A Cacophony of Human Noise
A new report by scientists tells us that a “cacophony of human noise is hurting all marine life”. This major new assessment concludes that the “ocean soundscape is being drowned out by human activity” with a massively detrimental impact on all sea creatures. The review, published in the journal Science, analysed more than 500 studies that assessed the effects of noise on sea life. About 90% of the studies found significant harm to marine mammals, such as whales, seals and dolphins, and 80% found impacts on fish and invertebrates. Male toadfish can’t attract a female and the honks that cod use to coordinate spawning can’t be heard over the din. Prof Steve Simpson at the University of Somewhere said noise pollution was like an “acoustic fog” in the ocean. He should take a look at my timeline.
If the lockdown is forcing us in doors it’s also forcing us online where we face a torrent of information and our own surround-sound of chat, views, opinions and rage. This increased domestication and isolation are palpably toxic when combined with our experience of the potion of daily death updates and economic collapse. Occasionally – like the veritable beached whale – I get washed up on the shore off the Sea of Memes.
In this global pandemic we traverse through the increasingly harsh and hostile oceans of click-bait and what passes for ‘dialogue’ in a state of hyper-arousal. In these critical times when are in desperate need of supporting each other and finding some solace and some solidarity we’re instead faced with waves of disinformation, mistrust and bad faith. We are overloaded with relentless bodycam footage and state violence and their antidote – the retreat into fluffy absurdity.
This week the army was used to militarise our health care and weaponised against the Scottish Government’s efforts to roll-out vaccination. If there’s anything more dispiriting than seeing daily statistics of death and infection – it’s seeing them used in information wars. Through being asked to compare rates and actions in England and Scotland you end up celebrating a one-upmanship that feels really sordid.
Whatever happened to Nobody’s Safe until Everybody’s Safe?
The aspiration to create better forms of communication, to nurture efforts for solidarity ends up feeling insipid when what is valued are “hot takes” vicious infighting and rage. If toilet roll was the unexpected currency of the first lockdown, incoherent rage is the new coin. We are locked down not just in our own homes but in our online silos where we huddle together with anyone we think agrees with us. Rage has been misconstrued for radicalism and as projects like RIC and Commonweal are threatened the descent into a Giant Squabble seems to be accelerating.
Cutting through this constant noise and the stagnation of closed groups is difficult. What we ‘need’ is a collective experience that isn’t Zoom, Instagram, Reddit or wherever you’re lurking. What we ‘need’ is to be challenged and stimulated not provoked and triggered. What we ‘need’ is forms of communication that allow for some listening and some nuance. Yet this ‘call to disarm’ lands on stony ground when all around us we see leadership failure, corruption and variant forms of cronyism and nepotism.
This crisis, this predicament isn’t confined to the democracy movement in Scotland but it’s heightened and amplified within it. I think this is because the foot-soldiers have been at this for a very long time and the stakes are high. When you stare into the abyss of being shackled to British rule: the economic consequences for Scotland; the potential wreckage of the peace in Ireland that Brexit brings it’s hard not to be both disconsolate and angry. Anger is both a proper response and an inadequate one. Rage is essential but on its own its disempowering.
One of the difficulties about or present state is the feeling of impotence against forces outwith our control. What we are beginning to realise is the power of collective thinking, the working things out together that comes from creative exchange and how difficult that is on forums that are designed to monetise outrage.
It’s in this ocean of outrage and grievance in which trust in media and politicians has collapsed that the conspiracy culture thrives. In post-Trump America CNN and MSNBC rose to the top spots in January’s TV ratings, prompting Fox to doubled-down in its far far right outlook. Nowhere could this lurch to the right be seen clearer than the views of their host Tucker Carlson, whose show is the most watched in cable news, and is among those leading the stations charge.
After Democrats called for a crackdown on white nationalists and domestic terrorism following a wave of extremist attacks, Carson had an interesting, and revealing, take for his audience.
“They’re talking about you,” Carson told his viewers on 26 January.
This swirling mess of racism, anti-semitism and conspiracy mixes gleefully with anti-vaxx propaganda and ‘Free Speech’ obsessives, but it’s not confined to the Circus Show of Fox News and Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has openly called for the execution of Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama. Here we have our own fringe of conspiracy theorists and right-wing libertarians who coalesce around Toby Young’s Free Speech Union or on the outskirts of the Reform UK, the repository for the dregs of the Brexit Party and for more of Aaron Banks lolly.
But worse this culture can be seen echoed within shards of the independence movement who talk of a war against the “woke” who complain bitterly against the most basic notions of equality, rights and defence of minorities. The dangerous paranoia, the cry to “wake up sheeple” and the hounding of women all have echoes of the Trumpian chants of “Lock her Up” and is a dangerous and reactionary force. It talks in dead certainties, indulges in wild conspiracy and is laced with misogyny and mild threatening undertones. The fact that it’s not very popular or effective shouldn’t stop it being called-out and challenged for what it is.
Stepping our of our houses and our silos, if and when mass vaccination allows us will not mean stepping back into the old world, it will mean stepping into a new world that requires fresh thinking and replacing fear and paranoia with new communities of trust. The task of restoration we face is huge. Rage needs to be tempered with rationality and triggered hyper-arousal needs to be replaced with listening, calm and reason if we are to have a chance to recover ourselves.