I recently came across the last written words of Victor Hugo, inscribed on 19 May 1885, three days before he died. Aimer, c’est agir.
To love is to act.
His words were both a statement of belief and a kind of epitaph. Victor Hugo was a humanitarian, a supporter of the common man, unafraid to join the political fray, risking his reputation, his livelihood and even his life for his beliefs. Twice a member of the National Assembly, he was exiled in 1851 for denouncing Napoleon III as a tyrant.
Love leads to action or it is an empty gesture.
It’s a deceptively simple idea, difficult enough to enact in our private lives but especially challenging and complex nowadays in the public sphere. On social media for example, does taking a stand against certain people and issues merely feed them the oxygen of publicity? Are we just talking in an echo chamber? Does clicking yet another petition make any difference?
In an era in which reason and truth are paid scant regard by politicians and the press and in which they both increasingly pander to the lowest common denominator, how can we contribute to serious debate – and does serious debate matter any more?
Margaret Thatcher famously said that there is no such thing as society and although few would now agree with that rhetoric, her legacy is a poorly regulated, self-serving, capitalist economy in which the public commons are sold off for private gain and the primary (if unspoken) duties of the citizen are to produce and consume. In the face of what seems an unstoppable competitive race to the bottom, how is an ordinary person of good conscience to act?
Because I still cling to a belief in the power of positive narratives, I write stories, articles and occasionally books that seek to uphold and promote the values and qualities to which I aspire: love as the wellspring of life; reason enriched by the power of the imagination; individuation of the self integrated with a sense of responsibility toward others in the more-than-human world.
It’s not enough, of course.
But it’s something.