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“Feel it like a man”

August 30, 2015



Dispute it like a man.


I shall do so;
But I must also feel it as a man

Rereading Macbeth, I was reminded of the impoverishing horror of an unholy set of truncated jumps from atrocity to analysis to policy to action.  Macduff has only just been told of the murder of his entire family and he’s instantly urged to “something about it”.  Malcolm, the future King Malcolm, is an unfeeling sort of body – first cousin to Fortinbras in Hamlet – someone who can act but who can’t properly react.  Macduff can do both, but he needs some time.

We have hundreds of people dying in, on and close to the borders of Europe.  I don’t know what to do about this, but I know we’re not getting enough time to feel it.

Of course, the katiehopkinsification of popular political discourse has made it cool and acceptable to boast about being less than human.  Reading the comments sections of news stories reporting the latest Mediterranean boat sinking, you might be forgiven for thinking that the island of Britain is no longer populated with humans or by sentient beings possessed with the capacity for empathy.

Part of the problem may be with the decline in “news” as opposed to “analysis”.  Of course, the idea that “news” exists in some cold definite form independently of any sort of ideological construction now seems culpably naive and hopelessly antiquated.  The concept that raw facts have a separate existence, prior to their politicised usage – seems like a fairy tale from our childhoods.  (Although the drowning of thousands of human beings this year seems as raw a fact as you’d ever want to not meet.)  We t.rust not “The News” – but our own news sources – websites that reinforce a particular world view.  This is a global phenomenon.  If CNN.COM were to announce that grass is green, then FOXNEWS.COM fans would denounce such information as contaminated at source.  Some might blame some kind of postmodern philosophy for the decline of “The News” – the erosion of any kind of objective reality beyond the play of discourses.  More plausibly, consumer capitalism simply treats all information as a commodity to be pitched to an imagined market.  People drowning in the Mediterranean are almost automatically fitted into a narrative suited for niche consumers.

But the narratives and analysis that convey these dramas are designed to rob atrocity of feeling and to rob humanity of its necessary time for sombre meditation.

There is much to be done in response to people who are dying at Europe’s borders.  Much that must be done very very soon.  And the talk that informs what is to be done will have to be fairly calm and level headed.  But I also know that without grief – grief that is as far as possibly – politically disinvested – the action that must follow will be cold and inhumane, because as soon as you deal with a “crisis” rather than a tragedy, then the appalling waste of life and the rippling circles of bereavement are disregarded.   Nothing, ultimately, is more impolitic than depersonalisation.

Can we wait a day, perhaps, following the next drowning story – before rushing to analysis?

Too much to ask.

Can we wait an hour?


Perhaps we should all just wait for long enough to listen to at least one person singing Woodie Guthrie’s “Deportee Plane Wreck at Los Gatos”

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