Sunday, 11 July 2010

A chimpanzee isolated in a cage. Is England going to the dogs?

An English friend of mine (lonely in Serbia?) sent me this response which made a great impression on him to a Guardian article by Simon Jenkins headlined "This is the healthiest, longest-lived, wealthiest, tallest, least prone to epidemics, poverty or the likelihood of war, generation in recorded history."

"You could say the same about a chimpanzee being kept isolated in a cage, but most people would consider that inhumane. We, like our primate cousins, need companionship, community, satisfying occupations and a degree of status (in the sense of feeling we are valued among our peers) in order to not end up "neurotic". Unfortunately, turbo-capitalism isn't very good at delivering those things to an awful lot of people, particularly the companionship and sense of belonging to a community."

Aren't occupations more satisfying on the whole than thirty years ago (were word processor operators fulfilled?) although a fair point about the atomisation of communities. Loneliness and pointlessness might be I imagine the two great problems in England. Romanians many of whose jobs are much more satisfying than in the old days have more pressing concerns.

I dislike very many aspects of globalisation and the move from living in towns to living in cars and malls and via internet but I believe in free trade. Old fashioned communities had a lot of downside. Societies where people know their neighbour are societies where people care what their neighbour thinks. Many people hate the twitching net curtains syndrome at least opinion formers who wrote for the Observer in the 70s. I think the net curtain twitchers and the cult of respectability are pretty useful though no doubt risible for the clever but when you abandon them you have to have state diktat instead. Everything is private so it has to be directed by the state. Still I doubt if the old curtain twitching could have continued. Immigration, the internet, cars and the pill have changed everything.

I like the sense of common values and cohesiveness in Romania yet a strong society or sense of civic pride or sense of community are exactly what Romania does not have. Decapitated by Stalin and forty years of egalitarianism followed by a banana republic. I suspect public spiritedness was not in much more supply before Communism though perhaps the pre-1945 hierarchical society had more deserving people at the top.
Romania is alive with curtain-twitchers. I was asked to translate the much used Romanian word ‘scandal.’ “It’s ‘scandal’ in English too but we don’t use the word because nothing scandalises us any more.” And the scandalmongers have been fully occupied for the last twenty years though it is unclear how effective a deterrent their tea sweetened by scandal has had in deterring the scandalous. Everything is a perfect scandal but Romania's transformation from a society where neighbours know each other is apace too.

Until the crisis declared halt to progress every month Romania became perceptibly a less friendly, more materialistic society where the car is king the streets and roads are gridlocked and most people noisily munch popcorn and conduct telephone conversations while watching American films at the cinema. To paraphrase Camus, man fornicates and reads the internet. There is nothing more to be said. Or rather something more. For those with the money and the good job in the foreign firm or the profitable business there is the mall, the gym and the lengthy car journey between. No need any more to step over beggars or navigate your way along the pavement between parked cars that block your way. If you live in Pipera, the newly built northern business district, and live in the soulless Baneasa there is little need to enter the gridlocked city centre at all. Foreigners who live and work there can scarcely be said to be living in Romania let alone Bucharest.

Yes I like a strong society, a limited state and am tired of BBC people knocking old wives remedies, folk wisdom and traditional ways of doing things as prejudice and unscientific. We need societies - they are organic - conservative - they run themselves. The internet is blessedly impossible to control, creates communities but no corner shops. Personally I always shop at alimentars not hypermarkets and in my heart I hate the retail industry but hypermarkets exist because people like them. As A.J.P. Taylor said people didn’t travel because the railways were invented. Had they not wanted to travel the trains would have run empty.

Things seem to be going to the dogs in England but that is because I shall shortly be 48 and am living abroad. My father in the 60s was disgusted by the modern world and I don’t want to be like him. I love the internet, stamps on sale in shops, railway stations where the telephone gets answered even if by someone in Bangalore wherever that is, no more Cold War though political correctness is the new Communism. And there are still 3 countries, Burma, Iraq and Syria left to visit. People in London are much more polite, there are cheap buses everywhere and few cars thanks to the unspeakable Ken. Most people do not get divorced or have abortions....People don’t hate and try to destroy the past like in the 60s. Architecture is infinitely better. Maybe slightly less bullying in schools, though I doubt this.

In Romania, things improve and at the same time get worse. More of the former than the latter. Like England.

No comments:

Post a Comment