Hell Is Other People


Just what the f**k is it with people? Tell me how it is that those who purport to be our friends, our Romans, our Countryfolk, those who appear oh-so well-adjusted and oh-so perfectly civil at the point of first contact, turn out in point of fact to be savage head hunters? Disguised in loin cloths or Laura Ashley cardigans it matters not a stitch, give ’em six months of protracted exposure in your company and sure as eggs are eggs they’ll be using any old pretext to either disseminate ill-founded rumours about you or else delight in launching sneaky broadsides from their good ship HMS Holier-Than-Thou, sending shrapnel through your integrity on the port side of you, as well as splintering the carefully-constructed personality nailed into your starboard side, just for good measure. O Lord! We do love a good drama now, don’t we?

Post-civilisation is pre-civilisation in reversal. At least Amazonian hunter-gatherers got their priorities spot on. They’ll have a pop at you on that first, potentially fateful, encounter through a confusion of leaves, vines, and otherworldly distrust. If you, l’etranger, manage to avoid being speared and beheaded at first contact, chances are that you will be welcomed into a community of fair and simple-minded souls where bitching, backbiting, mood swings, personal attrition and office politics don’t really play an integral part. You are one of us now, white man. Next comes the initiation process: bone-through-the-nipple christening ceremony, and all for a shot at being the man called Horse. Or the old Inuit one-two: first they get you inebriated on the -80 proof air, then before you know it you’re cuckolding the Lord of the Igloo by hopping under the reindeer skins with his favourite wife. Once in, always in. A plain, uncluttered relationship evolves thus. But the here and the now – the modern world of the shirt&tie&cloak&dagger – is neither high Arctic nomadism nor a Sioux nation that has been suffering an irreversible stock crash since the Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890.

One of life’s great travesties? How indigenous peoples the world over, existing for millennia in natural harmony off what Gaia provided, ended up on the brink of extinction when it was their modus vivendi that was the one built on a sound footing. They held it together; we’re tearing it apart. We’re raping it; they have favoured marrying into it. They’re going with the flow; we’re diverting it for hydroelectric power to burn more office lights in order to cast the light of aspersion on some other poor sucker’s life under the glare of modernity and its associative neuroses. They fire first and fuss later; we flatter then proceed to f*&k over. For the fortunate survivor, acceptance into the tribe would entail a social nexus that one can imagine with ease was relatively free of neurotic, shit-stirring, gossip-mongering, hormone-driven, interfering busybodies who claim they have your best interests at stake. Sure, there can be nothing more intrusive than tribalism – fifty families to one Batak longhouse, waking up with a different group member’s arm stuffed in your mouth each morning – but that pales in comparison to the kind of emotional oscillations one encounters in the large-scale organs of the modern society, where we all labour under drop ceilings and strip lighting to keep the body bureaucratic from going cold and stiff.

Nothing dilates the postmodern pupil more than the sound of intrigue. Why does he spend such time alone? What i would give to know what she gets up to outside the office? There’s only one reason i can think that he’d go so long without a girlfriend. Know what I mean? So-and-so reckons that you and you-know-who had a kind of ding-dong the other day? I’m not prying or anything. It’s just….It is just that our alienation with empty consumerism has plumbed such lows that we’ve got nothing better to talk about. Come on, can you all not just f*&k off and leave me to wallow in my own misery, my royal aloofness?  For when you apply a bit of reasoning to the whole damn conundrum of how hurt people hurt people, there’s not other conclusion than…

…L’enfers c’est les autres. Hell is the others. Merci pour tout cela, M. Sartre. Welcome to a hell made from other people. Welcome to the world of the shared profession. Welcome to the unstable elements against which we measure our self-worth (in the most fleeting and myopic of senses because people constantly come and go from our hopscotch modern lives anyway). Do we really need to first know what they think of us before we can determine what we know about ourselves? Can we implicitly trust them to set our self-image at the temperature they see fit to set? Without constancy in their knowledge and awareness of us, can we depend on them to fix the quantity and quality of what we feel and think our ourselves? Which brings us back to the original contention: namely, all but the best of our friends and lovers are intrinsic flakes, emotional shapeshifters of varying magnitude. Les autres think they know us better than we know ourselves. Who are les autres to bung our self-worth in a Queen Anne vase then bid for it? Les autres who think they can detach themselves by attaching themselves to your supposed dead spots more firmly than a frigging hagfish on a whale carcass. If les autres cannot practice constancy, if les autres cannot keep a straight opinion of us, how in Allah’s name are we to strive for a balanced view of ourselves, far less anyone else?

In the workplace, first they came for the coffee wallah, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a coffee wallah. And then they came for the taxi driver (who drove them in), and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a taxi driver. And then they came for that fella sitting four cubicles away next to the photocopier, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a photocopier. And then they came for me, which is why I’m finally speaking up.



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