The piece is called ‘Who would want listen to this?’ because such big threats of an ecological collapse which would cause unimaginable disruption and destruction are often too frightening for us to think about (only previously seen by our eyes on cinema screens), so instead we pretend that ‘someone will sort it for us when push comes to shove’ or we even coax ourselves into believing that it can’t actually be happening (I’ve heard people, who once agreed that climate change was being caused by humans, go back on themselves saying ‘how can one species do so much damage to such a big planet?’ – comforting lies). We would rather not listen to it when a friend in our company starts talking about it, or when it is on the TV.
But we are not to blame for feeling so powerless to do anything.
As well as causing this problem, the human system of capitalism makes it seem impossible for us to do anything to stop climate change. It relies on competition between the most powerful nations in the world, rather than cooperation. And these nations are sewn together with the biggest corporations in the world; and corporations, by and large, don’t want us thinking that things such as climate change are happening, because to take any action to stop it would be bad for their business. And being the richest most powerful in the world, they get their way. As things stand THEY are in control of the direction the human world takes.
So we feel powerless, and try to focus on smaller thing instead, we try to forget. Climate change just adds more and more weight to the feeling that everything is out of control and feelings of powerlessness to do anything about it, which is the reality of living under the global capitalist system. So focussing on smaller things, focussing on how to get through life, day to day, in the most bearable way is what most of us find is the only thing we can do.
In the drawing every figure is wearing headphones. This relates to trying to block out the sound of things that are upsetting to us. It also relates a lot to the living in a time where we have access to so much technology to keep us entertained, or distracted, from the real world. I have mixed feelings about technology; I think what the internet offers to us as a species is amazing, and it could be said to be one of the greatest inventions ever. Yet accessories such as mobile phones, Facebook can throw us into a continuous detachment from what’s really happening in the world around us, distracting us, as we are constantly in trying to get other people to speak to us and like us through them, as the popularity of these accessories means people are increasingly alone, communicating from box rooms and lonely bus rides, and lonely people feel insecure and continually seek company. These figures, who are blocking their eyes to the problems around them, aren’t bad people, but are finding themselves more and more consumed in a technological world, that promises so much but never really fulfils.
The people behind the speaking booth-like things are the political/capitalist class. They are equally wired up, with head phones, communicating through cyberspace. They believe in the fantasy that capitalist ‘growth’ can go on forever, and they chase growth like addicts, smiling with Cheshire cat grins when they say the word ‘growth’. They are ‘supposed’ to be the people to lead the citizens to safety and better lives, but they are desperately clinging on to hopes that become more impossible every day. Feeling powerless, we leave it to leaders of governments and capitalism to guide us, but they are even more detached from the real world than everybody else, and they guide us towards a dangerous future. The need for distraction and denial of the truth keeps growing.
I wanted the entire landscape to look like a rock in an empty space, a bit like planet earth in space. But I want this rock to look to have a similarity to a human hand; a human hand that is veering into the dark, into a void, into non-existence. The closer one gets to the fingertips of the hand, the more the landscape is being destroyed, being torn to pieces. This represents two different moments in time; the moment which are at now, when it is the poorest people in the world who suffer the most from the effects of climate change, largely caused by the richest parts of the world (and the most power institutions which come from these places), and a future moment when this becomes the reality for all of humanity, if we don’t change course – direct the human hand away from its route into non-existence.
Desperation witnessed on a Facebook wall and desperation on the railway lines, on our endless commutes – going nowhere
“Out of my way, it’s a busy day, and I’ve got things on my mind” Us And Them, Pink Floyd
Whilst in London in December, I was told by two different people of their witnessing/second hand witnessing of a suicide on the tube tracks or the aftermath of one (blood stains on the sides of the tunnel were visible from the windows of a tube train carriage). I would find witnessing such a thing unbelievably difficult to deal with (as I suspect they did); in the space of one week I experienced 2 delays to train journeys in the Yorkshire area due to there being ‘a fatality on the line/somebody being hit by a train’ (as said by the automated tannoy voice) and the mere news of this left me with such an empty and despairing feeling that I had to go for a drink to become a little more numb, to stop me thinking “there’s certainly an increase on these occurrences”. I find stories of suicides on train tracks more awful than suicides committed in bedrooms, alleyways or woodlands; there is something about them that states that they will happen again and again, and nothing will be done.
A couple of days ago I got a text from a Friend who lives in London, expressing discontent with commuter behaviour on the tube. He said “these rush hour commuters are like those in cars. Cars being the embodiment of Thatcherite individualism and selfishness” and that “everybody looks away if you look at them, so no eye contact with people”. The way we collectively use public transport (although much more beneficial to society than using a car) reflects the Thatcherite rhetoric of there is ‘no such thing as society’ just in the same way as the increasing usage of the car has done in the past 30 years. This friend was one of the 2 friends who told me about a suicide they witnessed on the tube. He sent that text one day after the M1 motorway was closed near to where I live, causing traffic congestion on the nearby road, due an individual threatening to throw themselves off one of the bridges over the motorway. Also, it was on the same day that I came across a Facebook post that expressed acute desperation.
The fulfillment of the ‘no such thing as society’ rhetoric means that we are atomised and forced into a selfish bubble-like existence even when we are out of our cars and our sleeping/eating cells (the physical bubbles); our jobs (that creep into every aspect of our lives via email/cell phone) make for perpetual financial strain, which puts strain on relationships, and becomes all consuming, and couple this with the effect that the sheer bulk of advertising we absorb (thus, the status anxiety it causes) has on us, living in a neoliberal (free market) economy; and we (to use a quote from Mark Fishers’ Capitalist Realism) “wall ourselves up against The Social” by putting our Ipod/Mp3 players on to soothe ourselves with musical sugary stimulus – we feel we need it to keep our mood levels up. But when capitalism’s so-called ‘accidents’ actually reinforce its legitimacy, as recession pushes the pitch-fork of financial anxiety further into our backsides (thus, forcing us to be even more selfish and competitive) what can we do but become more self-orientated, perpetuating the problem?
When trying to escape The Social all the time, a suicide, or the threat of a suicide, is both too bleak to contemplate and also a massive inconvenience to us (due to the delays it brings to our ‘daily races’). And the wish not to dwell on it, to just get on with focusing on our own journey through this world, engenders the inconvenience that the delays these incidents become, which engenders a selfishness in all of us, which in turn, engenders a society of more atomised people where, because this is a positive feedback loop of affect and causation, means increasing numbers of people will become alienated, depressed and will attempt/commit suicide.
I suppose the aforementioned greater bleakness of killing oneself in such a way relates to my own past experiences when I can remember feeling low enough to be contemplating committing this ultimate gesture (although not involving railway lines, personally): knowing nobody has the time to even give it a thought, and that your death will be brushed under the carpet, out of mind out of sight, like the train wheels would do to your body, because it’s also too inconvenient to dwell on, being in a society where we are informed to ‘forget’ about these external incidents, as we should try to get on with our own lives, making sure we don’t become the next person ready to throw ourselves under moving vehicles. This attitude, which we all ascribe to, or try to (because it is the most convenient attitude to have in a society where mental illness has been individualised, thus separated from its socio-political causation’s) is what ensures that it will keep happening again; it ensures the perpetuation of alienation; the perpetuation of this ‘no such thing as society’ where we all feel that we have no choice but to look out for number 1, with the cost being that we may one day be this person jumping in front of a train/threatening to jump from a motorway bridge.
“So” you think “Is this what happens? People just look the other way, put in their headphones, and occupy their mind with filling out that Job application, for a job they are unlikely to get because 100 other people have applied for that very post? And hope that they never reach such a lowly stage themselves?” You can hear us all muttering the lyrics from Us And Them by Pink Floyd again; “down and out, it can’t be helped that there’s a lot of it about”.
You get home. Try to forget the thoughts that the bleak tannoy announcements conjured up, and if you can’t you can always see if anyone wants to join you for a little bit of alcoholic anesthetizing in town. But you do that too much, and although it feels to be leading somewhere at the time, it’s the same every time. The thing is it feels like an arrival, or at least the finishing off of something, a conclusion to an otherwise empty day that feels incomplete and unfulfilled. You miss the drink for today, but still need to feel secure, heard; that you’re building something that will make you safe from ever being ‘down and out’; pathways towards arriving. The seemingly easiest way to contact people now is via the Internet, so that’s what you attempt.
But as soon as you log into the place where everybody goes (Facebook) you feel like you are going nowhere again; nobody seems to be hearing what you say; it feels like you’ve only just set off on a tiresome journey, after only just finishing one in the physical world; you just can’t land. So you shout louder, AND LOUDER! Listen to me!!, just me!! Oh dear.
And so the attitude we share as commuters is continued in both the reason why social networking sites have become so popular, and in the way we collectively use them. One will occasionally stumble across Facebook wall posts an individual has put up, saying how desperately unhappy and lonely he/she is, worded in a way that suggests that he/she is contemplating attempting suicide. Regardless of whether the suggestion of doing so is false, or is just a cry for help (which, should be seen as just that, and not attention seeking; people don’t make up depression, it is endemic in our society), how do we react to this? I’d argue in the same way as we react to the situation of a man threatening to throw himself from a bridge onto a road we desire to travel on/the same way as we’d react if a dead body was blocking our rail journey: although empathy is lacking in such a society, we still do all possess enough to feel some short burst of sadness for the person in question, but the feeling is overwhelmed by our anxieties about our own life. We are so self-orientated, so overly concerned about getting from our A to B (our intentions/goals/needs from facebook) that it becomes much more of an inconvenience. More than that, it reveals the uncomfortable truths about our fragility that we are constantly having to run from.
But can we ever arrive, in a sense, if this journey perpetually never ends, when social networking sites and cell phones extend this endless commute into our houses, the one place where we are supposed to have arrived at? We commute on the net like we commute in our endless physical races in the heat of the day; trying to push ourselves forward, but going nowhere, going nowhere
The fast lane, high speed rail, high speed broadband, but never actually arriving (“Perhaps we should resolve Britain’s railway network into a single orbital system, so that we can all remain in constant circulation. Then we’ll know we’re getting somewhere.” this cutting and humorous observation about the high speed rail plans by George Monbiot in Fast Train to Nowhere, May 17 2010, seems to touch upon the whole of the eternal commute.)
“You only actually arrive when you switch it off”, a friend said to me yesterday, regarding the effect of trying to find meaning through communication on Facebook. But he also acknowledged how hard it is to do so, because of how it persuades you that the opposite is true. Social networking sites are forced communication-as-self-promotion, forced Yuppiedom, passed off as choice, just as commuting longer and longer distances to work, which was forced onto us by social restructuring, and a deliberate shifting of capital, was passed off as an individuals freedom to work wherever he/she may choose; both do the opposite of what they promote; they create an environment of self-preservation at all costs and selfishness as necessity, as if we were still fighting for food in the wild. If this isn’t further evidence that systemic alterations engender how technology advances, and how it is used by people, then I don’t know what is.
Facebook is awful, but it is not an anomaly, or even a massive societal shift; it is a logical extension of the culture that has been created. Which is why, when you’re thinking clearly enough (and not excited by the prospect of lots of little red numbers appearing in the top left corner of your profile page) it is the saddest of thoughts that tonight the only way you will attempt to talk to people is through it, because nobody will be really listening to you, because they need to be listened to. self-promotion lapses into self-preservation every time. But some people, in the physical and virtual world, cannot survive this world-made-cold.
The assumption that those living in more urban areas/areas more integrated into the sprawl of humanity look down on people like myself who are still seemingly embedded in much smaller settlements isn’t misplaced. Towns, such as the one I still reside in, are openly mocked and belittled by society. It is thought of as being unambitious, and being intentionally backwards, always yearning for the rustic, to stay in such areas.
But, far from desiring to stay here, my own (miss)understanding of late-capitalist reality has meant that the ‘get up and go’ language us children of the 1980’s/90’s are supposed to have inbuilt (in the same way we had Alex The Kidd built into our Segas) has somewhat left me behind, like the Motorway cutting through my village with no slip road to join, so one can only watch the other candles burning much brighter as they fly by. Likewise, I spend most of the days I have off work in the nearest and affordable-to-get-to urban sprawls (the Yorkshire cities of Leeds and Sheffield) precisely because of these reasons, and the shining lights attract me on vain like a moth, but a moth in search of meaning or love, or whatever the hell it is I’m supposed to find in a city.
However, all this is irrelevant because everybody hooked up to the Internet, cell phone networks, and subjected to matrix of images and signs that make up late-capitalism, through these devices, is a virtual urban dweller, and there is truly very few human beings these days who could be called rural dwellers, in regards to how we interact and the frequency with which we interact with the rest of the human world. Likewise, when I visit the biggest city in this country, I don’t feel like it’s a new experience, or an experience I rarely have, just a compression of my usual experiences and an exacerbation of them: it just feels like I’m traveling down one of the main arteries of the now endless city, instead of one of the smaller ones.
One now feels as lonely in front of a screen showing their facebook homepage, as they did traditionally in a city all by themselves. This is the feeling of a true urbanite. Yes, I am, in a sense as much an urban creature in the small ex-coal mining town of Barnsley, as somebody using the tube in central London is. The endless city has materialised in a way much unpredicted in much of the 20Th century science fiction, where the world was envisioned as becoming one big physical city; cyberspace has created this, with the added inversion of reality, where nothing seems real because nearly everything happens in a place exempt from the physical reality where we still have to get out oxygen and food from.
Obviously there is still so much more to do in the real physical city, places to go to experience culture or revel, but somehow these things don’t seem of note once one is there, or at least don’t have the effect one would expect them to have after all they’ve read about them. Walking around the British Museum, I really couldn’t appreciate the historical significance of the ancient artifacts I was walking past; partly down to this and partly down to the glaring truth of the place, I took on board the 2Nd history of them; the history of their colonial appropriation; the reason why Egyptian/Greek relics are in London.
Yet, as much as this not very rosy truth needs to be acknowledged, the reason for purposefully looking at them in this way was because I really couldn’t feel what I thought I was supposed to feel from seeing things which are supposed to be ‘wonders’, so I had to put on my critical poker face. Seeing image after image on screens of things that are far away, right through my life; talking to people through cyberspace; listening to music from far off studios on my mp3 player; walking down streets I know by clicking computer buttons; all this seems to detract from (or least tamper with) the worth of things in the physical world (especially things which are suppose to be of great cultural/historical significance). Nothing in the physical world seems more real than that in the virtual world, and nothing much surprises because it could just be from another television drama or documentary.
And When one is next to these/experiencing these things we are told are of significance, they are most likely going to be taking photos of these things/or writing on phones to people about them, sending their existences back into the endless city, rather than the concrete biggest of cities they are currently stood in. An anxiety about what to do arises, because we can’t feel anymore/or don’t know what we are supposed to feel. So we must document, or consume by appropriating photographic images of it, continuing the Pumping of the physical into the virtual.
The physical city has been negated and the virtual city promoted until they have blended with one another, and we are all now urban dwellers, in an endless city. But an endless city would surely be desirable? Unlike an endless village, where everybody clings to their prejudices and tribalism’s. The apparatus’s which reinforce a village mentality within us, rather than an acceptance of cosmopolitanism within an endless human city, would require a critique of the current system of domination and the way it uses technology, and I think the Internet is currently generating both, but one may eventually win over the other. However, the intention of writing this was that I was feeling the eyes of those physical city dwellers, and just wanted to explain how a small town resident becomes just as urbanised as someone living in the centre of London in the Internet age.
I used to find In Rainbows the most difficult album to listen to by Radiohead. Not because I found it a worse album than the rest of the (post Pablo honey) albums, just because there was something I found deeply uncomfortable about it, a truth in it that I couldn’t/or didn’t want to acknowledge right then. I didn’t know what was behind all this, until I read some essays on the album in Radiohead and philosophy. There is a truth in the album which is fought against to stop it happening in the previous albums, but ACCEPTED in In Rainbows: that of a looming mortality, an end, and not just to oneself but to our species. This truth is at its most emotionally heightened in The Reckoner and in House of Cards (the first synth entrance especially). This is why i still usually find myself listening to the 4 albums previous to this one, where the fight with bleak nihilism and against the erosion of democracy is still on going, as this is the fight that is waging in my mind most daytime periods. But In Rainbows has a fragility to it, when one can fight no longer, a coming to terms with the self also. In rainbows is about death, but coming to terms with it, like someone with a terminal disease must do. It makes it too beautiful for me to be able to listen to as I make my way through each day, and it’s only when i have my days when truths about myself and the world are face to face with me that it becomes the album I choose to listen to.“Dedicated to all humans….” The Reckoner