Archive for June 2011
(Do be warned that this contains some violence out of nowhere, okay?)
Let me tell you, because you’re obviously just dying to know, about what a little asshole I was back in primary school.
It was the second half of the nineties, I must have been 11 or 12. After 1989, lots of foreign companies moved in to take advantage of the suddenly open markets of Central and Eastern Europe. I imagine it was quite an exciting time; the upper management were foreigners — many of them didn’t even speak Polish — but sufficiently ambitious and determined locals could rise quickly in the corporate hierarchy. My dad was pretty determined. A few years earlier he’d been a car mechanic, and after that a part-time English teacher. He did some petty smuggling too; cigarettes to Germany or Austria, as I recall. My mom sewed a bunch of Marlboro packs into his winter coat. It must have at least been enough to pay for the round trip, and I’m pretty sure they bought their first VCR soon after that.
Then he got a job as a low-level sales rep in a major tobacco company — I wonder if he ever paused to appreciate the coincidence — and all of a sudden he was Something or Other Manager and being offered a promotion to Something Else Manager. The latter, however, required his constant presence in the headquarters in Warsaw. So we moved. It was already a month or two into the school year, and the local public school was packed beyond capacity, so I ended up getting sent to a private one. We could afford it.
You know how you probably imagine private schools as being full of spoiled, overprivileged kids? You know, that stereotype you have that you realize can’t be completely true?
It was completely true.
Well, not all of them. But the spoiled rich ones more than made up for the sorta-average, friendly ones. The principal’s daughter was in my class, too — she probably wasn’t as completely horrible as I thought at the time, but she and her friends were damn near sacred, and made sure everyone knew it.
And even the sorta-average kids were doing all these things after school, like taking art classes or martial arts classes or riding horses. I’d only ever played football with the other kids from the block; sometimes I came over to their places, or invited them over, and we’d play some videogames on my 386 PC or their Amigas. The kids in Warsaw had Playstations.
So I was the new kid. I wore thick glasses; I quickly found out they were “mustard jar bottoms”. I didn’t have cool clothes. I’d never seen a shopping mall before. I’d never been on a vacation to Israel or the French Riviera. And I was fat, and not athletic at all, and really into Terry Pratchett.
You can probably imagine how it went down. After a few days of getting used to me, the others started giving me crap. Back at my old school, kids would taunt and insult each other all the time, sure, but… well, there were rules. Name-calling was fine, and a good enough riposte scored you some coolness points, but any sort of “your mom”/”your dad” quip was implicitly understood to be the gravest of dishonours. It was not used lightly, and when used, had to be avenged there and then.
I’m not sure if it was a class thing, or a regional thing, or what. But you just didn’t talk shit about someone’s parents.
So naturally, when one of the bratty alpha males of the class said something about my dad being a fag, I lunged at him. He was honestly more shocked than anything, which was probably how I avoided getting my ass handed to me. He just dodged and stared in disbelief. “What are you, some kinda psycho?”, he asked, laughing nervously.
Apparently the rules didn’t apply here.
I suppose it was bullying: hiding my backpack, having jolly chuckles at my expense, some shoving and tripping, that sort of thing. Kids are dicks all the time, but I don’t think I’d ever had anything like a coordinated campaign of dickery directed at me before. I didn’t know what to do.
And… you know how there’s always this one kid, hanging out with the bullies, trying to impress or amuse them so they don’t turn on him? Yeah, there was one in that class too. His name was Łukasz, I think. Kinda scrawny. Cute face. Didn’t look his age.
Two or three weeks in, we were sitting somewhere, before or after class, I’m not sure. He was behind me. Suddenly I feel this sharp pain in my back; I turn around and Łukasz is there, holding his pair of compasses, smiling his nine-year-old smile, glancing at the two worst assholes in the class for approval.
He just seemed so happy about it.
So I stand up and I sock him straight on the nose. He doesn’t dodge; he just clutches his face and whimpers. I notice a trickle of blood.
He never bothered me again, and the bullying let up after that. For the longest time I thought I must have broken his nose, but that’s not very likely. Probably just burst a blood vessel. But do you want to know the really bad part?
Every now and then after that, I’d make fun of Łukasz, or say something unjustifiably cruel about him, when I was sure the others were listening, just to reinforce the message. I’d figured out, instinctively, how the whole thing worked. There was a hierarchy, and I was making damn sure there was someone below me.
I never apologized to him properly, and I lost contact with all of the kids in that class when we moved again. It still bothers me. I didn’t become one of the bullies, and I didn’t torment him on a daily basis or anything, but I might as well have. I was a little asshole when I should have known better.
I recognized that whimper, after all. That time when I spilled tea on my keyboard, and my dad came over from the other room, and noticed it, and hit me on the face, I’d made the same one.
Today is a good day I think to engage in some extremely dubious psychologizing, make a few unsubstantiated conjectures and generally insult well-meaning people worldwide. I’m talking, as it happens, about Tibet and the freeing thereof.
What’s wrong with demanding autonomy for Tibet? Oh, nothing, nothing at all. But let me ask you: would you also describe yourself as a supporter of the IRA? Where do you stand on Basque autonomy? Will you agree that full and actual tribal sovereignty for Native Americans in the USA is an essential part of your worldview? Would you like to discuss for a while the matter of the Balkans, Taiwan or the rich history of separatisms in India (which a Wikipedia article, with inimitable condescension, calls “such ongoing agitations“?)
The point, I should hope, is clear enough. Struggles for national liberation will easily stir a liberal heart; national independence tends to be essential to the founding myths of liberalism (the Enlightenment one, not the US electoral politics one). But it necessarily follows that there can be no “proper” and “improper” demands for sovereignty; if one imaginary community called a “nation” has a right to self-determination within its borders, then all of them do.
(Tibet is instructive because the calls for its independence are often bound up with a romantic Western image of Buddhism as an exceptional, enlightened, even “scientific” religion; how one can hold that belief after reading the Bardo Thodol is beyond me. There are many Buddhisms, just as there are many Christianities, some of them philosophical and egalitarian, some mystical and quietist, some authoritarian and patriarchal, and I feel presumptuous even pointing that out, because how could anyone be unaware of it? But people are. They will spare no “exotic” culture in their search for authenticity and self-affirmation. But all this is largely beside the point.)
There are very good reasons to feel uncomfortable about nationhood and nationalism, and the point I’ve made above is definitely one of them. Imagine that there is a hypothetical, make-believe place we might call, oh, I don’t know, “Northern Ireland”. Two nation-states lay claim to that territory; its inhabitants are a mixed group, whose loyalties are determined by many complex factors — from family history to religion to socioeconomic class. One of the states has historically been the oppressor of the other, but that is not strictly true today, even though vestiges of that relationship remain.
What’s a common-sense moderate liberal to do? Throw up their hands, I suppose, and blame the conflict on “the way it’s always been” or “human idiocy” or “intractable tribal hatreds”. National liberation from foreign tyranny (or domestic rule by a privileged elite) is the stuff of glorious legend; competing nationalisms are barbaric. Unless, of course, one of them is the one you subscribe to.
This is sort of apropos the news I’ve been hearing of a new “flotilla” departing towards Gaza. (It’s funny how that word has become so specific during the past year. Flotilla, diminutive of flota — literally a “small fleet”. It conjures up the image of David standing up to Goliath, ironically enough; I don’t know whether that was deliberate, but it really should have been.) I am extremely worried about the whole affair, naturally; I’d like to think we can make the point without resorting to voluntary martyrdom, and if last year is anything to go by, that remains a distinct possibility. But then again, Palestinians have been dying, not as martyrs on camera, but as quite ordinary and unsung victims, for quite some years now, and nobody gives a shit. Maybe it really will take the deaths of a few more US and EU citizens to make everyone pay attention.
That’s a horribly cynical thing to say, and I wish it was unthinkable. But it’s not. There are people, whose lives are precious, and there are not-quite-people, who, uh, I guess they’re having a lot of babies and overpopulating our planet? Also, terrorism?
The thing about national liberation movements is that you have to support them — yes, you really do, you personally. That’s an order. But you have to support them on stronger grounds than those of nationalism. The right thing to do, as far as I can tell, is to invoke that boring, unfashionable old spectre: justice.
Justice doesn’t demand that we make a show of fairness or treating unequal parties equally. It doesn’t demand that we treat both the torturer and the victim with kindness. It only demands, to put it very bluntly, that each party get its due.
Assuming everyone is due, at minimum, respect and decent treatment, that’s a much higher standard than just whether someone is claiming nationhood. Would that we had international institutions willing and able to uphold such standards.
Oh, well. A dude can dream.
realism, noun. 1. The attitude or practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly. [...] 2. The quality or fact of representing a person or thing in a way that is accurate and true to life.
–The New Oxford Dictionary of English, second edition
Seeing things as they are — isn’t that a marvellous concept? I mean, honestly, who could be against that? Only the kind of starry-eyed dreamers who should not be allowed within a 20-mile radius of any serious decision. It’s high time to dispense with comforting lies and antiquated superstition; a clear-headed thinker in the 21st century understands that we must secure the existence of our people and a future for–
Laying claim to “realism”, as I’ve hopefully just demonstrated, is a powerful rhetorical strategy. If I’m being realistic, and accepting the world as it is, and you disagree with me, then you are being unrealistic, and quite possibly illogical, irrational or possessed by the demons of Ideology. It’s such an effective trick because we all care about what’s real, how the world works and how to make it better, for ourselves if not for others. The opposite of reality, after all, is “fantasy”, an unproductive and pointless waste of time, the domain of children, not serious adults. (You’d think I’d be tempted to make a quip here about how this happens to be absolutely true of fantasy fiction, but no. That would not only be insulting to children, but also wrong. Fantasy literature isn’t bad because it’s escapist; it’s bad because it has a socially regressive streak a mile wide.)
But beyond such trickery, is there anything more to “realism”? I’d say yes, and quite a bit, but to extract that meaning we’ll first need to look at some things that have taken to calling themselves “realist” in foreign policy theory, literature or legal theory.
Realist state relations theories differ on the particulars, but they typically share most of the following assumptions:
- The primary actors in international relations are sovereign states, not people, groups of people, companies or institutions.
- There is no meaningful authority above the state level; hence, the international system is often called “anarchic”.
- Material conditions are predictive and meaningful; culture and ideology are incidental.
- States are interested in self-preservation.
- A state’s internal workings are irrelevant and have no bearing on its behaviour on the international scene.
- The international system is amoral. Ethical considerations in foreign relations can only obscure practical realities, often leading to far worse outcomes than if the state had pursued solely its own interest.
- The closest thing to a guarantee of self-preservation is attaining the greatest relative power in the international system.
- Hence, states are in constant competition for power and resources.
The European antecedents of modern realism, tellingly enough, are Thucydides, Machiavelli and Hobbes, and some realists do indeed hold that the above assumptions are true because of human nature, which is inherently self-centered and power-seeking. Others make no such claims, but instead maintain that the structure of the international system itself forces states to behave in a self-interested manner or be annihilated. (I would argue that the latter position is actually less coherent; it accepts the former’s conclusions more or less wholesale while erasing a central, if distasteful, premise.)
Basically, realism in foreign policy is a sort of institutionalized paranoia. “There are assholes in your neighbourhood out to get you”, it says. “They can smell the slightest sign of weakness. It stands to reason you’ve got to be the biggest asshole around.” “What if there aren’t actually any assholes?” is not considered a serious question.
There is a great deal to be said about the impact of realism on international relations, and in particular about whether it’s as thoroughly corrupt and contemptible as critics would make it out to be. (Short version: I’m not completely convinced that it is; I have a much bigger problem with liberal approaches, which purport to stress cooperation, absolute gains and peaceful coexistence, but apparently don’t prevent you from supporting military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.)
Let’s stick to the simple stuff, though: realism may be ruthless, bloodthirsty or responsible for Kissinger, but what it isn’t is realistic. It may very well be true that Weimar Germany would have behaved in an identical way as Nazi Germany had the NSDAP not risen to power, but that sort of claim requires at least a bit of proof; instead, realism would have us accept this as self-evident.
Legal realism, an early 20th century current of legal thought which I am almost completely unfamiliar with, was a sort of a stab at a sociology of law, before European eggheads with names like Adorno or Foucault made this kind of analysis fashionable. (Actually that’s a misrepresentation; as I gather, legal realism gave a lot of weight to considerations of individual psychology as well.)
The whole point of this particular “realism” is that “the law” is not what the legislator creates, but what judges and legal practitioners do, and as such is open to a vast range of influences: political, economic, personal, historical, whether the courtroom walls are yellow or beige, etc.
This happens to be how I think about the law as well, so I could get behind this sort of realism. Note however the tremendous difference between this realism and the previous one; while they both claim to represent “reality as it is”, they share basically no other characteristics. (Or almost none; bear with me here.) I also get the feeling that certain people who are very much in favour of the international relations one would sneer at the legal one, possibly by invoking some malign hobgoblin of “judicial activism”.
Literary realism, and Realism in the arts in general, was a 19th century trend that arose in response to the predominance of Romanticism, with its subjectivity, sentimentalism and flights of fancy. Ask a literature nerd to provide examples of realist writers, and they’ll probably say Balzac, Flaubert, Eliot, Chekhov or Tolstoy, or maybe Zola, Dostoyevsky, James, Dickens or Crane. If there’s a second literature nerd within earshot, a debate is likely to erupt: surely I didn’t just hear you say Dickens? All he wrote was a load of sentimental drivel!
This debate, of course, would be a result of people taking the realism of Realism at face value. Dickens relies on implausible coincidences and innocent starving children overdrawn to the point of hilarity — not a realist. Crane and Zola were doing “naturalism”, which is more gritty and about poor people — not realists. Dostoyevsky is metaphysical, religious and symbolist — not a realist. And so on.
Critical careers have been made on demonstrating how realist fiction wasn’t actually about truth to life at all, or rather, how it defined, not described, “real life”; how it had an implicit class allegiance; how it relentlessly reinforced patriarchy; how it was haunted by the age of European colonialism. It would be fairly pointless and extremely boring to recapitulate all of those arguments here, but if you ever have a spare month or two in your life, get yourself a copy of George Eliot’s Middlemarch and read it carefully, paying special attention to how it depicts both the old landed gentry and the new bourgeoisie. It’s fascinating stuff.
Bottom line: realist fiction has never been any more “real” than To the Lighthouse. Surely a significant proportion of readers would more easily relate to that meandering and melancholy stream of consciousness than to the fate of le père Goriot.
Where am I going with all this?
First of all, back to my initial thesis: whenever “realism” is invoked, it has very little to do with verisimilitude, and a great deal to do with portraying one’s own beliefs and perceptions as objective truth. This needs to be repeated, and repeated a lot.
Second, have you noticed the common theme? All realisms seem to be based upon some sort of claim about human nature: either that it’s selfish, that it’s kinda-sorta complicated, or that it’s defined as “the way people act in realist novels”. I’m willing to bet that other common uses of “realism” would share this theme. (I’ve encountered people calling themselves “race realists”, for instance, which basically means “white supremacist but not willing to admit it” — and racism is, after all, a set of beliefs about the inherent inequality of various kinds of human natures.)
There is a certain seductive quality about human nature claims, isn’t there? A responsible skeptic will probably reject all but the most cautious and demonstrably true ones — like “most people are prone to very basic logical fallacies in experimental settings”; almost anything broader than that is easily falsified through counterexamples, which the variety of human experience provides in abundance.
And yet we are drawn to such generalisations. Sometimes we will say that this or that glaring injustice had “made us lose hope in humanity”, or that some act of goodness had restored that hope. The preamble to the US Declaration of Independence still resonates powerfully with many of us, even despite the overt sexism and the erasure of the facts of slavery. Some of us even watch Doctor Who.
So if you take one thing away from this post, make it this: a system of beliefs is well-served by having its own narrative of human nature. Even if that narrative isn’t, to put it strictly, true.
“But do you have such a narrative, know-it-all Internet person?”, I hear you ask. “You keep exhorting us to analyze this and that, to argue in such and such a way, to tell others and ourselves this or that story, but you never give any specifics. What’s your story about human nature, then?”
Well, it’s kind of complicated, but… have you read Antigone?
With that bit of self-indulgence being out of the way, let’s get right back to my preferred subject: words and how they mean things. (I would love nothing more than to do some posts about economics or international relations for a change, but on these matters, I am eternally aware of my ignorance.)
By now, it’s become a truism that terminology recapitulates ideology. The term “pro-life” is perhaps the most stark illustration of this: it implies an entire host of other terms (“unborn babies”, “personal responsibility”, etc.) that together constitute an ideological argument about reproductive rights, while dividing the world into battling pro- and anti-life camps.
(Nobody, to my knowledge, has yet set out to reclaim “anti-life”. I’d guess this is because the flipside of “pro-life” is hardly ever used explicitly — the preferred invective, as I understand, is something more like “baby-killer” — but it does raise the interesting question of whether a word or phrase can be so vile and harmful as to be beyond reclamation, and whether this might constitute a challenge to the very practice of reclaiming language. But I digress atrociously.)
Comparatively little attention, however, has been given to how terminology acts as a means of group recognition and cohesion. (Bear in mind that I’m pulling this out of my ass almost entirely; I haven’t the foggiest idea about the current state of sociolinguistic research on the subject. But that’s okay, because I’m not talking about the “attention” of trained and certified linguists, but the “attention” of people like you and me — presumably one of the five people who have ever read this blog, left-leaning and concerned about things like cultural hegemony, public discourse, blah blah blah.)
I think there’s some extremely slipshod analysis circulating about this issue. Everyone following US politics knows what a “dog whistle” is (although the term itself is not of American origin), but the specifics are unclear. Dog-whistling is a thing that Republicans do, to communicate certain ideas to The Racists, and it is bad because both Republicans and The Racists are Evil People, and also it is Dishonest and has no place in a Sane and Rational Debate. That’s about it.
Let’s try to demystify this particular function of language a bit. Have a look at this:
None of the objects set forth in any sub-clause of this Clause shall be restrictively construed but the widest interpretation shall be given to each such object, and none of such objects shall, except where the context expressly so requires, be in any way limited or restricted by reference to or inference from any other object or objects set forth in such sub-clause, or by reference to or inference from the terms of any other sub-clause of this Clause, or by reference to or inference from the name of the Company.
Most likely, just before your eyes glazed over and you skipped to the next paragraph, you’d have recognized that the passage was an excerpt from some sort of legal document (a Memorandum of Association of a UK company under the 1985 Companies Act, if you really must know).
The first and most apparent function of this language is prescriptive: “you shall read the rest of this document only in the manner specified here”. A lawyer would also insist that the use of words here is precise, to avoid misinterpretation and account for all eventualities. (That’s a word lawyers use, right?) To us non-lawyers, however, it’s likely that the language will actually seem deliberately unclear and removed from everyday speech. If someone asked me to write the same thing, I’d try to break it up into several shorter sentences, try to rephrase the clumsily redundant “reference and inference”, provide examples of a “proper” and “improper” reading, etc. I’m guessing that my version would still be theoretically admissible as a document, but it wouldn’t be seen as a proper and authoritative “legal text”.
So: the quoted sentence is “clear” and “precise”, but only if you’ve received extensive (and expensive) training in the appropriate lawyerly lingo; otherwise, it’s a chore to comprehend. In practice, the jargon separates readers into lawyers and non-lawyers.
I’m not claiming that all uses of such language are deliberately exclusionary, elitist or a conspiracy against the public. It’s all but inevitable that any given group of people — be it lawyers, lifelong friends or enthusiasts of anthropomorphic cartoon hedgehog sex — will develop an idiosyncratic dialect to reflect their shared knowledge and experiences. But here’s the thing: each of these groups will occupy a certain social position and enter into certain relations with other groups; therefore, some of these dialects (“sociolects“, if you insist) will reflect on their speakers in a certain way, making them appear more or less prestigious, “scientific” or “down-to-earth” or “uneducated” or “well-read” or “cosmopolitan” or “commanding” or what have you. Often a sociolect will also restrict access to a particular field of knowledge: good luck getting through a paper on computer graphics without knowing the meaning of “vertex”, “tessellation” and “ambient occlusion”.
(I hope I’m not belaboring the obvious here. So far this all seems like common sense to me, but I know better than to trust that term.)
What I’m getting at is… well, a number of things.
First, we all have our dog whistles: mine, for instance, include “policy expert” (“kept intellectual”), “subversive” (“laboriously edgy”) and “gamer” (“misogynist”).
Consequently, we really need to start thinking about how the language we use serves as a means of group demarcation, rather than communication. I’m not saying “start avoiding group demarcation”, because that’s imposible; I have observed, however, that we can be very vigilant about other people doing this, while completely failing to notice when we do it ourselves. We see how “socialist” is being used to refer not to any specific political or economic project, but to this or that group of people who are Not Real Americans, but our own absurdly inaccurate usage of “market fundamentalist” to denote everyone from Adam Smith to Murray Rothbard rarely raises eyebrows.
There’s also that old favorite, “revolutionary”. Why anyone would bother with it in the year 2011 is beyond me, but it’s not difficult to find people who still imbue the word with the highest positive value. Things that have been called “revolutionary” at some point include Castro’s coup, the Atkins diet, the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election, the Kindle and David Cameron. (Unkind things could also be said about some emerging uses of “privilege”, but let’s leave that one for another time. The list, at any rate, goes on.)
It will hopefully not be too startling a proposition that nobody owns a word. Yes, sometimes language emerges from a very specific social or historical context, and yes, sometimes it can be strongly associated with a particular group, but to insist that this group is the sole keeper of the word’s “true meaning” is ridiculous. If “revolutionary” has lost its punch, the sensible response is not to tighten our ranks and guard ever more closely against blasphemers, but to adapt. When Joyce wrote about early 20th century Dublin, the result was not Don Quixote II: Adventures in Ireland, but Ulysses; and yet we recognize it as belonging to the tradition of the novel, albeit in a way specific to its time and subject matter.
Again, I’m not opposed to language as group recognition. My point is that we must see it when it happens, and be deliberate about it. All too often people will start talking past each other because they’ve suddenly stopped exchanging ideas and begun declaring allegiance; the conversation dies off, and both parties retire to their respective ideological camps, where they are both reassured of their correctness and victory in the debate.
Ages and ages ago, I wrote that Ben Franklin post, where I tried to show how we might move past this sort of non-communication and factionalism by engaging with the other side’s language and attempting to repurpose it to our needs. Liberty? Sure, let’s talk about positive liberties. Excessive taxation? Let’s make up an argument about how inadequate public transport is a tax against people who can’t buy a car.
They’re doing this already. What the hell else do you think “Big Society” is about? Or “promoting democracy in the Middle East”? It’s pointless to complain about how they took “our” words and dishonestly used them against us; we should be doing the same.
By all means, keep saying “revolutionary”, but recognize that although it might stir in you the noblest feelings and hopes, and your good friends might understand perfectly what you mean, that bystander listening to you is thinking you sound like an ad for a dishwasher.
I’m not actually dead, alas. Guilt at neglecting this blog has been gnawing at me recently, but guilt is a piss-poor substitute for having something to say.
Anyway. I went to a club some time ago. It’s a thing I do more or less once a year, spurred by some nameless impulse. What I tell my friends is that I’m a dispassionate observer, chronicling these absurd rituals people around my age engage in. What I tell myself is that I might meet an actual person there, a real corporeal person I could maybe talk to about inconsequential things like old cartoons and the price of cigarettes, but I approach no one, and no one approaches me. I drink. Sometimes I dance — I don’t think I’m very good at it, despite having been told otherwise, and at any rate, it feels like I’m missing some important part of the activity. (Why would a person go out there and dance alone, anyway? But I do.) Then I drink more, and then I leave.
Sometimes it seems to me like these outings might be a way to recapture something that can charitably be called “innocence”, and accurately “thorough and irredeemable idiocy”, a certain stage of development that I feel like I skipped. When my university friends were wondering where tonight’s party would be at, I was reading non-required course materials; when they were having no-strings flings, I was changing my phone number every two weeks, terrified that my parents would find me and my then-girlfriend and make good on one of their more colorful threats; when they were planning their summer vacations, I was dropping out, unable to handle regular human contact anymore.
So I guess I feel like I got cheated out of some carefree early-twenties middle-class experience. But now there’s no going back to a life where dancing in a badly lit basement is a comprehensible activity. Not when you know that people die every day of trivially preventable causes.
Possibly this sounds melodramatic and overwrought; if so, I suppose I’m an overwrought person.
As I was sitting in that club, or maybe standing — well, as I was drinking there, I was startled by a sudden hiss, and noticed at once that smoke had begun billowing onto the dance floor. It’s a thing that happens in those places, a sort of tradition, and no one pays it much mind. But as I registered that hiss and those clouds of smoke, descending upon the writhing human mass, the only thing I could think of was–
“GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–”
So I got the hell out of there.
I’m not rejecting the possibility that, unconsciously, I want to see those good-looking, happy, well-off young people fall to the floor, struggling desperately for one last breath, just before I go down to join them, guttering, choking, drowning. I don’t really think that’s it, though.