Modern Times · The Comfort Zone

A Reflection On The New Year Celebrations.

Last night the skies of the world exploded into colour. Duvali, Loy Kratong and other festivals all celebrate the darkest night of the year, and do so with light. In a way, it makes  to celebrate the darkest time by making your own light, doesn’t it? This is ‘The Coathanger’ in Sydney, last night. Afternoon, here in Europe.

As a kid Loy Kratong, the Thai celebration was still a quiet affair. Puddles, swimming pools and klongs – the Bangkok canals that criss cross the city – were afloat with folded paper boats with little candles in them. I loved it for the quiet of the celebration, a quiet rarely found in bustling Bangkok where the traffic is still so dense that it is polite for your host to offer to drive you to the other side of the street.

It was remembering this that I thought to visit Bangkok during November when Loy Kratong takes place. I was greeted by a rather different celebration, a more modern form of light making; one that involves making lots of noise too. The now ubiquitous firework. And yes, they are pretty. It’s just that they are so noisy! It seems that the peaceful stillness of a winter’s night, such as they aren’t in Asia, needed to be blasted apart with deafening explosions.

Sound And Light As Qualities.

Sound isn’t light. Light is something close to thinking, sound is more experiential, visceral. Modern people use sound to tell others of their presence, like the timid teenager with his new scooter – and he’s just pulled the tailpipe off so that it makes a louder farting noise as he travels the world his neighbourhood. He wants to be known, but by the time you know it, all you get is his backside and a whiff of two-stroke oil. He’s making a statement like the graffiti artists: they’re as incapable of communicating as the people they’re sticking two fingers up at. In our world it doesn’t take much to make a noise.

Making light silently takes a lot of consideration. At least the graffiti artist took several hours to make their statement, it takes a lot less to make a bang. The problem is that they’re both meaningless.

Consideration is what makes a society, after all. Societies are not held together by the administrative systems that keep the workers busy; societies are held together by people who consider the needs of others. Last night on the train home from Amsterdam I met two youngsters and described to them one of the funnier anecdotes from my book. Well, it gave them a laugh, didn’t it? And I’d rather people laughed with me than made mechanical farting noises in my face. I don’t mind people laughing at me, as long as it’s good humoured.

Laughter, like the sigh, is an exhalation of air; albeit the qualities of the two actions are very different. An exhalation is the expression of one’s self. In our world where too many talk without listening, noise has become the metaphor for the comfort zone. The pops and farts of a tiny engine are the precursor to the rumble of a V8 of the man who has grown up and become successful. He is fast, noisy and above all, enclosed within the glass and metal box that is a world in which he can be safe. Nobody can talk to him because the windows stand between him and the world, as invisible as his own psychic barriers.

New Year’s Eve In Holland.

Thus it is that everybody needs to make a noise. Especially the men, it seems. It is they who stand with a box of fireworks to one side and their crate of beer to the other. The family look on, father is in control. The others may be allowed to light the blue touch-paper from time to time, it is very much at daddy’s dispensation. Control is at heart, a masculine trait.

The man strives, and strives because he knows what he wants. The problem for today – and always has been – is that the inherent challenge to striving is to listen. Only by listening can one be absolutely sure that one is on the right path. Businessmen across the planet are finding problems because they have not listened. Nurture, the female trait, is more accepting of the needs of others. Men need nurturing as anybody else, irrespective of how many times they may deny this. But then this denial has led them to pay for the things that nurture, and buy female bodies by the hour instead. Some men degrade themselves even further by buying a plastic body instead. Rather than give expression to that which to a woman is far more worth. Money allows the man to keep his distance, and thus, keep him safe.

There is only so much the authorities can do in the face of this primal urge. If left unsatisfied, it leads to violence. Only with some, violence results even when sated. Violence – and noise – are the two metaphors of a comfort zone that is faced with threats from outside. The things that unsettle the weak of mind: it doesn’t take much intelligence to hit someone over the head with a four by two. It takes intelligence to listen to the person who might just be able to help you.

Thus it is that the authorities are happy to sanction a day when everybody can let rip. For most of us, having a job means doing as you’re told and having no say about it. Even when you’re doing something that’s directly against the person who is ultimately paying you. But that’s not how control works, is it? Control doesn’t ask who’s paying, it only wants its own way irrespective of the realities. But then, control in business is that which leads directly to its demise (1).

People who are regimented in every facet of their lives are those who need to let off steam once in a while. It’s not as if they can do this for themselves in the way I do. I might not have many readers for my book, or this blog, for that matter. That’s not the point: it is an expression of myself that allows me to deal with the punitive severity of the administrative systems that exist around me. A severity that would enforce itself on me were I unfortunate enough to stand in my friend Hendrik’s shoes and be forced to bore young students for hours at a time.

No: when a person’s imagination has been snuffed out before they even knew they had one, is it any surprise that they need to be told when to have fun? Without an imagination, their life is a continual stream of boredom. I remember one Christmas Eve, several years ago now, where we dined in a specially organized Christmas feast. Tables lined up in rank upon rank in what can only be described as a warehouse and filled with laughter and chatter. I have never felt so lonely. Because of the lies these otherwise unhappy people so happily told each other. They knew that they had to perform for their friends so that their friends could pretend to be happy too. It’s their only escape from the emptiness and the boredom they will return home to find.

People Being Allowed To Celebrate.

The authorities are happy to stop the trains though. People are expected to be at home that night and from eight onwards the engines are still. Christmas day has a Sunday service, which means the trains run beyond midnight, even in this forgotten corner. But not New Year’s Eve. The authorities want it known that this really is a holiday.

It’s not as if the authorities know any better, is it? They grew up celebrating New Year’s Eve in the streets outside their homes with a few sparklers and the occasional rocket. Ten years ago, the situation had begun to spin out of control: six houses were burned to the ground. The fire services have been strengthened since then: if you’re a fireman, you have a different entertainment on New Year’s Eve.

Oh, and the trains start running as usual from one the next morning to provide the night services. That means the train crews have to be present before midnight, along with all the support staff. So much for the reality; so much for the illusion that everybody gets a night off.

But it’s always easier to believe what you see than think about the situation that people have created because they don’t want to think. Because if they did think, there’d be the occasional rocket going up at midnight and a few sparklers along with the friendly chat the Dutch are so good at. But then, they’d probably do it on Christmas Eve, rather than an arbitrary date chosen by a forgotten Roman king at the dawn of history.



(1) See my post ‘Live Wires’ for more; and the effects of a comfort zone irretrievably punctured.


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