Sedartis sits and speaks to me slowly.
‘Let me posit that there is no conspiracy.’
Where did you get your name from? I wonder. I don’t ask. He composes himself. He has sageness about him. He reads my mind, listens to it, more like; feels it. I went for a wander, he thinks back to me, along a little lake. Little compared to the big lakes where I come from. Where do you come from, I long to know; he stays tuned to my thoughts and replies, without words, the other worlds are many while the same worlds are few. Of course you cannot know where I am from, even though you do. I am content with that, for the time-being, and so he continues:
‘I do not know whether there are any conspiracies or whether there are not, and if there are, who is within them, and who is without. There may be some; there may be many. There may be none.
But let me posit that there are none: let me imagine that what looks like people consciously, actively coming together to conspire is in fact no more, and no less, than a culture.’
A culture, I think, is a conspiracy.
Let me posit that the conspiracy is no more – and certainly no less, which is more grave – than a culture. A culture is a conspiracy. It could be benign, it could be malicious, it is most likely something in-between, it may have, at the outset, no obvious value attached to it: but consider – Sedartis is now thinking harder – the good, the bad and the ugly: are they truly, are they sincerely, are they actually good, bad or ugly?
What of Mephisto, I think, less insistent than he does, is he not ein Teil von jener Kraft, die stets das Böse will, und stets das Gute schafft.
‘Exactly.’ Sedartis understands me perfectly: He wills me to think the thought further, think it deeper. I struggle. I get so easily distracted these days…
‘Consider people who do terrible things: murder children. Shoot boys and men. Rape women, girls, and boys and men. Devise gas chambers. Throw youths off buildings.’
My heart feels a hollow pounding: I don’t want to consider people who do terrible things; can’t we consider friendly people, people who may yet be friends, though perhaps they have not yet met? Are we to consider the worst that people do? Why? Sedartis thinks yes.
‘Consider people who do terrible things for some reason or other. Consider how in every single way they are exactly the same as you or me or our neighbour or our friend Jason, except in what they are doing at this particular time. Why do we find it so hard not to think of the other as other? Because it is exactly the same as us. The thought of it is horrendous, frightening. Of course it is true and you have to, you have to concede, though you don’t want to, that you could be that person, you too could be doing these things, you too are them as much as they are you, you are not separate, you own their horrendousness, and they own your love, and that’s what’s so hard not to be destroyed by: the worst thing that any human being is capable of, any human being is capable of; and it overshadows, for a time, for a period, in our eyes, the realisation, the hope, the belief, the truth that – is it not a truth? say it is the truth – that they, this self-same man, that identical woman, the person that is doing the worst thing imaginable is in the very same vein also capable of the noblest deed any human being has ever accomplished. The paradox. The infuriating, numbing, devastating realisation that the man who crushes the skull of a newborn under his boot is the same as the man who lays down his life so a stranger may live. It is not our nature to be one or the other it is only and only our culture.’
But we are not victims.
‘No we are not victims, not of our culture, we are the makers of our culture; that is the call: to stand up, to be tall, to accede to the duty of generating a signal, of being a voice in the wilderness, of saying: no. Not in my name. Of saying no, not in my name, when terrible acts are being committed; and of being first to hold up our hand and our head and say: I am here, count me in, when noble deeds are done. That is the choice: the choice is not between being born good or bad or potent or weak or ill or well or noble or savage, the choice is the culture we want to create.’
Sedartis is silent. The thinking has quite exhausted him. I want him to stay by my side. I feel his presence comforting and serene. So much have I longed for his presence, comforting, sage and serene.
‘Let me posit that there is no conspiracy,’ Sedartis speaks slowly, ‘let me assert that instead there is culture. And that the culture there is is the world as it is when we’re in it, and that being in it we are part of and therefore responsible for that culture. And when we give up our hope and say: this is just the way it is, we have already lost, we have failed, we have yielded in resignation to the bad things that happen, and when we throw up our hands in despair and say: that is them, they are like this that do these things, they are other, then we have not understood who we are, not grasped that we are what we see happening around us, that we own every last bit of cruelty as we exult every grand act of mercy; and if we say: they are powerful that have made the world such as it is but I am weak, then we give away what power we have and we empower those that we scold for wielding their power against us; and if we think they are evil that hold this power, we forget that we would have power if we hadn’t so feebly, so faintly so frivolously surrendered it. What is power, and what is it for: it is the potency to shape the world and what shapes the world that you live in: culture. Let me posit that there is no conspiracy, there are not categories of people, there are not those that are good and those that are bad and those that are ugly, nor are there those that are different, nor are they indifferent, there is your human conscience and there is the culture that we create.’
Now I would like an ice cream.
‘So would I.’