A thought on surviving

When I started writing this, I was thinking about “not feeling safe”. I don’t feel safe. I’ve never felt safe. There’s always been a cloud. A foreboding. A feeling something bad is about to happen. It’s a tightness in the chest. A pang in the gut. An elusive breath. Safe is a fiction. An illusion of privilege. The confidence of knowing “it’s all gonna work out”. Safe is an adjective, the rich-people adjective, for the poor-person’s verb, survive.

If we met in the wild and you were inclined to ask “how are you?” I’d instinctively reply surviving. It sounds innocuous enough, even jovial, but surviving is a contraction of the weather-beaten “surviving but not thriving”. A glib aphorism about life. A short statement of truth, that sits somewhere between drinking my own piss, and cutting off my foreskin with a pair of scissors. Life on a spectrum of discomfort. A rainbow of unease. Stepping stones that leap from mildly nauseating disgust, to agonising self-destruction.

I’ve tried pinning it down, finding that moment when my surviving began. The blue sky before the rain. But I can’t! I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t raining. When I wasn’t getting soaked. When the ground beneath my feet wasn’t a quagmire. When I didn’t have to heave through the mud. When that mud wasn’t sucking at my shoes like some non-Newtonian goop. 

I try dealing with this goop by staying busy. Develop an idea. Start a project. Learn a skill. Research a screenplay. Glue a collage. Pontificate a confession. Each new task is a brick, another sandbag against the impending floods. But the rain keeps falling. It’s always pouring. The river keeps rising against the dam. The storms that came with redundancy didn’t help. Neither did the monsoons of lockdown. And the bilging drains of unemployment, have done nothing but soil the rising floodwaters.

When you stack sandbags to protect against the flood, you pack ’em tight, and build ‘em high. If you do that for long enough, you construct a well. A pit to keep the water on the outside. It should be a place of safety. Instead it’s a place to drown. Imagine, you’re at the bottom of that well, rain beating down. Each new drop is a splash closer to the crown, a drop nearer to breaching that wall. Before you know it, you’re up to your chin in water, wishing you had gills, wondering how you’ll survive this time?

Surviving is a handicap. A way to exist in spite of the hardships. A way to keep going despite the ordeals. You survive the days. Decades of days. Hoping it will all work out. Experience tells you it won’t. How could it? All the jobs I’ve ever know are temporary, short-term, insecure. Plans for the future are a joke. When the places you’ve lived are the same. Temporary. Short-term. Insecure. Look forward. Take action. Be a man! Take a chance. It’s easy. Make a plan. But you’re trapped by the deficits that forever loom large, when every penny is temporary, short-term, insecure.

I can hear the safe proclaim “hardship is a privilege for everyone”. Struggle may be a universal, part of the human condition, but the safe misunderstand the survivor’s hardships. So much of what happens is beyond individual control. If you doubt me, think back, to the who and the how, to the time when you were taught to stand. Now take a beat, tell me, how did that prime your mind? If you listen again to the rains coming down. Do you feel it, can you hear, the showers softer sounds? Those suffering in safety, have their hardships kissed clean. Make the bold choice. Be heroic. Know that you’re seen. Life’s less traumatic when you have safety at hand. Metaphorical winches. Figurative hoists. How hard is it to escape harm’s reach? Stand up. Take your time. Get back on your feet. Now imagine again, wind back and think, remember the hole. Was it easy? Did you stack the wall high? Did water reach up to your chin? Now think about surviving with a cup not a winch. How does eight fluid ounces compare? Do you remember the feel of water flooding in, the disasters, the panic, the hardship it brings? Now tell me, I dare you, go on and try, how safe and surviving compare?

The world consumes. Everything competes. Consider the toll of surviving. The first thing you’ll notice is crippling fatigue. You’re tired, worse than tired, flat out, empty. Can you recall when cassettes were the thing, the batteries would always run out? The motor would struggle, scrape tape across metal, dragging voices to a drawl. Now imagine that drawl as a constant refrain. The effort, physical effort, it takes too exist, is that voice dragged, taxed to the hilt. This fatigue ferments doubt, self-doubt, loathing makes you think, is it possible, to do the impossible, and succeed? So you bob and you jump, doing whatever you must, to stand bipedal like a human. But it’s hard to know hope, when the lifeline’s a rope, wrapped and tangled, tight round your neck. No doubt the hemping would ease the unease, hurrying your premature fade out. But when there’s no sleep til… you’re angry, thunder angry, rain on molten rocks. A thug, scared and screaming. Scum, apoplectic with rage. Forgotten bomb, primed, left decaying. Surviving ain’t noble, it’s a life, not a lifestyle, a hardship you’re forced to endure. If survive is the action, and “not feeling safe” is the message, it’s received loud and clear on repeat.

Is any of that true? Should I reconsider? Is surviving all my own fiction? How would I know, it’s impossible to prove, it’s all just conjecture? I’m willing to try, reorder the lies, those I tell myself, me, and others. Let’s start with a truth, I think it’s a truth, I don’t know if I’m lying. Despite giving everything, the opposite of not trying, I’ve struggled to realise my ambitions. They slide out of view, only ever seen, done by other people. Is that by chance? Was I always this doomed? Shit, could this be deliberate? Does life have a plan, to convince me there’s no plan, so there’s no point in even trying? If that’s the idea, that would make safe, a massive problem? If you read that and bristle, spitting “it’s all self-pity”, skewed with “the politics of envy!” I’m sure you can see, the irony of putting, efforts and luck on the same footing? As if “strive” and “desire” aren’t what’s required, just to join the party? Does all that happen, has it been done, to obscure another lesson? Those things unsaid, the thoughts implicit, poor people “know your position!” Let that sink in, like the rains pouring in, no hoist to make a difference. Wealth cheats the odds. Softens the angles. Makes it harder for those just surviving. Cities are structured, organised to make certain, the safe are never just surviving.

Can you thrive, when the odds are stacked, actively pitched against you? You could try conforming, believing the hype, that gets spun out as normal? Work hard. Play by the rules. Take heroic actions. Get just enough money. It’s a simple idea that forces, pressures, coerces, people into a life of surviving. We end up chasing, never quite getting, the product of our efforts. Hidden in the hype, lost in small print, is the clause “it will never happen”. The idea you could win, exceed your station, would reverse the “natural order”. What if it happened, you achieved your ambitions, beating all the others. Then how could you be, the rule that proves the exception? You’re poor. Weathered the storms. Bailed yourself out. Triumphed by not drowning. Despite what the safe would have you believe, that makes you pretty effective. Multiply action, by the strings to your bow, and you should be thought of as dangerous. So why does it feel, as if you’ve been hobbled, beat before you even got started. Has your future been stolen, wasted, leveraged, so the safe can keep on winning?

Whoever builds the walls, owns the stage, writes the rules. There’s no place for nature. All culture is nurtured. Every institution. The thoughts in your head. The feelings in charge of your future. They’re all pre-owned, second-hand, passed-down, taught, by those with an interest. The story they tell is younger than the hills, but no older than the cities. People started flocking, murmuring together, to escape nature’s predators. In return for protection, cities offered people, a better way of surviving. The city spread like a virus, multiplying, mutating, dripping down the generations. They banished the night, electrified the light, until they changed what it means to be human. These days we’re running, never quite getting, how this life was crafted. As long as we need, have ambitions to feed, we’ll live out our days in their service. 

Culture’s a lie, routinely told. Somehow this is the only way of living? There’s this idea the safe toss about, as a threat, a backhanded promise? They do as they will, take as they want, else starve us of their presence? As an act of persuasion, it’s viciously glib, up there with blaming the victims. They behave like ministers, ancient mystics, magician’s pushing a mark to “want this”. All magic is a lie, a con, sleight of hand, soaked in the art of misdirection. You’re offered a focus. Pick a target, any target, one of the millions, those despicable others, you hate. And while you’re raging, protesting, attacking, the safe set about robbing you blind, corrupting your soul, remaking you in their image. It’s their life we’re living, life in their fast lane, surviving without their means. While they’re living the high life, we’re living our only life, drowning in safe waters.

The most pernicious disease survivors ever caught, is the endless treadmill of working. Ducking and diving, grafting and chasing, for the junkiest junk, money. I don’t think I’m poor because I lack ambition, not even a lack of effort. I’m poor for only one reason, I don’t have any money! How can I, can any of we, escape drowning in safe waters. What if survivors said enough is enough, took to a life beyond safe-racing? Okay, here’s a thought, a radicle idea, what if we chose a life without cities? Capitalism or communism, can take a back seat, they’re the bitterness of a past epoch. We need better ways of seeing, of surviving the dark, without parasites, leeching us poor with their cravings. If we go there, anywhere but here, perhaps we can build a better existence? I know I can’t, won’t keep going, suffering this cycle of drowning. Like it or not, I think we’re all done, I’m out. Let the safe survive without us.

This isn’t finished. I don’t suppose it’ll ever finish. But it’s all there is for now.

A thought on my inner voice

I was recently asked to talk about my inner voice and what it feels like.

Ironically, I rarely think explicitly about the voice in my head. Other than to recognise I have one. Apparently not everyone does. For those who don’t experience themselves this way, it’s important to understand, no one talks to me. Imaginary people don’t appear. I hear my thoughts, lots of them, spoken concurrently. And it can get noisy in there.

At its worst, the voice is the opposite of some benign companion, guiding me through the travails of life. Instead he’s an unrelenting gob-shite, filling every space in my head the way water fills a glass. An opinionated, vociferous, belligerent noise maker, that never ever shuts the-fuck up!

If you could hear the monologues behind my eyes, they would sound like traffic tearing up a multi-lane highway. A  mega-road spiralling infinitely inward, forever chasing the end to Mandelbrot’s fractal. Cars and lorries, trucks and vans, wefting and warping at deafening speeds. 

That’s what I wake up to. My status quo. The baseline noise in my head. And because that’s just how it is for me, the best I can do is put it to work. Construct a narrative? All done! Find me a patterns in the chaos? No problem! Create connections between absurdities? There you go! Now imagine all of that multiplied by ten, twenty, a million. 

When things are going well and I keep busy, it’s manageable. When it’s not, when the wheels inevitably come off, it’s a car crash. Any unexpected question, that catches me off-guard, will feel like a herd of buffalo charging into traffic. Vehicles brake! Tyres skid! Unforgiving metal mashes unyielding flesh! It’s carnage. Nonsense speaks. None sensical words choke the voice. No lanes. No direction. Just thoughts and emotions mangled together with nowhere to go but… it’s as visceral and violent as an actual car crash.

If I was a science experiment, it would be beautiful, a miracle of physics. Particles colliding, unraveling some fundamental truth about the universe. But there’s nothing profound coming out of this particle accelerator. When my thoughts collide they create fission not fusion. Things get smashed not created. And the inevitable consequence of exploding fission. Tonnes of toxic waste on everything inside me.

When inertia is everything, collisions are catastrophic. 

On the edge of catastrophe. That’s my head. It reads hyperbolic. Even romantic. But romanticism is torture for financial gain. Grist to the mill for the parasites of romantic pain. That’s not me. For me it’s like watching the penny drop, on my head. A machine, stamp! Tightropes and knife edges don’t mean the same things, when they’re ploughing face first into you. You did this. Your brain did this to you. You hate yourself because there’s no one else to blame. The shame. Shame on you for being that fragile. For being that dumb. For not knowing! How do you master a weakness you can’t control?

Blunder blind into any shadow and the hole in your head will glow. 

When the deluge of cortisol floods the tarmac you’re forced to choose. Fight or flight? Flee or stand your ground? I will always fight! I don’t know why. Generational trauma? Tough ancestors made hard by tough lives? Who really knows? But come at me the wrong way and I will fight you!

The flip side of fighting is vigilance. Hyper vigilance. Life in a state of expectation. Reading the road. Knowing. One step ahead. Anticipating. If this. Then that. When speeding thoughts connect with that charging buffalo it gets dark, barking, myopic madness. It’s not anger. It’s panic. A chest tightening sickness that starves reason. Waiting for the moment, you have to fight!

It’s never calm before the storm, only after the disaster.

The aftermath of disaster is silence. Thoughts choke on internal combustion. Mandelbrot’s patterns burned to dust. Leaving a hole that’s blacker than absent. And a silence that’s worse than the noise. The quiet is arrest without charges. Until nothing takes hold of everything. Dragging mayhem over the edge. Letting carnage fall off the horizon. Waiting for rubber to taste the edge. Zang tumb tuuum, gears bite the rim. Zang tumb tuuum, engines growl at silence. Zang tumb tuuum, thoughts weft and warp. Noise shattering the silence, so that inner opposite can return to square one.

The unnatural Nature of Culture

A message from @maimislang posted on @CloutFeed, the DeSo social media blockchain, quoted American writer Joseph Campbell.

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.

These days, all of our heartbeats are governed by the pulse of electricity, strobing through wires buried deep in the concrete and steel that surrounds us. The safety of the walls that envelope us, work to keep us away from, and safe from, anything Natural.

Generations ago we hitched ourselves to, and became completely dependant upon, the unnatural Nature of Culture. It was sold to humanity as the solution to all of our problems. Offering safety and protection from the dark nights of Nature.

The price we had to pay for this apparent comfort can best be described as the tyranny of rents and taxes, laws and society. Structures that have become worse now than any dark nights of Nature.

Realise, if you dare, we are all hostage to our fears of the dark.

They keeps us here.

They keeps us working.

And in return Culture keeps the lights on.

Did Boris Johnson embrace herd immunity because he wrote a book about Winston Churchill?

In a recent Twitter post from PoliticsJOE Peter Jukes, the founder of the Byline Times, talks about a speech Boris Johnson gave in February 2020. Jukes calls The Greenwich Speech the “smoking gun” of herd immunity. The disastrous idea touted by Johnson in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnson has since distanced himself from the theory, but for a time he believed we should take COVID-19 on the chin. Let the virus spread through the country unchecked. Protect the economy by getting it over and done in one shot.

The Greenwich Speech is up on the government website for everyone to read. It’s a long and rambling thing. Full of bombast and big metaphors, but empty of concrete detail. The following chunk is the “smoking gun” that Jukes mentions. The bit that absolutely connects Johnson to herd immunity.

Trade used to grow at roughly double global GDP – from 1987 to 2007.

Now it barely keeps pace and global growth is itself anaemic and the decline in global poverty is beginning to slow.

And in that context, we are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other.

And here in Greenwich in the first week of February 2020, I can tell you in all humility that the UK is ready for that role.

PM speech in Greenwich: 3 February 2020

In the interest of my own pathological need for completeness, I offer the full Politics Joe interview with Peter Jukes, as seen on Youtube. It’s an interesting twenty minutes on the background and underlying thinking of the Johnson government. The relevant observations about herd immunity starts at 12 minutes, 45 seconds.

Peter Jukes | PoliticsJOE

To be clear, when Johnson makes the argument for ignoring COVID-19, to give the country an economic advantage, he’s making an argument for killing huge numbers of people. There’s a soulless lack of humanity in his words. He just doesn’t realise, or worse doesn’t care, about the human cost of letting the virus rip though the country.

Jukes sums up the morality of Johnson’s choice by asking a simple question. “Would you take a 25% cut in your salary or loose a parent?” The instant response, from the overwhelming majority, is take the pay cut. From the available evidence I don’t think Johnson would. He is constitutionally incapable of accepting the loss.

So how does someone rationalise such a vicious choice?

We might find answers in the language he uses. If you look beyond the disaster that is herd immunity, and listen to what Johnson says, I think you can understand something of his mindset. Reading his words you quickly realise Johnson isn’t a person of science. His approach isn’t systematic, or logical. It’s entirely romantic. He thinks of himself as a hero. A man battling enemies and vanquishing foes. It’s as if he’s some kind of mythic hero, a modern day Achilles at the gates of Troy.

Achilles

You can see this in the excerpt from The Greenwich Speech. When Johnson compares the country to Clark Kent, he paints his government as the heroic Superman, battling for “freedom of exchange”. He revels in the image of Clark Kent removing his spectacles, leaping into the phone booth, emerging with his “cloak flowing as the supercharged champion of the right of the population of Earth to buy and sell freely among each other”. Make no mistake, when Johnson portrays his government as the Superman of free trade, he sees himself as someone making the tough choices, the heroic champion of the market, a man capable of vanquishing others irrational panic, to save the economy.

While turning this thought over in my mind, I remembered an appearance Johnson made on The Jonathan Ross Show some time in July 2019. He was on there promoting The Churchill Factor, his book about Winston Churchill. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, you can speed through the following clip. They start talking about the book at about 9 minutes, 40 seconds in.

Boris Johnson | The Jonathan Ross Show

Johnson explains he wrote the book because he thought we are in danger of “imperfectly remembering” Churchill and his achievements. Personally I’d say the myth of Churchill needs some work. His actions need to be reassessed. Looked at critically. Seen realistically. Not lionised the way Johnson does, but that’s the subject of another post.

As the interview progresses Johnson lists some of the things people have forgotten about Churchill. He helped to start the welfare state in the early part of the twentieth century. Was as instrumental in forming modern Ireland. Helped create the state of Israel. Wrote the map of the middle east. Had a hand in inventing the tank. Helped win the first world war.

The most telling admiration, and for me a damning insight into Johnson’s thinking in the early months of 2020, is prompted by comments from Jonathan Ross. “I didn’t realise how crucial he (Churchill) was to us actually carrying on the fight against Hitler.” Johnson gleefully interprets Churchill’s resolve, his heroic decision to fight on. “Within a year 30 thousand British men, women and children were dead.” That’s not the most revealing remembrance. Johnson finishes his soliloquies with a chilling postulation. “You cannot imagine any modern politician having the guts to do that.”

The things on Johnson’s list are interesting because they expose his particular biases. For example, Churchill’s involvement in the middle east. It could be argued his involvement in the region is the bedrock upon which current conflicts are built. The same could be said of Ireland. Johnson doesn’t mention Churchill’s involvement in the 1943 Bengal famine, or him advocating the use of chemical weapons against Kurds and Afghans in 1919. I think Churchill’s legacy is complicated. Not all of it is good, or noble, or heroic. But instead of recognising this, Johnson chooses to “imperfectly remember” Churchill as a saint.

I see this last statement as prophetic.

Johnson thinks of himself as a classical hero, battling enemies and vanquishing foes. He writes a book lionising Winston Churchill, admiring the most chilling and heartless aspects of his character and actions. A few months later he gives a speech arguing for herd immunity. Letting thousands of people die so this country can survive an economic disaster. His government, his supercharged champion, will admonish lessor nations for their caution, and make the case for freedom of exchange. In less than a year more than 60 thousand British men, women and children are dead.

“You can’t imagine any modern politician having the guts to do that.”

Just so no one misunderstands, I don’t think Johnson was or is heroic. His words are hyperbole. His actions hubris. His unchecked ego has killed thousand. He needs to be stopped.

A1(M)

An imagined conversation between a husband and wife.

My reply to the text message from UK_Gov

I got a text message this morning from UK_Gov. Not sure how they got my number?!? That’s the subject for another time. But if they’re going to start texting me on my personal phone, I feel it’s my right to offer my two penneth.

What would your superpower be?

I’ve been sorting through some files on my computer and I came across the following. It was written for a job application, one of those quirky questions they toss in at the end of the application to, I think, challenge you. They asked “if you were superhuman, what would your superpower be?” This was my reply.

When asked same question, one of my friends answered flippantly invisibility. They wanted to be invisible so they could spy on people. I know. Because the superhero is after all the territory of the adolescent. It’s hard not to be flippant. There’s something very childish in all of our answers.

When you really think about the same question as an adult, the answer is very different. For adults superpowers are less super, more human. As an adult I think my superpower would be strength.

Strength of character.

Strength of will.

Strength of intellect.

We all make up stories to help us understand the world. I tell one about a villain I call Mr. Panopticon.

The Panopticon was a circular prison designed by 18th Century social theorist Jeremy Bentham. In his design the cell walls are made of glass, transparent, allowing prisoners to be watched at any time from a central tower. The structure teases compliance from its tenants because they never know when they’re being watched. Michel Foucault used Bentham’s prison design as a metaphor, to highlight the way power, since the destruction of absolute monarchies, has sought to hide itself from view. If there is no focus for our anger, it’s impossible for us to remove the cause of our pain.

My Mr. Panopticon has a lick of the Mr. World’s about him. For those who don’t know Mr. World is character from the book and television series American Gods. He mysterious, charming, and dangerous.

More recently my view of Mr. Panopticon has changed. I used to think of him as a machine, a huge torus wrapped around us, surrounding us, watching us from central point, controlling our behaviour with his constant gaze. But more recently Intinction Rebellion entered the public space with a series of demonstrations. Their efforts to highlight the impending doom of Global Warming have made me adjust my vision of Mr. Panopticon. Their efforts made me realised, he’s not a torus as Bentham designed him, but instead a sphere, a visceral ball rolling over the planet consuming everything in his path.

If that’s the case, where does Mr. Panopticon watch us from? Is he at the centre of this massive ball like structure? More importantly I wonder where we fit, where do we live?

After thinking about that for a while I can only surmise the cells we inhabit line the inside of Mr. Panopticon, coating the inside of his outer membrane like the proteins lining the wall of a virus. This realisation changes the orientation of the cells we live in, tipping them over, packing them together side by side. And that shift changes the way we’re watched. He no longer looks out along a horizontal axis, instead monitoring us from above.

If we inhabit six-sided boxes, a hermetically sealed cells, what do we see when we look out? Looking left or right, front or back, we should see the other tenants of Mr. Panopticon. They should be there, staring in on us, as we stare in on them? But we don’t! Why is that? Are we so similar we mistake them for a reflection? Does he mediate everything, filtering it though some platform or other, making us forever reach but never make contact with our neighbours? It could be that he has transfixed us, made us all Narcissus, so enamoured by our own reflection everything else is just a haze.

If when we look around, and only see reflections, what do we see when we look up? Do we see Mr. Panopticon looking down on us? No. He’s a trickster. His entire existence is based on not being seen. Can we even see the spherical version of the tower? All watching? All knowing? Omnipotent? Do we see the virus gnome, hovering above us like water sliding over oil? Do we see God? Is that why Mr. Panopticon hasn’t destroyed our notions of God? He needs us to believe in the almighty, so we keep looking up. If we’re always looking up, we’re not looking down. If we don’t look down, we don’t see the viscera, the clots of blood, the chimeric limbs of the virus. We don’t see the true horror of Mr. Panopticon swirling beneath our feet. We’re taught the fiery chambers of hell are waiting for us should we transgress. They’re not. All that is beneath us is the bloody intestine of the beast that has swallowed us.

Give me strength.

The strength of character to call him out.

The strength of will not to succumb to his manipulations.

The strength of intellect to dissect the intricacies of his plan.

One final thing. Do I think I live in a glass box? No. Am I alone in the world? No. I can reach out, pull my partner close, and feel their warmth against me. Mr. Panopticon is a story. He is Joker to my Batman. Agent Smith to my Neo. He’s a villain that I need superpowers to resist. And reason for my superpower to be strength.