Sunday, September 19, 2004

To be intimate with distortions.

  It's probably not too contentious a thing to say that Britain today is in something of a sorry state. And I don't mean 'today' as in the terribly sweeping and dramatic way that actually covers upwards of three decades in one statement using a word that really should mean this single day only. I mean today as in today - this day. This one here.
  For recently the collective attention of those of the public that do at least give a flying fuck through a rolling donut about world affairs has been rolling gently around a victorian hall of mirrors, chuckling at itself reflected gaudily in the mis-shaped glass, as Scarily Real Events have passed by them, practically unnoticed.
  Right now, fox-hunting is big news. The papers fire their opinionated artilleries, scattering bursts of shrapnel over a battlefield that is far out of proportion to the importance of the issue. While innocents were gunned down in the streets of Iraq - amongst the injured an Iraqi journalist working with the Guardian newspaper - our eyes were wobbling like jelly to the seductive sights of some old toffs preening themselves in the media glare. And such momentous things as Kofi Annan accusing the US of war crimes are forgotten as dubiously 'famous' men burst into the house of commons, shouting and generally acting like shits.
  What is this sick desire to create and then roll around in our own toxic waste of fuckups and messups, when the world is already awash with the same stuff we've been exporting for the past innumerable years?
  These problems, 'our problems', are nothing. Some morons - almost certainly with inside help from a disgruntled pro-foxhunting political type - break into the house of commons and act like typical Hooray Henry's, moaning about traditional practices that most people find indicative of a backwards mindset. The world can go to hell in a handbasket, and all they want to do is make sure that the hell they arrive in still has the pleasant pastime of ripping apart hunted mammals.
  What is it that makes us so entirely oblivious to actual, real-life events? And does philosophy have any bearing on this? Perhaps this problem will seem more philosophical if I equate actual events with truth, and these made-up complications that we concentrate on so as the comforting lies that keep us from the pain of problematic living - and that I too think that a major part of the solution is education.
  I went to Birmingham with my girlfriend a few days ago. We had a nice French meal, walked along the canals, made jokes about the Saga FM bus, laughed, and annoyed people on the train. And we also stood in the rain for a long time at one point, viewing a collection of Yann-Arthus Bertrand's [Earth From the Air] images that stand in an impressive and mighty group in a free outside exhibition. Many things are shown - a solitary human figure standing on a massive iceberg, the sheer size of it humiliating; a mangrove swamp naturally shaped like a heart; a tiny and luscious archipelago. And also there are slums in 'developing' countries; the side of a highrise in Brazil bustling with life maintained on wages unthinkably low; scenes of massive population overcrowding in Africa; the erosion of land as environments are damaged. All have lengthy descriptions of the image and what it may mean, most of them with a hefty dose of political intent. Wherever you go on the earth, life is in the process of being degraded for the profit of somebody else, being crushed by the pressure of the need to survive against imposed hardship, the life of the plant, animal, mineral, and human.
  There is a short video of Mr. Bertrand that shows him at work. He is an impressive man, trying to visually show us some things about this tiny planet that we too easily forget. There is a massive amount of merchandise showing his mostly pretty and pleasant pictures. And there was a bizarre indoor exhibit sponsored by Birdseye that was entirely made up of publicity shots of frozen ready meals. The Birdseye lady came up and asked us if we'd like to take part in a competition to take pretty pictures of things. I said, "No thankyou, it's hard for me to take pictures being blind". She scuttled off chagrinned.
  What the exhibit does is to draw us closer - although only briefly - to many other peoples living in many other places with many other problems. Problems that won't just blow over, problems that aren't created by a group of pointless people scared of their own pointlessness. Problems that involve the facts, the truths, that are plastered over the exhibition - that much of the world is without electricity, that most people live on under $2 a day, that there are hundreds of thousands of children fighting in militias all over the world - the facts that we somehow feel we can ignore, as if the pleasantly amusing distortions of our own stupid western country in the hall of mirrors are enough to distract us from the actual disfigurements of the human condition all around us.
  In yesterday's Guardian newspaper, Martin Jacques wrote about the ['death of intimacy']. Perhaps he is in some way right - and what we need is not merely to be confronted with The Truth. Philosophy, as I come slowly to understand from my brief glances at it from the outside, is not an entirely gentle thing of reading books and considering. It is rigorous in its methods and application, often utilisises mathematics and formal logic, and harsh with knowledge when it feels the need to be, and a philosopher might conclude that the best thing to do for this sorry situation would be to examine, dissect, and then explain the harsh realities of the world, the Actual Truth of living.
  Perhaps what we need is for this cold steel to be softened somewhat by contact with those who are unable to turn away from the pains of the world around them, to be buried in the continued stupidities of the English class system. We need an intimacy with each other, a bond, so that we are able to comprehend the mistakes we make, and their affects on others. The truth we need is not only the simple and brutal one of what the world is today, but also the complex and inter-related one of how our participation in our little country effects so many other people, how the institutions around us rule in our names to wield power over those so far away we do not even consider. We need not only the feeling of responsibility that comes from being part of a sick world, but that which comes from the understanding that we have always been a cause of this sickness, however small and however unwitting.


Blogger Atum said...

I like your take on this - media representation certainly makes for a powerful argument in highlighting problems, specifically that of our dithering about in our own foolish 'problems' when there are very real ones made worse by doing so. I'm unsure how to point this out to people. Perhaps a new newspaper that is basically a commentary on the others, with the single goal of highlighting the disproportionate way in which we are educated about celebrity sex lives instead of what is actually happening in the Sudan. I think this would be a project I'd be happy to be involved in.

As for using people who can't avert themselves from problems to soften the cold steel of philosophy, I'm not sure how this works. There is the specific problem, for example, of how to avoid using 'philosophy' to justify a political position (since the people who care about the world are typically left wing) - or to avoid it appearing that way. Any thoughts?

12:18 PM  
Blogger Claypot said...

To touch on just one element of the insane navel-gazing selfish greed that is rife in the UK, that of the insatiable desire to have a bigger better flashier house, no make that two:

What is the good of having a nice house without a decent planet to put it on?
- Henry David Thoreau

12:31 PM  
Blogger Claypot said...

I think in theory a new newspaper is great. Sadly, I think no-one will read it. Because you won't have photographs of slebs and a tacky free plastic gift stuck to the front that has been made by a blind boy in a box in India.

It has often been said that Benign Dictatorship is the best form of rule. There may be some truth in that. Perhaps what's needed in the UK is a Benign Dictator - slightly mad is always best - to stamp his/her foot and demand the riddance of all things contrary to intelligent thinking. In the UK it is almost impossible to prevent crap getting into your brain. Just walking down the street you are bombarded with advertising. Reaching for your leftie newspaper in your corner shop your eye will be caught by some minger on the cover of Heat magazine. Time spent watching an interesting documentary on Channel 4 will be interrupted by ads for things you never knew you needed. And so on. Who knew it could be so tiring to be a humanitarian?

BTW, I like the writing on here. All too often people who express such opinions are very po-faced and earnest, and keeping a sense of humour is actually very important. She says earnestly.

12:44 PM  

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