“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.