On karma, karma, karma, and being top of the charts…
I saw an interesting quote on facebook the other day. A quote which seemed to perfectly capture the current uncompromising mood in the face of so much global human misery.
‘Policymakers,’ it went, ‘who deny basic scientific truths, should also be denied penicillin, horseless carriages and airtime on the magic box of shadows.’
It’s attributed to a Joss Whedon, a polymath in the film industry. A screenwriter, director, producer and composer, he also co-wrote Toy Story, which is an epic piece of storytelling, so I already know I’d like him.
And, at first glance, what he says connects too. You can’t have it both ways, after all. And since I assume he’s referring to those who would seek to bamboozle us with myths over fact – your average deranged jihadist, white supremacist, and/or creationist – there’s a lot of righteous sense in what he suggests.
Indeed, it reminds me of various wars raged via email back in my thirties, when ‘horrifying birth stories at the hands of evil medical overlords’ was a competitive sport. It ended, for me, when I was moved one day to point out that for every ‘they ripped it out of me with forceps when it was NOT in my birth plan’ there were thousands more pre-modern-medicine birthing stresses, such as ‘mostly dying’ and ‘the baby dying too’.
But to the point. On second glance (I do a lot more second glancing these days) I wonder if, in fact, that’s not the way.
Though it does sometimes seem so. We have a lot of terms for validating the idea of ‘come-uppance’, after all. With our friends in distress – be it a vile boss, cheating husband, or a slight from a supposed friend – the post-modern way is to invoke the concept of karma, which will see them rewarded for their sins by making their appearance in the next life as a headlouse.
I’ve always liked karma as a friend-soothing device. It’s kinder, more constructive, more emotionally positive, than suggesting the aggrieved arm up and go slash all their clothes.
Like Karma, the buck-passing device with a heart, there’s also the traditional robust go-to of ‘they shall reap as they sow’. You do right by the world and it’ll do right by you, but those who choose the opposite road will have their bums bitten.
And there’s a comfort in that, isn’t there? In the great ‘told you so’ again being dealt with by the future. You know the drill. Her former husband is a low-life, as everyone knows. But her children persist in loving him, even so. Even when he fails to turn up/breaks their heart by forgetting another birthday. They shall reap as they sow, once those children are grown. They’ll be seen through adult eyes and treated accordingly.
Then there’s the warrior’s chant of ‘live by the sword, die by the sword!!’. Dole out violence, expect the same in return.
I could go on. What goes around comes around. Eye for an eye. Do as you would be done by. Ultimately, they are the same. A belief in the rightness of consequences.
Which is a fine thing to teach a child, vis-a-vis their own actions; to let them take the rap for not doing their homework (rather than you doing it) is to have them learn to take responsibility for themselves.
But to champion the idea of meting it out to others – either directly, or by invoking destiny – that’s the bit I increasingly struggle with.
So, for all that Joss Whedon’s elegant words chime with my little-red-hen instinct, do I want to stand by and watch death by infection? Exclusion from the future? A voice denied free speech? No.
They should be given that rope. Not to hang themselves with, but to help THEM climb out of ignorance too.
In other news, I’m having a moment in the sunshine. I hesitate to crow, because I hate to appear immodest, but I share this for all the talented authors in the world who believe their own day may never come. Tomorrow I am Numero Uno. You won’t see my name (I am the silent half of the author Julie Shaw) but our creation, Bad Blood, is going to be sitting pretty at the top of a certain Sunday Times non-fiction bestseller list. Hurrah!
It’s been 21 years from my first published article to this point, and almost double that number of published books. So, if you can stomach it, another homily for the young and impatient. Hard graft can have consequences too.
First published in The Western Mail Weekend magazine, July 30th 2016