Unplank & the Dog Eaters

There are so many reasons why I shouldn’t do this. Every time I think about it I think of fresh reasons. The fact that I’ve written about it before on Strength Weekly (a digital area), for example. The fact that everyone who has written about it says much the same things. They say, for example, many of them, that the whole thing is a pantomime. It’s an entertainment. We should not expect it to deliver substance or authenticity. It is, everyone agrees, not to be taken seriously. The people on it are clearly deranged but it wouldn’t work if they were not. And the people in charge are to a large extent only acting their sternness. They probably think that the other people on it are utterly ridiculous, as do we, but they appear to take them seriously and criticise them strongly in relation to criteria that people in their stern community take seriously.

It is as if the clowns, as one might regard the excitable entrants, would, if they responded constructively to the criticisms directed at them, be capable of improving their ways and become viable subjects of the ring master. As a hypothesis this only works if the clowns themselves are not pretending to be clowns. This need not be seen as an obstacle to their conversion, however. It can be argued that the clowns are, in fact, heralds of a new post-psychological personhood, sent among us to ease passage into new, simplified ways of being. In the new, or emerging, state of affairs, distinctions between pretending to be something and being something do not have the relevance that they are currently awarded.

But first the clowns must be sourced. The pre-project preparation could work two ways: in the hunt for a clutch or hilarity of suitable clowns the hunters will say things like “Even though you’re a team player under what circumstances would you throw fellow team members to the lions in order to advance your own cause? That is to say: can you reconcile your strong and, for some, unedifying, sense of entitlement with the requirement, felt by some at least, to be a social being?” Or, and this would be the other way, the hunters, having accumulated a collection or irritation of clowns in order to assess them would do this rather more straightforwardly by asking “Would you be prepared, for the purposes of the project, to pose as or enact the role of one who is so excavated by greed that he or she shows every sign of sociopathy even as the condition is understood in tabloid newspapers?” The latter enquiry immediately prompts the question of where the depravity – whether or not it is authentic – actually comes from. Upon what do the clowns, or wretches, as one might regard them, found their agitated displays?

Again, there may be two ways of coming at this. The wretches may simply take their cues from alpha wretches who, despite the veneers and polishes acquired in the field, have become masters of acquisition. This is certainly what the programme wishes to establish. It is more likely that if capitalism is what is left when more promising systems have been tried, then the non-psychology of the wretch is what is left when depth models of human potential have been systematically disparaged then abandoned. In the absence of psychology (not to mention socialisation) instinctual forms of expression may come to the fore.

Such is the greyness of the area pertaining to the distinguishing between modes of modern presentation that I find myself on the brink of suggesting that in the panicked, pantomimic and agonised exudations of the aspirants there is actually to be found an unproblematic authenticity. The sundering of psychology from behaviour is such that Behaviour 2.0, as it will come to be known, can only be authentic because it is derived from a radically de-complicated base, unlike the earlier ‘Dark Behaviour’ in which contradiction and ambiguity are present in an abundance that is acknowledged to be confusing. In those Dark times you had Elvis and you had Elvis impersonators.

A personality structure that is authentically degraded, through no fault of the owner, becomes the site of an array of urgent, unrooted compensatory behaviours. It is probable – as suggested above – that the wretches consider these behaviours to be credible imitations of those who are alphas in a slurry of omegas. It is just as likely that they simply perform them unreflectively because their sense of urgency is considerable and they must do whatever pops up. In both cases the unedifying behaviours are authentic. It is, after all, wretched to consent to enact wretchedness, to comply with the requirement to appear wretched. Those who comply will, by definition, already be authentic wretches. The hunters’ assessment, therefore, is not that hard. You just have to be sure that those who comply will do it well – you’re not trying to weed out malingerers. It’s not as if there’s a dearth of aspirants.

In the age of psychology, a phenomenon of the 20th Century, considerable attention was paid to matters of identity, which was viewed as a product of knowingly maintaining oneself in a framework over significant periods of time. With the passing of psychology, premised largely upon access to contents that were not necessarily evident, we see an emerging personality structure that is platformless – lacking a stable ground on which to perform. This unplanked condition is paradoxically fertile and subject to turbulence. Back in the day the hippy said “I am the wind that passes through me.” When he said it, however, it was understood to refer to the fact that he was so singularly lacking in block or barrier that nothing he experienced could be distorted by the taints of his ego. The 21st century winds are markedly more toxic and require a less wispy counter. What comes to pass, though, as those gusts howl through, makes the hippy look rather rugged. The 21st century wretch is instantly intoxicated and he stays that way. When he comes back to the house after a hard but successful day in front of the tribunal, his colleagues applaud him and he says, referring to his supporters, “From now on it’s dog eat dog.” He smiles. They smile too, congratulating him on his forthrightness in matters of cannibalism.

(See Series 10: Episode 1 – 14/10/14)