Hogmanay 2016

I miss the traditions of my childhood on nights like this. Hogmanay has always made me melancholy, but this is the kind of year when spinning until I’m dizzy and laughing, shoeless, care about hair and makeup long forgotten, at a ceilidh with the people I love would be healing. When we would see the bells in, then the adults would stumble from house to house carrying gifts of whisky, food and coal, children sleepy-eyed and trying hard to stay awake to greet the First Footers.

Then we’d all gather after a long sleep to eat party food – vol-au-vents, bhajis, samosas, cheese, grapes, salad – at our house, laughing and drinking again and nursing sore feet and hangovers, showing off the bruises on our arms from Strip the Willow.

These are the traditions that bind communities together, which start the year off with joy, laughter, giving, and a lot of love. I don’t think that it’s the loss of these traditions which has doomed us, but this is one of those years where it would be comforting.

I’m lucky – I’m with people I love in a warm, safe home, surrounded by cats and waiting for lasagne and wine.  It’s the ideal Hogmanay for my grown up self – no crowds, no rain, no drunken strangers, just warmth and games and love. The melancholy is strong, though, although I think it’ll fade when the games start.

This has been a bruiser of a year. We are all still in a state of shock, I think. We’re still waiting for whatever fix is going to come to save us from our actions, even if we intellectually know that no saviour is coming. We did this to ourselves.  Unfortunately, we also did it to everyone else – people who never had any say in our decisions will pay for them with their lives and futures.

Our grief for the long litany of the dead, while painful, is in many ways a sublimation of our horror at the huge machinations of states and powers.  We can’t grieve for the future of the human race because doing so would mean accepting that there is no hope, so we grieve for the people we see as representative of the future we thought we’d have.

I’m hoping against hope that I’ll see this as laughably hyperbolic next year. I hope so.  It’ll be much easier than today was, reading the following Facebook memory:

Things I’d like to see a little more of in 2016 than we did this year:

1 – Excitement about science, including the boring stuff, and some more discussion about what makes science robust and how retractions and negative results are just as important as shiny new discoveries. I’d like to see the bridge between the scientific and the lay communities started, because right now it’s only made up of journalists looking for the most sensational way to interpret something.

I’d love a scientist to normal person dictionary, which would mostly be made up of ‘scientist: this is quite robust evidence, and while certainty doesn’t exist, we believe we have reached a consensus on the import of this data’, in lay person, means ‘holy fucking shit you guys we have to do something right now or we’re all going to die’.

2 – An appreciation of nuance in debates. There are some things which are black and white, but many ,more which only appear so. I’d very much like to see an understanding that there is a real difference between people who are malicious or wilfully ignorant, and people who are just programmed by the culture which we rage against for programming people.

I’d love to see more empathy for how hard it is to step outside that world view and understand that you have done harm to people – our brains are set up specifically to avoid seeing ourselves as the bad guy, and it requires compassion and patience to overcome that. It’s also really hard to do that while under siege from the entire internet, which just puts you into survival mode instead of learning mode.

I’ve been as guilty of it as everyone else – we can’t say that these things aren’t important when they’re symbols of a culture which is doing real, visceral harm, but we can modify our responses depending on the person we’re angry with. Rather than destroying the lives of ordinary people who make missteps, even egregious ones, because they don’t know any better, maybe we could try to remember all the ways in which we are still ignorant and doing harm, and how much we could all be fighting for each other instead of with each other.

And as part of that, I’d like to see people trying to bring nuance into these discussion instead of saying ‘burn the witch’ not villified as being on the side of the oppressor. For people who say we’re not a hive mind, we certainly like to act like we are. It’s the most human thing in the world to want to feel superior, smarter, better, more moral. It’s harder to try to figure out if a person is bad or just uneducated, if they could be a better person with compassion instead of shame. It’s hard, too, to understand that two people can both be good people even when we disagree on important stuff. It’s getting harder. I’d like to not see that disappear entirely.

3 – I’d like to see the long, hard fights acknowledged like the short, popular ones are. There are so many people working away behind the scenes, in so many roles. These are long, thankless, painful, often hopeless struggles for justice and liberation, because most of the really intractable problems can’t be solved by a petition or a hashtag. There’s room for both types of activism, but I’d love to see the people doing the complex, long-term work as reported on as the meme-of-the-day.

4 – I hope we can step back from the abyss. We seem to have found ourselves at a precipice, and I hope that we can include compassion and empathy in our outrage, or we’ll leave ourselves with nowhere to meet the other side in discussion and understanding.

I hope I remember this in my own interactions. I hope I am a better person this time next year than I am right now. I hope I’m happier, and that the world looks brighter. I hope. Still.

If I can look back at this piece with laughter, I’ll be thrilled. But this is the first year my fear for the future has not been purely my mental illness speaking.  It’s hard to control my OCD catastrophism when the world is confirming all my fears. It is hard to look with any hope at the future coming for us all.

So, as the good existentialist I am, I am going to keep going with one of my principles – if nothing matters, everything matters. There is no inherent meaning to the universe, no great plan, no reason for all that is happening to us. So, in the absence of grander plans, every small act of kindness matters. Helping people matters. Being compassionate to people matters. It’s all there is in this dark world. What we do for each other creates the meaning we’re looking for.

Or, from Angel:

Angel: Well, I guess I kinda worked it out. If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters… , then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today. I fought for so long, for redemption, for a reward, and finally just to beat the other guy, but I never got it.

Kate Lockley: And now you do?

Angel: Not all of it. All I wanna do is help. I wanna help because, I don’t think people should suffer as they do. Because, if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.

Kate Lockley: Yikes. It sounds like you’ve had an epiphany.

Angel: I keep saying that, but nobody’s listening.

So I’m reminiscing about some of my favourite memories from a dark year, and here’s to the small moments of grace, love and kindness we’ll find time for in the year to come. I hope we see another Hogmanay, I hope we fight as hard as we can for the better world we can create, I hope we don’t forget our responsibilities to each other. I hope we remember that we are the only ones who can save ourselves, so we should get to work.

I hope your Hogmanay is joyful and filled with love. I hope your 2017 brings better days. I hope that you find ways to bring better days to others, if you can.

A guid New Year tae ane an a’.

Night on the beach in Elie, Scotland

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