Here’s a story…

By David Walsh

It’s such a funny, awkward feeling
Death’s hollow charisma.
Most captured moments
Are stretched on a canvas of forever.
And then a little trigger
Just now the mother of the Brady Bunch.
A mental triangulation
Forty-five years ago in black and white
That alone – just that one datum –
that means I’m more than halfway there.
An awkward unstructured poetic band aid later
Scab removed
Here I am.

Later, at 4.10am, her name comes to me unbidden – Shirley Jones. I feel strangely placated by my memory. I didn’t like her on TV, but now her death and my poem make us kindred sufferers of the real. So I look her up. But Shirley Jones wasn’t the matriarch of The Brady Bunch – she was the mum on The Partridge Family. And in the world of nearlies – coincidences that seem to be imbued with deeper meaning (but aren’t) – I discover Shirley was offered The Brady Bunch role, but turned it down. That, for her, is a good thing. The Partridge Family was a much better show than The Brady Bunch. In my head Shirley Jones was dead. Now, she isn’t dead. Next time I think of her, she will probably be dead, again.

Someone topples. Musings on mortality ripple, be-muse, be-calm, ripple. Someone else lives. Thrives. Fades. Appears in the wrong blog. It’s just another day.

Just another day later: a real death. Of course, any flame extinguished is singed by sorrow, but the demise of Florence Henderson (the actual Brady Bunch lady) meant little to me except as a marker of my mortality. Fidel Castro’s death isn’t about death (except in the sense of Ozymandias). It’s about the sway of politics in the thrall of personality. One person can make a difference, but when one does, the difference is rarely irreproachable. Utopian ideals immiserate populations, because utopian visions are driven by an individual’s beliefs, and most personal beliefs have little merit. Untested ideas and ideals usually don’t work, and a country isn’t the best experimental subject. That’s not the main problem, though. Individuals tend to appraise their skills too highly due to a cognitive bias called illusory superiority (also wonderfully called the Lake Wobegon effect, after a fictional town in which all the kids are above average). That’s not the main problem, either. The big issue reveals itself when circumstances (or birth right) contrive to make you king, or president, or even president for life, and it starts to look like your illusory superiority isn’t illusory (to you and, often, your subjects). Robert Trivers, who, but for my own ignorance, would have been one of the curators in Mona’s big show, On the Origin of Art, wrote:

When a feeling of power is induced in people, they are less likely to take others’ viewpoint and more likely to centre their thinking on themselves.

That’s Ozymandias, that’s Trump, and though he had a bit more character, that’s Castro.

Despite the fact that Castro’s brand of socialism appears to lack moral probity, I am a little saddened to see another form of social organisation bite the bullet. Nature needs diversity, and we need competing social systems. There aren’t many polities where democracy is undimmed. Churchill said, ‘Democracy is the worst form of Government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’ Nevertheless, we seem to have all our eggs in the one basket case.