FIVE WAYS OF THINKING ABOUT SOCIETY & POLITICS
by David Betteridge, with drawing above by Bob Starrett
Three of the five ways of thinking expressed below
are overly deterministic, and therefore dangerous;
the other two ways are better...
He is a reckless driver and a wrong-headed
philosopher. I would sooner ride in his car
than follow his lead in politics.
- After Bertolt Brecht
THE TAINT AT SOURCE
There was a taint at source,
that kept renewing:
that was how our killing flaw,
in mind, and hand, and heart,
was ever-present, age on age,
from our species’ very start.
No later tributary could flush away
the heaped contaminants that infected us,
giving us our propensity to ill;
and they are ever-present, ever-active still.
Virtue might feature sometimes
in our rhetoric, even in our dreams,
but, incurably it sickens,
victim of a fact of life
that no force on earth redeems.
Round and round
goes the hateful, fateful wheel.
It takes us up - oh look, the views! -
and then, of course, just as quickly,
brings us and our visionings
back to ground.
On and on, relentlessly,
there is no change,
no chance of progress ever,
always the same old shit, round
and round, and there is no way
of stopping it.
This is the world’s great carousel
that over-rides and undermines our politics.
It is a gift and curse from Hell.
THE BEAM BALANCE
Good and evil:
imagine every instance of the first
recorded in the form of a pebble
or, better, a grain of sand,
then placed, as it occurs,
in a giant balance
in the right-hand pan; likewise,
imagine every instance of the second,
placed in the opposing one.
How often has the balance been
in equilibrium, or how seldom, rather?
And, just supposing that the balance
tips towards the good,
how soon before the rival camp contrives
to pile a desert opposite,
and so restore the evil bias as it stood?
Wanting peace, it is better
that we ask our enemies’ followers
to cease their following
than that we seek to start a war.
Better, too, that we ask ourselves
how long and what our enmity is for.
Wanting plenty, it is better
that we sow a more fecund seed
in a more fertile soil
than that we force two meagre harvests
from the same tired field,
with twice the toil.
Wanting new answers
to inform our striving for a kinder life,
it is better that we frame new questions,
entering new arenas
for the conduct of our mental fight.
We make them change;
and, in doing so,
we ourselves are changed.
Such work requires of us
that we deploy the best
of everything that time has given;
that we annul the worst,
especially the worst within us;
and that we transmute the rest.
Root, stock, and branch,
in these dark days, we have no choice
but to pursue such three-fold acts
of supersession, exerting every atom
of intelligence, every syllable of art,
and so give back to the heartless world
David Betteridge is the author of a collection of poems celebrating Glasgow and its radical traditions, 'Granny Albyn's Complaint', published by Smokestack Books in 2008. He is also the editor of a compilation of poems, songs, prose memoirs, photographs and cartoons celebrating the 1971-2 UCS work-in on Clydeside. This book, called 'A Rose Loupt Oot', was published by Smokestack Books in 2011.