Thursday, 1 October 2009

The ideology of wishful thinking

I happened to walk into a room and catch part of a radio interview this morning and the first words I heard were: “I hate biological differences, and I spend my whole life trying to refute them.” Not being in a particularly sunny mood, my first thought was, “I don’t much like today’s weather either, but I may just have to try to live with it as best I can.”
Yet one can’t help but think after hearing conversations like this one and many others like it, how much of our contemporary cultural life and social discourse is based on a series of a priori, highly ideological premises which rest on little more than wishful thinking. It may not matter so much (although I’m not so sure) when all we are talking about, as in this morning’s radio programme, is the interchangeability of one’s children’s clothes, but when one applies that wishful thinking to the whole of society, given our obsession with state sponsored social engineering, we can expect dire consequences.
It was G.K. Chesterton who pointed out that the one indisputable Christian doctrine was that of original sin, yet our whole public conversation now is based on, if not the perfectibility, certainly the improvability or at least the malleability of human nature. In this respect conservative politicians differ very little from the left in their belief in the effectiveness of legislation to cure our social ills.
The tragic recent incident where a mother was harassed beyond endurance by out of control young people (to the point of her killing both herself and her handicapped daughter)has been compounded by the woefully inadequate reaction of our senior government ministers who, whilst expressing their no doubt genuine shock and sympathy, have largely confined their response to enumerating the legal sanctions (such as ASBOs etc.) which they have introduced to combat anti–social behaviour. Those new measures they have announced this week amount to far too little far too late; they are using sticking plasters to try to hold together a crumbling civilisation.
There seems to be a widespread refusal to address the real issues; instead the response is essentially to reach for the law and treat the symptoms rather than the causes of the social and cultural malaise which is producing more and more innocent victims. And here the victims are not only those who suffer from the rowdiness, bullying and violence of others, but the perpetrators themselves and the wider society.
Conservative politicians, have over last few years used the term “broken society” but they have given very little indication of what they will do (if anything) to attempt to fix it. My guess is that, like many of us, although they can readily identify the problems and their causes, they haven’t a clue what to do next! Who can blame them? Once the common ties which help to bind a society together break down - religious faith, respect for the law, a functioning and disciplined education system, the traditional structures of family and community (all of which have been attacked remorselessly by the cultural left since the late 60s)- there is nothing to prevent the social meltdown that we see beneath the surface of modern Britain, albeit disguised as it has been by economic prosperity and an abundance of material goods.
The widespread anti-social behaviour of young people – and we are not talking about young adults here, but children in their early to mid-teens and younger – is brought about by the irresponsibility of parents. We know all too well (although politicians and many social commentators are afraid to say it for fear of seeming to demonise those also caught up in the wreckage of a once stable society) of the problems faced by those single parents, themselves largely the helpless victims of social collapse, who have completely lost control of their children, largely as a result of the lack of wholesome male influences and the culture of alcohol and drug use which is so widespread and not only in our cities and urban areas.
But that’s not the whole story. Many even relatively well off parents seem not to care (or perhaps don’t have the courage to confront the issue) about what their children actually get up to after they reach a certain age. There has been an abdication of both parental and community responsibility for our young people. Many of us are afraid to intervene to put a stop to the noisy and stupid activities of young people who gather in groups, not simply out of fear for our personal safety but also because we are afraid that the law will be invoked against us instead of the real culprits. The problem is one which feeds on itself; if the silly and stupid things children tend to do when they get together in groups are never corrected, they move on to more and more destructive forms of behaviour.
Many of us suffered in our younger and more liberal days from having to attend smart dinner parties, mainly composed of the well-heeled professional middle classes, where people would whinge endlessly about the stifling social atmosphere of their childhood and adolescence (mainly the 1950s and early 60s) and compete with one another to disparage everything which made that era, certainly compared to this one, such a safe and stable one for those growing up in it. The criticism was largely nonsense; every social system since the dawn of time has inevitably had its problems and its casualties, but our own seems to have sacrificed an entire generation (or two) on the altar of individualism, selfishness and irresponsibility.
The post-war growth of a kind of global “teen culture” (in the past adolescents sought to join adult society as quickly as possible – they wanted to be like their parents) has also resulted in a “ghettoisation” of young people who are then removed at a much earlier age from the culture of the adult world. There’s also a lot of money in it, of course; we should never underestimate the influence of commercial interests in the process of social disintegration in today’s western world. Not only that, but the effects of this have been so marked that, in fact, the adult world itself wants to pretend to be young, hence the ever expanding social reach of mass produced, conveyor belt pop music (it’s no coincidence that one hears so much of the music “industry”), the cult of celebrity and “yoof” culture of all kinds, peddled by a contemptuously superior and out of touch mass media. We have become a society trapped in a perpetual adolescence. We have what we deserve.
Of course, none of that removes that idealism and sense of fairness and altruism which seems to come naturally to many young people: we can all think of shining examples of it; but that idealism needs desperately to be channelled away from the obsessive selfishness of their parents’ and grandparents’ “me first” generation. In this society there are few signs of that beginning to happen, quite the reverse.
The Church has very little influence now, and its work with young people is massively reduced as a result of that decline. Yet we have to find ways of nurture and evangelisation which preserve the values of the Gospel in the new dark age of faith which is fast approaching.

1 comment:

  1. Fr Gollop,

    Thanks very much for this post, with which I very much agree.


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