Do the right thing. Sisyphus in the modern age

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By Warwick McFadyen

There is a new task for Sisyphus. It is to see things as they truly are. A boulder to Everest would be easy compared to this. One needs to know the true shape of people and events to make sense of their place in the world. But truth is slave to many masters. And now we find ourselves in a world described as post-truth, amid a war of facts and alternative facts. Technology has made the ferocity of the battle much worse than previous eras. The bombardment is unceasing. Sooner than anyone can realise, perhaps already, this is situation normal. There is no going back. Sisyphus is stranded.

To gain this clear-eyed perspective requires trust. What then, in giving our trust to leaders and parties, can we hold close to be the definition of right? I don’t mean in the ideological/political spectrum. I mean in the universal, ethical sense of the word – to do no harm, to act in kindness, to do unto others what you would wish them to do unto you. It is here the road diverges. One leads to the circles of communities where power holds little sway, where the essence of the community is the welfare of the people. Call me a hippy. I’ll put a flower behind my ear.

The other leads into the dark forest. You can get lost in there forever. It is where we, across our modern democracies, are now. Whatever shafts of light get through the trees that we believe are the truth only serve to cast more shadows.

Everything is relative. We can kid ourselves it is not. We can say there are absolutes, lines and bridges that cannot be crossed in how we behave towards each other. We have constructed laws to bind our actions to our expectations. We call this society. And everyone lives in society.

But we are, if nothing else, magnificent at self-delusion. We are all individuals. (The joke is beautifully and simply rendered by the Monty Python team in The Life of Brian. But I digress.) All we are, individuals. We bump against each on the river of life, form unions of common purpose, break away, stay together, are buffeted this way and that, are moved by currents small and large, until we reach the infinite ocean, or should I say ocean of finite – the one and only certainty. Each life has its own meeting place with the sea.

If history has taught us anything it is that we are not very good students of our history. While on one side of the ledger are the giant steps in, for instance, eradicating diseases that had eradicated millions and for increasing the longevity of those lucky to be born in affluent countries (pity those in such countries but who are left behind. Australia says sorry, and truly means it. But getting our hands dirty in the dust of a history and the conditions that we made? Sorry.).  Life has become a lifestyle, an aspirational goal far removed from our ancestors where life was a matter of survival. Who could not want that? The world is a village on a laptop.

And yet. How we treat each other economically, through government and corporate entities, shows time and time again that it is not the poor who build the walls. It is not the poor who invade other countries.  Doing the right thing in this rarefied world is a compromised concept, a manipulation of the marketplace of beliefs, a matter of self-interest.

And yet. There are many charities, and goodhearted people and institutions fighting the good fight to help others. The exception, however, does not prove the rule. But we believe it to be so to stroke the better half of our souls, our enlightened angelic side, and whisper that really in the long run, good will prevail, that if enough people of such intent rise up, the dark night of our being will fade into the horizon. But these things do not die. One phrase will suffice – collateral damage. This constant war footing between political adversaries and between ideologies makes truth not only the first casualty, but the eternal collateral damage. That being so, how then can we trust the motive of those in this realm of power to do the right thing as we who are not define it?

The next time a president or prime minister speaks, ask yourself, Is that the whole truth?

You don’t need to. It never will be.

Warwick McFadyen is a freelance writer and editor

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