Ending 2016 With Lorde

So, it’s the end of 2016, which at times seemed like a pretty apocalyptic year. Trump got in, Brexit got voted for, Syria still rages through war and not to mention the 6th mass extinction and resource depletion. It seems all those stories about humans conquering the world, about technology solving all our problems, about the forward trajectory of human civilisation, well, they turned out to be pretty shoddy stories with a shed load of plot flaws and inconsistencies. Fortunately, we’ve got Lorde, the singer songwriter, to offer us some guidance and it comes in her song Team.

The video and the lyrics go hand in hand as they paint a picture of faded grandeur. A city that’s slowly falling apart, the sort of place “you’ll never see on-screen, not very pretty,” – nothing like the Kardashians’ numerous houses. It’s a place where guys joust with baseball bats on motorbikes and grin chipped tooth smiles as the blood trickles down their noses. It’s an apocalyptic rite of passage as people get initiated into meaningless. “Living in ruins of a palace within my dreams” and that’s where we seem to be retreating these days, to inside our heads, far away from the dangers of the world, far away from the grim realities of climate change and refugee crises. Although even for Lorde that palace in her dreams is falling apart. It seems nowhere is safe anymore.

But maybe, in and amongst the debris, there’s hope. “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air, So there.” Maybe Lorde’s bored of being told to give up and surrender, maybe she does want meaning in a culture that’s regularly telling her nothing matters and we should all just give up. Sure, the old stories might not make sense – that everything would end happily ever after – but the people telling those stories were clearly quite deluded (and probably very privileged). What if it’s this naive belief in stories – that life has clear and well-structured beginnings, middles and ends, like fairy tales – that’s the problem. What if finding meaning in today’s world will take more than a simplistic story structure.

“And everyone’s competing for a love they won’t receive, ‘Cause what this palace wants is release.” Lorde’s right again, we are competing, constantly hoping this life of high consumerism, economic reductionism and endless comparison will give us meaning as we shove one another aside to get what we want and get happy trying. That seems so much to be the dominant story of now. But beyond the credit card transactions and the debt, like Lorde, we crave release – release from these highly conditioning bonds of consumer capitalism. Or maybe this is just an exceptionally self-indulgent blog written by a directionless yet privileged millenial – a bit like the sort of people Lorde sings about perhaps.

But, as self-indulgent as I can be, I do want to do something about the mess we’re in, even if the contribution is small and it still all ends in apocalypse (bearing in mind that countless people are already living and dying through various incarnations of hell on earth). And I think Lorde’s song holds the key. She offers us the answer for getting out of this debt-heavy, meaning-lite existence because “you know, we’re on each other’s team.” Somewhere beyond the narratives of endless competition there is a story of teamwork, a more meaningful story in which we join forces and learn to share. And it will be so much more than a story, it will be real human experiences of compassion and community. Better to rebuild ruins together than be forced to live in them alone.

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Tinder In The Time Of Mass Extinction

The sixth mass extinction has begun and this time the cause is not a giant asteroid colliding with the earth, it’s us, human beings. And as the animals, plants and sea life die at a rate 200 times greater than if humans did not roam the earth my smart phone buzzes to reveal I have a new Tinder match. Shall I message them or ‘keep playing’? I’ll keep playing.

Tinder first, then the mass extinction. Tinder is a dating app that lets you view a few photos of people as well as a short paragraph about them. If you like them you swipe right, if not, left. Then onto the next one. If you both like each other you match and then you can start messaging one another, so at least you won’t have to send speculative messages to people who aren’t interested. So, it’s a simple way to connect with possible hook-ups, dates and lovers utilising the latest smart phone technology. But I think it’s more than that.

I think it’s an app that could only have come about in a time of great loneliness and isolation. As our means of communication increase so our means for community diminish. Local pubs, shops, clubs and libraries, to name but a few community centres where you might bump into a potential mate, are vanishing as rampant consumer capitalism punches its marks all over our cities, towns and villages. And these consumerism hubs aren’t about spending time they are about spending money – as many paying customers in the shortest time possible please. Public space is being privatised to facilitate shopping, making it increasingly hard to ‘bump into’ a potential lover (instead there’s Happn, another dating app that uses GPS technology to introduce you to people you’ve crossed paths with). In essence, these apps are trying to fill the gaps that are left behind when community vanishes. So I comb my hair in the best possible direction, turn to the light and angle my camera phone to take as flattering a picture as possible, hoping someone’s going to swipe right.

And now for the mass extinction. Well, it’s linked to that relentless consumer, capitalist society that I mentioned earlier. Not only does it depend on people being lonely and dissatisfied so they buy more things to compensate, it also depends on an endless supply of natural resources to make the things from. Resources including clean water, clean air, rare minerals, fossil fuels etc. So as we chop down forests, eviscerate mountains and pollute our oceans and atmosphere it’s no surprise that things keep dying – animals, plants, fish, etc. Consumer capitalism doesn’t just threaten human communities it undermines biological communities as well, whole ecosystems are razed to the ground for profit. Where exactly will the Amur Leopard hang out so she can meet a potential mate if her home is being destroyed? There’s no Tinder for endangered species.

So, it turns out that Tinder and the sixth mass extinction do have something in common: they both reflect a loss of community. Whilst the former is an attempt to deal with this loss, the latter is a very tragic consequence of living in the Anthropocene – a time that began when human activities started having a big global impact on the earth’s ecosystems (probably when industrialisation kicked off). Of course, there’s much to criticise Tinder for – namely, for reducing love to a smart phone app. But I think beneath the simple swipe of a finger there is a deep yearning to connect beyond the brands, logos and selfies and meet someone or someones we can truly come to know, someone with whom we can build community. We yearn to connect with others and I believe, so long as this yearning persists, there will always be a desire for more than this, more than the world of consumer capitalism. A world in which humans flourish as part of larger, thriving biodiverse ecosystems. So I swipe right hoping to find someone I can share the highs and lows of the sixth mass extinction with…

Tinder