If it wasn’t so alarming it would be comical. In the already emerged nations, warning bells on newsdesks everywhere chime with the moral mood of the beleaguered middle-classes. Western media outlets thrash out their tune off-key – from revelations involving a dragnet of massive wealth mismanagement in tiny Panama, to other anonymous offshore havens offering divine return for an extremely homicidal form of investment (read DAESH). The age of oil is ending and the age of roil well underway. Climate changes on two fronts, and I don’t mean the Al Nusra front, which is changing relatively little of Syria’s misfortunes.
As well as coral shoals being so offended by the state of tropical brine that entire ecosystems have been spitting out en masse the algae that gives them vividness and life and us a reason to spend heavily obtaining our PADIs, the climate of post war peace and prosperity is being blown out by a climate of fear, suspicion and sanctimony. Porn lovers of the world unite in condemning the moral turpitude that tax dodgers have fallen into, realising little that both camps get a kick out of stashing things in holes that nature told them they shouldn’t really be. The man next door, the one you never see or bother talking to anymore, wears a surgical gown of blamelessness while you die of terminal consumption. Yet he is the one with the IKEA boxes stashed behind the shed. Greed is a dirty word, oft mentioned with a contemptuous roll of the R these days, yet with everyone’s hands caked with contaminated soil no one knows what clean is anymore. The world is a basketcase, so let’s fill it while we can, down hypermarket aisles that are somehow magically restocked for unquestioning customers who haven’t the faintest idea how the global supply chain works. Never has a system operated so seamlessly as to make its eventual collapse feel both so catastrophic and inevitable, as if every single living soul is experiencing this mass Cassandra Complex that we see disaster in the offing yet no one is empowered to prevent it.
As for politics – the travelling tedium circus of the 21st century – never have the lion tamers put in such a lame performance. The big cats were declawed into indifference a long time ago, and the bullwhip held in complex derivatives that no one but the alchemists in pinstripe shirts and share options can fathom. Man, even The Simpsons saw it coming sixteen years ago in a episode where President Donald’s incumbency epitomises an America that has gone from Stonewall but democratic to completely off the wall and autocratic. King George W. might have been dangerous but he wasn’t mad and dangerous, which never stopped The Simpsons’ creators from pillorying him anyway as a feckless moron.
But the icing on the cake, or in the parlay of les Français, la cerise sur la gateaux, as if either icing or cherries is going to save our lazy, lardy arses, has to be the existential threat to the EU. Tell me, where did we go from simple resuscitation to declaring the body politic dead on arrival? All we had to do was shift a bit of weight, cut down the cholestoral and relieve high blood pressure. So where does amputation come into it? Risking life and limb so that we can either drift off into mid-Atlantic isolation or descend into cross-border bickering, eventuating in open conflict? Little Napoleons everywhere, you have been mobilised. Little Francos, Hitlers, and Mussolinis, too.
Therefore, in spite of this litany of woe, it comes as some surprise that there is still good in this world; that yes, you may absolutely ignore the cynical broadsides firing grapeshot and splintering wood into the poor iPhone where your heart used to be. There is, contrary to popular belief, hope for us all yet. Well, those of us not implicated in either the Panama papers or a paedophile ring, anyway.
Here’s why there is hope: despair, hopelessness and revulsion bask in the media limelight, but that light is trained only on a small, concentrated area. Little, cumulative acts of good occupy everywhere which is not the headline-grabbing limelight, in effect an immense area. Hands down, the digital mediascape likes its monuments big and ugly. But that is not the half of it. There’s beauty in the detail. Lifetimes worth of the stuff.
Not only are there infinitely more instances of virtue than vice prevalent on Earth every minute of every day, each act is more than a mere instance. Taken individually, acts of good matter. Taken together, they matter more. Still, the small, consequential things do not earn ratings or sales. It’s the paradox of good people doing malicious things or shady individuals seeing the light that makes the narrative a narrative worth hounding after. The media has gone into hyper-drive concocting a campaign of fear and paranoia, feeding our anguish and our loneliness. But it’s no more than stay-at-homers deserve.
Virtue exists as the least visible of visible acts. Never mind God as the big man, if it is to be found anywhere then the metaphysical must live in the smallest, indivisible quanta. Ubiquitous in the dark shadow, that cognizant force/energy that buzzes everywhere never misses a trick in spite of its diminutive size.
Case in point: a man listens to his conscience. It tells him,
‘You need to give something back for all the good fortune life throws your way.’
Prone to talking to himself, he replies,
‘That’s a fair kop, God of conscience.’
Knowing deep in himself while God (if anything) is pure energy and energy cares not for morality, there is nevertheless something akin to a cosmic ledger that requires balancing. Dutifully he succumbs to altruism, rises from his lazy arse, fills his bag with food and water, opens his gilded cage and prowls out into the night. Finding himself at the usual spot, that pile of rubble behind the local supermarket, the object(s) of his altruism is/are strangely absent tonight.
He waits, cupping an ear to the inevitable clarion of night which will guide his way to stilling the clamour of his conscience. Hearing it, he walks over to find a small stray puppy emerge from under the perimeter fencing of a nearby building site. Beside itself with joy, evinced in both the excited slinking of its not too emaciated body and its tendency of entangling moving legs by darting in and out with its jig of expectation, the man walks it back to the plastic dishes he has laid down. Two security men look on with mild interest. In the semi-darkness he does not know if theirs is a look of scorn, pity or admiration. Experienced by now in such matters, he adjudges indifference to be the mood that sets their countenance.
A minute later he sits contentedly looking on as the ten week-old stray, born in a pipe that is now built into the new complex of apartments across the road, wolfs back tender chunks of meat and laps clean, clear water. From nowhere a car approaches and slows to a stop. A window rolls down to reveal the glint of blackness on the face of the driver. Half-expecting to be met with the puzzlement of a white leper dying in a Calcutta colony, the man quickly loses interest in the car, in whose presence he feels a bearing down, but not necessarily a good one. Casting his eyes up again, the glint of streetlamp that catches the black visage catches more the white of a smile creeping across the driver’s face.
The man can see that the driver is most happy at the scene before him. Perhaps, though, it is surprise at seeing this act here in this place that provokes the driver’s interest more.
‘This is a very kind thing you are doing,’ he says to the man.
Bashful, the man smiles and shrugs.
‘What is your good name?’ he continues.
‘And where are you from?’
‘But where in Britain?’
The man replies he is from Scotland originally.
So the man tells him.
‘Edinburgh? I too was born there,’ says the black man whose accent is a amalgam of Africa, America and somewhere yet to be discovered.
Slightly startled by this, the man in turn poses the question.
‘What is your name?’
The black man replies warmly, but the name is too indecipherable to make out in full, other than that he is a Dr. and the last two syllables are Y-Z.
‘Did your father study in Edinburgh?’
The driver replies that his father was a South African diplomat, that the diplomatic life followed him into later life, as he now works for the US department of State, coming home this way but seldom on his long way back from his job in Abu Dhabi.
The man and the driver exchange dialogue for some minutes before the driver reiterates his reason for stopping in the first place.
‘I knew you couldn’t be local. They wouldn’t do this for a dog, least of all those on the street. This is a wonderful thing you do.’
The man ponders a minute before answering.
‘We all need to give something back in life, even if it doesn’t amount to much.’
Nodding effusively, the South African son of a diplomat answers,
‘Oh, but it does. It means the world to that little dog. And to me.’
‘May God be with you,’ he says as he drives off into the night. As the black driver appeared from nowhere, the man notices that he too has disappeared into nowhere.
The man looks around, seeing that the dog has gone, presumably to sleep off his dinner. On his way back to his hotel across a busy highway, the man wonders if traffic lights can feel and judge. He decides that if the lights turn red for traffic just as he is crossing then yes, they too would approve of virtue in the smallest of things.