2020-04-07

NaPoWriMo - 07/04/2020 - Modus operandi...

A man called Jim Fallon gave a TED talk: Exploring the Mind of a Killer which is not ...precisely... what it was about, although I thoroughly recommend it.

And he used a most excellent phrase in the introduction, which forms the epigram for this poem, and which sent me off in quite a different direction from what he intended...

Modus operandi...

"A colleague asked me to analyze a bunch
of brains of psychopathic killers..."

...and for me, the listener, my very first thought,
although you never mentioned it: was whether you
questioned the motives of your friend. 
Maybe there were only the best intentions.  Maybe
the friend indeed is a friend with need
to scan this bucket of killer brains.  But these are the remains
of devil-knows-what sample collection process...
or possibly spree.  For me there was another issue
to which you did not refer:

How scared of your
friend are you?
Was all this in the spirit of pure scientific investigation?
The slicing of the brains,
the chalking of equations, or did you
at any moment consider the valid sub-question
of whether you could get out of the experiment alive?




2020-04-01

NaPoWriMo - 01/04/2020 - The only way to be sure

Not brilliant, but a start...



The only way to be sure


How can you know?  How does it go?
After that third date, does he start arriving late,
or does she ghost you
and move to a new town?  Secondhand,
the car you now own,
is its wiring quite OK.  Its tyres?  It's tiring,
trying to achieve certainty,

and the mortgage provider needs
two references, six months of old utility bills,
and a letter to prove
you really do work those twelve hour shifts
in the call centre from Hell.  As if
anyone would want to fake that.  Nothing lifts

your feeling of distrust.  Nothing moves the dial
beyond the line marked "dubious" and note
there's no guarantees for you, no test
for if the bank is wholly staffed by crooks.
I mean you look on the internet
and everybody hates them, but then...

everybody hates all the banks
so say "No thanks." to the crowd-sourced
alternative to actually knowing.
Are the shares you bought going down
and is that really an opportunity
to buy more at a knocked-down price?
This vitamin supplement tastes nicer than the last,

of course
they are expensive, and that job on the flyer
would pay more, if you got it
if it lasted,
if they didn't prove worse bastards
than your current lot.  What to do

that's for the best?  You don't know about the rest
of bulk humanity, but to you it always seems
that the more critical the decision,
the more the less information you have.
Buy some shoes?  Sure!  Check fifty detailed reviews...
Buy a house?  There's just this one report
from a guy you'll never meet...
Find a mate?  Beats me pal, probably have to wing it.

Take off, and nuke the site from orbit,
it's the only way to be sure.






2020-03-14

The Arc of Modern Political Thought

The Arc of Modern Political Thought



I – Do not confuse me with a fellow traveller...

...do not make that mistake
I won't be manning any barricade
or spray-painting your slogans
on unattended walls. I am not breathless

for the state to fall. Evolution
trumps revolution, ninety-nine
point nine percent of the time
and for the other fractional percent: well...

we're so screwed anyway. Rebellion serves
only rebels, who—great though they are
at stealing jeeps, and wiring parcels
to explode—are not so hot in power

distribution, at bringing people light;
or heady freedom for the sewage
to flow in drains... no, theirs are not the brains
for that, for careful use of power

and fuse—how can they be? They need believe
such silly things along their way
such as all men are equal,
only our stance is doctrinally robust,

or even...
that they must prefer the electrodes
inserted here and here
to any tea-and-biscuit chat today.


II – Media rhymes with "eediot"

You do not understand the world
and let me make it clear
that this is you, you with the "Press" card in your hat,
who understands so very well

the breaking of a story like
a wave of noxious fluid
through everybody's living room,
it's you who just doesn't get it.

The world is not the news,
the dead are dead without your stare,
the bereaved still sad; and when
El Presidente bravely takes the town

from behind and rebels are all rounded up
I will admit you stop atrocities
for just so long as you look that way
and don't run off to the human interest piece

about the dog that saved the boy.
And I'm sure you say: we give the people
exactly what they want, to which I say
oh yes, you spin a world for those whose minds

don't let them find their own, and every word
implies what you narrate is what matters,
and what you don't ain't real. You'll claim
you don't conceal but every day

your untidy desk selects what's best for "news",
for folk to know: it's in the public interest,
you insist, while typing quote marks around
what the TV said the radio said about the other paper's views.


III – A plague on both your second houses

The problem is belief. Belief is stupid.
Belief it is that makes you make mistakes
and then it takes your errors,
brands them heroic victories

and makes you make them all over again.
If there is one thing that I know,
it's the stupidity of me.
I know, my brain is wired with

its tiny neural liars and systems
which conspire to enact a holy fool.
Cognitive bias, it does what it says
right there upon the tin, and which

you did not read,
because the idea was uncomfortable
but all you with the one coloured shirts
are committed to your ideals, which makes shits

of them there in the other coloured shirts
and all of you line up to grasp
opposite ends of one long rope
and grunt and pull and hope

to shift it just one inch
in your preferred direction
and you monopolise attention
for you, and your rope, and how

the other bloke is pulling the wrong way
while all around the horizon—boundless
and magnificent and essentially free—
stretches toward infinity,

but we're not allowed to look,
or speak, on that.









This was sitting on a back burner for a long time, not going anywhere.  Every now and then I would take it out and work on it a bit, but it didn't arrive anywhere and I had to put it away again.

Then I saw a call for contributions to The Commons by Waterhare Press and this was obviously exactly what they were looking for, so I picked up the poem, dusted it off and was delighted when it was accepted.

Poems like this are difficult.  This, if anything, is what I am about: that, in bulk, we look at the world in damaging, stupid and shortsighted ways—but it can tread harshly on other people's beliefs.

However the degree of stomping need not be as violent as might first appear.  Belief, I say in this poem, is stupid and I really think that, but this doesn't mean the sorts of thoughts which feature in beliefs aren't just as laudable viewed with cold hard reason.  Should we be progressive?  Obviously!  Should we be kind?  Definitely!  Should we eat the rich?  Let me get back to you on that one...

The problem is not what we believe.  The problem is belief itself.  The world is deeper, gnarlier, and more complex than we comprehend.  Layering beliefs on top helps us get by in the short term, but it doesn't help us confront the difficult questions, and it doesn't help when we encounter people who believe differently.  Belief allows no position there except that they are wrong; and when they won't change their beliefs, it usually decides they are evil.

Belief is bad.  Believe nothing, neither political nor religious.

You'll be  better person for it.