The Big Issue : Edition 493
THE BIG ISSUE 11 – 24 SEP 2015 13 like “hell is other people”, whereas a modern commentator might say, “other people are hellish, but it wasn’t always that way”. As though history was full of good times and great opportunities and had not, in fact, held most of the world’s population in abject slavery. Of course, most of the world’s population continues to live in abject slavery. I know this is not a pleasant fact, but it is a fact nonetheless. There are many more people enslaved in the production of the cheap goods we enjoy than those who were ever liberated by Abraham Lincoln. But, let’s set aside the fact that the world, by some measures, may be said to be more unequal, or perhaps just as unequal, as it was in feudal centuries. And let’s think about how often we blame individual people for everything that is wrong. People, of course, are awful. They can be insincere and egoistic and can undergo in early life the replacement of their hearts with a lump of dirty brown coal. They can also be sincere and selfless and so full of calm and loving kindness they should probably be employed as spokespeople for over- the-counter painkillers. Some people tend to be horrid and some people tend to be marvellous and most of us tend to be a bit of both. That we feel, in view of this, not only that we can tip the personal balance to ‘good’ over ‘bad’, but that this balance would make any real difference in the world strikes me as a faith worth questioning. A serf who lived in bondage was probably just as inclined to be an arsehole as the current era’s Lords, and slaves, of the Manor. Life as it is lived with other humans is always difficult. And hell is now, as it always has been, other people. We are always and necessarily at war with ourselves as we balance personal desire with the social good, and I really just don’t see how this will ever change. If conflict between our bad selves and our good actions is inevitable, then maybe we should stop giving ourselves such a hard time. If we can just admit that we are, for the most part, a pretty crap species torn by our simultaneous need for and problem with being social, then maybe we could get some stuff done. We are bad and enslaved to our selves. But, we are also good and enslaved to build a social world. It was always so and it frustrates me – as a person who knows herself to be intrinsically bad but sometimes good – that so many people insist that it’s my badness that makes the world so awful. My badness is not going anywhere and, in all likelihood, neither is yours. I will always be at war with myself and I will sometimes be insincere and selfish and sometimes sincere and engaged. There is no way to end this battle I have with myself. But, there is a way to end the battle that sees some people enslaved to others. That is, perhaps, to admit that we are all pretty bad and always have been and that we need to build a society, not an individual, that is at least one thousand times better than us. “Some people tend to be horrid and some people tend to be marvellous and most of us tend to be a bit of both.” RAZER No Damn Good PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND My reading of Western history and philosophy is by no means complete, nor is it even comprehensive. But it’s various enough to pick up a single theme that has occupied the writing of at least the last two millennia. From the greatest ancients to the worst newspaper columnists of the present, one complaint arises over and again. People are no damn good. Or, more lately, people are getting worse. Much modern written complaint is built upon the foundation that once, people were awesome, but have lately let things slip. Many of history’s better-known philosophers tend to be a bit more misanthropic than today’s thinkers. Today’s thinkers will often say “things were better in the old days”, whereas previous philosophers were often of the view that people are, by necessity, crap. A philosopher might say something » Helen Razer (@helenrazer) is a writer, gardener and avid seller on eBay. Peruse her collection of second-hand socks, pot plants and signed self-portraits online now.