Errant

Bastardised shop sign from Hereford (?)

“To err is human, to forgive divine.”
— from An Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope.

You may have noticed I’ve become a little bit obsessive in recent months: loads of books read — blog posts appearing every two days — reviews getting longer and wordier — strident statements occasionally appearing… If you’d wondered (if indeed you’ve happened to notice) then I think the time has come for a little bit of self-reflection on my part and an attempt at an explanation.

I think this flurry of activity comes as much from displacement activity as it does from genuine bookish pleasure. The reasons for that displacement aren’t hard to divine: the pandemic for one, which affects everyone; the crisis arising from global heating, which should be concerning everyone; and the nightmare political situation in too many countries which, closely bound up with the first two reasons, has divided everyone almost as much as any physical wall.

And because of all this I’ve alighted on the usually sage sayings of Alexander Pope.

It’s been clear to anyone with half a brain that most of humanity’s ills are down to poor governance. The fact is, most countries are in thrall to an almost unchecked commercial impetus, one which holds to the twin falsehoods of Social Darwinism and Exponential Growth and an imperative which is determined by barely one percent of the world’s population.

This, though, is not the only stark truth: most so-called democracies are in hock to corporations which are run by millionaires and billionaires, maybe even trillionaires, who through lobbying, closet sponsorship and — too frequently — economic blackmail work everything to their own advantage and to that of those in their immediate social circle.

What has happened is that the term ‘economics’ has evolved to indicate mere monetary concerns when its original meaning was ‘housekeeping’ or management of the home (from Greek oikos ‘house’ which has also given us the word ‘ecology’, the science of understanding the planet we live on and the natural world that surrounds us).

So, for the corporations, the CEOs, their political poodles, and their demented apologists I have nothing but contempt. And anger. And an abiding sadness for what they’ve brought about. Their errant attitudes and behaviours have led to planetary heating, extreme weather events, deforestation, pollution, economic enslavement, multiple extinctions, needless hunger, endemic poverty, ever more frequent pandemics, and a whole lot more; and I find it next to impossible to either forgive or to forget.

Pope may have said that erring is human, but when those mistakes are made willingly, with eyes open and repeatedly, is that mere error? Or is it really sheer greed? If there is a God — which by the way I don’t for a moment believe — I really hope s/he will think more than twice before forgiving these human abominations and their virulent mindsets.

Now I’ve had my rant, my powerless cry into the void, you may understand why I obsess with something I can control. It’s why I read, and why I write about reading, why I’ve acquired more books this year than ever before — more than I’ll ever have a chance of actually finishing, in fact — adding to my hoard whenever I pass a shop with a bookshelf or three.

Displacement activity nearly always results from those who either are trapped or feel trapped. For me that activity undoubtedly involves more comfort reading than usual.

34 thoughts on “Errant

  1. It’s odd – I don’t disagree with what you say at all, especially around climate change. And there’s no doubt that, like you and almost everyone else, my mood has been one of anxiety most of this year. And yet it seems to me that we have to remember other things too – kind of like a psychological carbon offset scheme. Fewer people (as a % of population) are in absolute poverty than ever before, I think fewer people (again as a %) are actively caught up in wars than at most points in history. More and more of the world is open to women, LGBTQ folk and diversity of race than ever before. More children around the world are in education than at any time before, especially girls. For every white supremacist in the west there is an army of “social justice warriors”. Our pandemic will be resolved by science, and so might climate change. Our democracy, despite the outrage of people whenever they don’t like a particular outcome, is fundamentally sound, and looking across the Atlantic should remind us what a privilege that is. Our social welfare system might creak at the knees, but it’s still standing, and our NHS is a precious symbol of our oft-forgotten national unity of purpose.

    Call me Pollyanna, but in truth, despite the pandemic, rampant capitalism and climate change I think most people in the world have things better than at any other time in their history, and, in time, hopefully the rest will get there too. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I used to be another Pollyanna, and I still hope that science will lead us to the answer for this new plague as soon as it can. But my optimism has been severely dented this year, replaced by anxiety and anger and other more pessimistic emotions. Reading does however off an oasis of calm (sometimes), a distraction (definitely) and pleasure (always). Best wishes.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks, Annabel. We do what we can when we’re not reading — supporting causes, signing petitions, writing emails — but that powerlessness in the face of a government with a parliamentary poodle majority is sometimes overwhelming.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I agree that in many areas where justice and fairness is concerned there is more consensus than is usually acknowledged, and I like your comment that there’s an army of social justice warriors for every western white supremacist.

      But I’m a little less optimistic than you, because what we’re facing is political turmoil at a time when greater, more vital issues should be concerning us. I’m forever reminded about the exceptional screenplay for the Batman film The Dark Knight, with Heath Ledger’s Joker and his chilling words: ‎”Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos,” he tell Batman, and that’s how I see puppeteers like Cummings, megalomaniacs like Trump and those East European autocrats — agents of chaos dedicated to upsetting and distracting liberal sensibilities with their daily outrageous words and deeds.

      They may not be as anarchic as the Joker claims to be — “Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just… do things” — but the effect is the same. It’s hard to adopt a planned operational opposition when the targets
      keep shifting or multiplying.
      And these words, about the stances even certain more law-abiding politicians claim to take, I find chilling because there’s an element of truth here: “Their morals, their code; it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. You’ll see — I’ll show you. When the chips are down these, uh, civilized people? They’ll eat each other.” More chaos of course (we can see this backstabbing with some of Trump’s former allies) though the Joker attempts to soften it: “See I’m not a monster, I’m just ahead of the curve.”

      And the Tory claim that they’re following the science (now revealed as a lie)? ”Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even if the plan is horrifying!” But I think some more erstwhile supporters of this charlatan and his cronies are, belatedly, indeed panicking.

      Sorry to extensively quote this film, but it’s an intelligent script which deliberately goes to the heart of the moral dilemmas the world continues to face. And until the world wakes up these monsters will continue to fiddle while our home burns. This is why the arts matter more than ‘reskilling’ in cyber (whatever that is) — their exponents are as crucial as ‘activist lawyers’ and ‘do-gooders’ in trying to hold these psychopathic criminals to account.

      Liked by 5 people

  2. Reading is certainly the only place (or one of the limited few) we can escape to in this world. One feels even worse thinking about things because one realises that even the pandemic and the chance that it gave us to realise what one is doing wrong and stop or slow down isn’t really going to be taken at all–the greed is not going to reduce one bit nor is the damage that we continue to do to the planet. Back to the books it is, then.

    [Strangely although I expected to read far more during the lockdown and such, I’ve read a lot less]

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe you’ve read more carefully, more thoughtfully than usual, even if less? I’ve found more significances in the texts than usual, particularly when it pertains to attitudes and expressions of belief that I see reflected in the daily news reports.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Almost certainly, Karen! I’m currently planning on offloading a box or two of books to local charity shops as I’ve completely run out of shelf space. Perhaps you’re getting to that stage too?! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Alyson Woodhouse

    I wonder whether displacement is part of the reason why I have been turning to Self-Help books over the last couple of months, a genre I have been very scatheing about in the past. On some unconscious level, I am perhaps needing the illusion that with a greater understanding of myself and my own behavior, there is at least something in this mess of a world I can control and take charge of. I’ve clearly reached a literary low if I am looking at books which tell you how to make decisions and stop living inside your own head. Oh dear.

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    1. Self-help books I’ve found not only can be very variable but also prove the adage that one size doesn’t fit all. For example I found the classic Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway helpful in reorientating my thinking, although I’m still reluctant to commit to decisions; and Eric Berne’s popular book on transactional analysis, Games People Play highlighted many of my unhelpful interpersonal behaviours but didn’t necessarily stop me replicating them! So what’s potentially good in these guides is to make one more conscious of unconscious habits of thinking and doing, if nothing else.

      In terms of displacement activity when stress becomes overbearing, I think reading is a good habit to pursue compared, say, with boozing or overeating or medication. Whatever works for you, I believe, so long it’s not harmful! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m the same Chris – way more reading and way more blogging and I think it’s because doing so makes me feel like at least I am controlling something! My job is usually my creative outlet as well, and being unable to programme events has left me feeling a bit bereft. I feel like I am programming my blog now instead!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think we readers are lucky to have books as a fallback, especially when we hear so much about mental health issues because of the current crises, Cathy, and to be able to discuss them online is a real bonus, I feel. My only concern is that I’m not keeping up with all the posts of bloggers I follow as regularly as I would like to, and I’m sure I’m missing many gems.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I hear you, Chris, and I relate. I’m most worried about the future we’ll be leaving for our children and their children – ever growing inequalities, less meaningful jobs, overheating Earth and increasingly turbulent politics around the world – from time to time it really seems like the good times are already behind us… Still, I’m hopeful we can yet turn it around, maybe not fully, but at least enough to start making it better, not worse.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Ola. We watched David Attenborough’s ‘witness statement’ on Netflix last night, which should be required watching for oligarchs, autocrats, corporate heads and other megalomaniacs — strapped into their chairs and made to stay there until they admit their complicity in the planet’s degradation; also all those climate change deniers, big game hunters, fly-tippers, extreme petrolheads, factory farmers, wildlife poachers, etc etc. By degrees pessimistic then hopeful, it’s a documentary anybody who doesn’t habitually watch nature docs should study and think about acting on: his message was we should be working with nature, not against it, at the very least for our own sakes.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Yes. And to those who have responded thoughtfully to your heartfelt post.
    Even with all the books I have, and have inherited I have to keep a list of the ones to turn to when all these feelings crowd in – an ‘if in doubt’ list inherited originally from Paul Gallico whose own recommendation from the wonderful ‘Jennie’ begins ‘If in doubt Wash.’ I hope it’s on your shelf. 😊

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  7. I agree with your words about vested interests controlling the world. Capitalism is a bad system. In the midst of struggles with Covid-19 here the politicians speak of saving the ‘economy’ as if it is a sacred thing. But unfortunately I have not yet been able to come up with a satisfactory system to replace Capitalism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Capitalism is so ingrained in world economies, and the mindset that perpetuates it makes it akin to a religious cult in some quarters, that barring the end of civilisation as we know it it ain’t gonna go away. The profit-making motive means there will always be winners and losers, and we all have an unconscious yearning to accumulate wealth — we may gloss it as ‘for a rainy day’ because we’re never going to be like the lilies of the field, are we — but essentially it’s a self-centred act, even if we claim it’s for our grandkids.

      Until the notions — that what we do and how we live has to be mutually advantageous for societies and for the environment — become through education and example near enough instinctive the current dog-eat-dog drive to constantly compete will result in the denigration of cooperative attitudes: proponents of mutuality will be labelled do-gooders, socialists, muesli-knitting sandal-wearing eco-warriors and similar jeers (“unpatriotic”, “the elite”, “alarmists”) and the world will subsequently go to hell in a handcart.

      But we may have already reached the point of no return. Pessimistic? Or just being realistic?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I blame the denigration of socialism on the Reagan era, just as Soviet-style communism was close to collapse, and especially on Thatcher who famously (and incorrectly) declared, “There’s no such thing as society” in her ongoing praise of rampant individualism, in which her logic must have been No society, therefore socialism can’t exist.

      To give context, she went on to say, “There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first [my emphasis]. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.”

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  8. “This, though, is not the only stark truth: most so-called democracies are in hock to corporations which are run by millionaires and billionaires, maybe even trillionaires, who through lobbying, closet sponsorship and — too frequently — economic blackmail work everything to their own advantage and to that of those in their immediate social circle.”

    This is so true. I think this is why school are being kept open at the moment. Boris is keeping schools open to support our economy and his cronies in industry, NOT because it’s safe. On top of that he doesn’t admit the need for PPE because then the goverment would have to source and pay for it and they don’t want to do that either.

    I don’t want to go into details but I have had to resign because my school’s measures left me incredibly vulnerable to serious illness and actively hurt my health really badly. I am really thankful that my GP signed me off sick for the whole of my notice period. My Union rep wants to put in a grievance but I am not well enough to do that at the moment.

    It feels like the world is going mad. Like you, I feel quite powerless. But I don’t think it is going mad. It’s just that, in the face of Covid, all of the lies and rubbish our so called “leaders” come up with become more visible and obvious. These people have always lied, it’s just easier to see at the moment.

    Sorry for ranting. Your post put words to feelings I have been carrying for a while now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so, so sorry to hear about your difficulties and your resignation as a result, Jo, I suspected from your posts that you may have more readily fallen into the ‘at-risk’ category than many of the rest of us and that you really had little other choice when it came to it. Constructive dismissal is, I suppose, what it sounds like you were handed.

      And we do know where the finger of blame is to be pointed, which is why we mustn’t forget, much less forgive, for they do know what they’re doing.

      I do hope you are taking the opportunity to recover while the next phase blunders its way through all our lives and futures. And I really do pray that these charlatans will be brought to justice, and soon, before we pass the point of no return.

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      1. “And we do know where the finger of blame is to be pointed, which is why we mustn’t forget, much less forgive, for they do know what they’re doing.” Yes, I really think they do.

        Thanks for you kind support. I am recovering – sort of returning to myself. I’ve been so stressed for the last year that I’ve not even enjoyed music. I found myself listening and enjoying it today – Verdi’s Nabucco and the Grand March from Aida.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. So glad you’re back to enjoying listening to music, and especially stuff to lift the heart! I’ve finally got to listening properly to Mahler and Bruckner, neither of whose works I quite appreciated when I was a callow student. But I do miss live music, especially performing — haven’t played the piano in earnest for months — at least you’ve kept your art going, which I find impressive.

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          1. I mainly continue with the art because I find it soothing. It provides respite from the world.

            I’ve not listened to Mahler since I took O’level Music at school! I remember liking the Adagietto (not sure of the spelling for that) from his 5th symphony(?) but disliking his later works. I’m sorry you’re missing live music and performing. It feels like so much is on hold at the moment. Anyway, do keep safe!

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            1. That Adagietto still moves me when I listen to it, but I’m starting to appreciate other Mahler and Bruckner more; I found the bittiness of much symphonic writing of the late romantic period — these two composers, certainly, and Nielsen too, and even Sibelius who I took more to, seemed to write extended movements where an idea was presented before stopping (almost before it had got going) and introducing something new.

              A simplistic analysis, I know, and I’m only now starting to appreciate the expansiveness they all bring to their works; it may be because I’m older, possibly maturer in my ability to accept and tolerate this expansiveness, or it may be the times that allow me to relax into their vast sonic landscapes when the daily news is a constant drip-drip of shock-horror at ‘what have they just done now?’… I think you may understand that feeling.

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