The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

A person so supremely able in logic, and with as great native perspicacity for human affairs, as Lewis Carroll, gives us no surprises by passing judgement that the human world is nonsensically absurd.

The antics of power are portrayed with strong comic objectivity right through the Alice books. How untamed emotional rages reign behind so much political and social performance, and are rationalised into a shape, packaged by due process, for the sake of our greater assurance as citizens that we rest ultimately in safe, solicitous-for-our-welfare hands.

Steadying announcements from government that ‘the better-off will be hit’ by the latest round of austerity tax hikes are reminiscent of Alice’s Mad Hatter logic. Alice cannot have ‘more tea’ since she ‘has not yet had any’; yet she is able to have more because she cannot have less than no tea.

This is the trickery with words and reasoning which are the staple of politics. Alice’s arguments at table expose the dislocations inherent between necessarily imprecise language and the hard facts of events. The politician knows these dislocations are always available for exploitation. They allow utterances to show plausible which have constructively misleading purpose. Politicians being adepts, seek to bury and hide the derelictions contained in their misleading constructs.

The people of power also have a weight of authority behind the pronouncements they make; a weight not so much bestowed or representative, but one surfacing among their milling electorates, out of a sense of absence of control, power, adequacy, cohesion, and sheer where-to-begin?

Importantly most people have instinctive inklings when they are asked to wield authority. Intuitively they understand they are at-a-loss, and see lucidly this chimera authority is not readily found in the catalogue of human affairs. Powerful men and women become shored up by this; the ordinary person’s sense of his/her lack-of-grasp for affairs, and by other natively understood insufficiencies.

Hence the absurd yet royal commands and directions from authorities; like the caterpillar, the queen, and the hatter; and hence Alice’s bewilderment and exasperation at their dyed-in-the-wool unrelenting flagrant stupidity

What better metaphor than The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party for all those boardroom and congressional debacles where are floated daily the times’ most wildly ambitious and inane ideas; by which prevail policies based on cosmetic, interested, exploitative short-term partisan wins, and in the face of sounder grounding in better judgement?

There is a ‘musical chairs’ conditional to this scene setting. The regular movements of the hatter’s watch move moderate panics in persons shifting positions for no sensible or clear understanding. Move round one place, for form alone, to no purpose. Participants’ characteristic behaviours, their exact identical absurdities are carried one place round likewise. Our eyes and ears tell us of merchant bankers sitting regulators over merchant banks; news executives heading enquiries into news broadcasts; a bank governor going from one national post to another; and the Administration shuffles its pack of playing cards dealing its members a new hand.

And buried among this absurdity that is authority is its singular thematic raison d’etre

The prevailing logic of our public life has always been, and continues to be, the settling of scores, repaying favours, scratching backs; in the name of good governance. Justice is always served cold. Today there is little pretence of principle in these affairs; since so many of us are so far disappointed in our governance as to be gladly ignorant about its health.

There is a sense among life’s vainest contenders that authority is available there for the taking; that the persons who grasp for it obtain it; because we the ordinary folk have little sufficient sense of how or where we might be headed, or of where we should like to be headed, as a society or as individuals.

There is, in place of these, the present pervasive phenomena of commercially-led ‘individualism’, by which we are courted and wooed and made much of for the sake of an encouragement to spend and buy. The thrust and appeal of most marketing, and much social activity, nowadays is to flatter the identity of persons, to massage the personal selfhood, to persuade one’s vanity to pay out. Products are positioned as objects for life-enhancement, as beat-your-neighbour objects, as keep-up-with-the-crowd objects, the next-advance-in-things object; and always and exactly closely-cut to suit you and your special personal/marketing needs. By these means we are all becoming individuals in an alike mould; a nice piece of Lewis Carroll logic.

For as long as we buy smart phones; HD items, streaming, do the social networks, jump to the cues and pass through the set-piece hoops, we can each feel ourselves special; a state of being well-deceived. Like so much provided down to us from the powerful, most is a bumbaste provender for the keeping of the herd; enabling its shepherd-wolves to fill their larders with plenty, store, and feasting.

The aggregation of authority gravitates to the persons whose passion is to take up the world in both hands; as a plaything of the gods. Earth to these is an object which is no object. It is a resource likewise for the taking, to be used, maybe use-up, to be flown, cruised, mined, administered, manufactured, sold, bought, purloined, and undermined, as there were no tomorrow; for we live now.

‘Enormity’ is the apposite descriptor. Not only of such grossness, audacity and magnitude, as of the total seven sins amalgamated; these qualities and more go into the time’s vicious bids to scoop-up mighty mountains and carry them vast sea journeys; to sculpt the same sea’s features into fantastic power-trophy leisure resorts, to erect buildings high and mighty, the statements of ostensible, brash, boastful concupiscent hungers, knock their heads on the stars.

These antics feed a sense of being in possession, of having hold of, of ownership and title to, for stamping a presence on, for staking one’s claim to and broadcasting one’s credo and name out loudly accompanied by a thousand brass instruments; adding up to a wholesale mighty delusion which proposes surety and permanence, importance, an extension and effulgence of selfhood.

This is our bedtime story fed by movie moguls and media giants, the arts in bed with commerce, to we, a placid, passive, ogling world; who see ourselves emulators-in-miniature, paying homage in plastic imitation, adoring by aspiration; or else perhaps appalled in repugnance and dismayed by futility. The story vends the mind-set of land-grabs and deforestations, of forced migrations and child/slave labour, share-hikes, trade-stings and of Stockmarket rush and fever. The virulence in turning the fast-buck

In reply we are asked by those who run us, their refrain, and catcall: How should do without them? We are told, benevolently, that here stand before us our benefactors, whom we owe; they who feed us, keep us, we ingrate dependants. Thank God for Goldman Sachs, and Chase Manhattan, for The Federal Reserve and Sir Mervyn King; bless Rio Tinto and Google: bless them, and give them thanks.

Moreover, we are advancing together as a society, as a world, and are all in this triumph together. So they say, yet we possess no clear idea of advancement. There is no presentiment that we have lost things in our embrace by advancement. Not only gone are many authentic ways of living, and whole disciplines and vocabularies of heritable skills, trades and works, jettisoned with multiple percipient ways of seeing and learning: all these registers of grounded contentment for living and for hoping; we have lost our way.

Never has there been a time when we were wholly on a right path. There have been times when we were on a rather less wrong path. The prevalent myth today is that there are no alternatives to the path we are treading. We have ‘The Triumph of the Market’; ‘The Victory of Democracy’ and ‘The End of History’. Even in today’s time of dire turmoil the answering refrain from the financial fortresses in London, New York, Zurich, and Frankfurt is solely, exclusively, we need ‘more of the same’, ‘more of the same’.

These are the voices of interest who have every vested incentive to say such; so as to retain the holds they hold.

To choose another way is not about people equally enjoying power, grabbing fame, wealth, and celebrity; spreading them nicely like butter. It is about a human need to have lives wherein we are grounded in a fully-realised authenticity, a life in abundance, one of non-commercial goods which gain extension exponentially as they are passed on; goods of fierce virtue and generous graciousness. Not lives rested on reckless flimsy fabrications; on invitations to treat offered by descendants of cattle-rustler robber-barons, who, travel with the rest of us, sailing down river in a world of Alice’s looking-glass.