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  1. Wealth
June 17, 2009

Dream On

By Spear's

Wake-up call? If only. Most of us will sleepwalk through the next catastrophe, just as we did the last one, says Andrei Navrozov

Wake-up call? If only. Most of us will sleepwalk through the next catastrophe, just as we did the last one, says Andrei Navrozov


e want to sleep, perchance to dream. It’s the same compulsion that makes us keep family albums. It’s all about us, you see. Even a screaming nightmare, in morning’s bright retrospect, is flattering to modern man’s vanity, as voracious and hyperbolic as anything that drove Nero to the fiddle.

Dreamy Hamlet, Shakespeare’s narcissistic, onanistic and necrophiliac solipsist, has been a secret role model for the West since at least the dissolution of the British Empire. As a cover for this shameful weakness, it has launched James Bond, a sinewy action-man myth whose latest cinematic incarnation, revealingly enough, is a doppelgänger of Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin.

Both the boom with which this century began and the bust it has recently witnessed are remarkable for the dreamlike quality of the proceedings. Each seems to have been the issue of Morpheus no less than the spawn of Mammon, as the desultoriness with which the kingdoms of the earth arose, only to melt away in the dawning light, is a hallmark of the sleep god’s spiteful capriciousness. Mammon giveth and Mammon taketh away, but it is Morpheus who forecloseth.

Modern man’s take on Eros, love, and the opposite gender generally, is of a piece with the proclivities and the rituals, at once solipsistic and somnambular, of that peculiar idolatry. The undulating chasm between wishful thinking and wish fulfilment, so vividly illustrated by the fluctuation of the global credit markets, is at bottom a fissure in the substance of faith, the stuff without which money and sex, to say nothing of love, are but arid oases in a masturbatory mirage.

One recalls seeing that same hand, by turns delusional and abusive, at work in Aldous Huxley’s prescient Point Counter Point, where dirty old Mr Quarles gropes shrewdly sluttish Gladys to ‘explore the body of the species, of the entire sex. The individual Gladys,’ meanwhile, ‘continued to giggle.’

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The collapse of the markets is widely believed to have had an immediate yet profound effect on modern manners and mores. As Jake, the manager of a Sloaney nightclub, is hauled away by police for hoarding coke, it seems that the newly poor have better reason to keep awake than did the recently rich.

As Tim, the proprietor of a Mayfair gallery, takes down the show of masterpieces with titles like South of the River, It’s a Tangerine, North of the River, It’s an Orange, it transpires that the sleepwalkers of fashion who once haunted the world of art have followed their prince in hiding behind the arras.

And as Leo, the Americanised owner of a famous Kensington Gardens juggernaut, stands to lose it in the nightmare, it looks as if the Russian girls — ‘Every Russian woman in London right now is basically a hooker,’ as one modern Mr Quarles, Piers Morgan, remembers confiding to another, Andrew Neil, just before the crunch — can stop giggling.

e are what we love. Morgan’s diaries are as authentic a product of Britain as the Clark and the Wyatt chronicles we feasted on not long ago, except that they seem to have come from another, almost wholly imaginary country, where the incubus of the Beckhams, Jordan and an A-list of naff yet bloodthirsty leeches cavorts on one’s pillow beside the succubus of Obama’s Got Talent and the miracle that is Cheryl Cole. What a nightmare, life in this century.

We are what we see. When, at a recent adult entertainment expo, 3D booths had been introduced, the international sex fair’s visitors, to a man, abandoned the whip-wielding, latex-clad, snake-stuffing beauties in the middle of their performance to ogle the same women — their appeal optically enhanced by the foretaste of reverie — ‘in three dimensions’. One, two, three! Count ’em, boys! What a nightmare, lust in this century.

And now all of a sudden we are told that the silicone daydream is no more, that the West’s 3D booth has shut down, and that even Angelina Jolie’s American dream of African motherhood had been all Hollywood smoke and vanity mirrors. ‘Money is out of fashion,’ runs a headline in the Sunday Times Style section, ‘and we are looking elsewhere to find happiness.

‘Now it’s all about liberating the soul.’ Well, hallelujah! Yoga is on the rise, apparently, while ‘chums who play the sitar or recite verse are the new status symbols.’ Congratulations, Western democracy, at last a culture of something other than lucre is on the rise round these parts.

Except that only a man from Mars would buy it, provided he has already acquired the Brooklyn Bridge. Before the present upheaval, as one Old Etonian who ‘formed a theatre company that works with ex-offenders and young people affected by knife crime,’ assures Sunday Times Style, ‘there was little to believe in, apart from hedonistic self-gratification,’ while nowadays his contemporaries ‘have started looking for nourishment’.

Whoa, cool, as a putative ex-offender, or indeed any number of young people who have never seen a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus, may be moved to exclaim. Go for nourishment! Who needs self-gratification? 
ike many readers of this magazine, I know just what that Old Etonian is trying to say. He’s very scared, and he’s come to tell us that money and sex aren’t everything. He’s been bad and he wants to promise that he’ll be good from now on, that he won’t smoke crack, watch porn, play the stock market and tell porkies to his aged parents. He wants us to believe that he’ll start reading grim Russian novels and attending piano recitals at the Wigmore Hall, and that he’ll be sure to ring up the girl he’s slept with the night before, even if she isn’t in his BlackBerry.

And no, we don’t believe him. Because he is a thoroughly modern man — one part Prince Hamlet in a funk, four parts Mr Quarles in a panic — the verbal protestations of this dithering, self-obsessed issue of Mammon and Morpheus are as hollow as they are oxymoronic.

Ever the naughty schoolboy, he is as incorrigible a dreamer as he would be an untrustworthy banker, a sucker for any pyramid scheme that is noisily nursed in the private dining room of Annabel’s. Ever the incredible liar, in that unflattering sense in which a lover may be described as unbelievable, he has all the vices of a problem gambler without the redeeming virtue of courage.

We do not believe modern man when he assures us, as the erstwhile investment banker Philip Augar has done in a book entitled Chasing Alpha: How Reckless Growth and Unchecked Ambition Ruined the City’s Golden Decade, that global banking, in London’s happy hereafter, will be ‘more regulated, less leveraged, will involve less lending, will be more liquid and less complex’. Give them half a chance, we suspect, and not only will the boys be back chasing alpha, they’ll be pushing their Cheltenham grannies on you at discounted rates.

Nor do we believe the wide-eyed newspaper hackettes, the winsome sex therapists and the scheming Gladyses of suburbia when they sigh, along with the editors of a pornography compendium called In Bed With, that ‘today the pressure to stay young and nubile is soul-destroying’. Give them half price off on the Brazilian, we suspect, and they’ll be giggling their heads off as never before. 

oes all this sound more than a tad uncharitable? Perhaps, yet history shows that great social upheavals do not make man better. They do not make him less irresponsible a father, less nosey a neighbour, less treacherous a friend, less deceitful a husband or less infantile a lover. The opposite, if anything, is the case, and one only needs to look back at the aftermath of Europe’s wars and revolutions to realise that those who appeared to have been roused from moral slumber by the experience of crisis were those who had kept watch all along.

Whether we are in on the cusp of yet another carnival decade, or destined for a lifetime of Lenten chastisement enlivened only by fresh intimations of doom, sleeping around — to invoke once more Aldous Huxley’s scathing critique of British society of more than 70 years ago — is not modern man’s fundamental problem. The problem, for him, is waking.

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