When I first read the Quenta Silmarillion, Melian’s lands behind the girdle was an idea I clung to – the last safe space, the last domain where good still held sway. There was madness and fighting in Beleriand, there were fanatics and fools beyond the lands held safe by Melian’s magic, and there was only sadness and unnumbered tears without. Gondolin is doomed to fall, Nargothrond is cursed, and the sons of Fingolfin and Feanor are only men fighting against Gods and fate both. Melian and Thingol, however, have made the best of their broken world, and given safety and civilization to their citizens, shielding them from the madness and evil outside.
Perhaps the idea is still clearer in the Lord of the Rings, where Galadriel and Elrond hold their realms safe, and Lothlorien and Imladris represent to many the last untouched lands of purity, still standing grim and strong even though Moria has fallen, even though the line of the Kings of Men has been broken and brought low, even though darkness spreads ever westwards every day. I remember Bilbo speaking fondly of Elrond’s home, and later, the memories spur martyrdom for a worthy cause as Frodo and Sam walk to Doom.
I heard from a friend about Uttar Pradesh. A popular chief minister of a southern state died a few months ago. Conspiracies abound, pointing to murder. There are fears about the rhetoric from the radical men in power at various levels of government. It becomes increasingly clearer that there is no safe space, that there is no safe place, in a world that has been overtaken by fear and lack, as people clamour to find a sense of identity and safety that unites them against the march of technology, frightened as they are by the inevitable after-effects of globalization, and the demolishment of entire industries as men make way for machines.
Religion provides a sense of identity, it provides an explanation to cling to, that there are fruits to reap in the after-life for suffering in the now. Caste provides a sense of belonging as well, as it gives a common enemy to unite against. Nationalism is another drug that alleviates the labour pangs of a changing world.
In the end, identity is the strongest stimulant. We died on battlefields because we believed in national identity. We went on crusades for a God we clung to. We burned witches. We killed and enslaved and raped and mutilated, because they belonged to another nation, to another religion, to another skin color, to another caste, because they were attracted to their own gender.
Yet, at the base of it all, it was only respect and bread and butter which mattered. Poverty and a lack of self-esteem can drive us to dark and desperate places, to embrace ideologies that embrace us by giving us a special status, a kindred and a brethren of like-minded, a family, food and shelter and being provided for, an acknowledgement of identity which we have not had before anywhere else.
The explosion of connected media, through social networks and online sources of information (biased or otherwise), has led to people establishing identity on a global scale. Not being a card-carrying member of a particular group or another is still tolerated, however being a critic has harsh consequences, from slander or unemployability to arson, rape, and murder. So much is possible now that so much information and the ability to retrieve information is available at anyone’s fingertips, just a few keystrokes away. Rage no longer needs to be internalized and suppressed, or dispersed in a little locality. Cult-leaders know this – they know the reach they have through technology, to meld and mould minds to accept violence and us-against-them as the new normal, as the necessary and the inevitable state of affairs to be safe and prosperous. Dividing populations has never been easier, just as uniting them has never been easier.
It is too late to evade the trap, to rebuild, in most places of the world. Things have gone too far, and we must best make of today as we can, with people we care for, in places where there is still welcome.
There will be renewal, of course, as we are a strong species, blessed by nature. However, I see renewal only after bloodshed, as fir cones after wildfire.
I try not to write about this grimness, since I believe my sanity and peace of mind are important, and words I write cling to me like tar that will take pieces of me with them when they fall away. Yet, sometimes it is necessary to speak, if only to be at rights with myself.
Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that came down to us from the darkness of those days there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures.
It will be all right, in the end. We are not at the end though. So I am trying to focus on taking my joys where I can find them.