The sky out my window has just turned black with storm clouds and there goes the first rumble of thunder, right this minute as I begin to draft this post; (it’s been some winter over here). I don’t know if it’s the weather or where I left off from previously but some dark thoughts have been bubbling on my mind lately. Things started when I awoke in a state of panic from an unusually vivid nightmare the other night. I can still recount every gruesome detail but the long and short of it is that it served as a grim reality check.
Along with the racing pulse and cold sweat, I was hit by a sharp pang of guilt as I began to recover my thoughts in the small hours. In the dream I had committed an unforgivable act of cowardice—a play on my deepest fears. Perhaps I should mention, it involved a failure on my part to save an elderly lady from a merciless gunman, and we both paid for it with our lives. That may sound like something out of a bad movie but the sorry truth is that fact is all too often more shocking than fiction these days, which was brought home to me like a punch in the gut that night.
Initially, I contented myself with a conscientious reminder that morals come first even in an appalling crisis. But naturally, I got to thinking about the recent atrocities in the news, formlessly as you can only do, and also the millions of faceless sufferers of equally severe disgraces that are now out of sight, out of mind. Helplessness and anger came to a head on a specific question: how is it that we’re privileged to sleep safe in suburban cocoons but also powerless to lift a finger to change this state of affairs? Really, what the fuck?
I get it, we lost heart a long time ago, but I wonder how many of us can live with the idea that we’re truly out of options on the ground. Assuming things will continue to get worse, it’s only a matter of time before even the most hard-nosed pessimists start looking for a solution in ernest. So where do we go now?
Politicians would only be scoring an own goal by making honest, meaningful promises—politics is a no go. As long as the notion of a trustworthy government is a joke, there’s one prerequisite for reform that comes before all others: transparency. Knowledge really is power—and we don’t have any. Pick up the broadest broadsheet you can find and peruse an article replete with quotations, facts and figures. Then ask yourself, are you left with the information you need to proceed assuredly on your own two feet, or have you just received a social therapy session and a not-so-gentle nudge towards the safety of society’s playpen? Headlines are supposed to be a delivery system for content but the news writers prefer it the other way around. ‘Just doing their job’, no doubt.
We need to wean ourselves off all the spoon-fed cookie dough. The fact that there’s only one Noam Chomsky in the spotlight and that he’s swimming against the tide, is evidence enough of widespread smoke and mirrors. And make no mistake, the sterilized half-truths that pass are as good as lies when the devil’s in the detail.
Now, I don’t want to speculate about the likelihood of any foreseeable progress, but from a theoretical standpoint at least, we’re nowhere near out of options. Culture is evolving at an unprecedented and exponential pace. I think this provides ample food for thought for those realists who cite the ‘red in tooth and claw’ argument in the nature vs. nurture debate. Yes, the potential for disaster is starkly clear but why doesn’t this also present an opportunity for something positive to take hold? After all, benevolence is as real a human trait as any.
There’s also an ethical argument here. We all go through the mill sooner or later so there’s no shortage of empathy for the next disillusioned generation. Nevertheless, an attitude of resignation is ultimately a choice, not a fact of life. Settling for the status quo is effectively a mandate for more deceit, greed, and indeed, suffering. Those are some stakes you don’t want to treat lightly.
And this finally brings me to the ‘how’ part in this discussion. Obviously, the problems I’ve outlined run deep and I don’t pretend to have a detailed plan of action handy. But perhaps the solution doesn’t call for that. A teenage Steven Tyler once wrote, ‘All the things come back to you’. Witting or not, we’re all moral agents so we’d do well to learn more from our conscience. ‘Yeah, I know nobody knows / where it comes and where it goes’. I’m not saying we need to be saints, only that the rights and wrongs matter, no matter what. So I say there’s no time better spent than tuning into our moral lives and sharing our findings. If enough of us can prioritize that, each in our own way, then we have every chance of tipping the balance and making room for something new. I’ll sing with Steven any day.