I once again find myself weary of the way the world continues on. ‘Ignorance is bliss’, is the saying. The more I know, the more days that pass, the more I find myself understanding the viewpoint. Things happen. Normally, these things aren’t good. The good things are the small things. The inconsequential happenings that don’t get recorded, or remembered. That pass with no fanfare and are quickly swallowed by everything else.
Big things aren’t good things. Even big things that should be good, that should positively affect a huge number of people, they can’t be seen that way. Not entirely. Because there is always someone not so subtly trying, in the background, to make it about them. To make it a platform, a position.
Or maybe I’m just cynical. Maybe the royal wedding and the royal baby really are things to celebrate. Maybe they weren’t eventually defined by the political hijacking. Maybe my response should have been genuine joy, rather than horror that so many people whom it will never, ever effect are showing genuine joy. Horror, conversely, that people were banding together in verbal and mean-spirited denouncement of that joy.
“May you live in interesting times” was, in probability, never an ancient Chinese curse. But that doesn’t lessen its reality. Interesting times are the worst. Always interpreted in the most dramatic way possible – wars, riots, turmoil. And yeah, sure, they count. Of course they count. But so does everything much more singularly personal. Death in the family. Losing your job. Realising your best friend is getting into the kind of trouble you can’t easily get them out of. Discovering a needle in your sibling’s kitchen. More dull yet – something small but importantly expensive breaks in your car. Your gas bill suddenly hikes.
Anything that breaks up the daily routine. That makes things interesting. Interesting things are rarely pleasant things, I guess. In fiction, the things that make it ‘interesting’ are problems, disasters, crises.
I love the phrase. “May you live in interesting times”. It’s subtle, it’s concise, it means something I couldn’t say in an essay. On paper, translated the best it can be, it means “may everything in your life that can go wrong, go wrong. May you have to live in constant strife. May you constantly have to deal with the unexpected consequences of unexpected problems. May things ‘just pop up’.”
When I first started caring about the news, about politics, I was about 16. I felt that simply by making sure I knew about all the atrocities in the world I could deal with them – I felt that owning the knowledge would somehow help. Prevent it happening again. I felt my disapproval would be enough to change the world. I figured that by talking about it, reading about it, formulating my own opinions on it… I thought I could somehow make it better, I guess. I don’t know. I can’t guess my own motivations. Maybe I just felt that knowledge was better than not knowing. That righteous anger was the only possible outcome. That if everyone knew, things would change. Would HAVE to change.
Now I still don’t know how I feel about anything. I still feel the need to know. I still prefer the choice to become outraged about what I know over the complacency of ignorance. But everything I hear now goes through filters I don’t have control over. I have never assumed that the powerful people in the world are cold, or heartless. Some are, I’m sure – but some aren’t. And yet, decisions are still made that seem exclusively harmful, or corrupt. I’m not talking taxes and economy – I’m talking Obama’s Guantanamo U-turn, for example.Things that make me think, in an entirely sane and un-paranoid way, that there are some considerations we do not have the knowledge to make. And yeah, the fact that we aren’t trusted to know the full story pisses me off. But then I look at the tabloid press, and the people the tabloid press caters too, and I understand what could happen if the full story WAS always available to everybody. I understand the tough decision that had to go into deciding not to allow every fact on every decision, every response to every problem, made public. I understand it. I understand that I’d probably, if forced, make the exact same decision.
And that makes me think about what else I’d do. And so, now, when something breaks news that would have left me fuming 3 years ago, I often can’t help but understand it from a much wider viewpoint. Sometimes, no matter how broad my empathy goes I still see nothing. The current government, for example, manages very well to evade my understanding.
The other main filter is something I am much, much less happy with. Something that I actually kind of hate about myself. I haven’t the words to describe it, so I’ll instead give an example.
Third World Poverty is something I never understood. I didn’t understand why it exists – why the distribution of wealth is so ugly, so weighted towards the few. The white, western few. I still abhor the existence of poverty. I still wish it didn’t exist, and that the world was a more even place. But, in the last year or so, I’ve also came to hope it survives. Without a huge, top-down distribution of wealth, the abolition of poverty would absolutely decimate the lives of those in the UK, in America. It would, literally, be the end of the world as we know it. If, in the next five years, poverty ends – if rural African workers are given an education, prospects, they will – quite rightfully – no longer wish to make a meagre, meagre living farming fruits for western distributors. No longer settle for growing the very basest ingredients for food, industry. No longer be happy working in poorly conditioned factories for a sum of money so small as to be insignificant. All of a sudden, the supply chain is cut. Common goods become in shorter and shorter supply. Prices rise. The repercussions in countries that rely almost entirely on imports are disastrous. To simplify into marxist terms, the factory owners don’t want to lose profit simply because the law dictates the workers are paid more. The consumer loses out. As long as a company declares a fiscal year a failure because their profits didn’t rise by a zero or too, poverty cannot be eradicated without tremendous destruction heaped upon western markets.
So. Whilst technically a diatribe against capitalist business, I’ve just defended the existence of poverty. I’ve TAKEN the view of the big organisations I’m hating on. Basically, my view of the world has stagnated. I’ve come to the conclusion that the big evils can’t be changed, not now, not ever. As long as the world is ruled by money, whatever makes money will rule. Despite the casualties. Never thought it out loud before. Not a cheerful thing to realise about your thought. Basically, I suppose I’m trying to say that the filter is that the world will never change in the way I’d like – so, where does this fit in with the world as it stands? There is a term in psychology called ‘cognitive dissonance’ – basically holding two or more conflicting… ideals, beliefs, reactions. This is how I seem to experience things. I react to them through my ideal view of the world, and the reality of the world. Dishearteningly, the reality of the world never quite shapes up. And so, like with the poverty example, I’m forced to accept something I hate as the normal. As the expected. As the standard. And it is horrible. It is disheartening. Crushing. And so I find myself caring less and less about things that would have once driven me into a self-righteous fury. The recent news about the conflicts in Egypt would have driven me into an angry rant about individual rights, about civil liberties, about freedom. Now I haven’t the effort. I haven’t the heart. It makes me sad, instead. It all feels so utterly inevitable. I still hate the breakdown of the state. Of the infractions on human rights. The needless deaths. But, damningly, I can’t get emotionally involved in it any more. I’m burned out on it all. There’s too much to even comprehend, let alone react too. You need to filter it out to stay sane, to stay from simply rocking in a corner. “After all”, says my deepest, hateful consciousness, “it doesn’t affect you, right?”
I feel sad and sickened that the world isn’t able of living up to my expectations of it. My expectations have never been high, really. I expect people to be decent to each other. I expect things to be fair.
The difference is… I no longer believe the world can ever live up to my expectations. I no longer feel anybody can change it. I despair of us. That, really, is what I’ve spent 1500 words trying to say. I have never had high expectations of the world, but even then it will never step up and try to meet them. It will just beat me down until I accept that ‘this is the way things are’.
But, when I see someone who isn’t burnt out on it, who still feels their anger can change the world, I feel hope. Maybe they can. Certainly they should. So give me a cause to believe in. Give me a cause I believe can change the world. And then let it.