Phoenix Riting! – January 11th, 2024

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What a year it has been, on Hornby as the rest of the world. Thankfully, Hornby is still a haven from the insanity ‘out there’ (provided we avoid the ubiquitous screens), at least in winter, but I wonder how long it will continue to be. Once upon a time, this was an island of refugees: recluses, artists, back-to-the-landers along with the farmers and fishers who grew up here. Folk who preferred the company of other fringe dwellers and independent country types, who sought to live without the intrusive conveniences of modernity.

I grew up in a backwater so far up the creek that it was but a trickle. My folks hunted and fished, drank and sang, struggled and lived their lives with mild contempt for the tenderfeet and greenhorns trapped in the rat race our ancestors had been wise enough to evade. Things have changed, oh my. The world has shrunk, modern culture with its contradictory, Nature-hating, dominating ethos has taken over everything. Of all mammals on Earth, 96% are livestock and humans, and only 4% are wild mammals. That is a stunning statistic.

Fewer and fewer wild creatures survive to roam the planet. Most mammals we see here, naturally (we’re an island), are marine mammals; sea lions, seals, otters, various cetaceans. On land, raccoons and squirrels were killed off, but their ecological niches are now occupied by possums and rats. A few small native rodents survive, at least until the rats eat them all. Deer of course proliferate, lacking natural predators (except humans), waiting their turn to leap randomly in front of cars. Diversity is ever shrinking. As a kid, regular gas station stops to clean off spattered tiny (some not so tiny) insects was necessary in order to keep driving. The last time I drove up North in summer, I didn’t have to clean my windshield once. It was fine. Sure. Fine.

Yeah, not to worry. Bees? Who needs ’em! We can make perfectly good flying nanobots to pollinate plants. Honey, meh… we can synthesize perfectly good substitutes. Everything is cut and paste. Synthetics and substitutes are ‘even better than the real thing’. 

As a rabid sci-fi fan growing up, I never read about a future quite as weird as the one we currently occupy. In some ways, things have turned out opposite to the worst of the dystopian visions of the past. Instead of a giant world-spanning computer that occupies the planet, now everyone carries a tiny (and much smarter) computer in their pockets. With these, they can video themselves with drones, risking death (sometimes dying–more views that way) skiing down formerly-inaccessible mountain peaks. Instead of (or in addition to) Big Brother watching us from a huge wall screen, we have become Big Brother: we follow each other obsessively on our tiny screens, scrutinizing and criticizing, envying and emulating the intimate lives of those who have become famous for being famous. ‘Influencers,’ they are called. It’s all very circular–like water swirling as it flushes down the toilet.

There is no escape from constant connectivity, except in the woods, where we can take a break from the world. At least until they blanket the woods with cellular signal, which will allow us all the freedom to livestream on Insta while we get in our 10,000 steps on the trails. Utopia!

Where do back-to-the-landers go now? The fringes are being swamped by the mainstream, now a rising tide that threatens to drown us all. Hang on! It’s only getting weirder. This next year is going to bring shocking changes (all the changes now are shocking, have you noticed?) and nobody can predict what they’ll be, not even we fortune tellers. It seems God does play dice, with great enjoyment. Maybe George Carlin was right, when he said: “People who see life as anything more than pure entertainment are missing the point.” Perhaps the ultimate reality series is reality itself.

I intend to keep breathing, keep my feet on the ground and focus my attention inside my skin. The very place I once struggled in vain to escape (because trauma) has become my solace, my refuge and my salvation. Let’s maintain our perspective, tend our precious ground and protect it from the invasive culture that grows ever more toxic for as long as we can. If we can’t? Well, we’ll surf the waves of the absurd together. To quote another famous dead comic, Bill Hicks, “It’s just a ride.”

Finally, remember: when you’re going through hell, keep going. Persevere.

That’s what I think. What do you think? email me at phoenixonhornby@gmail.com