Reluctantly Writing About the Big Stuff

I’m not so good at writing about the big stuff. It’s not what I do. I like to operate down at ground level, among the blades of grass. To be honest, I like to think that many of the truths about the ‘big stuff’ can be found down there among all the dandelions and the dock leaves. 

But when I got to thinking about what I might write this week, I can no longer see down to the grass and the soil and the rocks. There is, quite literally, an elephant in the room. An orange elephant with wild improbable hair and a horrible bullish manner. He’s blocking my view of the small things and I just can’t see around him.

So, ho hum, I have to look at the big stuff. The stuff everybody else in the world is looking at too. And you can be fairly sure I won’t have anything outlandishly different to say than the approximately 49% of the rest of the people who are typing right now. I ain’t got nothing wild or surprising in my bag. Normally I wouldn’t bother saying it at all. I just can’t think of anything else.

I wasn’t all that surprised when Trump got elected. I was utterly Horrified, yes. Totally Disappointed, yes. But not all that surprised. All during the days before, whenever people had spoken about the election, I had sighed and expressed my hope that Trump wouldn’t get in. And people had scolded me for it. I was being silly, apparently, sighing and worrying that he might suceed, when the figures and the statistics and the portents all stated so clearly that he would not. To clarify, I didn’t actually think he would get in but, really, I wasn’t all that surprised when he did.

Why not?

There’s a couple of reasons. 

One reason is the lesson I learned from the vote on Brexit and, before that, the vote in the most recent UK General Election. Back then, everything I saw told me how these votes would turn out. Everything I saw turned out to be completely wrong. I realised that I was living totally in an information bubble, lead by my social media and compounded by the popular press and TV. I had being told what I wanted to be told, hearing what I wanted to hear. So this time around, there was an element of ‘I Won’t Get Fooled Again’. The bubble I live in may be able to pat my head and tell me how everything is going to work out just fine but I’ve learned that that’s not real life. Not everybody’s real life at least. 

There’s another reason why the Trump win didn’t totally surprise me. I seem to have a rather dubious ability to step to either side of almost any argument and have a good look at it. This may sound wonderful and maybe it is but it definitely has its downsides. It tends to sometimes make me doubtful and wishy-washy on stuff when I should better know my own mind. Although I would never in a million years have voted for Trump, I can still sidle over that point of view and see some of the reasoning there. I can see the millions of disenfranchised people who watch the tiny political dynasties of recurring Bush and Clinton presidencies go around and around in their own rarefied worlds while, for them, nothing ever changes. For them, another Clinton, another Bush, another Obama even, would simply be more of the same. Their struggles to make ends meet left ignored, their ambitions for their own children still nullified. Why not, just this once, spin the silly-wheel? How much worse can that rather orange bullish man be than the big fat nothingness of the recurring dynasties? How much better would anything be than more of nothing at all? 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t buy it for a minute… but I can see it. 

For what it’s worth, I think many more of us need to see it a bit clearer. The omnipresent view that everyone who didn’t vote your way is some kind of a ‘Below Par Human Being’ is a luxury we can no longer afford ourselves. They way I see it, a volatile concoction of utter disillusionment and popular momentum is driving the world rapidly towards a most undesirable place. Not because the people driving it there are necessarily evil or stupid or insane but rather because they can see no viable option. 

I think the information bubbles that we all now find ourselves living inside are bad for a number of reasons. Fairly obviously, they doesn’t tell us the entire truth, only such truth as we want to cocoon ourselves in. Maybe a bit less obviously, that dim and distorted view we get of everybody who exists outside of our bubbles leaves them looking pretty horrible and threatening and, yes, even monstrous. We should also try to remember that those ‘monsters’ are in their own bubbles too and that we look every bit as bad to them. Through the concave distortion of that bubble surface, we must appear completely lily-livered and pandering and privileged and naive and childish and downright bloody dangerous. 

What do I know? I don’t know anything. I should stick to the ground level where I definitely belong. But here I am, up here on the big subjects because, this week, of all weeks, there’s just nowhere else to turn.

So. I’m here now. What do I think?

I think we always need to be working to make things work, from wherever we find ourselves. Right now, we find ourselves in a pretty dark and uncertain place. It’s by no means great but, guess what, we’re here now. What I really think is that we have to learn to listen to the other view a bit more. To allow some measure of empathy with the opposite stance, however distasteful that it, to better understand how to deal with it. 

And If you think I just sound all fucking ‘happy-clappy’ and ‘love conquers all bull-shitty’ then maybe you should think it out a bit more. If you don’t like the result and you think that the entirety of the forty nine per cent of people who brought that result about are all mini-hitlers and fuckwits then, guess what, you are firmly stuck in your own little bubble and you’re not really doing anybody much good. 

There are very bad things in the world and they have to fought and railed against and they have to be shouted down with all of our collective might. Like it or not, the promise of this new president, if his election campaign was anything to go by, is not a positive one for anybody. His election will continue to feel alien to us and, again to us, the people who continue to defend him will feel totally wrong.

But here’s a thing. We do not have a monopoly on goodness just by virtue of the good views we believe we hold. None of us do. We need to try harder to understand where the other views are coming from without first assuming that they are all invariably coming straight from hell. We need to burst these bubbles we’re living in. That’s what we need to do.  No, I don’t know how to do it either. Perhaps we can’t ever burst them but, maybe, by not living inside them so thoroughly, we might just slip out through their sticky albumen without ever bursting them at all. 

And it’s very hard to do. Even as I tidy this thing up for posting, the world is rapidly being flooded with an image of Trump and Farage, standing together in a golden elevator and grinning inanely. It’s simply awful and it’s quite unnerving. I don’t believe any right minded person can be warmed by that prospect. I don’t believe many people are. I believe that, of the millions upon millions who voted to make this a reality, most will like this just as little as I do. They didn’t vote for this to happen, they voted against something else happening. We really need to see why. 

It starts to sound like I’m suggesting we all try to see the fascist side of things, the racist side of things, the awful side. I’m not. I’m so not. What I’m saying is that we should try to see the side of the people who we think are fascist and racist and awful on account of how they appear to us from inside our bubble and on account of how they vote.

The truth is, I fear that there is not very much we can do up here on this macro level. We can use our vote and we can raise our dissenting voices but, even doing that, I think there is little of real import that we can achieve.

But on the micro level, down where I normally live (and where I’m rushing back to in a minute) there’s a shit load of stuff we can get done. We can: help, be kind, engage, debate, learn, listen, disagree, agree, argue, make up, help, help, help. 

I believe that every tiny malaise on your street is its own microcosm of all the greater ills in the world. Do something to heal that small rip and you will, at least, have done something. It might not save the world but, then again, it might and it might just save you too. 

We need to try to understand each other better. Where we come from, where we live now.

We always have.

And, lets just face it, we probably always will. 


Jim Murdoch said...

For the most part I’ve stayed out of every political debate there’s been since I came online some twenty-mumble years ago. For starters politics isn’t a subject that interests me and as such it’s one I’ve had no involvement in. The big events like the fall of the Berlin Wall were hard to ignore but I found I had nothing to add to the debate: whatever happened happened and we’d deal with the consequences, good or bad. I’ve mentioned elsewhere about the only time my dad even talked to me about earthly politics—“Jimmy, people don’t vote governments in, only out”—and a truer word he never said. I got the whole Brexit thing. It was a thumbing the nose at the government but it wasn’t supposed to actually succeed. Oops. And Trump’s success owes something to that mentality too. We’ll show them. To be honest I thought it’d go the same way as UKIP in the last election. They seemed to be hugely popular but when push came to shove not enough people voted for them.

People do go on and on about democracy as if it’s such a great thing. In theory it is. In theory communism’s a pretty good idea too. It’s the execution of these ideals that causes the problem. In many countries “idiots” aren’t allowed to vote, i.e. the intellectually disabled and yet that’s what happens every election. Okay the IQ’s of the voters may be greater than 30 (which was the old technical definition of an idiot) but in common parlance they still idiots or at least ignoramuses; they’re ill-informed, they don’t know enough to vote and the reason they don’t know enough is because the news (in all its shapes and forms but especially online) is unreliable. Both Clinton and Trump were painted black depending on who you listened to. I really wouldn’t have liked to choose between them because I wasn’t sure what the facts were. Even with Trump. He just said whatever he wanted and switched positions any old time it suited him. I honestly have no idea what the man actually stands for. He did what he had to do (or felt he had to do) to win and he may well settle down once he realises that making plans and making laws are two different things. Look at Obama and the problems he had pushing legislation through. I don’t think Trump will find it any easier.

But what do I know? And who really cares what I think?

Ken Armstrong said...

I care Jim. That's one anyway.

Thanks, as always, for your considered thoughts.


Unknown said...

This is absolutely true - and we all ought to try to make a difference. Some might say, "What difference can one person make?" and it might well seem that what lies before us is insurmountable but the truth is that everybody can make a difference - if we couldn't, what point would there be in our lives? To some extent, we can be as significant as we choose to be.

And so what if we're snowflakes? You know what happens when snowflakes move together? An avalanche.