When I wrote my final blog for the excellent Authors Electric website, I was so sad and angry at the prevailing headlines relating the appalling inhumanity, cynicism, failures, and uncaring responses of those in power to devastating news on all fronts, public and private, that I set aside my usual aim, which is to try to counter bad news with some sort of light relief. The prevailing mayhem was too comprehensive, however, and was then compounded by the details of the ordeal undergone by Sarah Everard at the hands of a serving policeman. There was also the fact that, since he abducted, raped and murdered her, at least 81 more women in the UK have been killed and the suspects are all men, and new statistics reveal that only 2% of reported rapes in the UK end in a prosecution.
And, since then, little has changed, so I’m reposting it here, not with any hope or belief of anyone doing anything about it, but in a sort of despair that we’re at such a low ebb and still tolerate the criminal uselessness of our ‘leaders’. The fact that fellow humans – people apparently like us – are capable of such callous, mindless cruelty and the official response to it seems so uncaring is very hard to absorb and yet it’s a ‘truth’ (albeit one which makes no sense). Even while deploring it, an easy, convenient way of accommodating it would be to characterise its unnatural extremes and comprehensive meaninglessness as absurd because, in the overall context of human interactions nothing about such acts can be said to ‘mean’ anything. But taking that route is, in most respects, akin to semi-sanitising it. Such things are way beyond absurd. In fact, we don’t have an adjective strong enough to express their inhumanity, their distance from any form of acceptable, ‘meaningful’ conduct.
Faced with the inexplicable, the senselessness, the apparent arbitrariness of things, Camus identified absurdity as a potential source of despair but, more importantly according to him, the very fact that we recognise it offers us an opportunity to take action against it, fight it, resist its ubiquity. I’m a huge admirer of his but I think he got this one wrong. Absurdity isn’t just a concept, it’s a reality, a fact beyond our understanding, and it renews and manifests itself constantly in different ways. It’s not a phenomenon one can ‘conquer’ or ‘overcome’. It questions the fundamentals of who we are, of what everything is. It’s an appalling inevitability.
Nothing compares with the specific horrors inflicted on Sarah Everard, but the collective cynicism of those currently at the head of UK society, their carelessness of the damage caused by their decisions (or lack of), their wilful insistence on their way being the only correct one is, at the public level, making absurdity the norm. Their values (a totally inappropriate word in the circumstances) relate in no way to those whose lives they’re destroying. And it goes further. The people who elected them must know (or, at the very least, suspect) that their leaders are lying and yet it seems that most of them may intend to vote the same way. They see these people playing political games, manipulating statistics, and their support makes them complicit in the lies and deceits. The recently revealed Pandora Papers have opened up another aspect of the destructive cynicism of power. At private and public levels we’re in a new Dark Age and there are definitely more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.