Eleatic, on a Tuesday


Fingers crossed that Old Faithful here hangs in while I get this done and posted. Not that my laptop’s name is actually ‘Old Faithful’. That would be silly. His name is Abulafia, but I call him Abe (Thank you, Umberto Eco. I only steal from the best…) Not holding out a lot of hope- especially since I went ahead and reblogged an older post earlier. Call me reactionary. Let’s see how this one goes…

Not only was my recent trip to Scotland and London filled with all kinds of friends and food and family and frivolous fun (seriously, the cup runneth waaaaay over with ALL those things), but it offered a chance for me to do a fair bit of geeking out of the historical kind over those two weeks.
We covered a lot of ground. We saw a lot of things. And, given the fact that Scotland and England are ‘countries of a certain age’, there was a whole lot of history to cover in a rather condensed period of time.

Beginning in Glasgow- and starting things off with a night out to forever remember with my lovely scottishmomus and her other half (there will be more about that evening of festivities forthcoming)- we visited many places of yore and learned vast bookloads of information about the history, culture and people of both Scotland and England.

Everywhere we went- Highlands, Lowlands, train journeys east, and then south- we were entertained and educated by some of the finest storytellers I’ve been privileged to meet. A history geek’s dream. And I’m nothing if not a history geek.

I’m still trying to process everything- and to take on board the geography, the stories and the artefacts to which we were privy over the two weeks we spent discovering that part of the (more or less) United Kingdom. I have yet to get through the pictures (again, computer issues cramping both my style and deep-seated need for timely organization), but I am enjoying the Scotch (I’m a Scotch drinker now- I seem to have become my grandfather while hanging in the Highlands) and absorbing it all as I think back over all of the experiences (while wishing I was back there more than a little. I’m serious, Anne-Marie. I could very much see myself living in Glasgow- you have been warned…)

Anyhoo. I’ve been easing back into things and re-embracing ‘real life’ as best I can, while getting over the plague I contracted while in Edinburgh (such is my desire for experiential immersion in the history, I decided to pick up a case of the pneumatic plague while exploring the underground vaults and hidden closes of the Scottish capital).

Which kind of leads me into the topic of tonight’s latest rant…

What the freakin’ hell is with the 24/7 fear-mongering that is everywhere these days? Okay- so I admit that spending two weeks completely (okay- mostly. I had to check on the cats and make sure all was still good back home) unplugged and disconnected offered a breath of oh-so-fresh existential air that my disdain for all things media-driven may be heightened slightly, but c’mon. Seriously?

Today CBC News Network has been ‘all-ebola’all-the-time’. Really. The CBC. That venerable, true-North-strong-and-free institution that I’m usually the first to defend.

And in brief moments when it wasn’t re-hashing the same old stories about unpreparedness and new precautions, they were telling us about the sentence received by a South African who shot his girlfriend through the bathroom door.

I have yet to figure out the extensive coverage that the latter story received. The former- well, that one is easy. It’s all about keeping the masses engaged with spectacle- and in order to engage the masses these days you have to freak them out, piss them off or titillate their seemingly-intrinsic voyeurism in 60-second soundbites. Nothing else seems to crack the self-absorption and speak to the lack of attention span that seems to be the norm.

I have witnessed insane degrees of hysteria and over-reactions and chest-thumping and reactionary support of violence all over social media as well- some of the fb groups and news feeds I’ve happened upon- when the laptop was functioning (come on Abe- hold it together for me for a little longer…) bear witness to all kinds of credulous and ill-informed rhetoric about the topics making headlines and jamming our technological devices on a daily basis.

It makes me want to bite something. And I haven’t even checked what those jokers at Fox ‘News’ and the like have been saying about the state of the world since I’ve been home. That would be too much to take.

I’ve waxed philosophical a time or two about my despair at this propensity we have to let the media- and our governments- direct and/or dictate our collective reactions to these things. I had thought that the vacation might help to clear the air and re-set some of my impressions about such things. And it did, I suppose. Just not exactly in the way I thought it would…

I mentioned the storytellers we encountered on the various tours we chose. They offered different and differing perspectives on history- and how that history informs and influences current events, like the recent referendum in Scotland, for example. A very well-read and well-informed group of people, to be sure.

While in Edinburgh- that most-haunted of cities- we made the most of our limited time there (and the early autumn Hallowe’en-ish temperatures and atmosphere) and took part in the spookiest tours we could find. We visited the vaults under South Bridge, Mary King’s Close, and the Greyfriars kirkyard with its resident poltergeist.

All of our guides were entertaining to the nth degree- especially, it has to be noted, Gerry, who led us to the kirkyard and declaimed and discounted the Disneyfied myth of Greyfriars Bobby, while questioning the creativity of JK Rowling, and convincing us of the veracity of the poltergeist’s existence.

Despite the diversity of perspectives on the town’s history, each of our guides (the daytime ones, too) were consistent in at least one thing- that, historically, the walled city of Edinburgh was a pretty grim place in which to live. What with things like the constant effluvium from that lovely tradition of ‘gardayloo’ that sent the waste of the many residents flowing downhill to the the Nor Loch (which was also the city’s water source), the recurrent episodes of plague, and the rise of the Resurrection Men who turned body snatching into a fine art, Edinburghers had to take their entertainment where they could find it. Such as it was.

What it was, often, was attendance at public punishment and execution. Oh, the stories. So many- and told so vividly and with a typically morbid sense of humour and relish- were about the reactions that the good citizens of Edinburgh had to the working out of the legal system of the day.

Historically, it was entertaining beyond belief. Historically. I sort of naively thought that we, culturally speaking, might have moved beyond such entertainments by now.

‘Fraid not. It all stems from the same impulse. Our need to forget- if temporarily- our personal/societal problems prompts us to get caught up in the spectacles provided- eagerly- by our leaders and media.

Jebus. It’s downright Eleatic.

The Eleatics were a pre-Socratic philosophical school, founded in the early 5th-century BCE by Parmenides. Among other things, the Eleatics opposed the theories of Heraclitus- specifically the idea that all existence can be summed up as perpetual change. Those Eleatics were all about the idea of perpetual unity- that things cannot come from nothing (so, no Creation, for example) and that things cannot arise out of things from which they differ.

In other words, reality- and, by extension, humanity- is unchanging.

This brief, Coles’ (or ‘Cole’s’- hee!) Notes, version of their wisdom is illustrative of a realization that fairly gobsmacked me as I innocently reflected on my travels and the things happening on my tv upon my return. We haven’t changed. Not fundamentally. Not enough. Certainly nowhere near the extent to which we are capable.

I never saw myself as a modern-day Zeno, although I can certainly appreciate the influence of the school on, say,  Platonic metaphysics, for example. I tend toward a more optimistic view of things than all that. But c’mon, peeps. The evidence is kinda sorta there. It’s bombarding us from the media- social and otherwise. It’s being made manifest in our policies of governance and corporate interactions. It’s dividing us socially and politically.

How have we not moved past this impulse? Focusing on the fear and the perceived justice of the punitive punishment of those deemed to be the source of the fear feeds the implementation of measures that gradually strip away our freedoms to engage in dialogue about the real sources of the ills of the world- whether those ills are naturally-occurring viruses, the normalization of crimes like domestic abuse, or inflammatory human rhetoric that seeks to divide rather than unite.

Have we progressed not-at-all from those Edinburghers who would gather at the Mercat Cross to witness, with enthusiasm, the punishment of the unfortunates of the city?

Whatever platitudes we might claim to embrace, we don’t really like change. We fight it- or (like certain Prime Ministers I could mention- at least as regards things like climate) deny its existence.

Travel, at its best, serves to open our eyes to different ways of looking at our world. I’m not sure I expected that this particular lesson was one that I’d take away from two glorious weeks in places- housing people- that I learned, quickly, to love.

Although its composer says that this particular song really isn’t about anything, I think that some wisdom can be found, imbedded in ‘those cheap pop lyrics’ (yes, Roland really said that).

‘When something on your mind, became a point of view…

When it’s all too late…

Change. You can change.

We must change. Or suffer the consequences already knocking at our doors.

And while we’re listening to Tears for Fears…

I’ll leave it at that- partly because the song’s title speaks for itself, partly because I could go on about that one song- and its importance in my life- for at least another 1600 words, but mostly because I think I’m pushing all the luck there might be. Abe has done a remarkable job of holding it all together, so I’m going to give him the rest of the night off.

Time for a dram. Lowland- from Lothian, near Edinburgh. I miss Scotland. And being unplugged.

20 comments on “Eleatic, on a Tuesday

  1. Now, see, being the optimistic cratur I am, and seeing change as a viable and positive force for good, I’m focussing here on the fact that you liked Glasgow well enough to come live. I’m sure Glasgow Uni or Strathclyde would welcome you with open arms. As I would. Big hugs, missus. 🙂 x

    • colemining says:

      Oh Anne-Marie- you know I’m of the optimistic bent my own self. I just can’t believe the media bombardment of negativity and the way that I am seeing people feed that spectacle. I didn’t even want to bring it up- but the nonsense has over-taken our mayoral race (which is an extremely important election, as I’ve said. Repeatedly). It makes it hard to choose which of them to actually deserve a vote, to be honest.

      And you also know that I believe change is possible- and that it is happening (however incrementally) all over the world. I think I just had a moment- watching ‘Ebola Day’ and then seeing some of the posts elsewhere about how ISIL is going to get us all unless we slaughter all the people in the Middle East… frustrating. To say the least.

      Sigh. I’m thinking it would have to be Glasgow Uni- I’ve fallen in love with the West side- and that campus is just amazing. Took a wander around and found the Humanities departmental offices. Looked very home-y to me… Big hugs back at you! xoxo

  2. ChgoJohn says:

    I spent a good portion of the Summer unplugged and thoroughly enjoyed it. If only there was a way to unplug the 24/7 news cycle and all the insanity that it entails.

    • colemining says:

      I think I’m going to have to try it more often, John (I might have no choice, if the laptop doesn’t hang in there…). ‘News’ has become all about market share- hence the insane sensationalism. It’s important to remain informed and engaged in what is happening in the world- but finding legitimate places to do that is becoming harder and harder. I think I’m going to get my news exclusively from Jon Stewart from now on. If only he’d comment on more Canadian issues (ones having nothing to do with our former mayor…)

      Thanks for the visit!

  3. bethbyrnes says:

    Your trip sounds perfect, Cole. Even though I lived in GB for a while, and visited Ireland and Wales and travelled all over the English countryside, I never made it to Scotland. I hope to go because everything I have ever heard tells me I would love it and may not want to leave (even though I am a vegan!).

    As for the rest, the ’round-the-clock-and-dial Ebola panic, the Pistorius verdict, the reflexive stupidity of people who, in the lower 50 here, are just about to hand our power over to the self same folks who crashed the world’s economy and through sequestration have made it impossible for our Federal government to function … serious run-on sentence … I am mystified and to the point of never voting again out of sheer political exhaustion.

    Honestly, I think H. Sapiens has changed precious little in the past 2.8 millions years. Just a couple of examples? The state of Iowa is about to elect a moron who brags about castration. Florida is about to hand another term to a Governor who made his money bilking thousands of senior citizens due to medical fraud to the tune of millions and millions of dollars. South Dakota is about to put a man in the Senate (SD being a barely populous state that gets two Senators, just like the very heavily populated California) who has been caught selling green cards to exotic foreigners for US$500K a pop. New Hampshire can’t decide whether their next Senator should be a hard working intelligent caring, mature woman or a loser that like to pose naked in mannie mags for 20-something females. And this is the so-called leading civilised nation of the Western world? Seriously?

    I am ready to find the highest most remote island north of Scotland and just pull in my tentacles.
    Thank you for reminding me of Tears for Fears. I miss them!

    • colemining says:

      Oh, Beth. It really was. We had sun and warm temps (in London, anyway. It was well-and-truly fall in Scotland) and the whole thing went off without any real hitches. You must see Scotland- and, in case you’re really worried, the vegetarian SO managed to survive the week without starving. We ate very well, in fact. Even tried the vegetarian haggis (I had the real stuff- delish!)! Vegan might be a little more difficult, but I’m thinking it can be done.

      I hear you- on all of it. I’ve been staying away from watching much about the mid-term elections down south. Too much for my heart and head to handle- and we have more than enough of that sort of nonsense happening up here. I’m doing my darnedest to seek out stories about those who are working toward positive change- as a way to balance the idiocy- but some days it’s a real challenge to do so. Picking exactly how one should remain informed when constantly faced by the pap that is played on the major networks can be pretty difficult- especially if you’re looking for a diversity of perspectives and insights.

      I love Tears for Fears- and there’s no need to miss them for long. I’ve heard that they have a new album coming out (both of them- not just Roland using the name- although his stuff when he did that was pretty solid, too. Still, will be nice to hear from Curt again) and they will likely tour with it. Something to which we can look forward!

      Thanks, as always, for the visit!

  4. I lived in Edinburgh for a year…you can’t get away from the ghosts there, and it’s humbling…I am hopeful we can change for the better.

    • colemining says:

      Me too, Booksy. But some days… they viability of that hope seem pretty unlikely. Yesterday was one of those days.

      The connection to the past is one of the things I loved about those cities. Here, we seem hell-bent on bulldozing our past- in favour of building new condos everywhere. All this in spite of the fact that we have leaders paying a whole lot of lip service to the glories of our history. It’s making this city increasingly unlivable- a reality that was made clear after visiting cities that are making things work while preserving the beauty of the past.

      Thanks for reading!

  5. Face it: Fear sells. When my 14-year-old daughter asks me if we’re in danger of catching Ebola, I know the media has once again been hard at work scaring people. I had explain to her that while neither her nor I would want to catch that particular virus, it has claimed but a few thousand lives in Africa, a mere fraction compared to what HIV/AIDS and malaria claim each year on that continent, and that she needs to realize that this is what the media does – it scares people to generate ratings and advertising revenue.

    Scotland seems a wonderful place, especially to me, who is also a self-professed “history geek.” Ever since I read Sir Walter Scott’s novels I’ve wanted to visit Scotland. Of course, I could probably spend a full year in the British Isles and never come close to seeing everything I’d like to view.

    • colemining says:

      So very true, CBC. It’s both reassuring and a sobering commentary that your daughter is having to be taught these realities.

      As I write this, Parliament Hill is on lockdown after a shooting at our National War Memorial. I’m listening to media reports- largely because I have a close friend who is working on the Hill and has been locked down- and the unsubstantiated speculations are alarming in the extreme.

      You would love Scotland. And yes, I’d need years to get to everything I want to see. Makes the thought of emigrating more and more attractive…

      Thanks for reading- and for your comment.

      • I’d have a hard time leaving Canada, if I were Canadian. I suppose there are many countries I’d like to live in if I had to pick another, but I’ve long had a soft spot for Canada.

        The idea of living in a country that doesn’t tout itself as a superpower is appealing. Liechtenstein, Andorra and Morocco come to mind. New Zealand would be interesting, as well.

        Canada does things it’s own way, despite its proximity to the US and I’ve always respected that fact. I loved visiting Parliament Hill, as well. Hope all is well up there.

      • colemining says:

        Yes, I DO love my Home and Native Land, and it is (for the most part) a pretty great place to live. If we could just do something about our idiot politicians… Part of my concern is that, while we have always tried to do things our own way (as you note), increasingly (and especially under the current federal government and people like our former mayor) there has been movement towards the adoption of many of the less savoury aspects of American ways of doing things.

        I’m listening to live CBC coverage and watching for updates from my friend. Unbelievable situation. Or, perhaps, not so unbelievable. I refer you back to my reblog of yesterday. Hoping this is resolved quickly. One (!) of the shooters is now confirmed to have been shot and killed.

      • …all schools on lockdown, all downtown offices on lockdown, one shooter thought dead, another (maybe 2?) on the loose…all thoughts on are getting everyone home safely…going to be a long day…

      • colemining says:

        I know, Booksy. Watching/listening closely. Dear friend is in lockdown in the West Block. You and yours keep safe, you hear? xo

      • so many of my friends in same situation…my kid’s school too…parents not allowed to pick up kids…doors locked. what’s freaking me out is possibility of multiple shooters, this is beyond belief

      • colemining says:

        It does sound like they are coordinating the response very well- so there is that. But yeah- this is not something I expected to see. So very close to home.

  6. Jami says:

    Wow I love this post on many levels, but most importantly: I am also in love with Scotland! I love Edinburgh, Glasgow, the highlands and the little old industrial towns. I camped there last year and just feel so madly in love with the country side. I plan to go back in the spring, to walk part of their national trail. 🙂

    • colemining says:

      Yes, now that I’ve seen it, I’m tempted to walk the West Highland Way. Perhaps someday. It does require a whole lot of stamina, so some training would be necessary.

      Thanks for the visit and the comment, Jami!

  7. […] For Cole, here is as much of the set I could manage to note.…quite hard to scribble when you’re dancing! I wish you could have been there. You’d have been in your element. And we could have pogoed together, although the boots would have to have come off for that, and I might not then have seen over the few heads in front of me that separated me only feet – not years – from a band whose socio-political message needs no dressing up. Not at all like many of our politicians nor their political agendas. […]

  8. […] his brother (Praise Odin and the gods of Valhalla) out of all media coverage. New scandals await our insatiable appetite for the lurid. We are all talking about him- and lines are being drawn all over the […]

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