Coming Down to Earth

How dreams might help me steal a march on apocalypse.

I remembered this morning how, when I was very young, I used to worry about being obliterated by space debris (meteors, out of commission satellites and so on). Not only me but everybody I loved – and somehow this led me to think about degradation: PhDs being taught as if they were undergraduate experiences; psychotherapists who qualify without having read anything apart from secondary texts; newspapers riddled with mistakes and quirks that make the old-fashioned Grauniad (sic) seem like a work of perfection … and other stories of things falling apart.

These are some of the things that worry me. I read them, and many other things as a sign of degradation, a general fraying of the fabric of life. There are other things I worry about which might seem less esoteric, but I’m the kind of person who isn’t afraid to care about small things; who sees the changes in small things as a sign of shifts elsewhere, shifts in things that might be so large I cannot really comprehend or them or take them in: the ways in which we love each other, or the ways in which we treat people who don’t have jobs or money.

Those things appear to change in ways that might seem easy to point at and to act on politically (with minimal results) but the part of the change that really matters seems to be protected or hidden so that all I can make of it I have to do by inference or reading through tiny pieces of debris I encounter.

The debris of degradation: what PhDs, psychotherapists and newspapers have shown me.

This might amount to the ways in which scholarship and thinking are devalued in favour of time gains in the name of professional advancement, validating information in the eyes of dominant intellectual groups, and following ideas that are supportable or fundable by bodies linked to industries or organisations that never declare their investment in being shielded from thinking that problematises what they do … which might explain the shrinkage of psychoanalytic and Marxist (where Marx has been read by people like Althusser or Adorno) approaches in favour of humanist ones – ones that assume all can be known.

Or it could comprise the insecurity and unexplored laziness of psychotherapists who don’t read a thinkers’ ideas in her or his original form (perhaps in translation), but who follow the lead of a secondary thinker instead without ever querying why they’d let that other individual do their thinking for them – or where that kind of deferral might lead in their own work.

It might be the lack of care and attention, the set of assumptions, the compromised sense of enquiry and the poor relational sense suggested to me by a journalist who doesn’t write out acronyms in full the first time they use them.

There’s a danger in all of this of my wanting to retreat to another time, or if things are degrading, like meteors passing though the atmosphere, to somehow go higher again. Of course that isn’t possible. But if we keep paying really close attention to the things that matter to us, so our ideas of ‘the world’ are as complex as possible, not complicated but complex (subtly opening out into more opportunities for understanding and action that doesn’t miss the mark, similar to the way I hope I might suggest something to a client in a psychotherapy session) the future might at least be less degrading.

We are, however, coming down to earth. Dreams of the future are failing us.

Looking back at my childish fantasies of extinction I see one of the ways I was perhaps more in touch with life then, than now. Our species suffers from a delusion that improvement is always possible or desirable, and that it is somehow a route towards something usually referred to as happiness. As a child I realised there are no happy endings.

We are falling to earth and approaching extinction. Climate change will see to that if a meteor doesn’t first. Life between now and then, in the fearful shadow of extinction (because I believe so much of our behaviour is driven by a fear we have yet to realise), needs to be attended to in ways we are starting to withdraw from. What can we do rather than continue to lose ourselves? We need to re-learn how to pay attention to ourselves, and to each other.

I suppose something will eventually be revealed. That’s what apocalypse is about: maybe showing us the things I have described here as hidden, revealed only in debris, the broken off parts of bigger things that somehow make it to earth. Apocalypse and revelation come together, though; and anyone thinking about them then will surely only have been consumed by sadness.

Is it possible to steal a march on apocalypse? In dreams, perhaps.

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