Monday, December 21, 2009

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

People wanted to believe what they wanted to believe - by Nick van der Leek

Last year around this time I was working through the festive season, and there was the customary exodus of colleagues going on holiday, and leaving with a cheery: 'Merry Christmas and Happy New Year'. One of them, a fella called Dave, made this contemporary advocation. I stopped and contradicted him. I said, 'Given what we know so far, we ought to expect 2009 to be a very tough year.' He shot back that I was being 'negative' and 'pessimistic'. To be fair, I get that a lot. But Dave had just gotten married, so expecting a good 2009 had probably formed part and parcel of his marital vows. But my response to being criticised for reminding folks of reality is this:

When you're tough on yourself, life is going to be infinitely easier on you.- Zig Ziglar

In my opinion we are not particularly tough on ourselves or each other. The world is slack, overweight, lazy. We're still in a sort've party mode. Our entertainments, on a daily basis, fuel this feel-good-fiesta. The press-button-lifestyle and easy-motoring culture reinforces that concept that to live like kings, nay gods, is normal. It may have some guise or normality, but to believe that this can continue for much longer is either moronic or suicidal, or both.

Of course, the contemporary mindset is something between these themes of lunacy and insanity. You have the US President visiting Copenhagen and blathering about actions speaking louder than words, only to return with no commitments, other than some sort of non-legally binding poetry. I wonder whether the president felt something writhe, like Cameron's alien, in his belly, as he flew home to another one of those freakish winter storms. As his plane was buffeted, did he feel a sense of irony - and let's be clear, dread?

At the time of writing Eurostar, which transports 25 000 passengers daily by rail has been put on ice - indefinitely. The problem, as cited by the New York Times, is, well, unusually cold weather:

The unusual temperatures on the French side of the tunnel were part of wintry weather that stretched across Europe, killing 15 people in Poland and leading to cancellations at airports in several countries, The Associated Press reported.

The Telegraph expands on the problem:

A Eurostar spokesman said screens and shields fitted to the trains to stop snow getting into the electrics had failed and needed to be improved after the “acute” wintry conditions in northern France caused snow to build up underneath the trains.

One of the things we can expect in 2010, for the next decade in fact, is an acceleration in troubles relating to our attempts to do business as usual while the environment - climate being one aspect - deteriorates, or simply changes, often with unexpected consequences.

The number one problem facing us - human beings - in 2010 isn't a financial crisis, or climate change, or an exotic flu pandemic, or an energy conundrum. The problem is us. We're deep in denial. Two icons provide us ample evidence of this. One is Michael Jackson. Michael evolved over many years into a creepy, freakish mutant version of his former self. But what Michael and Tiger have in common is the scale and scope of their dishonesty - to themselves and to us. And here's the rub. Everyone fell for it. The news media, corporate interests, and the fanbase.

Writing for the New York Times, in an article describing Tiger Woods as The Person of the Year, Frank Rich posits: We’ve rarely questioned our assumption that 9/11, “the day that changed everything,” was the decade’s defining event. But in retrospect it may not have been. A con like Tiger’s may be more typical of our time than a one-off domestic terrorist attack, however devastating...What’s striking instead is the exceptional, Enron-sized gap between this golfer’s public image as a paragon of businesslike discipline and focus and the maniacally reckless life we now know he led. What’s equally striking, if not shocking, is that the American establishment and news media — all of it, not just golf writers or celebrity tabloids — fell for the Woods myth as hard as any fan and actively helped sustain and enhance it.

The theme of the Woods parable is a chronic addiction to falsehood. It is myself-uber-alles. It is telling the press 'family is the most important thing' and exuberantly living out the opposite. Woods capacity for lying to himself and deceiving others is shared by the mainstream media, who haven't sniffed out a real story for some time. They haven't seen the financial shitstorm coming [instead they deny we're in trouble even some time after the wave hits, with a resistance to using the R-is-for-Recession that borders on obsessed. Of course, every excuse is used to write R-is-for-Recovery. Why? Because believing something, it seems, can make it happen. Believing and being positive can make us rich. And getting others to buy into our bullshit reinforces this cycle of delusional - and temporary wealth].
The news media weren't able to call Bush's WMD hyped invasion of Iraq exactly what it was - a misstep.

Right now, the news media are still mixed up about our energy prospects. In fact I find the media to be very schizophrenic in their coverage. The South African media have knocked the virtuous INVICTUS for being too Hollywood. Really? A story about strong, and moral leadership, is described by Carlos Amato as a plodding, patronising affair - a clumsy Hollywood knock-on, excruciatingly unconvincing. It beggars belief that our own reviewers are this cynical. Three Oscar Winning big hitters have bothered to tell a South African story to an American audience, and all Amato can do is bitch about whether the accents were good enough for him?
Then there are comments about AVATAR being about white guilt. These responses to two very altruistic cinema experiences demonstrate a sickened human system that can never be satisfied.

The Pet Shop Boys have a song with these lyrics:
Too much of anything
Is never enough
Too much of everything
Is never enough

You need more
Than the Gerhard Richter hangin’ on your wall
A chauffeur-driven limousine on call

There's a little more insight into climate change, but it's come very late, and arguably, if it had come sooner, in a sustained pattern, world leaders would have been mandated by expectation to deliver. How long ago were we reading reports in the mainstream media calling climate change a theory? Mere months ago. By lying to ourselves that climate isn't happening, we don't have to do anything about it, and we can continue having our party.

Of course, any dishonest pattern eventually unravels. Nature it is said, abhors a vacuum, and reality speaks better than any man. Reality has started clearing it's throat. You can complain that reality is negative, or pessimistic, if you want to make yourself look and sound stupid.

As I've said, the problem, fundamentally, isn't climate change, or pandemic disease, or energy. It's us. We have to exceed our own expectations for ourselves. We have to be something more, nay, something other than consumers.

I'd suggest: conservers. Our prospects can only begin to improve when we acknowledge reality. When it is culturally acceptable to hold ourselves accountable to news and views that don't enhance our salaries. Sometimes it's in someones interests to claim that smoking doesn't cause cancer. Sometimes we can't prove these things beyond a shadow of a doubt. The same is true right now with cellphones causing tumors.

This is where common sense comes in, and part of common sense is making the choice to be honest with ourselves. When we are, we begin to do things that enhance not only our lives, but the prospects of our companions. This is the message of AVATAR. That we reconnect ourselves to the world. The real world. In 2010 those reconnections will be painful, like the first labour pains. Whether we choose to resist the New Life that is in store, or to accept it, know this: the contractions have already started.

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