Terry from Derry: Human Condition


By Terry Boyle

Meditation by Ezra Pound

When I carefully consider
the curious habits of dogs
I am compelled to conclude
That man is the superior animal.

When I consider the curious habits of man
I confess, my friend, I am puzzled.

There is no doubt that the history of humankind is puzzling. Our struggle to survive as a species has taken us to the brink of annihilation on more than one occasion. We’ve faced the void of our own extinction and somehow managed to come back from the edge.

Just what miracle of common sense prevailed when we looked into the abyss is still puzzling to me.  For some, it could be interpreted as the grace of God, for others a matter of pure luck but for me, it’s just downright puzzling. 

If we were to believe the endless conspiracy theories on social media, we’d be consumed by despair. Our paranoia heightened to the point of distrusting everyone and everything, we would isolate ourselves from all reason and fact.  The world of social media is littered with landmines of non-fact, designed to detonate and destroy our trust in any objective reality.

Those who perpetrate these erroneous ideas know the human psyche very well. They understand and prey on our uncertainty in order to destabilize our belief in democracy and belief in human goodness.

Ezra Pound, the author of Meditato, was something of a puzzle himself. Apart from his creative abilities as a poet, he inspired and encouraged a whole generation of literary artists, including James Joyce.  He can be credited with pushing the boundaries of modern literature.
Yet, despite being a muse for modernists, he shared anti-Semitic sympathies and was a lover of the Italian dictator, Mussolini. There is much to despise about Pound’s politics and yet he personifies the very puzzling thing about human nature that fascinates him, namely contradiction.

And, while his genius inspired many notable writers to radical experimentation (works that we now value as timeless classics), he also justified tyranny and prejudice.  The irony of the Meditatio is that it is this contradiction in Pound’s character that I find puzzling.

We don’t need to look any further than our television screens or newsfeeds to hear the same contradiction being echoed in the mouths of politicians soliciting votes. They praise their agendas while denigrating anyone who opposes them.

This particular facet is part and parcel of the political debate, which I can accept, but when it comes to fear-mongering, then I suspect something more nefarious is at work.  When a politician starts promoting the white privilege agenda, you know they are attempting to engender a view of racial diversity that is almost apocalyptic.

The outcome of such rhetoric usually results in acts of violence against racial minorities. Mosques, synagogues and other places of cultural difference become targets for this hatred.

Right to Bear Arms
What seems to work in tandem with this burgeoning bigotry is the fight ‘to bear arms’.  Even though gun violence continues to make this country a dangerous place to be, some ignore the facts and argue for even greater weapon power.

Children are not safe at school. They are not safe in their homes where guns are readily available, and yet the increasing number of deaths due to gun violence is brushed aside.  It’s a fact that there are more guns in this country than there are people.

It is also a recipe for disaster to have people so worried about their welfare that they have to go out and get a gun to protect themselves. By making it so easy to arm yourself, you also make it easy for the person who would use that weapon to cause harm.

Reason would suggest that by having greater gun control you lessen the chances of gun-related crimes. We only have to look at other countries that have implemented rigorous policies to know these measures work.

The greatest weapon is language. The language of those in power can either create unity and celebrate diversity or it can work to destabilize a society. 

In recent years, we’ve seen the former president use language to create distrust, venerate blind obedience, undermine the judiciary, and encourage acts of violence. The words of one man in a place of power can do much more harm than a gun. 

Years after inspiring an insurrection, we are still dealing with the fallout of his inflammatory language.  He has created a cult based on fear, suspicion, and division.  Unlike the poet Pound, this former president has done nothing to inspire anything good.

There is no contradiction in his practices.  He has attempted to defraud on his taxes, and make money from gullible supporters, without offering anything meaningful to the country.

There are times in our history when all hope was lost, and still, we continue. We have looked into the abyss and still crept away from the edge. I wonder if it will be so for us in the future.

I wonder how long it will take for us to see the light when it comes to climate change.  Will we ever learn that our actions have global consequences?  Can we change our behaviour before it’s too late?  Or, is it too late already? 

I have lots of fears about where we as human beings are going. As the weather patterns change, and become more unpredictable, we are facing an unknown future. Against a tide of false information readily available on social media, we’re seeing a greater polarization between fact and fiction. 

The language of the day decries the best in us and validates our worst traits. We’ve traded openness and honesty for xenophobia and fake news.

Grace at Rock Bottom
What saved us in the past from destroying ourselves, whether it be the grace of God or luck, I hope it will once again bring us back from the brink of destruction and offer us another opportunity to get it right. Maybe it might be a case of reaching our ‘rock bottom’ so that we can get along together and work towards a global sense of community that is not afraid of difference.     

Read more of Terry’s columns HERE

Terry Boyle

Terry Boyle

*Terry is a retired professor now living in Southern California. Terry is originally from Derry, Northern Ireland, and in 2004 he took up a position at Loyola University, Chicago where he taught courses on Irish and British literature. Apart from teaching, Terry has had a number of plays produced and has recently been included in The Best New British and Irish Poets 2019 - 2021 (published by The Black Spring Press). He can be reached at: [email protected]


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