Well – we’re all in a mess now, aren’t we? The UK, Europe, the US, the world. Something’s caught up with us. Something that’s been shadowing us for as long as I can remember, and getting just a little closer by the day. And now it’s here, sitting on top of us, threatening to squeeze the breath from us. Why, we ask, when we sort of suspected it was gaining on us, didn’t we do something about it when we could? Now – well, now it’s a bit late. We’re in it and have somehow to find a way out of it.
Fear not though – those we have elected are hard at work doing just that – finding a way out of it. It’s good, noble that they should take it upon themselves. And fitting. It was, after all, they and/or their predecessors, along with their friends the money monsters of Canary Wharf, conning the low-paid and awarding themselves interstellar bonuses that led us into this morass in the first place. On the other hand, are the people that got us into it, the best ones to get us out of it?
Some years ago I was living in a small village in West Sussex in the very south of the UK. One weekend I was invited to an ‘At home’ day given by a young man in his early twenties. There were probably twenty other guests, most of them men and women of his age, all of whom either had been or were still students at one university or another. There was a lot of animated and apprehensive talk among them about what sort of future they could expect in a country which was clearly in their view, even then, teetering on the brink of some sort of economic and social catastrophe. And one particular young man, who had admittedly had quite a lot to drink by that time, was in a state of mild despair over it. He cornered me, looked at me with a sort of despairing hopelessness in his eyes and said simply but with heartfelt intensity, “Where are the elders?” Where indeed. Where are those to whom young people such as he and his friends can look up, respect and trust? Where are those with principles they hold more dear than clinging to office at whatever price? Where – in other words – are the true leaders?
Western industrial society is standing at a make-or-break fork in the road. We – or at least our forebears – in this tiny island known today as the United Kingdom gave birth to the Industrial Revolution which spawned that society. And all things being cyclical, we’re likely to be the first to preside over its collapse and demise. For it will, like all things, end. And that, I think is the threshold on which we in the UK now stand. Others will follow. If we want to continue in a cohesive, stable form which we can bequeath with any pride and confidence to our children, we have to change. And radically. Not just a few tweaks that will enable us to stave off Armageddon for another few years but change in the way we live and what we live for. The old gods – the industrial age’s scientific, economic, consumerist gods – are even now toppling from their pedestals. And no amount of standard-issue political super-glue is going to put them back again. Like Ozymandias in the desert, they are over, finished – ‘Look on my works ye mighty, and despair’.
I’m sure our UK politicians will do their very best. Trailing legions of note-taking advisers and journalists eager for drama, they will meet all over the place, spare no energy and burn industrial quantities of midnight oil. And they will cobble something together. After which, we’ll bumble along once more. Till we all fall down the next big hole in the ground. In this crisis situation we need vision and today’s leaders don’t do vision. They are in hock to focus groups, opinion pollsters, TV and the tabloid press. I suspect and fear that the best the present incumbents are capable of is stitching back together in some more or less workable form, the status quo ante – give or take a minor and mostly cosmetic innovation or two.
Life is cyclical. Like it or not – that which is will sooner or later not be. That which is not and of which we can have little grasp, will be. All is change. Life is change. If we have the vision to perceive the ways in which we must adapt to that change, and then the courage to do that adapting, then, in ways we perhaps cannot begin to understand, all will be well. But if we stand with our backs to the incoming tide, then we and our institutions will just be swept away. Life is not fair – but it is inexorable.