Well done, you’ve survived another year, and so have I, even despite Christmas excess. The occasional discomfort in the upper torso was just indigestion, probably.
At the end of December, or when we can be bothered to get round to it, we talk about the year that’s been, don’t we? We chew the fat, put the world to rights. We look forward to various satirical reviews of the year on TV or sucked from our favourite social-media teat. I try to avoid TV and all unsolicited content now. My name is John and I’m a recovering Facebook user. So far I’ve been clean for about four months, and that little slip was only because there was a wedding. I could delete my account any time if I wanted to.
The news is the main reason I avoid the outside, of course, although I’m not a great one for escapism either, so I fail to appreciate the torrent of formulaic romance, mysticism and suspense the TV spews out. If Marx were alive today, TV would probably be a much more obvious “opium of the people” than religion, at least in Western Europe. I don’t suppose anyone else has ever pointed that out.
As a Brit, I hardly bother switching the radio on. A while back, it became totally ludicrous: literally every time I switched on Radio 4, which was mostly because it’s on by default in the car, it was Brexit. I wondered if the drone over Gatwick Airport was a deliberate ploy for two or three days respite from the Brexit-seers making their confident, diametrically opposite, prophecies or arguing whether a future second referendum would be an abuse of democracy or just more democracy.
Part of the reason our times are so depressing, for anyone still awake, is the visceral force with which our pretensions of competence and control have been ripped from the political corpus, which now lies twitching in a pool of its own bile. I wondered if the Queen’s Christmas Speech, had I watched it, had begun something like
At this time of year, it’s customary that one adds a little joy to your Christmas with heart-warming words of comfort. This year, we thought long and hard, but couldn’t really think of any. We – and I include you in that – all look pretty well stuffed…
…erm…Charles isn’t King, not that it would probably make much difference.
Brexit, of course, was and remains a fiasco. But sobering, in the way walking into a lamp post can be. In Brexit veritas. Only the hopelessly obtuse can fail to recognise how pointless and tragic the whole thing was, a half-assed whim by a selfish Tory dickhead to stop the Conservatives hemorrhaging voters to UKIP. It backfired and Cameron ran away. Instead of quashing UKIP’s rise, and Euro-scepticism in the Conservative Party for a generation, as intended, it piqued the downtrodden, banker-vanquished Precariat into a fit of revolutionary self-abuse. Having paid for the financial crisis, suffering austerity-for-the-poor and watching the rich enjoy business-as-usual-or-better, the hoi polloi used the referendum as a protest vote, which, as a general rule, is not how major referendums ought to be used. Farage and the Leave Campaign whipped up irrational fear of foreigners and promised to save us £350M-a-week to spend on the NHS. Had the referendum followed Trump’s inauguration to the White House by several months, instead of preceding it, the British might have seen the dangers of populism and reckless use of democratic power, and the whole thing might have worked out fine, or Cameron might now be Emperor, nobody knows.
Anyway, enough of that. Long story short, whatever sort of creek we were up without a paddle before – and it wasn’t smelling good – it’s a lot worse now. Or I suppose, by pure chance, it might turn out better. That’s the thing with the future, nobody knows.
My greatest worry for the world (it’s not easy to rank them, to be honest) is probably corruption, since it’s hard to see how we’ll fix any of the other major problems while rich people are giving back-handers, putting arms up backs, or selling arms. And, for all I know, the EU may be one of the worst conduits for corruption, so Britain might be a better place outside it. Or we might get more corrupt. As I said, nobody knows.
Yes, we may be less well off, but one of our worst sicknesses (it’s hard to rank them, to be honest) – and we’re brainwashed with this every day – is that we automatically judge the value of everything monitarily. In my personal life, I’ve tried to fight against that tendency, and the result has been a much poorer, but happier, condition than most people seem to manage in the developed world. On the other hand, my parents had a strong work-ethic, and I have benefited significantly from their earnings, the unprodigal son that I am.
Even if a simpler life is a happier one, my experience of millennials suggests that we’re not heading directly for a less aquisitive future, but maybe there’ll be a counter-swing. All my hopes, unfortunately, seem to rely on this hit-rock-bottom-and-bounce idea…either that or technology-will-save-us.
Both of those principles have some promise, but I am depressed. I think I can honestly say that my relative poverty isn’t the cause, but my frustration that hardly anyone else seems to recognise the benefit of at least attempting to live within the planet’s means. Unfortunately, this relies on not succumbing to the endless lies of advertisers and peer pressure, to buy more, to get a higher-paid job, get on the property ladder, get married, have your stag or hen do on the other side of the planet, have children, drive them to school in an urban tank, and take them all on holiday on the other side of the planet until they can spend their gap year touring it.
We watch enough films about our sickness of competitive materialism and the liberation of overcoming it…on our enormous 4K TVs fastened to reinforced walls. 4K is actually higher definition than your eyes can see, but it’s not enough yet, is it? The increasingly obese kids roll about in front of it on their wall-to-wall plastic toys telling Alexa to order another pizza, while their parents brag (over iPhone) that they recycle now and they’ve given up getting a straw with their Starbucks.
Then I’m depressed to remember my own culpability, my hypocrisy: I’ve been slagging off this hypothetical family for things I don’t do while I forget the things I do. I own two vehicles, for a start, one of them an old, dirty-diesel camper van. I make excuses for the things I feel unable to change, like all of us, and there are a lot of positives, like no kids, no long-haul flights ever and just two very short flights, I grow a lot of my own food and I’m almost vegetarian. I’m bragging on an old, second-hand laptop that was heading for the bin. Compromises and trade-offs. Do what you can.
Coffee, for instance, since I brought it up. I should give up my several cups of hot coffee a day and drink cold water, if I weren’t a hypocrite and I were really trying to save the planet, but as it happens I stand by the kettle, in which I’ve put the minimum of water, to switch it off about ten seconds earlier than it would switch itself off, and I buy Fairtrade coffee. I squirm, and occasionally preach, when I see people fill a kettle with more water than they need, switch it on and walk away. Standing beside the kettle is also a great time to do a few stretches.
But it’s not going to save the planet. When I was regularly drinking my Facebook feed, one of the encouraging facts that I imbibed (assuming it wasn’t fake news) was about the advancement of renewable energy production. It was coming on a lot stronger than I’d realised. This is still good, of course, but it’s easy to imagine you know a subject better than you do, especially as social media encourages a very shallow view of most things. We can read that renewables have taken over 80% of energy production in a country, up from just 20% a decade ago (I’m making this up just as an example) and think we’re 80% of the way towards fixing global warming…at least if only everybody else came on board with the Paris Agreement, asshole…but it means nothing of the sort.
I’ve been doing some more research on the environment lately which brings the sorry condition of things into clearer focus for me. The figure above, for example, only applies to electricity production, while most of the energy the planet uses isn’t easily switched from fossil fuel (most industrial machinery and transport, for instance, runs on diesel), we’re still destroying rainforests to put burgers in burger bars (or tofu on tables), and, probably most shocking of all and littlest known generally, we’re still pouring unconscionable amounts of artificial fertilizer onto our crops, into our waterways and seas, causing the nitrogen cycle to be even more out of whack than the carbon cycle, contributing enormously to global warming. It really is hard to see how we could haul ourselves back from the cliff right now.
I’m sorry to be so glass-almost-empty, but maybe that’s where my two sources of hope come in. You have to get really real about things to be empowered to change them. Like the clients I used to see at the local drug and alcohol agency, you don’t get to rock bottom and bounce until something wakes you up, like an intervention or waking up in a pool of your own vomit in a gutter. We’ve had several scientific and governmental groups publish very dire assessments of the situation this year. We need to clean up our act.
Technological help could come in all sorts of unexpected forms. There are the big and fairly obvious industrial-chemical processes, like carbon sequestration, or recovering waste plastic from the sea, which are making some progress, but I think an overlooked hope is from artificial intelligence. Unlike a plethora of bigwigs who’ve spoken on this recently, I don’t think AI is likely to be a danger to us of its own volition, only its misuse by programmers, mainly military or other hostile agents building AI weapons, while its ability to crunch seriously enormous amounts of “big data” could be enormously helpful in fixing our enormously broken world.
And there’s some scope for genetic engineering, although my recent foray into the GM crops debate has been very worrying, as I’ll write about in more detail another time – this was only meant to be a greetings card, after all. 😀
My writings from here on might have more of an environmental focus, and they might be depressing at times, but it’s only through getting to grips with facts that we’ll have any real happiness (avoiding them gives us the fake kind). I’ll try to intersperse the doomsaying with some jokes. I wish you all a good and peaceful 2019!