We still have ideals
Poets often talk about the inadequacy of poetry, or language, to capture a moment. For example, there is a time of day when the late afternoon light come across the sky very low and strong and illuminates leaves and fruit on trees so that you can no longer tell where the light ends and the object begins. In these moments there is no way of replicating the sensation in words. As Mary Oliver said of a heron she saw rising over blackwater, "He is exactly the poem I wanted to write."
We live in discomforting times. Everyone got so used to everything be easy or getting better or being arguable. And yet, we forgot the horrors people used to live with, the suffering that was normal. Things like high rates of infant mortality, men dying at work, young men going to war and not coming home, illness like smallpox and death from simple illness were commonplace until after the war.
We argue about social conditions without realising that old age pensions didn't exist until 1910. Political arguments about the NHS are only possible because of modern medicine, which we can't really prove does a lot for us. America spends approximately 20% of national on GDP but life expectancy is going backwards. My parents generation lived through the economies of the 1980s and 1990s, but people don't remember the historic levels of wealth and opportunity — things literally never available before — they remember the recessions, the negative equity and the arguments about Europe.
And now we are living in an age when it is so ordinary for the police in the world's leading democracy to kill a man, brutally, that we are not surprised by it at all. Disappointment sums up the attitude to politics. Trump is a joke. The media cannot adjust to the realities of the internet and so we get a circus about Dominic Cummings who broke the rules but not in a sackable way. No-one in professional politics seems to be able to get past Brexit.
Conditions are so precipitous we should be mentally preparing for all range of outcomes from a V-shaped recovery to a depression followed by high inflation. A century on from the Spanish Flu, we have masses gathering in Trafalgar Square, when we know that that will increase the R. But the they right. Either you stand for democracy or you don't. And those police offers in America are an affront to the rule of law and democracy.
So these are the choices we are making now. None of this belongs in poetry. In fact, one reason why modern poets lack an audience is because they write progressive editorials as a way of keeping witness, rather than making art a separate polis, as Seamus Heaney did.
But last night, for the first time, a private company sent men into space. They have reached the International Space Station. The The rockets are relaunchable. People who are deeply involved in all the crap listed above often mock Musk. It's easy to be a sermonising nimby in the face of a disruptive billionaire. But the man who wants to try and solve climate change at Tesla also wants to colonise Mars because until humanity has another population on another planet we are at inherent risk of disappearing.
There is no greater moral cause than the long-term survival of the species. The vast number of human lives made more feasible by Musk's work is unknown. But he is doing more to solve our problems than almost everyone else alive. As with Bill Gates, people love to hate the right person.
Watching that rocket was one of those moments the poets struggle to put into words. It was the defeat of constraints — not gravity and engineering, but bureaucracy, disbelief and complacency. Launching a rocket into space, created by a private company trying to colonise Mars as part of a ultra long-term moral mission rooted in the sanctity and potential of human life is so inspiring you won't even hear the cynicism and the lame jokes.
All you need to do to make yourself feel better about the future is watch that launch. We can do that now. Think what else we might be able to do, given time and a little willingness. Thank God it happened at the same time as those thugs in the police killed that poor man, so that we can all remember what America and democracy and ingenuity are really like. We still have ideals and one day poets will sing about them.