“We tell ourselves stories in order to live”. This is one of the famous quotes from Joan Didion, the American journalist and author who died this December, aged 87. The stories that matter to me are about the human race making moral progress; how, because most people are naturally kind and generous, we’ll be able to organise society for the common good. No-one contests the amazing scientific advances of our species; but moral progress lags behind.
We live in a world controlled by triumphant capitalism, with all its attendant cruelty and ugliness; the hunger for wealth threatens, not only justice and democracy, but the life of our planet. At home, I can’t remember a more unprincipled Westminster regime; public office used for the private gain of self and friends; a leader without shame; the tacky culture of spivs.
The late Doris Lessing proposed an understanding of moral progress that stays with me; she suggests that every so often, at a particular time and place, ‘a well of faith builds up’, enabling a progressive leap forward. Then negative forces return – that well dries up – somewhere another well builds; every time the dream getting stronger. Lessing’s model affirms that the human impulse for good is as strong as our greed; this belief informs our options.
For the world to create a co-operative economic system will take an enormous leap forward – let’s hope that well fills in time. For UK citizens to dispose of an immoral PM is a lesser event; I understand that well is already full.
Ken Livingstone (75) surfaced this week, saying that he hopes to join the Green Party. I’ve never known how seriously to take ‘Red Ken’ – or even how seriously he takes himself – that sardonic humour. His attitude to the climate emergency is the same as my own: the gravity requires that we all significantly change the way we live, but Govts around the world are scared to say this. Livingstone, who is a long-established environmentalist, says he wants a Green/Labour Coalition to run the country; his impact as a Green activist would probably be significant. But there’s a good chance that he’s still ‘toxic’ from alleged anti-semitism in 2016 – when he was accused of ‘trivialising’ genocide.
In March 2020, Stephen Fry told Andrew Marr that ‘anxiety and stress are almost as virulent as coronavirus’. This Conversation piece explores aspects of our lockdown ‘Languishing’ – some good insights and tips. But I want to testify that Stephen Fry is now my guru on mental fragility; he’s been there, done it – knows ‘the dark night of the soul’.
Addicted to alcohol, I had to stop completely in 2001, but I remember being adrift in the drinking culture of the 80s and 90s – our drunkenness felt normalised. This at-work, daytime, irresponsible drinking probably endured more in journalism – which this short piece by Zoe Williams argues, became the Downing Street culture of reckless abandon during lockdown.
If, like myself, you enjoy Neal Ascherson’s political writing (a rare treat), you’ll be surprised by his latest opinion piece in the Guardian. It traces the history of the Tories in Scotland and questions the usual assumption that Scotland is naturally social democratic: “a centre-right Conservative Party, cut loose from London, could expect a very healthy future”.
The largest ever auction of sea-bed plots, for the next generation of windfarms, has confirmed international confidence in Scotland’s wind-power potential. As we Scots know, the challenge comes in organising to harvest our own natural resources, so that jobs and revenues benefit our own communities. This is a Guardian piece.
I loved this four-minute interview by Cathy Newman with Arundhati Roy, in 2019 during the Trump visit. Roy has great charm, tenacity and wisdom… like this:
“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe… Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”