Turn and face the strange
Don’t want to be a richer man
Turn and face the strange
There’s gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
DAVID BOWIE, 1971
From the onset of The Ericle, I promised myself not to be a slave to my organ and to only put e-ink to screen when I felt that I wanted to and had something to say. But even on this basis, it has been some time since I have been moved to do so. It seems to me that I, like the world itself in the grips of The Pandemic, find myself like the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlights, unsure of which way to go. The vital issue surely is not how to respond to Coronavirus – the answers, as I suggest below, are relatively clear now – but whether we are at a Rubicon or on a blip on a road to which we will inevitably return. These are perilous times, as it is exactly during periods of such uncertainty that extremism tends to rear its dangerous head as evidenced by the many polarised situations that we currently find ourself in. Change is not easy but the reality is that change is an ever-present.
It is not surprising that, at times when change is more self-evident, many seek refuge in a historic perspective ‘when things were alright’. For such thinkers, the appeal of getting the economy back on track trumps (sic!) all other thoughts. For others, this is the time for ‘new tomorrows’, when perceived fundamental wrongs should be put to right and a new blueprint for the future defined. However, every lesson of history tells us that no genie can ever be put back nor that any revolution becomes permanent. Once Hunter-Gatherer discovered that planting seeds delivered greater certainty to their physical existence, agriculture became the dominant model for human existence going forward, despite the often negative organisational and social problems that accompanied it. Industrialisation, similarly, despite all the efforts of The Luddites. At the other end of the perspective, all recent revolutions – i.e. Chinese, French, Nazi or Russian – have been impermanent.
With the return of R number above 1, the debate again rages between those who wish to retreat to a position of perceived safety and those who would opt for those with sound health to set forth boldly in pursuit of economic well-being and herd immunity. This debate like most others raging in the world cannot be resolved via any argument which approaches the subject from either end. Moreover, I’d suggest that position framed from the perspective of ‘I believe/maintain/ contend etc.’ is similarly flawed because it is constructed by the illusion that one’s personal opinion is of the single-most central importance. What we should be asking ourselves is not ‘What do I want?’ but, rather, ‘If I was that fellow over there, what would he want?’. I, most truly, believe that that this is necessary if we are to conduct ourselves and enjoy positive social intercourse, in an effective and constructive way. In terms of the Pandemic, this sort of social responsibility translates into behaviour which defaults into social distancing unless the other person indicates otherwise. Moreover, I would contend that this mind-set is key not just to matters relating to the pandemic, but all others where we, as individuals, are confronted with choices in the face of change. Not easy when so many in today’s world pay lip-service to Society while justifying & promoting Self
The above sounds terribly simplistic, but sometimes the obvious is staring one in the face and we refuse to acknowledge it. It is idealistic, of course – simply, a restatement of the religious diktat to ‘treat one’s neighbour as oneself’. I tend not to resort to spiritual analyses to temporal problems, so I was particularly wary last Saturday when our rabbi started his (Jewish New Year’s) morning address by talking about how Modernity has subverted the Sacred and how, in his estimation, our civilization has elevated the ‘beliefs of the living’ above the ‘history of our ancestors’. Kerpow, then to the statue-topplers! And I was all attention when he went on to suggest that Science explained the How? but not the Why? (He went on from there to suggest that Modern Man is a narcissistic clown who has supplanted God with himself … but we won’t go there!) But he has a point does he not? And, if he does, then what is the Why? we need to answer. Well, without wanting to push God forward as an answer – as that raises all sorts of other issues – I do commend that the answer be framed by reference to Society rather than to personal credos.
Though for the life of me I really don’t know why, I studied mathematics as one of my A-Level subjects; (the others being History & Economics). As part of this, I struggled with a concept called ‘Calculus’ with its inherent mathematical processes ‘Differentiation’ and its mirror image ‘Integration’. There were also Differential Equations which need to be expanded to Infinity and Imaginary Numbers, which could exist in theory but were not to be found in the ‘real’ world. All these processes were aimed at the taking of computable snapshots of dynamic situations; images that no longer existed the moment after their calculation. My Scientific Reader will no doubt tell me the error of my ways, but all this speaks to me of the impermanence of The Now. So, if the now is impermanent and the future uncertain, how does one square the circle within the context of our day-to-day behaviour? I would suggest that Buddhist tradition spanning the dual imperatives of impermanence and selflessness has a lot to commend it. (Though my rabbi’s New Year thoughts on selflessness spoke strongly to me, it is an unavoidable fact that Judaism encompasses a prescriptive behavioural overlay that understandably isn’t for everybody.) But from whichever angle you look at it, in plain terms, it seems uncontroversial that the only antidote to the many current polarised scenarios rests in a strong willingness to consider the other person’s viewpoint. It really is as simple as that.