This is not a personal piece, and also not a politically conformist one; it concerns something that’s been on my mind for the past years, something that’s not otherwise aligned with my worldview, and so it interests me all the more.
On a night out before the pandemic, I took the writer Mike Solana, visiting from San Francisco, to one of the oldest pubs in London, the Cittie of Yorke, to talk about the future — instead, we ended up talking about power: what if, I mused, in some strange way it’s better if the established power is old-fashioned in spirit and behaviour, would that not leave more room, and more motivation, for the young rebels to question norms, to probe limits, to think, to think outside the box?
As an atheist liberal, holding my ale, this is not something I usually say, and so we laughed, we laughed at our déjà vu.
But I’ve been thinking ever since, about this need for the benevolently unbearable, something that frustrates you but doesn’t appropriate or oppress you, something that makes you challenge and change, feeling you can. About that great Mrożek play, Tango, with its soulless, spineless, amoral, “intellectual” parents, and the son who rises against them with paramilitarism. That it might be better when the more orderly is at the top so the students can wreak havoc (as they should); if the rebellion is order that’s bad, that’s bad news for all.
I’ve been going through in my mind the past generations that grew up without their fathers, the purgatories post-World War I, the sons of the low dishonest decade, the dark lure of the same shirt; and there’s us, isn’t there, civilians of Boomer divorce battles, my high school classmates skipping history to go cheer on Orbán in a crowd, all the Reddits, the rudeness, our cable news of rage; I’ve been trying to fathom the political acts of the fatherless, what people do when there’s no one left to fight.
In healthy biological families the children disagree with the parents, and there’s room for this disaccord, and for growth; after going through it all, there’s space for course correction, apologising, coming around — the metaphorical father benefits in the long run from the revolt against his principles, people can and will evolve and soften, they do revisit their old more pliant selves when criticised by those they love, and trust, the most. Love is a system that can absorb a shock, and synthesise, and transform, and then settle — knowing that, in this one way similarly to a democracy, time takes care of cycling the leaders of families, there’s no fixed point, just a fluctuation of types of forces in-out.
To my politically bicurious logic it seems that it’s its leaders — be it genetic or elected — that hold a system together, without such stabilisation any attack will break it; and it cannot be the attacker who offers to perform this service of holding it together when his very role is to test its fragility.
People feel terrible in fragile systems.
(Cover image: painting by László Fehér)