I innocently crack open a message from a dear friend this morning. The subject line is: your blog. The actual subject? Me not having done my homework. At least that’s what I get from two terse paragraphs, dense with numbers, slicing through the loose-knit argument of “they died for Britain” with the needle-nosed efficacy of a volley of arrows loosed by anachronistically clean warriors high-budget Hollywood films about the Crusades.
“The other palpable difference is population size – c. 45m v c. 65m – c 1.6 deaths due to domestic violence per million v c 2 deaths due to domestic violence per million. Very slightly higher, but given the more stringent Spanish laws this suggests to me that your wolf-whistling lotharios are perhaps not the harmless tykes you paint them as. And I’m not sure that domestic violence is contingent on pride in your family – where’ve you pulled that from?
Compare this to our civilised neighbours, the USA – c. 4 deaths per million (1,273 deaths, c. 300m people), half a 9/11 every year – and this is nothing compared to Russia where the most recent government estimate, from 2004 (no official figures here) was that 9,000 women were killed as a result of domestic violence. Three 9/11s. The population of Russia is c. 140m, so, shockingly, that’s over 60 deaths per m, 10 a day; and that’s a reduction on the figures of 10 years ago (estimated 14,000 deaths, 1999).”
I slouch into my chair. Pull my hood up for psychic defence then start gnawing on the end of one of its draw strings like a sulky teenager. I feel inexplicably guilty; like I should explain myself. Apologise, maybe, for not knowing all that already. If I were a teenager, it’s the feeling I would have somewhere after the beginning but before the end of a parent’s “after all that we’ve done for you I can’t believe you’d…” lecture. Abashed, irritated, defensive.
“I might as well just give up,” I grumble to a sympathetic ear. “If one of the people I respect most in the world thinks I’m full of shit….”
My words, written in flash of solipsistic righteousness, feel cheap. I didn’t want anyone to look at them, suddenly, didn’t want them to mean anything. “i’m speechless. it’s a blog. no one is supposed to read it. much less take it seriously enough to fling a shovel-load of statistics back at me!” I message back.
I want to take my blog down and, if possible, wrap the scraps of it around me, letting my careless words muddle slowly to bits, like old newsprint.
If there weren’t someone else in the office it would be difficult to resist the urge to crawl under my desk, like they did in the ’50s when the government wanted people to believe that plywood can stop nuclear radiation. I don’t, of course. It would be just as meaningless a gesture. Words have a half-life of forever.
Deflated, I fidget through the rest of my email, read a Facebook invitation to a party I can’t make, start things then forgot what I am trying to do and stop. I can’t get over the idea it is my job to know what I’m writing about, before spitting out opinions like a mouthful of too-hot coffee. That simply scribbling down my reactions only adds senselessly to the half-baked theories, idiot notions and bad religion steaming off a shitheap of collective sloppy thinking.
Maybe I’m wrong about irresponsibility. Maybe one’s own moral understanding is meant to be kept to oneself. Maybe irresponsibility is rushing around regurgitating half-digested information. Maybe it’s holding things so closely you can’t see them in perspective. Maybe it’s not knowing.