Like cats mesmerised by laser pointers, our attention is easily hijacked. Not surprisingly, given the kind of world we live in, it’s a trait which often gets exploited. The three-card trick; bared flesh on a magazine cover; rumours of immigrant takeover. As the internet commercialized it quickly diagnosed our readiness to give and call for attention, and accelerated the exploitation process (cunningly disguised) to supernatural speed and intensity. We hardly even had to pay for the privilege, except in something called personal data which we barely knew we had in the first place. But something else is going on too, massively amplified by the internet though not necessarily created by it.
Reading what I wrote yesterday (part 1), it seems that trying to analyse the English word ‘love’ may have been a red herring. Augustine was a Berber who grew up in what is now Algeria, in the late 4th century, and was educated and wrote in Latin. Whatever he meant by ‘love’ is unlikely to square with the connotations the word carries for us in early 21st century English. Catholic theologians, responding to Biden’s speech online, emphasize that Augustine would have been thinking of Godly devotion as the primary force knitting a multitude into one people.
A week ago Joe Biden – President Joe Biden – said this in his inaugural speech:
Many centuries ago, Saint Augustine, a saint in my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.
That phrase, common objects of their love, attracted my attention, for reasons I’ll explain in the second part of this post. But first a sideways step. Because Biden’s reference got me wondering what love means here. I wanted to try and iron this out before getting back to the new president, and Augustine, because love clearly means different things in different contexts. Sometimes wildly different things.
The spirits are stopping us, he says. They’re stopping us. They’re jealous.
And then he says: they hold us still…still in time.
Hold us still/still in time — the same words that Barnacle used — and I said to him: Cambio, listen. This man here, the headman with the boy on his shoulders, he told me, with the same words, about your return to the Beginning. Except…I don’t speak Mayoruna — do you understand?
There might be a scene where two people are casually talking; then, from some detail in the conversation, the characters suddenly comprehend each other’s true feelings. In that instant, action stops, actors freeze, and from stage left wooden clappers go battari!
The two characters resume speaking as though nothing has happened; however, in the instant of that battari!, everything has changed.
(Kabuki’s stop-start moments, described by Alex Kerr in Lost Japan.)
We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. (Aldo Leopold, 1949)
The trees had to go. Two magnificent mature trees, a copper beech and a lime, 150 years old and probably 100 feet tall. In their time they’d seen the port city expand towards and eventually far beyond them. Now development, so-called, had doubled back to mop up a little pocket of unexploited territory.
We’re in an age of tipping points now, tipping points upon tipping points. No sense beating about the bush.
The climate’s tipped into free fall. We mostly conceive of climate change in increments of temperature rise, but it might as well be depicted as a plummet into bottomless unpredictability, also known as chaos, because that’s what’s coming upon us now as the icecap thins and cracks, the tundra belches millennia of freeze-framed methane, tropical rainforests are scoured bare, air and ocean currents slacken and flip, and countless fellow species on this teeming membrane of life vanish into the void.
Do not go gentle, children, into that damned night
Your sky’s been robbed, our day is nearly done
Rage, rage against them bastards killed the light Continue reading “New Year’s Day, 2020”
There’s a funny old creature who lives in the woods, a little bit scary at first sight (it’s huge) but fundamentally a kind-hearted, furry lump. I say creature, but spirit may a better description, because everywhere a green shoot pokes its head through the topsoil, or the wind eddies a cluster of dry leaves, there’s a Totoro or one of its ilk to be found. And unless you’re, say, 12 or under, you’ll never see one. Yes, that kind of a fabulous beast. Continue reading “Totoro”
The celebrity novelist Jonathan Franzen got it in the neck recently for a piece in The New Yorker which some read as advocating surrender to impending environmental and civilizational collapse. For me, the criticism – see here and here for example – isn’t constructive or relevant. Franzen simply offers an account of one person’s journey towards begrudging acceptance of the way things are heading, and it resonates. Continue reading “Candide’s garden”