This is our truth, tell us yours
Someone challenged me, in the comments below my letter to my ten year old self, to write a letter to my seventy year old self.
How could I do that? How can I write into my future, and offer any kind of insight or advice?
The answer seems to me to be that I can ask my seventy year old self to think about my goals, my objectives and principles, and to compare them to the reality around them.
We live in a time of decline and of decay; there is no reason to believe that the society we live in now will persist or continue beyond our lifetimes. I do not want my seventy year old self to be Gildas, writing bitter polemics about the ruin and conquest of Britain by mercenary financiers who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Part of what I believe is that what I do now can influence what I will look back on when I am seventy.
That belief, that people make history, even if we do not choose the circumstances in which we make it, is as fundamental a principle as any I adhere to. There’s a flip side to that belief though; if we choose not to intervene, not to act, not to speak out, we are also contributing to the making of history, just of the wrong kind.
So I hope I will look back and acknowledge that I tried to make history positively, by being a trade unionist, an activist, and a friend. Not in some expectation that I will have been part of a vanguard, but that I will have been part of a movement away from the lowest common denominator, the race to the bottom and towards a more generous, more sharing society.
Dear seventy year old self, did I make it? It’s not enough to think about the behaviours of course. It’s about the ideas, the ideology that drives society forward.
Gildas comes to mind again. Roman Britain was a society where the ruling class believed that they no longer needed to do their share. Romano-British society was built upon a sharing and division of labour that said that the ruling class would take some of the surplus that others produced and in return would defend the land. In late Romano-Britain the ruling class chose to outsource the defence of the nation, paying the mercenaries they employed a tithe of the tithes the ruling class took. The mercenaries, being mercenaries, made a rational decision as the central power of Rome declined to cut out the middle man, and so the Saxon invasion, decried by Gildas, began.
The idea of a social contract is a debased one because of the misuse of the phrase in the 1970s, but, dear, older version of me, I hope we can say that I’ve done my bit to restore the idea that there is a social contract, not just between all those alive now, but with our future children, a contract that shares the risks, the consequences and the costs of our society equally. It won’t be enough for me to say that I tried to live with love for all who try to love others. I will want to say that by providing for a sharing of risks I made it easier for each of us to love, because even the greatest loves will struggle to flourish in hard times.
Dear seventy year old self, did I meet the standards I set for myself? I hope not. I hope that each time I got closer to my standards, my goals,my objectives, I raised my sights and tried harder to go further. Not because there is any honour in always striving, but because each step forward makes the step afterwards possible. If we have erred in the last fifty years, as a society, it is because we believed that our welfare state was enough, that we did not need to go any further. Dear, loving and optimistic seventy year old self, as I hope you are, I hope you can tell me that I never rested, that I understood that life is only a journey, and that each step requires the next if we are to be able to love ourselves.