The Vast Number of Days Pass You By
This is not one of those days...
The vast number of days pass you by. Young Hobbits may hate these sorts of days; may kick their heels, looking for mischief to get into. But with age, usually, comes a contentment with peace and quiet…
This is not one of those days.
In my life there have been several events of the Big Folk that I will remember. Ones that I’ll remember in that ‘JFK moment’ that boomers talk about--”you remember where you were”. I suspect this is some survival tool. Experience trauma and you will remember the context so that in the future you might avoid being in that situation again. Unfortunately in these days of monsters, by which I mean man made institutions and forces that have taken on a life of their own, remembering context does little to help you avoid the unavoidable.
For me, and many my age, it was September 11th. I was at school and someone came in and told us. Everyone else thought it was an accident. I, who had relatives nearly killed by IRA bombs on the other side of the Atlantic, knew that it wasnt. I remember standing with my father on the platform at London Bridge Station. I had an empty bottle and was looking around for somewhere to throw it away. I asked him why there wasn’t any. He said ‘Because the IRA put bombs in rubbish bins.’ Part of my innocence died that day. Enough so that at the moment a year or two later, back in the US, when everyone else was speculating about how such a horrible accident could have happened, I knew it wasn't an accident. “Terrorism”, I said, but no one heard me from the excitement and commotion.
I lived close enough that, when I got home from school, I could see the smoke from a nearby hill. I watched it for 20 minutes and then, being utterly helpless, went home. I will never forget being in my little nook back home that night, playing video games into the small hours--bedtime enforcement having lapsed in the chaos--playing some game and listening on to a classic rock station, Q1043. At one point someone requested Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Tuesday’s Gone’, September 11th, 2001, being a Tuesday. The beautiful melancholy of that song anticipated and formed whatever I was feeling that day.
Afghanistan was swiftly invaded. I remember seeing night-vision video of special forces jumping out the back of a chinook. Two years later, Iraq. I was anxious that the war would not wait for me. 2 more years and I could enlist. Fortunately I didn't, but I remained committed to that war, having bought-in fully to the narrative. There were elements of a neo-imperialism. I blamed the failures on America not knowing how to run an empire. Britain, had it been in charge, would have done better. Those conflicts simmered on. Obama came and went. We got ISIS. We drone-striked thousands of people. Women and children.
Sometime around 2013, with the prospect of invading Syria, and with the disaster of Libya, I realised the futility of it all. And worse. That the powers-that-be are suited to this. These weren’t benevolent Victorian gentlemen with the robust simple morality of schoolboys. These were cynical people interested in power and wealth of a magnitude that couldn’t be comprehended. The political movements were like the gulf stream, with people so powerful that we had practically never heard of them, because there was no real benefit to their power being out in the open. And while these vast currents that shaped the climate rolled over practically anything they wanted, the political debates and concerns we were allowed to see and participate in were analogous to wading in the shallow tide pool. We are, and have been for longer than my lifetime certainly, been out of our depths.
And now we’re faced with another moment, another day that shapes history. The futility of it all is what stays with me. If you were to look at my Twitter, you would see the gut reactions of someone made cynical by years of conflict devoid of any morality. I feel guilty about how I react, and how flippant I can be. It's a defence mechanism.
I’m disappointed by Putin. I thought he was doing an excellent job at making Schwab’s Young Leaders look ludicrous. I don't look forward to the crowing we will have to endure over the next few months and years about this. I certainly thought there was also a lot of legitimacy to Putin’s complaints with the West. NATO expansion et al. I'm not sure what he will gain from this. It makes little sense to me.
I also lament the loss of any and all life. I truly do. The worst person you can think of; I think it's a shame when they die. What could have been done differently? Was the error in them or in their environment? I'm not a liberal, and I believe people have to take responsibility for themselves, but I also can't deny that we are shaped by what we live through. And so when some Azov Battalion member dies, I will find that a shame. But I also recognise the truth of ‘live by the sword, die by the sword.’ I have no illusions about the Ukraine, or the nastier elements that hide behind the liberal championing of that nation. I also have no illusions about Russia being the big ultimate baddie. Russia has legitimate concerns, as far as I am concerned.
But the moment that broke my heart today was seeing footage of a rocket or artillery shell going off and killing a teenage girl as she biked to school. The innocent don't deserve this. She didn't deserve it.
So what are we to do? I don't know. But if the lessons of the last 20 years have taught me anything it's the following...
First, be intellectually disciplined. We are being manipulated. Every time you engage with a piece of media that isn't a book written more than 50 years ago, you can be safely assured that you’re being sold something. Are you surprised that as the pandemic winds down this happens? Remember the trucker convoy? The last 2 days have swept all thought of that from our minds. They will push their agenda and they will flood you with so much information that it can’t be meaningfully processed, and so you outsource that function to them.
“What do you think about Ukraine, Bill?” someone will ask you at the water-cooler.
“Intelligent people have opinions on Ukraine. I'm an intelligent person—or at least I want to be thought of as one—but I don't know!... Hm. I'll take that pre-packaged one from MSNBC/CNN/FOX/SKY/BBC/RT/ALJAZEERA etc. and use that”, you’ll think.
Secondly, and most importantly, reject false dichotomies. The last thing I want, and the last thing I think that will help, is Western intervention. The futility of armed intervention has been on display for 20 years. I'm increasingly of an extreme pacifist persuasion, something which I don't expect to be popular with ‘our guys’. I'm not sure it ever helps. “What about Hitler? What about the pointlessness of the First World War?” I will respond.
But this doesn't mean I condone the invasion. Every time you get cornered into choosing an either or, part of their agenda is furthered. “You don’t support the invasion, do you Bill?”
“Piss off Dave.”
Ultimately, we’re not made for war. You can see this in the bloodied battered human bodies on display today. Russian and Ukrainian boys, conscripts, with their brains blown out the back of their heads. Dead girls smeared on the road, killed as they did something as innocuous as ride their bikes to school. Our bodies are robust, amazing things, until all of a sudden they aren't.
I don't think we should get involved but that doesn't mean we shouldn't care. “Am I my brother's keeper?” Cain asks God, with the blood of Abel still on his hands. “Yes”, the implicative silence comes back.
Mark 12:28-31 (KJV)
28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
Matthew 5 (NKJV)
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
The battle is ultimately not ours to fight. It’s wheels with wheels. It’s far too complicated for us to figure out... But we don't need to. We don't need to fight. The battle is already won. We need only to love God and love one another… And as hard as it may be, to love our enemies… In all the commotion, let us, most importantly, not forget our faith.
If the mask of my usual online persona has slipped for this one, I apologise... Again, it’s not been one of those days…