Serenity When? Serenity Now?


I started writing this post ten days before the US election. The premise was that it’s massively unproductive to worry about things we have no control over: football results, Brexit, that US election I mentioned.

… worry is a dividend paid to disaster before it is due…

– Ian Fleming, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”

The aim was to quit the “read the entire internet” impulse that fretting encourages. Stop skim reading every article. Stop following inflammatory tweets back to the shithive of alt-right white supremacist scumbaggery they dribbled out of.

Reading every viewpoint and counter-viewpoint on a subject doesn’t leave you better prepared to absorb the consequences of an outcome you don’t have any control over. That view/counterview thing? Horribly overdone. Depressing to see news outlets follow up with the counter-opinions, because often it seems so forced. (“OK, who wants to write an opinion piece saying Bowie was shit? Come on, someone has to write this thing…”)

In praise of disengagement? Sort of. This is tacking pretty close to the serenity prayer.

Anyways, history overtook my sluggish blogging (that’s how fast I blog, at a sub-historical pace), and the US somehow elected a candidate who makes more false statements than true ones. As I lazily pondered how Facebook and Twitter had played a disastrous role in the dissemination of bullshit during Brexit and the US election, the media duly decided to get riled about fake news.

What of serene disengagement in 2016, then? Disengagement from the internet, I hasten to add, not from “real life”. The last thing we need now is disengagement from reality. Ever think: if we’d all stayed off Twitter and Facebook in 2016, and instead had talked to our less politically-aligned relatives, we might not be now suffering the spittle-flecked, oddly angry, victory shitposting of the Brexiteers and Trumpkopfs? Even without social media we would still have been appalled by the atrocities in Syria, still mourned Bowie and Prince.

I stand by the point that over-reading is unproductive. It’s a one-way street, a dead-end download that will likely go unanalysed and unsynthesised, which will never be shared except in an angry diatribe to a colleague with better things to do.

This isn’t a solution for the awfulnesses we’ve subjected ourselves this year. It’s a modest contribution to your own mental health not to pore over things, obsessively, until you lose your grip on what they actually mean. Don’t read the comments. Don’t feed the trolls. Twitter sparingly. Facebook for event invites and birthdays only.

As for King Troll, all I can do is trust in the survival instinct of the US people, and have popcorn on hand in case of impeachment. Regarding the disengagement policy, I’m convinced that the most constructive thing people could do is unfollow Trump on Twitter. Can you imagine how much more effectively he could be scrutinised if we weren’t wasting time evaluating his tweets by the normal standards of political/civil discourse, instead of dismissing them out of hand as the deliberate misinformation they are? Imagine how that fragile ego would take a plummeting follower count…


PS The one topic I did manage to disengage from in the latter half of the year was football. I’ve avoided the brief, addiction-forming highs of the wins and the days-long toxic fug of defeats. It’s easier, living outside the UK, but I’ve seen a few results by accident, or knee jerk click-impulse. On the whole I honestly feel that if anything it’s helped my mood. (I reserve the right to revise this opinion if Arsenal win the League.)



Things to Be Done: Ajax

Having compiled a list of Things to Be Done in Amsterdam Before We Leave, it turned out that one of the top priorities was going to see Ajax play at the Amsterdam ArenA (sic). So we sprang into action and nagged some friends to get us all tickets to a game: Ajax v PEC Zwolle (the early season’s surprising table toppers).

Ajax were resting key players before their Champions League fixture with Barcelona, and the first half didn’t deliver on the goals front, despite being end-to-end-stuff. The ArenA is a decent stadium, and seemed to have good acoustics for the singing fans – even for the small contingent of away fans corralled into one small corner of the upper tiers. (Dutch supporters can be pretty fractious – some games won’t permit ANY away fans, and a few games in the past few years have had to be played behind closed doors.)

Teams trudge off, 0-0 at half-time

There were plenty of airings of an Ajax song our ticket-buying friend had told us about before the game:

“Aj-, Aj-, Ajax zijn de superjoden!”
(Aj-, Aj-, Ajax are the superjews!)

In the club’s early years, a large number of its players were Jewish, hence the pride in that heritage. This explains the Israeli flags you see flying from merchandise stalls outside the ground. And that Ajax chant, being as it is celebratory (super jews!). But of course anything a club’s supporters take pride in is bound to be inverted by its opposition.

In the UK, Spurs are the team with the most obvious Semitic connection. Their fans proudly proclaim themselves the “yid army” – and as an Arsenal fan, I cringe when ‘our’ supporters use that designation as an insult. Given that the first part of that phrase, no matter how much the supporters revel in it, is generally taken to be an offensive term, Tottenham Hotspur are apparently due to review whether the chant should be dropped from the fans’ repertoire. Hmm. Good luck with that one. Football chants don’t seem to be an easy, ahem, form of expression to control. What will Arsenal fans do then, deride Spurs supporters for their self-censoring ways?

But so, Ajax. In the 70th minute, a few of the resting stars came on, and the game suddenly grew teeth. After going close a few times, Ajax finally took the lead courtesy of Serero pinging in a badly-cleared ball, then they doubled it through an hilarious own goal (all own goals being funny at root). Zwolle pulled one back at the death, too late to get themselves back into the game.
Serero mobbed after breaking the deadlock