A fight to live

A fight to live

Watching a nature programme that I enjoy, I saw two mountain rams fighting it out. Their beautiful, fully curled horns clashed on the steep slopes they had chosen for their battle. The crash of their headgear was enough to make anyone wince, but I didn’t. They were taking good care of each other, even in a fight. Both knew that loss of an eye or serious flesh damage would cause the death of the other. So they avoided that. When the fight was over all the male rams who had taken part in this competition for their ladies favours got together and had a pow-wow to reconcile their aggression and let their horns develop peacefully until the next season’s rutt.

What a lesson in competition; what a lesson about life. But mostly, what a lesson about survival. Have humans developed so much that such a view of competition and survival is no longer possible? We may be going to find the answer to that question earlier than we expected. The Presidents are speaking to each other, a good sign. Are they understanding each other? Your guess is as good as mine.

I’m no historian but I note that many wars start as a result of two coincidental things – first, a buildup of tension in feelings between the antagonists; second, because of an accident, a misplaced bullet, a wrong order relayed. Wars are seldom over fast. They usually take about ten times longer than most forecasters would have you believe. Whether that is still true in an age when the nature of modern big scale warfare is largely untested, nobody knows. But wars recently ended took a great deal longer than had originally been thought.

The fear is still of nuclear war. We should be equally frightened of a communications war. So many of our systems are now digital and dependent on cloud computing that any disruption to the mechanisms on which they depend could prove damningly disruptive to us all. And a network fight might lead to deprivations that would make the pandemic’s restrictions look but a blink. So far the internet has been consistent, perhaps a bit too free to users but remarkably reliable considering the weight of communication it has to bear. We are vulnerable because of that.

The testing time is already here. China’s touch points are well known. Taiwan is only the first of them. China’s progress is slowing, a bad sign for hostilities which often begin as an attempt to prove the opposite. America has drawn, or nearly drawn, a line. I think the USA is right to do so. It can be argued that WWII started because the line was drawn too late. Whether American voters agree with the present line is uncertain.The polls suggest they do but the subject is difficult to poll. American voters are not always fully cognisant of affairs across the world, anyway.

And here’s the problem about democracy. ‘One person, one vote’ sounds nice because of its simplicity. In the ideological war between the West and China, the West is currently losing. That is because China appears to be more progressive, faster to adopt new ideas or to react to threats such as Covid-19 –  and is itself a bigger market than anywhere else. China is beginning to spread the ideology that the concept that every voter is equally intelligent to every other voter is bunk. Of course that is true. If your goal is only profit, and profit at any cost, then freedom as the West appreciates it is worth very little.

But allocating voting power by educational achievements or tested intellectual capability would be dangerously divisive in a world struggling to give everyone equal opportunity. People often mistake equal opportunity as  equality but they are two very different things. What we are in practice already doing is swapping selection by inheritance for important and well paid jobs / class for identifiably commercial potential. We have to realize this because, taken to extremes, it could become the last financial nail in the coffin of humanity.

The Irony of this is that, as Anne-Marie Slaughter so eloquently said in the Financial Times 08Oct21, “the habitability of the planet is itself in question”. ‘Habitability’ is a good word because it includes not just the commercial viability of existence, but the quality of that presence, too.

And so we have the two rams on the slippery mountain slope punching away at each other at present, apparently trying to assert enough authority to assuage their own constituents. I suspect that neither of them wants war. Both must know that their ideologies are being practiced in ways that are far from ideal if the search for equality of opportunity and a satisfactory harmony of life are to be achieved. Both must be aware that a mistake, a miss-fired bullet, an aircraft accident or just the lunacy of some zealot driven mad by the pressure exerted on him, could start destruction like the world has never seen.

The climate problem, you would think, would be enough to ensure cooperation between the great powers. At present it seems like a battle of words in order to appear the better activist who nevertheless doesn’t upset his own people with disciplines they might find difficult to accept.

If leadership means anything it clearly involves situations just like this. To turn what appears to be an approaching age of endless possible destruction into one of survival and satisfaction may be too big a demand for any political system created so far.

Where are the brains inventing a system that suits both ideologies and is genuinely fairer?

Where is the will to survive?

Good morning

John Bittleston


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