Thursday, August 30, 2007

The death of summer

Have you ever been stabbed? No neither have I. However, recent events have got me thinking a lot about what it must be like. There's a lot that keeps me awake at night, nothing of which I would feel comfortable divulging on something as public as a blog, but getting stabbed, shot, randomly attacked, etc. are not things that enter my head in the twilight hours. But apparently it does happen, and probably I'm more likely to become a victim of that than most things I worry about.

Let me tell you a little story, if I may. I was recently lucky enough to spend a bit of time in Western Australia, and if you think that travelling to Orpington is like being at the end of the Earth you would have a heart attack just considering the complete isolation that's a way of life in WA. In fact, that quality is what completely endeared the place to me. It was like the Wild West without lawlessness, or people. Fantastic.

We were driving down the (1) highway to Perth (the only real city in the 1m sq miles of land, and a small one at that) when yours truly needed to relieve himself. So off I trot, in my flip flops (or 'thongs' in Aussie parlance) to the side of the road. Bushes above small marsupial height were in scarce supply but seeing as we'd seen a total of zero cars since we left the last roadhouse 10km up the road I wasn't too bothered.

Having done the deed I headed back to the car but managed to step on something that can only be described as 'spiky' on the way back. That's the only way I can describe it because at the time I thought nothing of it. Soft-English-boy-skin-targeting flora and fauna is de rigeur round these parts.

So into the car I got. And then my brain went to work.

I knew about all the terrible creatures that exist in the Australian wilderness that can cut your life unexpectedly short, but I couldn't correlate that with what I'd trodden on. Nevertheless, within a few minutes I felt my heart rate surge, I felt hotter than the 45C outside heat would account for. I felt decidedly faint, colour was draining from my body and my vision. I knew I was about to pass into unconsciousness. I did all I could to stay conscious and the good lady I was with turned the car around and headed back to the last roadhouse.

I was absolutely terrified. My mind was racing at a million miles an hour calculating what I could have potentially trodden on, what their effects might be and how long it would take until my body was totally overwhelmed by whatever poison it was that they'd introduced into my system.

I did nearly pass out in that car. I'm still amazed to this day that I didn't. It was the most scared that I'd been in my entire life.

We got back to the roadhouse where a lovely lady didn't think me an idiot tourist or any of that kinda crap and reassured me, looked at the contact point (I had removed something black and white and 'spiky' from it in the car) and generally made me feel pretty content that the reaper had moved on to easier catches, before we set off down the road again.

For days and weeks later I felt remarkably silly for what I'd been through, but the fact is, it unsettled me for a long time. When we got to the next roadhouse 200km away I was still feeling uneasy, even though I was provided with one of the most delicious chicken sandwiches I'd ever had in my life - and I couldn't eat the whole thing. The only thing that was really helping me through all this was my love of Coca Cola. I can hear you laugh now. But seriously, that is what I had at the first roadhouse and I kept sipping Coke all the way back to Geraldton. So there we go, Coke saved my life.

I never found out what it was that stabbed me in the foot, but frankly it could have been anything. What sticks with me is the inescapable feeling of total fear that life will be over. Now I know that we are all going to die, though I know it's not a popular thing to bring it up, but with all the stabbings and shootings going on right now I can't help thinking that some people just really don't get it.

I was prompted to write this post because of the recent stabbing of a chap in Northamptonshire who was looking out for a friend of his. I don't know all the details and I'm not going to quote a newspaper because I doubt they do either. But one thing he apparently said really stuck with me:

'Everything is going black and white'

That's what it's like before you pass out. But unfortunately he never came around again. Now how does this correlate with my ramblings earlier you might ask? Well, rather tenuously I might say. But I know that everyone is probably already trying to find out how his parents/the media/social services/the government/etc. have failed the perpetrator but there's only one thing I want to know. And this goes for all the other recent (mostly teen) murderers:

Knowing that a highly possibly outcome of their actions is the death of someone, the end of existence of an individual, why do they do it and how can they live with themselves for it?


Anonymous said...

Good post Will.

This probably sounds terribly flippant in the face of what you've just written, but my guess would be that they've never experienced the feeling that they could be dying, and therefore simply don't realise the enormity of what it feels like.

Anonymous said...

Some people really do have an inability to extrapolate consequences from their actions - it's quite common in the sense of people often not working out that if they're bitchy to person A, person A might not be impressed with them etc. I'm sure in a small number of people it could lead them to not thinking ahead in terms of wider effects. And at the risk of being sexist, I think that inability to work out consequences is more common in men (I've lost count of the number of times I've had to explain to a guy why X might not be such a great idea, only to see the look of dawning comprehension spread across their face).

Or, they might not expect the stabbed person to die - you have to be quite unlucky to be stabbed in a part of your body where you can't be patched up with quick medical intervention, your ribs protect some vital organs and fatty tissue protects others.

Or, some people have a sense of isolation and don't see other people as 'real' - is there a real, medical, name for this? I half a feeling there is but I'm not sure - and therefore whatever they do to other people doesn't 'count'.

Others might have had such shitty lives they think the rest of the world deserves to feel some pain.

And others are just fucking psychopaths.

(I'm not going down the 'peer pressure' route, it's been rehashed so many times I'm sure it's possible to discuss it without coming over all Daily Mail.)

Pete said...

I think the answer lies with us being aggressive, predatory and ambitious social primates first and foremost. Vicious territorial squabbles and posturing come very naturally to all of us, and then it gets horribly complicated when you mix in lethal weapons and start living in cities with a population density that our baboon forebears wouldn't believe possible.

The ability to really project the consequences of our actions forward through time is a later evolutionary function and one that varies across individuals growing alongside maturity, talent, education and experience. You've really worked your knowledge of your own fragility through a number of thought experiments to frame the question you ask - it's just a sad fact that there's a significant proportion of people who aren't talented or thoughtful enough to do the same.