I’ve been watching the endless debates with a certain amount of ambivalence. My passion is not what it was. In my heart of hearts I wonder how much any of this matters. Some of this comes from the tremendous intellectual impact of encountering books like Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable which (among other things) serves as a reminder that – for all of humanity’s impressive achievements – we are tiny specks of nothing blown about by chance. Some of it comes from some personal stuff, that I have only touched on but not really written about. But in the face of this one begins to consider what really matters – and I’m certain it is not the plague of preening pundits posturing on cable news.
In What’s Bred in the Bone, Robertson Davies (one of my favorite novelists) gets it right on politics.
Francis Cornish, the main character, is encountering his estranged wife who has become a Communist. She bawls out the wealthy Cornish for his ambivalence about the masses. Cornish replies:
The best thing about Plato was his good style. He liked inventing systems, but he was too fine an artist to trust his systems fully. Now I’ve come to hate systems. I hate your pet system, and I hate Fascism, and I hate the system that exists. But I suppose their must me some system and I’ll take any system that leaves me alone to got on with my work, and that probably means the least efficient, ramshackle, contradictory system.
Politics and public affairs is what I do. And human nature is such that systems that create the conditions in which people can “get on with what matters to them” are fragile things. Ultimately politics is about protecting, preserving and where possible expanding this space. That is worthy calling and an important one. But there is no salvation in it; it is only a means.
It is worth putting that into perspective every once in a while.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.