In every generation there are a few souls, call them lucky or cursed, who are simply ‘born not belonging’, who come into the world semi-detached, if you like, without strong affiliation to family or location or nation or race; that there may even be millions, billions of such souls, as many non-belongers as belongers, perhaps; that, in sum, the phenomenon may be as ‘natural’ a manifestation of human nature as its opposite, but one that has been mostly frustrated, throughout human history, by lack of opportunity.And not only that: for those who value stability, who fear transience, uncertainty, change, have erected a powerful system of stigmas and taboos against rootlessness, that disruptive, anti-social force, so that we mostly conform, we pretend to be motivated by loyalties and solidarities we do not really feel, we hide our secret identities beneath the false skins of those identities which bear the belongers’ seal of approval. But the truth leaks out in our dreams; alone in our beds (because we are all alone at night, even if we do not sleep by ourselves) , we soar, we fly, we flee. And in the waking dreams our our societies permit, in our myths, our arts, our songs, we celebrate the non-belongers, the different ones, the outlaws, the freaks. What we forbid ourselves we pay good money to watch, in a playhouse or movie theatre, or to read about between the secret covers of a book. Our libraries, our palaces of entertainment tell the truth. The tramp, the assassin, the rebel, the thief, the mutant, the outcast, the delinquent, the devil, the sinner, the traveller, the gangster, the runner, the mask; if we did not recognise them in our least-filled needs, we would not invent them over and over again, in every place, in every language, in every time.
No sooner did we have ships than we rushed to the sea, sailing across oceans in paper boats. No sooner did we have cars than we hit the road. No sooner did we have airplanes than we zoomed to the furthest corners of the globe. Now we yearn for the moon’s darkside , the rings of Saturn, the interstellar deeps. We send mechanical photographers into orbit, or on one-way journeys to the stars, and we weep at the wonders they transmit; we are humbled by the mighty images of far-off galaxies standing like closed pillars in the sky, and we give names to alien rocks, as if they were our pets. We hunger for warp space, for the outlying rim of time. And this is the species that kids itself it likes to stay at home, to bind itself with – what are they called again? – ‘ties’.
That’s my view. You don’t have to buy it. Maybe there aren’t so many of us, after all. Maybe we are disruptive and anti-social and we shouldn’t be allowed.
You’re entitled to your opinion. All I will say is: sleep soundly baby. Sleep tight and sweet dreams.
SALMAN RUSHDIE. ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’.