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Juan A. Soto

What goes on around you, matters

We should get rid of the temptation to live in a world in which we are intoxicated by politics and overcome by the delusion that it does not affect our lives or that our involvement amounts to nothing. Instead, the focus should always be on our home, in a material and spiritual-value sense, and those that we care for. Because this struggle should be with the aim to give us the right to return home.

As it is all too well known in the West today, the increasing social polarisation is perceived to be a consequence, among other causes, of intense politicisation. Everything that we believe in, that we are, seems to belong to the public square, and the border that should separate the private sphere from everything else has become blurred. Thus, children are thought to be more citizens than sons or daughters or siblings, whilst the right to privacy or intimacy is being increasingly erased. In turn, our creed, race, sex or sexual orientation seem to matter more and more, banishing the illusion of the battle for equality, and replacing it with that of identity.

Such is the intensity of the invasion of our privacy, that it leaves us looking vulnderable in the eyes of the weak and the powerful alike, creating numerous fault lines where insurmountable differences can emerge. In addition, it penetrates the threshold of our homes with sporadic incursions in the best of cases or permanent occupations in the worst. There are few places more politicised than many dining tables on a Sunday.

But let’s focus the scope of the impact on people. Political hooliganism, one the one hand, is present in the public square, both physical and virtual. There are messiahs and arsonists, some by vocation and others by obligation or chance; there are soldiers and generals, there are strategos and there are pawns. The fauna is diverse, but they are all part of the same species. One addicted to politics.

On the other hand we find those who believe that politics has nothing to do with them. A good number of those who repeat this type of argument do so without much conviction, because deep down they know that what happens in the public sphere does affect them, and yet they lack the courage to get involved in it. There are other people, on the contrary, who do subscribe to these issues with great firmness, but the latter is nothing more than the result of their ignorance.

Both in the first category and in the second, there are those who see a clear decline of the Western system of values and societal decay. Some stand up to this end, trying to hold the vault of heaven that seems to be collapsing, while others observe it sorrowfully, like sheep led to the slaughterhouse. For all these catastrophists, a brief warning: the great disaster is much worse, as Niall Ferguson points out in his latest book Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe (2021), than a real Apocalypse, because with the latter all suffering ceases, while the former forces us to endure suffering, for there are survivors and nostalgics. Furthermore, both the antediluvian stories of the end times and the current warnings of civilizational decadence bring with them an easy excuse for doing nothing.

This is a mistake for so many reasons, but I would like to point out one in particular: this predisposition takes away all sense or meaning or purpose from our lives and their mark on our environment, family, company, community or country. This is something that contrasts greatly with the excessive importance of supermen and how they mark the course of our lives, as Tolstoy masterfully reflects in War and Peace. It is true that History is written as a concatenation of great names and events, but we tend to attribute too much value to particular figures in the course of time while downplaying the impact that our lives can have on the world and, above all, in the lives of the people around us. Times change and Ages follow each other, but in the continuum of History there are many things that our hearts treasure. This is also why politics matters, and, like the weather, it affects us all sooner or later, or with greater or lesser intensity. Taking up again the mélange of cowards and ignorant from above: How can a father or a husband believe nothing beyond their home affects them, or his wife, or his children? To say that politics does not go with one is ridiculous. But beware, living intoxicated by it is deeply unfortunate.

It is unfortunate because in the heat of battle one can forget what he is fighting for. There is no doubt that there are those who embark on these issues with spurious or selfish interests, but it is worth asking ourselves what we should be fighting for. Here Tolkien is, as on countless occasions, completely clairvoyant. The Lord of the Rings is a truly epic story, filled with heroes and armies, elves and orcs... a titanic struggle between good and evil. And yet, the final lines of The Return of the King pick up the reason why we endure —or should endure— so much struggle in the public square. Following the destruction of the Ring, Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin say farewell at the Grey Havens. The first leaves the Middle Earth forever, and the others return to the Shire “without turning their heads” but also “without saying a single word during the entire journey back”. Finally, Sam:

Came back up the Hill as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap. He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.

This is how the most famous trilogy of all time ends. And this is not trivial. Whatever happens outside our home or beyond our screens matters. And because it matters, we must get involved. For us and for those who will come after us. It is an inescapable responsibility and not fulfilling it is totally suicidal. Now, we must not forget the reason why we chose to enter the public sphere, each in its own way and measure. And this is not —or should not be— to “save the West”. It is to earn the right to return home, and to seat our Elanors on our knees. A home that is difficult to build, that requires time, effort and love. Likewise, we must strive to live a noble life as Seneca points out, a herculean task in an age where only living a long and pleasant life matters. This is where one of the most important issues that is not usually emphasized enough lies: that of virtue. It may seem obvious, but it is not so much: there are no good systems (government, social, economic, etc.) or good homes without good people. Let us move away from the temptation to withdraw from public life and to live intoxicated by it. Whatever happens in Ukraine matters to you, wherever you are, and so do many other debates of our time, which is the one we have been given.

Finally, let us focus more on having our house —literally and figuratively— in order before engaging elsewhere. If we are incapable of the first, what makes us think that we have the slightest chance of amounting to something in the second? Now, before tiding our homes up, we need to create them, and this is something that will simply require our entire lives.

Saqib Bhatti MP

Environmental Localism