Kintsugi is an art form whereby broken pottery is restored in a way that emphasises the repaired damage with a gold, silver or platinum finish applied to the sap adhesive used to fix and fill the cracks. The resulting piece is often considered to have been made more beautiful by this ancient art.
I wonder if there’s enough precious metal and resin in existence to repair the broken society revealed by SARS-CoV-2. (Then again, I had thought it beyond any hope of beautification, but seeing communities working together within themselves, rediscovering barter and communal support amongst many other things, forced me to reconsider that aspect.)
The monumental pause applied to the frantic pace of modern living has brought many to a crisis of truth – or denial. I have friends who have rediscovered baking, arts, crafts, and gardening. Several have realised improvements in their mental health just by having to slow down.
Others are becoming desperate as the hectic world that allowed them to avoid confronting the flaws in their lives has been placed on hold. This hiatus highlights where they settled for what they could get or made the easy choice, instead of undertaking the difficult journey to discover what they needed, then setting out to find that. In these suddenly quiet days, too many are coming to understand that ‘happy’ and ‘content’ are – sadly – not necessarily to be found at home.
Adding insult to injury, the barrage of dire headlines and the death-a-minute fascination of the media has frequently undone any good that might have been realised. Competing opinions, raw controversy, manufactured goads: it’s difficult to derive actual truths from the plethora of information that threatens to overwhelm everything we cherish, uncaring of whether it be truth or comforting delusion.
People I thought to be unshakable have been driven to take timeouts from social media or even media intake in general. People I thought decent have revealed how shallow they really are. I know of friends attacked as they try to do their job because of conspiracy theories spread by the ignorant and malicious on behalf of fanatical originators (with and without ulterior agenda).
Indeed, ‘fanaticism’ has become more prevalent. Desperate people, suddenly bereft of comfort, latching on to anything that gives a glimmer of hope – frequently being duped by the cheap tactic of being offered someone or something to blame for the lifestyle-swallowing instability that many have never encountered before. (The poorer amongst our societies have lived with facets of this gross instability for a long while. In this time of shortage and propaganda, even their resilience is being tested by the venal flailings of those possessed of wealth but mean of soul.)
Many years ago, I read an article that left a five-word truism with me: Nazism needs something to hate. A simple sentence that contains an observation that has haunted me ever since.
In times of trouble, having things to hate allows the ravages of fear to be alleviated by giving them a quantifiable manifestation. It makes people feel better having something to blame, and, by derivation, something to fight against, with the concomitant feeling that their fighting can make the scary thing go away.
Repressive regimes thrive on people’s need for purpose, for comfort. Once power is attained, they transition from being saviour to being a(nother) source of fear, while appearing to restore and maintain the status quo the people fought for (with a few limitations to ensure everybody’s safety and security, of course).
That need for comfort, for stability, for unchanging times of freedom from fears both small and large is graven into the inmates of this increasingly fractured civilisation like some self-repressive limiter. As long as we perceive ourselves as ‘alright’, or, at the least, are not forced to see/confront the crimes committed to maintain our idylls, we will tolerate all manner of charlatans who purport to have our best interests at heart. We will even defend those same fools with a fervour that goes beyond cognitive dissonance into outright mass delusion. When the liars have supportive media outlets, even our perceptions of what is ‘alright’ and what is unacceptable can be changed. The only variable is how long it takes.
I am, to some degree, a nihilist. I am also a believer in the incongruous beauty humans can manifest, even in the face of overwhelming horror. Even so, and striving for optimism, the best I can pick from recent events is this:
For all our advances, we are still brutes huddled in tribal groups about the comforting fires of the subjective truths each tribe holds sacred. We are gazing out at the night beyond the fires – filled with all that we consider unknown, opposed, unknowable, or evil. We do so with varying degrees of abject terror, visible or otherwise, whether we admit to it or not, regardless of if we acknowledge or conceal it. We might even be able to see other fires, out there in the night, but only a few ever try to reach them. The stories they bring back we treat with suspicion, for who can trust someone who has willingly left our sacred fire?
To keep the fires burning, we throw books into them. Books by those not of our tribe. Books that challenge our sacred views. Books we have been told are not to be read. Those books might contain the information we need, if we but read them; the methods to take our fires and turn them into torches to light our way to a better future.
We will remain huddled about our fires until we admit that while others might hold views that differ from ours, we can still peacefully work with them to improve the lot of all.
Here, with more of less to go round and luxuries – like leisure time – only for the few, is where I expect we will stay until this civilisation withers and dies. The efforts of those who seek to unite will be outweighed by the fear of those who cling to comfort (except for a brief ineffective spasm, fuelled by desperation, when the end of us becomes too obvious to ignore – or offset).
What emerges from the true ‘dark age’ that approaches will hopefully, eventually, make art.
I think it is unlikely to be human as we reckon it.
And that is a good thing.