Ghandi and Oxfam agree that we should, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” The idealist-cum-philosopher-cum-psychoanalyst with a bid towards theologian, Zizek, also agrees. My son has been reading a lot of Zizek recently and conversations around the breakfast table are oddly reminiscent of the ones I remember growing up in 1960s Middlesbrough with a grandfather who made Marx look a bit right wing. Happily, though, the latter day conversations are rather wider ranging and altogether less macho and reductionist.
It struck me during one such conversation that there is an analogous attitude between Zizek and Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer talks about the Christian needing to live “as if there were no God”. For him, this was the epitome of living as Jesus did, namely by taking responsibility for every action within our power, and living as though every one of our actions was crucial. Zizek argues that we should live as though the worst has happened. To live ethically and with freedom we have to assume that freedom is not part of the future and then intervene in the present in order to change this. Once again our actions are crucial, living “as if there were no future freedom” in order to take responsibility, in order “to be the change you wish to see in the world”.
The resulting ethics is not so much Augustine’s “love and do what you will” as, “think carefully and do what you will”. Quite rightly, Zizek is not in the business of itemising the content of what it might mean to live as if there were no future freedom, but our conversation at brunch set me thinking about what ‘intervention’ I might make in the present for the sake of the future
In my recent past I looked at the present from a future with no trust in parents; with increasingly statist views of parenting and education designed to produce increasingly biddable and infantalised adults. The intervention I made was not only to home educate my four (then) children, but also to live with them as autonomous people who deserved to be negotiated with so that we could constantly find mutually satisfying solutions to life together. Of course we fell short of the ideal and in retrospect it could have been more radical, but it was nonetheless a real and worthwhile attempt to be the change we wished for. It is one that remains urgent, but as my youngest comes towards the end of his home education, it’s an intervention that another generation will take forward.
Perhaps my current ‘intervention’ is simply living this small and independent life.