The view from my window some days is like a hide on an anthropological study. Right now I’m watching one of my neighbours trying to nail some wooden pallets together to repair a fence. The rain is falling by the bucket load and it’s blowing a gale, the same gale that brought the ‘fence’ down in the first place and there they go, tap tap tap tap. That’s the first mistake, you find a bigger hammer and hit it hard, so it goes straight in rather than making the hole too wide to hold the nail. It doesn’t matter though, there is no bracing, no fence posts pushed deep into the ground, if it lasts the day I will be suprised. As I watch this tragic comedy unfold, a thought occurs to me, “Have they read the tale of the three little pigs?”
I think this a lot sadly. All those stories we were told as children, they mostly came into being as ways to stop people getting killed or to try and surreptitiously give people a bit of wisdom without giving them a boring lecture. Like little red riding hood and the simple notion that just because someone has a nice big smile, it doesn’t mean that they are nice people.
All these little tales, they give us the basic instructions for living and getting along in this world. Simple things, like giving people the benefit of the doubt, but not too much, think before you act, make plans, liars’ lies eventually catch up with them, learn from your mistakes.
The last one I see ignored time and time again, I watch everyday as the same dumb people do the same dumb things over and over again. When my closest friends tell me of disasters that have befallen them, they are now so bizarre that you wouldn’t believe them if I told you, which I won’t. That is the point though, whilst we are dealing with the more and more bizarre stuff, there are others we know dealing with the shit we learnt to avoid in our twenties. The basic stuff like, if you don’t teach children the difference between right and wrong they will be bad people, drugs mess your life up, choose your friends well, problems ignored blow up in your face when it’s too late to fix them. Frankly, I’m amazed by the constant ability of people my age (46) or older to keep screwing up on the basics.
One of the problems is that, past a certain age, you can’t tell anyone anything and if you try you are hit with a barrage of accusations of being negative. There is a whole history of other people’s wisdom out there and other people’s mistakes to learn from and if you don’t… Well…
It seems to be the buzzword of the times, “ooh! That is soooooo negative!” Whenever anyone comments on the insane things that other people do, as if everyone has the right to constantly act in a stupid and selfish manner. So what is so positive about people getting hurt and things falling apart? What’s so positive about wasting years getting to the realisations that others came up with maybe a thousand of years ago? As a culture we used to value wisdom, now we just celebrate naivety.
At this point I am temped to make a comparison with the way culture seems to be shifting and the Eloy in H.G Wells’ The Time Machine. I’m tempted, but I won’t, mainly because the numbers of people who have actually read it are dwindling. I see so many people busying themselves in inane chatter and stupid projects and endlessly referring to ‘the community ‘… Well, there is a bigger one out there, it’s called ‘the written word’.
The late great Anthony H Wilson, loved and loathed in equal measure but famous for making things actually happen, had a typically condescending phrase which I have been tempted to start using. When explaining something, he would often use a classical reference, such as the myth of Icarus to explain the danger of excess pride. When people stared at him blankly, not knowing what he was referring to, he would turn round and say, “you don’t know that?That’s fine, but you should probably read more.”
And so should all of us.