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The Man on a Wire


Where to start. Because this may well be the hardest article I’ve ever had to write. Chances are, I’ll offend someone. And – while I hope it won’t come to pass – I’ll be hounded, othered, demonised, and caricatured for what I’m about to say. Or maybe just dismissed, pitied and sneered at. No matter. Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think, the deadline for this screed has passed and I’ve just about worked up the courage to crack on.

Why the cowardy custard routine? Well, I guess it’s because No Man’s Land is a pretty lonely place these days. With bullets and bombs hurtling in from all sides. Not the literal variety thankfully; this isn’t Gaza. Oh God, why mention the Middle East? That’s the lodestone for it all right now. The ‘it’ being an increasingly fraught, angry, and intolerant pick-your-side moment in human history. Nuance has left the building. In a fast cab. With bricks thrown.

Which is to say, in an age where apparently non-binary identities are not just fine, but militantly protected in some quarters of life, it’s not OK to dispense with certainties in others. Indeed, to do the latter would be an affront to all that is good, decent and true. Revisiting, with slippers on and a whispery Ted Lowe voice, the whole Israel and Palestine thing may be the place to start. Madness, I know, but I’m going for it nonetheless.

I now assume the pose of Phillipe Petit wire walking on the Twin Towers in 1974… It is possible to consider Hamas a terrorist organisation, guilty of brutal murderous atrocities which should see it destroyed forever AND - at the same time – consider the IDF onslaught in response as directed by Netanyahu’s extremist administration to be equally horrific and worth of condemnation without that being seen as anti-Semitic.

At the risk of extreme bathos, I swivel from age-old conflict in the Levant to something homegrown: conflict on Leith Walk. It’s possible to think embracing a greener future is no bad thing, but equally understand the transition is more difficult for some than others. In other words cyclists can be dicks. So can car drivers, pedestrians and twats on scooters. Such is the way on a Piet Mondrian designed walkway.

I’ve pissed off all four just by raising that possibility no doubt. It’s the penalty for trying to resist an easy and entrenched yah boo sucks narrative. The irony – and this where I do lean into one side more than the other – is that many so-called progressives are absolute in their worldview; ideologically intransigent in pursuit of a narrative that apotheosizes their chosen position and spits fire at anything deemed to be even remotely in opposition to it.

Lists are made. Boxes are checked off. Silos occupied. Positions on the issues de jour are both prescribed and proscribed. Bogeymen (and women) are identified and roasted for the temerity of being ‘unclean’ in the eyes of some. To deviate is to risk a brow-beating. Or the mental gymnastics of someone trying to defend ‘their side’ – irrespective of empirical evidence presenting itself. The result is more and more division.

We see it in the Ulsterisation of Scottish politics. Shibboleths abound to quickly identify one as a Yes or No partisan. And partisan is very much the case; a brief foray into any social or comment thread on any Scottish political matter is quickly reduced to mud-slinging between Nats and Yoons. Same tropes. Same defensiveness. Same old unreasonableness. Such myopia is a sure-fire way of destroying true democratic accountability.

If you can’t accept critique of your own side – or acknowledge when mistakes are made in government. If you can’t try to understand an opposing perspective, if you can’t engage on equal terms, then you are no more than an unthinking acolyte.

Is such name-calling at risk of sounding contrary to the above? Maybe it’s possible to accept the contention without agreeing with it. I’d like to call it being able to juggle seemingly contrary ideas in your head at the same time, accepting uncertainty in a world predicated on absolutes, A v B, this v that, them v us and so on.

In the spirit of the above, I’d like to rehabilitate the reputation of the Roman God, Janus – he of two faces, one facing back, one facing forward. Today, to call someone Janus-faced is to deem them duplicitous, deceitful, and ready to switch sides for convenience. But for the Romans, Janus was the God of Doors, Gates and Transitions – the middle ground between dualities such as life/death, beginning/end, war/peace and so on.

Janus was – and is - essential in managing the tension between such things: a gateway facilitating travel between the two. It’s why we get the name for January from Janus… we look back at the old year and start the new afresh. I think the ability to see both sides can be enlightening – we were the home of the enlightenment after all - and should no longer be viewed as equivocation.

Because without gateways, we’ll always be separated by walls. ■

From Year 6, Windsor Primary School blog


For the Romans, Janus was the God of Doors, Gates and Transitions. The middle ground between dualities


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