Growing up in a safe, benign and predominantly urban country like the UK, means you miss out on a lot of the experiences which define life in other countries. We don’t really have natural disasters, extreme weather, earthquakes, civil war, endemic illness, extreme poverty, lawlessness, corruption, dictators, or sectarian governments. Very lucky us. We have comparatively big Government and we are comparatively happy with it.
But take a look around the world today – Egypt going from peaceful, hopeful mass demonstration to violent disorder, Australia bracing for a continent sized cyclone which would cover swathes of the USA and would obliterate the UK, France and Germany, Sudan seceeding from itself and the routine drip drip drip of deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq or any number of other countries you care to mention. Government or the lack of it has a hand or the responsibility in all of these.
I was reading to my daughter about Henry VIII and Tudor England this evening and explaining beheadings, religious persecutions and kingly philandering. I said people were poor, had few rights and had many arbitrary rules imposed upon them by church and state. I used the past tense but on reflection not much has changed in much of the world.
This makes me reflect on four of Jenny Holzer’s Truisms:
Abuse of power comes as no surprise
Government is a burden on the people
Grass roots agitation is the only hope
Imposing order is man’s vocation for chaos is hell
Number one, I fear, is a nailed on certainty. Even Platonic Philosopher Kings go bad without term limits. Chaos is a hot hell, but dictatorship is a cold one. I used to think Government was my friend, but having worked in it I’m not so sure. It’s more like HAL 9000 crossed with a particularly mindless golem – and that’s in a stable affluent parliamentary democracy not a kleptocracy, sectarian or police state. Grass roots agitation probably is the only hope for many. I’m lucky to live where I do, and a good five centuries after Henry VIII.