Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.
We have such a lot to put up with in the state of Affluenza: I’m suffering from compassion fatigue: there’s always someone after my charity dollar…Paying off the mortgage is taking all my time and energy; so much so that I can’t enjoy my harbour view…I feel so guilty: I know! I’ll dress in black, like Johnny Cash did, until there is equality and harmony and world peace… Keeping up with the Joneses is such tiring business because just when you get up to where they are, lo and behold, another set of Joneses pops up to spoil your feeling of having arrived.
The phrase has been with us for over one hundred years and is becoming increasingly archaic; predicated, as it was, on a much lesser gap in wealth between socio-economic groups. Now, the gap between wealth and the rest is staggering. And even within the top 1%- that cliché for true wealth, there is a divide between the millionaires who are becoming a dime a dozen, so to speak, and the rarefied planet of the jet-setting billionaires. In the state of Affluenza, you don’t want to be alone, in a position of vulnerability, and subject to illness, accident or attack, because- chances are- you will become just another statistic in the case-files of the bystander effect.
Wikipedia defines this as a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. Now, this phenomenon pre-dates Affluenza as the parable of The Good Samaritan attests but it is clearly amplified in affluent, urban societies. Here are a few: Kitty Genovese, a young woman stabbed, raped and killed brutally over a period of half an hour outside her apartment building in Queens, NYC in 1964, within the hearing of a dozen people, not one of whom lifted a hand to help or even a phone for police assistance, which would have saved her life. In 2011 two-year old Wang Yue was run over twice, by drivers, in the Chinese city of Foshan, neither of whom stopped. At least 18 bystanders walked past without aiding the stricken infant. Only an elderly rubbish scavenger, Chen Xianmei, stopped to help the dying child. How many of the plutocracy are worth as much, in essence, as this fine woman.
But what does inaction do to those who witness human distress without active compassion? And how many of us can say we have always acted honourably when confronted with similar situations? There is a photograph that I often used in the last twenty years of my teaching career to illustrate the importance of context and framing in the making of meaning. It is a photograph taken in 1993 by photo-journalist Kevin Carter of an African scene. I would show, at first, a cropped shot of a vulture on the arid plain gazing intently at something just out of frame and ask for a response- which was usually fairly tepid. Then, I would reveal the uncropped shot where we see in the foreground a severely emaciated child crawling on the ground. Now, it is clear why the vulture is gazing so intently. The response is always one of shock. As I was shocked today, when I learned a fuller version of the story:
Carter waited, in vain, for 20 minutes for the vulture to spread its wings- which he thought would make the better shot. All the while the child was whimpering and panting in distress. Carter took the shot, shoo-ed the vulture away and then walked off, leaving the child, claiming he didn’t want to get involved. He won the Pulitzer Prize the following year and he took his own life by carbon monoxide poisoning. I feel desperately sorry for his loved ones, for him, too, and I don’t presume to know if there was a causal link between the circumstances of the photograph and his final act, but I would not be surprised to learn that it was a factor.
Here in Australia, refugees have self-immolated and self-harmed in protest over the conditions at their off-shore detention centres. Both of the major parties here in Australia are welded to policies that guarantee cruelty to these people will persist as I, and twenty-five million fellow citizens look on. The Prime Minister, like so many of his colleagues, claim to be active Christians, so I wonder how foreign aid will fare in the next budget-especially COVID vaccines for the third world? In a thought- experiment, I have the cabinet study, in detail, Matthew 25: 31-45.
You know, the one where humanity is compared to the shepherd separating the sheep from the goats on the day of judgement: I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Those on the right side, pass this test and go to heaven. As for the others…hmm. And I would have those Cabinet Christians all recite The Confiteor, that old penitential prayer which includes these words,
I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Now, of course, even in a thought-experiment, I would allow atheists to affirm their willingness to do what is right, and non-Christians to recite penitential prayers from their own traditions.[insert song]
Our next letter finds the narrator paying homage to Paul McCartney, T. S. Eliot, Carol Ann Duffy, Dannie Abse , Ruth Fainlight, Roger McGough and Peter Porter. At age 16 I played the Sgt Pepper’s album over and over until I knew by heart the words of all the songs including the one I used as the inspiration for the next song, composed 47 years after the purchase of that seminal record.
Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.
Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)
Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58
For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used
Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studio. Approximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.