Monday, 24 October 2011

Confusion reigns

Life is confusing.

It's confusing from a philosophical point of view (what is our purpose in life?) but it's also pretty confusing from an everyday point of view (what's the difference between all these coloured nespresso capsules, and how does one operate the machine anyway?)

Many people manage to avoid this confusion by choosing the simple life, and by this I don't mean heading off into the wilderness a la 'into the wild', or tagging along with Paris Hilton through the hick backwaters of the US. I mean the simple life from yesteryear, where all that mattered was having a menial job which enabled one to put food on the table, and raising a couple of kids who stayed on the straight and narrow. One can add to this the watching of X factor and the occasional KFC bucket and some lottery tickets, but for many, this is life as it should be lived in little Britain. This mass of people are required to keep the country going. They are the gammas and below of Huxley's 'Brave New World', and they represent the glue that binds society together.

There are others that ponder the big questions; the questions that are concerned with the advancement and future of mankind. Crucially, they also end up in a position to be able to do something about it. These are the betas and upwards of BNW, the thinkers and do-ers in Douglas Adams' 'The Restaurant at the end of the Universe'. In a demoncracy, these are the people (and those around them) that we rely on to get the big decisions right in order the safeguard the future of nations.

In 'The Restaurant at the end of the Universe', the residents of a planet whose future was known to be doomed, decided to leave the planet via spaceship to colonise another. They left the 'useless third' of the population behind, having taken the 'thinkers' and 'do-ers' away with them.
So can we isolate the useless third of our planet, those that are left when all the thinkers and do-ers are taken out of the equation? Not quite that simple, but with the world population having just hit 7 billion, we can't afford too many passengers on this over-crowded planet.

I'm more concerned with the state of 'protesting' in general. There's a lot of protestors out there at the moment; granted that there's certainly plenty to protest about. However, whereas you can do a menial job very well without too much thinking, to protest without thinking can be quite a dangerous thing.

If you're in any doubt what I mean, have a look at these chaps in this clip:

They're from the 'Occupy London' protest. Their names are confused person 1 and confused person 2 (not really, but that's how I like to know them). They are protesting against corporate greed, which is generally taken to mean bankers. Fine. But if you listen to their ramble, they're also protesting about lack of political intervention and control, Murdoch's control of the media and the 'rule' of the aristocracy (as if they have any actual power?). Is this precisely what all the people outside St Paul's are protesting against? I very much doubt it. At least the second chap is articulate, albeit in a rather stereotyped student way; the first guy seems to have no idea what he's protesting about, except to say that there's a lot of anger on the streets (well there is if you live in a tent on the streets around St Paul's); he seems to have been dragged along in this current of anger. He's a rebel without a clue.

More confusion: I heard a group of protestors at Aberdeen airport speaking on the radio recently. They had chained themselves to one of the runways (not sure how this is done...), and were protesting at the emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels in aircraft leading to global warming and its associated environmental problems. They had attached themselves to the runway to stop the planes from landing. That's right, landing. Not taking-off, but landing. Their protest ensured that the planes either had to stay in the air, burning more fuel, until another runway becamse available, or they had to be diverted to another airport entirely, with similar consequences. The group seemed rather crestfallen when this was pointed out by the interviewer.

Yet more confustion, from abroad this time: I was in Vienna this week, where their version of the 'slutwalk' was taking place. For the uninitiated, this involves a group of women (and men) marching the streets in protest against the remarks made by a Toronto policeman at a safety lecture earlier this year. He suggested that women should avoid 'dressing like sluts' to minimise the risk of attack from men. He has since apologised for this incredibly crass statement. I'm not sure that anyone would argue that rape is good (hence this is akin to a protest against murdering people), and I'm also unsure that one idiotic statement from one policeman should be taken to mean that every nation in which the protests have taken place gives out the message 'don't get raped' as opposed to 'don't rape', but what was more interesting was the level of confusion displayed by the participants of the protest. Some clearly seemed to have understood, and were scantily clad in 'slut-wear', which is the point of the walk, namely that individuals should be free to wear what they like without fear of being judged, or fear of assault. Others held banners of 'support feminism', which I guess is related, though I'm not sure it's a key feminist principle. Others held 'smash capitalism' banners. Surely these people are confused? Does a capitalist society promote rape? Or were they just keen to piggy-back one protest for another?

Confusion brought about by a lack of thinking. Dangerous stuff.

Monday, 17 October 2011

What if there's no future?

I was asked this morning, just in passing, which decade I would most like to have lived in. It's a question I've been asked surprisingly often, but which I mean it's been asked approximately once every six months for as long as I can remember. It's one of those questions people use to find a way in to another conversation, about the music of the '60s, or the family values of the '50s. No-one seems to be very interested in my response, which is why my standard answer of the 1920s provoked little more than a shrug this morning. Mind you, I wouldn't be very interested in anyone else's answer, whether it was the 3010s or the 1290s. I've come to justify my answer with some ramble about Fitzgerald and glamour and other such things, but the point is that it's not interesting because it's not possible. None of us ever get the choice of which decade we're born into, and so it will forever remain a little ice-breaker, along the lines of 'would you have sex with the Corrs, if you had to do the bloke too?', which I seem to remember was an important dilemma for a while, probably when the Corrs were big news, so a little while ago.

I quite like living my 30s through the 2010s, though I can't imagine that my life would be significantly different if I was this age in the 1990s. I've now reached an age where I've got about as much future as past. It's an ideal age: the past is recent enough that I can remember it, I can revel in my triumphs and I can learn from my mistakes. There's a quite a bit of future too, and I reckon I've still got quite a lot to look forward to. I asked one of my classes at School to write about the future or the past, from any point of view. All by one pupil wrote about the future. Of course they did - they've got far more future than past, and even though the future is uncertain, it's also exciting. At age 16, you're pretty bullet-proof, and there's a myriad of paths in front of you. Even if you take the wrong one, you've got time to return to the junction to take another, and it might just lead you somewhere exciting anyway. Time passes very slowly when you're 16; there's not even much past to remember, so you can recall things easily.

Being old doesn't interest me, which is a puffed-out chest way of saying it scares me a little. I remember waking up one night when I was about 8 or 9 years old, literally in a sweat from the realisation that I would die, and that it would be forever. My life would be as a flash of light between two eternities of dark, and even at 8 years old, that was a worrying thought. When you're old, you've got a very limited future, and most of what you have is past. When you're young, the future is uncertain, but that's exciting, and it's brimming with possibility. When you're old, even the past is uncertain; there's so much of it to remember, so much to regret and so much on which to ponder. You've had your one chance, and there's nothing you can do about it.

I'd like to remain in this state of middle-ground for a while. I acknowledge both what's gone before and what's still to come. I like my memories to remain vivid, not seen through frosted glass, and I like to think that my mistakes yet to come won't be un-correctable.

Dan Wheldon, the Indy car driver, died yesterday in a crash at the Indy 300 in Las Vegas. I have a picture of my School year in 1991, and he'd been at School only a month by then. His future was uncertain, and it was certainly exciting, though ultimately tragic. I wonder if he'd have swapped the excitement for a long uneventful life, Achilles-like?