Performing any piece of work by Eugene O’ Neill has never been an endeavour for the fainthearted and in these times of increasingly tame popular taste, and an artistic community growingly keen to please it, any attempt to stage something as harsh and intense as this tragic myth-inflected depiction of destructive family dynamics in mid 19th Century rural New England deserves to be applauded. In this case, it’s the Glasgow-based Citizens Company, with a three week run of “Desire Under the Elms” on their home turf at the city’s Gorbals-based theatre.O’Neill’s original introduction to the script includes a description of the towering Elms themselves, crowding in upon the farmstead; great breast-like boughs leaning full and heavy over the roof and porch and yard which frame the scene of this story’s bitter unfolding. Such a paradoxical symbol of rich promise and brooding threat is but merely suggested by the imprint of these trees on the stage curtain, but once this lifts up, the audience is treated to a set of more than compensating atmosphere.The painstakingly constructed timber-frame farmstead, complete with period fixtures and fittings, is a two-up two-down comprising four distinct interior spaces. These authentically rendered dramatic spaces variously draw us in as the characters move between them, but they also allow multiple points of attention offering a more complex observation of the predicament as it develops.The drama opens with the two oldest of three brothers, Simeon and Peter, played with the measured, slightly resigned resentment of John Chancer together with the verve and zest of John Arnold’s delightfully twangy younger sibling, and, given what comes later, provides a deceptively light flavour of authentic downhome backwoods America.The dialogue. ribald and robust, is delivered together with breeches, boots, crooked smiles and spittle, but, as the early morning sun illuminates the long rolling fields of New England, and pre-milked cows low noisily down at the barn, even restless natives such as these are still able to appreciate their environment (”purdy, aint it”).But the rural idyll can barely cover the dark resentments that lie beneath. The harsher realities of this elemental landscape, scattered with huge stones left by the retreating ice sheet of pre-history have exacted a toll of labour from these men without due thanks or recognition from a ruthlessly driven father, Ephraim. This classic patriarch, played with brooding, enigmatic gravitas by Ian Hogg, and as unyielding as the rocks his sons have been forced to fashion into walls, has already worked two wives to death, and is soon to arrive with another. His is a Calvinism where unerring faith in a demanding God, hard work, aspiration and emerging greed become inextricably woven, and represents the very essence of what a hundred and fifty years ago, America was only then becoming.Simeon and Peter resolve to go west. Their own greed and aspiration now draws them with dreams of gold to Californ-eye-ay (the open-vowelled endings of this period pronunciation is exuberantly articulated by both of them), leaving youngest brother Eban, clinging melancholically to the spirit of his dead mother, to hold fast in hope of inheriting the farm for himself.Ephraim arrives with Abbie his new wife, the two older brothers jape off into the sunset, and the rest, as they say, is Greek tragedy. Simeon and Peter may have thrown off the family yoke and embraced the possibility of new riches, but those twin themes, of freedom and greed, ably abetted by lust, have yet to play out among those that remain, and they do so with a grim, claustrophobic inevitability, and in the best tradition of those ancient classics which formed much of O’Neill’s own artistic vision.For Abbie, betrothal to Ephraim and arrival at the farm promises an escape into a better life and she clearly has no qualms about manipulating others in order to achieve this. For Ephraim, Abbie represents deliverance from his own, self-confessed loneliness, although this seems largely a cage of his own making and furthermore one in which his almost sociopathic levels of single-mindedness seem destined to detain him.Eban, the remaining but equally flawed son, stands as both fulcrum and catalyst. In his own quest for aggrandizement, he has already stolen his father’s own savings to pay off his brothers for their claim on the farm, and he is now forced to confront the surly ambition of his new stepmother. A character already tortured by rancour and emotional contradiction is about to have his inner world even further complicated, and these agonising psychological conflicts are sensitively carried by Robbie Towns whose gangly frame and often submissive body language effectively convey the haunted air of a man left bewildered by the succession of his life’s events. The fundamental weakness of his personality, most evident in juxtaposition to his father, who pushes him about with arrogant ease, leaves me struggling initially to accept the readiness with which Abby falls for him, but the excellently observed scenes of titillation, seduction and ultimately full blown romance are good enough to offset my disbelief.This is due in no small measure to Rebecca Mcquillan’s deftly handled Abbie, who starts out with the expert craft of a woman who knows just what she wants and how to get it, but then, driven by another more visceral sort of greed and consumed by it’s accompanying emotion, veers into the bleakest outlands of her humanity. This is a mighty tough trip to navigate and Mcquillan, with a commendably strong performance, mostly succeeds in drawing you along.It is a credit to the company that so many of the play’s pivotal moments work so well. Even when the most difficult dramatic transitions present themselves, the players allow the expert narrative impetus to carry things through without ever over-reaching themselves. It is also fair to say that the production as a whole gets considerable help from set, light and sound in it’s evocation of an atmosphere redolent of the time and the place and consistent with the ominous, quotidian rhythm of the tale being told. Matilda Brown’s original score strikes a perfect chord of maudlin wistfulness, and the skilful deployment of lighting equipment in this creaking Victorian establishment cleverly suggests the diurnal rhythms of both moon and sun.Nevertheless, it is the acting, tight, loose, poised or fluid as the moment demands that carries this most challenging play, under the directorship of Jeremy Raison, into accessible territory but without any loss of impact. With his own life a ghastly litany of trouble and strife reflecting the no-holds-barred all-out pursuit of that 20th Century American dream, whose burgeoning, winner-takes-all individualism could be traced back through successive generations of new world settlers, opportunists and entrepreneurs, Eugene O’Neill produced work of corruscating pessimism, pitting human beings against the demons of their own making, and in a pointedly clear historical context. Raison’s handling faithfully reproduces that context, but in an age when the consequences of unfettered greed and selfishness are being highlighted in ever increasing ways, the themes, the motifs and the dynamics of “Desire Under the Elms”, though written in 1924, and set in the 1950’s resonate now as pertinently as ever.”Desire Under the Elms” is showing at Citizens Theatre, Glasgow Thursday 25 October - Saturday 17 November
On Friday afternoon, i was metaphorically skipping away from the Scotsman building for the last time having secured the inclusion of my museum piece in the following day’s edition. After a three day informal placement stint on Holyrood Road which started out as a nonchalant exercise in jounalistic make believe but ended up, on Friday afternoon, with me dashing up and down the stairs of the University’s music faculty in full reporter mode, i was actually going to get my name in print.
The initially mooted 600 word page leader complete with photograph was downscaled, but i was still asked to beef up my initial 250 words to 400 and i gladly obliged. Turning a few words into many has never been a difficult task for me.
And so it was, when i feverishly thumbed my way to page 13 of today’s Scotsman, that i all but choked on my indignation to discover that said article had been reduced from 400 words to some 225, and that both style and content had been heavily reworked. Such was my distracted state while taking leave of the newsdesk team that i had not fully absorbed the fact of this last minute editorial change, and i took the foreshortening much harder than i had any right to.
It was a salutary, if bitter lesson in the harsher realities of the trade. Doubtless a paid and fully accredited member of the newsdesk team would have had more input into the reworking of their output.However, new stories emerge all the time, their relative significance shifts constantly as details accumulate or anticipated leads wither, and in a world as dynamic as this, substance will always triumph over style.
The constrictions of page layout are a further telling reflection of the industry; advertisements are the first items to be inserted and all remaining content must be trimmed, hacked or stretched to fit. In such an environment, a writerly “voice” is a luxury that the imperatives of timely story breaking does not need.Error (ERROR_PLATFORM_FAILURE)
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1 As my eye roved disconsolately over page 13, i noted the story which, in this case proved my undoing and deprived me of the 600 words together with picture of 18th Century French hurdy-gurdy which seemed in prospect for a large part of yesterday. “Boeing jet is holed in accident as it prepares for take-off at Scots airport”.
Of all the days for some dozy tow truck driver to be over-zealous with his pedal foot, he chooses the day i’m poised to make my journalistic debut. What chance has a static collection of musical instruments against such a hairy tale of near disaster. Oh well, back to the storyboard…..
Day 2 at my east-facing, second-floor window seat at The Scotsman. A high pressure weather system has established itself with authority over Britain and today even the Royal Standard hangs limply on it’s white pole above the turrets and chimneys of the Palace of Holyrood, handsomely fringed from below by russet-topped trees and set against a soft cirrus-raked blue sky. To the left of it stands the Scottish Parliament and those sturdy blocks of concrete which try so hard, with their two tone pre-fab flourishes and angular rooves to be cleverly contemporary. To the right, the Dynamic Earth museum, “The Mother Earth of all Adventures” declared in large bold letters along the side of it’s glass-panelled walls. It’s a pleasing structure - a drumskin tight stretch of white umbrella like canvas hung and drawn under a splayed pattern of taut cables. And all the better for it’s pristine definition in the windless clarity of a perfect autumn day.
Sensing the sheer liberation and novelty of being here, with all the frisson but none of the responsibility, an office day without the borders of obligation, I step with savour of the moment down the long skeletal staircase, a minimalist descent through the airy void of the atrium , then along tree-lined marble to the self-service cafeteria, that reassuringly homogenous feature of office world, like airport lounges are to world travel. I buy a coffeee and slip out onto the adjacent decking area. There is a delicious October nip in the motionless air, and only the smokers have ventured out. But it’s a delightful spot, eye level with the canopy of autumn-tinged leaves which occupy this edge of the park, and loomed over by the great arcing crest of Salisbury Crags.
After lunch a press release appears on my desk. It’s from the Scottish Musuems Council, and concerns the latest announcement of successful applicants to the national Recognition Scheme, a Scottish government initiative to fund promotion and enhancement projects for the country’s less well known exhibitions, collections and galleries. After a chat with Eithne Ni Chongaile, the fabulously named communications manager at the SMC, a potentially viable story emerges, based around the funding bid for Edinburgh University’s National Collection of Musical Instruments. The bid, approved earlier in the week by culture minister Linda Fabiani, consists of providing visitors with personal audio guides to complement the viewing experience with sound samples. This is a sufficiently sexy innovation to make a claim for a few hundred newspaper words it seems. I suddenly find myslf with real work to do. By the end of the day, the pressures of advertising and later breaking stories have forced my piece off the print run, but Jason assures me that tomorrow looks good for inclusion. I await my hack’s moment in the sun.
Thanks to the friend of a friend, and how many good things can be said to flow from such connections, today is the first of three spent, as an interested guest, in the bosom of The Scotsman, Edinburgh’s flagship daily newspaper.With both the seat of devolved government and the Queen’s caledonian townhouse a mere stone’s throw away, this end of Holyrood Road is now surely a scottish establishment golden triangle of sorts. Simply being in the shadow of so much politically infused glass and concrete confers a beguiling sense of proximity to the wheels of power, as does, i fancy, a seat in the nearby Beanscene which, to my febrile sensibilities at least seems to crackle with a palpable intellectual frisson. But maybe that’s just the wistfulness of a wannabe political hack who has yet to find a home.
But such flippant sentiments aside, the most strikingly enjoyable thing for me about being in The Scotsman’s building after half a lifetime behind the desks of Scotland’s biggest financial services IT departments is not the dazzling, atria-embellished swishness of the open plan office, because that often comes as standard these days, nor the sardine tin ranks of generously-proportioned flat screen monitors, because even the bottom feeders otherwise known as banking IT development teams have now, largely, had the tools of their trade upgraded. It’s the people, the bright, keen disposition of the shop floor workers. That’s not to say that corporate IT professionals lack intelligence, because most are graduates, nor that said Scotsman employees are not prone to the kind of vocational jaundice often seen in other worthy but underpaid professions. But every person sat around me this morning is clearly motivated by work which in both its cause and effect extends well beyond the interests of the employers’ shareholders.
In these days of 24 hour news stations and an omniscient, omnipresent global web it is hard to overstate the sheer pressure for delivering timeous stories for conventional print. At the bank of desks which house the news editing team, assorted researchers trawl through the pages of information which accumulate constantly across the wires of news agencies from home and around the world and on the wall above, the TV stays tuned to BBC News 24 for all the breaking stories.
The stress of such fierce competition is unavoidable, as seem the eleven hour working days to go along with it, but unlike the dulled response and limited focus of so many of the automatons i am used to working with, these people understand the importance of what they do, and are genuinely interested in the world beyond their performance review, their families and their mortgages. And for that alone, the airy glass-framed space of 108 Holyrood Road is a breath of fresh air.
Chip fat is to post fag ban clothes what cigarette smoke used to be. My England rugby shirt is suffused with the acrid whiff of deep fried food courtesy of the Cameo Bar kitchen, but last night’s famous world cup semi final victory over the fancied French, in Paris, demands further celebration and a ceremonial scamper along the road to Tesco for breakfast provisions. As an Englishman in Scotland, or more crucially, Leith, there is always that stab of apprehension, that pause for reflective thought, before venturing outside in a manner likely to announce the country of my birth, but any form of tribalism, be it sporting or otherwise, is more likely to offend Polish sensibilities than Scottish ones along Great Junction street these days. So I pull the said jersey over my head and make a dash for it. It’s another unseasonably warm day. This Indian summer thing just keeps going. Even last night, as I took my pre piss-up, conscience-absorbing jog along the darkening path of the North Edinburgh Cycleway, people, and I mean youngsters mainly, were gathered in the fading light, sitting on grass and draped over benches in much the relaxed manner you would associate with a continental summer’s evening. But this was the dodgy end of Trinity, and this was mid October. Astonishing! Anyway, wearing a rugby shirt, especially one associated with such awesomely athletic man mountains as any professional rugby player is these days, I always feel hopelessly inadequate. The thinking goes that in order to justify wearing such a piece of clothing, the very least I should be doing is to look big and strong in it. But I’m 5’ 8’’, wiry and at 45 years old, well past any sporting prime. So a half decent pair of mildly tanned forearms, exposed by the pointedly rolled up sleeves and my best, effortless-looking lope are really not cutting it. Even a contrived cauliflower ear or two, a crooked nose or some missing front teeth would bestow some dignity to the shirt wearing behaviour. From up and down the supermarket aisles a couple of guys eye me suspiciously. They look even rougher than me, and then I remember that this is a big national hangover for Scotland too, after a highly creditable victory over Ukraine yesterday in the European Championship qualifiers. That’s not suspicion, it’s just a foggy confusion and an attempt to remember what country they’re in, and perhaps even why the’re supposed to hate us. I recall the television scenes of jubilation at Hampden Park post final whistle, an ecstatic Alex Mcleish hugging everybody that came within his range and a commentary box of suited pundits daring to hope, but only just. So that’s what only just daring to hope looks like. Scotsmen in overly tight suits, legs spread to relieve some of the pressure, and leaning forward slightly with earnest expressions but dancing eyes. A good result boys. A very good result. And this will be my first rejoinder should any belligerent native decide to take exception to my ill-fitting rugby shirt. But they wont will they. Their own triumph has blunted the churl factor, perhaps even their own awareness of that other result in that other sport. It’s a good weekend for burying bad news. England are in the World Cup Final again, but Scotland won famously too. Yes, it’s a good moment to be Scottish, but it’s a great weekend to be English.
Socrates is probably the most inspiring and influential of all Greek philosophers, a man who refused to ever write anything down (because it was against his philosophy), and whose charismatic, provocative and self-contained character espoused and promulgated a dialectic, interlocutory method of discourse which has underpinned virtually all western thinking since.For him, the attainment of truth was all about dialogue and interaction, a conversation based on question and answer, an iterative process of deduction that could not be provided by the non-negotiable finished off fact represented by a book.
This often led him simply to accost people on the streets of Athens with opening gambits like “What is courage?”, and “What is virtue?”, highlighting the notion that before the merits of an idea can be meaningfully discussed, the very terms being used must first be fully defined and understood.For Socrates, the ultimate question was “How should Life be lived?” (for him, the fabric and structure of the Universe were unplumbable distractions). And the short answer to this question was, flourishingly. The flourishing life was the virtuous life and the virtuous life was attained through knowledge, more specifically, knowledge of the human good.
“Know Thyself” are the two words most famously attributed to Socrates with their implication that at the heart of oneself is human goodness, where temperance, justice, courage and other such noble qualities are simply different facets of the one jewel. In other words, with the knowledge of goodness, all its manifestations would inevitable follow because they were contained within it. There is no pick and mix principle at work here. It follows naturally from this that, to Socrates’ mind, Vice was merely ignorance. If you know enough of yourself, what fundamentally moves and informs you, then you may not necessarily always do the right thing (inveterate smokers in our current health-conscious society are a clear example of this) but you will at least comprehend what the right course of action is.
Importantly, Socrates presented philosophy as a natural activity. He brought it down from the heavens, as the preserve of the gods, and onto the street, and far from dumbing it down, demonstated it as a valid and empowering activity that could be applied to every aspect of the human condition. This is why he posed such a threat to the status quo in 5th Century BC Greece, leading finally to the ultimate sanction of the state, and a death sentence.
If the offence of Socrates was to encourage, through the sheer honesty of deductive reasoning based on self knowledge, a questioning of the world in ways that posed real dangers to the established structures of power, then it’s easy to see why such a model for living might also be discouraged today, however subliminally.
Although our media and recreational industries can always claim that the market simply moulds itself around popular demands, there seems little enthusiasm or incitement for people to think and act independently. Mass market entertainment is an essentially passive activity and the country’s most widely-read newspapers are shamelessly propagandist in their objective of forming public opinion to their will.
Despite the prevailing idea of philosophy among ordinary people as a complex subject reserved for the hallowed halls of academia, and of no relevance to the layman, the Socratic method of wisdom and analysis is actually built upon a rigorous application of common sense and instinctive judgement, equally applicable to the more mundane of life’s problems as to the bigger ones. But for the ongoing prosecution of a world order in whose injustices we are all heavily complicit, a state of denial is much the preferred and convenient approach for the majority of us. It is best not to question, nor to follow through the implications of our assumptions, because the truth is often too unpalatable to be faced.
The courage of conviction, the clarity of moral certainty and the liberated experience of wellbeing that would follow from seeking thus to live “flourishingly” are scarcely to be seen and for all the freedoms we purport to enjoy in a liberal, open democracy, it is nevertheless a form of mental incarceration that most defines our modern predicament. These are anti-socratic times indeed.
Given the trials and tribulations of the Scottish Socialist movement in recent years, with brother turning against brother in the feud surrounding it’s one time all conqueroring charismatic hero Tommy Sheridan, the nearest it comes to a common cause for group activity must surely be the celebration of past glories. And none could be more glorious than the Bolshevik revolution itself, whose 90th anniversary yesterday was marked by a concert night of discussion, comedy and music, organized by Edinburgh People’s Festival and held at the Stand Comedy Club.
As a willing apparatchik to the wider organisation for political and social justice, but never comfortable with the formalisms of party membership, I went along as a non-affiliated paying punter, more than happy to lend my own support to a movement increasingly isolated in the vast inhospitable and homogenous wilderness called the centre ground, but also curious to guage the morale of the far left after such a torrid year in Scottish politics.
Any such voyeurism was quickly subsumed by engagement with an evening which proved remarkably good value for money and proof that not all entertainment events organized by festival bodies within Edinburgh are charged for at eye-watering rates.
The appearance of scriptwriter and director Trevor Griffiths, a man long-time soaked in left wing politics, drama and history, provided the serious thematic core to the evening, the sermon to set the congregational mood, and if the combination of an ill-deployed microphone and less than fully well Mr Griffiths demanded especially high levels of attentiveness to get the full benefit of his discourse, it was worth the effort. Much of what he had to say was drawn from his involvement with the film Reds, a 1977 Hollywood production he co-wrote with Warren Beatty and whose finished product, despite an Oscar nominination, and due to script compromises enforced by the demands of the American cinematic mainstream, he remains ambivalent about to this day.
The stand up comedy part of the evening culminated in an excellent routine from the stirringly animated Mr Vladimir McTavish, a long established act on the scottish circuit whose non-stop barrage of observational wit and caustic satire would ignite any occasion, but it was Griffiths who, with his quietly articulated political intellectalism provided the main ballast of the proceedings. Whilst the Beatty anecdotes addressed the prurience shared by many for the world of Hollywood and it’s panoply of celebrities, it was Griffiths’ more serious general insights that remain in the mind. The Q&A format for guest speaking events of this sort featured the inevitable moment or two of ranting from the floor, and host Colin Fox, no doubt aware of his guest’s indifferent health kept the grilling short, but one question from the audience, and it’s response, bears repeating.
It was mooted that in a world where knowledge and opinion is now so controlled by the media, a media itself increasingly concentrated in the hands of a manipulative few, it was to the Internet and the World Web where attention must switch for the effective dissemination and exploration of radical thought and the mobilization of it’s adherents. Trevor Griffiths, in his modest but slightly provocative way suggested that an alternative to the online world as an agent for change might perhaps be the public library. Given the paucity of such civic amenities in modern times, and the miserable stints of enforced familiarity I associate with such places from my younger years, I would prefer to take his recommendation more figuratively. But the point he was making is nevertheless profoundly astute.
Too much of what passes as collective political impetus is based on a mutual reinforcement of a group agreement or shared values without the depth of conviction that comes from a strong personal grounding in the history and ideas behind them.
This was a call for greater inculcation through self-education. An appeal to those old-fashioned virtues of wide reading and independent thought. Only through the insight gained from deep familiarity with the issues, and the history underpinning them can individuals form together with enough legitimacy of purpose to become an effective body for political change. No revolution is possible without key knowledge that is widely shared. If knowledge is power, and knowledge is attained through studious familiarity with our institutions, our systems and the story of their development, then the goal for those who would aspire to change the world must begin with the obliteration of personal ignorance. This sounds like hard work, but who said that changing the world order would ever be as simple as a facebook full of friends.
One of today’s thornier subjects is the granting of political asylum to all those Iraqi nationals who have been employed by ourselves to act as translators or other assistants in the course of our invasion and subsequent occupation.Many hundreds of such people, and their families, now face a very real threat of death from within their country for their collusion with us. The British government is beholden to these people.
With Parliament reconvening today, Gordon Brown is expected to declare the government’s policy on this, and there should be no half measures.The moral case is clear and to fall short of unqualified assurances to every single one of these people would be yet another example of our growing tendency to drag our feet, or even act at all, on some of the less convenient obligations that result from our foreign policy. On this, as on so many issues, it is the role and duty of the people to apply pressure to the executive to discharge it’s moral responsibilities.
And morality is the crucial issue here. Because increasingly it seems, our government, the body of people who are selected by us, to act on our behalf in managing the complex functioning of society, ignores or bypasses the ethical considerations inherent in much of it’s policy and decision-making. Living as we do, by a system of economics where the creation of wealth is the ultimate guiding principle, it is the corporate sector, quite naturally, whose activities are most crucial in this wealth-creating mechanism, whose vested interests are therefore paramount and whose spokesmen consequently exert huge leverage at every level of government.
New labour, which likes to see itself as modern Britain’s natural party of government is frequently dubbed by more socialist critics, both inside and outside of the traditional labour movement, as the party of big business. But the reality is, that in a liberal market economy as committed and muscular as ours and against the wider global application of the same principles, there is little alternative, so long as the electorate are so bought into the benefits. In short, it is big business, not big Gordon, that runs UK plc.
But be that as it may, our elected government still has a crucial role in representing a moral authority that represents the decency in all of us. At this point, it’s instructive to recall the 2003 documentary “The Corporation”, in which, using an innovative conceit based on established methods for ascertaining a person’s psychological profile, the same criteria, when applied to the attitudes, actions and behaviours of the legal “person” otherwise known as a “company”, produced a paranoid and homicidal schizophrenic. So while as sane individuals we might be moral beings, capable of acting on conscience, with intrinsic abilities to empathize and co-operate beyond ourselves, such qualities disappear when acting together within a framework of operation incorporated merely for collective gain.
In other words, while the capitalist drive of the business world may well be the government’s, and thereby the country’s indispensable tool for competing successfully and prospering in the world, it’s judgement and integrity cannot be relied on in matters of plain decent morality. In this, it is us, through our governments, who must persist in maintaining this crucial indicator of our humanity.
Every week seems to bring with it a new exposure of Old Europe’s imperial or colonial legacy. At the same time the right wing British press continues to notch up popular hysteria about the uncontrolled rate of immigration.
That there is an issue with a burgeoning incoming tide of economic migration is without doubt, although the costs to Britain arising from this don’t necessarily follow the patterns or ethnicities often cited. It is a phenomenon heavily compounded by an ageing population and a dwindling public purse which is less and less able to fulfil the socially supportive obligations of the state.
And yet, as I often reflect when confronted with the subject, Britain has surely become the victim of its own success. On the one hand we have non-Europeans seeking the indulgence of the mother country or some equivalent supplication of vassalage, attempting, quite understandably, to escape the political persecutions or economic privations of a home turf which over time Britain has first laid claim to, exploited and then largely abandoned to its fate. And on the other hand, we have the populations of recently acceded but relatively poor, EU member states for whom, due to the freedom and prosperity accruing from the aforementioned exploitation, Britain stands out as perhaps the choicest venue for exercising their EU-sanctioned right to roam. It all adds up to a manifestation of that age-old biblical truism that you reap what you sow.
Of course, to acknowledge this is not to deal with the challenging practical problems thrown up by all these people, some desperate and opportunistic, but many more industrious and aspirational. But I am astonished and dismayed by the almost entire absence of such an acknowledgement.
Were such a big picture perspective of things to be made clear to the population, it might at least contribute to a more rounded discussion of constructive remedies. It might also help to counter some of the less savoury aspects of a British mentality which having driven the foreign conquests of the past, is now reluctant to concede any advantage that such an enterprising spirit brought with it. The current enthusiasm of government for celebrating Britishness not only hampers any such attempt to question it’s own values, but actually reinforces the perceived right to enjoy the manifold fruit of our enterprise, however attained historically, on the basis that such behaviour is part and parcel of what we are.
But it simply wont do to apply the same reasoning to our collective nature as does, say, Gordon Strachan in a recent interview about his nation’s football prowess. In reference to Scotland’s way of doing things in general, but of playing football in particular, he draws attention to the national trait of hurrying things. He contends that the robust “up and at ‘em” attitude is inherent in the psyche and that it will never change. It can only be adapted.
The more cynical and fatalistic among us might readily take the same attitude with regard to Britain’s sense of it’s role in the world; an established natural assumption of dominion which encourages us to participate in social and political patterns of thinking based on the supremacy of self-interest. It is, after all that very “up and at ‘em” spirit which drove our 19th Century expansionism, together with all the trade, and subsequent wealth which followed.
The Celtic manager, that most quick-witted apologist of Scottish self-deprecation, is quite right in implying that his country’s confrontational, spirited but rather hasty approach to life is cultural, in the same way that the long mealtimes and languid football typical of Spain is also cultural. He is also correct in asserting that these characteristics have much to do with the way we are brought up, because upbringing is the main conduit of our social cultural continuity. Hallmarks of national personality such as how, when and what we eat, our chosen vehicles and subjects for humour, our taste in music, and, yes, the way we play football, are all healthy expressions of our differences, passed down through all the institutions of a nation from mothers knee to the bastions of the media corporations.
If, as Strachan suggests, we are never going to change the way we do these things, it’s not simply because that’s the way we were brought up, but because there is no compelling moral or practical case to do so. But as the world changes, or more pointedly, as the consequences of it’s misuse in human hands become more acute, then certain ingrained attitudes and behaviours will simply have to change, and in ways that render any hapless appeal to our cultural mores, or the immutability of how we are brought up, null and void.