01 January 2009

Making. Doing. Being.

Ah, the sweet smell of an arbitrary calendaric event, wafting through my synaptic pathways and rattling the cages of many a dusty, long forgotten meme, sending them scurrying for cover with a hearty cry of "out with the old, in with the new".

Today is the first day of the last year of the Noughties, a decade in which the world has experienced a long (inter)national nightmare of war, poverty and climate chaos leaving everyone but the top global 1% in a position worse in absolute terms than at any time since the early 70's. I myself, while far from the Golden Bough upon which resides that top 1%, am in arguably the best position of my life: financially secure for the foreseeable future, a roof over my head, one third of the way through a (projected) eighteen month period of relaxed underemployment, and most importantly, with an amazing and Very Understanding Girlfriend of twelve years who continues to support me along every twist and turn that life's path takes. And yet I am not a very happy person. In fact to the casual observer I am a very grumpy person, with a Vegas-sized pile of chips on my shoulder and a long finger quite practised in the art of pointing out all that is wrong with the world.

To review my blog posts of the year one would be quite forgiven with assuming I was celebrating the International Year of Everything is Poo (when as we all know it was the International Year of the Potato*), given my more-than-occasional rants against Republicans, Evangelical Christians, American hegemony, Apple, Irish Politicians, Journalists, Dublin Corporation, the Lisbon Treaty, the US electoral system, the Olympics, Economists, DHL, Emo, Web 2.0, Capitalism, Coca-Cola, the iPhone, United Fruit, bookshops, the budget, the economy and George Walker Bush. Very few posts could be summarised as, "Hey, X is amazing and I think Y is really good too".

My literary acquisitions for the year are similarly upbeat, with 86 books tagged as Politics, 28 Economics, 16 Religion, 16 as Ecology and only 30 tagged as Fiction. My mind has clearly been hurtling down a single track at break-neck speed, whistling cheerfully to drown out the cries of its terrified passengers. The more I read on particular subjects the more irate I get, and the more I realise I don't know, thus prompting further reading and increased ire. My online reading patterns are no different, and while working my way today through the narcissistic smugfest that is my morning coffee & RSS session, an article in the Guardian gave me pause.

At the end of the year Edge** asked a large number of scientists and other thinkers "What will change everything – What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?", and solicited answers ranging from increased use of solar power to manipulation of the human genome (nobody really going out on a limb there) to mind reading (Freeman Dyson happily occupying a whole branch of the tree by himself). I was struck by Brian Eno's*** response firstly because I would not have put him in the same category as Freeman Dyson, and secondly because he predicts the death of optimism (obviously not grasping the concept of a "scientific advance"):
Many of us grew up among the reverberations of the 1960s. At that time there was a feeling that the world could be a better place, and that our responsibility was to make it real by living it. But suppose the feeling changes: that people start to anticipate the future world not in that way but instead as something more closely resembling the nightmare of desperation, fear and suspicion. What happens then? Humans fragment into tighter, more selfish bands. Big institutions, because they operate on longer timescales and require structures of social trust, don't cohere. There isn't time for them. Global projects are abandoned – not enough trust to make them work. Resources that are already scarce will be rapidly exhausted as everybody tries to grab the last precious bits. Any kind of social or global mobility is seen as a threat and harshly resisted. Freeloaders and brigands and pirates and cheats will take control.
Cheery, especially for a man who just launched his own iPhone app, but it did get me thinking about my own negativity (not for the first time, of course, as I have been dwelling on my own overly-critical responses for some time, but given the day it is it seemed worth making some sort of effort beyond the usual, "hmn, I should try and be less grumpy in future" platitudes) and the effects my suspicious and deeply cynical world-view have been having on my own mental and physical well-being.

Thus I am drawing an end to my Winter of Discontent, and although no doubt things will continue to stoke the embers of my wrath, I will attempt to harness the energy for good, or at least channel it in a positive direction. As neither one man nor a single nation can have a monopoly on aspirational aphorisms, with a whiff of cheese stronger than the ripe-est Epoisses that the Very Understanding Girlfriend insists on leaving for weeks on end in our fridge, I declare 2009 to be my very own year of Hope and Change****.

How will this be manifested?

1) Making
Doing something creative and tangible each month. Writing, music, photography and violations of the laws of thermodynamics whilst creating a zero-point keytar are all acceptable, while of varying probabilities. Blogging is not.

2) Doing
Putting my knowledge and beliefs into practice. Last year was a year of thinking, but now its time to get off my backside and put some of my observations, realisations and conclusions to good use. Being a festering bag of wrath and ire is unproductive, sharing the fruits of that wrath and ire with others is productive.

3) Being
Focusing on what makes me happy, not obsessing on that which makes me unhappy. And I mean 'Happy" in the Bhutanese sense of the word, not the "sitting on a couch and watching six hours of BSG" sense of the word, though that does come a close second.

Pretty nebulous goals, not exactly measurable or quantifiable, but fluffy enough to be achievable. Who knows, I may even do up some pie charts.

Happy 2009 everyone!

* David Icke should not fear the UN. If this is the best the giant lizard people can come up with for an "International Year of", they are never going to get it together to implant us all with RFID tags, create a one world government, or eat us. Unless they are lulling us into a false sense of security, or fattening us up. Be very, very worried if they try and launch the "International Year of Force-Feeding Corn"

** The League of People Smarter Than You, not Bono's mate.

*** Bono's mate. He has a lot of friends. Money does that.

**** Hope and/or Change not guaranteed. Closed course, professional driver. Enjoy Hope responsibly.



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