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  • 09 July 2006

Stakes ...

Good to see Mark Latham restore the simple metaphor to political life, even if a humble ladder seems a bit out of place in our monumental Parliament House. Of course, you can’t put too much weight on metaphorical ladders. They always speak of dreams of the unlikely. Unlike the real thing, you can’t fall off metaphorical ladders, feel faint when you are three steps up them, break the rungs as you climb, or find them swaying backwards as you reach the top. But ladders do have a long history that politicians might usefully draw on.

Mark Latham’s ladder is a typically modern model. It is a one-way ladder, made for going up. You can’t come down it, at least not while preserving your self-respect. This brand has a long history of use in moral exhortation. A Greek spiritual writer was even called John the Ladder. St Augustine used the ladder as a model for spiritual progress, admonishing his hearers to make a ladder by trampling down their vices. When the executive chair replaced heaven at the top of the ladder, the vices became other people who were to be trampled on as you made progress towards realising your aspirations.

and ladders

These one-way ladders are pretty frightening affairs. They create shame when you descend the rungs. And they also make you isolated on the way up, and fearful that the music might stop before you reach the top. And if it does, then with Yeats we are back to the world of Augustine:

Now that my ladder’s gone I must lie down where all the ladders start, In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.

Given the disadvantages of the one-way ladder, perhaps Mark Latham might ponder the virtues of the older model: the two-way ladder of Jacob’s dream. Jacob saw a vision of angels ascending and descending the ladder that joined earth and heaven, a vision of connection. Ladders of connection that bring together people at the top and at the bottom of society for their mutual enrichment have advantages. Certainly, they are better than the ladders of aspiration that you need to kick others off if you are to climb.

New views

The National Gallery of Victoria is a favourite landmark of Victorians. Many have childhood memories of running fingers across the iconic water curtain, seeing a masterpiece up close for the first time or being struck by the energy and life emanating from canvas.