Sunday, April 09, 2006

Thoughts from Saturday on a Sunday

"When anything can happen, everything matters" - Ian McEwan

Here's a couple of passages from Ian McEwan's Saturday, a fine novel, which I'm just finishing up:
There are these rare moment when musicians touch something sweeter that they've ever found before in rehearsals or performance, beyond the merely collaborative or technically proficient, when their expression becomes as easy and graceful as friendship or love. This is when they give us a glimpse of what we might be, of our best selves, and of an impossible world in which you give everything you have to others, but lose nothing of youself. Out in the real world there exist detailed plans, visionary projects for peaceable relams, all conflicts resolved, happiness for everyone, for ever--mirages for which people are prepared to die and kill. Christ's kingdom on earth, the worker's paradise, the ideal Islamic state. But only in music, and only on rare occasions, does the curtain actually lift on this dream of community, and it's tantalisingly conjured, before fading away with the last notes.
And a few pages later, a description of how, perhaps, we all feel these days:
Have his anxieties been making a fool of him? It's part of the new order, this narrowing of freedom, of his right to roam. Not so long ago his thoughts ranged more unpredictably, over a longer list of subjects. He suspects he's becoming a dupe, the willing febrile consumer of news fodder, opinion, speculation, and of all the crumbs the authorities let fall. He's a docile citizen, watching Leviathan grow stronger while he creeps under its shadow for protection. This Russian plane flew right into his insomnia, and he's been only too happy to let the story and every little nervous shirt of the daily news process colour his emotional state. It's an illusion, to believe himself active in the story. Does he think he's contributing something, watching news programmes, or lying on his back on the sofa on Saturday afternoons, reading more opinion columns of ungrounded certainties, more long articles about what really lies behind this or that development, or about what is most surely going to happen next, predictions forgotten as soon as they are read, well before events disprove them? ... He's lost the habits of scepticism, he's becoming dim with contradictory opinion, he isn't thinking clearly, and just as bad, he senses he isn't thinking independently.
Emphasis mine throughout.

Say what you like about Noam Chomsky, I think his idea of "manufactured consent" delivers a sharp ring of truth. That second passage from McEwan illustrates perfectly the way our thinking is constrained by the information (accurate or inaccurate) that we're flooded with via the government in (perhaps unwitting) concert with the media.

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