Written quickly, not properly edited, not neatly argued.
My initial response, on receiving the invitation to a group discussion about “How do we find hope?” my initial impulse, is to laugh. Like it’s ridiculous in its earnestness and melodrama. It makes me want to sing “where is the hope?” to the tune of Where is the Love by The Black Eyed Peas. It has something of the Flight of the Conchords “what is wrong with the world today?” about it. Of course, I have concerns about the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote too (this is what brought up the “hope question” by the way: the “events” of this year). But talking about “hope” seemed so inadequate, so mealy. Of course, you need to believe you can have a positive effect on the world so as not to fall into depression and paralysis. But this seems to me to be a truism rather than an argument about the need for hope. Hope, especially in this context – theatre directors waxing lyrical about hope in a discussion at Young Vic – seems so thin and flimsy and wishful. Like a magical rainbow which will bring us all together and make everything better – a disneyfied magic, when what we need is a different kind of magic, a real magic, an igneous and old and ritual magic. It seems like talking about hope in this way is indulging in fantasy rather than taking action.
What should action be, then? In other words, what is the Good Society, and how do we get there? Well, if we’re talking what is the economy of the Good Society, and I think that’s a useful place to start, I don’t think it’s a million miles away from the economy of the Young Vic directors network. That is to say, offering each other our time and energy and skills for free (in talks and workshops just like the one in question, this talk about hope), and becoming indebted to one another in the process. Within the Young Vic network, it’s fair to assume that we have a shared idea of a societal project where creativity and play and stories are allowed to play an important part in everyone’s lives, irrespective of their class, or income or race or religion. Big picture: the world needs to move towards a no-growth or very low growth economy, and we need to be able to do that while maintaining good standards of living, because the environment is going to hell in a handcart. We need to build a society which, when it measures the health of its economy, looks at the value of care and creativity and play. This is what I hope the network can become. Making art needn’t be expensive. We need somewhere to call home, enough to clothe ourselves, to eat, to travel to keep warm. We need that security. And it is possible to provide that security, those basics for everyone – there’s plenty of wealth to go around. And once you have those basics, the question is what to live for, and the answer is for play, for love, to find ourselves and our place in the world.
In our group discussion about “hope” a recurring theme was that the Other is alienated, disempowered, frustrated and angry. A question arises: do we reach out to them and try to empathise or do we tell them that they are wrong? Both of these responses are an impulse to “fix” the Other. But we cannot fix everything, and we certainly cannot “fix” the other. Can we even fix anything? We can fix ourselves. It is not just the Other (the 52%, the Trump voter) who is disempowered: I (me, Ben) am disempowered. I do not feel like I am represented politically. I live in a system which is cruel and absurd. My frustration and alienation is the same as the frustration and alienation of the Other (the 52%, the Trump voter). So we can fix ourselves. First, on a personal level. Then on the level of the network. We can organise. We can use the network, the networks to give ourselves a voice, to find a way of achieving a better democracy and a better society, and then to reach out to the ones who are cast as the Other to say that we feel like we don’t have a voice either, and we want change too, and we want to feel like we live in a society too, like there is such a thing as society, not just a whole lot of communities existing independently of one another and never interacting (this is not how things are, but it is often how they are cast). To start among ourselves is not to preach to the choir or live in a bubble or an echo chamber or whatever we’re calling it these days. It is to recognise that we need to change, to take back control ourselves and for ourselves. We cannot fix the Other. We can only fix ourselves. That is why we must become the Other and the Other must become one of us.