I don’t have a harp, but there have been many times over the past few years when I might have hung it on the first available poplar tree in rage and sadness at what’s been happening – except rage and sadness don’t really achieve much. What’s depression, after all, except rage and anger turned inwards. “If only we could have better government” was always my first port of call when looking for a solution to the multiple injustices being suffered by the most vulnerable people. Chris Smage, in his book “A small Farm Future” which I’ve been reading and writing about enthusiastically this last week lists ten (yes ten) interlinked crises which should concern all of us. I think they’re worth listing here.
- Stuff (you’ll have to read the book!)
- Health and nutrition
- Political economy
You don’t have to be a philosopher to see that these stress markers are all flashing red at the moment. Equally, you don’t have to be a Marxist, waiting for the iron laws of history finally to show their hand, to know that these kinds of crisis tend to go critical unpredictably, like erupting volcanoes – Covid is a classic example. While we all (I hope) know that something needs to be done about them all, nothing seems to happen beyond a few reports and a bit of hand wringing.
I’ve been fascinated at this ‘rabbit in the headlights’ feature of our political lives; assuming that everyone can see the dangers but can’t – for whatever reason – react; whilst all the while I was getting more and more agitated about it. But what if the oncoming bus with no brakes was unconcerning to some/many people precisely because they think it’s a long way away and all we need to do is get a better bus driver (Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, President, Inventor – write your own in ….). For me the most acute pain of this dilemma has been to realize that there are no competent bus drivers because there is (almost by definition) no-one around who’s ever tried to control a ten headed beast like this one. We’re so immersed in our economic structure and its cultural apparatus that it’s impossible to see the crises being tackled in any other way than saving jobs, even if it means digging more mines; fracking oil; selling weapons; gambling the markets and building more nuclear power stations and inventing cardboard piercing laser weapons. Choosing another charismatic ‘big man’ to lead us back to the Promised Land is pointless.
And then, suddenly it came to me that this epochal upheaval is insoluble by any method we yet have any detailed hold on because, like Covid 19, we don’t know how it will start, how it will develop and what course it will run. Ironically this was something of a relief – not having to choose between policies that turn out to be no more than aspirations to be discarded at the first sign of a headwind. And equally surprising to me is my sense that we have many of the answers we need tucked away in our experiences and memories.
Madame and me were once on a course where we were separated and invited to write down the best and closest moment in our relationship. Our fellow course members all mentioned holidays, honeymoons and some other pretty predictable stuff. We, though, had both written down the time when we were being evicted because our basement flat was deemed unfit for habitation. Madame was 7 months pregnant and we had no idea what we were going to do but freed from any responsibility for what was being done to us we improvised, nagged, haggled and fought and after 18 months living in our unfit basement with a baby, we were rehoused. I don’t think we were ever closer than we were during that time.
So I’m able to find a ray of hope in human ingenuity, creativity and (this is the risky one) a capacity for kindness towards strangers . No-one in their right mind would look forward to a societal, ecological or economic breakdown but if it comes I’ve no doubt that we will discover gifts that we never dreamed we possessed.