When I was a young lad I used to visit my Great Uncle a lot, and anyone who’s been following my work for a while knows that he is my greatest inspiration. I think this is in part because he had a direct connection to seemingly ‘distant’ history and often used to tell stories of the city of Norwich being on fire during WW2, and other memories relating to pulling dead pilots out of trees near his home. I’m sure these early encounters with both the brutality and nonchalance of history have influenced my writing, in fact, I’m certain of it. Anyway, one of my most vivid memories is – lucky for me – the moment I learnt one of the most important lessons I’ll ever learn.
Me and my Great Uncle were driving down some rural country lanes to a small pigeon shooting spot he liked to check when he was bored and the weather was nice. The day was bright, quintessentially English, I believe it was spring time and early in the morning. We got to a junction and were about to turn right, but before we did, we had to wait for someone walking their dog. Now, what are often common sights can become lifetime lessons when seen through the eyes of someone wise, this is largely what Michel Serres’ work is.
The woman who was walking her dog wasn’t exactly walking her dog, as much as she was being dragged by it. When one thinks of people who are walking their pets this is actually an extremely common sight. The dog on its leash/lead being ‘walked’ by its owner, but when one looks closer, the leash is so tense that the owner is actually being pulled by the dog, the leash is only there to give the illusion of control. My Uncle, probably spotting a great moment to teach a moral lesson, held on the brakes before taking the turn. Watching as the woman was dragged at an uncomfortable pace by her dog past the front of the car, my Uncle turned to me and said ‘My boy, who’s walking who?’
Little did I know this would be the greatest lesson in power I would ever learn. In an instant my Uncle had taught me everything about power they don’t want you to know, that is, power is exactly where you can sense it, whether or not various institutions, structures or systems say otherwise. The great illusion here is that just because the dog was kept on a leash and the owner had ahold of the leash that the dog was under control, except, this isn’t true at all. But in reality, due to the creation of a structure of power which is entwined with various social entities it seems both easy and difficult to see exactly where the power lies.
The large majority of people would of course say that the owner (or person holding the leash) is the person who holds the power, for the mere fact that they hold the leash. In much the same manner, many would say it is the government which holds the power because they hold the societal leash via taxes etc. Some would say it was the leash itself which holds power, the structure which allows power to operate is power itself, the normalcy of the leash is power. A rare few would notice that the dog actually holds a fair bit of power because he is able to pull the leash and thus the owner via the strength of his will, however, dogs of a certain age rarely learn that if they keep pulling the leash that they will end up with either a shorter leash or simply be banned from going on walks altogether.
So there’s quite a few little oddities of information held in this one example. Firstly, the dog does in fact hold the power. He is able to control both the leash and thus the owner via exertion of his will, but he doesn’t think of the consequences with respect to what the owner might do due to such frustrations, he only thinks of the immediate goals he’d like to attain. In much the same way, one can currently say that within our contemporary form of pseudo-democratic government the people hold a certain amount of power, but it is constrained by the leash, there is a limit to their power and the owner is always in control of this limit. Shifts of the democratic herd towards X, Y or Z seem – from their perspective – to have accomplished something, but they never contemplate whether or not they’re still on the leash altogether, which of course they are. It’s the illusion of freedom within the same constraints. When we see people who exert their will over the government and cause it to bend or (in-part) break, it should be clear that it is they who – momentarily – hold the actual power, but they have changed nothing, and are simply exhausting themselves by pushing against the leash.
I think if any of my essays ever get misconstrued as defeatist, this will definitely be the one, but I’m hoping I can argue my corner. What happens to those faithful mutts who understand the system? Who understand that haphazardly putting their energies solely in direction of their own will only causes greater harm in the long-run? Dare I say, what happens to those loyal mutts who inherently understand limitation, etiquette and order? They get let off the leash, they get trusted. Am I saying sit back, do nothing and don’t exert your opinion? Absolutely not. Am I saying that more often than not multiple forms of energy exertion are performed within a closed loop which has illusory ends? Yes.
It sucks, you’re in a system which you’re not keen on. That no one is keen on, at least in its current form. So, what are your options? Tug on the leash and exhaust all your energy within the confines of disobedience, a place where one is always watched and suppressed…this sounds utterly useless. Or, accept certain limitations of life, accept the cyclicity of history and try to remove yourself from it. Practice understanding the grey-ness of history and truth, head towards a clarity of thought which is not tainted by various shades of blue and red. If you begin from a position of personal sovereignty which is created with an understanding of immediate governmental limitation, then your direction can only be one of personal self-improvement. From this position one can – internally – be let off the leash and head towards a position of sincerity and discipline. An understanding that you are your own person, and that your energies will not be targeted at deconstruction or demolition, not for lack of vitality, but for lack of care regarding that system, it is what it is, but it doesn’t have to infect you. And so you become the mutt without the leash, trusted to wander here and there, exploring and relaxing, being intrigued by what fascinates you and unconcerned with what doesn’t.
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