Wednesday 5 December 2018

The 1970s inflexion when we lost a hopeful future

The early 1970s (my early teens) were a period of economic decline and national political pessimism; but also a time when there was considerable hope about a possible desirable future - utopianism was having its last big phase. Since the later 70s there have been periods of greater national energy and economic-political recovery; but never any formed optimism.

Now, it is clear enough to me now that the early-70s optimism, and belief-in a coming transformation of society was delusory - nonetheless it was a fact of life.

For example, when I turned 17 I did not bother learning to get a driving license, because I was confident that cars would not be around for much longer: I believed that the demise of our industrial society was imminent, and that was what I wanted.

I envisaged a village-level and more communal life - much like Medieval times but minus the Warrior Lord and the Priests.

This absence was important, because I understood that without this needless and counter-productive expenditure of resources (money, food, time and energy) I thought we could:

1. Raise the standard of living of the ordinary peasants above subsistence to a reasonable sufficiency.

2. Increase the amount of discretionary leisure from minimal to ample.

3. And, thereby, enable people to do what they deeply wanted to do; which was (I thought) to replace the business of fighting and religion with a great expansion of arts and crafts - and, implicitly, sexual freedom too, although I did not articulate this.

This utopian vision owed itself to a combination of William Morris socialism through to RH Tawney, and the self-sufficiency/ ecology/ Small is Beautiful movement as advocated by the likes of John Seymour and EF Schumacher. It was also sustained by great love of Tolkien, and of folk music.


What happened as the seventies proceeded (the balance inflecting probably from 1976-7) was that this vision gradually soured and darkened - and dystopia became more and more dominant; and has stayed.

The village idyll of my hopes was replaced by a rotten pastoralism that saw the countryside as a fake, concealing dark and sinister goings-on - mind-controlled rustics engaged in ritual mutilation, rape, murder; or secret business and government agencies concealed in forests or underground. A totalitarian future of surveillance, manipulation, poisoning, destruction, massification...

The hedonic, creative paganism of my vague daydreams was replaced by instinctive savagery or actually demonic activities.


Of course, my early teen daydreams were false and impossible, and could not really have led to anything Good - and I suppose this fact was gradually brought home.

But this necessary disillusion did not lead to deeper insight (i.e. not to Romantic Christianity) - but only to that materialistic cynicism and implicit despair which has so very-completely corrupted my generation.

Time horizons have shortened, the capacity - and desire for - coherent consecutive thought has all-but disappeared from general public discourse; the focus is on forgetting oneself in self-indulgence and current happiness while signalling dominance and sexiness; alongside an official-bureaucratic culture of moral self-congratulation/  fake-ideals/ manufactured 'passion'/ permanent guilt; that is going nowhere but to a world of microchipped semi-humans dwelling in a web of convincing-illusions - a virtual techno-reality provided-controlled by a centralised organisation that we hope, but don't actually believe, will be benign.

In short, we utterly failed (as a society) to learn from the dreams and disillusion of the 1970s; we failed then, and we have since doubled-down on this failure.



William Wildblood said...

I was in my late teens in the early 1970s and I thought some kind of positive change was afoot but any optimism that it might be good quickly evaporated and by the period you mention, 1976/77, it was clear that the change was, on the whole, evil. For me punk rock epitomised this, a thoroughly nasty and destructive art form if one can dignify it with that term. I know some people of my generation think it had energy, which it did, and blew holes in the stuffiness of the period, which it may have done, but I saw it as full of hatred and violence and darkness, nothing good about it at all.

But then we had the '80s which celebrated materialism in its most garish aspects, and the choice arose between the greed is good mentality on the one hand and politically correct leftism on the other. You can't fault the devil for attention to detail. He provided paths off the straight and narrow for all temperaments! And from then on spiritual deterioration has proceeded apace.

Wurmbrand said...

Here in the States it can look a bit different, and I think a lot of the reason why is that homeschooling and related activities are widespread and pretty well established. Also, it seems to be possible for me people here to be able to buy their own house, if they are willing to live away from the big coastal cities especially. Church life is much more common than, as I gather, it is in the UK. In much of the country, there still are not many Mohammedans to be seen. But I would emphasize the homeschooling, which took off here in the 1970s and has grown since then. Homeschooling is countercultural. One feels one is really doing something wholesome despite the dark times in which we live.

Christian homeschooling doesn't guarantee adult "graduates" who are strong in their faith, but at least they may have some skepticism about the time in which they live. They may also have caught an enjoyment of reading and may be less addicted to "social media" than the people their own age. Adults who were homeschooled usually don't turn out to be louts.

Dale Nelson

edwin faust said...

The mid-late 1970s marked the definitive failure of another experiment in social engineering, this time by the so-called counter-culture. Attempts to find some way to structure the free-wheeling hedonism of the late 1960s and early 1970s into a sustainable life style led to communes of various sorts, none of which lasted for very long. The problem was the same that doomed, and still dooms, the attempts of mainstream culture to create a utopian society: it can't be down from the outside in. No arrangement - social, financial, sexual - can address the source of our discontent: a refusal to turn toward God and away from egoism. Hqppiness cannot be imposed through an external structure. Yet, this is what we keep trying to do. We want of avoid the hard truth that we are the problem, not any circumstances subject to alteration. I recall that a London newspaper in the 1920s sent a question to some prominent public figures and proposed to publish their answers. The question was: "What's wrong with the world?" G.K. Chesterton sent a two-word reply: "I am."

Bruce Charlton said...

Thanks for the comments William and Edwin.

@Edwin - That's a good point. From my own persepctive I was certainly prone to do the opposite to GKC, and see 'everybody else except me' as the problem.

dearieme said...

One of the signs of trouble is when people start writing in subAmerican: "we have since doubled-down on this failure".

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - No apologies. Useful term without a synonym; and nearly 80% of my readers are from the US.

Chiu ChunLing said...

For myself, it was simply never possible to overlook the real and pressing importance of both the warriors (and their captains, though I'm less keen on lords) and the priest.

Especially looking at Tolkien. How anyone can be imaginatively moved by Tolkien in the slightest degree while having such contempt for the roles of warrior and priest as to imagine them unnecessary to a prosperous society is really beyond me. I'm flabbergasted anew by every such claim.

I suppose that's because I was always intensely curious about how things were made, so I could never overlook what it took to make them. The inherent assumption behind Marxism of all sorts is that there is an essentially fixed amount of "goods" in the world (either economic or more intangible), and the problem wasn't how to make more than was consumed but only to "fairly" distribute the amount of goods (and harms, of course) that existed. But to anyone who is really informed about how a good is made (especially to the degree of being able to make it), it is patently obvious that no significant amount of it will exist at all if nobody is rewarded to make more of it than they require for their own personal use.

Defending the claims of producers to a proper share of the benefits of their product, and justifying those claims, requires warriors and priests. Of course, warriors and priests don't have to be on the side of producers against rabid consumers, more often than not they side with the consumers. Which is much of why the producers need some on their side.

But even if there were no warriors or priests on either side, the producers would lose everything to the consumers. That's just human nature. Humans are consumers first, and only producers by overcoming their carnal nature.