By Simon Barget
If someone offers you a way out of the wasteland, you should generally decline. It will not happen often, it will happen occasionally, perhaps only once in a lifetime. The wasteland is difficult to leave but it is your natural state. It is the place you are destined to be in.
If someone tries to haul you out of the wasteland, it is usually always for their own benefit. Be very wary. Firstly, the very act of hauling another from the wasteland presupposes that the person offering the help is not in the wasteland himself. This is more than often not going to be the case. It is usually always false. The person offering you a way out of the wasteland merely wants to believe they are not in the wasteland and they will do anything to make themselves believe that they are not. If they can convince you, then they can go even further towards convincing themselves. They usually always are in it though, they have to be in it. Almost no one, or perhaps even no one at all, has ever left the wasteland. Even those who appear to have left it cannot be said to have left it completely. Those who appear to be out, when you look more closely, always have enough of their body in the wasteland to render that for all practical purposes they are still within it. Those people have not fully escaped and are only making a pretence of having done so. They think they have escaped. They gain credence by convincing the others in the wasteland that they are not in it. They peer in from above as if to say, ‘well if my head isn’t in it, then I’m definitely out.’ And then the people inside believe them. It is so easy to be fooled by a person claiming to be outside the wasteland especially when a good part of the body is outside it. It is so easy because we want to believe we can leave the wasteland and to see or think that anyone has done so makes us so relieved. We believe it in spite of ourselves; we believe it because deep down we know it’s not possible.
Secondly, if you think about it, the notion of a person in the wasteland himself being able to lift any other person from the wasteland is faintly ridiculous. Who’s lifting whom? Who will be pulling, exerting their grip? Even if you can say that the person who believes themselves to be already out of the wasteland will make an extra effort, even if you can say that they will put their whole back into the job, you cannot assert with anything other than delusion that that person will be in any greater a position to haul the other man out. Even if you can say that they have a little bit more traction because their upper body is out -- unlikely to be the case anyway-- even if you can assert this, they are still in the wasteland. The most they will manage is to move the other person about inside, and in the process they will be moved about to. It is a pointless dance.
The wasteland is always assumed to be the place to escape from. But it is our natural habitat. We are born into it and will die in it. Why is it so taken as read that we need to come out? Why is it that we devote our whole lives to escaping? Why are our efforts homed in on this one endeavour, on climbing out of the wasteland?
Because although the wasteland is a wasteland, although it is austere and bare, although there is no vegetation, no greenery, no eye-catching spectacle upon it, although it is often quite cold and stark, desolate, although all these things can be said to be true about the wasteland, the wasteland is not a bad place. It is not a bad place to be in. Despite all its shortcomings, we are quite ok in the wasteland. We have never been out and yet there have been no major calamities. We have survived adequately. We have coped. It is rare to see people going spare in the face of the wasteland. It is rare to see mania or even hyperactivity, it is rare that people don’t just behave quite calmly and freely. Everyone goes about their day as normal. They don’t suffer breakdown or have panic attacks, some even exhibit a modest cheerfulness, and yet this is never questioned in the wasteland. It is never called to account as if to say; well, since it is impossible to be at ease in the wasteland, how is it that you appear to be? If the wasteland is so terrible and awful, then why don’t we wonder about all the ostensible contentment of the wastelanders. Why are we not accusing the people in the wasteland of shamming or lying, since we know, don’t we, that the wasteland is a place we cannot stand to be in?
But we have heard so many stories about the world outside the wasteland. We see the painted faces of the people outside, from the ‘outlanders’ as they like to be known. We see their beaming countenances, and without so much as even having a glimpse of anything outside the wasteland, without really ever seeing anything but shapes and blurs, we are transported. We fuse their claims to their expressions. We think they cannot be wrong.
We have been so conditioned to leave the wasteland, to want to leave the wasteland, that we never so much as question the idea. It is instinct; in every fibre of our being. We are so desperate to leave that when an outlander comes along and offers us our own way out we grab them with all our might, we engulf them, clasp our hands helplessly around their necks and body. So desperate are we that this desperation pours out of us and the outlander sees our desperation. And so the outlander becomes even more certain in not only their delusion on the merits of escaping the wasteland but also on the merits of being able to help someone else to escape. Don’t underestimate the sense of power the false belief in saving another from the wasteland can confer. You would have needed to be in that position to understand it. So conditioned are we, that we would never think for one moment not to be profusely thankful to the person seemingly offering us our own escape. We would never remotely consider even weighing up the proposition for a moment. We would not let ourselves have one moment’s reflection because we’re petrified that the opportunity will be snatched right away.
Once the offer has passed, once the excitement is over, we are still in the wasteland. And we feel silly, because what for? It was merely a disturbance. There was no goal, no objective. It passed, it is all over.
But what we should really be doing is refusing.
If we could only get to the point in ourselves where we could see through the sham of the outlanders. If we could only be proud of what we had, of our good wasteland. It would do no good to be belligerent or spiteful, but it might take some bite-back to start turning the tide. The outlanders would need to be reminded of their wrongheadedness. Someone would need to laugh in their faces, take them to task. If you could remain firm in your conviction about the non-merits of leaving the wasteland then perhaps others might start to follow. It might start to sink in. The outlanders would think twice about offering their spurious wasteland-salvaging services, they wouldn’t be so hasty, so haughty, so proud, they would inevitably start to wonder if they had really ever escaped the wasteland themselves.
If we could be firm, then this vulgar myth of outside the wasteland would naturally wither, we would have a weight of our backs, would let the rock fall back to the ground, we would cry out in relief, and the outlanders who had partially left would scurry back with all their hands and their feet, with their shoulders and heads, and they would all sink smoothly back into the wasteland.