Monday, June 22, 2015

Get Social

I don't know if there has ever been a more monumentally voyeuristic forum for the kind of wide-eyed gawking that we were less self-conscious of as children, when we gather to look upon the world exchanging thoughts, opinions, ideas, and prejudices - all from one accessible interface - on the barely regulated social media platform that is Twitter.
It is certainly endearing that during a time when Facebook is finally making concrete inroads towards that elusive goal of 'monetization' that has been the stumbling block for most fledgling social media platforms, Twitter, in comparison, resembles a confused squirrel debating with itself which tree in the forest contains the best nuts without even being able to see them because its vantage point is so close to the ground.
Inarguably though, the most enlightening aspect of being able to follow, comment on, and troll the virtual selves of people who you will most probably never get to encounter in real life, is the freedom to linger on collective trails of thought: as they first begin life as concise expressions of observation or intent, and evolve, after much rich composting from a mass of unsolicited and critical contribution, into fully-formed insights on the scope of human experience that this complex world we inhabit today makes possible. From the loftiest preoccupations of our time such as: the environment, racism, public policy, sex, nationalism, education, civic evolution, and the future of sport, to the specifically subjective: grooming, class, peer pressure, and human physical attributes or the lack thereof, all manner of conceit is up for debate and scrutiny in a whirlwind of direct questioning, quoting, appropriating, and critiquing. It's never been a mystery why such sneering disdain has been heaped on the, 'fashionable outrage of the twitterati', by the establishment - as a society, we never could have prepared ourselves for such a democratic disgorging of the entire span of human consciousness into neat little 140 character snippets.
It is a tribute to the platform that it facilitates, sometimes, the positive change that can occur in the minds and hearts of even the most hardened individuals because of the pressure brought to bear by a collective consciousness, but we must never lose sight of the thousands of individuals who must constantly be vigilant that their spirits are not crushed by the avalanche of hate that accompanies their personal confrontations with the status quo. It must surely be a trial to feel like you're finally getting somewhere with a dearly held conviction only to be met with vitriol and cowardly ad hominem attacks. It is, after all, a simple walk down the road from there to the swamplands that Reddit, that much heralded and singular banner of free expression since inception, finds itself enmeshed in these days.
Today on Twitter I see racism being dredged up from all its latent holes, stripped bare, and laid out in the hot, humid sun for all to be repulsed by, and hopefully be so repulsed by that it finally signals the dismantling of a 400-year old criminal institution. Perhaps tomorrow I will see post-colonialism, gender discrimination, caste bias, or indigenous rights being so tackled. I wait with bated breath, fingers hovering over touch screen and keyboard. It is a good time to be alive.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

O.. for a warm hearth with your name on it

There can be no more trepidation that emanates from the depths of the human soul in the modern world than is summoned by the act of choosing a physical structure in a geographical area to call your own.
A place to rest your weary head. An escape from the demands of having to constantly perform in the world without for the cynical benefit of those who are ever-ready and ever-willing to undermine your existence.
A refuge from the thousand insults and the million betrayals visited on you by an unfeeling wider community cruelly dismissive of the expansive sensitivity of your delicate emotional constitution.
A shaft of sunlight streaming through a well-placed window and falling on a particular section of table and floor, an anonymous bird song that greets you every time you return; that you have come to accept as gratefully as a child's loud, 'Welcome Home'.
A smell of the familiar, a sound of normality, a feeling of security, an atmosphere of acceptance.
A home, in other words, that is yours.
One that you can build and build on. One that you can touch, feel, and take comfort in. One that you can nurture and be nurtured by. One that you can cultivate and watch grow along with the people in it. One that is self-sustained and sustaining, a bedrock of strength, self-aware in its surface immutability.
A lighthouse, a purifying pyre, a watchtower, a cave.
A beacon, a lamplight, a library, a family kitchen.
A well-stocked larder, an overflowing fruit basket, a sweet-smelling linen cupboard, an over-stuffed laundry pile.

Call me bourgeois, call me lame,
Call me capitalist, say, 'Oh, for shame'.
But, O... for a warm hearth with your name on it,
You can choke on your own disdain.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Un-answer

In the time it's taken for the weather to change from a bracing energetic chill here in Perth, to a treacherous and inertia-inducing cold, another seductive benumbing seems to have crept up on the world's unsuspecting masses, lured by the vigours of the 24-hour news and social media cycle, and the merits of an argument that has been laboured over ever since the advent of the communal fire at the heart of the proto-society: that of the positive effects of Violence.
The various names that the civil unrest in Baltimore has been called; ranging from the pro-establishment, riots, to the heroic, uprising, itself is a signal that the debate on violence has not run its course over millennia of invasion, war, city-sacking, and raping and pillaging, given expression through the ever-mutating propaganda machine that has recurrently reared its head throughout the recorded history of the world to justify the righteous fight against forces of darkness and injustice. We live in a world that has routinely seen parents bury children, looters savage priceless heirlooms, terrorists devastate societies so many times over since we began thinking of ourselves as beings with agency, that we cannot but shrug when violence arrives pre-packaged in the shiny wrapping of a vision of brave oppressed peoples rising up against their erstwhile oppressors in a heartfelt explosion of rage and helplessness that brings the world to a horrified standstill, in contemplation of these bleak works of man...
It has to stop.
It beggars belief that there is a certain credence being granted to the theory that were it not for the unrest in Baltimore the police officers responsible for the death of Freddie Gray would never have been charged with a crime. This line of reasoning follows from the same tortured logic that underlies the belief that the world is better off since the two world wars of the last century, and the response to the tragedy that was 9/11 in this one.
Violence cannot be justified, and not just the violence that follows from the works of man. When a person dies unnaturally from any cause, whether immediately known or ultimately unknown, it is due cause for grief and investigation, and possible mitigation of similar circumstances that could cause the death of another. We cannot and should not accept that the violence we visit on ourselves or that is visited on us from without is immutable, ever. What has to change is the systems and processes we put in place to mitigate the eruptions of violence in the world today, not our responses to it.
The debate in the immediate aftermath of the unrest in Baltimore centred on whether the rioting and the looting that led to the imposition of a curfew in that city could ever be justified. I took in this debate between protesters and news reporters with a fervency verging on disbelief, amid an atmosphere of absolute surreality in which police officers spoke calmly and respectfully to white protesters as they milled around in mostly white neighbourhoods holding placards denouncing racism, while, at the same time, worked to aggressively impose the curfew in mostly black neighbourhoods in the same city with violent arrests - for an event that was brought on primarily because of their own organization's actions.
This is not a surreal world. Everyone feels pain, frustration, and the pangs of impotency. Everyone wants freedom, a sense of manifest agency, and love. We must work towards a world where achievement cannot be tied to whether or not someone was brave enough to commit an act of violence to combat another act of violence. There's something fundamentally wrong with an argument such as that.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Something clicked

It has been gnawing at me for some time - the idea that the world wide web has taken in us what was once an engaged curiosity about the wider world and dispersed its constituent elements in a whirlpool of discontented latencies that have as their lowest common denominator, the ubiquitous click bait.

Three articles can be said to have led to this post. First, a hysterical response to a finely written and, ultimately, pessimistic view of an individual's role in tackling climate change. Two, the article being so commented upon. And three, an unconnected phrase in an experimental review of Saul Bellow's essays.

When I first read Robert Manne's criticism of Jonathan Franzen's essay on climate change, I was struck by how markedly it differed from the literary criticisms I regularly read in The New Yorker magazine itself, where the essay first appeared: The derision in stating Franzen's comparison of the conservationist sensibilities of a metaphorical Puritan Protestant and a metaphorical Franciscan Catholic, the sarcastic references to Franzen's use of a word - climatism, in counterpoint to one used just before - globalism, that seemed to me utterly relevant in its own environment but notably darker when brought out of context, and finally, casting aspersions on the sympathies of The New Yorker's, 'small army of fact checkers', when editing a piece by, 'The Great American Novelist', albeit one, 'incapable of mounting an argument'.
This is a hatchet job, no doubt, laced with the kind of ad hominem attack memes popular among the twitterati and seems destined to coax the outrage out of quasi-conservationists and environmentally-concerned netizens brought to bear on the duplicity of Franzen in decrying the diabolical negationist tendencies of lazy Americans and their destructive lifestyles.

Franzen's essay, meanwhile, manages to marry the cause célèbre of the day with the didactic effectively, with its calm exposition of a conservationist campaign personal to him, before going on to relate it to all that's wrong with how people and governments think about ecosystems, land use, and scalability. In effect, Franzen's argument is that we are using the excuse of climate change to neglect conserving specific species and habitats endemic to certain parts of the world, while stoking conflict about a catastrophe that has clearly overtaken its prevent-by date and that will affect future generations, whether we feel guilty about it or not.

As I was about to delve into Sven Birkerts' captivating account of interviewing himself as a way to alleviate the tedium of writing about Saul Bellow's essays, I encountered the phrase, something clicked, and my first reaction was to think of the phrase as an action performed on a link rather than just the usual reference to an inspiration gained.

What this says about me is that I must live too much of my life on the web, cross referencing authors with their critics, and commentators with their subjects, while learning a little more about the world with every click, baited or not. To paraphrase Franzen at the end of his essay - It's we... who need meaning.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Modern Horror

Drumming up hidden resolve,
From the depths of a recondite nihilism,
Each catch preying upon the next,
Before its own turn arrives,
In a particular wash of self-awareness,
That is cold to the breath,
And rancid to the nose,
A slow drum roll,
Anxiety ebbing and waning with each beat,
For a terrifying climax that never arrives.