There are various ways governments and powers control a population. One example would be fear. From directly threatening citizens to more subtlety distracting the populace by “reminding” them of threats, fear keeps people in check by making them look inward, diverting their gaze away from the rest of the unknown population. From the singular threat of nuclear annihilation of the 1950s and subsequent decades, to the terror alerts of today, people are kept on edge, their footing unsure, the only safe option to look after themselves or cling onto the people close to them.
Another system of control is apathy. Apathy, though less noticeable than fear, can be all the more insidious. Again, people’s gaze is turned inward, but not through a mechanism of survival, rather disinterest, disenchantment and disempowerment. Life is presented in print, radio and screen as chaotic, its challenges insurmountable. The processes required to resolve such problems are painfully boring and impossibly complex. “Worry not,” the powers might say, “We’ll take care of it for you. Work hard and look after your family. Relax over that latte. Binge-watch this awesome TV show. These matters need not concern you.”
It doesn’t end there. By combining apathy and fear, the populace is batted back and forth between these two states of mind – and furthermore through conflicting advice. You must buy this expensive gadget – don’t overspend. You must reward yourself with good food and drink – remember to count those calories and units. You must look your best – but be natural. You must have a family – and work, work, work to provide (so you barely see them). People are not defeated with a single knockout punch, they are defeated by ten thousand flicks. The gradual pain giving way to numbness until the bruise is so deep, so ingrained in that person, they accept it. They see it as part of their very being, and can no longer remember how soft their flesh once felt, so accustomed to the ossified skin with which they now live.
There is an ability we all have to extricate ourselves from such coercion. To gaze beyond the world we find ourselves in through the construction of new images and senses in our minds. This is known as imagination. While it is as delicate as a flower, it is more powerful than a nuclear bomb. It can put man on the moon and create beauty from no more than a plastic bag floating in the wind. Imagination is essential in conceiving of a different way of life or alternative political system. It is dangerous and unpredictable, a weapon that governments and powers understand only too well – which is why they need to control it. For it is not just about controlling our lives, it is about controlling our thoughts and our dreams.
Fear and apathy have proven to be excellent weapons in diluting the collective imagination. What’s left is diverted by the system and forced through the funnel of capitalism – confined, compressed and homogenised. The rewards, nearly always financial, seduces the creative, isolating then alienating them from the populace, constricting their impact. The power of imagination is ready to be unleashed, yet the button never pressed. Immediate and material concerns prove too tempting, and the creative becomes part of the system they railed against, the concerns of apathy and fear becoming more prominent in their mind. Their impact forever limited. And once again the powers that be rest easy. Their sleep luxurious. Their dreams trouble-free.
Despite the architecture of manipulation surrounding us, held up by the pillars of fear and apathy, hope is not out of sight. Our rulers have grown arrogant. They think they are untouchable, maybe not from their own kind where paranoia reigns, but from the proletariat. They have grown fat and lazy, and in their head the light of imagination is no more than a tip of a candle, its flame bopping and weaving at the slightest breeze, ready to be extinguished. It is no match for the creative force that exists in the minds of its people. That once unshackled, the gaze turned outward, can conceive and deliver a fairer, more inclusive society, where hope is lived and breathed with each other, not some lonely desperate melancholic wish.
The collective imagination lays dormant right now. Unrealised potential within an unreal world. Like seeds scattered across a barren wasteland, shouting at them to germinate serves no purpose. Letting them be, too defeatist. Yet if there’s enough water, in the right place, at the right time, with just enough love, they will grow. And they will transform into what they were created to be.
And what is that? You choose. It’s your imagination after all.
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