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Force Majeure

Stephen Hornsby-Smith
Stephen Hornsby-Smith

Contemporary life ain't benign and art and science are pillars of unpredictability too. But there's an inevitability of force majeure that impacts on society that we can recognise but never control catastrophic consequences. Why? Because we're the contemporary calamity. It is in our DNA and we are our own worst nightmare. We've a wilful human capacity to self-destruct and we often do unthinkable and inhuman things to each other. Today our largely secular society can blithely inflict such evil to the planet yet many of us are deliberately closed to the issue. So we are the natural disastrous phenomenon that kills without mercy or is troubled only by selective pangs of conscience.

But we have at our disposal art and science to interpret, resolve and expose flaws in our world. Art isn't the only force or spirit that offers to fight on our behalf for social and cultural survival, but as a painter it seems significant. Why? Let me try to explain. Artists are manifestations of existential breakage inside and outside of the status quo. They induce social and artistic cathartic crisis involving close attention to how chaos operates in the mind and soul of the human condition. These artists could be anchors of progress but they take artistic descent to question all the seven deadly sins leading to fear that breeds self- preservation or self-destruction that is the cost of exposure. However, the art top-table that needs to blood-let by a sacrifice to maintain an uneasy aesthetic peace. The medium of painting, in my view, has been deliberately asset-stripped by formalists as a convenient downgrade to dismiss modernism in general as a convenient downgrade to excuse the dismissal of modernism in general, then exposing Soviet Marxism as 'dependant on yesterday's cultural zeitgeist'. Politics is no stranger to the Art Top Table.

Today the painting survivors are scattered and seen as lemmings sleep-walking blindly to their demise. Painters have become a penal colony sentenced to marginalisation and frozen out of influence. Now let's not get ahead of ourselves; painting is not an official or unofficial diaspora but the exclusion of painting has been ironically blown out of all proportion by the very people who wanted to keep that medium quiet. Killing painting off has been the greatest act of Nietzchean 'superman' in the Art World. This is, paradoxically, the most significant incident by the art top-table for generations because it offered certainty and doctrine at a safe distance... and a cultural pariah to sublimate social exclusion; class conflict was no longer traditionally exclusive, class conformity has become senile.

Exclusion can Re-energise

However, artists are anarchic in working through the barriers and bullshit to find their metier, their voice. But left to their own devices do they prioritise or have any natural proclivity to political anarchism with such an agenda? I don't think so. Instead artists' job is to question, reinforce and to expose issues for further and wider consideration. Today's artists must make the all-pervasive influence of Nietzche 'does punk, does Dada, does Foucoult' accountable! Be aware of the questionable influence of his quasi-nihilistic intrusive influence in our society and economy that tries to pass as a dalliance with self-indulgence. I want to concentrate on a limited area of his thought, specifically (i) ideas of superman, (ii) his ideas of eternal return. I believe this has great value to contemporary culture and decision-making in which an almost existential transition moves away from Nietzche and the pervasive arguments around the debate about relativism and structuralism and essentially about how can one dodge responsibility or assign it to something else; but the latter I'll develop later.

Burn-Out not Break Out

Artists run the gauntlet of self-inflicted burn-out rather than 'breaking in' and 'breaking out' of the modus operandi of the status quo. Yet artists and philosophers seem perversely fascinated by this dark side of human nature, something Gothic and sinister pervades. It is not coincidental that Nietzche himself fell victim to insanity. No one has infinite ability to level-off and contain the 'superman' and the unlimited domination of all life and at the same time endorse it with occidental reason. He could not return from Hades and psychological exposure to extremity and not be tainted by the loss of his belief system being shattered without prolonged disturbance. I think, especially artists, can identify with this given their similar journey and exposure to everything to do their job, just without the same outcome and motivated and redeemed by very different ideas. But taking on art responsibility to a higher aesthetic, a higher series of art values bonds the painter of today with the inevitable rejection as emissary of the Art Top Table. We are doomed to fail before we lift a brush! But bearing witness to this process is at the very cutting edge of cultural prowess to expose ignorance, greed and corruption!

Indeed, I believe we should tread carefully with the moral consequences of Nietzche's thought because it was the mainstay that national socialism in the 1930s misappropriated. However, I think we should both rake up, misappropriate, cherry-pick and even vandalise in order to adapt to these two key areas of his work concerning firstly, the 'superman' and secondly, the eternal return and its justification for anti-democratic and anti-social forms of political terror. Why not reuse but relegate and downgrade notions of superior power? cogs in a machine? Why not harness the energy and human drive of Nietzche's thesis by transforming it to a cathartic spectacle, an event or to a series of actions that would not enforce the extremes of implosion or it's opposite, explosion? Twenty-first century morality still contains enough high octane egotism to use and manage a safety-value that can still integrate the philosophical adrenaline that can breath new life into a contemporary context. But expect that this process of conversion has to involve experimentation with a risk of the social pressure-cooker exploding.

Conflict Mutation Resolution

We are inevitably subjected to meteor showers, collisions, explosions or implosions etc. whose consequences aren't always predictable. Social life also does not conform to behavioural software. Today such fear of this 'collision' offers a twenty first century 'big bang' of a human rupture transformation and rebirth. The post-Cold War renaissance of thought and technological transfer has created a potential chain reaction in which a mutation creativity and evolutionary advance is compatible. This isn't “the age of Aquarius”, just the age of a new 'enlightenment' overshadowed by new global viral and climactic threats!


Preparation against the toxicity of infinite relativism where God and ideology can be disproven, leaves us victims of our 'self-God' arrogance. This occurs in the vacuum of a discredited certainty. Such destructive forces become anti-determinist determinism. It is this passive-aggressive spectrum that is so utterly convincing that it became the front line of western thrust during the Cold War. Capitalism, consumerism and infinite relativism degraded and killed off any faith in any Marxist science of history. However, as an instrument of influence it has retained its residual power to split the Maoist Chinese two systems of communism and capitalism with the long-reach of a corrosive lever to induce a crisis of a schizophrenic identity. This can be accessed and reloaded by the West as an intellectual form of deterrent because it was proven to be successful against the Soviet Union. Welcome to the passive-aggressive deterrent of our age, where the recession is a weapon of control that is only partially counter-balanced by the extension of 'globalisation' to all parts of the world.

The influence of Nietzche from the nineteenth century is, per se, perilously close to being contaminated and morally poisoned by the terrifying taint of racism, but Nietzche's perceptive contributions to the observation of individual conformity and notions of destiny and fate are valuable. But in terms of the theoretical there is always a danger of abstraction ad infinitum having unforeseen consequences. But from his messianic rule of rigidity of form we glean the potential and relevance of 'over-characterisation of form', abstracted into a theoretical position even being stuck in a limbo, paralysed and unable to avoid 'self-deconstruction'.

Indeed, in thinking the shit out of form and theoretics you can over-think! It can leave you hollow in effort and in argument with nothing to show for it. But what did painting do? Why all the controversy? Crucially it exposed 'form' to being cornered that could lead to paralysis. But form needs to be active and significant; so when painting stifles form 'painting has to go'! Form has to have movement to work and is never preoccupied by intransigent immobility; when it is stuck it poses an infrastructural unresolved crisis. However, it can be bump-started even if its engine has almost flooded! Here painting absorbs all defects and deflects the form difficulties when painting as a medium takes the fall. Its pervading sacrifice has given form new impetus.

However low-tech the medium of painting the false prophecies made by an elite high-table is uncompromising and can still down-grade and down-cycle any medium of art whether it is high-tech medium of art or not because it has 'dared to to exclude' even the great medium of painting. To me there is a narrative that is prevalent today that is narcissistic and incestuous when an artificial cul-de-sac 'dressed up as washed up'. The medium of painting may well have been infantilised as 'go play in the sand-pit, whilst the grown-ups split the inheritance'. But a blessing in disguise? Off the radar means off the grid? The popularist medium of painting is in revolt by the public taking privatisation of their art not by the state but for themselves. Popular participation on a mass scale is unconventional but not radical'. Painting has evolved and re-birthed from its outstretched inclusiveness not by swapping or undermining venues or by central doctrine. The democratisation offers painting free at the point of need or access. Free painting is free-styling, impromptu or improvisational, art democracy has spoken. The painting brush is within everybody's and anybody's grasp. But has 'Art' been warned not by popular discontent but by the 'public participation'? Spontaneous outbursts of UK painting could expose the 'Art Scene' ironically as a stale reality TV 'pin-up or elitist page 3' compared to painting art decentralised yet popularised by the 'finger-print at your finger tips'!

Positive Dis-functionality

Conflict mutation can stimulate individual dis-functionality that can be helpful and proactive for the wider society. But mass dis-functionality bears the risk of chaos, so we tacitly support all artistic existential choice as a way of 'twenty first century page one of individualism for us all.'

We all plug in separately but we join and interact together. Even on the periphery of society where the artists, philosophers and scientists inhabit we explore our human experiences under societies' umbrella. This is our dialogue, a human society united by cultural self-exploration. Even anti-social collateral damage and solitary hardship is a conflict to be measured by its utilitarian outcome. Even a 'breakout' against the status quo is valuable because it celebrates an absence of individual meltdown. Revolt can take the form of progress rather than breakdown. There is no need for a storming of a twenty first century Bastille prison breakout thing when contemporary life seems to have an inexhaustible supply of home-grown cabin fever that creates innovation to trump all social, cultural and economic arthritis and its political paralysis. Nature sheds its deciduous leaves in autumn so as to rejuvenate the rebirth of spring; regression needs destruction to enforce invention and a visual compass that authentisises experiences from the past, present and potential future.

Our twenty first century truly feeds upon the positive with the negative, the excluded and the included, success and failure etc., that all attest to an addiction to multiple crises, that is our epidemic of our era. Furthermore we are drawn not just to social panic and social collision but by an innate need and fascination to the process of the actual mutation that is the outcome of such change. We almost will crises to happen to indulge our fascination with the mutation. Perhaps we are the epoch of opening Pandora's box in order to open a can of worms inside?

This constant alarmer rebuilds and recharges a society as a window to the soul of moral debate and to engage the same authentic quality of originality that can't be stained or engineered even if it can be stolen. Individualism empowers catharthis and social convulsion that can be tracked, deviated but never controlled because of too many key variables that are unpredictable – just like paintings that can be copied but that will never be authentic.

Without authenticity there is no value, no purpose, just angry hatred and it self-righteous fever of jealousy. Indeed, like social and economic factors that one can't self-isolate from them permanently the original painting is not just illusive to copy or be plagiarised but it is a ground-breaking or just inventive mutation that rests its essence on canvas. This autonomy from conformity and determinism provides painting with a unique escape from the confinements of replication like no other ancient medium of art today. Enlightenment should never be clouded by dubious bad judgement or corruption. That is an act of aesthetic betrayal and egotistical anti-art – today it isn't even a pastiche of punk or Dada but it is a denial of personal self-ownership. Any degree of self-ownership is one of the few remaining sanctuaries of self-determination that remains open and accountable but is tarnished by the inauthentic. It is the personal not just the public or private entity that art offers.

Today our painters' palette shifted towards making society individualise each component and make them accountable, whereupon we demand that the individual philosopher should be held to account for their actions and part of a process of democratic transparency. An influential rationalist of individualism and scepticism towards concepts of fate like Soren Kierkegaard may well prove effective in undertaking such a process. However to me I have no doubt that a 'shake down' of the entrenched contemporary selective influence of Nietzche and its cohabiting twenty first century subversive relativism is necessary. Essentially the threat and contemporary thread of Nietzche is what I'll limit my focus here. It is his notion of purity turned on its head by sheer power of 'will' of superior being that sends shock waves down generations. Godlessness seen as virtue without divine instruction is suddenly acceptable by not being punishable where sin is transformed perversely to a valuable code, asset, and resource and invites unhinging any progressive social fabric. It defies communism and social class and agitates against social mores, the existence of God and capitalism by a distortion of race, genetics and blood line. Perhaps intending almost quixotic and mystical values this dystopian romanticism needs the formula for self-prejudicial: the brutalising and dehumanising victim-hood of innocence.

Ethically Nietzche has to answer for moral bigotry but also for his philosophical and psychological lack of credibility too. Nietzche's work is therefore philosophically and psychologically unsound. Let me that try and justify that statement: firstly, there is a fundamental flaw in his over-dependence and deference to a mystical mantra of 'will' which is a stretch albeit an imaginative one which is a fantasy rather than a philosophical process of thought. It's more science fiction than reasoned argument. Secondly, his work is a product of a disturbed psychological state of mind that is an over-emotional sublimation that barely conceals an autobiographical trauma through the loss of religious faith and paternalist philanthropic authority. This leads us all into a poisoned anchorless ill-considered direction. Surely this paves the way for Kierkegaard's rationalisation and his formula for self-responsibility to retake from the excesses of nihilism.

This is a paradigm shift in contemporary philosophical emphasis and a departure from the status quo and enters a new and demanding struggle for restitution of self-accountability that affects all the cultural micro-climates and requires a social and cultural re-wiring of philosophical neural design for the twenty first century. Put simply, the post-cold war no longer requires the symbiosis of selective Nietzche and his post-war twentieth century cohorts and their homogenisation and over-bearing relativism. Nietzche and friends are no longer the zeitgeist hiding behind their contemporary relativism of their epoch, but making them accountable is!

That process may well be ongoing and represents a manifestation of the very 'conflict-mutation' resolution espoused earlier in this piece. But Nietzche was both didactic and organic because even his will for self-transformation allows for the very existential individual behaviour that Kierkegaard would acknowledge. We may find the errant concept of deviating from his agenda himself to be ironic, because Nietzche can be a validation of existential transformation. Indeed, the 1950's Godfather of the selective Nietzchian application by Foucault proposed to the post-war period and in full rejection of the Soviet-Marxist dictatorship of history, 'to made an offer to the cultural era of relativism it couldn't refuse', entertained and massaged by 'slick post-production'! The slippery slope of multiple understandings and misunderstandings of semiotics and semantics of the day were shattered by overkill of multiplying interpretation ad infinitum using a formula or device known as deconstruction. Ideology mutated. The mainstream became clogged up and homogenised by self-consumerist mania, fragmenting opposition and then disintegrating it beyond recognition. Ideological conviction becomes molested and where 'God is dead' leads to a traffic jam and grid-locked ad absurdum. Indeed the prevailing multiplicity and diffusion created a birth of western decision-making specifically with regard to the capitalist economy becoming so diversified that it obfuscated and dispersed central accountability that it heralded a vision for the twenty first century. Executive hierarchies were reinforced and defended by a multiplicity of the chain of command to reassure, legitimise and are locked-in permanently protected not just by design but by 'happy accident', misfortune or improvisation. By-by 'dead-heading'! There is no access by the anonymity of mass participation and dependency.

Progressive Self-Accountability Motivated by Self-Rhetoric: Surprise Yourself!

Self-sufficiency will end self-inflicted disintegration and the blinkered devaluation that desensitices us to indolence; couch-potato adrenaline sedates and blurs run by 'supermarket music politics society wide, rolled out and reproduced globally! The end game is a society via the virtual shopping malls, and CCTV by credit card. So end consumption of self-acquisition and self-identity run by empty self-headedness. Innovate away from your self-preoccupation! Don't internalise when you can self-transform. It's now your own fate to not hide in the ether of convenience of mainstream assimilation and don't aid and abet an overproduction of career without any life lived. Taking risks doesn't have to lead to burdensome stress; adrenaline opens up the challenge! Don't revert, escape with a plan. Cultivate a hard stare and the fleeting glance. Don't pretend you are open when you are already in psychological lock-down way before Covid-19 destroyed that term. The pursuit of self-determination is not strained, it droppeth like the gentle rain. But stop being a grazer 'whenever it suits you' because it is only window-dressing. Only plug into the homogeneous to express outside it. Personalise your adaptations, and entrepreneurialism that will set a new trajectory that might read selfish but gives others hope and discipline; 'for you, by you, and with you' that gives justification to your existence. Time to make good the talents invested in you! Embrace self-reliability, forget New Year resolutions. Re-question respectability, re-question agitation, plough your field and be self-sufficient and not self-absorbed. Self-reliance doesn't do 'just got married', it does sixty years of marriage to justify 'just got married'. Counterfeit nothing! If you fail, authenticate! Open not closed! The zeitgeist belongs to work by reason, deduction and clarity.

We are no longer in the grip of the dead language of the 1980s. Ideology? Just walk away! We are no longer in the grip of relativism ad infinitum, stuck like a political barnacle on the hull of the sinking ideological canal barge trapped by both sediment and sentiment that has consumed us in the black hole of insignificance. We recall the stagnation of academic social distancing by all slogans from the comfort of the arm chair and not the coal face. Radicals just barked 'in Latin'! Like contemporary painting tort with surface tension, reveal open and don't slacken with possibilities and reason! The ancient life-blood of art, the muse of breakthrough and the break of the mould casts the powerful circulation of art, where surface strength here isn't just low-tech, it's our staple diet! Do face-to-face not tech-a-tech! Visualisation isn't just a psychological concept but is part of the optical creative process too. Say nothing to mirrors and black mirrors and overcome the very British stiff upper lip because you've bitten hard onto it. Time to notice the difference. Here's the gift of it, 'lets not bleed on our own parade' or on anybody else's. Let's paint it instead.

The painting British public wants to engage diversity of image of progressive risk-taking and not endless diffusion. We are an island that is cosmopolitan in all aspects even as far as the plethora of accents that we Brits ourselves sometimes do not completely understand some of the broad accents, which reflect our federalistic nation. But we are different and hugely original without having the polaristic volatility of other cultures. Extremism and extreme circumstances are understood by the British public as an opportunity to smoothen off edges not a belligerent and violent act of extreme and brutal militancy. The British disposition under all circumstances is 'keep calm and carry on'. Popularism does feed upon prejudice but it can cut through entrenched and ancient formal demographics too! The British instinct and gut reaction isn't how to give in to revolt but how to ameliorate it, regardless of the cost!

You don't have to give up your laptop, mobile phones, TVs etc. but you do have to cleanse your routine. The Third World War will make routines seem ridiculous. However, this World War will be judged on three grounds: firstly, an epidemic in which the whole world comes together to fight a terrifying infection. Secondly, we will lose a generation of top health-care professionals across the world. The allies lost over fifty generals in World War One, let's hope the top brass 'generals' of the health profession do not suffer the same fate! But I've got to tell you that even in the U.K. …. Thirdly, the post-Covid 19 era will feel the pinch economically just like the exhaustion in the shadows of urban destruction on 1945 levels. The economy will be infected by Covid 19, and there is no denying it. Indeed the ensuing chaos will be rampant in the streets unless we gather together in all our communities and self-rely like never before. We have been solid over the NHS, we can be solid in the face of rationing our aspirations and entrusting them with the NHS blueprint for full recovery. We may well be anthropologically best suited to be a nation of shopkeepers. But it is our innate instinctive entrepreneurialism that we must renew on a mass UK scale that will trail-blaze but not leave any lost sheep behind. “We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, but I'll know we'll meet again 'some sunny day'!”

The world is undergoing a global trial. Can it fix the problem man made or not? We are the lab that dropped Covid-19 and we are the lab that will make a vaccine. We are our own artificial intelligence in so far as we are proactive behavioural software that's alive with British inventiveness. The global economy has been returned to eighteenth century pre-industrial levels but after this global war trauma fought against this pandemic we can share vaccines to tackle not just Covid-19 but tomorrow's afflictions to global mutual advantage. We will have the science and social science, the empirical data and all the impact of being in socio-economic cabin fever where we will be far better prepared for next time! We have been born in this 'lock-down'! We will lock-down Covid-19, and we will vaccinate the hell out of it. We will rebuild our economy and our society brick by brick which after time spent in an A&E together, we will nurse them, it, us back to health.

The world wars of the twentieth century were ones where we killed each other but this Third World War is where we save lives and not end them. Know 'safe, save and share'! This is the 'share-how' and the 'know how' responsibility of our generation in an epoch of terrifying and treacherous pandemic where we will not need to use bows and arrows but testing our metal and self-examination. This lock-down needs a taught refuge, a finite experimentalism and labs of collective focus. This is our age of disciplined spirit and the transparent endorsement of twenty-first century democracy. We must evacuate from the toxicity of twentieth century Cold War language. This democracy is however 'on the same page' and 'on the same level', where we must find free choices to make the open hand and not the closed fist – start all over! We must keep the truth safe by sharing this opportunity that lies beyond the silent shadowy killer of Covid-19.

Start-up for the UK can be a step-up for the UK. Not all is lost to the UK economy and the UK must take full advantage of how Brexit cards have fallen. The UK might not hurt economically as much after Brexit because ironically everyone including all the EU is in the same boat! All economies will need to restart, and the tensions within the EU may prove harder to smooth over and coordinate whilst the plethora of competing interests and the various stages of Covid-19 free will put pressure on a vast but complicated global power-house where 'scare not share' might prevail. The UK ain't so complicated! Indeed the UK could share its inventiveness without being confined by red tape. Why not work more with the EU now that we are outside it? Isn't sharing health science the first byproduct of such an arrangement, and isn't our support for our NHS where the public clap and revere in gratitude on Thursdays also a thank-you for and a salute to all global health care professionals too? Don't we share globally too? Cooperation is the international template not joining a gentleman's club! From head to toe all commerce and industry etc. have evolved beyond reverting to type. The genie is out of the bottle opening up our British trade mark of progress, imagination and invention. From head to toe the personal, the private, the public, the state, the voluntary and the charity sectors have bonded together as the economic nucleus of the future. Each have executive and legislative validity especially in policy formulation and delivery of decision-making in which communitively we all share and benefit from. Why should we regress to the binary twins that govern business? Time to move on from Cold War hot air politics rhetoric?

We have learned to question. We have grasped that to question does not mean to oppose but to look for clarification instead! The health of the economy can be afforded by mucking in and pooling all our resources, new skill sets, unique experience and for the first universal time bold new demographics. Like any invention it needs investment. So why keep to the conventional or the tribal 'old convictions'? Why source investment only from old prejudice? Isn't it time to outsource, subcontract out of tired convenient and rewire our thinking process? We must embrace the very British social coalition and celebrate the multitude of new landscapes.

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