All The Polluted Air - The Reykjavik Grapevine

All The Polluted Air

All The Polluted Air

Published January 16, 2013

Dear Icelanders. Isn’t it appropriate to start a New Year’s address with those two words—words which were never meant to build bridges other than those between fabricated similarities, words meant to create a feeling of national unification?
This, indeed, is the ultimate way to start such an address, followed by a line or two on the importance each year plays in the path of life of both individuals and the nation. Count up the great successes of the past year, then the failures, if not only to balance the scale, then learn from them to stay focused on living out the brightest possible future to come.
“We live within language as within polluted air,” the Situationists proclaimed in January 1963, a sentence that perfectly sums up the meaning of a New Year’s dawn. While the atmosphere is polluted with the smoke of fireworks, the political sphere is non-breathable due to linguistic pollution. And the biggest pollutants are no doubt the political moguls and their annual New Year’s addresses.
Despite a few non-essentials, these speeches are all the same. It’s evident that these speeches are only part of the repetitive pattern, according to which the year has to end with a glorious rhetorical climax. The content is always the same: We are on the precisely right path. Economic growth increases while unemployment decreases, and the wheels of the economy will spin even faster if we only put a little extra weight onto our train ride towards perfection!
Some might argue that this is a clear manifestation of Francis Fukuyama’s ʻEnd of History,ʼ an event implied in the American economist’s theory of the universal and irreversible victory of Western liberal democracy and free market economies following the collapse of state communism. Doesn’t the fact that party-political opponents speak the very same language prove that the end of substantial ideological conflict has come?
Well, as the Situationists also pointed out, “Words work—on behalf of the dominant organization of life.” Fukuyama and others who boldly claim the end of ideologies other than capitalist democracy are only logical methods in the struggle of keeping alive the illusive fantasy of an irrevocable, almost divine final result of humanity’s journey through history. 
These are, of course, no new sciences. Just as language has always been a political tool, people’s knowledge of this tool and its usage has always been evident. But just as shouting headlines come and go, just as inspiring arguments disappear as soon as they appear, just as gigantic mountains of likes and shares spontaneously create hot-blooded moments until the next matter of a debate calls for attention—so too does the abovementioned knowledge fall into oblivion immediately as it enters memory.
Let’s therefore finish the cycle by starting it again. Dear Icelanders. You exist. You never did. Don’t applause. A new year hasn’t started. Last year is long gone. Don’t dust your spectacles. Re-adjust your wristwatches. Dive into a pool full of nothing. Take a deep breath of all the polluted air.


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