“There’s a note I’d like to strike. It’s about impotence. Have you noticed, going along the streets, that all of the people you see are tired out, impotent?” he asked. “What is a newspaper—the most impotent thing in the world. What is the theater? Have you gone much lately? They give you such a weariness that your back aches, and the movies, God, the movies are ten times worse, and if this war isn’t a sign of universal impotence, sweeping over the world like a disease, then I don’t know much.”
Sherwood Anderson – Dark Laughter (1925)
If Anderson’s character was right about universal impotence, then here in the UK we would still be caught up in wars and conflicts and all kinds of unplanned consequences would infest our lives –
Okay that’s one box ticked so let us imagine a few other possibilities.
If we were really impotent we’d do ridiculous things such as allowing rapists into the country, or preachers of religious hatred. Or we would become entangled in monstrous bureaucracies and beat ourselves up with impossibly complex regulations. Or maybe we would find it impossible to build affordable houses for young people, control an apparently inexorable growth in our population or choose only the best from those who want to move here.
Even wilder possibilities come to mind if we really are impotent. We might find ourselves unable to criticise malign social trends in robust language without isolating ourselves. We might freely elect unworthy people to high office. We may even try to control global weather patterns by building giant windmills -
No that’s going too far. We can’t be that impotent can we?