Saturday, July 10, 2004

"When I were a lad"

The above is what I consider to be the most irritating and misinformed phrase ever used ever in the whole of human history ever. Apart from its "whimsical" usage by people who actually consider its simple grammatical joke amusing, it indicates an atavistic paradigm of societally counter-evolutionary nostalgia that is, in my opinion, a dangerous and unpleasant trend.
Picking up the middle section (T2, that is) of Friday's Times, I find modern "youth" described variously as "stroppy modern teenagers", "pizza-munching computer nerds", "wimps", and "weed-addled wasters". Possibly the tone of the article, reviewing a programme entitled "Bad Lads Army", is intended to be mildly ironic, but these pejorative epithets hint at the disgust heaped upon the "younger generation" (generally consisting of their own offsprings' peer groups) by the current set of (mostly) middle-aged, middle-class, and white journalists, politicians and broadcasters.
This concept of the declining of the times is not a new one, and can clearly be seen in literature dating back to the Hellenic era. However, now more than ever, it is utterly erroneous and without basis in fact, and so should finally be laid to an overdue rest.
A rather telling example is that of the constant hysteria over the "sexualization" (an unpleasent neologism if I ever heard wrote one) of "our children". Apparently, naughty pop stars and bad men in television companies are turning our children into pint-sized whores, a phenomenon generally manifested by ever-younger children wearing tops that reveal their bellies. Generally, the "worried mother" then goes on to state that this didn't happen in her day, and a return to "conventional morality" would return her little fallen angels to a chaste state of 1950s innocence. Apart from the fact that no mention is ever made of the sexualisation of young boys (either because they are the new "weaker sex", or because the early introduction of sexual themes increases their competitive potential), these journalists, etc. seem to conveniently forget the practices of earlier (but still recent) centuries, such as the forcible marriage of girls as young as twelve to much older men, a practice that is considered totally abhorrent today. Consider, for example, that Shakespeare's Juliet is 14 years of age during the events of the play, and that this was an entirely normal state of affairs for a girl of her time.
Infuriatingly, I can't find any reliable statistics for global illiteracy in 2004, but I recall that last year's Times ran a report, stating that 3% of British adults were functionally illiterate, compared to 15% of American adults. Disregarding the worrying imbalance, these figures clearly show that, in Britain at least, 97% of adults can therefore read and write. In a historical context this is astonishing and a great victory for non-Church-controlled education - the earlier the historical period, the greater the illiteracy figures, and the more people who are literate are affiliated with the Church.
To appropriate another cretinous phrase, we've never had it so good. None but the most reactionary of neoconservative thinkers could possibly suggest that, to reuse the previous examples, a reduction in the forcible marriage of young girls and a vast increase in global literacy are not desirable, and therefore it would seem that any such quasi-nostalgic reversion to an earlier moral landscape would be an undeniably retrograde step for civilisation.
However, it could be argued that the aforesaid Western Civilisation did in fact reach its peak in previous ages, and the morality of another decade, for example, the 1950s, might be superior to that which we have today.
Social Darwinism would seem to defeat this hypothesis, but unfortunately, Social Darwinism is one of the most unpleasant political theories I have ever had the misfortune of reading about. Nevertheless, it seems that people are generally happier and have more opportunity to flourish, in the relative cultural freedom of today, than in any other period. Perhaps I'm a pizza-munching pinko nerd, but that seems to me to be a good thing. Certainly, in the West (the only geopolitical area of which I am sufficiently qualified to speak) the current generation is mostly free from the threat of military conscription and being sent to war, the threat of virulent and incurable infectious diseases produced by poor sanitation, and much Establishment censorship of art-forms (which include journalism) has been abolished. This is not to say that we have Utopia on Earth, but that this is the closest we've got yet. It could (and has) been argued that this ease of living and flourishing has produced a decadent and weak generation, but I wonder whether "strength", as defined in this way is a good thing. Unified Germany under the Kaisers was a society obsessed with strength, and the backlash against the "decadent" Weimar government after its eventual military defeat produced the political psychosis that was National Socialism. A "strong" society may win wars, prestige and economic dominance, but has by definition to suppress many of the natural expressions of human existence. By contrast, a society that lives without the threat of war and can justify its own existence without violence allows for the development of a mentally healthy and well-developed populace. A strong argument for not returning to the days of National Service and press censorship is that these methods of strengthening a country individually dehumanise its citizens, creating what is in effect a "sick" society.
Therefore, although today's "pizza-eating wimps" may not be able to survive on an all-rat diet in a trench under heavy enemy fire (and why, I ask, would anyone want to do that in the first place), but their existence is the sign of a society with a more proportionate attitude to cultural pursuits.

Or, the short version: All you bloody crypto-fascist National Service monkeys can cock right off, because all you really want to do is kill the rich cultural environment which precludes the existence of your temporal power.



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