If we’re lucky enough, life is full of options and choices, like escalators taking us to different levels of a department store. Directions, offerings, promises – we look down and almost get vertigo. We may look at other people’s choices with incredulity or envy. How on earth can they want that, vote for that?
To those for whom poverty or hunger mean that they have no choices, our freedoms must seem like heaven. Yet I sense that it is generally the choices we are offered that cause us to struggle with life and its meaning – do I REALLY want to do this or that? So much of what concerns us is, from a global perspective, merely the froth on a wave – to use one of Buddha’s analogies. Where am I going in life? Where are we all going? These questions, along with a host of ready-made, vote-for-me answers, proliferate when it comes to election time. For the first time, facing the general election on June 8th, I am really in despair. It’s not that the issues before us are not important; indeed, this election could decide the future for rather more than the usual five years of a government. Rather, what concerns me is the gross mismatch between ideals and deliverables. Politics requires a subtle blending of visionary principles and pragmatic solutions. Without the one we have no direction, without the other, no means to travel.
To put it crudely, we are offered the choice between an approach that says, in effect, ‘Give me power and I will deliver!’ but without any clear sense of what it is that will be delivered or deliverable. Getting the ‘best deal for Britain’ is meaningless without a clear sense of what constitutes ‘best’. While, at the other extreme, I see a political vision of what could constitute the good life – with policies that might well command majority support – that may indeed be wonderful, and certainly fires the orator with enthusiasm. But can it be delivered? Is it realistic? If not, is all that is promised not doomed to heroic failure?
I feel, sometimes, that I am at the top of that set of escalators, looking down on people moving in very different directions with equal enthusiasm, and feel a kind of nausea. The secret of Nietzsche’s happiness may have been a straight line and a goal. The secret of mine, at the moment, is simply knowing how we get out of what I perceive to be our present mess.
But, more generally, I have a hunch that, as we pass through life, we construct multi-dimensional maps of our environment, marked with point of significance and value for us. Looking into the map of our life is rather like looking down into this stairwell of escalators. We see, passing one way and another, different aspects of life; some pulling one way, some another. And our task, not just as we come to vote, but as we struggle to make sense of life, is to get to appreciate and understand the map and its coordinates. Values and visions; plenty of them on parade. For now, however, they tend to be all part of the bombardment by the claims and boasts of our ‘post-truth’ world. Can I trust any of them? Are they workable? And in whose interests?
For a moment, the political world appears to be free from the usual human confusions of existential doubt. All is mad certainty. But for me, it’s more mad than certain.