VIII Jumping in with both feet and AC/DC

700 x 343 Jumping in with both feet.fw

*****

It is the ghost of ourselves
that stands still in the midst of the tumult
and watches, detached in eye and detached in body,
as the struggles and joys of our fellow passengers float across the protective screen we have blown up around ourselves.

*****

Let’s kick off with a quick flash-back.

If you remember Gadamer’s thoughts on the Kierkegaardian model of contemporaneity, concerning Christ’s redemptive act, and the sway it holds over us with its sheer presence in our lives, you’ll find Gerald Bruns’ recapitulation sharp, precise and to the point. If you don’t remember, you might want to check out Chapter VI Past, present and Mozart. But let us not meander unnecessarily, here is Bruns’ summary:

“In Gadamer’s aesthetics the event of the work of art is not a museum event in which we simply gape at the thing, or regard it knowingly from a disinterested standpoint; it is an event in which the work claims a place in the world we inhabit – indeed, it is right to say that the work claims a piece of us and insists on belonging to our lives.”1

Painting Coming Alive.fw

This “claim” or insistence on being part of our lives, Bruns is quick to address, does not just emanate from the work towards the spectator. Instead, the consummation of one’s understanding in Gadamer’s oeuvre arises when one realises that reciprocation is required, i.e. when the spectator accepts the “claim”. Which, when it occurs, means that the spectator enters into a relationship with the work. And, a relationship, of course, is a two-way street, with both parties giving to each other.

Two-way-street.fw

As Bruns goes on to state:

“The work is not simply a cultural product available for consumption in the marketplace of the art world that one can pick up or not as one chooses. Nor is it simply a philosophical problem of aesthetics that one can work out through conceptualisation and theory.”2

The claim of the artwork involves us and addresses us. We become engaged at a level beyond the aesthetic or philosophically detached. The claim of the work, Bruns tries to explain, is personal to the extent that it addresses us “as a Thou, that is, as an Other whose approach to us is transcendent in the way that Emmanuel Levinas uses the term.”3

The easiest way to unpack Bruns’ use of “transcendent”, as employed by Levinas, is for us to know that Levinas was completely absorbed by the need to get beyond the self. The self, for Levinas, had taken up too much territory in philosophy and it was something he determined we should put in its proper place. If we give Levinas some latitude here, we can begin to understand that his use of “transcendent” denoted that which exists beyond the self and also that which can be said to be, whether we exist or not. The point being that any such thing, which is termed “transcendent,” cannot be traced back to our self as its creator. The work of art or person, with which we are trying to have a relationship, is completely unreliant upon our existence for its own existence. This is what Levinas, and in turn Bruns, meant by transcendence. Consequently, we should now be able to understand the term “transcendent” as that which refers to something other than ourselves: an ‘Other’, to give it the correct philosophical grammar. So, if we are following Bruns and Levinas attentively, we should also be able to see that Gadamer’s work reveals our true quest to be one that seeks a personal relationship.

Quest.fw

Now, at this stage, it is possibly prudent to stay with art rather than jump too far into Levinas’ intriguing promise of other people. Trust me, we will go there, but not before we have finished learning from Gadamer.

So, a personal relationship with an artwork is to be sought. Ok, what does that look like and where can I buy one? Well, let’s follow Bruns and see if he can show us.

In Music Discomposed, Stanley Cavell set himself the task of grappling with the problem of avant-garde composition in the 1960s where, according to Bruns, “what young composers are trying to compose proves unintelligible not only to audiences but also to one’s fellow composers, so that no one can say who legitimately belongs to the music world and who does not.”4 Cavell named this problem “the burden of modernism”5 and stated that if there is uncertainty within the music world as to who is a composer or not, then it should not be considered remarkable “that we outsiders do not know”6 either. The rationale being that if all criteria for judging whether something counts as music, let alone good or otherwise, has been stripped away in the process of composition, then one can no longer judge at all.

Music Confused alt2.fw

Continuing on from this critical impasse, if one is not Cavell, could appear impossible because the road seems to vanish along with the traditional elements of composition. Cavell, however, understood that if all criteria, in terms of reason and aesthetics, are removed then the one who is left willing to listen must listen not with an aesthetic ear but with an ethical one.

The spectator can no longer rely upon aesthetics, because these values have been ripped asunder, and they must now turn to that most uncertain of governing principles: trust. This shift happens, as Cavell stated, because

“The possibility of fraudulence, and the experience of fraudulence, is endemic [to] the experience of contemporary music [so] that it’s full impact, even its immediate relevance, depends upon a willingness to trust the object, knowing that time spent with its difficulties may be betrayed.”7

Rutles not the Beatles.fw

Consequently, by only having recourse to trust, in that the art work might be rewarding and maybe truthful, the spectator has to assume responsibility for their own experience and enter into the relationship as a genuine participant. No longer will the experience be given by the artwork alone, and no longer will the spectator be able to hover above the work observing its aesthetic charms. The “burden of modernism” grounds the spectator in an ethical relationship with the work where intimacy, and not critical authority, is the only potential avenue for achieving understanding. This means the relationship, which is now based on trust and intimacy rather than critical observation or aesthetic consciousness, turns upon our treating the art work, as Cavell understood, “in ways normally reserved for treating persons.”8 The importance of this realisation rests upon the word ‘treating’ because, as Bruns reminds us, “the work is not a person or any sort of subjective communication. The point is rather how we are with the work.”9 If we treat the work in ways ‘normally reserved’ for other persons then it is our attitude, our intention, our responsibility as spectators that has altered, not the work of art itself. This is because we own how we treat it.

The Beatles.fw

If we truly understand Gadamer, Cavell and Bruns then have we not learned something vital by the example of art in how we need to approach other people? The over-riding lesson of Gadamer’s aesthetic manoeuvres is to steer us away from the disinterested, self-involved or critical individuals of old and make us realise that we are the owners of our own experiences and that artworks or other people are not there to serve our pleasures by being observed from a ‘god’s eye’ position, they are there to be engaged with, given to, and respected. We need to give our time, effort, and trust. A considerable requirement, but necessary, if we genuinely want to have any new experiences. Just as the artist invested in their work so we, as the audience, need equally to invest. And, this of course applies directly to our encounters with other people, because an investment is needed to acknowledge their existence, worth, and value to us. Just because there are over seven billion people on the planet this doesn’t mean we should adopt an arrogant attitude of ‘who cares’ regarding the person in the street asking us for spare change. That person’s relevance and personal impact can only be restricted by our self-involved and pre-occupied ignorance.

We need to learn how to play with one another, not as toys, but as Gadamer identified by eliminating the attitude that experiences should be something we have and opening ourselves up to experiences as something we undergo. Openness to the other, whether to art or to another person, is our goal because we now know that openness will yield growth by enhancing the wealth of our experiences. However, achieving openness is also our challenge because there are so many obstacles to overcome, from memory and desire, as highlighted by Wilfred Bion, to the limits we place on our personal horizons and the trust issues we face daily regarding new people, artworks and opportunities as shown by Gadamer. We have to make the effort, though, because the individual and social consequences of not doing so bring us to the brink of moral bankruptcy and oblivion.

Oblivion.fw

To stand, or sit, aloof and watch the world pass by without ever reaching out our hand to try and connect leaves us in an unworldly position. It is the ghost of ourselves that stands still in the midst of the tumult and watches, detached in eye and detached in body, as the struggles and joys of our fellow passengers float across the protective screen we have blown up around ourselves.

Definitions of being human start with discussions around the species Homo Sapiens, and that we can be distinguished from other apes by walking upright, having a large brain and the capacity for speech. Tool use, socialising and the formation of language and symbol swiftly follow. And, then there is the relatively short period of time, from an evolutionary point of view, that we have inhabited the earth; two hundred thousand years, with the last twelve thousand being particularly intense as we developed rudimentary agriculture, cave drawings, textiles and gourd containers for liquids and food. Our journey through those twelve thousand years, as we know, is also a long list of exponential advancement in all fields of human endeavour such as transport, communications, architecture and philosophy. The list is infinite. However, are we better than our ancient ancestors? Are we better at spending time with each other and absorbing lessons from each other? Or, do we often stand aloof in a self-protective bubble that just wants to act as demi-god observing disinterestedly?

Person in Bubble.fw

We undoubtedly know far more than our ancestors did those twelve thousand years past, but one thing they did automatically, that we are most certainly struggling with today, is connect with each other, the environment and the things around them. There is a distinct loss of innocence, humility and curiosity when we hide behind façades of disinterest or critical self-serving knowledge bases. We limit ourselves with our knowledge. We think we know what needs to be known and what we want. We think the small amount of learning we have crammed into our miniscule life-spans is sufficient, nay immense. We even suffer the delusion of believing that we are masters of our surroundings and in control of any new piece of information that can set up home in our minds. Such arrogance and ignorance, though, is not how genuine learning and growth works. It is how one stagnates and absorbs trite outpourings from social media, politicians and advertisers.

Instead, real learning and growth happens when we commit to having a relationship with an author, an artwork, or another human being. As long as we enter into that relationship with commitment, even if it only lasts a few minutes, it can stay with us for years. We need to stop being aloof and watching disinterestedly or critically. We need to jump in with both feet and trust to that or whom which we stand before. By so doing we will discover some of our lost humanity. One of the most defining aspects of being human, surely, is the ability and desire to form relationships.

As Gadamer knew, it is in the giving of time and thought to something beyond ourselves which gives back to ourselves. Each artwork or person carries with them the possibility to carve out space within us for new thoughts and feelings to emerge if we only reciprocate and let that possibility happen. This is because we are not finite or finished, as human individuals. Ours is a life to be continually shaped by experiences undergone. Otherwise ours is the pure and banal existence of a once beautiful, but now quite deceased, oak tree that continues to stand and loom across the same field its life once protected. We need to relate to the world around us and each other so that we can actually live rather than merely exist, such as an ethereal spirit that occupies space but is, to all intents and purposes, hollow, pointless and dead.

Dead Oak Tree.fw

*****

2,160 of 4,895 words in Chapter VIII

References

  1. Bruns, G. ‘The Hermeneutical Anarchist: Phronesis, Rhetoric, and the Experience of Art’ included in Gadamer’s Century: Essays in Honour of Hans-Georg Gadamer. Edited by Jeff Malpas, Ulrich Arnswald, and Jens Kertscher, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2002, 65.
  2. Ibid., 68.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid. 69.
  5. Cavell, S. ‘Music Discomposed’ included in Must we mean what we say?, Cambridge University Press, 1976, 187.
  6. Ibid. 188.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., 189.
  9. Bruns, G. ‘The Hermeneutical Anarchist: Phronesis, Rhetoric, and the Experience of Art’ included in Gadamer’s Century: Essays in Honour of Hans-Georg Gadamer. Edited by Jeff Malpas, Ulrich Arnswald, and Jens Kertscher, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2002, 70.

 

IV The experience of art and Magritte

Resized signature.fw

*****

“The work of art has its true being
in the fact it becomes an experience
that changes the person who experiences it.”1
Hans-Georg Gadamer

*****

One hundred and fifty years before Kant wrote his Critique of Judgement, Diego Velázquez painted his portrait of ‘Pope Innocent X’. Ever since, art connoisseurs have revered the work. For example, Hippolyte Taine described it as “the masterpiece amongst all portraits.”26 If Kant had wanted to ingratiate himself with the Pamphili family, Innocent X’s descendants, and viewed the portrait, perhaps he might have had much to say. Switching between thoughts on how beautiful the work was and how his subjective taste was entranced, I’m sure he would have rhapsodised and seen Velázquez’s work as consummate proof of his ideas on the subjectivisation of aesthetics. Undoubtedly, Kant would have regarded Velázquez as a genius, if pushed to make a comment. He would have also certainly added, “Genius is a talent for producing something for which no determinate rule can be given.”27 Thus reminding us of his separation of rules from aesthetics.

Velasquez Pope Inocencent X

Kant becomes gloriously unstuck, though, when one imagines him looking at a different painting altogether. Three hundred years after Velázquez, Francis Bacon painted several variations on Velázquez’s original work and managed to create a total reformation and a new icon within the history of art. ‘The Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X,’ affectionately known as the ‘Screaming Pope’, is a work that Kant would have surely dismissed as devoid of any aesthetic quality whatsoever. However, the tide has turned on Kant because, as we know, there are many respected art critics and aestheticians who venerate Bacon’s work and consider it a triumph of genius. Robert Hughes said, “once you have seen two or three of Bacon’s screaming popes, you can’t get them out of your mind.”28 And this is it. This is Gadamer’s point. Some art “has its true being in the fact it becomes an experience that changes the person who experiences it.”29

Bacon After Velazquez 1953

Perhaps, it’s as well now to make clear and bring completely in focus that whenever we describe the engagement with an ‘artwork’ or ‘work of art’ we are building a template for how we could engage with one another. Make no mistake, all Gadamer’s work on aesthetics has an implicit ethical lesson. Sometimes when trying to understand one thing we need to look at another and critically examine how we are actually undertaking that looking.

Dare I say that, possibly, Bacon’s portrait of a screaming Innocent X is unforgettable in a way that Velázquez’s might be? The power of each to haunt us is palpably present. However, Bacon’s shocks, disturbs and engages us intellectually as we are caught staring into it, trying to comprehend what on earth is happening. It seduces us and, at the same time, imprints itself on our minds causing a shift in our way of understanding what art can be. When one sees the ‘Screaming Pope’ for the first time one comes away changed. The experience of it alters our perception of what painting is. Somehow the work invades our mind, sets up shop, and makes us slightly different from who we were before. And this power, Gadamer understood, is the “true being” of art: the power to change “the person who experiences it.”

Bacon’s visceral and shocking image produces an emotional outcry from some as they see the silent scream of a forever-transfixed pope. However, one can also experience the mental outcry that yearns to understand and make sense of what it is seeing. Explanations zip rapidly across our minds as we filter information surrounding the painting, such as when it was produced, in case a clue might be gleaned. Or, if we know that Bacon was a lifelong atheist and beaten by his father to try and rid him of his homosexuality, we start conjecturing and pontificating. Desperate attempts to quantify the work come thick and fast. It’s a visual representation of the death of God, a reflection upon the Nuremberg trials where Nazis were questioned inside a glass box, or the ultimate figure of authority suffering the retribution of tortured son. Bacon himself was keen to always avoid and evade any such explanations in order to allow the visual to represent itself rather than being overlaid or smothered by words. Consequently, because of his evasion and the work’s internal resistance to categorisation it blocks neat definitions and ensures that the gaze of the spectator is held and never really released as it continues to linger in the mind as an ever-present visual question that cannot be answered.

700 Aldolf Eichmann - Nazi War Criminal on trial in Nuremberg after capture

Whilst Bacon’s ‘Screaming Pope’ scorches and sears our mind, another artist working at the same time was doing something similar. Although both would have strenuously denied any cohesion between their activities beyond that they were painters.

Rene Magritte, working in Belgium, but with strong intellectual ties to Surrealism, had been pursuing an artistic project that sought to disrupt traditional notions of how art may be perceived and, indeed, what it may provide. In stark contrast to Bacon, Magritte’s temperature was cooler and somehow more distant. Arguably, too, Magritte’s painterly ability was in a minor key compared to Bacon’s absolute, but always disrupted, major one. Magritte’s style was more along the lines of the illustrative as opposed to the grand master. His work was always about the idea rather than the display of artistic virtuosity. However, let’s us get back to the theme.

In 1868, Édouard Manet painted one of his iconographic scenes of the bourgeoisie at rest, ‘The Balcony’, containing friends and family as the main figures in an homage to Francisco Goya’s ‘The Majas at the Balcony’. The work’s reception at the 1869 Paris salon was, typically for Manet, far from appreciative, with his work being described as “discordant.”30 Maybe, because he didn’t insert female nudes into ‘The Balcony’ as he did with his 1863 and 1865 salon entries ‘The Luncheon on the Grass’ and ‘Olympia’, the criticism was more restrained than outraged. Possibly of more interest is that, wittingly or not, Manet establishes an unusual aura in the figures of ‘The Balcony’, as they each seem to be wholly isolated and independent from each other. I say, “possibly,” because there is an argument that Magritte in his ‘homage’ to ‘The Balcony’ manages to unify them.

the-balcony-1869

A confident and self-assured Magritte painted ‘Perspective II. Manet’s Balcony’ in 1950. The work is an exact reproduction of ‘The Balcony’, except that each of the figures is replaced, or encased, by a coffin shaped to match their posture as depicted by Manet. Unified by death, the figures have been resolved under Magritte’s hand – is how a possible art historical analysis could begin. However, what interests me is the evidence of the same power to shock and disturb as we saw with Bacon’s ‘Screaming Pope’.

Perpective II- Manet-s-balcony-1950(1)[1]

Viewing Magritte’s work alters one’s understanding of what a work of art can be and how we are to engage with it. Again, as with the ‘Screaming Pope’, Kant would have dismissed ‘Perspective II. Manet’s Balcony’ as some kind of nonsense, because his understanding of aesthetics is simply short-circuited by Magritte. Magritte forestalls Kantian notions of beauty and taste, because he was not interested in merely replicating nature on canvas, his priorities lay outside of such a restrictive view of aesthetics. However, as always, we must keep to our topic and in this instance look to Gadamer.

Gadamer’s ideas, as we know, rotate upon a new axis of engagement: one that demands we consider the spectator as a malleable figure. The work of art has its “true being” or, switching things around, the work can truly be said to be art, if it changes the person who experiences it. When regarding Magritte’s work do we not come away altered? Are our sensibilities and understanding of aesthetics not dashed to the floor? Or, at least mildly jostled, when we stack ‘Perspective II. Manet’s Balcony’ against the long line of ‘traditional’ art with its litany of landscapes, portraits and figurative permutations upon religious tales of yore? The sight of coffins so obviously taking the place of figures, even if we were ignorant of Manet’s original, forces a pictorial confrontation that seems to wilfully disobey the very text of how we should refer to death. It instantly unsettles and provokes us so that the question to ask becomes, ‘do we ever come away from something that has unsettled us the same as we were before?’ I suspect not, but then I would, wouldn’t I?

Let’s look at some more Magritte’s and see if we can further grasp what Gadamer is trying to tell us.

Magritte-Clairvoyance

Magritte_6715dig_H_detail_medium@2x

Some works like ‘Clairvoyance’ or ‘Day and Night’ are cunning creations that appear to be almost visual gags. They appear as visual incarnations of ‘what if’ ideas. However, other works impact in a more profound way.

the-great-war-1964-1(1)

‘The Great War,’ for example, works to continually irritate us because the hydrangea is precisely in the way of where we want to look – the Edwardian lady’s face. We don’t cope too well when faces are covered up, obscured or removed entirely. Perhaps instinctively we are upset and disturbed by this? The face is after all where we direct our gaze when regarding each other and it is always our first port of call when examining portraits, the surroundings are forever secondary.

René-Magritte-Not-to-Be-Reproduced-1937-MoMA

In ‘Not to be Reproduced’, Magritte plays further with this unsettling theme by giving the work the sub-title – Portrait of Edward James – a device he repeats in ‘The Pleasure Principle.’

the-pleasure-principle-portrait-of-edward-james

Both works deepen our sense of being unsettled because the solitary protagonist is actually named and the work is expressly presented as a ‘portrait’. Our expectations, therefore, become visually and textually distressed.

Magritte continues throughout his work to explore the idea of stunning our expectations with yet more ways of interrupting our usual ease of regarding portraits. ‘The Rape’ and ‘The Lovers’ both continue to disturb our gaze by removing or altering our understanding of what we expect to see.

500 The Rape

the-lovers-1928(1)

As with all of Magritte’s work, each painting has its own semantic and interpretive possibilities. However, when seen together from ‘The Great War’ onwards, there is a vein of deliberateness that seeks to strike at the very foundation of what we want to see when admiring a portrait. The strike in each case leaves an indelible impression on our minds that, once seen, cannot be erased. Just like Robert Hughes’ description of Bacon’s ‘Screaming Pope’ you can’t get Magritte’s works out of your head. Working with an un-masterful painterly technique or not, Magritte’s art hits home and does its Gadamerian work: the spectator walks away changed by the experience.

Incidentally, as one opens oneself up more to the work of Magritte, one starts to see a language taking shape through the re-working of different yet similar ideas. However, it is not an objective language, because we each establish with Magritte’s works a unique understanding that functions as a ‘common language’ solely between the works and us. What I see and understand is going to be different to what you see and understand. There might be some shared cross-over points. However, if we are to truly engage with the works and allow them to ‘speak’ to us, rather than be ‘translated’ by a third party, we need to direct ourselves to the works themselves. When conversing with Susan we don’t really want Nigel to interlope and speak on Susan’s behalf. Likewise, when ‘conversing’ with Magritte go to the primary source, his works, not to your friend, an art historian or Daily Mail columnist.

700 Magritte-600x350

Finally, though, we need to understand that Magritte can be a cypher for how to relate to an artwork or an artist’s oeuvre. His work demonstrates the power that any art can have on us, in that we can be changed by it, if we let it. The question is can we let ourselves be affected by a work of art? Are we able to stand in front of something that we know could push us, change us, re-shape our boundaries, redefine our customs, and tinker with our deepest thoughts and emotions? Because what I hope to have shown with Magritte and Bacon can be found, and should be found, in the whole gamut of art. After all, one person’s Magritte is another person’s Miró, Picasso, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Goya, or even Velázquez or Manet.

*****

2,040 of 4,475 words in Chapter IV

References

1. Gadamer, H-G. Truth and Method, second edition. Translated by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, Sheed and Ward, London, 2001, 102.
26. Bosky, B. L. “Hippolyte-Adolphe Taine”, Cyclopedia of World Authors, Vol. 5, Salem Press, fourth rev., 2003, 1971.
27. Kant, I. Critique of Judgement, Section 46, translated by Werner S. Pluhar, Hackett Publishing Company Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana, 1987, 175.
28. Hughes, R. Francis Bacon: Horrible, The Guardian, 30th August 2008, [viewed 20 January 2018]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2008/aug/30/bacon.art
29. Gadamer, H-G. Truth and Method, second edition. Translated by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, Sheed and Ward, London, 2001, 102.
30. See Castagnary, J.-A. “Balcon (Le)”in Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe siecle,Vol. 16, 1877, 281. (Actual phrase is more like, “This contradictory attitude disconcerts me”).

Introduction

a 

*****

It’s time for a change.
It’s time for us to realise what we mean to each other.

*****

I want to conjure and draw attention to a thirst that needs to be quenched. There is a positive drought sweeping over us, which threatens to create a bleak, desolate and fearful existence. We are blindly falling into oblivion. With each passing day there appears to be no arrest to our descent. News item after news item generates shudders and terrors as we stare fixedly into the stream of chaos, distress and horror.

Migration, violence, war and terrorism are eclipsing famine, disease and natural disaster. There is an increasing miasma of danger being felt to emanate from the actions of other humans. This is beginning to suppress our perspective upon the natural predators of human life. The battle with nature and struggle for life has been given over, wholesale, to scientific saviours to fight the good fight. Meanwhile, we ‘unscientific ones’ are left to focus our worries upon each other and fantasize about the threat that our neighbour poses as he apparently hides behind closed doors manufacturing pipe bombs and stockpiling illegal weapons.

As we plough ever onwards through ceaseless days of torment at the mercy of omnipresent global communications, we harden day by day to the passage of our fellow citizens as they too go about their lives. The walls, within which we call our homes, start to take root in our minds, slowly setting down psychological mortar and brick to keep nightmare possibilities at bay. Where once there exalted innocent and open minds, embracing life’s continual excitement in the spirit of exploration, desolate wastelands of fear and deserts of paranoia spread, choking our reasoning and intellect. “Better to be safe than sorry” we expound as we shut and bolt the front door closing ourselves off from each other. In a single generation we have slain the freedom and joy we had as children playing with each other in the street and handed down to our offspring the padded playgrounds that technology can provide in the security and safety of our own home.

c

Fear of deviance has caught hold of our imagination and constructed a “no-brainer” decision to keep our kids from potential harm. We understand our actions to be those steered by personal choice when we escort our young ones to the playground as opposed to unleashing them down the road. But are they personal? Or, are they swiftly becoming conventional? When does the act of the one become the act of conformity, and not personal at all? Or, do we acknowledge our ovine proclivity and put it down to “common sense in this day and age”? Hopefully, there are a few good souls out there that rally and rage against this unwritten curfew, even if they might begrudgingly adopt it. Further, though, spreads the desert…

The achievements of the 20th century that took so many great strides to overcome inhumanity are slowly showing signs of erosion. The abolition, by so many, of capital punishment is in great danger if one believes and becomes persuaded by glibly erected ‘debating’ polls. The simple button click, if enough people press it, can become a powerful and corrosive political tool, if initiated by the wrong hands. Can it be that we live in a culture that can excavate and smash one of the foundations of a mature society by naively swaying the populace with fear? The focus of fear shifts, seemingly year on year, with the latest incarnations being migrants and refugees. The largest culture-shock in more recent times, however, relates to that post 9/11 iconographic term coined by George W. Bush, ‘terrorists’, with the question being whether or not terrorists should get the death penalty.

e - alt3

Can it be that we are so ready to go backwards on this issue and if so what next? Are our human rights to be knee-jerked into question by other online polls after being fought for by legions of academics, politicians and thinkers in the post holocaust world of the 1940s? Should we rescind a few of the Articles of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights1, such as 13 (2) (“Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”) and 14 (1) (“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”) because they are becoming inconvenient? Let’s have an online poll right now to make the decision and present the case afresh in true tabloid sensation style. Or, rather, let’s not unpick the fabric of one of the truly remarkable successes that our evolved hairless simian species has managed to achieve!

f

The fostering and nurturing of fear, suspicion and hate is the problem and it needs to be opposed because it alone is causing the drought. Left unchecked, it will cripple humanity through war and convince individuals to self-impose barriers to community that will escalate the loneliness and depression that swarms exponentially among us. The rains to eradicate the draught can come, though… if we want them. The question, of course, is do we want them to come? However, before we start jumping up and randomly performing rain-dances we really ought to find out just what the rain is made from.

Maybe we can start our precipitation analysis by looking at fear, suspicion and hate and also their opposites, calm, trust and love. The most noticeable difference between these two sets of emotions and feelings is that those in the ‘positive camp’, (calm, trust and love) appear to need some focused work from us as individuals. They don’t just happen. They normally take time to develop and to take shape within us. However, those in the ‘negative camp’ (fear, suspicion and hate) are now rushing fully formed into our minds and emotions at speed; and this is a major problem because we aren’t taking any time to process before spewing forth ‘gut’ reactions and creating stories in our heads regarding personal safety for ourselves and our loved ones.

h

So why is it that suspicion comes on much quicker in our consciousness than trust? It used to be the case that these antonyms followed a similar path of progression within our minds. One would experience the presence of another person, weigh up the information gathered from their actions and conversation, then make an assessment as to whether we would like, admire or trust them. The process, though, would take time and be one that we would continually check within ourselves when new information was received. It was rare that we would have an immediate opinion or follow the recommendation of a friend unchecked. However, that was when we lived in a simpler environment where interaction with others, and more importantly the thought of others, was an easily identifiable event in our daily lives. If the Postman discussed with us and speculated on the newcomer in the village as he handed over our letters we would mark this as an, albeit minor, event in our day. Can we say the same today? Rather vitally, we gave space to the information received and also our processing of it. By doing so, of course, we gave the same degree of attention to discovering if we could trust the Postman or be suspicious of him. This is rarely the case these days.

i

There is an enormous plurality to the quantity of events that we allow ourselves to be exposed to in our present age and it shows no signs of slackening off. The consequence being that we are training our minds to shortcut the information and processing time we give to each new interaction. Such speed of grappling aids decision making when in environments where pace is the key criteria to judge our engagement with a given topic. However, perniciousness creeps in when this rapid skill set is applied to issues that deserve superior thinking to those that deserve instantaneous or swift classification. For example, relationships to other humans are issues where we should not scrimp mental energies.

The ability to apply ourselves to questions of other human beings is under malevolent pressure because it is swept along with the flood of information we are coerced/desirous to process regarding the general world around us. From protecting the password to our latest online subscription, to absorbing the latest extra-circular school activity offered to our children, to hundreds of face to face and email dialogues we have at work, to glancing at the newspaper headline opposite us on the commute declaring the latest atrocity and outrage as given over by people trying to sell their papers. We are digesting at a phenomenal rate. Reading, listening, processing, choosing, deciding and concluding.  We are thinking at speed throughout most of our lives. When a new piece of information is presented to us, we have to hustle our assimilations in order to be ready for the next conveyor belt item that has to be consumed. At work this facility undoubtedly makes us more employable because we are seen to be capable and quick-witted. The same is not true though if we apply this method when assessing our fellow self-conscious, bipedal and weary mortal coil inhabitants.

j

The mutually supporting systems of information barrage and our short-cut processing is a pandemic threatening to infect and poison all of us under their widespread scorching plague. Destroyed are our abilities to genuinely consider and reflect upon each other and see beyond the all too easily at-hand fear, hate and suspicion. The inoculation needs to be given out. It is time for us to shake off the sleeping sickness that we have allowed to run rampant through our mental processes. Enough short cutting, enough mis-judgement, enough categorisation and enough sloppiness of thinking. It’s too bloody dangerous. We need to wake up and realise where we are and just what we are capable of if we continue to use our auto-pilot when we should be absolutely focused, in control and able to function at our best intellectually – when thinking about each other. Fear, hate and suspicion must be overcome by a different category of thinking than we normally apply. We have to think deeper, we have to think longer and we have to think wider. We owe it to ourselves not to think simplistically and we owe it to each other after five thousand known years of war, torture and mayhem.

k

It’s time for a change and it’s time for us to realise what we mean to each other even if at first we don’t understand and can’t see why we each believe or do the things we do. The lessons learned in the twentieth century and the results achieved subsequently by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have shown us the danger that lurks in each of us and also the good that we can collectively attain, striving for global civilization. We must not go backwards. We must continue to strive. We must also realise the risks we face every day by lazy thinking that seeks to reduce questions of other people to problems that must be overcome. Each of us deserves consideration, thought and understanding. Each of us deserves to be treated ethically. Thinking first will help us. Thinking first will enable us to become better humans and we have to rise to this challenge. This won’t be easy. We will slip, trip and fall on many occasions. However, perhaps a start can be made in the right direction if we realise the danger posed by fear, hate and suspicion and start to drag ourselves away from the brink by developing a new thirst, an ethical thirst.

l - alt

*****

1,940 of 8,340 words in the Introduction.

References

  1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, [viewed on 26th January 2018]. Available from: http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html