Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. Panic can be neutralized by falsely reassuring words about how the world as we know it has not ended. It is a fact that the world did not end on November 8 nor at any previous time in history. Yet history has seen many catastrophes, and most of them unfolded over time. That time included periods of relative calm.
Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable. Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture.
In the olden days, apparently, it was known as Gunpowder Treason Day and somehow or other attracted a very anti-Catholic sentiment during which, as Wikipedia puts it, Puritans gave sermons on the ‘dangers of popery’. Followed by children begging about town with effigies of Guy Fawkes (did they carry them like torches?) and so the day became known as Guy Fawkes day. Also, there were class riots.
Most of these things, readers, I’m not sure anyone remembers.
Now, it’s all about fireworks and things going boom.
The other night, at BFI Southbank, there was a showing of Brazil (introduced by Paul McAuley). In the film there was a scene in a restaurant in which a bomb goes off and there is much blood and horror, but everyone not directly affected goes on about their day doing their very best to ignore the bombs and the blood, the waiter even pulling a bamboo screen across the carnage so as to better allow his diners to ignore what was happening on the other side.
It felt very apropos to most of life, and I was scared that my life was mostly spent eating food at a table with a veil drawn across what I didn’t want to see. I would prefer to see, rather than not see, or so I tell myself, but I imagine this is what everyone tells themselves all the while some secret waiter, in some secret part of their mind, draws veils and curtains and shuts doors and whispers, “Oh, no, nothing to see, here, nothing worth remembering anyway.”
I will be at Southwark tonight, at the festival of fire and memory, and will report back on whether anything of note (anything worth remembering, that is) burns or explodes or otherwise adds a bit of dark magic to an evening.
Happy 5th of November, readers. Happy remembering.