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Posts Tagged ‘news’

The Blue Lagoon, Buxton

Picture by Simon Harrod at Flickr, taken in May 2012

This fêted age of infinite information renders us vulnerable to a blizzard of spin. Some of this is deliberate and state sponsored, some of it is mere tittle-tattle. But as Churchill once said, a lie can be round the world before the truth has even got its pants on. It pays therefore to be careful how we interpret what we see, read and hear.

Newspapers are the least trustworthy sources of factual information, no better than gossip. We all know this, yet are happy for them to feed our own particular prejudice. The online gossip-mills too are manipulated to dramatic effect by the same nefarious actors. But at a time of crisis when we’re hungry for facts, such misdirection  undermines confidence and spreads fear.

Some newspapers took delight in reporting the fate of the Blue Lagoon in Derbyshire this week. This is an intriguing little beauty spot, near Buxton – its most striking feature being its beguiling Caribbean-blue waters. The newspapers tell us that to prevent people from gathering there, flouting social distancing rules,  the cops poured black dye into it.

Whilst correct, the facts here are spun by omission. They make it sound like the act of a police-state gone mad. Worse, they sound like a reckless piece of ecological vandalism. It takes a little more digging to learn the cops often do this at the Blue Lagoon. They do it in collaboration with the local council to stop people from swimming there. Why? Because, with a Ph close to that of bleach, the lagoon is toxic. So, the first story aims at shaking public trust in the police at a time when that trust needs reinforcing. The other story shows the police in a struggle to protect us from ourselves. Which story you prefer depends on your innate prejudice and political leanings.

Facts are those things that don’t change. They do not dance around with fancy hats on. This makes them lacking in novelty in a world that craves novelty. We crave it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, and it makes facts boring. Spinning the facts is what the press, the politicians, the propagandists and the gossip-mongers do. So, we should be mindful never to take anything at face value. Once we deviate from rules and scientific fact, the truth is always something we’ll have to dig for.

Facts – the full facts – enable us to make up our own minds. And what’s so interesting about any form of mass media are the ways in which others can use it to make up our minds for us. One mouth. Many listeners. So, be sure you know who you’re listening to and remember how the omission of certain key facts in the telling can change a story completely.

Lets be careful out there.

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jackdaw

As the summer heat and the grass-fires fade into the fast scattering smoke of imperfect memory, I feel the usual September blues coming on. They are born of too long spent in the academic grind as a young man. Twenty five when I finished, and still, in my late middle age, am unable to shake off the jitters in anticipation of the fresh term ahead. And even though I’ve not set foot in a place of learning since, all it takes is that first deepening of the light and a return of dew upon the grass to set my nerves on edge. But added to that this year I sense a smouldering anger, an irritation rising from the collective unconsciousness, and it feeds an anxiety in me that is resistant to the various meditations I practise. And of course, what I feel, internally, the world provides confirmation of in the realm of daily experience.

There was a kid driving a car this morning, coming at me on the wrong side of the road, fast, around a bend, the small vehicle wobbling at the very limits of its stability. Fast, fast,… live it on the edge, for tomorrow we may all be dead! I don’t know how he missed me.

Later, on the motorway, an entire string of vehicles were cutting in, one after the other as I approached the exit slip. My assailants were reckless, hurried, impatient to get on and seemingly oblivious to my presence as I tried to moderate my speed, and judge my gap within the usual perhaps over-cautious parameters. But to hell with caution, no time for that now, to hell with everything! Zip, zip, zip,.. squeeze it in, ramp it up. Another moment may already be too late!

And money,… money is in your face everywhere on the roads. Have you noticed? And it’s greedy, bullying, intimidating. I had £50K’s worth of Porsche SUV, tailing aggressively close for long miles down a twisty road. The limit was forty – there have been sacrifices enough to the God of recklessness here – faded flowers by the roadside to mark the fallen – but the Porsche wanted more, wanted me out of the way, slow, lumbering old fart that I am.

Push, push, push,… faster, faster, faster.

And then there was the little boy this afternoon, dashing out between parked cars, right into my path, his mother screaming, both of us thinking it was too late. I stopped dead, stood the car on its nose. He was fine. I wasn’t. He got off with a scolding and wept, as I nearly wept. I pulled over a little further on and waited for the blood to stop roaring in my ears. The car is on the drive tonight and won’t be moving all weekend. There’s something in the air just now and I don’t like it.

News headlines assail me every day. I would ignore them but I’m fixed in their glare like a rabbit, unable to look away. Yet there is so much noise in them now, and so slickly delivered, the delivery of news has become news itself, feeding back on itself until the last thing we hear is this almighty squeal before the very tissue of our skins rupture, and then we no longer see, or hear, or feel, or trust in anything any more. Vulnerable. Invisible, my presence, thinning like moorland smoke. Dissipating into nothingness.

How about a bit of gallows humour: To save money, the light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off! It’s an old saying. I remember it from the downsizing, de-industrialising nineties. But there is no tunnel and there never was a light at the end of it, just darkness of varying shades, a blank wall upon which to project our various and individual fantasies of what we believe our lives to be. And none of it was or is or ever will be true.

A little Zen wisdom for you. It pops up unexpectedly in my Instagram feed, the universe perhaps delivering the teaching I most need right now: You must meditate for at least ten minutes every day, unless you feel you’re too busy, in which case you must meditate for an hour.

Nice one. Don’t you just love Zen?

I understand. Break the cycle, don’t read the news. Its infernally discordant noise will shatter the crystal vision of your soul. And we must mind our souls above all else, examine more closely the present moment and find ways of sinking ourselves into it. It doesn’t mean the world will go away, but we will find ourselves more firmly anchored in it, so its storms can be weathered with greater magnanimity.

And then the world will no longer seem quite so dangerous a place to be.

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It’s been a summer of violent and tragic events here in the UK. Once upon a time we would pause for a minute’s silence to remember the wars and the fallen. It happened once a year, was a predictable, sombre occasion each November, a reflection on the folly of armed conflict. Now it seems we’ve had a minute’s silence every week for weeks in response to the shock of one damned thing after the other – bombings, mass stabbings, vans driven into pedestrians, and of course the terrible London tower block fire.

Such events shock us, pull us from our private lives, reconnect us with the human collective and cause us to question the nature of the incurable malaise from which we apparently suffer. And of course the speed with which events are now reported lends an extra feverishness to the times, a feverishness spun to favour one shameless political agenda or another. We need no longer wait for the ten o’clock news like we did in the old days, the Smartphone tells it all, instantly, and the story it tells is one of perpetual shock, violence, hatred and a corporate greed that verges on the homicidal.

It’s sometimes hard not to view our times from the nihilistic perspective as evidence of an acceleration towards the end of days. Certainly pictures of the burned out Grenfell Tower are as symbolic as they are deeply shocking. But the people who died that night were not victims of extremists. The enemy that sealed the fate of Grenfell Tower was more a culture of institutional avarice, one painstakingly manufactured over the decades to line the pockets of the rich at the expense of the lives of the poor. All of these things, though diverse in origin, seem part of the same unsettling atmosphere of the times, like faces vaguely recognisable from our deepest nightmares, all of them bearing weapons of one sort or another.

But if you can look beyond the violence, beyond the tragedy, it’s possible to discern something else happening, something that suggests less a rush to the end of times and more to a transformation of the collective consciousness. The bigger the outrage and the faster these events come at us, the bigger too the response of the many who awaken and gather, not with violence in mind, but with a compassionate dignity. And the pocket media that disseminates these shocks so far and fast and wide also unites us, brings us together in ever larger numbers, mobilises us to a deeper empathy and reflection.

The world of the technocracy is increasingly machine-like and it has become a proxy for the collective human ego, a thing wrestling for control over every aspect of our lives, measuring even the keyclicks on our computers, evaluating them for the risk inherent in our thoughts and beliefs, to predict and plan in order to subvert bad events even ahead of time. But the more you plan, and the greater the detail to which you plan, the more vulnerable you are to the unexpected, to the uncontrolled, to the irrational turn of events. And the faster we fail, the less useful Ego becomes, and the less useful it feels the more it tears itself apart and adds to the maelstrom of destruction and despair. The greater the shock, next time that we seem so powerless against the nihilistic forces and the ill winds of fate.

What we are seeing almost nightly on our TV screens is a form of collective madness. We are on the couch, and it’s time to talk it out with a competent analyst. All egos are ultimately at the mercy of their shadows, dutifully raising demons from under every stone turned, like the headlines of the Daily Mail. It’s only compassion that spares us, a recognition we are not machines and that for life to have meaning we must recognise and value more our ability to transcend the material, or at the very least to temper its excesses with the better side of human nature.

When events shock us, it’s tempting always to turn to the machine for answers. Through it we calculate our responses, plan future contingencies, establish means of mitigation. But when the shock hits, it’s better to set our machine thoughts aside, if only for a moment for a moment, to remember we are not robots, that it’s better sometimes we say nothing for a while, and simply reach out and hold someone. It’s a long shot, believing in a reactive transformation that will eventually eradicate the dark stain from the zeitgeist, but if enough of us can respond to extraordinary events with compassion, empathy and a degree of stillness, it’s at least a start in the right direction.

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PS_20150130152500I was driving home and had pulled up to the line, waiting for a space so I could nose my way onto the roundabout. It was busy, it being that time of night we used to call the rush hour but which now lasts from 4:00 pm ’til 7:00. It was wet, dark, and I was tired. The traffic was fast, unyielding. I settled down to wait for a gap, but I was disturbed by the flashing lights and the honking horn of a van behind me. It yanked itself out into the neighbouring lane, looking for a squeeze past, much to the consternation of those drivers already in that lane. Just then, a gap appeared on the roundabout, so I moved into it and cautiously joined the flow. Then the van came by and I saw a fierce-faced man giving me the finger.

Had I been a bit overcautious in moving off and thus sorely tested his patience? I really don’t know. Had I zoned out for a moment? It’s possible. I had certainly done something to upset him, though I’m also minded these days it takes very little for the fingers to start flying.

My reaction? Self questioning, self doubt, and yes, a little hurt by the face pulling of this stranger whom I had so mysteriously offended, but mostly I was saddened to think such anger might be floating just below the surface of everyday life, that we have only to snag ourselves ever so briefly against the flow of this mad, mad world for teeth to be bared and that phallic finger to be jabbed.

It is the egoic face and the egoic phallus that confidently accuses the “other” of incompetence, of being a knob, whilst bestowing the mantle of perfection on the accuser. It is the same face and finger we see reflected in the public opinion columns of the online media where we quickly learn that public opinion, unleashed en-mass and anonymous, can be a very nasty thing indeed.

One of the great wisdoms of ancient Chinese philosophy is that we can only view the world as it truly is from a position of stillness. Stillness comes when we dissolve the ego, when we react even to shocking events in an unemotional way. Emotions, be they good or bad, come pretty low down on the evolutionary scale, and they hold us back – worse they imprison us and render us vulnerable to manipulation. It’s only through stillness we become aware of these things, that under the influence of strong emotions we are not truly our selves at all.

In spiritual terms, ego and emotional arousal disconnect us from the true course of life, they subvert our direction, our purpose, render us vulnerable to an adverse fate or simply to the meddling of others. While we don’t need to go so far as to subscribing to an irrational belief in such things, I certainly find life is sweeter and smoother, the less my ego has to do with it.

I imagine, in an advanced society, we would all rest content in the unassailable validity of our being, and would not be roused to anger when someone questioned what we said or did, or even if we were a little slow pulling onto the roundabout. On the other hand, in a retrograde society, dissent, or even a senior moment, is met with a torrent of irrational abuse, and then we’d better all watch out.

We see this in the senseless cesspits of the comments sections of online media – a constant cross-fire of low minded thinking, based upon the dubious fictions that are these days peddled as facts, and in the belief the high ground is owned by those who shout loudest and longest. I might express an opinion on world affairs, or on the weather, or even simply on the comparisons between a Biro and a fountain pen, but my opinion would be seized upon by those of an opposing view, not with the aim of exploring the validity of my thinking, nor seeking, by the sharing of facts, to persuade me of another view, but more, by the finger and the angry face, shut me down, to silence the discussion, because in even allowing the debate, whatever its nature or topic, the ego is challenged, and a population reacting permanently to emotional stimuli finds itself in a perpetual fight for imaginary supremacy.

Of course, in a world where facts are easily checked, easily verified, spurious arguments might be short lived, the liar eventually silenced by the obvious and unassailable truth. But we live now in a post-truth world, where inflammatory falsehoods are blatantly paraded by those in powerful positions as fact, while truths are dismissed as fictitious. We are no longer surprised by it. We expect it, we accept it, and by doing so risk abandoning hope of forming rational opinions on anything ever again. Whatever the headline, whatever the view expressed through whatever media, we must now pause and ask ourselves the question: what emotions are these words intended to manifest in me? At whom am I supposed to jab my finger?

The post truth world presents many challenges if we are to thrive, or even just survive as independent, thinking individuals. The emotional landscape of the future will be a tempestuous one as it reacts to bare faced manipulation, and there will be no safe media on which to rely for facts. There will only be the braying of the crowd on the infotainment channels, in the cesspits of social media commentary, and of course those crass, emotive headlines in the dailies.

But we can at least rest easy in our selves, and in our right to be, regardless of what fictions assail us. We ask questions if we must, but trust no answers that are nailed home by the finger. And in the mean time we endeavour to show kindness, while expecting none in return.

I also beg we all be patient with the guy in front, hesitating to join the Lemming like rush on the journey home.

Because it might just be me.

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lizardThe Internet has given us all a much wider view of the world than we used to have. Once upon a time, the TV and radio news broadcasts, and the newspapers were all we had. But events are treated so superficially by these media it’s impossible to know exactly what the underlying reasons are for a thing. Every headline is merely the tip of an iceberg of events, the details of which we never learn about in any depth. And it is always in the deeper understanding of events we find the truth, never the headline itself.

Control of such a limited bandwidth media renders it, and us, notoriously vulnerable to manipulation – the camera pointing in a certain direction, while ignoring others that may be inconvenient, embarrassing or decidedly off-message to powerful, controlling interests. Nowadays of course we have a much wider source of information and current affairs, courtesy of the plethora of online news and opinion. Indeed now you might say there are cameras pointing everywhere, and from every conceivable angle. There are facts a plenty for those willing to seek them out, but in seeking them we discover we also have fictions presented as facts, lies as truths, dreams as realities, indeed such a confused mish-mash of “content” we are still no more able to identify the underlying truth of a thing than we were before.

While controlled media has the potential to make us believe whatever the controller of that media wants us to believe, the Internet merely reflects back whatever it is we want to believe in the first place; it hides the truth in plain sight. The Internet grants the freedom to dream, to believe what we want, but what kind of freedom is that exactly when we are unable to tell the genuine article from the false? What we want to believe may well be the truth, but unless we bear it witness, personally, we will never know for sure, because for every story that says a thing is true, there are many others that say it’s not.

Let’s say I believed the world’s elite were descended from a race of lizards. Why would I believe such a preposterous thing? Because it’s what I heard; it’s what someone I respect told me was true, therefore I am inclined to believe in it as well, and there are plenty of Internet sources to support this particular belief. Or how about a global conspiracy to keep us all docile by spraying chemicals in the atmosphere? Sure,… I heard it said, and there’s plenty of stuff online to support that belief also. Ditto UFO’s, that the earth is flat, or the moon is made of blue cheese.

Whatever we want to believe, we will find convincingly corroborating sources online, and these will lend comfort to our beliefs. Whether this stuff is true or not is never clear for media of any kind does not constitute proof, and relies instead on our credulous support to render it a viable myth and myths are not truths. Myths are myths.

The same thing applies to world affairs. If we turn to You Tube, we get snippets of current affairs spinning at us from so many directions and angles now it’s impossible to know which is correct. In short, the Internet solves nothing, because from a medium of endless choice, we merely select those stories that suit our beliefs and allow our prejudice to reject the ones that don’t. Worse, the Internet tailors our searches to give us more of what it thinks we want, based on our previous searches, tending only to reinforce and narrow, rather than widen our views.

We need a fair arbiter of the truth, a voice that tells us which of the stories of the world are worth listening to. But how do we find such a trustworthy arbiter when any bloody fool can be a pundit on their own Internet news channel? Have we really arrived at the situation where we can trust no one’s judgement other than our own? But how can we even trust ourselves? How do I know I am not deluded in my beliefs, or that the person who passed on these beliefs to me was not himself deluded, ignorant, bigoted, racist, sexist, or just plain stupid?

There are those who know they don’t know a thing, and for them something might be done. It’s called education. But for those who don’t know they don’t know a thing, or worse don’t know a thing when they think they know all about it, education is of little use and most likely will be rejected anyway as a conspiracy to brainwash them of the truth. This is the way it’s always been, and the result is called the human race. And the human race, equipped with the Internet, is the human race as we once knew it but on steroids. It is a collective at the mercy of its own increasingly vicious, ignorant, unconscious maelstrom of thought and emotion.

Only education points the way to truth. Armed with a wide, general and impartial knowledge of the world, and an experience of life, you might eventually ask how likely is the truth of a thing, and thereby come to some sort of approximation of it, but even this is no guarantee, for there are many highly educated people who are also fools, lending their foolish opinions to the world of thought.

I’ve heard it said there’s no such thing as the truth anyway. It was probably one of those half baked puffball quotations you get from a self-styled self-help guru’s website, one that thinks it knows a thing when it doesn’t. But in an altercation between two individuals one of them clearly hits the other first. There is a definite truth to it, but when both cry foul, and in the absence of impartial witness, there’s no knowing who started it, no actual “knowing” the truth of their story at all. At school, in the days of corporal punishment, both would have their backsides tanned, both truth and falsehood winding up with smarting asses, the truth resentful at not being believed, the falsehood smug at having truth concealed.

So how do we get at the truth? Beats me. Age doesn’t help – the older one gets the wider only one’s view of the sea of untruth. This doesn’t aid navigation much; it results only in a gradual becalming, so progress turns in on itself, becomes contemplative and philosophical, rather than desiring to bring about change in the world, for without foundation all things crumble into dust, so where is one to begin? It’s tempting to believe all humans are mad, incapable of either telling or perceiving the truth any more, and that the only philosophy worth a damn, whether it’s true or not, is one that tries to stop us inflicting suffering on each other, or on ourselves, because, well, pain hurts, and it makes sense to stop it. But that’s life in general. You begin thinking you know everything about it, and wind up realising you don’t know anything at all.

And that’s the truth.

Dammit.

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slarts1_001I find my dreams are mostly wordless. They are filled instead with an imagery from which understanding and meaning flow naturally, and in a way that suggests it is the verbal language we adopt in waking life that slows cognition, renders it as something pedestrian and ambiguous. Last night I dreamed I had returned to college, a late middle-ager, older even than the oldest of my tutors. My course materials consisted of a set of antiquated 35mm slides, arranged in a specific order. At some point a young girl in my class, a fellow student, had upset the slides, tipped them out into the dust and was building them up into random piles, losing for ever their original intent, mangling what I had taken to be the coherent run of their narrative, thus denying me what I had thought was progress. I was frustrated by this, but the tutor shrugged it off. It didn’t matter a damn, he was saying. The images had no meaning in themselves, no meaning either in the way they had been originally presented, but there was always the potential for meaning in some new way of seeing. Later I drank whiskey with him in the late of night. We were joined by the janitors of the college who had left their brooms, and we sat together simply as men around a table, thus transcending the usual order of things, at ease with one another in the shared intoxication of a higher truth.

The imagery of dreams renders the message itself at least vivid. Whether we interpret it correctly is a question of experience, openness and self-honesty. There was much more to this dream that I have recounted here – or indeed that I can remember – but for now the bit about the images seems clear and is the impulse behind this latest flurry of words. The dream speaks not only of itself but of the way the mind, steeped in the material world, often-times loses that looseness of interpretation, a looseness that would render the meaning of much we see about us equally and transparently numinous.

Instead, we are presented daily with a procession of imagery, ever brighter, ever sharper in detail, yet we remain lost to its deeper meaning and fall victim instead to a form of blindness, a form of corruption in which we are all complicit, as both viewers and suppliers of that imagery. To whit: my blog gained a new follower at the weekend. The Gravatar, the image, was of a pretty young thing, but alas her blog was not a blog but an online emporium selling “lifestyle”. I was supposed to click, to fall in love with her, to want to share in the myth of her promises, and buy something. This was imagery corrupted into the service of commerce, and follows on, with a curious serendipitiousness, from my earlier meditation on the corruption of our thoughts, and how we are supposed to trust and interpret things, how we are supposed to know what’s true.

The dreaming steals imagery from waking life, in the case of my dream here, from my distant past, but presents them as a reflection of something contemporary, of a pattern of thought or emotion that is emerging or seeking recognition within us. Time spent in contemplation of the dream image will usually yield an insight that is true and which will free us, while imagery of the real world, taken literally as it is, seems only to ensnare and enslave, seems only to bind us up with its falseness, with its corruption, because such images do not come from the deep collective well of the unconscious, but from a far shallower place. Still, they can be useful, if we can only see through them.

Have you noticed how television soaps occupy the prime times of our weekday scheduling? From seven ’till nine they recycle their circular plots of thwarted hopes, putting on hold the lives of tens of millions who are for ever pining for a resolution to storylines that will in fact never end, to witness at last those happy endings but which are already dissolving into conflict before the kiss of that apparent resolution has dried upon the protagonists’ fevered lips. Winter is indeed a hard time to be living in a household inured of its soap opera – nowhere to escape the fucking things! Drugs, rape, murder, deceit, and all before tea-time; a world without foundation, and in eternal free fall, This is our daily bread.

And then comes the news bulletin, a continuation of the same, a showcasing of sensational imagery: Terrorism, sexual perversion, political corruption, war and economic decline. It’s largely factual, one would hope, but sadly literal in its shallowness, and my how they trumpet and crow, eroding bit by bit our confidence in the comfortable circumference of our lives. They press us inwards, back upon ourselves, then vent us into a closed vessel, imprison us in a world where we need no longer think, and where our every fear is perpetually realised!

How to survive this onslaught of imagery? How to identify the corruption? Well, we can always ask ourselves, as in the interpretation of a dream, what part of me is reflected in this thing shoved daily in my face? Why does it grate upon me so? Or indeed why does it seduce or tease? Thus, as in the dream, the image itself is seen to be meaningful only in the sense that it is reflective of something inside of us. Thus the image, no matter how corrupt, loses both its power and its intended misdirection, and leads us instead to a deeper connection with our selves and the deeper nature of all things.

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