This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper. -- T.S. Eliot The Hollow Men 1925
Choking on Brexit, Trump, climate catastrophe; reappearance of nuclear weapons; right-wing populism; lost refugees. Grasping for a way to live with profound disorder. No matter what happens in the next decades, things will not go back to where they are in 2019, let alone where they were earlier. Too much breakage, a dismantling of a world order that held fairly steady since the end of World War II. The Enlightenment is finished. We can no longer be buoyed by belief in a steady march toward progress.
I try to envision the world fifty years from now, and can't do it. Part of this is lack of imagination; another is the limitations I experience as someone not easy with computers. I'm in awe of these relatively new technologies, how they communalize the world, their nearly unimaginable uses in medicine, space travel, artificial intelligence, art. As with the ancient discovery of fire, computers are irreversibly re-making the world. Awesome is the apt word. And this rapidly shifting world is also overwhelming, exhausting, confusing.
Topping the list of what keeps me up at night is Brexit and its toxic uncertainties. Powerlessly, I await the next steps in this self inflicted mess, dread mingled with fury.
Many have said this is the biggest crisis facing the UK since World War Two. Now, as then, the integrity of the UK is at stake and questions as to how--and if--it will function as a solitary island in a huge sea are unanswerable in full but horribly distressing in part.
The Tory Prime Minister, Teresa May, and the leader of the Labour Party opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, are both enablers of a disastrous process which began with the stupidity of David Cameron. They are not villains; neither of them wishes to do evil. Ironically, though,they are shadow images of one another. Both are rigid and unimaginative individuals whose skills are all wrong for coping in today's multi-faceted world. May and Corbyn blunder their way through a difficult situation relying on old truths they each internalized over many years.
May believes it is her duty to deliver Brexit, no matter the costs. She is, if nothing else, dutiful, a beaurocrat to the core. Corbyn, on the other hand, though a lifelong rebel against the establishment, is trapped in his own unalterable belief systems. Not adjusting core principles in sixty-nine years is less a strength than a symptom of stubborn inflexibility. May has sold out to her right wing, those who jeer her into ever more treacherous decisions. Corbyn remains true to himself. The other side of this self-regard is an inability to comprehend there are other truths worthy of attention. He argues from rigidity, May answers in the same coin, the world watches as the drama unfolds.
Where to seek comfort at least, meaning at best? My temperament drives me to forego futility as an option. Fueled by an ongoing sense of outrage (a challenging yet energizing temperament), I engage. Bravehearted Extinction Rebellion has a great slogan: 'Hope dies. Action begins.' I don't have any hope. Things will not get appreciably better in my lifetime. I'm old now, and my personal narrative will end before the next period of stability arrives--if it ever does.
Books are where I go for solace, scribbling random bits of poetry and prose. I believe language can save me, though my rational self knows words are simulacra. That's not how it feels when a sentence miraculously makes sense of the incomprehensible.
E.M. Forester is among those who bring me succor. His 1951 collection of essays Two Cheers for Democracy ( democracy doesn't yet rate three he wryly notes) was written during the run-up to WWII and just after it ended. In that time of crisis and foreboding, 1939, Forester wrote:
“Those of us who were brought up in the old order...know that order has vanished from the earth. We hope of course that a new tune, inaudible to ourselves, is now being played to the young...But on that point we get no evidence, and never shall get any. We do expect though that those who chronicle this age and its silliness, and look back from their intellectual day upon us, the tongue holders, will accord us not only pity, which we fully deserve, but disdain. “
In that same year, he observed: “...all the decent human relations occur during the intervals when force has not managed to come to the fore. These intervals are what matter….I call them ‘civilisation.’”
In between intervals, there’s light in Forester. Read him. It may help.
Rose Levinson, February 2019