It is we who have made the world that youth inherits and that reeks of rottenness, and young people cannot fail to be blazingly aware that public life lacks any essential integrity. This is not just a matter of a Prime Minister lying his way (and ours) into a totally unnecessary and unwinnable war, it is a matter of corrupt standards permeating our entire lifestyle.
It is often the case that people new to the scene see more clearly what is amiss than those accustomed to the moral contradictions that may prevail, and it is this that surely accounts for much of the social response of modern youth. We may complain about youth yobbishness, but how to sustain such complaints when those who make them are silent and passive before a government programme of manufacturing nuclear bombs and ever more airport runways and motorways? What could be more yobbish?
We hear complaints of youth vandalism, but the lifestyle we adults accept is vandalising almost the entire reach of God’s creation within our grasp. We are endlessly warned that one of the most serious problems confronting us is global warming, as indeed it is; yet adolescents attending our local school are confronted with more than 100 teachers’ cars parked in the school grounds, as though global warming is a problem on another planet.
We adults allow the potent force of television and the tabloids to project constant scenes of gratuitous violence, foul language and cultural depravity; and we passively accept non-stop advertising, with its socially suicidal message of greed, selfishness and consumerism, even as we are aware that all advertising is an invasion of consciousness and can only prevail by displacing the social message.
The mind clearly operates at various levels of perception. At one level it will accept and go along with what it may encounter, especially if coated with the enticements of skilfully articulated consumerist advertising. Yet at another it will be aware it is being got at, manipulated by high-powered interests for unworthy ends regardless of social or individual consequences. It will realise too that it is quite powerless to exercise any control over the forces at work, even as it surrenders to the lures being touted.
So the mind is beset with its own internal conflict, just a part of the hidden price of allowing the sickening power of commercial advertising to run on its own terms an ever-expanding hunt for gain at the expense of the social message. There is something truly frightening about this development and the way a rising generation finds its social sensibilities being crushed between the mighty wheels of omnipotent, over-centralised state power and bloated boardroom greed on the global rampage.
All these are matters about which an alert and concerned citizenry ought to be howling down the walls of Jericho in protest. Instead, the political answer has yet to emerge, leaving the rulers of the roost ensconced in cathedrals of silence, conformism, timidity and unconcern.
One of the problems here is enveloped in that huge wet blanket we call ‘the media’, with its endless capacity to distort, suppress, or divert proper focus from what really matters in order to dally endlessly with sensationalism. You may want to know the latest on global warming, or
what is happening in those two wars in which the UK government has embroiled us; but the ‘news’ will focus breathlessly on a rape in Rotterdam or a murder in Manchester, complete with on-the-spot interviews to fill an unforgiving minute or more.
One is reminded of an old story of former times when, on the arrival of the Archbishop of Canterbury in New York, a brash reporter asked the Archbishop if he proposed to visit any nightclubs. He responded frigidly by asking whether there were any such establishments. The next day the tabloids duly blazed: “Archbishop’s first question – ‘Are there any nightclubs in New York?’ ”
This article first appeared in the Ecologist October 2006