September 30, 2020
The following two quotes stuck with me upon their reading;
“Perhaps, sipping umbrellas drinks and mugging for happy snaps with similarly footloose bogans, Scott Morrison was himself subject to the distancing effect I fell all around me in South Korea and Hong Kong, that deeply human flaw that the gaming journalist and Twitter savant David Milner describes as the inability to conceive as real any reality different to our own lived experience. Hong Kong in particular afforded a novel perspective on the subject-object divide, as smoke from nearby pro-democracy riots drifted into the bar where we sat watching smoke from a series of megafires blanket the streets of Sydney.”
[ This is part of a series of essays in the Guardian, by Australian writers responding to the challenges of 2020. By John Birmingham. September 4, 2020 ]
You’re just very conscious that things you thought were here forever are now in their autumn. It’s over.
“And I think most people have a sense of this, but when you point to it they just point to their phones; they point to something there because it’s as much as they can deal with. It’s as much as any of us can deal with. So they live through a world reified back to them through a small screen and its madnesses.”
[ Novelist Richard Flanagan talks about the themes in his new book – grief and loss, but also possibility, and the beauty of a disappearing world, by Michael Williams ; article published in The Guardian Australia, Tuesday 29, September. ]
Together these words declare a profound concern for humanity and its environment, particularly combined with the background context of the 2020 virus pandemic. The first quote could apply to anytime in human history, but the second is very much located here and now. I am an old person and so I interpret the words from that perspective. I do not know whether someone just beginning their lives would share these sentiments. But the words bracket a seething mass of ‘evidence’ (largely personal observation, conversational sharing and public media information from a variety of sources), that say the threshold where self-destructive energy snowballs over positive resistance, where diverting, reversing, transforming such a force seemingly inexorable, has (with pockets of exception) been surpassed. The disintegration of trust in public institutions and publicly nominated individuals to as fairly as possible represent the best efforts of humanity; an inability to systemically address a litany of inequities within and across societies; incessant revelations of the powerful succumbing to corruption over fairness, equity and transparency; the rise of mega-corporations to supreme power beyond nations, hovering in an alternate sphere that feeds as a vampire upon the real world; the insistent default to competition and violence as the ultimate problem solving mechanisms, all this and more rolling us and our environment to a precipice of massive destruction for humans and our ecology. As the chaos and destruction continues, what will happen will be fascinating and thoroughly painful, in unimaginable ways. Yet within this movement there will be possibilities for modulation, for working with the forces that be, to divert the seemingly inevitable in radically surprising ways, opening up unanticipated equations that may not reverse what is happening but may allow for a fundamental recalibration of what it is to be a flesh and blood human living in an environment that both sustains but needs to destroy this malignant threat to its order, its balance.
Are these only “first world” concerns ?
I can imagine, I can extrapolate on the reports I have seen on different media platforms over the last few decades, that third world citizens, subsistence farmers, anyone trying to eke out a living dependent upon a stable environment, stable government and institutions, etc. will be contending with an increasingly unpredictable and hostile natural world and human society. The dilemma will be most felt by the poorest least able to deny or ward off the immediate effects with money. But ultimately, all humans will not be able to avoid the consequences of neglect and abuse.
As someone who’s first instinct is to translate cognitive experiences into less tangible mediums, there are things I can do on an individual and practical level to acknowledge, confront, and attempt to address the inequities, but simultaneously I question how the external world shows itself, plays out, correlates to the inner world, to the psychological, emotional and physical realms of the individual.
The text to this point is a precursor, is the context within which I now live, think, feel and take actions (albeit calculated upon my subjectivity). A further proviso; I am unable to detach my gender, race, social position, historical privileges and decision-taking, but particularly my age, from my perceptions and reactions to the world as it currently manifests to me.
So, after emerging from the other side of a 6 month ‘lockdown’ I speculate that the personal trends I had been noticing up to the early part of 2020, have continued to intensify perhaps more rapidly – due, in particular, to the reduction of social interactions and travel.
I am experiencing glimpses of a time when I am ready to leave this world and its vicissitudes. That I must leave is inevitable but being prepared, even willing to leave, is a new sensation.
I am experiencing an increased exasperation with human behaviour and the human mind that fosters it. I have become more critical of my own and our shortcomings, that the blessings bestowed upon us, that allow everything that ensues from being born as human, are not comprehended fully as the miracle that life is.
My patience and sense of largesse toward others is diminished. My own behaviour is now laced with a need for taking decisive action, without prevarication, where before I may well have avoided or postponed. I simply see no point in obscuration of what my intuition or mind tell me is accurate. I am still wary of haste and attempt to avoid succumbing to an overly emotional intensity, but when the feeling is persistent through numerous moods and life variables then act I must.
Again my privilege, particularly financial, allows me the latitude for taking this behavioural stance. I acknowledge that all is interwoven, however I am not ‘adopting an attitude’, I am feeling with urgency what there is for me to feel and based on my life to date, this must be respected regardless of financial predicament.
There is a growing tension across the course of my life between humanity (particularly first world and developing world consumerism) and the tiny speck of rock floating in an infinite cosmos, that sustains it. Is there a correlation between my individual aging and the perception of a rising world tension. Is the lack of my individual patience shared across ages and a symptom of a more “visibly” suffering earth rather than the ‘grumpy old man cliché/syndrome ?
I have become less able to separate out the personal (the individual) from the social, the local from the global, is this due to the alterations of the human condition over time or something more objectively applicable to humanity ?
I keep having visions of a festering, bubbling inflamed and deranged madness, a torment brought by compulsion or addiction, or insatiable consumption, or scratching an itch that continues through the bleeding to the bone and beyond.
What is this astringent imagining ? Did my father and his father before him see the same ?
From the writers of human history, I believe so – to one degree or another, but is there something more pronounced about this moment in time when the inflammation is so intensified and communications systems so global, so uniformly connected that that madness is a feedback loop affirming, justifying, accelerating, declaring a shared and universal reality, despite its variants ?