Sunday, 18 April 2010
An interesting and quaint pamphlet from 1964 (Pioneer Press, London, S.E.1) by the sociologist Dr. Ronald Fletcher, on the hysteria of calls for "a new morality", especially for teenagers, in Britain during the the cold war era.
"It is true that the possibility of nuclear war is a ghastly prospect; but earlier generations have also had to face the threatened disruption of their lives and destruction of their civilizations by war, and though nuclear war would be much more devastating, it is doubtful how far the fear of it really enters into our experience as a deeper emotional factor. Somehow, it is a possibility difficult really to believe. But the central question is: how does this threat change moral issues? Clearly, it does not."
A message that rings very true today, when fear-mongering is still a great weapon to wield before a general election.
I was initially interested in this pamphlet because of the bold cover (designed by Tony A. Shapps) featuring a CCTV-style photograph of 'young people'. Unfortunatley it is too much for me to type out Fletcher's knowingly hyperbolic and amusing introduction, but here are his ten 'non' commandments to the British youth - a few of which seem a little out-moded in their language, if not their basis, with short extracts from his further thoughts on each commandment:
1. NEVER ACCEPT AUTHORITY: "whether that of a jealous god, priest, prime minister, president, dictator, school teacher, social worker, parent, or of anyone else whatsoever, unless, in you own seriously considered view, there are good grounds for it (...) But remember: your position should rest upon your own seriously considered point of view. There is a big difference between honest obstinacy and silly insolence. Argue to reach conviction, and, when convinced, be ready to govern your life accordingly.
2. BASE YOUR CONDUCT UPON SIMPLE HUMANE PRINCIPLES: "Recognize the importance of, and seek to preserve, certain fundamental human rights for example: Liberty - that all men should be free to pursue what, for them, is a good and enjoyable life, so long as they respect, and do not infringe upon, the same liberty of others; Equality - that, though men are by nature different, and in their particular abilities superior and inferior to each other, as whole persons they are not superior or inferior to each other, and are deserving o equal consideration."
3. STRIVE TO ELIMINATE WAR: "War is never glorious, though the qualities of character of individuals who endure it may well be. War is one of the most disgusting evils of mankind which now, in addition, has reached the stage of lunacy."
4. STRIVE TO ELIMINATE POVERTY, AND WORK FOR GREATER MATERIAL PROSPERITY FOR ALL: "To try to achieve the highest qualities of excellence of which you are capable both in what you like doing and in what you are committed to do - being a good nurse, a good carpenter, a good cook, a good driver, a good fitter, a good athlete, a good parent - is as good a basis as any for a satisfying personal life."
5. DO NOT BE A SNOB: "There is something pathetic about a society in which people have to make so much fuss about their labels; it can only be because they are so impoverished in their inner human resources. Work for a society in which there is as close an approximation as possible to real economic equality and a good education for all which aims at equal democratic citizenship (...) Work for a society in which there is more human comradeship, and less pretence."
6. IN SEXUAL BEHAVIOUR - USE YOUR BRAINS AS WELL AS YOUR GENITALS, AND ALWAYS IN THAT ORDER. "But remember, too, that love involves more than both. (...) The principles in the light of which we ought to regulate our sexual behaviour are exactly the same as those by which we regulate our other behaviour: to treat others as ends in themselves and not only as means to our own gratification; to practice reciprocity..." The specific 'rules' of sexual behaviour are then further clarified. Of particular interest is one stating tolerance for sexual difference: "Homosexuality, for example, is not wrong (...) it should not be thought of as immoral either (...) The morality or immorality of a sexual relationship does not depend upon the nature of the sexual desire upon which it rests, but upon the sensitivity, care, and responsibility with which it is entered into and governed (...) The fact that one kind of sexual impulse is repugnant to you is not a matter of ethics, but of taste only."
7. TAKE THE CARE NECESSARY TO ENJOY FAMILY LIFE AND MARRIAGE: "The family you make for yourself will be - for better, for worse - the group which will be far and away the most important in your life for determining your happiness or unhappiness and that of the people with whom you will be intimately connected. It is better for everyone concerned that it should be happiness."
8. KEEP THE LAW: "The law exists for positive reasons: to ensure the social order which is necessary for a maximum degree of liberty and personal fulfilment. If you find it sadly lacking in many ways (which it is), then try to improve it, and everyone will be on your side. But do not think it an assertion of independence or freedom or manhood, to steal, or to hit someone with a bicycle chain."
9. COMMIT YOURSELF TO ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP: "The art of citizenship: the art of living, learning, judging and acting co-operatively in order to achieve and sustain a social order which makes possible the maximum opportunity for the fulfilment and enrichment of individual lives, is the art on which we ought to concentrate, and it is this art which ought properly to constitute the core of our education."
10. HAVE CONFIDENCE IN THE MODERN WORLD AND IN YOUR POWERS TO IMPROVE IT: "It is not true that the conflicts and perplexities of the modern world are an outcome of greater human evil. They are chiefly the outcome of the most rapid and complicated social change that mankind has ever experienced. Industrialisation is inevitably bringing together societies of all levels of development. Science is producing a body of new knowledge and a critical attitude of mind which must inevitably disturb traditional beliefs and values. No wonder that our problems are great and that the political situation is dangerous. But the very factors which are producing the problems also give mankind the wherewithal to solve them."
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
There is a review/digested read of Martin Stannard's biography of Muriel Spark in April 5th's New Yorker. "It is not a criticism to say that Spark's stories don't stick with a reader; the sense one gets of their being quickly erased - snatched - from memory seems a final touch of authorial assertion, a last bit of discomfiting performed by an artist who believed in God, and was determined, in her books, not simply to suggest His presence but to act just like Him." - Thomas Mallon in The New Yorker.
Saying this, it has always stuck with me that the precocious 17 year old Chris Wiley, of Spark's final book The Finishing Touch (2004), was seemingly a fan of Phil Collins.