Real Pessimism

I’ve been cycling, largely off-road, in the rain, but I don’t think any amount of sun would change my outlook at the moment – the sopping state of things is just mood reinforcement.

Rain and mud and real pessimism

No amount of sun will help

Local and European elections have set off a few mild tremors to rock the normally complacent political establishment, but whether that’s for the better is at best moot; a lurch to the right, which is what we’re seeing, doesn’t have a happy pedigree.

Meanwhile, wars in Africa continue; wars in the Middle East continue; there’s a coup in Thailand; large parts of South America are failing; civil war or war with Russia looks increasingly likely for Ukraine and where that will leave the rest of Europe is unknown, and gross iniquities in the West are accelerating. And let’s not forget the Indian sub-continent’s increasingly volatile prospects.

There is the theory that war has led to much of humanity’s advances over the centuries but even if that’s true, that doesn’t mean we still have to descend to fighting now. We have history to learn from. We know that all wars will eventually only be settled by negotiation; we could skip to that stage. It’s easy to feel that if you want a cause for pessimism, even despair, it’s surely our collective difficulty in learning from the self-evident.

Perhaps a more far-reaching, more deep-seated cause to feel grim is how history shows us that, always, a few people get rich from wars and that the people who get rich are right-wing. Now put the current state of the world in to that context. We have wars actual or potential on the world-wide agenda; we have a (manufactured) popular lurch to the right in politics across much of the world too. Some people will be rubbing their bloody, greedy paws with glee at the prospect, and we – the victims – are doing nothing to stop them. That’s a very deep-seated cause for pessimism indeed.

Same Herd, Different Field

If I was a naturalist I’d probably be able to explain why I see this particular herd of deer at around this time of year. As it is, I’m just guessing if I say I imagine it’s because of the lack of natural cover at present – we’ve had the winter die-back but there’s no new growth yet.

Deer in a field

Same herd, different field

This herd, 2013.
And this herd, 2012.

Crows are known for their bravery / aggression / stupidity – they’ll have a go at birds far bigger than they are. It’s not uncommon to see large Red Kites going about its way, only for a Crow to take off from a nearby tree and have a go at it. Normally, the Kite will just keep on going about its business but if a Crow gets too chippy the Kite will strike out – a mid-air lunge with talons out. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them actually hit each other though; it seems to be posturing.

Today’s variation on that theme saw a Red Kite occupying the uppermost perch on a large old tree near Binfield Heath, a Crow coming in hard to try and dislodge him, the Kite, with much flapping of wing, holding his spot and the Crow settling for playing second fiddle – settling on a branch just a little bit lower. Again, neither appeared injured – it seems to be all about the posturing. Smart birds.

Of course, animals do fight ‘for real’ too, but the rule seems to be that avoiding the risk of injury is best if at all possible. They know they’ve too much to lose if they get hurt – their ability to find food is paramount. There’s probably an system to be constructed aimed at ensuring humans who would fight are always vulnerable to personal loss, and that they’re fully aware of that vulnerability.

That applies in the sense of a street brawl or in the sense of taking their country to war but it’s only for the latter that you can imagine successfully putting a formal system in place. To properly refine it, you would want to ensure that even the victor suffers some loss, by some mechanism in proportion to the losses suffered by those who fought to achieve any victories.

Comfortable Lunacy

Post war reality

We’re happy with this possibility.

A – for me – familiar circumnavigation of Reading – nowhere further north than Caversham; nowhere further south than Swallowfield.

Going past the back of AWE, the Atomic Weapons Establishment (which has its own web site, complete with address and postcode, but which is still not mentioned on the OS maps, such is the state of British officialdom), and initially, it struck me how insane that establishment is.

I’d say human nature and geo-politics are both as they are. While nuclear weapons may have taken things to a whole new level, I’m willing to be convinced that Mutually Assured Destruction has been a good thing on balance. That said though, if you stand back for a moment, then yes, it’s both easy and tempting to conclude that the fact that a place like AWE exists, quite openly, is insane. ‘Hello. This is where we make weapons that could wipe out humanity’.

But as I rode on and kept thinking about it, then I came to suspect that what AWE actually is, is a measure of collective human nature. If you think that AWE is insane, then by the same criteria we must be insane for developing it, tolerating it, funding it and so on. The reality is that, the relatively small protests against it aside, we are collectively comfortable with that lunacy. That’s sobering.


What if something terrible had happened?

Work being hectic, today’s spin was just a quick jaunt taking in Twyford, Wargrave, Remenham and Henley before heading back over the hills to Reading. Coming out from Remenham Lane to cross over Henley Bridge, late morning … and there was just no-one around – no cars, no people.

Of course it was just a momentary freak of circumstance – in probably less than a minute ‘normality’ returned. However, what struck me in retrospect was that my first thought was ‘what’s happened?’ I’m immediately imagining some unspecified disaster has occurred and I’m unwittingly riding into a town deserted as a result. That has to be an odd response.

I’m no horror film fan – this isn’t something I’ve learned from the cinema; rather, I suppose it betrays a deep-seated fear that’s a legacy of growing up in the Cold War years and the ever present threat of nuclear war. We may have all joked about it, I certainly don’t recall ever losing sleep about it, but it was real. You can only wonder what other sub-conscious thoughts and attitudes I might be harbouring as a result of those years – me and everyone else of my generation.

Issues Behind Issues

The prospect of western involvement in Syria’s civil war looms; it’s a prospect that inevitably loomed large all this week, filling the space for idle thoughts that bike rides create.

Above all else, it seems to me that too many questions aren’t asked. Why are chemical weapons ‘bad’ weapons that can’t be tolerated; death by bomb or bullet is preferable how? Why now? Why just Syria? Why should the west be seeking to punish this particular crime, given all the other crimes being committed by so many other regimes? Why does Britain imagine it’s still a world player? Why are we worried about a ‘special relationship’ with the US given that we know, as plain as plain can be, via Wikileaks, that it’s unreciprocated? Who stands to make any money out of intervention? Why did our political parties and politicians act the way they have this time around, given the way they behaved with Iraq? Which lobby groups – here or elsewhere – are going to be most pleased by action against Syria – and how likely is it that they’re influencing the decisions being made? Should we laud the Prime Minister for allowing and respecting the vote that went against action by Britain against Syria? How do you judge your local MP come the next election – by local issues or by how they voted on this?

And so on.

As always, it’s the issues behind the big issue that are most interesting, the most important. And pretty well as always, they’re issues that aren’t being aired. We all owe it to ourselves, as intelligent adults, to ask these questions and more; accepting the headlines is rarely wise.

And perhaps the most salutary – albeit depressing – thing I find myself thinking about all this, is that none of this is in any way, in any respect, new.


Nature's relentless optimism

Nature’s relentless – but blind – optimism.

After the fun and frolics of a rim failure, the rest of the week has seen three short and gentle road rides on the flatter parts of Berkshire, still easing my ankle and foot back in to riding. It’s getting better.

And, of course, the week also saw the funeral of Thatcher, the Prime Minister in power when I was first looking for a job and unemployment was even higher than it is now. I remember writing the best part of 300 job applications to get two offers. It seemed an appropriate memorial to her that this week the number of unemployed increased again.

It seems appropriate, too, that Mutually Assured Destruction is back on the agenda. Although our ever-shallow media has moved on, the threat from North Korea hasn’t just gone away because our journalists and editors are preoccupied with a dead politician and how they might revise history to suit their current agendas.

If you look back to the 60s and the Cuban missile crisis, for example, the realities of the nuclear tensions then are hard to comprehend for someone of my age. Cruise missiles in the UK and all the nuclear sabre rattling of the 80s must be similarly hard to understand for anyone much younger than me.

Living with that kind of shadow being cast provided a very different context for all of life’s decisions. That so many just carried on carrying on is either testimony to human resilience or to human stupidity. History is full of praise for the triumph of hope over adversity but no-one ever recalls or tots-up the number of times that hope proves false.

I guess nature would be the perfect embodiment of the triumph of hope over everything else, if nature was exercising any choice.