It is almost impossible, in our modern world, to live without some form of news input, without knowing what is going on in the world, or even in the next State, the next town or village. Once upon a time we would be relieved from our ignorance by word of mouth, even if the news took a week or so to arrive, now it is not so easy. That may seem a strange thing to say, that the world has become harder, as far as receiving news is concerned, than it was about two centuries, or even twenty-two centuries ago, but it is not the speed of news travelling and being passed on to those willing to hear which is important here, it is the quantity. We have too much information. We have so much that it is impossible to handle, we cannot possibly do service to all that we hear, or read, or everything that is literally shoved into our faces left, right and centre and, with so much, we have also lost the ability to determine what is right and what is wrong, what is real, what false. Our own yearning for speed and instantaneous gratification – on many different levels – has been our undoing.
I gave up television back in the Seventies, initially because I couldn’t afford it when I first moved out of my family home, and then simply because I found no reason to have one, no reason to spend my time watching something unnecessary when I could be out there, in the wide world, experiencing everything personally. I think there was a brief time in the Nineties when a television was in the house, but it was of no interest to me and had its own corner, its own comfortable chair for one person set up in front of the screen. It was an area of withdrawal for someone else, not for me but, often, from me. This style of communication comes across for me as something akin to the government department which, in order to prove their willingness to cooperate and show how transparent they are, will answer a simply question by issuing thirteen thousand pages of documents, and we have to sift through to find that otherwise easily accessible snippet needed. I have seen so many politicians, and some leaders in other fields, who are asked a simple question and come back with a long and convoluted answer which, in the end, doesn’t address the problem, the original question at all, and this is my impression of the flood of news today. Either the answer is buried in there, or it is not there at all, and someone is leading you on a wild goose chase. Far better, I believe, to leave the mass out and go direct to the source.
And this idea of an unbiased group of journalists who only write and report the truth? I haven’t been able to accept that for many years. Everyone has their own agenda, whether they acknowledge it or not, and everyone lets that agenda creep into their writing, into their talks, into their daily lives. To remain completely in the middle, unbiased, capable of reporting just the facts without changing your tone or inserting an opinion by some means, even if it is body language, is almost impossible. Which is hardly surprising, in its way, since most of the major newspapers and cable television channels are owned by people with a specific political or religious outlook, and they tend to hire those who follow similar ideals, who have a certain way of writing, who move in all the right circles. And they are also very concentrated, so that you will rarely find anything really out of the usual in a newspaper´; what is printed is what the owner and editors believe will sell print, will cause people to tune in to their channel and avoid all the other competitors. It’s all about the bottom line, finances, and keeping the shareholders, in the end, happy.
Western society has indeed survived, so far. Greek and Roman society survived too, in their time, and then crumbled and disappeared rapidly, leaving only a trace for the archaeologists to dig out centuries later but, luckily for us, leaving a far greater influence on our level of knowledge, on education, on the law. Our society is changing rapidly, though, hitting some rough times at the moment which, no matter how you look at it and no matter on which side of the political divide you may stand, will test not only our resolve, but also the very structures we have come to love and require. I’m not sure that one person can destroy what we have, but it only takes one person to start the ball rolling, others to join in, and then a form of destruction is as unstoppable as a good reform would be going in the other direction. Sadly I see that ball on the very lip of the abyss, waiting for a small shove to push it over. The events in Hawaii, the fear created through a mistake which should never have been allowed to happen, this last week, prove how far down the wrong track things have moved.
I see it in my own part of the world too. Government ministers, right up to the highest office, lying to voters and citizens even while the opposite to what they are claiming is being shown and proven beyond any reasonable doubt. Political parties vying one with another for control, rather than for the chance to do something for their country. We call it Church Tower Politics: looking after the interests of your own small area, rather than those of the larger area for which you have been voted into a position of responsibility. It is on all levels of politics, from the highest offices down to the smallest councils, and something I have been disgusted to see during the six years I was an elected county councillor here: what is good for my village where people vote me into power, as opposed to what is good for the entire community I have been sent to represent. It will always be said that history will cast a better light on what really happened, that history will be unkind to those who have done wrong and led us down the wrong path, but history is written, and edited, by the victors. Some of the ancient Egyptian dynasties allowed the history of their predecessors to be rewritten so that they would seem so much better than what had gone before.
Admittedly that is difficult today: we have documentary and digital records of everything that happens, everything of importance, in theory. Anyone can go down to the archives, or into the internet, and find something which proves a point one way or another. We still live, though, in a society where the moment is important, where we need to enrich ourselves now, and not worry about the future, whereas politics should be looking to securing the future and not just enjoying the moment.
The wonderful politics and bitterness, as much as illustrative, quality of poetry. Many a clear and intellectual thinker has reached for a pen to jot down a few thoughts and then turned them into incisive lines wreathed in darkness and allegory that only the sharpest minds can unravel. There was a time when poetry was used, as a safe haven almost, to attack as much as to remember or to illustrate: it was almost untouchable. Then the royal censors became more attuned to the workings of the literary mind, and began taking their own pen to words which had been published, as well as their swords to the throats of those who had been so forward as to write. And for those who could not turn a phrase, could not sort out and separate their iambic from their hexameters, the political pamphlet, the religious booklet, the strike brochure, the calls for equality, the right to vote and so on, published in plain prose where once the words of poetry would have excited the mind as much as the breast. Poetical works are very underrated today, possibly because the educational standards are no longer there, and the words packed with meaning, with innuendo, with threat as much as with promise are no longer common in our shared language. Someone who would happily sit down and work their way through cheap pulp fictional works on the train into the city wouldn’t spend the time necessary to read a poem, and most certain not wish to waste the effort needed to delve through the words into the hidden meanings. What was once, with epic poetry, the Greeks and even before them, the height of literary endeavour and creativity has been relegated to a few lines at the bottom of a section in the newspaper, and a bunch of independent magazines, small press publishers.
Which is probably all the more reason to write poetry, to keep it alive, to enjoy one of the finest literary arts. Some claim that writing short stories requires a high level of skill, getting all the description and characterisation into a few thousand words, and forget how compact a poem can be, how telling, how filled with insight and revelation. Although I remain a literature and philosophy person, I revel in the chance to grab a slice of good poetry now and then, and I am certainly not above quoting some of the finest lines in my letters. I had thought I would have more time for poetry entering into my retirement years, but this is probably not going to be so. I’ve been effectively retired for over a year now, thanks to the violent intercession of a car driver with his Facebook page, and found solace in reading, in writing my letters and, whenever the opportunity arises and the finances are right, trips out to museums, to the ballet, to towns and cities of interest far and wide. None of the things I had planned for my retirement, which was to have been in another ten years, but all things that I wish to do, rather than those which I am being forced to do. When we have time on our hands, for whatever reason, it is sometimes hard to find the motivation to do those things we always said we would do once we had time on our hands.
I have read and heard so many times of families which turn their backs on their offspring when real trouble rises, and who leave them to face whatever a future they may have alone. I almost expect it from friends, as the bond is not so close, but rarely from family. And yet I get letters from all over the United States reminding me that family is not so important to some as it is to others, and of the hurt that a few words, an action, a missing moment can bring. Of course there are reasons for a family to turn away, you know this better than most, but they are rarer than one would believe. So to have a good contact with someone who is not blood family, and to be able to communicate and make plans, to have a good and solid future with which to restart a life is something of inestimable value. Even for those not faced with the same situation as you – and countless tens of thousands elsewhere – having family to back you up, to be there when you need it, to support you when times are hard or when you simply need a place to crawl into for a chance to think, they are becoming forgotten things. For some the old level of security is no longer there: once you are out of the house, for whatever reason, you are gone and that is that.
Does that mean these people, who have abandoned their family, should not be in their thoughts? Do we wish to place ourselves, hurt as we often are by the situation as much as by what happened leading up to the desertion, on the same level as them and cut them out of our hearts after years of welcoming and being with them? You mention abandonment, meaning of course as a child, but isn’t it the same in adult years? Can anyone condemn another for their actions, when they then follow exactly the same course themselves: You were wrong to abandon me and should never have done it, so I am abandoning you. It strikes me as something of a contradiction. Admittedly I have not read Robert Butler’s novel The Deep Green Sea, nor any of his other works as far as I know, so I cannot comment on the circumstances, but I would be thrown slightly if someone said to me that they were not praying for another person because that person is not worth wasting a prayer on. Is that not the whole point of prayer: to ask forgiveness for that person; to bring that person to the Light; to assist that person in finding the right way, the right path to follow? This is the whole idea behind the Turn The Other Cheek parable, that we are not like them, that we do not do to them what we would not wish done to us. Naturally I am thinking from a Christian point of view in the first instance, but the Buddhist belief is generally the same, even if it is not necessarily directed to a god and more to a supreme being who does not interfere with life on Earth. Not having read the book, I cannot direct a specific idea to the level of religion involved, although the manner in which you write it suggests Buddhist, it could also be a form of pagan belief, with temples and incense, or Hindu with its thousands of gods.
Were I a poet I could have written many lines on just that one sentence. As a letter writer the possibility is there too – and I have taken up the challenge once, where one person write me a single line by way of an answer to my letter, and I write her four pages of text back – and perhaps, one day, I will turn back to this letter, to this mention of Butler’s book, and write until the ink runs dry. As to which side I would take, in a much longer letter with a good deal of thought, who knows. Perhaps her side, perhaps another, perhaps the side of those who allow everything according to need, or do not believe in the power and forgiveness of an imaginary god, a stable of gods, or anything above the clouds, on a mountain top, beneath the surface of the Earth. And, who knows, perhaps things would have changed with time, as they have done with you. Not that the power of prayer would necessarily have had any influence, but our thoughts and beliefs, going in the one direction, would have received a new kind of truth when the opposite to what we had expected walks through the door and presents itself as the real truth in our future lives.