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Skellig Michael

Skellig Michael

… was here a week and a bit back. Southwest Ireland, this rock off the coast. Worth grepping about the web, if you’ve a sec, and this is new to you. You’ve probably seen the clocháns at the top if you’ve seen either of the recent Star Wars films (they used them for Luke’s ‘Jedi monastery’, and they were a monastery, for some centuries, some centuries back, now).

The whole area of Southwest Ireland is beautiful. Mostly fairly sparsely populated, craggy, eroded Old Red Sandstone stuff. Narrow, windy roads, bits of stone construction from the iron age and earlier scattered around everywhere. Learning to drive on the left (in a standard, with the shift, therefore, on the left, too) in those was a bit of an adventure. As also was climbing the also narrow, also windy staircases the monks built more than a millenium back on the larger skellig.

I got to wondering, looking at those staircases, what the sociology of the place was like. Whether the building was advertised as a devotional exercise, more taken as a work gang detail thing, seen as some ‘civilizing the wilderness’ deal, or more, just, look, you’re on an island, it’s craggy, it’s stormy, there’s hardly anywhere safe even to stand, let alone lie down or farm. So you’re going to have to make it a little less lethal, somehow. And, listen, you’re on an island—what else are you gonna do with your time? Like real-life Minecraft for monks.

Weird parts of driving a right-hand drive vehicle: hitting the wrong gear, sporadically, for a while—wanting third, hitting first (this is generally startling to unfortunate passengers); not even sure what was going on there, cognitively; might have just been generic clumsiness of my not-very practised left hand. And, oddly, reaching across my body for the window controls with my left, too.

 

It takes tremendous effort

It takes tremendous effort

It takes tremendous effort to bring dormant aggression to the surface, and to give it a coherent, collective expression. This is as true of mass atrocities in distant lands as it is in the ominous rise of populist hatred and terrorism in our own midst. There is nothing random or spontaneous about radical evil. It is a conspiracy of prodigious proportions. Rarely does it creep up on us without warning, without premeditation, and planning. The real question is not whether we’re capable of stopping atrocities. It is whether we have the will to intervene.

–Payam Akhavan, Special Advisor to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (among quite a few other things), in the third 2017 Massey lecture (MP3)

… yes, we’re at two posts, two things from Ideas. Matter of timing. I happened to start working through a long-backlogged queue of them, just as I also started this thing back up. Got to this one in a block of these Masseys, earlier today.

There’s an element of this thing that really struck me: Akhavan’s entirely fascinating–and I think persuasive–view of the premediated nature of atrocities.

It’s a bit of a trope that humans are just naturally violent. Sure, or maybe…

… but I think he’s got credibility, here, as someone who’s been on the ground through a few of these things now. He makes the point in the context of a description of the Rwandan genocide, but he’s seen others. And it’s a point well-taken, I think: genocide, requiring the organization it does, is hardly a spontaneous crime. Nor do they rely simply upon some reflexive animal instinct, more generally, these manipulative and frequently obviously politically beneficial (narrowly, and only to some) programs of hatred, spurred by modern populists.

There are beneficiaries. There is planning. These things, they are also engineered. It doesn’t just happen.

There’s a longer essay lurking in this, it seems to me. Think also of all those safaris networks and newspapers go on, into whichever imagined ‘Trump country’ hinterland. They seem, to me, almost to deny agency to their subjects. Like those they interview simply naturally support a demagogue, as some kind of instinctive reflex. As though they’re no more at fault for this than is your knee for twitching, when your doctor smacks it with a rubber hammer. And let’s not think either of the demagogue himself as anything other than an inevitability, given, perhaps, economic stresses.

I think, on the contrary, I’m inclined to go with Akhavan, here. The effort, the organization, it does seem to stick out, through these miserable histories.

So. Did I miss anything?

So. Did I miss anything?

My apologies. I had meant to return earlier.

I was delayed.

… anyway, I am listening, at this moment, to Sue Gardner, on the subject of public broadcasting. A cat sits next to me, cleaning herself, as cats are inclined to do.

Ms. Gardner’s discussion would be here, if you’re curious.

This first post of the rebirth of this creature of the ancient world, I hereby apologize, may appear not so much composed as stuttering into being. Which, indeed, it is. I had not quite expected to begin breathing again, in quite this fashion. It seems, however, I have.

What will go here, I cannot quite predict, in great detail, as yet. A little of what always was, I expect. And certain other things.

We are in a brave new world, in this online world, to adapt Shakespeare’s Miranda. I was present, through the sweep of this, yes. And watched it, as it spiralled rapidly to what it has now become. And what Ms. Gardner deftly describes.

… and I do expect what it has become–and what, if anything, we can do to shape it to something perhaps a little less corrosive to stable, healthy, and cohesive social structures–will be prominent among those certain other things.