In the WW2 strategy game Company of Heroes, there’s a “retreat” button. Upon sending your infantry right into the sights of a German machine-gun nest, you can bang the “retreat” button and send them scrambling back to HQ to regroup and fight another day.
Hayek’s Road to Serfdom was, as I said here, my German machine-gun nest. Faced with a pretty depressing dismantling of what vague political certainties I had, I did the only thing I could think of – I scrambled back to 2008-10, back when I was sure of things. When I was sixteen and had all the answers. These were the days were I was a proper anarcho-communist type, when I bought myself Capital for my birthday, and my friends bought me Lenin almost unbidden. Deluded and arrogant I may have been, but I knew what I stood for.
Most of that is gone, probably for the better. I’d rather have no beliefs than a bunch of flimsy ones. However, the “insecurity period” has lasted far too long, and it’s time to rebuild.
I’m pretty sure that the foundations were all right. As far as those foundations have any form to them, I think it can be found in Voltaire’s Candide and Albert Camus’ La Peste. They were set texts in my Première Literature class, and the only one that hadn’t been a bloody chore to study. I’ll be posting reviews over the next couple of days.
From those books, I’m starting to feel a plan for a life well lived developing.
What always brought me up short with politics was change. Change is almost always the point. Even ‘conservatives’ are trying to change something, though generally for the worse and for evil, evil purposes, obviously. Yet given the enormous complexity of modern societies, and the intractability of the problems facing them, far-reaching systemic change just seems hopelessly unattainable. I can’t even imagine a different society, let alone tell you how we’d get there. When you add to that the fact that it’s an uphill struggle to protect the most vulnerable from the worst of capitalism’s side-effects, let alone remove the source of those effects, talk of the revolution and the better tomorrow just gets irritatingly meaningless. I’m sick and tired of wandering down to Westminster and shouting the same stupid chants and wandering around central London in the weird loneliness of a crowd to fuck-all effect. I’ve stopped believing in big change, especially my capacity to effect it. And it’s had nothing to do with Obama.
But this isn’t making my peace with the system. I’m still far too young for resignation. The system is fucking stupid. Making peace with a system that promises environmental catastrophe, deprivation for the majority and never-ending war would be unconscionable.
Nor is it a fatalistic thing. I, personally, don’t think I can do much to achieve systemic and far-reaching change. In the past, this has led me to just give up. Much like realising I probably wasn’t going to reach Slash-esque levels of guitar heroism gradually bled away whatever passion I had for guitar, I’m pretty sure I won’t be the Mandela of my generation, and the attention seeker in me doesn’t like that.
Now though, thanks to my main men Voltaire and Albert [Camus], I’m just reducing the scale of the change I’m after. I reckon if, when I die, I know that everything I did, I did to make people’s lives better, I think that’ll be all right. I’m ever more decided to pursue some sort of international development career, which, hopefully, would provide the means to change the world for the better, regardless of overarching despair and cynicism. In essence,
“Je dis seulement qu’il y a sur cette terre des fléaux et des victimes et qu’il faut, autant qu’il est possible, refuser d’être avec le fléau. Cela vous paraitra peut-être un peu simple, et je ne sais si cela est simple, mais je sais que cela est vrai.”
(“All I am saying is that there are on this earth plagues and there are victims, and one must, whenever possible, refuse to be on the side of the plague. It may seem simple to you, and I don’t know if it is simple, but I know it’s true.”)
-La Peste, Camus (who else?)
Words to live by, I reckon.
Sorry for the [worse than usual] navel-gazing, I’m trying to work out how to not blog self-indulgently and will get to that soon!