A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here.
Summer Solstice 2020
I made a flying visit to Bristol yesterday – how strange it is to go anywhere these days. There was a particular empty plinth I had to visit.
For those who haven’t been following British news and politics, this was the plinth of a statue of the seventeenth century slave trader Edward Colston, who was pulled down, dragged through the streets and dumped in the river. And not the closest part of the river either, it got a further dragging along the waterfront before going in opposite the Arnolfini Gallery.
In my book Watling Street, I talked about how different languages lack words for certain ideas and concepts. In particular, I wrote:
Perhaps more importantly, there is no English equivalent to the German word Mahnmal, which means a monument to national shame. Lacking this concept in their mental operating systems, English speaking cultures have a notable problem discussing aspects of their own history, such as the treatment of aboriginal cultures in North America and Australia or the worst excesses of the British Empire and the Atlantic slave trade. English-speakers can get quite angry when these subjects are raised, which contrasts with the Germanic willingness to discuss the two world wars.
We may not have that word, but we now have this empty plinth, and it is doing the same job. Since the toppling of the statue the darker parts of our history have been brought into cultural focus like never before. This is a process that is painful but necessary – just as Carl Jung stressed the importance of bringing our shadow into light, or the Temple of Apollo at Delphi advised us to ‘Know thyself’.
An interesting question caused by the toppling of the Colston statue was, why was it still up? When the vast majority knew it was wrong, why had the lengthy campaign to have it removed not succeeded? This question shows the power, in normal times, of inertia and tradition. These are not normal times however, and inertia and tradition have faded, as I talked about in my last newsletter. Suddenly, many necessary changes which have been held back by the dead hand of inertia are now possible.
We know that the world is heading for a major recession and mass unemployment. Thankfully, there’s a distinct lack of economists claiming that austerity will solve this. Instead, the recommendation is that governments take advantage of record low interest rates and spend to create jobs. Wonderfully, there is broad agreement among economists that the solution we need is a Green New Deal. If you’re looking for shovel-ready projects that use tested and existing technology and which will create many jobs, it’s pretty much the only option on the table. This could well be the single most important outcome of the pandemic.
Protesting about current injustice and problems is hugely important, and acts that resonate symbolically can be extremely powerful. But it’s important to recognise that this is a different process to actually creating something better. For that, you need a goal. Without a clear vision of a better future, those rare moments when inertia fades – and change can occur – can be squandered. I did an online ‘Journey to Nutopia‘ talk with Salena Godden and Michelle Olley a week or so ago, and I was delighted that it was advertised with this quote from Buckminster Fuller: “You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.”
From where we are now, it’s entirely possible that within a year the ongoing decarbonisation of both the EU and Joe Biden’s America could be a reality. The significance of this is impossible to overstate, because it offers us a future, and that future is the stage on which a more just society can be built. Of course, this decarbonisation is currently far from certain. In situations like this you always need to factor in vested interests, corruption, greed and assorted fuckwits. You need to keep the pressure on.
Any ideas about how to distract these people while the future falls into place are welcome. Personally, I’m going to install 5G masts inside statues. This should keep both the ‘protect statues’ and the ‘burn 5G towers’ mobs distracted, if nothing else.
This is graffiti on the road near to where the statue was. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that you didn’t get graffiti like this a year or so ago. It seems like there has been a shift in the writing on the wall.
Those who read what I wrote about rewilding at the Knepp estate in The Future Starts Here might enjoy seeing this news report. Storks have now hatched chicks at Knepp, the first storks born in that landscape for six centuries. If you want a symbol of the new world being born right now, it’s hard to think of a better one.
Eyes on the prize, everyone, eyes on the prize.
This exists now. It’s quite a thing.
It’s not out until next May, so I won’t go on about it too much now. Suffice to say, it is totally worth your time and if you are already convinced that you need a copy, pre-ordering early would be a kindness to the booksellers and publishers who could do with your support this year. Your local independent bookshop would be very glad of your pre-order.
Sadly hive.co.uk, who support local bookshops, haven’t picked it up on their systems yet, but Waterstones are there for you and there’s always you-know-who with their pre-order price drop guarantees and stuff – all pre-orders are gratefully received.
Any folkies out there will enjoy this, Wondrous Love, a new song from the legendary Shirley Collins. Much of the video was shot in lockdown in our street, so look out for a socially distanced cameo from me, my wife and son at 45″ or so.
Seeing as it’s the summer solstice, it’s time to look forward to Burning! Burning!, the fire-based forthcoming new album from Oddfellow’s Casino, who you’ll recall did a song based on my book Watling Street. Here’s a taster, the mighty Marian Marks.
We are spoiled by the amount of music that has been created during this lockdown. For example, Rob Manuel of b3ta became obsessed with The KLF’s Chill Out, and wondered what it would have been like if it was based on British longwave radio instead of American. He then created exactly that, under the name Longwave, and it is pretty damn great.
National treasure Salena Godden has been recording with Anna Phoebe and they have produced the frankly magnificent lockdown confession And The Moon Don’t Talk To Me Anymore. If you require further empathetic understanding of the lockdown struggle, try Tim Arnold’s Weird Now. (Before all this began, Tim was writing the music for my now-kaput play HG Wells & the Spiders From Mars. Ah well!)
And if you prefer something bleak, you can always rely on The Private Sector to keep mining their preferred seam of dead-end toxic nihilism. Their new single Quarantine Age Kicks is out today, to darken the longest day.
There may be no Glastonbury this solstice, but the outpouring of music and writing that’s happening now is making up for it. More!
Oh, and one last thing – keep an eye out for events around July 23rd celebrating Robert Anton Wilson – details of this year’s Maybe Day should appear here.
Until next time!