We live in a culture of like. Like my blog; like this picture, like liking. The polite west has always been like that a little. So middle class, really. No politics, no religion, no sex, it’s not polite. Tough luck if you object, disagree, put up with it. I used to think it was a Canadian thing – oh, so cautious but, really, none of us like disagreeable things or people.
Strong opinions must be argued with or dismissed. Unpleasant images cause us to look away (or stare in sick fascination – we are an inconsistent animal). We all want to think we are nice people. Even the vilest scumbag will be offended if you tell them they are not ‘nice.’ In our own minds we are doing the right thing, thinking the right thoughts, feeling the right emotions. We are nice and we deserve to be liked.
Saw a play last night, called Muswell Hill. It had six characters, all of them self-absorbed narcissists moaning about their mortgages, their problems at work, their fucked-up relationships, the sad fact they might be ordinary while they drank wine – copious amounts – and ate prawns and monkfish stew in a lovely London flat. The background chatter was about the 2010 earthquake in Haiti – terrible thing really, all those people dead, always happens to the poor.
The only relief was the tremendous outrage of one character – convinced of the utter injustice of the world and of the culpability of the system and the people who run it for these terrible continuous oppressions. The others found him not nice. ‘Obama seems a decent chap’ was the depth of their analysis. Even Simon had to dismiss his own anger as a kind of mental illness, a result of a peculiar personality and too much drink.
These were not nice people, certainly not likeable – at intermission we bemoaned the fact we didn’t like any of them and went back for the second act ‘because we had no better place to go.’ Yet, in the end they were interesting people – they were able to change just a little, to discover something new about themselves or the world. Or at least two of them did; the other four fell back into the same old sad patterns, weeping for their own petty losses while listening to the news of 100,000 dead.
The other two moved on a little, learned that outrage and loneliness are two sides of the same coin, that the world doesn’t care for our sadness but maybe, if we try, we can care about its.
And that’s ten minutes.