Thursday, 25 May 2017

A Twenty-First Century Way of Living in the Element of Time?

In the past people unquestioningly accepted their place in the space/time continuum and the contingencies and unpredictabilities which attend that condition. Their mental health rested on an assumption of not knowing what time would throw in their path and an ability to adapt to it. Today we expect that, though we live in the present, we should have perfect control over the future. Perhaps this derives from a scientific/mathematical model which suggests all can be predicted and, if it isn’t, someone is to blame. We need to subscribe to the belief that, if not us, of course, somebody, at least, has everything under perfect and God-like control. Sooner or later, following the Manchester bombing, it was inevitable that the question would be asked – “Did the Intelligence Services fail to stop the bomber?” No answer was given on the news but a point is always made of asking the question and leaving it hanging in the knowledge that this alone is sufficient to do the job in people’s minds. They begin to cast round or, at least, to leave the door open to it, for the finding of scapegoats. It goes unsaid that stopping fourteen out of fifteen potential suicide bombers is not enough.

And then there is the insistence, as if reminding us, and as if we need reminding, that we move in an advancing direction through time. Every day the term “going forward" is used as if to assert that we are progressing confidently and purposefully. In spite of this the term always sounds as though the speaker protests too much. One can't help thinking that those who use it actually lack the very confidence they try so hard to advertise as an existential reality bears down on them which, in truth, they find terrifying.

The first symptom of the modern malaise is, then, a neurotic demand for the illusion of perfect control guaranteed and underwritten by science. Reality must be taped down and, if events demonstrate it not to be, angry cries for legal redress ensue for the legal world is closely tied into the scientific one in order to complete the illusion of our rights to never being upset by reality. The second symptom is the sense of hesitantly feeling our way forward, quavering as if blind-folded while desperately radiating a sense of purposefulness. These are societal traits which, if exhibited in an individual, would suggest a subject suffering from severe anxiety having recently issued from a nervous breakdown. Can one imagine Sir Francis Drake behaving in this way as the unknown quantity of the Armada hove onto the horizon? Different times.

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