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.