Isolation Read #44

90 pages long, chock full of compassion, reasoned thought and a dash of grandma’s old wisdom. With chapters headed: disillusionment and bewilderment; anxiety; anger; apathy; information, knowledge, wisdom.

This is the step back and take stock, take a breath, we all need to allow ourselves. And it is welcome.

It is strong on analysis of the symptoms and how we got here, less strong on the solutions beyond the plea for ‘conscious optimism‘, but it does have things to say that will help guard against getting dragged further into the mire: and being a story teller, Shafak puts a lot of weight behind swapping histories, hearing the stories of others and being open to the possibilities of learning from others.

All of which is best demonstrated by a few quotes:

How is it possible…in an era when social media was expected to give everyone an equal voice, so many continue to feel voiceless?

To be deprived of a voice means to be deprived of agency over our own lives.

Not to be able to tell your story…is to be dehumanised…it creates a profound, and existential anxiety in us.

Group narcissism…The shared illusion that we are the centre of the world…discussed by Adorno and Fromm who had witnessed first hand, the rise of nationalism, jingoism, xenophobia and totalitarianism. Their warnings are apposite today. Central to group narcissism in an inflated belief in the clear-cut distinctiveness and indisputable greatness of ‘us’ as opposed to ‘them’…I will first doubt, then denigrate anyone who refuses to recognise our superiority.

And now we all stand and stare at a political system that churns out slogans like advertising copy…realising that underneath the polished veneer of rhetoric that we have been sold, there is – and always was – hollowness. No wonder, then, that we are deeply disillusioned.

We are exhausted by anxiety, consumed with anger, our minds and defences all too often overwhelmed.

She quotes Gramsci: “the crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

She talks of the Turkish / Kurdish traditional wariness of thresholds, how they are regarded as the domain of elusiveness, obscurity, precariousness. And of group narcissism: the idea that individuals satisfy a personal self-regard by aligning themselves and identifying themselves with a group and robe themselves in whatever ‘virtues’ they see as being inherent in that group. She sees social media as accelerating this tendency, “Stuck in our whispering galleries we have become bad listeners and even worse learners” and notes that “democracy, which is essentially about compromise and negotiation…suffers from this constant tension and antagonism,” eventually labelling people who think or speak differently as “traitors“.

She moves onto questions that are on the surface simple, whereas in reality, they are not, they are complex, nuanced and because of this often brushed aside: “What is democracy?” “What is normal?” “What is happiness?” “What is selfishness?” “Who am I?” – landing back at the feet of Walt Whitman, with the last one, “I contain multitudes.

Back then revolution was not a noun. It was a verb.

Today the faith that tomorrow will be better than yesterday is simply no more…everything feels transient…what exactly does an education guarantee?

The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all.

How do we turn our individual and collective anger into a force for good?

…progress is neither guaranteed or steady. Democracy is hard to achieve yet easy to lose

It starts with language.

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