By MORRIS WEST
Against all the evidence of history, we still cherish the illusion that the systems we create will support us indefinitely. We are shocked when they prove too fragile to bear the weight of our enterprises and our hopes.
We still believe that government is a form of magic which absolves the governed from personal responsibility and endows the governors with a kind of divinity. We elevate a strong man to rule us. We ignore that he is mortal and corruptible.
We elect assemblies to govern us, we are amazed that their members are as ignorant, as selfish, as mediocre as we are ourselves. We assent to laws whose texts we never read and groan under the inequities they generate.
We pay police and militia to protect us. We educate them in the techniques of surveillance, repression and psychological torture. Too late we understand how easily we may become their victims.
We devise elaborate systems of social service for the sick, the aged, the incompetent. Suddenly, we discover how many needy fall through the net and how little we are disposed to care.
We fabricate monetary policies to support our failing currencies. We are blind to the fact that money, divorced from fruitful services and tangible goods, is worthless paper, a mad mathematic in a banker's ledger.
We rape the resources of the earth in the name of industrial growth and economic progress. We do not see that the resources diminish while half the world still lives on the edge of famine.
We negotiate for peace and peddle the weapons of war. We are justified, we say, by the system of supply and demand and by the need to create employment. Reason goes out the window when we must keep men employed by killing other men.
The computer liberates us from the twin burdens of reason and accountability. It writes our biographies in arcane symbols. This record, to which we have no access, against which we have no legal recourse, determines our credit, our employment, our moral status. It may determine the day of Armageddon, against which none of us may appeal.
When all our other devisings fail, we seek refuge in this
religious system or that. We stay ourselves with ritual, authority, dogmatic definition, or we pay homage to the astrologer and the magus.
We dare not confront the simple fact of mortality or the vast mystery of cosmic continuity. We are afraid of the great unknowable whom we call God. So we make gods in our own image and wonder why they fail us so Quickly.
In the end, we fall sick of the palsy of despair. We are so small, our systems are so unstable, the world is so complex, that all effort seems futile. We scramble for the last fruits, to make a mad supper, before the ice-age engulfs us all.
Today, this mood of accidie, of disillusion and bleak indifference, afflicts us all in greater or less degree. It puts us all in jeopardy. It will betray us into tyranny or chaos.
An exaggeration? I do not think so. Indifference attracts the tyrant. Disillusion provokes disorder.
Our social systems cannot tolerate much more strain. One key union can ruin a country in a single cold winter. The oil sheiks made vassals of half the world overnight. There was and is public discussion of preemptive war by America. If there is a remedy for this catastrophic malaise, we must apply it quickly. I believe that the remedy is simple but painful.
Each one of us must assume a full personal responsibility in the conduct of society. None of us dare abrogate or delegate that responsibility to an anonymous collective "they".
We must create order in ourselves, in our own vicinity. We must not raise up tyrants to impose it for us. We must dispense justice out of ourselves — personal justice, social justice — before we demand justice from others. We must offer love first. even if the love returned to us is less than we expect. This is the true social contract, without which no other contract can stand.
We must hold ourselves responsible, personally responsible, for all that is done in our names by our elected representatives or the civil servants whom we pay with our taxes.
We must protest — personally protest — against bad legislation and unfaithful service. We must recognise that a sickness in the body politic is a sickness in our own bodies, and we, personally, .must co-operate in the cure.
If the rights of another are invaded, each of us must rise to resist the invasion. The larger the affair, the more complex the issue, the more important it is to hear the single human voice above the clamour of partisan debate.
Each of us has a right to propose his policies in the speaking-place, to assemble freely, to decide by majority. Each of us has a personal duty to protect the rights of the minority.
Each of us has an obligation of tolerance and compassion, because God wears a different face for every man, because all definitions are inadequate and to burn a man for a formula is a barbarity.
Each of us must respect the law. Each of us must fight to improve the law, knowing that it is always less than just, that it is as much a weapon as a shield, that its inequity can drive men to disorder and violence.
No codex is complete; no • legislation should be beyond challenge; no regulation should override the fundamental purpose — the dispensation of Justice in a community of free, self-regulating citizens.
It is not a system which will save us. It is we ourselves, one by one, one to one, each to all and all to each.