At Notting Hill Carnival this year there were multiple occasions where everyone started screaming and running simultaneously in random directions for no reason. A car mounted a pavement in South Kensington recently and there was panic. I got swept up and wrote a blog about it. Now today in Oxford Circus – again mass panic, again – it seems – unfounded.
Most people go about their business under the fallacy that their existence has some consequence. That fallacy is how crap newspapers are sold. “This happened to someone else. You’re important. It could happen to you.” Nowadays when there are so many people and it’s so arbitrary we all want to feel like we’re special. And we are special. But also we just aren’t. That’s that. But God we need to stop being so obedient.
Today is Black Friday. It’s the day after the founding fathers of America were given food by the people they took the land from and slaughtered, as far as I understand. I’m not hot on US history. It’s not culturally relevant at all here, but the market wants it. So everyone obediently troops to Oxford Circus to punch strangers for a piece of technology that’s still marked up massively and that they’ll use once and forget.
Today, though, something happened in Oxford Circus. Maybe a car backfired. Maybe someone shouted. Maybe there was a gun or a knife. Who knows? It seems like it wasn’t a big deal. But everyone went crazy. Shops were shut and boarded. People were telling each other they were safe on Facebook, people were getting calls from their mothers. It all went south.
The less imaginative we are, the more obedient we are, and the more we are convinced of our own significance.
To go shopping on Black Friday in Oxford Circus implies a herd mentality. I used to warm up on a hill at Ripley Castle and look over a lake to a field with a herd of cows. Periodically the cows would stampede. (It’s a danger for dogwalkers.) Something innocuous would set off their flight instinct, and they would run because all the other cows were running. They would run in the same direction as the cows they could see. As a result, the bulk of the cows would run in one direction, but actually small groups of cows would run in all directions. Some would end up running towards the thing that had set the stampede off. That’s what I observed at Notting Hill. Every time it happened I would get to the side and watch closely. Everyone was running but nobody was running from anything. I wasn’t going to run without knowing what I was running from, in case I ran towards it. But as a result I never had to run because everyone was running from nothing but the idea that they were in danger.
We really aren’t in that much danger in this country. The people we fear and isolate and build walls against – they have experienced true hardship. They’ve had reasons to run. We haven’t really had that in this country since 1066 when people came from across the sea with better weapons and took our land. Yes occasionally there’s a horrible attack. Occasionally, hateful or misguided people randomly destroy. But if we live convinced that they’ll destroy us, we only stifle our own freedom and allow fear to govern us. It’s statistically very unlikely we’ll be the unlucky one. It’s like not swimming in the sea for fear of sharks.
I have to publish this immediately. I wrote it last night in a mood. Can’t miss the daily grind. Morning everyone. Ugh. Stay safe.