Something drove me to watch Andrew Niccol’s 1997 science fiction parable Gattaca on a dark day for those outside the privileged gates of the elite. The film deals with privilege and how society views those without the genetic or financial clout to be considered worthy of entry into the citadel. The metaphors in the film are direct and the resonance chilling. I’m neither inside nor outside. I sit somewhere along the walls, able to peer back at where I’ve come from in some comfort and to a certain extent peer forward into a potential future.
In order to step beyond I would have to shed beliefs and step on those behind me. I’d also have to assume the persona, personality, ideology and identity of someone who ‘deserves’ entry. Gattaca is brilliant about what a person has to do in order to move from outside the citadel to inside it. Over the next five years I wonder if we will see resistance or resignation. I wonder if the current exploitation of the poor and unable and different will result in electoral revolution or cultural disintegration. I don’t want to step on anyone. I want to slingshot people past me.
One of the things Gattaca does so deftly is that it makes the idea of being part of the elite seem poisonous and something no right thinking, socially aware person would ever want to be part of, whilst simultaneously arguing that the ability to join the elite and reap the benefits should be available to anyone and validity and entrance should not be decided by a privileged few.
I guess I sought solace in a reminder that the impending darkness brings reminders of why the fight to remain in light matters. The other day, in a dog scuffle with a selfish dog owner (neither my dog or their dog was harmed), I broke my headphones so I’ve been without my usual companion podcasts. It was nice to hear the waves again. I must make sure that sometimes I have the lessons of humans in my ears and sometimes the lessons of nature. This morning, with new headphones and against a grey and windy backdrop, I headed out and listened to a talk by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer. Talking about her Bronx upbringing, which was followed by her success at Princeton, she undertook community service in inner city New Jersey and she discussed volunteering in the community saying:
“You can’t instil in someone who doesn’t want to do something a desire, but you can expose people who have no idea of its value to something they will continue doing” (via the NYPL podcast).
This resonated. Deeply. As an educator and someone who believes in respect and compassion. I’d like to see less inequality and people’s right to decency in life - education, health, food, clothing, shelter - protected. A supported and free health service. Education available to all, not merely the best resourced and affluent. People not reliant on food banks.
I can’t tell people these things matter. I have to find a way of ensuring moments where they see and hopefully understand for themselves. This can only be achieved by me living a true and active life, and doing what I believe and not just agreeing passively and mournfully.
I wrote an email yesterday morning, to move from belief to action. To move beyond saying something and revelling in association towards activism. A tiny response.
This morning I visited a coffee and book shop locally. My first visit to a place that derives its name from a revolutionary poem that speaks of a desire held by many in these scary days. Howl.
I finished reading Alasdair Gray’s Lanark whilst there. Masochism again, or a need to directly engage with the horrors and realities in order to move forward? To stare the devil down?
Some passages from the very, very end of a bittersweet, prescient and scathing book that doesn’t end kindly. Spoiler alert.
“You wish to tell me they have too few jobs and homes and social services so stupidity, cruelty, disease and crime are increasing among them. I know that. There are many such places in the world, and soon there will be more. Governments cannot help them much.”
“Are you telling me that men lack the decency and skill to be good to each other?”
“Men have always possessed the decency and skill. In small, isolated societies they have even practised it. But it is a sad fact of human nature that in large numbers we can only organise against each other”.
“It is bad habits, not bad nature, which makes us repeat the dull old shapes of poverty and war. Only greedy people who profit by these things believe they are natural”.
“You suffer from the oldest delusion in politics. You think you can change the world by talking to a leader. Leaders are the effects, not the causes of changes. I cannot give prosperity to people whom my rich supporters cannot exploit”.
Lanark was published in 1981. Also in its final embers comes the title for this blog post.
In between writing the bulk of this I took Bailey for a walk and laughed for the first time I can remember in a while. I was listening to The Bugle podcast post-election special. My laugh was hearty. And to and from Godrevy I sang myself hoarse to the Manics’ Everything Must Go:
“All I wanna do is live. No matter how miserable it is”
“And I hope that you can forgive us, but everything must go”
“Are we too tired to try and understand…?”
Back in Howl. I am reminded of many things including a tweet my darling lover posted yesterday. She spoke of the knowledge, that such a clear result gives, that people are feeling the opposite of the grief and fear and anxiety felt by others. And, that those people are around.
They are colleagues, people you let out at a junction, people who stop to pet your dog, friends.
I am reminded of this as a woman enters Howl and declares “I didn’t vote Tory, so please can I come in?”. Discussion was loud in the coffee shop. No one voted Tory. If they did they performed a terrifying facade over cake and Guatemalan blend. The same was true at work yesterday where the dark clouds that hung outside wormed their way along our corridor where feelings of shock and terror filled the hall, where the lights seemed to belligerently refuse to switch on. Maybe they didn’t have the energy. Feels like a dark time to believe in accessible university education for the masses.
It can’t all be darkness though. So many seem likeminded despite the blue tide that engulfed this county and its conservative kin. I am aware of the problem that ‘first past the post’ results in and do not feel that the results are wholly representative. However, these are our structures and we can still shake them positively.
In the coffee shop was an exhibition. This was the main reason I went. It was an inter-generational artistic correspondence between Grandad and Grandaughter. Beyond the despairing void it naturally started to refill with its warmth, its quality and dedication truly affected.
It’s always about people. It’s always about people being kind and thoughtful and going outside their selfish sphere and thinking of and engaging with others. It’s always about taking time to listen and communicate. It’s about love and honesty and compassion. It has to be. I get a text from my girlfriend. She shares welcome good news and I am reminded how incredible she is, what a beautiful and compassionate and dedicated person. I am proud to know her and be loved by her and she provides me with a reminder through evidence of her actions that I can do more, I can be more.
I buy books of the poetry of Bob Dylan and Seamus Heaney. I talk to the proprietor of Howl, Lee, of Mclusky and Manic Street Preachers.
I go to leave but my way is gently blocked. A departing customer has had his bike stolen from outside. People can be not great. People can be great.