The power of the little “no”

It is understandable to me how some people see it as being by design. All part of some grand and grandiose plan for mankind. Conspiracy theorists, they’re labeled. They must, of course, be wrong in a very big way. They must be seriously unhinged. Whatever they are, it seems to be important that they are not at all like us–the hinged.

I’ve always had a wide window of tolerance for the un-hinged. They don’t scare me one bit. Sometimes they make more sense than the sensible and I’ve heard notes of truth struck even in the mad ramblings of obvious lunatics (and here, I don’t refer only to politicians). It seems to me it used to be easier to distinguish between the hinged and the unhinged. It’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference, isn’t it? In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve got a lot of things not only a wee bit wrong, but completely ass-backwards. Obvious truths seem, well, less obvious than they used to. It’s like the Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland is now in charge of reality. “Whoooooo are yoooooooo???” This is fine on a personal level (what some would call ‘spiritual’) and even on an intra-personal one. But on a societal level it gets really, really weird. It’s like quantum physics is now strolling down the local high street bold as brass. Welcome to the upside down.

I look around me at what the world has become in a little under two years. Two revolutions of this bright marble around the sun and our way of life is becoming increasingly unrecognizable to me. I don’t know if it is by design or simply human nature. It is perhaps more likely to be an intersection of the two – a kind of crisis opportunism. History teaches us that this doesn’t bode well.

Like farmers who must learn to observe the signs of a storm, to read the wind in falling leaves, to detect the scent of earth that signals coming rain, there are those of us who read the patterns and signs of change in the fields of human behaviour with the same level of attention. But it should be obvious by now, to anyone with even just one squinty eye on the horizon that some very bad weather is on its way.

Navigating the pandemic itself has been hard enough. The virus has destroyed millions of lives and disrupted millions of others. It has not only killed, it has also bereaved and disabled. Naturally, we have done what we can to protect ourselves. Some might argue we went too far. The more radical steps that societies have taken to protect themselves from this threat have caused as yet untold losses. We may never know the extent of these, even in relatively quantifiable metrics such as physical and mental health, education and jobs. There is a loss much, much harder to quantify but one which is felt just as keenly – that is the loss of the Future. The Death of Dreams.

We now seem to be in a place where the future is a dark veil – too heavy for any of us to lift. No one makes plans any more. We are trapped in a turgid dystopian present. There is now no doubt in my mind that either by design or opportunism, a concentration of mutually aligned powers are attempting to take over our lives in ways that have already become untenable to enough of us that can actually make a difference.

When even one single person says “no” to a wrong with the full spirit of intention, it becomes more than a word – it becomes a verb that can rally to action, to agit as the French say, to agitate. When enough people say “no” with the full spirit of intention, the effect of this collective agitation becomes more than this still – it becomes a prophecy fulfilled.

I can’t speak for all our motivations, but for myself I do it always with you in mind — the Next — because you do not deserve the sad, timid, grey-haired world we are in danger of leaving behind us. You do not deserve to have liberty and democracy written out of your will just because we were too distracted or self-centred or complacent or blind or just too damn comfortable to do what we should have to preserve it. We acted like inheritors when we should have been guardians.

Our grandparents have carried the burden of freedom for too long now. It’s our turn – this will be the revolution of the middle-aged, inspired by the warriors of old, with the watchful eyes of the young and unborn as our talismans. Because the sacrifices we’ve been sold to keep each other safe from the virus is not the one that is calling us in our hearts.

The sacrifices presented to us from the brittle mouths of politicians and corporate agency managers threaten to squeeze us into smaller and smaller spaces where personal agency becomes so truncated as to be rendered meaningless. The only measure of freedom in the space left to us is as a consumer. It comes down to the freedom to choose the brands, colours and styles of the stuff with which we fill our living space and decorate our bodies. Like our other ‘freedoms’ such as the freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the freedom to vote, it pretends to a level of choice that in reality is unavailable. Life has become like a game where every choice you make leads to the same result but if you don’t play it you can’t survive. In politics, the margin of difference between parties is exaggerated beyond all actuality by voices that call out “traitor” to those who refuse to buy into the sham and “conspiracy theorist” to those who suggest that the game exists at all.

We are still in the process of handing over the wheel to people who do not have our interests at heart. The measures of control that are being sold to us in the name of public health may make us feel safer from the virus, but the damage to individuals and to society at large will be far, far deadlier. It will lead us to an ever darker, dystopian more heartless world. Social austerity measures like health passports may be packaged in morale boosting mottos that smack of civic duty, but we – the farmers of the Future, know that they come from a place of No Soul. Either by design or opportunism, it is clear to me know after almost two years that what we are seeing is nothing less than the hijacking of the Future by networks of interests led by soulless narcissists who think they have the right and the ability to run the show, when they have neither.

The real sacrifice, the one we are being called to bear from the voices of the next generation, will demand a lot more courage and honesty than we might be willing for. I am not ashamed to say that I myself am very, very afraid. But I am even more afraid of what will happen if we let the Liars, Narcissists and Manipulators win. I don’t want to go to my grave ashamed that I lived through this time and did nothing except shout at the television. That I didn’t say my little “no.” Whether I fail or not is almost irrelevant to me. What is required to go to my grave at peace is only a meaningful effort. Meaningful in the sense that it comes from the heart. It may or may not make a difference out there, but it makes a difference in here.

Make no mistake about it. You have been deceived. This is not a political fight. It is not a struggle between the Right and the Left or between the individual and the collective. It is a struggle between those who seek freedom and those who seek to control. Right wing dictatorships and left-wing dictatorships are being challenged alike in this global struggle against authoritarianism. We need to counter it uniquely as individuals as well as collectively in whatever group structures support the resistance so long as they respect the Golden Rule. If those structures are not to be found, we must create new ones.

Last night I sat up late and shared a bottle of wine with a stranger. Something about the encounter made me feel like I was 18 again. We discovered that we had an unusual amount of commonalities between us. Details of our personal lives overlapped in remarkable ways. She even had a faulty light fixture in the entrance way of her house just like me. It was like meeting myself in a parallel universe. We talked excitedly about our common love of traveling, of exploring other lands and cultures. We spoke of our youth with fondness and appreciation, of a world that now seems less like another time than another planet. We had both journeyed to the near east while still in our teens, and with our parents blessing. I left for a whole year with my boyfriend who was four years older. (For the record, I’d be reluctant to let you go now if you were mine. Or if I did it would be under strict guidelines.) This was 1981, before the Internet, before laptops and mobile phones. We communicated by letter through the Poste Restante, an international mailing system. Each letter took two weeks to arrive if we were lucky. Some letters we never received because we had already moved on, by boat, train of plane to another country. I think I spoke to my mother once in that whole year. I remember busting over with excitement about all my experiences and telling her (with the remarkable certitude of youth) how I planned to do this for the rest of my life. I remember her saying to me, “Enjoy it now.”

We slept in building sites, rose with the sun and walked crazy miles with heavy metal-framed backpacks eating nothing but halva and cheese and sandwiches. We played backgammon in tiny curtain-doored cafes in countless middle of nowheres across Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt. We broke bread with strangers every day, we listened to them complain about their neighbours across the border that seemed to dress and eat and speak a lot like them. We learned that old disputes get ground into the bones of each new generation and replayed like old records, but that although we prefer to talk about our differences people are mostly the same. I didn’t know at the time that thoughts like these would be considered a kind of political heresy in only a few decades. It was a year of learning and adventure. Our futures spanned out before us like peacock tails, into fractal horizons encoded with iridescent possibilities. What does the future feel like to you, I wonder?

At the beginning of the pandemic, in Spring of 2020, I was like everyone else. Can you cast your mind back there? Can you recall the sense of camaraderie, of facing something down together? The first lockdown was treated as something of an adventure for those of us who could afford to embark on it. Gardens bloomed like never before, people rediscovered lost talents or found new ones. We used humour to ease the loneliness and uncertainty, and the challenges felt tolerable, even enlivening. We watched – some with wonder and others perhaps with a touch of unease – how quickly the natural world moved back into the gaps that humans left as we retreated back into our caves, how the footfall of humans was replaced by paws and hoofs, how the cessation of our frenetic comings and goings created pools of tranquility. This was the best part. Perhaps some of us thought it was all there was too it and we would all bounce back after a season knowing how to cook flan or play Moonlight Sonata on the piano or cultivate an orchid for the first time in our lives. We checked up on one another, we asked “How are you?” We provided services for free. We offered to help. How far away that all seems now. And how I miss it. That kinship. That optimism. It was the shining best of us.

The change in the dynamics of social behaviour during this pandemic has been dramatic and will likely fascinate social historians for decades to come. We’ve gone from checking in with one another to checking up on one another. Requisitioned for the panopticon, we watch and monitor each other for signs of non-compliance. With what, we’re not exactly sure, but it has something to do with being on the ‘right’ side with being a ‘good’ person. This view is never questioned and is reinforced constantly by all the major information networks. Righteous indignation towards those who see things differently has become the hallmark of what it means to be a good citizen.

How did we get from there to here? From mutual support to mutual withdrawal, from conviviality to suspicion, from common ground to an aching chasm. Bonding to division. I am not sure how history will record this period, but I suspect we will not receive a glowing report. If you were my child, we would talk about it together. We’d find things to laugh about and perhaps to also cry. We’d create our own conspiracy, our own tiny theory of things. We’d find a way to say “no” together. Instead I find myself writing this blog like a letter to a Poste Restante of the Future. The future YES that has been sewn together from the wriggling awkwardness of all those little NOs.

All I can do is to be a witness; to tell you the story as and how I saw and lived it. Me and some of my friends. Like all good stories, it involves some darkness, and it is certainly a warning of sorts. But it is also a peek into the possible. If it describes the building of a prison, it does so from the point of view of the inmates. Not the ones who make deals with the guards for extra portions of gruel or rearrange the furniture in their cells, but the ones who keep their wits sharpened and spirits lifted with plans for escape. It is the shaking off of shackles of dualism. The empty dictates of black and white thinking. It is a story of non-duality, of Indra’s Net made manifest in the socio-political sphere. It is the rising of the best of us again, individually and united.

We started with the common sense that “something ain’t right”, but we now have something that could be called a map–scruffy and wildly inaccurate no doubt, but it provides clues and markers; a notch in a tree trunk here, a ring of toadstools there, for a possible way through, to pierce the dark veil of the Future that hangs like a sombre hopeless fog over our heads, and let in a pin prick of light. It is not much but it is perhaps enough to see one step in front. And this might all we need to feel our way to the Truth. And in the face of the Big Lie, it might give us just enough courage to say our little “no”.

About subincontinentia

writer and eternal optimist
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5 Responses to The power of the little “no”

  1. Lonely Slug says:

    The other day I had a visitor (a good friend) who doesn’t want the vaccine. Vulnerable through health, but doesn’t want it. Doesn’t want to be controlled. Or something. Recommended a video from an anti-vaxxer for me, which, I’m almost ashamed to say, I found hilariously self-contradictory. When I did a bit more research, I started to feel sorry for the anti-vaxxer – he was an ex-scientist who (it occurred to me) might have had something of a mental collapse.

    During the lockdown I had a partner who I eventually realised was routinely lying to me. I tried to confront them about it, but all I got was bigger lies – lies whose purpose seemed to be to attack and defend in a kind of frantic, frightened, but ultimately pointless way.

    I was at work the other week when I was told by a colleague that I’m going to hell when I die because I just don’t have the right beliefs. His certainty might have frightened some people.

    I live in a country with a transparently mendacious government. I’ve been asked if I think that this government (and others like it) are fascist; this confuses me – I thought that the fascists became fascists to stop the communists, and I don’t see any communists today, so I’m not sure what it is that the current crop of governments are frightened of.

    I’ve spoken to people who work in the media who say they are apprehensive about telling the truth, and for quite a few different reasons. I’m not completely sure about this, but it does seem that they feel alienated from people who used to read, watch or listen to them. They used to get as close as they could to the truth and people would be more or less happy with their (often considerable) efforts; now there’s a large group who will presume that they are simply liars.

    Any of these things are sufficient to make you question yourself. All of them together necessitates a different approach. If you take it all seriously, there’ll be nothing left of you.

    For me, the current struggle is a defensive one, but I hope that it won’t always be that way. It’s about defending what you are (not what you have), and preparing for a time when things are different.

    If there were one big lie, it would be too easy to see through it. It would soon get worn out. And it would be vulnerable to the same ridicule as the truth currently is. Seems to me that it’s not so much the big lie as the big liars – they aren’t usually too picky about which lie they tell, so I don’t expect them to be too consistent. I worry that if I spend even a second too long thinking about each individual lie, I’ll take my eye off the liars and miss the next trick.

    When lying is the strategy at the top, it becomes acceptable elsewhere. It can become a necessary feature of social life (never mind political life); then we (if there’s anything left of us) have to try to describe the decomposition of the truth, or at least the decomposition of the will to discover the truth. Not appealing activities.

    It would be tempting to believe that reality (‘The Truth’) will eventually reassert itself, and people will be forced to recognise it, but I worry that if the current malaise continues, the wherewithal to recognise the truth could disappear.

    I wonder if saying ‘no’ is the right thing to do. Perhaps a better response would be to simply stare at the liars, and give them no response at all. Or laugh loudly at them – and not respond with words. I sometimes think that saying ‘no’ is enough to get us into dialogue with the liars, and that gives them some kind of confirmation, and lets them set the terms of the debate.

    Maybe I’ll try the non-verbal approach. A physical presence with no indication of what I really think. If they start to look uncomfortable, I’ll let you know.

    Thanks for writing this. I find it helpful when anyone tries to look at the world and strives for the truth. Take care of yourself.

    • Thank your for these extremely thoughtful observations. I am in some agreement with you that ignoring can be both more powerful and effective than saying “no” but saying “no” can also mean ignoring. Simply holding ‘droit dans ses bottes’ as the French expression goes. It is first and foremost and interior stance as you rightly point out. I will think more on it. It reminds me of parts of Gandhian resistance that were more about focusing on removing dependence on the British rather than confronting them directly. What is interesting is that Gandhi recommended several different features of satyagraha although we generally only here about the most cinematic ones like the Salt March but less about the concept of ‘swadeshi’ or village Swaraj.

      I didn’t want to get into the issues around vaccination. I have my own views that are not easily summed up in ‘for’ or ‘anti’. In general, I support vaccination at least until evidence to the contrary arises, but I find the discourse around it and the behaviour bordering on insanity. I have a friend who basically refuses to speak to me and will only shout through a closed door because she’s confused my position on the health pass with anti-vaxxer. The media must take responsibility for this, regardless of the goodwill and integrity of individual journalists. If they are apprehensive about telling the truth then this just goes to prove how deep the problem is.

      Good luck with the silent treatment. I like it – sounds very peaceful in all this cacophony.

      • Lonely Slug says:

        I’m glad you didn’t deal with vaccination. I’ve had both doses. I hope it will keep me safe, but I simply don’t know. How could I? I’m neither a scientist nor a prophet.

        I’m grateful to you for the terms, “Swaraj”, “Satyagraha”, and (particularly) “droit sans ses bottes”, none of which I’d heard before. I found thinking about them very satisfying.

        I can’t bring myself to criticise people (like your friend) who are probably being pulled this way then that way by one thing and another in a quest for certainty. The fashion seems to be to have a strong opinion and defend it. Following fashion may not be praiseworthy, but lots of people do it, and if it is a fashion, it’ll be gone soon.

        Maybe there’s too much certainty around. It bestows a kind of temporary comfort, but it’s really not the same as knowing the truth. Getting it wrong shouldn’t be a criminal offence.

        I’d like to see people disagreeing with one another, while caring about the ones they disagree with.

        I’ve just read your piece on Ivermectin, but I have this feeling that you aren’t just writing about Ivermectin. There’s something considerably deeper in there. When I’ve put my finger on it, I’ll let you know.

        I’ll try to be peaceful – but I can’t make any promises!

  2. daskarblog says:

    You missed a “be”.

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