Tuesday, 20 January 2009

I hope there will be enough bandwidth

I presume you will not be going to the university today (i.e., Tuesday). I think the whole world will be in front of their television sets. I am planning to sit in front of the laptop and watch the thing on the BBC website tonight – it will be eleven o'clock at night here. It will be one of those rare moments of truly international solidarity. I will be thinking of both of you watching together and feel the electric sense of unity.
I have been reading Plato's Republic. Well the English version at least. Well at least the introduction to it. It seems that Plato thought that only philosophers who had had rigorous intellectual training should be allowed to rule. It seems that the US may, at long last, be getting a philosopher president.
And yet I am filled with foreboding. As hopes are raised, so there is an equal fear in reaction to it. I am afraid of widespread war. I am afraid of religious fascism. I am afraid of the anger of the dispossessed and dis-empowered being channelled by dark forces into physical rage. The world seems like dry tinder waiting for a match. The task facing this brave man is huge and his enemies will try their best to make him stumble and make him the scapegoat for the horrors ahead. I am thinking of the Kennedys and how both of them were cut down as hope was raised and then dashed. But the need of their hour was a shadow compared with the need of this hour and, to be frank, their stature intellectually and personally was a mirage compared with Obama. Johnson was intellectually superior and he was far more ambitious but he too was cut down with the horrors of Vietnam and Cambodia. What he achieved – and it was a great deal – was swallowed up in that tragedy and it took a corrupt and discredited Nixon to rescue the USA for the involvement which had been started by JFK.
I hope Obama will not be cut down physically (I cannot get that terrible phrase The Assassination of President Obama out of my head – especially since the recent news of the assassination of that brave Sri Lankan journalist, Lasantha Wickrematunge). I hope he will not be cut down personally (he seems more robust on that score than John Kennedy or Bill Clinton). I hope he will not be cut down by his advisers (he seems to have recruited a wide range including bitter rivals) – particularly by those who advise caution where he should be brave. I hope he will not be cut down by military engagement (he has already committed himself to expanding the US role in Afghanistan and Pakistan). I hope he will not be cut down economically (he has a huge burden already to deal with and his enemies will exploit it). But above all, I hope he will not be cut down by disappointment – expectations are so high that whatever he does must inevitably disappoint.
The young have no memory and hope has fertile ground in their hearts. Hope is more difficult to plant and take root in the old, who remember all the lost opportunities and dashed hopes of the past. But we also remember those moments – the steady move towards a greater justice: the queues at the polling stations in South Africa and now too in the USA; the fall of the wall in Berlin; the walk of Mandela out of prison. The weeds of cynicism are widespread and can easily crush the new shoots of hope. But there are still fertile patches. The tree of free thought, of independence and universal human dignity takes a long time to grow but, once established, cannot ever be uprooted.
To use an old-fashioned phrase, I wish you joy of the inauguration.