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.

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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.

Peaky Blinders (2013–2022)

I finished watching arguably the best British drama in decades, Peaky Blinders (2013–2022). For me it should be the gold standard for future British television. The high bar other productions measure themselves against.

The shows strength hangs entirely on Steven Knight’s writing. Its power is in the myths he creates. Mythologising that goes beyond simple dramatisation, and into the wider cultural mind. A shiny example of John Ford’s maxim, from his western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend”.

While the thirty-sixth episode is supposed to the last we see of the Shelby clan, I’m not convinced it’s the end. There’s too much story left to be told, much more mythology to be created.

Knight has said in interview, he has a vision of Sir Thomas Shelby standing on the steps of the House of Lords, as waves of bombers fill the sky above him, all heading off to fight Hitler’s Germany.

That’s too good an image not to be used. And the final episode leaves way too many loose ends for this to be it. There’s Duke and Finn, Tommy’s infant son and Ada as an MP. I for one want to see Sir Tommy take on and foul Mosley’s ambitions.

What make you unique?

“What makes you unique?” is one of those questions asked by potential employers to catch you out. Whatever your response you’re doomed to come off as an idiot. That said, I tried to be interesting.

My knee-jerk reaction to the question, “What make you unique?” is to reply nothing. To misquote Chuck Palahniuk we “are not special… not a beautiful and unique snowflake” we are “the same decaying organic matter as everything else”. But that’s not going to get me the job, is it?

So me being me, I go looking in a dictionary for clarity and inspiration. The word unique is written alongside words like individual, special, idiosyncratic, eccentric, solitary, exclusive, rare, peculiar, novel, and strange.

I could easily make a list of personal characteristics that correlate to these synonyms, but you don’t have the time, and I don’t have the hubris, to start telling you about my idiosyncratic taste in anything.

Uniqueness I realise is dependant very much on context. In a room full of writers, being a writer is not unique. The same can be said of artists or photographers, managers or technicians. But in a room full of specialists, I’m a polyamorous generalist, a creative thinker chasing novelty, and that makes me a bit of an alien.

So to answer your question, what makes me unique? I’m gonna say, I’m an alien!

The Border Reiver by Nick Christofides.

Finished reading what felt to me like a Tory take on class conflict, “The Border Reiver” by Nick Christofides.

There’s a class conflict at the heart of the plot, that reminds me a little of the conflict in Terry Nation’s seventies virus thriller “Survivors”. Nation’s bad guys are all working class union leaders, imposing their collectivist ideas on the middle class survivors of the apocalypse.

Christofides takes a similar tack, as we follow his salt of the earth landowner, battling to protect his family against the ruthless socialists imposing their land reforms, and trying to steel his ancestral home.

I’m not entirely sure how any of this links to the Border Reivers, other than the location of the story. For me the reivers analogy stretches thin under the weight of contemporary political reality. When the riding families were active, raiding across the border lands of Northumberland and Cumbria, they fought and feuded, murdered and robbed, to survive harsh conditions. They were organised and ruthless, the mafia before the mafia was a thing, demanding protection from raiding, taking hostages and extorting ransoms. As likely to take up arms and fight for the King as against him. From the things I’ve read on the subject the reivers were less the lone wolf and more of a pack animal.

All of that aside, it’s a well written thriller that keeps you reading, and I liked it.

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.

A thought on violence.

Violence permeates every aspect of our lives.

Most people don’t want to believe that.

So they hide behind condemnations.

Preferring a delusion to the truth.

Our society trades in violence.

And if you want to change it.

You have to trade favours.

Note: When I started writing this, I didn’t realise where it was going, or the conclusion I’d come to. It’s a surprise but not surprising.

For those who’ve been living in a bunker, afraid Vladimir Putin will escalate the conflict in Ukraine to the rest of Europe, this is the moment actor Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock across the face.

Moments earlier Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. She was not happy. So Smith walked on stage, in front of the assembled crowd, on live television, and slapped Rock across the face. He bitch slapped him. On television. In front of an international audience. I don’t think anyone has ever seen the like, and rightly or wrongly, it will go down as one of “the greatest moments in television history”.

Social media was awash with condemnations for Smith. One account censured him three times in quick succession. “Imagine if Chris Rock was a woman.” “Violence is not acceptable.” “I always condemn.” Imagine if Rock had been a woman? What if he’d been white? What if Smith was white, or a woman? If anything about that event had been different, the intricacies of race and gender politics would’ve changed the nature of “the slap”. But it wasn’t. It was two “equal status” men going toe to toe. Chris Rock insulted Will Smith’s wife. Smith reacted. Verbal violence got a physical response. 

It’s worth taking a moment to consider how deliberate Smith was. It was a slap not a punch. He didn’t charge at Rock, knock him to the floor, and beat him to a pulp. There’s a  certain chivalry, a nineteenth century formality, to his action. If he’d been wearing gloves, he would’ve thrown one at Rock’s feet, and demanded satisfaction. Perhaps not doing that was Smith’s biggest mistake. He punished Rock before giving him the chance to apologise?

Now consider Rock’s response. Smith slapped him across the face, and he took it. He could’ve taken a swing at Smith. Why didn’t he slap him back? Everyone would’ve understood. Was it a sign of weakness, or some inner moral strength? Could it be, he knew he’d demeaned Pinkett-Smith, so accepted his punishment? Was it his instincts as a comedian? Did he recognise in that instant “the slap” could become a set up for some yet to be written monologue? More likely, a lifetime of social conditioning kicked in, and stopped him returning Smith’s favour?

Parking all of that for a moment. I think “the slap” and the subsequent reaction to it exposes a much deeper truth. The constraints society puts on violence aren’t always enough to keep it in check. It’s always there, bubbling under the surface, ready to boil over. Anyone who denies this fact is fooling themselves. Injecting novocaine into a clenched jaw. Hoping if they can’t feel it. It didn’t happen.

Make no mistake violence happens all of the time. So often in fact, aggression and his corollary, are an ever-present part of life. How often has someone cursed at you on public transport. Barged past you in the street. Reached across you in the supermarket. Almost clipped you with their car. Ridden into you with their bike. A million random acts of violence, stopped from going postal by the rules most of us live by. The irony is, the society that doesn’t want us punching some fucker who offends us, is the same society that doesn’t even pretend to practice what it preaches.

Violence goes far beyond these everyday aggressions, and glides like oil on water through our lives. There’s economic violence. The tyranny of low wages, souring rents, doubling utility bills, unaffordable travel, expensive food. There’s political violence. The litany of lies told, truths withheld, corruption ignored, treachery dismissed. There’s the violence of exploitation. The labours wrung, minerals extracted, waters poisoned, environment destroyed. There’s physical violence. The accumulation of slaps, punches, and kicks; head butts, sucker punches, and right hooks; cracked whips, swung bats, stabbed knives; gun shots, bombs dropped, and ordnance exploded; woman against man; men against women; men against man; woman fighting women. Unrelenting violence happening all the time, and there’s no escape.

Reading that back, what strikes me is a simple truth, there’s profit in violence. To have one you use the other. If you don’t see this, you’ve chosen not to look. And that tells me you’re either an aggressor or protected by privilege. Those comfortable souls, who toss out condemnation like emotional hand grenades, are hiding behind their privilege. They don’t even realise, if you can occupy some high moral high ground, capture a hill and protect it, that’s only because a million acts of violence have been done to protect your stronghold.

Sky.com

Why’s any of that important? Because if you don’t understand how violence is used, you can never change anything. Hell, you probably won’t even survive. The sad reality is, you have to first survive the violence done to you. Only then can you sue for change. And if you want change you have to engage in violence to get it. Try telling me, honestly, I’m wrong? You want a raise at work, you have to fight for it. You want somewhere to live, you have to battle a hundred other desperate families for the privilege. You want your kids to inherit a planet they can live on, you have to got toe to toe with multinationals and governments who don’t care.

Think about Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain, or Black Lives Matter. Three groups trying to make social changes. Demonstrations after disruption all designed to raise awareness, and the consciousness of wider society. Each time the vested interests that govern us throw every level of physical, legal, and social violence at them. Fighting that weight of power, thinking violence isn’t the answer, doesn’t understand the question.

My conclusion. The people of the United Kingdom need to recognise the violence that is being done to them. If we are not strong. If we do not burry our reluctance to respond, to fight, those forces of wealth and privilege, tradition and power, will use violence to destroy us all.

If you want change, there must be violence.

This is a truth.

A thought on lockdowns

Lockdowns have changed the United Kingdom.

Shifted the way people feel.

Upended how we think.

Changed what’s important.

And I don’t think there’s any going back.

It’s perhaps why Boris Johnson is so desperate to jettison all virus related restrictions, and get us all back on the treadmill of life.

Long ago, at the beginning of 2020, when COVID-19 was still just a headline, and Johnson was making speeches in Greenwich advocating herd immunity, a lockdown was inconceivable. We all thought they were an impossibility.

Then COVID-19 caught fire in the United Kingdom, ripping through the population like John Wick in a Russian nightclub. As the number of infections skyrocketed, and the dead started to pile high, it quickly became clear. If something wasn’t done, the National Health Service would be overwhelmed, and there would be an unprecedented loss of life.

Johnson didn’t want to lock down. He clung to the idea that we should take it on the chin, let the virus rip through the population. This meant he spent at least a month dithering.

Then, on the 23rd of March 2020, when there really was no other move, Johnson pushed the “pause” button, finally giving the order to “stay at home”.

Over night our household income plummeted. How were we going pay our rent? How do we pay our bills? How are we going to survive? On top of the money worries, daily life got very small. We couldn’t do anything. So it became a repetition of shopping for food and our flat. Netflix or the garden? Computer or phone? Twitter or Kindle. The bed or the sofa?

London got quiet. Apart from the constant acoustic intrusions. Doors banging. Children screaming. Raised voices. Drunken arguing. The noises of people having sex. The music, other people’s music, blasting at all hours. A sewing machine rattling somewhere until midnight. An upstairs neighbour doing jumping jacks over our living room.

No money and no way of escape.

As bad as it was for me and mine, many others had it worse. I feel for the people that lived alone? Who do you talk to? What if you don’t have a garden? At what point do the walls start to close in? What about families with children? How do you keep the “brats” entertained week after unrelenting week? What about their education? What about the elderly, the frail, and dependant?

An entire country forced into a confused hibernation.

When details of furlough, and the self-employment income support scheme were finally announce, it eased some of our panic. Our hysteria went from a shriek to a muffled scream. What it didn’t do, was alleviate the pressure of being in close proximity with the same people for-ever. Even the most accommodating souls, which I am not, will eventually run out of road.

Tears turned into floods, as mole hills became mountains.

Personally, I need to do things. Otherwise my thoughts start to spiral and I become unbearable. Food. My teeth. My eyesight. My weight. Sex. No sex. Sleeping. Drinking. Too much alcohol. Not enough water. Too much TikTok. “Watermelon sugar.” Writing. Not being able to write. My spelling. The typos. The English language. “Watermelon sugar.” Artworks. Images to create. Words to post. Things to say. “Watermelon sugar.” Politics. Justice. Injustice. Brexit. Sovereign individuals. Extinction Rebellion. Imminent ecological collapse. Wealth. Poverty. Housing. Mould in the kitchen. Cracks in the sink. “Watermelon sugar.” Money. Our futures. My partner’s business. Redundancy. Furlough. Being unemployed. Being unemployable. Universal Credit. Getting older. Being old. Soap.

For me this internal chatter, the unrelenting voice speeding across my tongue, starts to sound like an auctioneer at an American cattle market. It’s overwhelming. I go a bit mad. Get short tempered. Sullen. Distant. Argumentative. I have trouble concentrating. Focusing. Listening. I fidget. Random memories, decades old, flash into my imagination. That stupid things I said. The hesitations. The wrong turn. The other version of “that” conversation. The moment of “if only” that would’ve meant a different life. All of it there and gone like some perverted subliminal advertisement.

For me, and many others, lockdown made all of this worse.

Why am I confessing all of this personal trivia? To explain what I mean when I say “shifted the way people feel”.

Until the 23rd of March 2020 most of us lived on a treadmill. Constantly moving. With no time to think about anything but what’s pressing. One way of dealing with negative thoughts is to keep busy. Distract yourself out of the pattern of thinking. If you have any experience with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy you’ll know what I mean. For me this modality is remarkably similar to the treadmill of existence. This constant motion carried us through our lives. Eat. Sleep. Work. Repeat. Whether we realised it or not, these routines stop us ever contemplating, never mind realising, what we really feel.

Lockdown forced us all to stop and take stock.

In this paused state, the voices that normally keep us on the treadmill, that keep us striving, faded into the background. Think about the stories we’re routinely fed to keep us moving. Television shows about buying, building, converting, or decorating a house, seed the urge to own property. Travelogues make us want to explore. Scripted reality normalises our desire for wealth and privilege. News broadcasts make us feel attacked. Dating shows frame beauty as the only metre of connection. Dramas offer catharsis, a way to excise our frustrations.

For me, there’s an inevitability to the voices that urge us on. They push a version of life that’s intrinsically toxic. To bastardise a word or two from the fictional Tyler Durden, “if television is our model for life, we’re starting to realise, television doesn’t like us”.

That’s probably why there’s a tsunami of mental health problems headed our way. It reflects the moments of realisation, forced on us by lockdown, that there’s something “rotten in the state of Denmark”. That the world doesn’t care about us. That we’ve all been so busy trying to survive, we’ve forgotten how to thrive.

It’s also why, since March 2020, there’s been a vociferous cohort demanding an end to lockdown. They don’t work! We’ve needlessly trashed our economy. The numbers of dead are over reported. We have to learn to live with COVID. It’s only the flu. It doesn’t exist. It’s all just one huge conspiracy.

So many voices united by a yearning to have a “normal” life.

My question is, why? Why are they so keen to get back on that treadmill? Is it fear? Are they afraid their status, privilege, wealth, will disappear? How much pain must you feel when you realise, none of that “stuff” really matters?! That the nurses and supermarket staff, bus drivers and delivery people, are all more important, than the “armies of consultants, bankers, tax advisors, managers, and others who earn their money in strategic trans-sector peer-to-peer meetings to brainstorm the value-add on co-creation in the network society“?

The fact is, the longer we remain paused. The more time people have to examine their lives, and understand there’s something wrong. That they’re not happy, and want off the fucking treadmill.

I think that’s one of many reasons why Boris Johnson is hell bent on ending restrictions on the 19th of July 2021.

He wants everyone back on that treadmill? He needs us all running to survive. Distracted. With no time. Unable to think. So we don’t just say “we want something more”.

Personally I hope people realise what’s important.

Take the action needed.

And change.

A thought on heresy

I’ve noticed a pattern.

A way of thinking.

A way of believing.

That has scorched the earth we share.

And made it almost impossible to discuss anything.

There are many iterations of this pattern, but they all share one thing. A willingness to retreat into absolutes. Lines drawn. Hilltops claimed. It’s the dynamic of binaries. Us and them. Insiders and outsiders. Believers and heretics.

Heresy is written in dictionaries alongside words like dissension and dissidence, blasphemy and idolatry, scepticism and atheism, but it has two main definitions.

The most widely understood relates to religion. Heresy is “a belief or an opinion that is against the principles of a particular religion; the fact of holding such beliefs”.

A broader definition describes what I call the secular understanding. Heresy is “a belief or an opinion that disagrees strongly with what most people believe”.

More recently heresy has taken on what I call the cult definition. It combines aspects of both the religious and secular interpretations but has a more sinister, authoritarian, tendency. In this version, it’s heresy “to disagree with, or question, any prescribed doctrine or articles of faith”.

The cult variant has its roots in, and more than a passing resemblance to, propaganda. It’s biased, often misleading, and “used to promote a political cause or point of view”.

It works by describing a set of values or principles, moral facts or correct thinking. These “articles of faith” are accepted and absorbed as ineffable truths. The faithful define who they are as people by committing, or more accurately submitting, wholeheartedly to these articles.

This creates a really simplistic binary. You either accept the orthodoxies, follow the path to acceptance and support, or you’re the enemy, a belligerent that can just “fuck-off-and-die”. Put another way, you’re either with us or against us. Think what we think or you will be destroyed.

It’s a seductive way of thinking. It offers security. Certainty. Your allies are easily identified. Your enemies clearly defined. What it doesn’t do, is allow for questions.

Anyone with a sceptical disposition, a natural curiosity, or even a question to ask, is treated as an unenlightened outsider. This makes enemies of even the most sympathetic minds. Condemning, dismissing, vilifying, shunning, threatening, or attacking, anyone who has divergent experience, a differing point of view, or a genuine concern.

Another thing I’ve noticed. This way of engaging with society doesn’t adhere to the traditions of the political compass, dissolving the distinctions between left and right. These positions still exist but only as insults. When the right-wing faithful condemn a heretic they’re “woke liberals”. When the left condemn what’s heretical, they’re “fascists”.

My conclusion, the binaries of faith and heresy have created a divide. You either believe or you don’t. Those that don’t are disappeared, erased from the conversation, vaporised like so many of George Orwell’s characters in “Nineteen Eighty-Four”.

Disappearing people doesn’t make the questions go away. The concerns don’t just evaporate. The condemnations only entrench positions. From the heretic’s point of view, it’s the intellectual equivalent of the faithful jamming fingers in their ears, and chanting la, la, la, la, la, at the top of their lungs.

I wonder if the faithful realise their dogmatism is heresy to me? I don’t know. I’m not sure they care. They’re safe in the absolutes of their understanding. For me that’s a problem. It shuts down discussion, stifles debate, and hobbles intellectual development. Not just for the faithful but for us all.

What the faithful should realise, what we all need to understand, is that we’re all someone’s heretic.