Are We Really Meant To Feel Safe? Isolation in the World that Ballard Imagined.
It's a bloody perilous world, after all.
I was thinking this morning about the way social media, for all its faults, it does allow us to realize we're not alone.
A lot of people share their fear and anxiety on social media. People I wouldn't have suspected suffer from it. I've come to realize that just about everybody is afraid, pretty much all of the time.
I saw a meme that said, "Anxiety is like when the combat music is playing in a video game and you can't find anything to fight." It had a lot of "ha-ha's" because it's true.
It's no wonder the pharmaceutical companies are having a field day filling prescriptions.
From an evolutionary point of view, we've never been safe.
Evolution only proceeds as it does because the world is deadly. We wouldn't be here if our slower and dumber non-ancestors hadn't been eaten by tigers; we wouldn't have the immune systems we do if billions hadn't fallen to the endless plagues that swept through our history.
It's terrifying to consider how many creatures need to perish for the fittest to survive.
Yet we're led to believe that a feeling of safety is some kind of state-mandated right.
For the most part, we're safer than we've ever been. On an intellectual level, we can comprehend that. But our hind-brains will always be on the lookout for the next predator while we hunt down our next meal.
I mean, we survive by slaughtering and consuming other living things. We're the products of murder. We perform the gory sacrament of eating day after day.
How can we expect any less than murder for ourselves? How can we ever relax?
From a psychological point of view, this virus scare is absolutely fascinating.
It gives us something to latch on to. It gives us hope that we're not crazy after all. The universe really is trying to kill us.
Let's not forget that viruses only want to live and propagate, same as we do. We just have the misfortune of being their habitat.
I wonder what JG Ballard would make of all this.
I've written about Ballard before. It's a shame he's not around to watch us retreat into our homes in terror; some of his stories were built around just this premise.
Home (BBC film of J. G. Ballard's "The Enormous Space")
His stories were marketed as Science Fiction but they were ultimately tales of psychological self-fulfillment. And he didn't see them as tragedies, though most readers saw them that way. Ballard saw the madman as someone who reached the ultimate levels of inner space. And he foresaw a world where we would all have little television studios in our homes where we could film and edit and construct dramas of our own liking, without suffering the inconvenience of being around other people.
Here he is in a 1974 interview, speaking with Carol Orr:
We tend to assume that people want to be together in a kind of renaissance city if you like, imaginatively speaking, strolling in the evening across a crowded piazza. I don’t think people want to be together, I think they want to be alone. People are together in a traffic jam or in a crowded elevator in a department store, or on airlines. That’s togetherness. People don’t want to be together in a physical sense, in an actual running crowd on a pavement. People want to be alone. They want to be alone and watch television.
Ballard, J. G.. Extreme Metaphors (p. 70). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.
In the media coverage of this virus, with all this talk of "flattening the curve," and "self quarantine," and "social isolation," I think he would see the madness of the individual writ large, painted across the globe, a virus of ideas to rival the molecular one, an ultimate triumph of Dawkins' meme over the molecular genetics of the physical world.
The last few weeks have felt like humanity getting back to its psychological core, and, in a way, making itself quite comfortable there.
I'm still getting out into the world, myself. But I'm taking lots of pictures, and bringing them home, and making them my own.
What's going on in your personal studio?
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