I came across Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Pedestrian” on an episode of Selected Shorts at some point in the last year, and for some reason I’ve been thinking about it lately.
Here’s a link to a pdf if you’d like to read it. Doesn’t take long.
The theme I like is assigning mental illnesses to people. This is a subject on which I struggle to come to any tight conclusions. I lean toward giving in to the idea that it’s all created by people’s fractured relationships with themselves and their perceived uselessness to an abstract society that has been engineered to appear and act with ever-growing adherence to the mantras and slogans Aldous Huxley wrote about in Brave New World. If nobody on your Facebook feed has ever commented to another person to “just go buy a new ______,” you let me know. I need to be your friend.
The uptick in diagnosed mental illnesses no doubt serves the pharmaceutical industry quite well, but I also think a good deal of it can be traced to the shit we pour down our throats. In fact, all five senses can affect our mental health, and if you’re questioning the sense of smell’s impact on mental health, just consider how bad ancient Rome must have smelled without indoor plumbing, and then consider all of the insane leaders they uplifted (Caligula may or may not have named his horse co-consul). Also consider those annual lists of the most depressed cities. I bet they all smell like burned shit.
But then, I know that mental illness is a real problem. I know that we have a greater understanding of the human brain than ever before, and can diagnose and treat certain disorders that would otherwise prevent a person from getting on with it without harming others. There is undoubtedly a real positive to modern science. The other thing that’s probably undoubtable is that those who rise to power in the near and distant future will have no qualms with abusing modern science. They never have had any before.
My concern is that as our owners consolidate more and more wealth, and already own every industry and every branch of government at every level, the scope of “normal behavior” will narrow and narrow, until any speech, writing or action that is in contradiction with the tenets of consumerism, which include unconsciousness purchasing, fear mongering, passive group think (yet fierce competition over material goods that depreciate in value), and naturally, fascism, will be deemed evidence of mental illness and used as a tool to imprison those who would dare to be different. In the grand scheme of things, we have seen progress, and those who dare to stand out tend to get noticed, but how many of them are openly urging the questioning of consumerism? Some, not that many.
It is all going to be okay, but I’ve had experiences similar to Bradbury’s protagonist in “The Pedestrian.” To be fair, they never ended with me entering the cop car and they always came with some believable pretense based on recent crime in the area for asking me what I was doing, but the experiences themselves still leave a person with an eerie feeling of being in a public place where they shouldn’t be. And god dammit, we should strive to not make people feel that way. I can only imagine how the episodes might have ended if I were anything but a white guy.
Anyway, click the link above, read the story for ten minutes, let me know what you think.