Ladies and gentlemen, I have a new obsession. And it’s not good for my mental health.
I literally cannot stop reading the Guardian on my phone.
The Guardian has not, it has to be said, had a good 2016. First David Bowie died, and then everything else the Guardian holds dear disappeared into a giant sinkhole, never to return. And as the Guardian is my go-to messenger of despair for the demise of the liberal world, it has taken all my hope with it too. Daily I find myself lapping up news stories from across the globe which seem to become ever more terrifying with each passing day. Brexit, Trump, the fall of Western civilisation, the inevitable future collapse of the known world into an apocalyptic Dark Age.
I try to remember when I was last this miserable about the state of the world. Was it in 2001, when I moped around Japan for about six months after September 11th thinking World War 3 was starting? Was it during that Religious Studies lesson on war and peace in 1996 when I learned that the Russians had nuclear warheads pointed right at us and put together an urgent plan of action that involved hiding underneath my cabin bed and hoping for instantaneous death?
Was this what it was like in the 1960s, I wonder, as the Cuban missile crisis loomed, JFK and Martin Luther King got shot and Vietnam raged? Or more terrifyingly, the 1930s, a decade which provides enjoyable viewing through the rose-tinted prism of period dramas about the well dressed and well connected, but which must by anyone’s reckoning have been a scary time to be alive.
Or is the moral of the story here simply that bad things happen. They happen all the time, have always happened and always will. It’s just now we have to live it all, in real time and glorious technicolour, thanks to the wonders of the internet, and with it we all consider ourselves to be roving reporters, capturing images on our smartphones, providing the commentary on the age like a tech-savvy modern day Samuel Pepys.
So what does one do? How does one counter the sneaking suspicion that not only is modern life rubbish, but it always has been, there was no Golden Age, no matter how charmingly attired everyone was in the olden days, and all life is going the way of the dinosaurs anyway. Should we live like there’s no tomorrow? Hold our loved ones close and hope for the best? Or do we just grit our teeth, batten down the hatches and ignore the news? To do so seems somehow morally suspect, as if making a conscious decision to look the other way as atrocities rage, like the proverbial priest and lawyer who walk past in the parable of the Good Samaritan, is to allow our inaction to give its blessing to those who offend us and our humanity. Yet for the sake of my own mental health I have to believe that things will be OK. That things are always OK in the end. Even the dinosaurs have been jauntily resurrected in Hollywood movies and on children’s pyjamas. That must have made the last great mass extinction all worthwhile, right?
Whenever the going gets tough-and it’s sure to get tough-I remind myself that this too shall pass, but then so will the comfort, the happiness, the good times. It will all pass, so I guess all we can do is make every moment count, be good people, look out for each other and be the best we can be. Like the baby Jesus in his crib getting a disturbing gift of myrrh from the three wise men, the spectre of death is always upon us. It’s just that most of the time we are able to conveniently ignore it. Like I will be conveniently ignoring the news when it all gets too much.