Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Defensive posture

A defensive posture has always been a necessary feature of human life, even though these days we rarely find ourselves living in close proximity to enemy tribes or natural predators. Apart from microorganisms I suppose.

Yet even ordinary people with no known enemies have to develop a range of defensive strategies, if only to remain sane. Defence against all kinds of minor and not so minor niggles, problems and threats, most of them sponsored by the state, its lackeys and even transnational bureaucracies.

Everyone is their own best judge of their own lifestyle and on the whole we know that whatever it is, the state doesn’t approve. Try driving for example. Count the road signs...

...aaargh - NO - don’t as the bloody road signs - at least not while driving. I might be accused of giving unofficial and therefore unsafe advice.

Modern life is like that though isn’t it? Cover your tracks, cover your back, don’t give hostages to fortune, stay alert, stay smart, keep your head down but no so low that it disappears up your ass.

A feature of modernity is how defensive posture of ordinary people towards those in power hasn’t gone the way of the sackbut. Somehow I can’t help feeling that in a real, adult, mature democracy it would have.

Undoubtedly, defensive errors in modern life have far less drastic consequences than they did not so long ago. The next time I steal a sheep, I know I won’t be hanged for it.

...aaargh - NO – I don’t really steal bloody sheep.

There it is again. Instead of being designed to avoid an early death, modern defensive living has become vastly more complex, covert and diffuse. The developed world has flattened it out and made it more pervasive rather than getting rid of it.

To my way of thinking, it seems to cause a strange, low-level miasma of what we might call anxiety-lite. The miasma never sleeps, never retracts anything, is never wrong and never runs out of new ways to annoy us, trip us up, make us angry, sad, weary or generally screw up our lives.

It requires a similar level of alertness to motorway driving. Everything is very familiar and clearly understood, but there are risks attendant on a wrong move.

Or the kind of alertness we need in filling out a tax return, finding a reliable plumber - or even bringing up a child for heaven's sake.

Most of the guff we have to fend off is not desperately problematic, but it consumes our lives in hopelessly unproductive ways. It sucks away the spiritual side of life, the joy of living, the pleasures of contemplation.

We live with niggles all the time and it’s better than a gibbet at the crossroads, but there is such a lot of it, such a vast number of rules, regulations, petty conventions and impertinent intrusions.

It doesn’t cause us to hunker down in our bunker, or at least most of us don’t react in that way, but we have to live with it every day. Okay we manage well enough most of the time, but it isn’t necessary is it? Life doesn’t have to be like this.

Or maybe it does. Maybe evolution hasn’t finished with us yet.


Sackerson said...

Yes, road signs are like film subtitles, you end up looking at them and not what you went to see.

Demetrius said...

The plump chap with the short arms should not be able to get near the other tall chap with the very long arms. Either he is not alert enough or does not know how to box. But do all of us only see what we think we see and how do we actually see it? I must go and lie down.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - my father used to count road signs. I recall being amazed at some of the numbers he came up with until I counted them myself.

Demetrius - although the tall chap seems to have dropped his guard a little.

Sam Vega said...

A very fine post. There definitely is this sense of being on the defensive. I'm not sure if it is simply the human condition. Remove the fear of death from the immediate future, and it just diffuses throughout all the minor things that we used to think were safe.

I think the antidote is long contemplation of Gertrude Stein's line:
"Considering how dangerous everything is, nothing is really very frightening"

I think this might be a sentence whose double and deep meaning is actually deeper than the writer intended. I hope so, anyway.

A K Haart said...

Sam - thanks and yes...

"Remove the fear of death from the immediate future, and it just diffuses throughout all the minor things that we used to think were safe."

I think that could easily be our threat detector refusing to do proportionate response.

As for Gertrude Stein, I don't know but suspect she didn't see the double meaning.