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640. Treading (VII)

The late Roger Scruton would often decry postmodernism—usually as a “fad and fancy” by incomprehensible French intellectuals—and yet Scruton himself was a postmodern phenomenon. We cannot escape our time and place—a rather conservative sentiment. Postmodernism is just that moment after the automobile factory in Detroit closes down and all that remains is broken glass on the abandoned factory floor—a few machines rust here and there, tangled weeds grow where the lines once hummed, and a single dust-flecked beam of light falls through the broken window. Postmodernism is when this space is infiltrated by neo-hippies who gather up the broken window glass, melt it down and mix it with various colours, and sell it on Etsy as a decoration. They share the space with urban explorers who livestream their adventures through Shed No. 32 and include a link to a crypto account in the video description.

Postmodernity is mercurial, just like the glass that is melted down for the online ornaments—it is liquidity, it is cybernetic; and it builds itself from the ruins of Victorian and Fordist industrialism that provided the launch pad for the contemporary cybernetic ecology. It is a bricolage environment, it is about novelty—cyber-synchronicity facilitated by a dense network of computers, day-glo cyber-shamans (white men with rasta locks and a penchant for ecstasy profiled in Wired, June 1996). It is an uncanny, magical environment that has recaptured man’s primitive epoch through advanced technology—it is the age of simulation and simulated experiences; and many people make a good living from simulated experiences.

Scruton was one such man: what Scruton sold, to a certain consumer demographic, was the simulacrum—the imagined experience—of country squiredom in High Tory England. At one point, you could even sign up to visit Scruton’s farm—“Scrutopia”—for a full “West World” simulacrum where you met Scruton and participated in his archaic idyll; perhaps listened to him pick out Wagner on a piano. The irony is that men like Scruton routinely decry “celebrity culture”—whether Beckham or Foucault—and yet the appeal of Scrutopia was that you paid to spend time with a celeb; admittedly, a high-brow conservative celeb—but a celeb nonetheless.

Just as you can pay $8,000-$12,000 to join a ranch-hand course in Colorado (options labelled “Greenhorn” to “Rough Rider”, in accord with price), so too you could pay for “the Tory squire country gentleman experience”—this simulacrum included, naturally, a ersatz Tory squire who would gently rotate his whisky and explain why “postmodernism is fashionable French nonsense”. The whole sensation is similar to those lame museum models that have a badly projected face on them that describes, in tedious and badly acted detail, the travails faced by a migrant washerwoman in 19th-century Australia—except with Scrutopia the simulation was that much better.

Scruton was born to a father who was an ardent socialist; rebellion against paternal authority—a most unTory sentiment—was in the blood, so Scruton duly rebelled against his socialist father and became a conservative. You can tell Scruton was a socialist at heart because he always liked to play the victim, the victim of the intolerant left. Yet really he was what he always was: a lower-middle-class left-wing intellectual larping as a Tory squire; the simulation appealed, even though “gentleman farmer” is uneconomical unless supported by a very postmodern media enterprise—by a kind of English dude ranch. Real-life farms under postmodernism are large corporate concerns underwritten by vast government subsidies and managed by spreadsheets and tractors driven by GPS navigation: postmodern agriculture, the field as techno-science laboratory—genetic modification a priority, the local squire’s mansion sold to a Russian businessman who installed an underground swimming-pool-cum-cinema; down the road, a new-build estate called “Clover Meadows” filled with Sikh doctors employed by the NHS.

If to be right-wing means to be in touch with reality, then postmodernists—particularly Baudrillard in this case—are way to the right of Scruton; they, at least, understand that we live in a simulation.

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