This sculpture is going with us to ‘Potfest’ (yes, it is really called that. There may well be some customers who are dissappointed!) It began with a firing failure, but there was something about her that I could not throw away…
I am trying to write a poem a day at the moment- a return to an old discipline that I have found useful. I may post some of them on here… inevitably the quality will be somewhat variable- although I have long tried to stop measuring poetry in terms of whether it is ‘good’ ir not – even my own. Rather I try to decide whether it is meaningful.
I have been thinking about the stories that hold our society together. A few of us watched a video clip and discussed it via Zoom on Sunday, and it occurred to me (not for the first time) that in order for things to get better, we have to find better stories, and we have to come to see the old ones as flawed.
The process begun by the Enlightenment was, by and large, a positive development at least for Europe. But this process has been interrupted not so much by religion – the antithesis of the Enlightenment – but by a faith-based secular ideology that says the pursuit by individuals of their own private material gain is good for all.
To dissent against this faith-based secular religion is to be consigned to Purgatory and Hell by the Upholders of the Faith. When the upholders of such a system see a dissenting opposition that is so threatening it must be condemned, it is probably worth asking, “So what’s the threat?” This is what makes a study of the writings of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and other dissenters from the secular faith so fascinating. Before “Marxism” was codified into a tool of repression by state capitalists, (Soviet Union, China – regimes that used Marxist rhetoric to repress their own people), it was and still can be a useful critique of the secular religion of capitalism and very revealing in its analysis. Some have helped bring this nineteenth-century dissent up to date on the basis of a critical scientific analysis of the evolution of the capitalist system, (Paul Sweezy, Howard Parsons, David Harvey, John Bellamy Foster, et al.).
The most valuable critique is the questioning of the “enlightened self-interest as public good” assumption. This assumption is based on the false premise that humans are separate from their environment; that somehow, we are “above” the normal consequences of action in the field of the life-death continuum of Planet Earth. A brief perusal of the consequences of this false premise should be sobering to any thinking person. The pursuit of resources and markets to feed a system that MUST grow to survive has made the planet and all of its inhabitants commodities. In capitalist mythology, EVERYTHING has a monetary value, including and perhaps especially, people. The fact that humans are dependent on a healthy environment is not a central consideration – capitalists who acquire financial independence can BUY a healthy environment as one of their private acquisitions, it is assumed. Everyone else must either enter into the field of competition and buy their own “healthy environment,” or be consigned to a life that Thomas Hobbes called “nasty, brutish, and short” – a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one.
We have been watching this. It has thrilled me and it has made me weep.
About half way in, a band called ‘The Breath’ stole mine.
They were familiar songs to me- I love their albums. But watching them come together after lock down in order to sing again… sublime words, brilliant guitar playing and her voice…well, listen yourself.
My late sister would have loved it. We would have cried together, instead of me crying alone, wishing I could share it with her.
Which is kind of the point of this post. What is it that allows us to be human? The lock down has confronted us with this question in a way that we would be foolish to waste or ignore. What are we missing most? What (of the things we used to do) now seems so pointless?
What carries us?
I know myself better now. That is not to say that I am ‘sorted’, or that the brokenness is all mended. I am not sure I even aspire to those kind of solutions. Rather, let me remain tender, open to failure as much as hard success.
Today I was searching through some old poems, looking for one that might work as part of a commission, and I found this one. That will do, I thought. Not for the commission- but that will do, nevertheless.
I choose goodness
I caught a glimpse today
Of my capacity for goodness.
I thought it gone away
But there it lay
Like a laughing flapping fish
Wet mouth wide open, saying
That (despite being the epicentre of my own unfolding event)
I still know what it means to love.
That (despite all my callow grasping)
I know what it means to give.
That (despite my tendency to measure myself and find you wanting)