the tranquillisers kicked in. Most drivers can recount similar near death experiences.
It’s an old story, speeding truckies on speed, but getting worse. Between 80 and 90 per cent of long distance drivers are using drugs to keep awake and meet impossible deadlines, according to Officials of the Transport Workers Union, who depict a dark culture of truckstops “littered with syringes”, the drivers harassed by impossible deadlines, their contracts cancelled at the tick of a clock. Woolworths and Coles impose half hour windows for delivery, even if the drivers are late leaving the clients warehouse, even for an interstate haul. Trucks are “sweatshops on wheels”, says the Union, driven by sleep deprived slaves. Lateness can incur a $6.66 fine per minute, turning their rigs into killer vans.
Is this the future, in our brave new world of market fundamentalism, a choice between being the driver or being the roadkill?
Meanwhile, major corporations are promoted as today’s champions of “social responsibility”, conjuring a sleeves-rolled-up army of sensitive new age metrosexual Mother Theresas intent on righting the world’s wrongs, fixing the weather and feeding the hungry with crisp lettuce. Welcome to TwinWorld™. A world adorned with bright logos, false promises and nonstop entertainment. Lift the lid and view the debt, hear the lies, smell the blood. It was ever thus, you are thinking. We are all canon fodder for the toffs. Yes, but the pace is quickening, the stakes are higher, the lies more blatant. “We are on the side of life”, says the President of TwinWorld™, playing to the Terri Schialvo headline writers, even as his armies perform mass euthanasia in Iraq, sometimes by storming its hospitals.
The clock watchers in the dispatch room at Woolworths are just doing their job. Today’s corporate culture ordains that return on investment will always outweigh the welfare of truckies. Getting goods to market ten minutes earlier whether its lettuce or oil will boost the bottom line, so never mind the buckets of blood on the Great Western Highways, whether in Baghdad or the Blue Mountains. But something is amiss. Oil is suddenly $50 plus a barrel; the lettuce lands are parched. TwinWorld has got a twin complaint, both global warming and global dimming are speeding up, like the Woolworths trucks. Try to stop one and the other will accelerate.
Let’s not worry about that, says the board of TwinWorld. We’re getting a new Pope, a Christian revival, another season of Desperate Housewives and a beefed up nuclear arms race, even into the heavens. Glory Hallelujah. Jesus will help us whether the weather. Hurry off to TwinWorld, a shopping heaven, where even too much is never enough. Where truth is a lesson in forgetting. Few care we lied about Iraq’s arsenals. Few care that we’ve turned Afghanistan into one big jail). Few care that the guys who ordered the torture are promoted. Few care that we napalm civil rights at home, that there’s a hint of something smelly about the events of 9/11. What the Hell. The Twin Towers came tumbling down, but TwinWorld never stops spinning.
Not so fast, Mr President, people do care. Our numbers are understated, our voices muted, our “idealism” ridiculed. Mainstream media is your messenger, but it is not the only tongue in town. Truth is carried on the breath of child. The distracted majority are not always blind. A new poll shows that one third of the citizens of your close ally, Australia, regard US foreign policy as a global threat. Two thirds think the alliance is too intimate. But you don’t need a pollster to see which way the wind blows, just listen to the new music (it aint on the radio), talk to strangers, read the blogs, hear the jokes, check the local farmers markets, scan the foreign media. Today TwinWorld is dominant, but Another World is Possible. A world of many hues, diverse views; a community fiercely opposed to the militarisation of the planet, the jailing of refugees, the theft of nature, enslavement to the clock and the impoverishment of billions in order to fatten the few. In this world, trucks will be green-fuelled. The drivers will nap at a motel, and not at the wheel. It won’t be perfect, it won’t be a top-down ideology, it won’t turn shits into saints. Maybe it will be a bit fairer, maybe the weather will stabilise, maybe the goal of a pre-emptive “full spectrum dominance”, will no longer be considered sane.
RICHARD NEVILLE is the author of Hippie Hippie Shake: the Dreams, the Trips, the Trial, the Love-ins and Screw Ups of the Sixties and other books. He can be reached through his website: http://www.richardneville.com/