Thursday, June 23, 2016

About That Person Who Said, "Life is Easy"

It is said about the course of history that there always comes a time when an event, however seemingly insignificant at the time, determines the eventual direction of an outcome. And in the course of enervating election campaigns, critical national referendums, hugely consequential law suits, portentous parliamentary debates et al, it can be said that there always is a public expectation that such an 'earth-shattering', 'game-changing' event is nigh.

It is almost a comment on the evolution of modern society; the much maligned study of instant gratification and its causes, for instance, or the seasonally popular debate on the FoMo (Fear of Missing Out) crisis spreading in an increasingly social media-reliant world. It goes without saying that sometimes these events are actively scripted by the parties involved - a couple of hours spent on that seminal Barry Levinson movie, 'Wag the Dog' (1997) should suffice to illustrate, accompanied by a bewitchingly becalming soundtrack, how these kinds of things could come about.

But are we now seeing the Dawn of an Age of the perpetual anti-climax in relation to our sense about the expected timing of these revelations in the natural order of our lives?
No one expected the events of 9/11 to transpire when they did, surely. They came at a time when public apathy to calamities in the Third World and the environment, to a sense of community participation, to the inequalities and suffering of peoples far removed from our social and economic spheres of influence was at an all-time high, and when music evoking a spirit of nihilism influenced a generation of all-too-eager escapists. But the social upheavals we are seeing right now have only a marginal relation to the events, and the repercussions to the events, of 9/11, even though they seem to occupy a before-and-after kind of epoch-like social significance in the understanding of the modern world. Pandemics have occurred, and were tackled at the time by governments and researchers, long before we discovered their propensity to traverse time-zones and affect the fates of millions of people not immediately responsible for their advent. Innumerable refugee crises followed history-altering changes in the societies of people whose names we still cannot pronounce. Drought, floods, dictator-driven pogroms, and genocide have been happening ever since the dawn of time and continue to happen today.

Why do we only see the significance of these events in relation to our unique place in the history of the world today? Are we becoming a more democratic, less spiritually-distant, more community-oriented, and - dare I say it - less apathetic species with our unparalleled inter-connectivity, our multi-faceted grassroots activism, our ecologically-inspired convictions about leading relatively less-wasteful lives today? Are we finally seeing that every little thing that happens to the least of us, somewhere far away from our immediate orbit, in a distant land, among those with only the most rudimentary of symbolic connections to our own lives, is something that happens to all of us 'here and now' too? Is it possible to ignore the cynicism of daily political discourse, the 'reality' of things as politicians of a certain persuasion are fond of saying, the very real and frightening prospect of large-scale temporary unemployment, and persevere in the search for a new and authentic leadership that courageously faces the naysayers of the world with an absolute conviction about the validity of our tryst with the global community, our pact with the natural world, and our belief in the common good?

Is it possible that all the tools we need to spark the event we have all been waiting for are already at hand, and that all it will take to change our world is to believe that we actually can?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Shape of It

There are warning signs. There always are.

A pattern is slowly established from innocuous occurrences that build up frustration at things that you would otherwise regard as the natural wages of living - inadequacies on a professional or familial or personal level, disappointments at the pace and progress of life, the expressed troubles of members of the family unit that have nothing to do with you but that you tend to view subjectively, as if it is a personal failure of some kind that's being superimposed on the other.
This is most often followed by an unconscious preparation - chores that are left undone until the last possible minute, inane things that distract the mind from what's coming.

And then it inexorably hits; first as an explosion that is often directed at the original source of the frustration that was its first herald, and then the revelatory aftermath that redirects at yourself the realisation that it has, indeed, struck again and is determining the course of your life independent of the will.
It is always a submission then; at the self-pity, the rage at historical slights, and always, always, at the razor-sharp focus on the inadequacy of others - how they are perceived to have let you down, how they could have prevented that letting down from happening, that they could have so easily been better: parents, siblings, relatives, friends, managers, colleagues, other human beings that you had actually met too briefly to impose such a world of responsibility for your current fate on. (So yes, it does take on the qualities of a grand fiction for a time.)

The submission is total; it clouds everything. A television show that's on only to shame you into remembering that that writer, director, producer, actor could have indeed been you and that you have failed to take advantage of the opportunities that came your way. A book whose every sentence is reminding you that you did not write that still-born tome of yours and that you would have, if only you had expended the effort at the chance when it arose. The customer service attendant at the service station, newsagent, liquor store, or supermarket reminding you of how hard she's working when you're totally slacking off and mired in self-pity at the fact that you're so totally slacking off.

Communication with loved ones becomes a tiring exercise in camouflage - feigning interest in what they're talking about, their trials and successes, their failures and hopes, when all you can think about is how whatever they're telling you reflects on you.

It is a monster of perception excess. It is monumental scrutiny of the subjective. It is a microphone and a stethoscope and a camera and a mirror focused wholly on you, picking up all the minutiae of the parts of you that you that are the most vulnerable and showing it straight back to you without the benefit of a space-time analytic distance. It is a relentless cycle. The body feels weak, the mind shackled, the day long, the air thin... Until all you can do is wish and will and pray and plead for it to be gone, to go back from whence it came, to disappear just as organically as it diabolically appeared, to rise and leave you and not look back at your quivering, sniveling, pathetic self when it does.

And then you wake up, sometimes days, weeks, months, years since you began to think of your life in this way, and it is not there.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Oh Memory, What are you?
Just the glimpse of the corner of a wall
Or a bush or a pattern in the air
Bringing on a rush of longing for a feeling
Long swept aside or so I thought
On a terraced wave of suppressed anxiety.

Can you not intrude on my present, please?
When all I want is not to cringe and berate myself and lie awake
When I am engaged in relating to the here and now
Completely uninterested in the then and there
And the who and how.

Oh Memory, If I could so much as resist a whiff
Of the better times
And the warmer people
And the unalloyed love
And the greater passion
Of times past that should remain there
And not in the now.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Blunt Force Trauma on the Global Body Politic

When a group of physicians initially diagnose a victim of a non-penetrating trauma attack, they are not looking at forecasting the inevitable scars that will appear on the outward appearance of the victim - the sizable welts and contusions that form on those parts of the body that has most absorbed the impact of the attack, even though they do offer clues as to its severity. They are, instead, frantically looking at whether any of the major organs have been debilitated as a result of the attack - specifically, the areas such as the bowel, spleen, liver, and/or intestines, and whether the damage requires immediate surgical intervention to stabilize the victim.

The damage being done today on the common perception of the roles; politics, government, and leadership plays in each of our lives is not being given a similar consideration, as we read long-form dystopian visions of a future where plastic-maned madmen running all-powerful governments threaten allies with dismemberment from critical alliances because of the colour of their skins or the tones of their voices. Most of us are of the understanding that representative democracy is most often reflective of a compromise between impossible choices modern societies face - another large-scale real-estate development, for example, being sanctioned in a world increasingly unable to cope with our occupancy of it, in the hope that we will have eventually evolved enough to see ourselves as part of a sustainable and self-sustaining ecosystem, not as its ham-handed destroyers. But when the facade falls away, when the particularly loathsome manifestation of individual greed is revealed for all the world to see, when we are stunned in response to the sight, when we reflect on the history of civilization and all that we've been through as a culture to get to this period, when a man clearly in need of a clinical psychiatrist is being considered as the potential leader of the free world, what is it that restricts what needs to be said and done? Every nation on earth, whatever its history, will recognize in the person of Donald Trump a familiar figure in their own politics: a power-hungry, obnoxious, facile, and ultimately destructive figurehead of a system gone, quite horribly, wrong. Every nation on earth is framing laws, putting strictures on, and restricting the opportunities for; the elevation of such figures to their highest offices. Sometimes the battles are long and hard and are momentarily lost, but the war has never ended, anywhere. If there is one unifying factor among all of the world's dogged everyday battlers it is the contempt for the values that Donald Trump professes - a proselytizing zeal for xenophobia, and a proud malice that targets those less fortunate than oneself.
And here we are making fun of his hair, and his foreign-policy gaffes, and his outstanding ignorance of the issues that matter to the 99% of the population (of the world) that he stands markedly outside of, due to the fortunate circumstance of having being born into wealth. Why are we not seeing that continuing to treat his campaign as a legitimate expression of democracy is hurting us from the inside out, tearing apart those vital organs of society that have been, with a lot of effort, keeping us from tearing each other to pieces in the streets?

An unequal world needs the sceptre of genuine aspiration to continue being. We cannot succumb to fantasies that fly in the face of all we know and have gained through painful and excruciating experience of war, famine, disease through many generations that lived through their troubled times hoping against hope for a better world.

We need to shut Trump down, just as we need to shut down Modi, Cameron, the assorted tyrants in the Middle-East, and other silk-tongued-and-robed purveyors of hate in the rest of the world.
In a world abundantly capable of total and absolute self-destruction, at the expense of all the other things we could have been totally and absolutely capable of and are not, can we afford to be complacent?

Monday, January 18, 2016

When the elephant forgets

We all know about the pervasive generic belief that society always progresses, always advances in ways that are both subtle; with effects that are felt positively much much after the fact, and revolutionary; promising change to the ways we do things here and now, almost immediately imposing on us the burden of adapting or being relegated to the dark, seminally unfashionable class of every society's own version of neo-Luddite.
Does this idea ever transcend the subjective aspects of our experience of life i.e. in a personal sense viz. in how we understand human sexuality and personal expression, and communally viz. in how we use new technology to enhance our understanding of our place in the unbound, countless, and varied iterations of human community?
To focus on our sense of family, for example, is to feel lulled into an effortless belief in the sanctity of perpetual forward motion. We grow up in a social unit that either feeds our self-belief or challenges us to constantly prove just how valuable we are. We grow up as contributors or scavengers depending on our place in the social order of things, and always tend to hitch our star to the widely held wisdom of the crowd: 'It Could Be Worse'. In the process, unless we are victims of severe personal calamity, incorrigibly self-centred, or resolutely fatalistic, the default sentiment on our deathbeds is that we have lived our lives, honourably or not, in a world that is more expressive than our parents' ever was.
Could we be wrong?
I do vaguely remember a very happy childhood, followed by a measure of tragedy and relative hardship as a young man, and am now surrounded with very adult, grown-up problems in a world that bears absolutely no resemblance to the one I knew as a child, from memory. Every time there is an eruption of frustration, a rupture in the normal psychological order of things, a build-up of stress, I fall back, almost psychosomatically, into that comfortable expression of medicated relativism: It Could Be Worse. But what if it never was? Is it a myopic refusal to face the uniqueness of the circumstances of our lives? Could all the comfort and privilege a middle-class existence in the modern world affords us have not actually brought us progress?
I am constantly sensitive to the lack of a basis for comparison when my wife and I tackle a seemingly intractable issue in our family life. But, perhaps there was a time when a similar issue was tackled with relative ease in our parents' lives without a similar measure of drama and heartache, and we don't know about it simply because they're not around any longer to ask, and even if they were, it would be bad form to ask for help.
This asking for help is what I am getting at. If we have bought into this myth of continuous and self-perpetuating progress in everything, then have we also lost faith in age-old solutions to seemingly modern problems? And if so, can we ever think of the past in the same terms as we think of the future, as a hoary place full of incandescent wisdom waiting to be uncovered and enhance our experience of the present.
Modern life is a great big sky full of endless possibility, but it is also a claustrophobic, dark, and cold den of hopelessness. Perhaps we will not feel so alone if we retain a little of the sense of where we came from, and that it indeed was what led us to who we are today.