History proves that intelligence is no bar to narrow minded bigotry. I always like to think that exponents of any kind of extreme ideology just be stupid and ill educated, but the Cambridge spies prove me wrong. They were all intelligent, and all decided that not only was communism worth dying for, but it was worth killing any number of people for. How could they not see what Stalin was? Then again, I suppose Stalin was only using communism to justify his own ends, like any totalitarian. I never disagreed with what I think Marx was fundamentally saying in Das Kapital. Maybe it reads differently in German, but he only seemed to be outlining the idea of the welfare state, true democracy and a distributive tax system.
It always gets me thinking, ideologies, especially when my own views are challenged by people I respect. Every now and then, a conversation makes me feel that I am a very selfish person. I plough on with my furrow in life, planning my holidays and my children’s education, thinking about what home improvements I might need to set money aside for, and being occasionally frustrated at how small my horizons have become since the the teenage world of endless choices. My whole existence is based around the little everyday problems I can solve, and more or less drifts from the anticipation of eating lasagne, to the disappointment of being woken by the alarm clock. Then someone will say “the energy is running out, and we’re leaving our children with a broken world”. They worry about how much energy their own presence on earth is using up, whether they really need to move to a bigger house because to do so would increase their impact on the environment. And so I do wonder about my own motivations, which are basically to protect and further the interests of my family, my friends, and anyone else with whom I have a bond of loyalty or some sense of reciprocal benefit (like the neighbours). I don’t ultimately believe that I can change any aspect of humanity’s eventual self destruction, and instead I focus on how I can best survive the apocalypse when it comes. The allegorical zombies of civil war, famine and disease will surely be in full swing when the lights go out, the water dries up and the crops all fail. You want to be able to run fast, to escape the people trying to slit your throat for food. I’m fortunate to be a strong swimmer, for the moment when I have to cross a fast flowing river to escape the feral, grasping hordes on the other side. Who knows what they might want from me, but maybe I will have something they need, even if it is my son they want to work for them, as I imagine he will grow up to be very strong and therefore useful in dragging animals, tools or rusting vehicles to be used as shelter.You want to be strong and skilful enough to scale the mountain that separates you from a plague infested town, and you want to be naturally healthy enough to stand a chance of surviving the ravages of disease brought on by malnutrition. Of course, in reality, the whole world would probably be so polluted that we would all be crawling along the ground on our bellies, too weak to even walk, slowly drowning in the phlegm that fills our lungs, dragging stones behind us for the masters that rule us with their stronger physiologies – perhaps genetically engineered, or perhaps niche natural characteristics will confer a huge evolutionary leap. I’m intrigued by the genetic advantages of some populations, like the Sherpas who can naturally withstand altitude, or the fast Kenyan runners, or the Inuit; in fact, pretty much every part of the world has an advantage for the sun-scorched earth of the future over the pale skinned, heat-intolerant Europeans and their current habitats, like America and Australia. We’ll all die of melanoma in no time.
Much as ideology can be dangerous, I admire idealism. The world would never have seen the progress it has without some idealists who did not accept the status quo as the only way society could be. The abolition of child labour, the union movement, mass vaccination, sewers, railways, the power grid; these were huge projects which were most likely viewed as impossible by popular opinion. The passive realists probably also thought that the great achievements of mankind were in the past, and that equality would only lead to social breakdown. Realism is the easy way out. You just say that it’s all downhill from here, and since you can’t change the world, you might as well enjoy the fun while it lasts. It justifies all your selfish choices, your lack of ambition, and the injustices brought about by the accident of when, where and to whom we were all born. I suppose I just accept my privileges, and at least I want to be honest about how much of my comfort is not borne of my own hard work, but my parents’ priorities. My father once told me that academia (his life) was not a good career choice, and I should go and make money in the City, so I did.
I can still be a good person by not passing judgement on how other people have ended up in a life of poverty and misfortune, by paying my taxes, and by helping the people I know. It is summary judgements about large numbers of people (“the rich”, “the poor”, “landowners”,”jews”) which lead to murderous ideologies.
In the meantime, I can’t decide what car to buy.