TWENTY SIXTEEN: IN REVIEW

TEETH, FEET & FINGERS

Author’s Note: The provenance of the phrase history is written by the victorious is disputed.  But what can attribution achieve in this instance?  The sentence (or sentiment) must surely have been uttered or thought by many prior to the origin we seek, and also ex post facto by many unaware of their plagiarism.  The point remains that the marginalised have, historically, been denied a voice.  When you are dead or imprisoned, uneducated or denied access, putting forward your version of events becomes problematic.  Once something has been destroyed, only those left standing can rebuild, and do so with the only tools available to them: theirvision.

It could be said that, to some extent, in the real-time networked world we have awoken in this side of the millennium, more people than ever have the ability to make themselves heard.  But what do we find now that the curtain has…

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TWENTY SIXTEEN: IN REVIEW

Author’s Note: The provenance of the phrase history is written by the victorious is disputed.  But what can attribution achieve in this instance?  The sentence (or sentiment) must surely have been uttered or thought by many prior to the origin we seek, and also ex post facto by many unaware of their plagiarism.  The point remains that the marginalised have, historically, been denied a voice.  When you are dead or imprisoned, uneducated or denied access, putting forward your version of events becomes problematic.  Once something has been destroyed, only those left standing can rebuild, and do so with the only tools available to them: their vision.

It could be said that, to some extent, in the real-time networked world we have awoken in this side of the millennium, more people than ever have the ability to make themselves heard.  But what do we find now that the curtain has not just been pulled back, but entirely torn from the frame?  A cacophony of bewilderment and confusion.  Given the ability to connect, we find the opposite: rival factions forming even within so-called liberal and humanitarian endeavours.  True, beneath the media hype circus and informing every echo-chamber is a series of seemingly incomprehensible yet profound events.  To make sense of these events we cling to the narrative structures that reinforce our own belief systems (even those who claim to be free of them entirely).  But what we see is that these narratives, constructed in a context of individualism, serve to divide us further.

As well as the political and global turmoil, twenty-sixteen has, for various reasons, been a trying year for me personally and those around me with whom I am lucky enough to share a more intimate relationship.  It is not my intention to emphasise either a positive or negative interpretation of trying.  About midway through the year I discovered the writings of Charles Eisenstein whose philosophy has subsequently resonated with me profoundly: pulling together various paths of thought that I had been unable to do so alone.  All ideology is narrative.  Humanity has been driven by a story of separation, the self as a discrete entity.  Science, politics, art, education, religion, economics &c. are all ideologies constructed to make sense of the world.  All of these ideologies have failed because they are predicated on a falsehood (the story of separation).

What follows is my review of the past twelve months.  It is necessarily my own perspective.  A chronologically driven (linear and cyclical) second-person narrative, this story is one-part diary (personal and political), one-part consumption (books and music) and one-part philosophical exegesis (bildungsroman).  Depending on your proximity: in jokes, pop-philosophy, bad puns, scholarly intent, juvenilia, paradox, pretension and/or pith.  Anything underlined is hyperlinked to the source of the reference (music, words, obituaries &c.).  Direct quotes are underlined and the reference is hyperlinked from the (Author, Date) notation to where the quote exists in its full context elsewhere on my blog.  Before writing I set myself the following rules: Each entry must a) refer to the events of that month, both internal and external b) include a quote from every book I read that month that can be as seamlessly as possible woven into the overarching narrative c) contain a reference to some music I had on repeat that month, and d) reflect the nature and personal development of my philosophical enquiry.  There follows a full bibliography and an appendix.  Ma gavte la nata.

Adam John Miller
20th December, 2016

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NUTSHELL

I stay awake, I listen, I learn.  Early this morning, less than an hour before dawn, there was heavier matter than usual.  Through my mother’s bones I encountered a bad dream in the guise of a formal lecture.  The state of the world.  An expert in international relations, a reasonable woman with a rich deep voice, advised me that the world was not well.  She considered two common states of mind: self-pity and aggression.  Each one a poor choice for individuals.  In combination, for groups or nations, a noxious brew that lately intoxicated the Russians in Ukraine, as it once had their friends, the Serbs in their part of the world.  We were belittled, now we will prove ourselves.  Now that the Russian state was the political arm of organised crime, another war in Europe no longer inconceivable.  Dust down the tank divisions for Lithuania’s southern border, for the north German plain.  The same potion inflames the barbaric fringes of Islam.  The cup is drained, the same cry goes up: we’ve been humiliated, we’ll be avenged.

The lecturer took a dim view of our species, of which psychopaths are a constant fraction, a human constant.  Armed struggle, just or not, attracts them.  They help to tip local struggles into bigger conflicts.  Europe, according to her, in existential crisis, fractious and weak as varieties of self-loving nationalism sip that same tasty brew.  Confusion about values, the bacillus of anti-Semitism incubating, immigrant populations languishing, angry and bored.  Elsewhere, everywhere, novel inequalities of wealth, the super-rich a master race apart.  Ingenuity deployed by states for new forms of brilliant weaponry, by global corporations to dodge taxes, by righteous banks to stuff themselves with Christmas millions.  China, too big to need friends or counsel, cynically probing its neighbours’ shores, building islands of tropical sand, planning for the war it knows must come.  Muslim-majority countries plagued by religious puritanism, by sexual sickness, by smothered invention.  The Middle East, fast-breeder for a possible world war.  And foe-of-convenience, the United States, barely the hope of the world, guilty of torture, helpless before its sacred text conceived in an age of powdered wigs, a constitution as unchallengeable as the Koran.  Its nervous population obese, fearful, tormented by inarticulate anger, contemptuous of governance, murdering sleep with every handgun.  Africa yet to learn democracy’s party trick – the peaceful transfer of power.  Its children dying, thousands by the week, for want of easy things – clean water, mosquito nets, cheap drugs.  Uniting and levelling all humanity, the dull old facts of altered climate, vanishing forests, creatures and polar ice.  Profitable and poisonous agriculture obliterating biological beauty.  Oceans turning to weak acid.  Well above the horizon, approaching fast, the urinous tsunami of the burgeoning old, cancerous and demented, demanding care.  And soon, with demographic transition, the reverse, populations in catastrophic decline.  Free speech no longer free, liberal democracy no longer the obvious port of destiny, robots stealing jobs, liberty in close combat with security, socialism in disgrace, capitalism corrupt, destructive and in disgrace, no alternatives in sight.

In conclusion, she said, these disasters are the work of twin natures.  Clever and infantile.  We’ve built a world too complicated and dangerous for our quarrelsome natures to manage.  In such hopelessness, the general vote will be for the supernatural.  It’s dusk in the second Age of Reason.  We were wonderful, but now we are doomed.  Twenty minutes.  Click.

Ian McEwan, Nutshell.