De Senium Britanniae
I eschewed my usual route to university on this day and so did not go to the usual metro station. That may have been the greatest displeasure of all, to consider losing the good graces of the Wraith of the Low Morning. Daily and as regular as the metro, and presumably some time between midnight and 6 AM, he, probably a young male with an IQ south of the 20th percentile, goes to that station and impresses his artistic genius upon the pristine laboratorial white of that one wall panel in every hue of the rainbow. The paint is often still wet to the touch as I stand admiring it at 9:25 AM. By the next day there is always a new inscription, the old hidden under a new coat of paint – the work of another person (again, probably a man) to whose annoyance the Wraith’s work is continually done. Not even God knows what is going on in the Wraith’s troubled head. Maybe his only taste of self-actualisation, whatever that means, is the testosterone high he gets as he imagines himself embroiled in some titanic battle of wits with the man who erases his work. Maybe he is a smoker and cannot stand the no-smoking warning. Maybe he fancies himself the next Banksy. Maybe he likes to see his work erased so he can do something new, but there seems little variation except changes in colour. Maybe he is an idiot savant, or perhaps a savant idiot. Now I try to envision his children. And then I stop.
Almost no normal person considers the metro carriage an appropriate place for social engagement apart from drunkards. It is a place where one, in effect, shuts oneself off from communication with the outside world for the twenty minutes or however long it takes to get to your stop. It is a place to stare into space dejectedly, read, pretend to read, plan essays, and scroll through faked shark-attack videos on your phone. Passengers thus tend to look on with horrified or puzzled expressions when someone starts to act out in a strange way.
On this particular afternoon the metro was just about empty, and there would have been little to comment on were it not for a tangerine-faced chav and her black friend, he with his trousers at half mast, stepping into the carriage about halfway into my journey, so I had the chance to observe them for the next few stops. It is more accurate, though, to say that I had no choice in the matter. At moments their voices seemed nearly indistinguishable in pitch and timbre despite his being male and a foot taller than she. It is generally the case that people who truly embody this archetype, the chav, have no self-awareness or indeed self-consciousness; this girl probably behaves like this in every situation that presents itself. They were having something that sounded vaguely like an argument at first. They threw themselves at each other in strange, stereotyped motions until eventually they just ran out of energy, as well as words, and started nondescriptly grunting in each other’s faces until they reached, and almost missed, their stop. Non-white chavs are a recently divergent subspecies who seem to have developed alongside the standard variety but were not nearly so common round these parts, I am sure, until this decade. Well, they have certainly integrated – just not into anything that is actually worth it.
The female embodied this archetype astonishingly well. All of the apparent default-setting fashion choices: the skin-tight leggings (and she will still be wearing those in her forties), the dyed tar-black hair, etc. Females, for obvious reasons, want to be physically appealing, but by the time the female chav has reached late adolescence she has often destroyed herself to the point where there is little to work with, and she may already have had two or three or twenty-three children. By her late twenties she could be a grandmother. Thus, by that time she usually settles into a pattern of bizarre peacock-like ostentation: brightly coloured trainers, preposterously large (plastic, typically) jewellery, etc, which is apparently not so much supposed to be attractive as it is – well, God knows.
Once off the metro there is much to see. On the way into school I damn near had a heart attack because I had forgotten to use my alcoholic hand sanitiser. I normally use it as soon as I am out of the station because the metro is a virtual pathologist’s lab, unguarded and constantly excreting new strains of the common cold virus among other things, especially in the cold months of the year. Winter here tends to render the sky a constant, thick, overcast grey interspersed with ten-hour (or longer) periods of black. Students from warmer climes seem fairly well adjusted here, though. I see them on my way in and out of the school; the Africans, the Han Chinese nouveau riche, and the beautiful dewy-eyed Koreans girls moving in packs about 20cm below my eye level and twittering incomprehensibly to one another. That sometimes puts me dimly in mind of an oddly psychologically distorting experience I had some months back, of the two Korean girls walking in front of me with their hands entwined at the Schoenbrunn Palace, both about my age. It is interesting to see Orientals as transfixed as they were by Occidental history. More than I was, frankly – since I take pleasure in almost no activities. They looked dazed, and, I thought, a little sad. It will be sadder yet to see the condition of Vienna and other European cities at the end of this century.
This is more than I can say for the Chinese students here. They were in British universities in great numbers, so I am told, as far back as the early 2000s, and their proficiency in English seems not to have improved any. Their mother country has a lot more to be hopeful about than we have at this point, but I do not think their parents are going to see much return on their investment when they go home.
Then there was my class. The classmates are a strange lot, which I like. Twelve persons in total; there used to be thirteen. All white, which is unsurprising given the subject matter. Eleven Britons and one non-Briton. Eight extraverts, three introverts, one schizoid personality. I determined that, crudely I admit, by checking who was and was not talking in the corridor before class. Of those not talking, only the foreign girl was not looking at her phone. I do not know which iteration of the iPhone everybody is on, but smartphone upgrades seem about the only tangible technological innovation in the Occident at this moment. Certainly it is the only innovation most people care about. Only two individuals with northern accents, which seems a recurring pattern, surprisingly. So far there have been none of the ubiquitous (and tedious) jousting matches people have about regional accents in England, such as hotly debating where to draw a line on a map dividing north from south. There were also two nose piercings, one exposed midriff (bearing in mind it was 5°C outside), a girl with teal hair, and a girl with rose-pink hair. Seven females and five males – all of the males seem to be in the lower two quartiles of height. I am 172cm tall (about 26th percentile for a male), but I was not the shortest among them. It is probably these people to whom I should feel the strongest cultural affinity; the SWPLs of Britain’s young middle class. Yet, you would not know it if you saw how I (do not) interact with them. Maybe I could deal with them as long as politics was off the table? This time someone was talking about trans awareness week in the corridor. Every week now seems to require a similar “awareness” from you. This is the girl who ended up in the basement at 6 PM one day because she could not find the exit of the building.
Not much to report about that class per se – at least nothing that I can remember.
Once it was over, I cogitated on some of these things as I made my way towards the library to wait for the second class of the day. By this time it was dark.
A small percentage of men and a smaller percentage of women engage with politics beyond trivia such as voting. Among these, reproductive concern is, as everywhere, in play. In general, women want to be protected and provided for and will cling to anything that offers that promise, such as feminism (or whatever else). Men want to climb the male reproductive success hierarchy and will gravitate towards that wherever they find it. Additionally, Jonathan Haidt’s neuropolitics is at work: neurological liberals and neurological conservatives. The extent to which reproductive concerns motivate a person is a matter of degree, I think; it depends on the individual’s temperament and, probably above all else, intelligence. But I am not quite sure where “trans awareness week” figures into all that. Maybe it should be obvious to me. Someone really ought to find a way to incorporate philosophical or mathematical concepts into the morphology of a language – something that would allow you to plug many explanatory factors into a cohesive multivariate structure (in the manner of a statistical analysis) without the endless repetitions, reframing, and blether that come when you attempt it in English. Ithkuil? We are the wrong species for such a project right now, however, and Mira est Lingua Latina sed mortua. I once joked about forcing everyone in the northern hemisphere to learn multiple European languages as well as Ithkuil, and perhaps I can make that my job if I someday ascend to posthuman godhood. But I doubt it.
Some appreciation for high culture is here. Not too far from the library I heard a Chopin nocturne being played a few weeks back. Stravinsky would have been more exciting, but it nevertheless felt noteworthy. It is a point of contrast to what many of my young compatriots have plugged into their ears as they sit in the library; the nu metal, and the indie, which ought to be called “post-indie” at this stage, every song being a pastiche of familiar indie clichés both lyrically and structurally, which seems rather self-defeating.
The old buildings here are so unkempt. Fungal spores cover the windowpanes. That makes a good half-arse of a metaphor for the landscape that surrounds me. What was once Britain’s industrial heartland, where valorous and beautiful men toiled sleeplessly in the mines, the shipyards, the fields, the factories, where the nation’s productive class reached its apogee, is now a shadow of a shadow of what it was. My brothers will leave for Australia at some point, I think. Although I do not blame them, I am not sure what solace they will find there either.
Back on the metro, and this time I made sure to scrub my hands with unusual vigour.