Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘nihilism’

So, today is Monday. It’s cold and rainy. I’m ironing. I’m bleeding the radiators. I’m replying to a flurry of overnight comments on the blog. I’m pondering the next chapter of “A Lone Tree Falls”. Retirement is bliss, even on rainy days. Then the phone rings.

It’s a very well-spoken young man who’s concerned I’m missing out on loft insulation deals. I don’t quite get the angle, but anyway, he says my house has come up on his database as having a certain type of insulation. It doesn’t conform to the current regulations – tut tut – but not to worry. It means I can claim for,… well,… something,…

“If we could confirm your details, sir? Name, address, postcode?…

Now, I know very well what type of insulation I have, because I’m the one who put it in. So what I want to know from him is how come he knows so much about it. I’m a little more assertive than I usually am, but there are issues of privacy at stake here:

“If I could stop you there and ask: exactly – and I do emphasise the word ‘exactly’ – how you came by that information?”

I surprise myself. I seem to be settling in for a crossing of wits here, when I could as easily hang up. That’s what I normally do, though with a polite “sorry, not interested”, thereby extending courtesy even to ne-er-do-wells whose aim is to raid my life savings. Did I get out of the wrong side of bed or something? Where is your patience, Michael? Where is your joy of living?

Anyway, the line goes dead before the young man can explain himself – a fault at his end, I presume. But never mind, all is in its place again. God is in his heaven, and the scammers are sweating the phones.

And I have more important things to be thinking about, such as November 3rd 2019. Why? Well, that’s the day I took this picture:

It was a Sunday, the first dry day, after weeks of heavy rain. The gentle undulations of the meadows had become lakes, and in the early light of that morning, they were as beautiful as they were unexpected. I don’t know why the picture strikes me now, as it has languished on the memory card for years. Perhaps it’s more the date, marking a time just before the time everything changed.

My diary fills in the details:

I had bought a new lens for the camera, and was trying it out with this shot. I had also bought “the Ministry of Utmost Happiness” by Arhundhati Roy, from my local thrift shop. I was lamenting how I’d probably never get around to reading it, that it would languish on my TBR pile, which turns out, thus far, to be true. My hall table was also full of leaflets extolling the virtues of the Labour-party. I was delivering them in batches, around my patch, for the local party office. It seems I too was caught up in the heady Corbynism of those distant times.

Then, the day after I took the picture, I sat down with my boss and took pleasure in giving him a year’s notice. Of a sudden, I tasted freedom. I was as excited by that as the thought of an imminent, and long needed, change of political direction. Yes, politics featured large in my thoughts in those days, which I find embarrasses me, now, because it doesn’t feature at all these days. In fact, quite the opposite, I find I view such matters with a very cold eye, or perhaps that too could be called political thinking? But let’s not go there.

Covid was not even a rumour in November. The first cases would appear in China in the coming weeks. But it would be March before Britain, after believing itself immune, would be on its knees. Suddenly, I could not travel even to the next village without fear of curtain twitchers dobbing me in. As for our health service, it proved to be so ill prepared, hobbyists were in their bedrooms, churning out face-masks for doctors and nurses on their 3D Printers.

But back to the photograph. I wasn’t overwhelmed by it at the time. Perhaps it was because events overtook us, and everything that came “before” seemed no longer relevant in the world. Then I tried a different crop, and it seemed to speak to me a little more.
I remember the season came on with a record-breaking wet. The year after was the same. The water table rose, filling the hollows, spoiling crops of winter wheat and oilseed. Migrant birds enjoyed their new-found wetlands. But then each spring, came a drought that baked the land, first to iron, and then to dust.

The photograph tells me the world was beautiful then, as of course it still is. But I detect also now a more deeply entrenched fatalism among its people. There is a growing acceptance of the ruin, and all the casual corruption, and that there’s nothing we can do about it. It just is. And, as if by metaphor, while once upon a time we could avoid those of low character by avoiding a particular part of town at night, now they come at us in our homes, down our telephone wires, wherever we are, and there’s no protection, other than our wits. But such a wit as that risks also tarnishing the spirit and rendering it blind to the beauty of the world. It will make us cynical, it will tempt us over the threshold into the hell of a collective nihilism. And then we are lost.

We need a powerful formula to keep the shine on things, and to keep believing it all means something. For myself, I trust it is sufficient never take our eye off the beauty of the world, never to let it be diminished in our souls, that therein lies the path to truly better days.

Now, please excuse me, the phone is ringing again. Perhaps it’s that young man with his explanation.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »