The vast and horrible thing which we try hard to forget: fire, pestilence, storms, earthquakes, or the unleashing of dark moral forces—these callously sweep away in one moment what we had laboriously built up and beautified with all our intelligence and all our love. –Teilhard de Chardin.
The heart of privilege is a sense of safety. All is right with the world, which was made with me in mind. My interests and desires are appropriate, and catered for. One would not imagine the worst coming to the worst, but even then family, or contacts, would make sure you were alright.
I feel that human society has reached a level of wealth and luxury such that there should be a safety net for everyone. Unfortunately the government disagrees, putting in place the minimal “Nightwatchman state” envisaged by Robert Nosick: In Anarchy, State and Utopia, Nozick sets out his ideal notion of governance, involving only the most minimal levels of state involvement, protection of citizens’ most basic rights. However, in practice, such minimalist government poses serious problems. The state has retreated. If you fall, you must get yourself up. And if you can’t, tough.
Nosick perhaps had an eye to more extreme views of anarcho-capitalism. He does not want the life of humanity solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. He has some idea of a just return for talent properly used, but no idea of how to nourish talent in difficult circumstances. That requires civil society. We live in an abundant world, where there is enough for everyone’s need, though it might be better if the wealth of billionaires, which increased by $1tn in 2016, were distributed equally. The painter Lucien Freud used to gamble prodigiously, tens of thousands of pounds in a night, knowing that with his art he could make more money, feeling able to start painting again, unblocked, when he was cleaned out. If billionaires were really talented, they could start again. No-one need accumulate more than $1bn.
I tried to persuade a radical feminist of my harmlessness by stating some of my distress; this had no effect, because perhaps of her own and that of people she cared about. I explain it in this way because human stories, individual experiences, have a particular effect on me, and so of course everyone must be at least a little like that, really. She would make a class analysis: the class of women, all women, the Queen and Theresa May, are oppressed by the class of men, even the homeless or sick. The least successful man benefits from being a man. Her sympathy has more worthy targets than mere anomalous individuals. As has Nosick’s, when he theorises about the best and most just society for all humanity, which he thinks would be best for the most individuals if not for all.
How to live with the realisation that there is no safety, that the vast and horrible thing may sweep everything away? With braggadocio, perhaps, or denial, or quiet determination; or radical acceptance, seeing God in it. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
I am alright for the moment. I am just safe enough.
I went to Johnny’s Happy Place today, named after a suicide, a community organisation with some local authority funding with a pay-as-you-feel cafe and youth groups. I read a handout from some group- everyone has the right to be safe from violence. Imagine a place where you feel safe. If you do not have such a place, imagine what such a place would be like. So many people’s safety is less than mine. There I found two huge home-made soft toys with large cloth eyes and the words HUG ME stitched to each chest. So, before we left, I did.
Ach, it is unbearable. Appreciation is the answer, appreciating the beauty of the World even as it kills you. If you have the strength to do that in a clear-eyed, loving way, do please let me know.