Avatar was on the television again this evening and I was reminded of the phenomenon of Avatar Blues
"One can say my depression was twofold: I was depressed because I really wanted to live in Pandora, which seemed like such a perfect place, but I was also depressed and disgusted with the sight of our world, what we have done to Earth. I so much
wanted to escape reality," Hill said.
We’re living through extraordinary times. As I write this people are being held at American airports and sent to any old country.
In the UK the temptation is to say: “That will never happen here.” Yet we have had a British MP murdered by a member of a legal organisation. Within a day of the Brexit vote hate crimes began and within two weeks had increased by 58%. If you’ve spent any amount of time online you’ll be aware of newly emboldened commentary from people sneering, bullying, spilling over with contempt.
So if you have an ounce of sensitivity a film like Avatar can be very painful. We know that indigenous people have been destroyed whenever they come into contact with our civilisation. We know that animals and people do not connect in the way the film shows us, and that we have made the purpose of the natural world to be industrialised for our use. We know that the untamed world has never risen up against an enemy that is destroying it, and who can bear the destruction of the helplessness and innocent?
It is incredibly rare to be born blunted and callous. We have to close large parts of our hearts and minds because to keep them open and vulnerable is too painful. Sometimes, because we are not exposed to pain happening in front of us, we ignore it.
Fascism doesn’t arrive wearing jackboots. Of course, if any group were forced to wear an identifying badge a great many of us would also wear that badge in solidarity. But would you identify as ‘Unemployed’? Or ‘Poor’?
The UK poor have been dying decades before their more prosperous neighbours for centuries. It’s quite normal for adverts at bus stops to tell us to anonymously inform on anyone we think may be defrauding the benefits system even though benefit fraud is such a minute issue that it’s not counted separately from errors in benefit distribution: combined they account for around 1% of the benefits bill. You know that unemployment benefits are 1% of the total benefits bill. And you know that pensions account for 42% of benefits.
If we can allow one group to suffer, to be identified as worthy of contempt and vilification, then we can allow it to happen to anyone. In our hearts we know that. There are three ways we can respond to it:
Join in with it.
Resistance is painful and exhausting. Acceptance can feel like a relief but it gnaws away at you because you know it’s wrong. Joining in with it can be wonderful. You’re amongst friends. They support you and you gain entrance to a genuine community with a narrative about the world that makes you feel justified and safe. Very often there is no downside to this, people do not wake up and say “I was wrong,” we go to our graves believing in things that are deeply, demonstrably wrong with no regrets.
For people who are unsure about what the hell is happening and what to do about it, it can feel best to keep it simple, to know the enemy and turn a blind eye. If you know the historical futility of resistance life can become unbearable. Low-grade suicidality is not at all unusual, it’s so common that many people don’t recognise it until it’s identified in their behaviours or in the casualness of their language. Pain becomes normal.
How to remain on an even keel in times like this?
Identify the parts of you, without judgement, that hate. We all have them. The part that says, “The Jews have put the house prices up there,” or “Trump’s mad but he’s got a point about Muslims,” or “If the poor worked harder they wouldn’t be poor.”
Non-judgement is absolutely critical. It’s not about being good or bad, it’s about knowing what’s going on. Treat that part of yourself with respect; listen to what it has to say. Listen. Don’t tell it what to do.
When we’re better able to hear ourselves, in all our aspects, we gain a better understanding of the world. When we’re able to be gentle with our own flaws we can accept them more gracefully in others. And at a time when grace is sorely lacking that’s becoming an urgent interpersonal and political need.
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