For the last couple of weeks my ‘adventures in greenland’ have been internal. I’ve been ill, members of my family have been ill, then as soon as I recovered I went to a co-counselling workshop. There, in a youth centre in the woods, the leader invited us to remember, or dare to imagine, how confusing and distressing were our early minutes, hours and days. Evolved social beings, we ‘expected’ what we needed in order to thrive: skin to skin contact, delight in our arrival, loving eyes, soft cuddles. To know ourselves, in that early stage, as the centre of the world. Hopefully we got some of this, but usually spasmodically and never enough. (It’s appropriate that I’ve illustrated this paragraph with a picture of a white baby, because on the whole white cultures tend to underestimate the importance of early contact and connection .)
What did we get instead? Drugs through the placenta that terrified and then numbed us. Inspection. Separation. Doped mothers. Harsh lights, frightening noises, incomprehensible, indigestible happenings. Further separation. Our anger and grief shushed, over and over again. Each of us has been as surely affected by our own variety of all this as the monkeys were in Harlow’s experiments on maternal deprivation. Our developing brains were set on a wrong course. This isn’t a weird alternative view – it makes clear biological sense.
What happened to us as little ones has a lot to do with climate change. It’s interfered with our thinking processes and made us agree to terrible things. It has kept our awareness narrow and small. We were disempowered, back then, and it’s stuck. We were forced into addictions, substitutes for the human connection we needed and still need – like a plastic dummy stuck in a crying baby’s mouth. Our early experiences have left most of us, most of the time, trying to avoid horrible feelings. And how can you think about climate change without feeling horrible? We let politicians think for us. And they don’t. I mean, they don’t think. By the time they’ve gained their place in a tough system their main preoccupation is how to keep it.
I’ve just read a ‘broadsheet’ paper, cover to cover. There is no mention of climate change. Nothing. Terry Wogan died. Dad’s Army is a film. The electoral roll has changed. Google is not paying enough tax. Ukraine may join in the bombing of Isis. This silence is like someone going for a stroll on a battlefield (yesterday I watched Pierre wander into the battle of Borodino in ‘War and Peace’) who writes home about the size and shape of the helmets, the contours of the landscape, the weather… The message is: bad things are happening somewhere else, but life goes on. Shame about Terry Wogan.
My latest dystopian read is ‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St John Mandel. I thoroughly recommend it, as a novel. It’s a gripping, well-written account of a post apocalyptic world. A virus, a type of ‘flu, killed most people on earth. Human skills, human organisation, the social infrastructure of technology were destroyed. A group of travelling musicians and actors travels through an anarchic land, where here and there small communities have created islands of peace. One such is camping out in an airport.
… they did see an aircraft after the collapse, just one. On Day Sixty-five a helicopter crossed the sky in the far distance, the faintest vibration of sound moving rapidly from north to south, and they stood staring for some time after it passed. They kept up a vigil for a while after that, waiting outside in teams of two with brightly coloured T-shirts to flag down aircraft in daylight, a signal fire burning all night, but nothing crossed the sky except birds and shooting stars…
The night sky was.. a wash of light. The era of light pollution had come to an end…. I was here for the end of electricity. The thought sent shivers up Clark’s spine.
‘The lights will come back on someday,’ Elizabeth kept insisting, ‘and then we’ll all finally get to go home.’
This novel was published in 2014. The actual apocalypse, which is happening right now, is not talked about (except indirectly, as in the reference to light pollution). The fear which is generating the fashion for dystopia is explored all right. In a way the novel does help us think about possible futures. But it also turns our eyes away from reality, from what’s happening right now, in the so-called ‘migrant crisis’, in the disappearance of inhabited islands, in the destruction of the subsistence of subsistence farmers over huge parts of Africa.
Silence is our enemy. Let’s join the flocks of ravens, cawing about the truth. Let’s develop party-pooping to a high art. Let’s shout dark words to the light-polluted sky.
Tomorrow I go to a meeting.