Power and Memory

Dover Beach

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
There are, I think, two ways of looking at politics. You can see it as a conflict of ideas- right ones and wrong ones- or you can see it as a conflict among different sources of power, which use ideas to advance their cause and increase their influence. The danger that Orwell diagnosed and prophesized is that our ability to recognize and constrain power depends upon language and words, particularly in a complex society in which violence is hidden from view and our perceptions are shaped via technological intermediaries. The real danger is not your ideological enemy, even when they appear to be triumphing over you on the field of battle and trampling over your well-tended land. The modern world offers ample grounds for retreat, for consolidation, for nourishing yourself on contrary voices and on the voices of the past.
If you live in a wealthy country, the “natural world” is in some ways healthier and more bountiful than it has been in a century or more, more available outside our door and full of its own mysteries and messages.
The danger is forgetting, sealing ourselves in a nutshell and counting it infinite space, wandering in a hall of mirrors and thinking we are amongst all of our friends.

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