Outrage

‘Stupidity’, Sedartis thunders, ‘is the enemy. Stupidity is the outrage: the crime!’ Here is that word again. ‘Perpetrated not by the stupid, they may never have learnt – never have had a chance to learn – to be less so; no, it’s the chief crime of your society: as long as you allow stupidity not just to exist, but to flourish in your midst, as long as you cultivate, nurture, elevate and celebrate it, you deserve everything you get.’

I feel chastened, although I have no answer. Sedartis does not expect me to: ‘You talk about inequality. You talk about democracy and a fairer society. And yet you blind yourselves to the evil that trumps all: you lull your masses into stupidity and then keep them there. Because you’re selfish, egotistical, greedy and lazy, you “give the people what they want,” which you keep telling them is soft porn mush and their own supposed “reality.” You invite them to be abysmally stupid on your television shows and think you’re doing them a favour because they recognise themselves: you make stupidity the norm, and condemn aspiration to an intellect as a pretentious frivolity. You dismiss intellect itself as an irrelevance, knowing full well that without intellect you wouldn’t be here where you are, in your privileged position. You keep your people stupid because that’s how you keep yourselves aloft and rich; you fear them and you dread what they should do if they ever they latched on to how they were enslaved by you.’

I sense a pause. It doesn’t last. ‘You feed them what they already know and shore up their prejudices, you belittle intelligence as “too clever by half” and smirk at anyone who thinks in public. (How can you even hold on to an expression like that?) How can you have built a civilisation in which not only one percent own more than half of all material wealth, but another one percent at most are schooled in handling knowledge, when you know that knowledge is power.’

Is knowledge power, still? ‘Thinking,’ he thinks at me, ‘is an exertion, yes. That does not absolve us from it. So is walking, yet walk we must, otherwise we grow fat, stale and lethargic. Flossing is a pain, but we do it, even if reluctantly, to hold on to our gums. Life is not convenient, no matter how successful we are at making it so. So even if it hurts: use your brain. It will shrivel, shrink and stink if you don’t.’

I can tell how angry he is. ‘I am not angry, my friend,’ Sedartis hears me well before I speak, ‘I am outraged. I am outraged at the stupidity you allow on this planet. At the casual simplicity you cast over everything, and make do. At the quick quote, soundbite approach you have taken to politics. The commercial current that runs through your culture. The inoffensiveness of your art. The soft sell in your science. You constantly ask: what is the story, what is the narrative. Because you are too lazy to connect the dots for yourselves. You open your mouths, crying, “feed me!” You’ve regressed into infancy, and you wallow in your own incapacity. You suckle the nipple of light entertainment, and if you do wean yourselves off it, you go on to sugary bottled “fun,” and then you wonder why your teeth are all rotten, and you’re incapable even of crunching an apple: you’ve become toothless, grown-up-but-refused-to-grow-up, idiot babes. You have lost sophistication, elegance and wit. You shun the strain of inquiry, and you moan and moan and moan. Like the whiny brat in the stroller whom you’ve elevated to a tiny emperor and allow to terrorise your existence, you yourself throw your toys out of your pram and expect somebody else to bend down and pick them up for you and hand them back to you. Everything is somebody’s fault. It’s the government’s fault. It’s the neighbours’ fault. It’s the immigrant’s fault. It’s anybody else’s fault but yours. Have you listened to yourselves? You are a disgrace to your species, the way you behave, and you know it, but you will stone me for saying so to your face.’

I am stunned. I have never experienced Sedartis like this. I’m a little afraid. And in awe.   

He senses my discomfort, my fear. He calms down: ‘Species. That in itself is too simple, too categorical. I know you need simplicity, you need categories. But look at yourselves from a distance, or look at yourselves close up: you are so close to your nearest cousins that you can barely tell yourselves apart. Yet you think you are a majestic, exclusive achievement. You are nothing of the sort, you are simply first on your planet, and alone in your solar system. But there are so many solar systems in so many galaxies, you need not fear of finding yourselves alone: this universe, as well as any other, is teeming with life. Your problem is not your position, not your location, not your intelligence: your problem is your perspective. Your nearest cousins, the dolphins, the bonobos, they may be a few hundred thousand years, maybe a few million years behind you in their development. But that doesn’t make them categorically different. It just makes them slower at something you can not take credit for. What you can take credit for is this: your culture. That’s what you do with your advantage. And that is why your stupidity is unacceptable now. At one point, in the not so distant past, you were just like the great apes, scavenging for food, fighting each other for primacy over your females, thinking of nothing other than preserving, projecting, your genes. Slowly, gradually, you emerged from the dullness of your existence and you became conscious, intelligent beings. How dare you not use your intelligence? You will get there, of course; you will reach your next level, as every other life form reaches its own. You will merge with your inventions, you will make yourselves immortal. You will begin to populate other worlds, if nothing else as a hybrid of human and human-made machine. That is all very well. But choose how you get there. The pain that you’re causing yourselves and your fellow creatures on earth is excruciating. When you already have the means to not inflict it at all. All you have to do is use your intelligence and learn that you are not the thing that matters, you are part of the thing that matters, and that is enough.’

What is the thing that matters, I ask Sedartis. 

He remains silent. He remains silent for a long long time and we sit together watching the squirrels and the birds, and imagining the bonobos and the dolphins and the cows and the lions and the beautiful, but a little clumsy, giraffes.

I take his silence to mean ‘I don’t know either,’ and it saddens me that he doesn’t know either, but I know he doesn’t know either, and I wonder does anyone know, anyone in the multiverse of infinite universes at all, or are we all just a part of it unknowing but yearning to understand and failing but trying and playing our part.

‘It doesn’t matter, you see’, says Sedartis. And now I can really hear him. ‘It doesn’t matter at all. All that matters is that you make the most of it. Whatever it is that you can. That is all that actually matters because you have no control over anything else. You can’t control when you are born. To whom. Where. You can’t know why. You can’t dictate the terms of your existence, but you can take them and deal with them well. And by dealing with them well, you may alter them. Whatever is given, you don’t have to take it just as it is. What you do have to do is make the most of it. And you really have to make the most of it. You really have to not take no for an answer, you really have to probe deeper and go further and demand of yourself more. Because if you don’t, somebody will. And they may not understand what you understand. But you understand what I understand and that is how we are connected, how we are part of it all, how there is a greater scheme of things, and how our moment here is tiny, but we can, must, make it magnificent.’

109809803459080138948908093049693049609349601346940384 Theory

Sedartis sits and speaks to me slowly.

‘Let me posit that there is no conspiracy.’

Where did you get your name from? I wonder. I don’t ask. He composes himself. He has sageness about him. He reads my mind, listens to it, more like; feels it. I went for a wander, he thinks back to me, along a little lake. Little compared to the big lakes where I come from. Where do you come from, I long to know; he stays tuned to my thoughts and replies, without words, the other worlds are many while the same worlds are few. Of course you cannot know where I am from, even though you do. I am content with that, for the time-being, and so he continues:

‘I do not know whether there are any conspiracies or whether there are not, and if there are, who is within them, and who is without. There may be some; there may be many. There may be none.

But let me posit that there are none: let me imagine that what looks like people consciously, actively coming together to conspire is in fact no more, and no less, than a culture.’

A culture, I think, is a conspiracy.

‘Exactly.’

Let me posit that the conspiracy is no more – and certainly no less, which is more grave – than a culture. A culture is a conspiracy. It could be benign, it could be malicious, it is most likely something in-between, it may have, at the outset, no obvious value attached to it: but consider – Sedartis is now thinking harder – the good, the bad and the ugly: are they truly, are they sincerely, are they actually good, bad or ugly?

What of Mephisto, I think, less insistent than he does, is he not ein Teil von jener Kraft, die stets das Böse will, und stets das Gute schafft.

‘Exactly.’ Sedartis understands me perfectly: He wills me to think the thought further, think it deeper. I struggle. I get so easily distracted these days…

‘Consider people who do terrible things: murder children. Shoot boys and men. Rape women, girls, and boys and men. Devise gas chambers. Throw youths off buildings.’

My heart feels a hollow pounding: I don’t want to consider people who do terrible things; can’t we consider friendly people, people who may yet be friends, though perhaps they have not yet met? Are we to consider the worst that people do? Why? Sedartis thinks yes.

‘Consider people who do terrible things for some reason or other. Consider how in every single way they are exactly the same as you or me or our neighbour or our friend Jason, except in what they are doing at this particular time. Why do we find it so hard not to think of the other as other? Because it is exactly the same as us. The thought of it is horrendous, frightening. Of course it is true and you have to, you have to concede, though you don’t want to, that you could be that person, you too could be doing these things, you too are them as much as they are you, you are not separate, you own their horrendousness, and they own your love, and that’s what’s so hard not to be destroyed by: the worst thing that any human being is capable of, any human being is capable of; and it overshadows, for a time, for a period, in our eyes, the realisation, the hope, the belief, the truth that – is it not a truth? say it is the truth – that they, this self-same man, that identical woman, the person that is doing the worst thing imaginable is in the very same vein also capable of the noblest deed any human being has ever accomplished. The paradox. The infuriating, numbing, devastating realisation that the man who crushes the skull of a newborn under his boot is the same as the man who lays down his life so a stranger may live. It is not our nature to be one or the other it is only and only our culture.’

But we are not victims.

‘No we are not victims, not of our culture, we are the makers of our culture; that is the call: to stand up, to be tall, to accede to the duty of generating a signal, of being a voice in the wilderness, of saying: no. Not in my name. Of saying no, not in my name, when terrible acts are being committed; and of being first to hold up our hand and our head and say: I am here, count me in, when noble deeds are done. That is the choice: the choice is not between being born good or bad or potent or weak or ill or well or noble or savage, the choice is the culture we want to create.’

Sedartis is silent. The thinking has quite exhausted him. I want him to stay by my side. I feel his presence comforting and serene. So much have I longed for his presence, comforting, sage and serene.

‘Let me posit that there is no conspiracy,’ Sedartis speaks slowly, ‘let me assert that instead there is culture. And that the culture there is is the world as it is when we’re in it, and that being in it we are part of and therefore responsible for that culture. And when we give up our hope and say: this is just the way it is, we have already lost, we have failed, we have yielded in resignation to the bad things that happen, and when we throw up our hands in despair and say: that is them, they are like this that do these things, they are other, then we have not understood who we are, not grasped that we are what we see happening around us, that we own every last bit of cruelty as we exult every grand act of mercy; and if we say: they are powerful that have made the world such as it is but I am weak, then we give away what power we have and we empower those that we scold for wielding their power against us; and if we think they are evil that hold this power, we forget that we would have power if we hadn’t so feebly, so faintly so frivolously surrendered it. What is power, and what is it for: it is the potency to shape the world and what shapes the world that you live in: culture. Let me posit that there is no conspiracy, there are not categories of people, there are not those that are good and those that are bad and those that are ugly, nor are there those that are different, nor are they indifferent, there is your human conscience and there is the culture that we create.’

Now I would like an ice cream.

‘So would I.’