633. The taming power of the great (IV)
The ideal that Western elites work for is the airport lounge—every country an airport lounge. You know the airport lounge: clean, safe, reliable, well-lit, stocked with familiar brands, peopled with all the races in the world, secular, technological, open round the clock, convenient—the ideal progressive state. After all, if you arrive in Caracas and see some malevolent young men at the taxi rank—just itching to stick a knife in your ribs and make off with your luggage—you can step back through the automatic doors and immediately be back in the airport lounge, back in the sanctuary. As with a medieval church, you are safe there—nobody can touch you. Men in bulletproof vests with sub-machine guns make ungainly circuits. Better call a taxi from here.
So whether you are in Mumbai or Dublin, when you are in the airport lounge you are really in the same country—airport lounge country, the progressive utopia. How can you not like the airport lounge, unless you are chronically spoiled? You are untroubled by weather—you never feel Bombay’s strangulation heat in the air-conditioned glasshouse. You are safe, guarded by the paramilitary police. You have all the world’s brands on tap—tax-free airside, much to libertarian delight. The hygiene is excellent—you can always go to Starbucks if you are concerned. Everything is written in English, everyone speaks English. How can you not like it? Yet everyone is there to leave.
Airport lounges, no matter how luxurious, always induce low-level anxiety—I swear I can feel the fear and stress when I walk through the automatic doors; my whole body tenses up, I can smell the fear—the hormones, all in the sweat. The odour is faint, since everything is sprayed with deodoriser and steam-cleaned. Yet it is there, the palpable anxiety—something might happen; nobody knows what, but…something.
This comes about because powered flight is unnatural. People look at jets and a little voice says, “It shouldn’t be able to fly. I’m not getting in that. I’m not getting in a metal tube loaded with flammable liquid and being shot into the sky for hours on end. It’s a metal coffin.” At some level, everyone thinks this is so—hence airport lounges are saturated in anxiety-sweat. *PING-pong* Will all passengers for Flight 714 to Karachi please board at Gate 12 immediately…(Jesus, that made me jump—so on edge). This is why we romanticise airships; we feel that airships are natural—they are buoyant like boats in the air, hence they *should* be there; powered aircraft defy nature, hence stress us.
Yes, terrorism is a rare threat—statistically improbable; and yet somehow airborne terror is always extravagant and inspires awe—really, it is sublime; a terror attack on an airline is like a giant glacier or mountain (9/11 the most obvious example—sublime terror is also beautiful, it is awesome. A terrible beauty is born). Yet nobody marches up Everest for fun…So perhaps I should pray before my flight? Seems a bit superstitious, but…Of course, religion is not banned, not in the progressive utopia—we have a multi-faith prayer room (with a crescent, a cross, and a Star of David on it); it seems a bit anaemic on the inside—walls that can roll this way or that to make it a chapel, synagogue, or mosque…The terror attack is more holy: it creates sublime awe—God is awesome, the multi-faith prayer room is not. The blown-out 777 is sacred.
“Thanks, but my doctor gave me these pills…they’re called *checks glasses* Ambigain. They say they use them for depression but they also use ‘em if you get nervous when you fly.” “Nah, I’m getting pissed, mate. I’ll be so drunk when I get on that flight I’ll never know what happened, if it happens. Lol.” In the safe, consumeristic, and sterile technological marvel there is no race or religion or sex—just shopping and anxiety. Blessed are those who can inspire awe in this most unnatural world.