Everything New is Old!

by admin on September 5, 2011

When bad things happen people often rush to judgement; they are quick to find fault, to figure out who’s to blame and why, and what needs to be done about it. That can happen in something as intimate as a relationship or friendship, in a broader context in the workplace, or – as recently happened in England – on a national scale after a series of violent and deadly riots.

London's Burning

In the days and weeks following the riots in the UK, the newspapers, TV and radio were filled with the voices of the professional pontificating class all mourning the end of standards and manners and all sense of decency, blaming it on the welfare state, the collapse of the family, too much immigration, too little education, a lack of respect for the social order, too much respect for the celebrity culture, and calling for the return of flogging/hanging/birching, the return of the draft, and calling for all those guilty to be locked up and the key thrown away.

Hang ’em all

All terribly satisfying to write I’m sure but woefully short on any insight into what happened and why and what really needs to be done about it.

But then that’s not too terribly surprising. Because apparently that’s what always happens after things like this. The Economist magazine had a wonderful article that dug back into past coverage of similar upheavals in British society- and I mean way back into the past, through the 1970’s to the 1930’s and the 1880’s and all the way back to 1751, a time when the US didn’t exist and was still a part of the British Empire. What’s fascinating is that regardless of the era or the event, the way commentators wrote back then was exactly the same way they wrote just now.

In the 1950’s for example the arrival of – shock horror – rock n roll in England had the upper classes appalled, as was evident from this article in the Daily Mail; “It is deplorable. It is tribal. And it is from America. It follows rag-time, blues, dixie, jazz, hot cha-cha and the boogie-woogie, which surely originated in the jungle. We sometimes wonder whether this is the negro’s revenge.”

Wonderfully lurid stuff

Take a trip a little further back, to 1898, and folks are lamenting the fact that fathers are no longer whipping their kids. I kid you not!

My favorite is from 1913 where one social commentator is warning people of the dangers of – wait for this – silent movies, claiming that watching images of criminals in films will encourage children to copy them. Sound familiar eh! This is what the venerable The Times of London had to say on the subject: “All who care for the moral well-being and education of the child will set their faces like flint against this new form of excitement.”

Like flint.

Boy, they don’t write them like that anymore.

Back in 1862 a crime wave led to the restoration of flogging in England, only a few years after it had been banned. So horrified were the chattering classes back then – and let’s face it we’re talking about rich white geezers – that The Times once again felt obliged to opine on the topic with this editorial; “Our streets are actually not as safe as they were in the days of our grandfathers. We have slipped back to a state of affairs that would be intolerable even in Naples.”

Even in Naples. Clearly there was no such thing as politically correct language back then. (Historical footnote – at the time the English used to consider Naples the epitome of a criminal, dirty, dangerous city; actually, come to think of it they probably thought the same about Glasgow, Lisbon, Vladivostok, Boston and pretty nearly every city in the world except for London – and even then there were certain parts of London they didn’t particularly like)

Don’t rush to judgement

But the point is that there have always been jerks who react with a knee jerk response to anything they don’t understand, or anything that they feel or fear threatens them in any way. That’s not to say that these issues are not important and don’t require serious thought and serious action to make sure they don’t happen again. But just blaming the first group that comes to mind – hooligans, working class youth, thugs, immigrants, people from Naples! – doesn’t do anything to make things better.

Similarly in relationships – personal or professional – just falling back on the same old arguments, the same old reasoning doesn’t resolve any problems, in many ways it just perpetuates them. If something goes wrong and your response is simply to dredge up the past you never get anywhere. You remain stuck forever in the same old manner of thinking. Instead we need to take the time to think about what’s really the problem, why things really are going wrong. Only then can we come up with a solution that will really work.

Otherwise we are no better than people from Naples!






Fast backward

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