Monday, 16 March 2015

Politics without vision - and a defence of trees

With the British General Election looming, before early May we will be hard pressed not to be overwhelmed (or should we say underwhelmed?)  with the sight and sound of our politicians disagreeing about inessentials. Perhaps our disillusionment stems from the fact that managerialism lacks any vision with which to captivate, inspire and enthuse..
More and more one sympathises with these words of G.K. Chesterton: 
“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types -- the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.”  
Chesterton was right about many things, including the startling absence of real conservatives  - that is, those who believe there may be anything really worthy of conserving - for its own sake rather than for its monetary value or its utility for the modern economy; and those who now call themselves 'socialists' are first in line to promote the atomisation and infantilisation of civil society into ever smaller, warring interest groups, ever more dependent upon the State to the detriment of family and community.
How far this lack of true vision and the resulting apathy about civic life, particularly among the young, are connected with the decline of the Christian ethic in our western societies is open to debate, but we should take to heart these words from one who has a strong claim to be the greatest theological thinker of our day: 
"...This country’s Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. While decisive steps have been taken at several points in your history to place limits on the exercise of power, the nation’s political institutions have been able to evolve with a remarkable degree of stability. In the process, Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good. And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy  
The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as “every economic decision has a moral consequence” (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore..."  Pope Benedict XVI: 2010 Westminster Hall address.
And a word in support of something more enduring than contemporary politics - a defence of trees, firstly and briefly from Peter Hitchens and, secondly, a longer passage from the naturalist and conservationist, Roger Deakin:
"What is the reason for our hatred of trees? Local councils love nothing better than murdering lovely old trees in case they fall down all of a sudden.I now see that the French government plans to massacre thousands of roadside trees because cars often collide with them.
I assume this is because the trees get drunk, rush out into the traffic and steer themselves into the cars." [here]
"....To enter a wood is to pass into a different world in which we ourselves are transformed. It is no accident that in the comedies of Shakespeare, people go into the greenwood to grow, learn and change. It is where you travel to find yourself, often, paradoxically, by getting lost. It is no accident that in the comedies of Shakespeare, people go into the greenwood to grow, learn and change. It is where you travel to find yourself, often, paradoxically, by getting lost. Merlin sends the future King Arthur as a boy into the greenwood to fend for himself in The Sword in the Stone. There, he falls asleep and dreams himself, like a chameleon, into the lives of the animals and the trees. In As You Like It, the banished Duke Senior goes to live in the Forest of Arden like Robin Hood, and in Midsummer Night’s Dream the magical metamorphosis of the lovers takes place in a wood ‘outside Athens’ that is quite obviously an English wood, full of the faeries and Robin Goodfellows of our folklore.
....Human begins depend on trees quite as much as on rivers and the sea. Our intimate relationship with trees is physical as well as cultural and spiritual: literally an exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen. Once inside a wood, you walk on something very like the seabed, looking up at the canopy of leaves as if it were the surface of the water, filtering the descending shafts of sunlight and dappling everything. Woods have their own rich ecology, and their own people, woodlanders, living and working in and around them. A tree itself is a river of sap: through roots that wave about underwater like sea anemones, the willow pollard at one end of the moat where I swim in Suffolk draws gallons of water into the leaf-tips of its topmost branches every day; released as vapour into the summer air, this water then rises invisibly to join the clouds, and the falling raindrops ripple out into every tree ring."   
Roger Deakin 'Wildwood' 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments will not be published