Sunday, 12 June 2011
A few random thoughts inspired by meatloaf....
I am not one for perfection - don't get me wrong, I up for fine dining, fancy combinations and such like - but there's something comforting about things that aren't quite square, perhaps droop a little in the wrong places and attract the occasional sneer from those who prefer image over substance. Indeed, our search for perfection, for a tidy solution seems to me one of the curses of the age.
Take suicide, for example. We're told that the solution - the tidy, fining dining answer - to the terrible truth that some deaths are painful beyond endurance is to allow people to "assist" in that dying. by which we mean accelerating it rather than sharing some of the agony of painful death. But not all people who would assist another's death are minded to do so from undiluted altruism - those staggering acts of love we see from some may be, indeed probably are, exceptional.
And look elsewhere - we speak of "poverty" in mechanistic terms, almost as a permanent state curable only through the setting of rules. Yet each case is different - some poverty is short-lived brought about by tragedy, misfortune or even death while other poverty is sustained by structural disadvantage, inadequacy, ill-health and, yes, even fecklessness. We have discovered that passing a law about poverty does not end that poverty - the rules do not educate, do you feed, do not provide a shoulder on which to cry. But we seek a tidy answer - whether it be to categorise all the poor as lazy or to claim innocence in every such case.
It is too untidy - whether we speak of the pain of death or the suffering of poverty - to say that we should approach each case as just that, an unique human tragedy meriting its own unique response. No we must blame it the "system", on disincentive and on the actions of others - perhaps bankers, maybe politically correct social workers, take your pick.
So much of this is just the image - making the right sounds, painting the right pictures, playing to the gallery. Surely all those things we were taught, the ethics, values and morality of England should tell us that the charge was placed on us all - you, me, the bloke next door - to care for others, to look out for the neighbour. We can't sub-contract that charge to a big system called "the welfare state". The duty that charge entails isn't resolved through the passing of tidy little laws. It is our duty - and too often, too many of us pretend that paying taxes and putting a few pennies in a collecting tin suffices.
Meatloaf isn't a tidy dish, there's not right way to make it, no set of rules (although you're welcome to pinch my version - after all I pinched it too). Yet it works and each family can see its way to its own version - a version that works for them - and a particular combination to accompany. If you seek perfection you won't find it in a meatloaf. But if you want something that does the job - and does it well - then the meatloaf's just the thing. A mix of things, old and new, a little bit of love and a uniqueness to time, place and circumstance - a bit like much of everything else really.