|Simon Dale's hobbit style house in Wales|
I will begin this week’s post with a confession that few of you could have guessed from the limited information I reveal about myself in the global cyber commons aka The Matrix. Here are some clues: I grew up in the English Midlands, I’m of average height for a Brit (i.e. a dwarf by Scandinavian standards where I live), I have a fondness for real ale and my idea of pure unsurpassed bliss is sitting beside an open fire, smoking a pipe and listening to the slow monotonous tung of a grandfather clock.
Yes, that’s right; it’s something I have suspected for a while - I am a hobbit.
As if further proof were needed, I can rummage in my drawers and find scraps of paper with crude drawings of earth built ‘hobbit holes’ in the style of that made by Simon Dale (see main image), and what’s more, my toes are hairier than the average. I’m pluckier than the average person could guess, and although I have never outwitted a dragon, I did, alas, have a promising career as a burglar in my younger days (more on my reckless past in a future post).
But this post is not about me and my hairy toes – this post is about EVIL.
Speaking of toes, I once had a tattoo made in Guatemala by a man from Los Angeles who told me he had tattooed the name of Sean Penn’s dead dog onto his big toe (i.e. Sean Penn’s big toe, not his own). The fact that I just revealed that Sean Penn has his dead dog’s name inked onto his big toe makes me a celebrity news breaker and I fully expect to quadruple the visitor count to 22BillionEnergySlaves this week as a result, given that Sean Penn’s web presence is double that of all news relating to peak oil - I hope one or two of those visitors will stay.
Anyway, back to the plot. Draw a deep breath, because I’ve been contemplating evil all week, and the various forms it can take. But what is evil? I'm not sure. I'd define it as an action that causes gross suffering to sentient beings and/or wanton destruction of part of the biosphere for psychological satisfaction.
Here are my conclusions about evil if you are in a rush and don’t have time/can’t be bothered to read the rest of the post: evil does exist, and mostly it is dressed up as good. What’s more, technology can act as a catalyst of evil.
I realize that evil is a strong word. I believed in evil as a child – you know the kind of evil I mean – the kind personified by the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the kid-munching giants in the BFG. Then, as I got older, I started to think that evil didn’t really exist and it was more a case of stupidity, or senselessness, on the part of the people I had previously labelled evil. This belief was bolstered by a flirtation with Buddhism, and even the Dalai Lama has said something to the effect that people are not ‘evil’ they are just making mistakes that will negatively affect their karma.
|The Childcatcher: probably quite evil in a conventional way|
Well, whatever. Recently I’ve come around again to thinking that evil does exist, and we’re liberally marinated in the stuff. What’s more, there are three types of evil people – or people who employ evil means, more precisely. The most common-garden recognisable variety evil is committed by psychopaths. You know the type; they will capture you, lock you in a box and torture you for days before ending your life in a most unpleasant manner and then walk around wearing your genitals for kicks. Whether these people are simply insane or not, I don’t really care – evil is a good enough label for me.
The second type of evil doer is of the same breed as the above, but more refined and clever. Not wishing to get blood on their own hands these people rise to positions of power and then channel their evil ways through the power they have attained. Whether they are the president of a company or the president of a nation doesn’t really matter, they get their kicks from, as George Orwell put it, stamping on a human face forever.
Then there’s the third kind of evil. This is a far less visible type, but by sheer biomass is probably the weightiest of them all. The evil I talk of is evil dressed up as good. Everyone’s at it, it seems. From the countries who think their shit don’t stink because they have ‘progressive policies’ for their citizens (while quietly exploiting the Third World for their own benefit), to the various NGOs who act as virus carriers of ideology to the far corners of the globe, and rabid corporate backed scientists who are pushing all manner of destructive technologies into the biosphere in the name of humanitarianism.
We’re all complicit in this last scam. Indeed, living in the ‘developed’ world, it is all but impossible to not contribute in some way to the systems that enslave our fellow men and creatures. This applies to some more than others, of course, but I type these words on a laptop that was in all probability assembled by wage slaves (in the name of giving someone a job), manufactured and transported half way across the world by climate-damaging oil (in the name of economic growth), produced in a country where the environmental costs of its manufacture were borne by the ecosystem and the health of the human population (in the name of free trade), sold to me by some corporation who will probably be contributing money to whoever wins the next election in the US in order to keep their profitable racket going (in the name of free speech and democracy) and, finally, uploaded onto a blogging platform that is owned by a company which plans to turn the human race into cyborgs (see late week’s post).
What’s a blogger to do? Throw the computer into the garbage and retreat to a cave in the Himalayas? Chuck myself onto the nearest compost heap and await the end? Start watching the X Factor and try to become ‘adjusted’?
J.R.R Tolkien knew what evil was. His time in the Somme, during the First World War, showed him the depths that humans could plunge to. Would the German machine gunners who gunned down so many young men have considered themselves evil? I don’t think so.
Tolkien would never be drawn on the meaning of the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings. Nevertheless, we can probably assume it was to do with nuclear weapons. Destructive technology was Tolkien’s bugbear. In one quote he hinted at the meaning, seemingly saying that once some kind of destructive power had been brought into being it began to live a life of its own:
"I should say that it was a mythical way of representing the truth that potency (or perhaps potentiality) if it is to be exercised, and produce results, has to be externalized and so as it were passes, to a greater or lesser degree, out of one's direct control."
Which, to me, is the theme of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien drew on Scandinavian and Anglo Saxon mythology for his inspiration. He was all too aware that our native mythology had been utterly supplanted by Christianity, and what remained of it in Wales and Scotland, was mostly Celtic in origin. Instead, he was driven by a desire to create an English mythology – even if it was ‘made up’ – never anticipating the success he would encounter in such an endeavour.
As I mentioned above, I grew up in ‘Tolkien country’. My childhood was spent close to Oxford, where Tolkien lived and worked as a professor of linguistics at the university – I was probably lying in my cot, aged two, when he died. I hadn’t even had a chance to read The Hobbit at that point.
Turning back the clock, when young John lived in Warwickshire it was a very rural (and it still is, to a degree) but the hamlet he lived in, Sarehole Mill, near Hall Green, was some miles from the encroaching spread of Birmingham; England’s second city and the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. I spent most of my teenage years in this area, which is now well and truly part of the spread of the city and not a very pleasant place to be unless you are a connoisseur of suburban blight (sorry, Hall Greenians - okay, to be fair, it still has its nice parts). I lived for a year very close to Sarehole Mill, which is now embedded in a run-down urban zone where you are as likely to hear Urdu spoken as you are English. It’s almost impossible today to recognise this as a place that inspired Tolkien to invent the fictional Shire, surrounded as it is by busy dual-carriageways, Indian takeaways and dodgy car repair shops.
Here’s a picture of the pub where Tolkien used to chat to his friend C.S.Lewis (of Narnia fame) called the Eagle and Child (known by locals as the Bird and Baby).
|The Eagle and Child in Oxford, where Tolkien would meet up with fellow writers|
But the surrounding countryside, now some miles away, remains recognisably ‘Shire-esque’, and you can still visit the places where he was inspired to write about the Barrow Mounds and various other places that crop up in his books. There’s even a farm called Bag End and a road called Hobbs Moat Road. If you’ve ever wondered why the unusual chapter ‘The Scouring of the Shire’, in which various low-down characters are driven from the realm, was appended to the end of LOTR, then it’s my guess that it was Tolkien’s cathartic way of dealing with the destruction of his beloved rural idyll by way of fantasy.
So, back to evil. When I see articles like this one, about a new iPad for babies (sorry, it’s in Danish), I can’t help thinking that the kind of evil we should surely be worried about is the kind that we all-too-often take for granted as ‘normality’. How exactly did the marketers of this particular product manage to convince themselves they were adding to the sum total of human welfare? Or the development agencies who consider that they are doing Amazonian tribes a favour by rounding them up and building them somewhere to live that looks like this (but we must cut infant mortality!):
If a visiting alien economist (and I pray there are none ‘out there’) were to analyse our setup, he/she/it would quickly deduce that the ‘enlightened’ first world is a giant face-sucking vampire squid, to borrow a phrase, on the rest of the planet – just by looking at trade deals alone. For every one of us with our iPods and designer kettles and reality TV programmes, there are 10 people on the breadline packed like peas in a pod into a single room, heating dirty water from a beaten up kettle over some burning sticks and living with the reality of not having a TV or any other form of consumer electronics device. What kind of way is that to run a planet?
Anyway, my personal jury’s still out on whether there are truly ‘evil’ forces out there, or whether we are just suckers for unleashing forces that could be considered evil and setting up systems that promote evil. I suppose I should mention Rudolph Steiner, who had some pretty deep thoughts on this subject. He didn’t see the world in black and white terms, and for that we can be thankful. Instead, it is my understanding, he considered the whole progressive materialist fallacy as evil – or at least bad – through and through, with that evil coming in two different flavours which, together, can balance one another out.
These two concepts he named Luciferic and Ahrimanic, with the former being concerned mainly with spirit and cosmology and the latter being concerned with materialism, science and ‘hard facts’. Thus, we are living in Ahrimanic times, by his reckoning, with evil being channelled or justified in that way. There’s an awful lot more to it than that and it’s well worth reading up on his ideas.
So, getting back to hobbits, who are resolutely not evil because they are earthy creatures and not concerned with metaphysics or playing psychic power games, we can perhaps see that what this world needs right now is more hobbits and less evil wizards (marketers, politicians, thaumaturgic manipulators), orcs (mindless consumers, imperial soldiers) and gollums (tortured addicted souls).
Are you a hobbit? You don’t have to look like one. If you hunger for peace and quiet and the chance to feel the moist earth between your toes, to have a small place to call home where it is safe to raise a healthy family and grow a vegetable patch or an orchard, and if the word 'permaculture' is more attractive to you than 'monoculture' then chances are you have hobbit blood flowing through your veins. And of course, it’s not easy being a hobbit in a world full of orcs and dragons, but we can take heart that we are a resourceful and resilient breed, often at our best during the most testing of times (and often quite lazy at all other times).
So if you are a hobbit reading this then I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve, so please carry on reading and bear the following in mind:
“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now
mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.”