Freedom or Licence? image removed on request

We hear a lot about freedoms at the moment, particularly in the area of masks. We hear people protesting that it’s an infringement on their rights, their freedom to do as they choose. I remember the same arguments being advanced over seat belts; I dislike wearing a seat belt and didn’t wear one until I was made to but that doesn’t make it sensible. I equally remember a similar debate over no-smoking areas, people complaining that it infringed on their rights and freedoms.

Both these examples are analogous to the wearing of masks, in that they are issues of safety. Wearing a seat belt generally protects only the wearer, but has a knock-on effect in terms of hospital use etc: having smoke-free areas protects everyone not only from lung diseases but also from the risk of fire.

I don’t like wearing a mask either. It can make you feel as if you’re gagged or silenced, though it’s a totally psychological reaction as you can speak perfectly well wearing one. But it makes me wonder whether there’s a correlation between mask refuseniks and those who feel disenfranchised, like people who voted for Brexit. I wonder…

Whatever the reason, refusal to wear a mask makes no sense. It is true that scientists differ on the benefits but even if the benefits are small, it’s still better to wear a mask than not. Like smoking it protects others besides the wearer.

I simply cannot understand the kind of stroppiness that insists on going to a beach when it’s patently unsafe, or attending a rave, or going to the pub. I totally get why BLM protesters wanted to march and pull down statues and in many ways it was important that they did; these actions cannot be compared to the stubborn seeking of pleasure that we see in beachgoers or ravers. But it was probably not sensible all the same. Then again, if it’d been me, can I put my hand on my heart and say I wouldn’t have done the same?

Probably not.

Above the gates to Nelson Mandela park in Leicester sits the quotation pictured above. Every time I went there I’d think about it. I’d also think about the sentence at the end of this speech: ‘Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.’

I guess he meant that in freeing others we free ourselves – or perhaps vice versa. The oppressor is not free, any more than the slave; they are both bound upon the same wheel. In fact the slave could be considered as more free since he or she knows they are enslaved; the slave owner does not. So I think Mandela’s right – and this much I know: freedom is not doing whatever the hell you want, regardless of other people. That is licence, not freedom.

So stop it.

Not you, dear reader. I know you would never be so foolish.

Stay safe out there and have a good week.

Kirk out

Lincoln, Mandiba, Maya and Dante

I don’t know much about Abe Lincoln except what everyone knows: that he was shot in the theatre (ouch) but apparently before he died he suffered from depression.  ‘If there’s a worse place than hell, I’m in it,’ is how he put it.  ‘Ouch’ doesn’t begin to cover that.

Nelson Mandela was despised as a nobody, imprisoned for twenty-seven years and yet became the first black leader of South Africa.  The regime took away his marriage to Winnie and his only son.

Maya Angelou became an elective mute as a child after suffering abuse, as her memoir ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ relates.  And yet she rose to become one of the foremost authors of the US and gave a recital at Bill Clinton’s inauguration.

What these people have in common is both darkness and greatness – and that’s no coincidence.  Most of us spend our lives avoiding darkness.  It’s painful and confusing; it’s unpleasant and frightening.  It can be absolute hell with no let-up.  Yet in the darkness lies the way to greatness.

Darkness comes when everything else runs out; when all the tried-and-tested methods for keeping your life going have ground to a halt, when habit seems meaningless and loved ones remote.  The darkness comes when you are at the absolute end of your strength; when there is not one ounce of energy left within you to try to make things work any more.  It’s like floating on a black sea: there’s nothing you can do but let it happen.

It’s the same journey Dante made when he ‘woke to find himself in a dark wood where.. the right way was lost.’  Dante has one hell of an Easter weekend; going through the inferno on the Friday, purgatory on the Saturday and finally arriving in heaven on Easter Sunday.  What’s interesting is that he never loses sight of the world ‘outside’, knowing at any moment what day and hour it is, where the sun and moon are and whereabouts he actually is (hell is located in the centre of the earth in his cosmology.)

Hell is the worst thing the human imagination can conceive: read James Joyce’s sermon from ‘Portrait of the Artist’ and then try sleeping, if you can:

I couldn’t.  But you don’t need to believe in Biblical sin and damnation to read Dante.  Like all works of genius it transcends the age which spawned it, and today it can be read as a dark night of the soul; a journey through the depths of depression towards realisation and enlightenment.  In Dante’s cosmology the damned are quite separate from those in purgatory who, though they suffer, have hope.  But we need not read it so: for us, as for Dante himself, there can always be the possibility of transformation, of transition to a better place.

Nowadays we have little concept of sin and punishment.  We have thrown out the sins of our fathers and decided that we are our own judge, jury and executioner.  But the greatest sins are those which separate us from others and from our common humanity – which is why the centre of Dante’s inferno is not fire but a frozen lake.

What melts the frozen lake is compassion.  One of the most moving scenes from the film ‘Gandhi’ is where a man comes to him in despair.  ‘I am going to hell,’ he tells the Mahatma.  ‘I took a Muslim child and bashed his brains out against a wall.’

‘I know a way out of hell,’ says the ever-practical Gandhi.  ‘You must find an orphaned Muslim child and raise him yourself – as a Muslim.’

The way out of hell is reconciliation.  Reconciliation melts the frozen lake and allows people to come together.  Where would South Africa have been without the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Mandela instituted?  Where would Maya Angelou have been if she had stored up bitterness and hatred in her heart?  Instead she turned the hell of her childhood into a powerful work of art.  Reconciliation is the way out of hell.

None of us knows for sure what happens when we die, but anyone can find out what happens when we live.  Embrace the darkness, find the truth within it, and move on.

Here’s an article I found helpful when writing this post:

Kirk out

Saints and Souls

Great excitement yesterday: I walked into the library and there, on the stand facing me, was Ian Rankin’s latest book.  Could I borrow it?  Please?  I could – and two minutes later I walked out with the shiny hardback in my hot and sticky handbag.  LOL.  It’s a Rebus book, too, featuring a newly-reinstated JR who has rejoined the force at a lower grade and is now looking into a possible miscarriage of justice which happened thirty years before.  It concerns a Masonic-type group of policemen who called themselves the Saints of the Shadow-Bible, and that is the title of the book.  I haven’t got very far with it yet, but will post a full review when I do.

In other news, the tap has been fixed (deep joy) and we are going to look at a couple of houses: one today in Aylestone and one next week in Clarendon Park.  But I can’t leave you without saying a word about Nelson Mandela.

I want to start with a confession – or an almost-confession: years ago when I was about nineteen I almost – I stress ‘almost’ – opened a bank account with Barclays.  This was very significant because unlike some other banks, Barclays were big investors in apartheid South Africa and hence were boycotted by many people.  The reason I almost opened an account was not that I supported apartheid.  Of course I didn’t.  It wasn’t that I was indifferent either – of course I wasn’t: I found apartheid as repugnant as most people did.  The reason I almost did this was that I didn’t think my actions were significant.  I didn’t think it mattered what I did with my tiny amount of money; at bottom, I didn’t think mattered.  I thought my money was just a drop in the ocean; I thought I was just a drop in the ocean, and it didn’t occur to me to think that the ocean is made up of just that – tiny drops.  We are all a drop in the ocean, but the ocean is nothing more than each one of us put together: and so we all matter, every one of us.  And what we do matters.

I am happy to say that I have acted on this principle ever since; I did not open an account with Barclays and I generally try to consider the ethical implications of everything I buy and every organisation I support.  And I’m glad – because it just as much as the struggles of the ANC, it was international pressure which brought apartheid to its knees.  Mandela was a truly remarkable man and his actions after release in setting up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and so avoiding what looked like an inevitable bloodbath, show that he was a great soul.  Though he didn’t have Gandhi’s commitment to non-violence, he was in the end a Mahatma in the great tradition of Gandhi.

Kirk out