Teenage annihilation on an Aegean boat
An Old Bore writes:
Last week I got the boat from Athens to Hydra. It takes about 2 ½ hours, and takes you along the coast of the Argolid.
The sun shone, the dolphins leapt, the retsina flowed, the bouzoukis trembled, and we watched the sun rise over the Peloponnese. It was wonderful. At least it was for me.
Basking on the upper deck, playing Russian roulette with malignant melanoma, were four girls, all aged around 15. They saw nothing. They stretched out on bean bags, their eyes shut throughout the voyage. They heard nothing other than what was being pumped into their ears from their IPods. They would no doubt describe themselves as friends, but they didn’t utter a word to each other. They shared nothing at all apart from their fashion sense and, no doubt, some of the music. The dolphins leapt unremarked upon. We might, so far as the girls were concerned, have been cruising past Manchester rather than Mycenae.
I think this is rather sad, for a number of reasons. But it’s also troubling for the good democrat (that’s every decent person), who wants to believe that those girls’ views about the world should be taken seriously – or at least as seriously as the views of everyone else. This isn’t because (or isn’t only because), they passed up the opportunity to acquire information about the world that might be pertinent to their decision-making. It’s mainly because they passed up a 2 ½ hour chance of relationality, and therefore a chance to become more themselves. That unconversational sun-bathe was an assault on their individuality – both the individuality that they’d developed already, and the individuality that they could and should have developed in the Argo-Saronic Gulf. (Press me on where the ‘should’ comes from and I’ll come over all sanctimonious and answer you in several different philosophical languages). They’ll never recover completely from the bruising.
Let’s suppose (unfairly, no doubt), that one of them (I’ll call her Niki) lives all her life like that, in the sort of isolation that used to be thought of as cruel and unusual punishment. What would she be? We discover the shape of ourselves by looking at the imprint we make on the people who surround us. If there are no people, there’s no imprint; we’ll have no idea where we start and where we finish. We’ll be amorphous to the point of non-existence. Non-relationality (whether it’s on the deck of a cruise ship, in a hermit’s eyrie on Mount Athos, in a bed-sit in Earls Court, or in the boardroom of a huge corporation – where you and everyone around you is a functionary rather than a person) is a form of dehumanization, which is a form of suicide. It’s also a form of homicide. When Niki declines to relate to others, she’s causing or permitting their dehumanization or, which is the same thing, failing to facilitate their humanization: she’s denying them the chance of being humanized in the way that only relationship with her can achieve.
It’s obvious, I hope, that none of this should affect in any way the attitude that I have towards Niki. I’m lamenting her decision to dehumanize (or to fail to humanize) herself. That doesn’t mean that I can presume for any purposes that she is dehumanized. For a start I’m almost certainly wrong about her. She was probably listening to Lear and weeping behind her eyeshades. But even supposing my assumed facts to be correct, the judgement is one neither I nor anyone else could possibly make. Judgment about someone’s else’s human status can only be done by someone outside the human matrix altogether. I can’t get outside. And even if I could, I certainly wouldn’t. I’d have no imprint at all there, and so I’d cease to be. Listening to your IPod might be dangerous: being in a position to judge someone else for doing so is invariably fatal.
Now: as to what they were listening to on those IPods (cont. p.94)