If I ruled the world: Imogen Stubbs

I am not a natural leader, but my utopia would bring together “an aristocracy of the sensitive, considerate and plucky”
August 24, 2011

It is easy to feel that the future of the world looks a trifle bleak, whoever is foolhardy or vile enough to take the helm. Fortunately, this is unlikely to be me. I am not a natural leader, as anyone who was in the under-15s netball team I captained at school will testify. When I directed a play, my notes to the actors would inevitably meander into hyperventilating gibberish:

“Um… a notion for rejection… why don’t you try moving… no actually don’t… that’s an astonishingly dreadful idea or maybe… nope… sorry… what do you think?”

What’s more, conflict—an unavoidable part of the ruler’s lot—brings out my inner Aeolian harp: I sing the tune of any wind that blows. I was once involved in a film of Twelfth Night. When the first cut was shown to a big Hollywood executive (and, for the record, his dog) he said “It’s OK. But you gotta cut the goddamn blah blah.” I nodded and spluttered something like “Yup. Absolutely. Good point.”

Cut the Shakespeare! Allow a heartless philistine to silence one of the world’s great humanists—in favour of dumbing down for easy consumption and maximum profit? This is virtually a parable for our times.

As riots erupted across Britain, members of the public called for draconian measures to stop such lawlessness. In the aftermath, David Cameron and Nick Clegg wandered between looted, burned-out buildings, looking and sounding like amiable prefects compelled to give detentions to younger pupils caught smoking. I suspect they would rather chew wasps than rule a liberal democracy at the moment.

As a piece of work, man at the moment, seems more “quintessence of dust” than “noble in reason” or “infinite in faculties.” Truth, decency, sympathy, common sense—these no longer seem to be our standards.

But the looters are not “the public.” They are a deviant minority. The “we” of a looting mob is a collection of “me’s” endorsing each other’s right to brutal selfishness. I think, like EM Forster, that most people would rather be part of the “we” of a tolerant, sympathetic community than a crowing mob baying for blood. As he wrote, “I believe in… an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages… They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos.”

As ruler, then, I would try to tap into the power that comes with a true sense of connectedness—not with a deity, or computers, or stuff, or profit—but with other sympathetic human beings. The instinct to share that is so much part of the mystery and delight of being human. The collective emotions that can unite an audience and performers; the oceanic feeling in a happy crowd; the strange melancholy pleasure that sweeps through people as a brass band passes by; the shared humour of the Mexican wave—the instinct that unites people after a terrible tragedy.

I would champion a liberal humanist utopia populated by decent people. I like the ambitions of those like the Young Foundation who champion the “Contagious courage that persuades others to change, and the pragmatic persistence that turns promising ideas into real institutions.”

When travelling, I have again and again been inspired by tiny groups—usually of women—who have used small loans to develop and harness local skills. A fine example of this is the work of Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist who founded the Green Belt Movement and won the Nobel peace prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.

My ideal world would be full of Maathais, who would strive to teach the world to live in harmony. Like a Coca-Cola advert but without the Coca-Cola. There would be no more fizzy drinks or junk food, no car-park fees at hospitals, no neon lights. No health and safety rules which have lost any connection with common sense. No more absurd packaging. No more unsmiling passport photos.

While I’m at it, the BBC World Service would be given a vast budget. Plays and one-off dramas would be given pride of place on television. There would be no more disdain for the lessons of history. No disparagement of the elderly for not being young or in the thrall of technology. Wisdom and experience would be given back their value. Everyone would have access to a piece of land to cultivate. There would be no more guns, testosterone, dictators…

Sorted, then. Although it appears that if I ruled the world, I would become a dictator. My final act would have to be to abolish myself.