Monday, 28 June 2010

Awareness, hazards and leopards

so, my first blog written on my new phone. as usual, i am writing from the seat of an aeroplane, high up over the channel. i can't say i like the keys very much but it still is much preferable to the discomfort of pen and paper which to this day seems like a trial to burden my poor fingers and hinder the flow of ideas from my head to the page.

My sterile sandwich is eaten, its wrapper all that remains of the neatest and least appealing package of nourishment I could imagine (except perhaps a fly proffered in spider silk). A perfectly groomed orange-faced man pours me ghastly coffee which i attempt to make palatable with copious amounts of sugar and "cream" that could never have seen the inside of an udder. I have a sudden overwhelming urge for a home-made baguette filled with turkey, stuffing and mayonnaise and briefly wonder where these cravings originate before turning my gaze out of the window.

I see now a landscape of fields cities and roads. Some roads are big and though i cannot see them, i know there are cars tearing along them at speeds which make our reaction times seem ponderously slow and which can suddenly become very aparent when the illusion of control is shattered by an unexpected motoring hazard.

It is a tamed landscape where one could wander thoughtful, distracted and absorbed completely in one's inner world without the slightest need for any kind of vigilance.

Recently, I was cycling to work along some very small, remote and winding roads when I noticed that on every bend there were skidmarks. This implies to me the kind of indifference to hazard I previously mentioned above. Obviously, a significant number of drivers are often surprised to discover another vehicle coming the other way and are forced to brake from what appears to have been an inappropriate speed to avoid an unexpected collision. This, along with such foolishness as texting whilst negotiating a busy intersection (and going straight through red lights as I have seen often), offers us examples of life-threatening stupidity which are remarkably common and only go unpunished because fate is mostly kind to us despite ourselves. It strikes me again and again just how poor the standard-issue imagination is regarding potential dangers.

Throughout most of human history, far greater vigilance was required if one's safety was valued. A walk in the woods would have been a very bad idea indeed and to be avoided at all costs. Bears, wolves, leopards and unfriendly fellow humans might be encountered at any turn of whatever rudimentary paths one followed.

Daydreaming or not paying attention to the environment could see you become lunch or merely dead. Wandering down the road in a complete daze of ignorance was not an option for the wary who wished to survive the attentions of predators both animal and human. For almost all of our species' existence, such forces of predation have pruned humanity mercilessly, punishing stupidity and complacency by removing the stupid and complacent from the population. Until now.

And so this leads me to wonder if people were by necessity more vigilant, even perhaps more intelligent, when life was more risky.

There is no doubt that careering round a blind bend at a speed where you could not stop were you to meet someone similarly reckless coming the other way, is pretty stupid and one can only get away with such stupidity in a world made artificially safe by our own human regulation and invention. In the past, surely equivalent stupidity must have been rewarded by an early death, or at least injury sufficient to remove one from the gene pool?

When not paying attention and stumbling about haphazardly could mean an untimely end on the horns of an angry buffalo, were people more aware in general?

It just seems to me that it is very easy to live, in the West in the 21st century. It can be achieved safely and effortlessly by even the most gormless of individuals. If one so wishes, they can lie on the sofa and eat ice cream all day, ordered from the internet and delivered to the door by the perky little man from Sainsbury's. No hunting, gathering or personal risk is involved apart from getting a job of some kind. The wages of the lowest paid worker would here cover the needs of mere existence, at an extreme. Fecklessness abounds and nobody gets eaten or stomped as a result.

But throughout history life was hard and hazardous, and usually quite short. If the leopards didnt fall on your puny and defenceless frame as you struggled back to your cave bearing the odd antelope, or more likely, handful of berries, then cholera, parasites or bands of marauding warriors from the other tribes possibly awaited with malice in mind. Best keep your eyes peeled if you want to survive!

But now, we don't have to fear any of those in general. Life is grindingly safe and people are largely docile.....

i suppose, once, humans were as jumpy and cautious as deer in the woods, and probably with good reason. Most animals in the wild are seemingly permanently hungry, permanently scared and often, ready to mate at a moment's notice lest opportunity be curtailed violently. It paid to start at every rustle or to avoid walking under trees that looked as if they had something large, spotty and cat shaped , even if it was actually nothing.

Was life sharper though? Did it provide a more authentic set of experiences, born of the acceptance of the possibility of sudden, imminent death?

It seems perhaps a strange question. If you live on the edge of existence, constantly aware it may end at any moment, does it have a more vivid texture, as opposed the insulated, sometimes bovine, existence of today?

Possibly this is a quaint romantic notion born of the ignorance of how wretched living in constant fear and vigilance can be. But could there be an acceptance that just being alive is inherently a Good Thing without the intrusions of seemingly daft existential questions about 'why are we here?'

Well. I will enjoy the security that 21st century civilised living supplies but i will attempt to remain vigilant. There aren’t any bears in Gloucestershire but one never knows when vigilance might pay off and perhaps I will stop living in my head so much and see a bit more of what is around me