I recently had an interesting conversation with an elderly gentleman I’d just assaulted, quite gratuitously, in Grafton Street. He lay on the ground for a while, not doing much. A bit of bleeding, a bit of wincing. Fairly standard issue assault victim stuff. Meanwhile I got on with introducing myself to the circle of onlookers who managed to assemble with impressive unity of purpose. Most of them eschewed the hand of greeting I proffered, opting instead for a standoffish, judgmental arrangement of their body parts and facial features.
I felt that I was losing my audience and should be a bit flexible in my response to popular opinion. I can be quite empathic at times, and my antennae were starting to pick up faint tremors of resentment. The bleedy, wincey fella on the ground seemed to be a bit above me in the popularity charts.
Since my rival was dead set on playing the victim, I decided to humour him:
“I’m sorry if I offended you, my good man. It was not my intention. If you can find it in your heart to reframe this incident I would be more than grateful.”
Surprisingly, my opening gambit didn’t go down too well. I could hear distinct gasps of “If!!!” from the crowd. It’s funny the little words that people will take offence at these days. I took a quick peek around at them. I got the distinct impression that they could, given the right conditions, galvanize themselves into a fairly handy angry mob.
Surprisingly, it was your man on the ground who came to my assistance:
“I think they take umbrage at your use of the word ‘if’.”
“Hasn’t umbrage become fierce popular these days?” I batted back at him. I don’t like awkward pauses.
“I think they might think you’re trying to move blame out of the realm of objective reality and into the more subjective space inside my head. Which, in case you’re interested, is throbbing with pain at the moment.”
” I see. You’re of the opinion that morality exists as a set of indisputable rules which float somewhere in the ethical ether and allows no wriggle room in the consciousness of the observer?”
“Not quite. History, geography, even fashion can play a part in how we interpret events. Slavery, for example. That was acceptable once. And just look at the progress that’s been made, in recent years, in the whole area of gender identity.”
The onlookers nodded in grudging agreement with himself on the pavement. But I could sense unease growing in their group consciousness. I think that by accepting the subjective nature of my “offence” the bleeding chap was weakening his own position. He was no longer, they feared, somebody who’d been wronged, but somebody who perceived himself to have been wronged. I was, I must say, quite happy with the way things were going.
“So then,” says I. We’re in agreement. I haven’t done anything offensive. You have just chosen, from the many options available to you, to be offended.”
My friend on the pavement didn’t answer immediately. Whether he was a man who liked to have a bit of a ponder before speaking, or whether he’d been overcome by a spasm of pain, I really can’t say. But I chose to interpret his silence as agreement. I thought this might be a good time to conclude our business. I turned to walk away.
“Not so fast,” said the angry mob, as one. As it happens, when they weren’t at their day job as an angry mob, they liked to engage in a bit of amateur dramatics. ‘Turns out they’re one of Ireland’s foremost Greek choruses. “We can’t agree with your supine victim. Surely your assault was a clear case of ….”
Before they could finish making their point, the prone lad interrupted:
“Firstly, I’m not comfortable with the term ‘victim’. I reserve the right to define my own role in this exchange. Secondly, can we avoid terms such as ‘surely’ and ‘clear case’. They imply an objective judgement has been made by the universe and that no further discussion need be entered into.”
“You’re starting to get on our collective tits. He assaulted you. You’re a victim. End of.”
I don’t normally like people who cut discussions short by using the term “end of”. But, as angry mobs go, this was one I could grow to like. I deigned to address them:
“My dear angry mob, I welcome your input. I can fully understand your impatience with Fifty Shades of Grey on the ground there. If ever black and white morality can be justified, surely this is one such occasion.”
“Firstly, we’re not an angry mob, we’re a rabble. Secondly, we’re starting to warm to you. As random assailants go, you’re all right. This is Dublin. If a random assailant can’t walk down Grafton Street without being waylaid by some crazy Moral Relativist, what have things come to? Come with us. Join our rabble.”
“Right so,” says I.
Okay. Let’s just get this whole Chomsky thing out of the way. I’m just going to take a short run up and go for it, finally.
I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m about to retire soon. So, I’ll have less money. So I’ll need to earn a little on the side to supplement my income. And I’ve been wracking my brains lately, trying to come up with ways to do this. At the moment, I must say, crime is my favourite option, preferably a good bank heist. But I’m exploring a few other avenues also. For instance, I think there might be some way to make a few bob from blogging. And to do that I reckon I will need to develop some sort of presence on social media to attract readers.
Up ’till now I’ve had absolutely no interest in social media. I’m not a sociable person. I like people, but mainly because of the things they do; the books they write, the music they play, the films they make. They’re a very creative animal. But I don’t derive any great pleasure from sitting in a room with them. I’m at my most sociable when I’m alone. Leave me in peace with a fireside, some music and a bottle of wine and I’m wonderful company.
But I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that, if I’m going to publish blog posts, I want them to be read. And the best readers tend to be people. So I had to open a Facebook account and a Twitter account, just to research the whole social media thing. I wanted to be ready to hit the ground running when I retire. So the accounts were opened and, at first, I used them as a way to check out what other people were doing online.
A few friends and family members sent me friend requests, but I was reluctant to accept. I was, after all, only doing this for financial reasons and didn’t want to get involved in anything resembling genuine social activity. I left the requests unanswered and was planning to contact people individually to explain that my media presence was solely with a view to becoming a sort of elderly Justin Bieber. An online sensation for the over sixties. Based on the research I’ve done so far, this is a niche that has yet to be exploited.
And then Noam Chomsky entered my life and changed everything. About two weeks ago I was checking my account and Chomsky’s name came up under the heading: “People you may know”. Now, anybody who knows me will tell you I have never once had a conversation with anybody more intelligent than I am. And, trust me, that’s setting the bar very low. Fond as I am of my friends and family, we’re not the sort of people who bother much with linguistics or philosophy or social activism. We’re a pretty low brow crowd to be honest. There’s a family legend that once, at a wedding, a distant cousin on the distaff side was seen to be wearing, momentarily, an expression that bordered on the intelligent. But it turned out to be just trapped wind.
But, for some reason, I was quite tickled by the notion of friending Chomsky. I thought I’d be able to parade him as a kind of pet intellectual. I wouldn’t pretend to understand most of what he’d be saying, but I’ve a vague feeling I’d probably agree with it. Likewise, my friends and family, I’ve no doubt, would welcome “the conscience of America” into out ignorant bosom.
Like a lot of the more interesting things I’ve done on my life, I never actually did it. I thought about doing it. I damn nearly got around to intending to do it. But no friend request was actually sent. The bromance between Noam and me was never consummated.
And yet, for a week or so, my friend Noam was as real a part of my life as any of those mere flesh and blood creatures who inhabit the more banal parts of my existence. I’d never had an imaginary friend when I was a child. Now I was making up for lost time.
Noam would message me:
The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.
I’d get a few of my friends together and we’d try to decipher the message. We’d be a bit like Bletchley Park, but without Alan Turing. Eventually, having failed to crack the code, we’d shoot back:
So as not to seem curt we’d add in a link to a cat playing the piano and a picture of my lunch. Then the waiting would begin. The tension would, as is its wont, mount. In my imagining of the event the background music would be provided by Bernard Herrmann. Eventually another encrypted message would come back:
It is only in folk tales, children’s stories, and the journals of intellectual opinion that power is used wisely and well to destroy evil. The real world teaches very different lessons, and it takes wilful and dedicated ignorance to fail to perceive them.
Back to the Enigma machine, but without Alan around to show us how to work it, no results whatsoever. After a heated discussion we’d just shoot back a noncommital smiley face and hope he wouldn’t see through our brilliantly constructed facade. Not even an intellect such as Noam’s could detect the true limitation of our combined I.Q.
Even though it was all fantasy, it started to become a bit stressful. I am seriously considering that it may be time to come out. Just stand up in public and say: “May name is Pensioner Regained and I’m a gobshite.
You know, since writing that last sentence, I already feel a huge weight off my shoulders.
I recently wrote a post called “My Friend Noam”. Those of you who read it may have noticed that the title of the piece was in no way connected to its content. I suppose I should explain myself:
Well, m’lud, it happened this way. I intended to write about how Noam Chomsky recently entered, and drastically changed, my little life. But, as often happens to me these days. a discrepancy managed to insert itself between my intention and my final destination. The problem seems to be caused by a sort of New Politics of the vital organs which has beset my constitution in the lead up to my dotage. For most of my life I have been ruled, intermittently, by either my head or my heart. My head’s campaign slogan has always been: “Fuck all done, more to do.” My heart has never been loyal to any particular philosophy. It tends to take the Macron approach of “Let’s just get elected first and then we’ll see who wants what.”
So, bhi go maith is ni raibh go holc for fifty odd years. But then change did what it often does; it happened. New Politics arrived. Other, less important, organs have gained power in my constitution and, while not exactly outvoting the two main power sharing organs, they’re managing to disrupt the smooth running of my state. (Do you ever feel like you’re trapped inside an extended metaphor?)
Let me give you a practical illustration of my new world order. I might be above in the spare room, hunched like a jazz pianist over the keyboard of my laptop. My head might decide I need a break. I should head off down to the kitchen for a cup of tea and a sandwich. A perfectly reasonable policy, and fully supported by my heart. So off I shuffle. But about half way down the stairs other organs begin to have their say. My lungs will demand that I stop for a moment. My bladder (or Pee Before Profit, as I like to call it) will make an impassioned speech in favour of a detour to the jacks. My spleen will make a counter proposal; he’s in favour of heading back up to the laptop so he can be vented through the medium of Twitterface. More often than not the house will vote for Pee Before Profit’s motion.
The tea and sandwich idea may well get lost somewhere along the journey. This is how I live now. I have had to abandon my old head/heart paradigm in favour of an approach which is more democratic but less efficient.
Now, take my tea and sandwich based illustration and bend it to suit a more bloggy example of intention being hijacked on the way towards accomplishment, and you might be able to grasp what happened in the afore-mentioned post. I set off to write a post about Noam Chomsky, but I never got there.
I hate when that happens.
I’ve just heard the wonderful news on the radio that, as of today, in our beloved capital city, it is now possible to rent out half a bed for a mere 250 quid a month. I genuinely couldn’t believe it when I discovered that our old friends, the looney, liberal, lefty snowflakes, actually managed to find fault with these glad tidings. I’ve already seen a lot of rage among the twiterrati, most of it at the extreme end of the incandescence spectrum. Is there nothing that shower won’t carp at?
Let’s just take a calm, well-reasoned look at this brilliantly simple solution to our homelessness emergency:
- 250 quid is not a lot of money these days. I think for any young Irish snowflake, educated to PhD. level, they should easily be able to bring in at least feck all per month from their main employment as volunteer slaves for tax-dodging multinationals. Add in the few Bob extra they get from their part time endeavours in the sex industry, plus their sperm bank money, and they should have no trouble making the rent.
- Why does any young person need a bed these days? I know they don’t work as hard as we did, but it takes them twenty four hours a day to do it. For them a bed is just a status symbol. They like to be seen walking out of Aldi with a new duvet but, let’s be honest, unless they get lucky in Copper’s they’re never going to need it.
- If you are one of these lazy snowflakes and occasionally need eight hours sleep, what’s to stop you subletting your half of the bed for the other sixteen hours? Then the bed becomes a source of income rather than a noose around your neck.
- I’ve noticed a lot of young people around Dublin lately who aren’t very tall. Them little lads from the Andes, for instance. The ones who play the panpipes in Grafton street. They’ve a very short wheel base. You’d fit at least two of them, end to end.
So can we all just calm down and thank our lucky stars that we live in the reign of Leo the Great. The time for cynicism is long gone. We can only move foreward if we accept that we are all in this bed together.
Long live Cold Hibernia!