Strange thin posters like at a police crime-scene investigation are taped across the windows of the train carriages on the way to work. Crime scene. Trains.
This word was repeated across the posters. It is "the theme" it seems for the 2006 Singapore Bienniale, the first visual arts festival. It is a word that has been charged up with significance again after the Mumbai train attacks last night.
Belief in what? Believe anything you want, it's a relativist world, so long as you believe in something. Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Pan, Baal, Satan, Capitalism, Free Markets, Free Speech. All are equally true, equally valid, equally supportable, equally defensible, equally mutually exclusive.
Believe and you will belong. Believing is about joining. Join with us, feel the sense of community, we are inclusive, join the catholic (meaning 'universal') group. Together. Partake of the ritual. Don't be a stranger. Become one with all, grok the mind-melding, don't be Chew-Z, take the Can-D offered by strangers.
Being a part of something bigger than merely yourself makes you feel spiritual. Your consciousness expands to fill the universe. Everything is connected. We have a need for this sense, the warmth and security of an extended family makes us feel comfortable, makes us belong. It seems to give life meaning. We exist for others, so that they can exist for us. If we have meaning, they have meaning. If they have meaning, we have meaning. We all mean something together, when we are together. A life without meaning cannot be contemplated. It is too lonely. We can escape into safety in the giant group hug.
But though others believe, there is a range of beliefs from which they have selected. Those others may not believe what we believe. We are in our comfort zone. They are excluded. They are in their comfort zone, we are excluded from them. Tribalism. Cults. Extremism, orthodoxy, conformity, fundamentalism. Everyone is together but in their separate tribes. They are the other. They believe wrong things. They do wrong things. They are cannibals, baby killers. They are heathen, unwashed. Different. Less than human. We are not of their kind.
Tribes used to fight. But in times of abundance, the conflicts of tribalism were ritualised. The push of history has tended to reinforce this as we have become more modern, more sophisticated. Cooperation and compromise have been the gravity which has brought the world together, earth wind and fire. No need to kill, no need to rape, no need to plunder. The exchange brides can be peacefully conducted, so many pigs and cattle for a virgin. Heterozygocity has its advantages, and can be managed. The Big Chief spreads his seed, grants the tribe fecundity and long life. We lose some individuality for his sake. For the greater sake. The greater sake gets bigger. We believe it is for the good of all.
Big business, franchises, globalisation wants to merge all tribes, to turn all exchanges into mere secure transactions on the interconnected virtual market. For our sake, for our good. One giant market. One Big Chief - the share price. No need for tribes. No need for countries, for ethnic groups, for religions, for belief systems. Everything is connected.
Act on your own, it doesn't matter where you are. If you're so smart, how come you aren't rich? You are there, and the shop is there. You are in the World Wide Shopping Mall of culture. Business has expanded to fill the universe. You can buy the same goods, eat the same food; it tastes the same, looks the same, confers the same status. You are everywhere. This is how The Economy thinks. No need for a local variant. No need to acknowledge a tribe, no need to plan for a community, no need for a sense of belonging, no need for belief. There is no such thing as society. You are nowhere.
For the consumer cannot exist in isolation. The consumer cannot consume all day. The consumer loses his job so that the consumption can cost less. He is mechanised, outsourced, downsized, a cleared cell on the spread-sheet of efficiency, a martyr to Excel excellence. The moving fromage has moved on, a multi-colored parachute sails out the window. This is good for us all, and for him: it works because now he has less to spend. But still, in his soul, the consumer feels an unease. He doesn't belong anywhere anymore. The consumer must communicate, must feel in touch. Must feel contact. Must find a group to tell them how he feels, must let to the group tell him what he should believe. Must find out what to have faith in.
We say "feel angry". You have lost your job. They feed you the same food no matter where you go. You buy the same clothes in all the parts of your world, and they never have your EXACT size. This is your fault. You feel lost and yet everyone is looking at you, targeting your demography and missing. You are no-one and everyone to them. You are a statistical freak, an outlier. Every individual is. You don't belong there. You belong here.
The centre is too big, it is not holding, things are falling apart. Anarchy is merely a loose world.
You must belong to the small group of us, to resist that large group of them, the others. This is right. We know this from our sacred writings, which we invented. Our prophets and gods have told us that we are the chosen. We made them say that, because we invented them too, and we must justify ourselves. You lack the conviction, but we have the intensity, the passion. This is just. This is a tide of blood. This what we believe. Believe with us, all is forgiven, all will be returned, redeemed.
Be different. Be the same as us. Show your right to live by dying. Make them change the way they live by killing them. We have invented a place where you can go. If you believe in it, it will exist. Go there now, take as many of them as you can with you.
Don't believe them. Believe us.
OTHER MONKEYS SAID
George Bush made all this possible. Sad, isn't it?
I believe. In cause and effect. And Bush didn't make it possible, he just made it all far, far more likely.
Maybe it is my age, but I set the time of the change as the late 1970's: Reagan's America and Thatcher's Britain. Hunter's High Water Mark of economic fairness, when it all began to roll back...
In order to cure worldwide 'stagflation' (remember that?) Milton Friedman suggested Monetarism and small Government. Reagan's subsequent deregulation opened up the world for wholesale evisceration by Big Pharma and Big AgriBusiness - then there was Big TaxEvasion, Big StockPriceDependency (Enron, etc), etc.
Greed was not just good, it was God.
Thatcher's privatisation tore the guts AND heart out of Britain. A friend of mine was daughter of one of the striking coal miners. Laurentian Poverty in 1980's.
Remember when the word "terrorist" immediately made you think *Irish Catholic*?