First published on November 2011.
There are only two things that matter in the 21st century world: one is whether we can live with our planet; the other is whether we can live with each other.
On a planet that could one day be home to up to nine billion people, there’s plenty of space – as long as a decent proportion of us develop gills or learn to live on dirty air. Otherwise we have two tools to cope with the frictions that come from competition for water, energy and food, and the frictions that go hand in hand with differences of race, religion, gender and tribe.
Language is the only way we can negotiate our differences. In the task of managing our resources, we need to speak to each other persuasively, innovatively and charmingly. Words can be the bricks that build bridges between us. They can also become the grenades that leave us glaring at each other across the abyss, often speechless with anger at each other. Often this is the space in which artists, poets and musicians work in a higher, more creative idiom. Think of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.
But true integration of our humanity isn’t, in the final analysis, about managing for today. It’s about inspiring for tomorrow. The work of the imagination is what most matters. Not a hundred laws, nor a thousand speeches, nor a million marchers can ever match the impact of a single work of art that shows us the world as it might be, rather than as it is. Every child who has ever read To Kill A Mockingbird, or any adult who has been moved by Schindler’s List doesn’t need to read the many hundreds of clauses of the Equality Act to know what’s right and what’s wrong. One of the best decisions I ever made was to invest public money in East is East – a play which revealed more about what our Asian neighbours were really like than many years of worthy articles and documentaries made by like, er, me.
Law and politics can do a lot to prevent people doing bad things. Creative work is what we turn to if we want folks to do the things that make life worth living.
Illustrations by Paul Davis - http://copyrightdavis.blogspot.com/