Looking back in history, we tend to simplify things and we have typified the villains, but history is written by the victors, and we tend to overlook the role our country, our mindset, or our group has played in the destruction of culture, nature, and generally people’s lives. The realisation of what harm we may have caused often causes a moment of confusion, of incredulity, or downright denial. Of course, the typification of villains by Hollywood goes a long way to help us keep our world order untouched, but the stories we tell often reveal the truth of the matter. Especially the typification of the hero, or of heroic deeds, reveal to us that we do identify with behaviour that, put in a different context, is seen as malevolent.
At a small gathering I was talking to a woman in her late fifties. She had been to an exhibition and was amazed at what she had seen there. Fantastic images and facts that were new to her, but suddenly she said something that made me look up. “I didn’t know that the sheer numbers of people on the planet is one of the causes for the destruction of natural resources,” she said. I must have had a puzzled look on my face, because she quickly moved on, but it made me think about the lack of awareness that we often have. How a basic fact that shouldn’t surprise anybody shakes our worldview and causes us to question what we took for granted. I wasn’t feeling well that morning, so I didn’t launch into a statement about how we, in the west, take so many things for granted, that people in other countries struggle to provide. How industry has polluted the countryside in many underdeveloped countries, how many people have died from poisoning by pesticides, producing fruit for us, how many people struggle to live on a pittance, whilst exporting goods that are sold for an exponentially higher price in the west.
The list goes on, and the price of globalisation is getting difficult to hide. The benefits seem obvious to us, sat in our comfortable homes, but we are missing out on the larger picture. In the news a brief headline appeared underneath the pictures, stating that mental health issues have become the chief reason for people prematurely giving up work. I know of four people in my small group of friends who have been diagnosed with depression. There are others who are obviously struggling, but who are tight-lipped about it. I think it is a dissonance that we experience, a dawning awareness that things are not as they seem. When reading Iain McGilchrist’s book, THE MASTER AND HIS EMISSARY, written in 2009, I found his last chapters difficult to read, focussing on the modern and post-modern worlds, showing us how a domination of our thinking by the left brain hemisphere, with the effects of this way of thinking is creating a crisis. On his website he writes that we:
“need to be aware of the sheer extent to which the left hemisphere is, in the most down-to-earth, empirically verifiable way, less reliable than the right: in matters of attention, perception, judgment, emotional understanding, and indeed intelligence as it is conventionally understood. And that means that we should be appropriately sceptical of the left hemisphere’s vision of a mechanistic world, an atomistic society, a world in which competition is more important than collaboration; a world in which nature is a heap of resource there for our exploitation, in which only humans count, and yet humans are only machines – not even very good ones, at that; a world curiously stripped of depth, colour and value. This is not the intelligent, if hard-nosed, view that its espousers comfort themselves by making it out to be; just a sterile fantasy, the product of a lack of imagination, that makes it easier for us to manipulate what we no longer understand. But it is a fantasy that displaces and renders inaccessible the vibrant, living, profoundly creative, world that it was our fortune to inherit – until we squandered our inheritance.” (https://channelmcgilchrist.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/The_Master_and_his_Emissary_by_McGilchrist.pdf)
It becomes easy to realise then, how we become the “bad guys”, and become a danger to the world at large – and a danger to ourselves. The rise in mental illness in the twentieth century, as well as the tens of millions of war victims, and maybe hundreds of millions who died after displacement, and the many people who died unable to cope with the burden of their war experiences, are a witness to this. Of course, we were pre-occupied by the boom that followed the war, the rise in childbirths, the culture shock and subsequent re-orientation that the rock-and-roll era brought, the threat of communism, and the cold war that gave Europe a reprise from open conflict. Of course, wars didn’t end then, they were just fought somewhere else, and our own victims were counted, but not those of the enemy. Only slowly did the question arise, whether what was going on was morally defensible.
Last year angry young people tried to make the older generations and their politicians aware that their future was being endangered by a climate crisis, which could be drastic. Some public figures either criticised them for being rude, laughed at them or just simply ignored them, others felt some sympathy, but the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow 2021 was disappointing anyway. Greta Thunberg has said she thinks it is now too late to make a difference. Who do you think these young people think are the bad guys? Our problem then, is that for all the talk of global solutions, our lack of collaboration, our exploitation and promotion of commercial competition is not concerned with the global situation, but with our own limited space. We are the bad guys.