Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Back to the road awhile



Not quite as long as I'd like either... in fact, I've already booked the flight that will bring me home after two weeks cycling through France and Germany. It feels strange to have committed to ending a trip before you've even started it, but I suppose that's the standard arrangement for a holiday... and I've probably done well to avoid it as long as I have.

In general I have few causes for complaint right now. Since my round-the-world book was picked up by a publisher, I've felt a certain amount less pressure on me. Sitting around writing suddenly doesn't seem quite so indulgent as it used to. The book, Cycles, is due out next June, and editing it and getting the thing in to shape is proving more enjoyable than I had feared it would be. It's interesting to note how my writing's changed... my twenty-three year old voice sounds consistently ready to tear the world apart, I really like his innocence, and his fire, and though I'm glad to be no less angry at the same injustices he was, I think I've probably got better at approaching them more constructively.

I don't know if it's a funny time to be leaving London, or if, rather, it is actually the prospect of stepping out of society a while that casts the modern world in the peculiar, wearying light to which we ordinarily grow accustomed. Monday saw the death of the third London cyclist in as many weeks, it's also the first time news of a fatality has reached me at a time that coincided with a friend being in the area. I got to experience that grim relief of finding it was to be someone else's grief. In the United States, and the neighbourhood watch officer who shot-dead unarmed black man, Trayvon Martin, was acquitted of murder.

I continue to hear news from Turkey, of ongoing police brutality, the concerted attempt to send a message that protest is not to be tolerated. More disgusting than the violence with which Turkish state meets legitimate dissent, is the indifference of western governments towards the hate and the arrogance with which a state can treat its electorate. In this silence, just as in the silences that now accompany diplomatic visits from Chinese or Arab nations, you find realisation that none of the world's most powerful countries has a commitment to democracy or human rights that does not shrink beside the prospect of saying something that might offend trading partners and investors. It is worrying that rights and humanity would have all-but lost the international prestige that, sadly, is one of the few things that safeguards them. It is worrying that western governments now have such little respect for the legitimacy of protest.

Divergent as these deaths and injustices might be, they all carry the same spectre of a systemic indifference towards loss of life, a faith in normalcy that cannot be touched by any amount of human suffering. Most worrying of all is the huge gulf that has opened between what state authorities regard to be an acceptable risk of harm, and the natural right of people to lead lives that are not endangered by commitment to an economic or social order. The London construction traffic that on Monday ended another life, has in it the same blind, destructive force... it is apt that so much of this heavy traffic is on the road in the name of skyscrapers and luxury apartments, neither of which were ever intended to benefit the majority of those living in their shadows.

I know lots of talented and committed people who work hard in progressive politics and campaigning... none of which will work without a culture of greater empathy. Creating that culture is the issue on which all sound politics rests, in particular shortening the gulf of feeling between those who lead us, towards those who must live under them. I'll be on the roads of Europe for the next couple of weeks, a place that seems to have become a bit of an office from which I set my brain to that task. It's certainly the place where I'm best reminded it's worth persisting.

Ride safe, be nice to one another.

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