Isolated musings

One might think that our current circumstances, while clearly troubling, would at least provide some encouragement to bloggers, especially those inclined towards philosophical speculation, as the enforced idleness allows plenty of time for writing, and the situation naturally inspires commentary on all sorts of deep topics, like the nature of society, the limits of scientific knowledge, or the ultimate meaning (or meaninglessness) of life.

And, who knows, perhaps some bloggers are seizing this opportunity to compose memorable posts, but, as readers may have noticed, I am not among that number. I’m actually a good bit busier than usual, as the health service gears up to meet the challenge of the anticipated wave of infection. I’ve been redeployed into the sort of forward position that I haven’t occupied for a couple of decades, so I’ve spent the last week or so furiously refreshing my basic skills, which has at least kept my mind engaged. I’m glad to have the routine of work, which gives me an excuse to get out of the house, keeping me anchored to some sort of normality, though it also allows me access to information indicating that we are not quite as prepared for the coming storm as the the government would like the population to believe, which makes me think the immediate future may get quite rough.

So, it might be difficult to find time to post much over the next few weeks, but I guess I should try to make the effort, because these are the kind of times that’ll I’ll look back on in the future, and be glad that I recorded my contemporaneous impressions. Perhaps, if I live through this, I may even produce my own version of La Peste.

Viral concerns

Despite the occasionally gloomy tone of this blog, I am by nature a basically optimistic person, aided, no doubt, by the fact that, as a older, white, male, I can be reasonably confident that society is arranged to minimise the chances of anything really bad happening to me.

I am thus unsure that I am treating the looming Coronavirus pandemic with the requisite degree of seriousness. I live in an advanced, industrialised country, with a freely-available, high-quality health service; everyone I know who works in public heath is pretty sharp, and well able to handle this sort of situation. The city where I dwell, while not completely off the beaten track, isn’t particularly cosmopolitan, and is geographically situated in such a way that it would be fairly easy to control people coming in and out. Personally, I’m in good shape physically, and not in the age range that seems to be most at risk of serious complications. All things considered, I probably shouldn’t be panicking, despite all the alarming stories on the news, with scenes of hazmat-suited personnel quarantining entire neighbourhoods, and the ever-lengthening list of countries where cases are cropping up.

And indeed I am not too worried; my biggest concern at the moment is whether my spring holiday travel plans will be disrupted. I guess that this complacency may come back to bite me, but one can’t live life fretting about things that one can’t control. If people start dropping dead in the street then I might consider wearing a face mask and using hand sanitiser, but until then I’ll keep calm and carry on.

02022020

Today, the 2nd of February 2020, or 02/02/2020, is a palindromic day. The previous one of these was 20/02/2002, but that didn’t work in the US, where they inexplicably put the month first when writing the date, nor in China, where, more logically, they use the yyyy/mm/dd format. The last global palindromic day was way back on 11/11/1111, though I guess no one in North America or the Far East would have been interested in the Julian calendar in those days. The next one is due in 2121, on the 12th of December.

I’m fond of things like this, that seem as if they must have some deep cosmic meaning, even though the scientific part of my mind knows that it’s all quite arbitrary. I’m self-aware enough to recognise that it’s an attempt to ward off existential despair by imposing narrative order on a chaotic universe, but even an absurd hero has to embrace irrationality sometimes, so I’ll allow myself this little foible.

Last exit to Blighty

So, today was my final day as a citizen of the European Union. On a practical level, this is a bit of a non-event for me; the UK’s departure will not have any huge consequences in the short term, since there is now a one-year transition period where everything stays much the same, and even in the longer term I’m not likely to personally suffer any significant detriment, because I’m an old, middle-class, white male, and we generally do OK, whatever the circumstances.

Still, I’m feeling rather bereft. The EU, for all its many faults, represents an optimistic vision of an internationalist future, born from the ashes of a terrible war. That we are now retreating behind a national frontier, trying to regain a mythical past, seems like an ominous development.

Then again, it probably won’t work out as badly as I fear. The social gains of the last seven decades are not just going to disappear, however much the right try to turn the clock back, and in years to come we might look back on this episode as a minor bump in the highway of human progress, the last stand of reaction against the tide of history.

Anyway, whatever it says on my passport, nothing can change how I define myself; I’m a proud member of the worldwide proletariat, and I will be until I die.

2020 vision

[I guess it bodes ill for my serious writing career that I have been unable to resist such a painfully obvious title for today’s post, but I was up late last night, so I think I can be excused.]

What lies ahead for SLS as we enter the new decade? I expect that we will feel compelled to continue commenting on the unfolding political situation, on both sides of the Atlantic. My prediction is that the Brexit question will actually calm down a bit now that Boris Johnson has a solid majority and, no longer beholden to the ultras in his own party, is able to negotiate a sensible trade deal with the EU. Things are likely to get more lively in the US though, since the long-awaited impeachment process has significantly raised the already-high stakes in the 2020 presidential election. Donald Trump will be going to jail if he loses, giving him the motivation to abandon the scant regard he has for constitutional niceties, assuming he allows the election to go ahead at all.

Away from politics, I would like to start posting longer, more considered, pieces on broader cultural topics, perhaps once a month or so, but that’s an ambition I’ve had for several years now and it’s never happened yet, so we’ll see.

And Second Life? I did renew my annual subscription back in October, which cost about $90, even though the only way I have of accessing the grid these days is via an old copy of the now-defunct Lumiya app on an elderly tablet, which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t produce a particularly satisfactory graphical experience. Theoretically that shouldn’t matter too much if I just wanted to interact with people, but the perennial SL underpopulation means that one has to wander around for ages before bumping into anyone, and it’s difficult to stay interested without something pretty to look at. I should try to get back into virtual living again, because I’m sure SL will just disappear one day, and I’ll miss it when it’s gone. It might be quite interesting to compare my thoughts about it now with my first impressions from back in 2007.

So, politics, culture, Second Life, that should keep me busy for the next twelve months. I may even find time to cover our other main neglected category, psychology. I could do something tomorrow on avoiding procrastination….

Out of the wild

Every summer for the past decade or so I’ve thought to myself that it would be good for my long-term sanity to get away from civilisation for a few weeks, and just mellow right back. Unfortunately I’ve always had too many pressing responsibilities to make this a reality; until this year, when, through a fortunate confluence of circumstances, I managed to drop out of society for the best part of two months.

I didn’t go to live in on old bus on the tundra, Christopher McCandless-style, but I did rent a fairly remote cabin, which, while not entirely off the grid, was isolated enough that I could go days without seeing another human. I couldn’t quite bring myself to completely ignore the news, but I did eschew the internet, instead perusing the newspaper once or twice a week when I ventured into the nearest village for supplies. I read a bit, listened to some music, took some long walks, and scribbled a few observations in a notebook, but most of my time was spent just sitting in the woods, tuned into nature and letting my thoughts wander. (There were some mind-altering substances involved, but not to the extent that one might expect).

So what did I learn during this sojourn in my head? That the world actually moves quite slowly, and I don’t need to update myself every five minutes. That I’m comfortable, perhaps a little too comfortable, with just myself for company. That I’ve reached a point in my life where I enjoy remembering the past more than planning the future. That I haven’t lost the ability to spend hours just watching clouds, and sunlight on grass, and leaves moving in the breeze, like I used to do when I was a kid.

I’m certainly tempted to make this a permanent arrangement. I could just about afford to, financially, and untangling my various relationships, while a little more tricky, wouldn’t be impossible. Just thinking about it makes it seem more attractive.

The current state of the world seems like another good reason to check out, but it’s also the thing that gives me pause. It’s clear that there are going to be some battles to be fought, and it would feel self-indulgent to absent myself from the field just when things are hotting up. Not that I think that any contribution that I might make will be decisive; more that, for my own self-respect, I need to be around to be counted.

So it looks like I’ll have to reluctantly re-engage with society. I’m going to give myself one more night before I face it though…

Don’t worry, be happy

Today is International Day of Happiness, so I’ve been trying to think positive thoughts all day, and mostly succeeding. In times of national crisis like this there is definitely something to be said for forgetting about the big picture and just living in the moment. Despite all my angst over the political situation, my life is mostly very agreeable, and will probably continue to be so in all the ways that really matter, whatever happens. I’ll try to hold on to that thought over the next week…

The Bear necessities

In the midst of all the political gloom, my spirits were lifted this week by the charming story of 3 year old Casey Hathaway, who wandered away from his great-grandmother’s garden in rural North Carolina and disappeared in the nearby woods. Two days of freezing weather later he was found, only a little the worse for wear, and reported that he had been looked after by a friendly bear.

Of course, experts on ursine behaviour have poured cold water on the idea that a bear would act in such a way, suggesting that young Casey’s furry companion was but a figment of his imagination. The idea that benign natural guardians are out there in the dark forests, ready to look after us when civilisation finally collapses, is one I find enormously comforting though, so I think I’ll go on believing…

Irresolute

I’m not a huge believer in New Year resolutions; experience has taught me that, once you get past about 30, making a serious change to your life takes more effort than simply deciding to do it, and being too ambitious just sets you up for disappointing failure.

However this time last year I did resolve to alter my behaviour, albeit in a fairly trivial way, by giving up looking at Facebook, which had been consuming an inordinate amount of my time for very little reward. I’m pleased to report that I was entirely successful in this endeavour, having maintained my abstinence for the last 12 months. I didn’t take the obvious precaution of deleting the app from my phone, figuring that maintaining some temptation would make the achievement more satisfying, though I have got rid of it today, just in case complacency undermined my forbearance. In celebration I’m allowing myself this one post to crow about it, but I promise that I’ll never mention it again.

Buoyed by this minor act of self-improvement, I’ve been trying to think of a resolution for this year. Unfortunately, very few of my remaining shortcomings, which are legion, lend themselves to so straightforward an answer.

It’s a well-recognised psychological maxim that the best way to stop unwanted behaviour is to substitute some more positive action, but that tends to work best for circumscribed habits like smoking, rather than more nebulous problems like “being a slacker”. I’m leaning towards a target of doing more writing, but I’m sure that my subconscious is making up excuses for my failure already. I guess that I could see how my blogging productivity holds up over the next few weeks before deciding whether to start working on a novel.

The Gatwick drone trials

When I posted our last piece about the drone drama at Gatwick airport, it did cross my mind that perhaps there were no mysterious flying objects, and it was all just a case of mass hysteria. I dismissed this thought though, because, I reasoned, the authorities surely wouldn’t shut down a major transport hub, causing massive disruption, not to mention millions of pounds of economic damage, without concrete proof that there was actually something going on.

Once again though it appears that I am guilty of overestimating the wisdom of the powers that be. Having investigated the case, the police have failed to come up with any photographs or film of the supposed intruders. They did find on old, wrecked, drone near the airfield, but it’s not clear that it was connected to recent events. They also arrested an unfortunate local, his neighbours having apparently grassed him up for owning a model helicopter, but were forced to release him when it turned out he had a cast-iron alibi. In light of all this the officer in charge has admitted that perhaps people had let their imagination get the better of them.

It all goes to show that, even in our technologically-advanced era, a good old-fashioned witch-scare can still catch the public fancy. This one has been fairly harmless I guess, but a similar dynamic can drive much darker sentiments, especially in the febrile political environment we find ourselves in. Throw in the flame-fanning effect of social media, and it all gets pretty scary. I’m hoping that that they get on and legalise marijuana already, so we can all just chill the fuck out.