A Bad Time

When we’re young, we’re thrown together with other children and told to go and play in an effort to gift our long-suffering parents with a blessed hour of peace and quiet. Before we begin to play, we have simple, rudimentary ways of assessing each other:

“What’s your favourite colour?”

“Blue.”

“Me too! Will you be my friend?”

Then we each grab a stick with twigs sticking out the bottom and start studiously brushing the dirt in an attempt to clean our “house,” which is really just the space under a bush where the frost killed off the lower branches, but thankfully we have the imagination required to bridge that minor gap in realities. It doesn’t present too much of a challenge to our world view.

That same imagination is, I think, what helps us form these fast friendships. We make huge leaps of logic from stepping stone to stepping stone of assumption. We decide that since we like blue and are okay, if they like blue they must also be okay. That’s enough. It’s enough to have a shared interest in the colour blue, or in ponies, or in holographic stickers, or pogs (are they still a thing?), or whatever we have our open little hearts set on at that particular moment.

As children, once we’ve established that one binding fact that cements our friendship, we don’t act passive-aggressively forever more if one person claims that Skipper is better than Barbie. We don’t thump each other until we need medical assistance over a difference of opinion on whether Micro Machines are better than Hot Wheels. We don’t refuse to speak to each other ever again because we don’t both want to watch Aladdin. We accept these things as valid and skip over these differences because the important things are still true; we both like the colour blue, and we like each other.

As time wears on, our lives grow more complicated. Our requirements for friendship grow more complex. We start to write people off for small, niggling reasons. That one person who breathes through their mouth. That other person who won’t watch movies with subtitles. Chasms open up where opinions on religion and politics diverge. Instead of the simple acceptance we had as children, we now debate and argue – viciously, ferociously – in an attempt to change other people’s points of view. Race, class, beliefs and values all get dragged into discussions.

Nobody cares about your favourite colour anymore.

It seems like the world is fracturing at the moment. Cracks have appeared as if from nowhere and I can’t tell how deep the damage goes. It seems like the planet is tearing itself apart at the seams, with untidy, fraying stitches just barely holding everything together. What used often to be educated discussion is now aggressive shouting. Disagreements are now total incompatabilities. Apparently there’s a worldwide chronic deficiency of imagination at the moment and people are either unable or unwilling to understand opposing points of view.

Facts have been sacrificed on the altar of audience engagement and squeaky wheels everywhere are getting the grease of media attention, no matter how insufferable the squeak.

The cracks might not worsen. They might stay as they are, never worsening but never healing completely. Or they might at any moment become a break. A split. An insurmountable challenge.

An impassable chasm.

The worst part is that I think a few more seams are going to rip open before this is over. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and I don’t know what to do in the meantime. I definitely don’t have a manual for this. What I do have is a history book, and it’s not exactly reassuring me if I’m honest. If anything it’s making me think we’re about to be in for A Bad Time. A Bad Time with a lot of shouting.

And I hate shouting.

So if anybody wants to hide out and be friends, I’ll be hiding out in my blanket fort with a few micro machines and (since we’re grown ups) some bottles of vodka and gin.

Only people with the password* allowed!

*The password is your favourite colour.

Boiling Point

 

They say that if you drop a frog in boiling water it will jump right back out, whereas if you put it in cold water and turn the heat up slowly, the frog will boil to death without ever realising it’s in danger.

It’s complete rubbish, of course.

Let’s be honest, if you drop a frog in boiling water it will die. If you put it in cold water and turn the heat up slowly, the frog will escape the minute it starts to feel uncomfortable. Still, it’s a handy made-up metaphor for allowing creeping change to cheerfully lead you down a path you never meant to take. Before you know it you’re lost, your phone is out of battery, you have no light to guide the way, none of the trees look familiar, and… are those… eyes shining in the darkness?

I’m assuming that you did not spend your weekend in a remote cabin somewhere, studiously avoiding all media and interaction with the modern world. If this assumption is correct then you probably already know where I’m going with this.

America, when did you get so metaphorically amphibian?

Over the past few months I’ve spoken with some people who live in America, and they’ve nodded and agreed that what’s going on – be it the travel ban, or the rise of the alt-right, or Trump in general – is scary, but then, inevitably, they’ve followed it up with some sort of phrase to minimise the situation.

“…But I mean, it doesn’t make a difference really in the day-to-day…”

“…But of course it’s also sensationalised in the media…”

“…But it’s really just a few bad apples…”

Do you know what the rest of that phrase is?

“A few bad apples spoil the bunch.”

Here’s the thing, from the outside looking in America looks like it’s in a very bad place right now. The ruling party seem uninterested in excommunicating the most poisonous parts of their base, corruption seems to have infested the White House from top to bottom and the Help-me-Obi-Wan-Kenobi-you’re-our-only-hope of this Empire seems to be Mueller. For a country that used to be held up as an example of liberty and justice for all, a beacon of modern ideals, it now seems to be imploding. Internal conflict has it straining at the seams, and the rest of the world is giving it a wary side-eye.

The US is an enormous country. I understand that it can seem impossible to band together for a cause when there are 323 million people to consider and the longest drive end to end – if you didn’t stop to eat, drink or pee – takes over 50 hours. It’s difficult to gain any kind of traction or momentum as a nation when people are spread out over so wide a swathe of land. It’s hard to put pressure on the government when all they have to do is field your calls; they know they don’t have to worry about an unruly mob of tens of millions laying siege to the Capitol Building anytime soon.

But guys.

GUYS.

That philosophical water is getting hotter. Sure, it doesn’t seem to impact BBQ plans or trips to Target or stressful work weeks, and for the most part that’s true. Sure, it may seem like nothing more than a relentless pocket of ignorant assholes, and for the most part that, too, is true.

But if the events of Charlotteville teach us anything, it’s that the water is almost at boiling point, and it doesn’t show any signs of cooling.

What’s the solution? Is there one? Is it a case of needing to hit rock bottom? If things haven’t hit rock bottom yet, what might that look like? Is there another way of turning off the heat?

*Unlike the frog metaphor, this adage is actually true. Apples emit hormones as they ripen, and if one overripe apple finds its way into a barrel, the hormones it gives off will eventually cause all the other apples to rot. The more you know!