It is the cry of our age: something must be done!
As we are better informed than ever we seem to know more than ever what a terrible world we live in. What a horrendous species we are. What horrors we can inflict on each other and on ourselves.
But we retain our basic humanity, our basic decency. Our hope and our faith in goodness, in justice and in the fact that right can and must win.
But there are problems with knowing that something must be done. Because it is not always clear what that something is. Something is hard. Something is complicated. Something has consequences and we know, we know from heart-rending and bitter experiences that sometimes something we do is the wrong thing. Our actions have consequences too.
So do we freeze? Petrified into inaction? Or do we charge ahead? Gung ho, and sure that our something is better than nothing? Losing our ability to do something the next time something must be done?
Maybe what we need is a doctrine. A defining creed that overrides all other considerations. Something that overrides all financial and practical considerations. Or maybe we should go the other way. Bury our moral and sense of obligations and look only at what we are practically able (and unable) to be certain to achieve.
I don’t know the answers. This is not a column with answers. It strikes me now, that every other column I read, by every other writer I admire has answers.
God I envy them. I look at the horrors of war and I want to act. I want to march in front of the guns. I want to stand between the messianic maniacs with machetes and their victims. I want to rip the rockets from the hands of those bombing schools and suburbs.
But I’m not going to. I am a coward. I am too comfortable in my life. I do not have the right stuff. My morality is that of an armchair general, an armchair tactician, God, even an armchair politician. As i have written before, I don’t even have the courage to be the one who has to sit comfortably at home making these life and death decisions.
And knowing this of myself, I can’t come to an easy doctrine that always believes in British intervention. I can’t have that be my first option every time something happens that is hideous and brutish elsewhere.
But I can’t always rule it out either. I can’t rule out sending the younger and braver people of this country who volunteer to protect us and to police our world into danger.
I don’t have a singular rule that says we should always or never take action. In some ways, I think that those who do are possibly more comfortable than me. Their certainty is their comfort blanket. But perhaps that is me passing off my responsibilities again, passing off my own guilts for the results of the positions I do and don’t support.
This is not a column with answers. God I wish I had answers.
I am also aware that that was the third time I made a reference to a deity I am not sure I believe in. As someone who has travelled in her life from faith to agnosticism I understand that faith itself has degrees. Faith in concepts you were trained to question and those you weren’t.
The tradition in politics is to be wedded to answers and bend the questions to fit them. Socialism, Capitalism, Communism, Fascism, – comfortingly uniform answer to a discomforting world.
This was supposed to be the summer lull. This wasn’t supposed to be a time when we had to face the toughest questions about ourselves and our politics. This should have been a column about sandcastles and windmills. About the fun that politics can be.
So no, I don’t have answers. But maybe, just maybe it’s OK to admit that. To say – as someone privileged enough to have a platform – that I don’t know what to say. To admit that I am winging it.
Because we all are. Many with better information than me. Many with better understanding than me. But we are human. And as we face the worst of what that means, we need to allow ourselves to be as open and human with each other about how we reach consensus on what must be done.
Because let’s face it: Something must be done.