One bonobo's view of the world...and stuff.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Only Smarties have the answer

My son’s primary school had The Church in to their assembly last week. He said that they held up a jar of Smarties and told them that they might be all sorts of colours on the outside, but underneath they’re all the same.

Oh. Fuck. Off.

For a start, a contemptibly patronising message to be telling children to whom the stupid hang-ups of previous generations are not an issue. These are young people for whom issues of ethnicity, religion, disability simply do not figure. Who are used to watching men kissing on Coronation Street. Well, OK, let’s not be too naïve – girls still play with girls and boys with boys and ‘Gay’ is a playground insult…but on the whole and by and large today’s kids are smart enough to realise that differences just…exist. Smarties are all different (is it just me or do the orange ones taste slightly orangey?)…but none of that don’t matter. They don’t need some retrograde religious type coming in and parading his credentials.

But it’s even more insidious, isn’t it?

People are all the same underneath.

Actually, it’s quite a surprising message from the religious perspective, if you think about it. Surely we’re all meant to have unique souls? But I’d better leave the theology to the experts. From my secular perspective – people quite plainly aren’t all the same underneath. We all have individual personalities, experiences, cultural contexts, beliefs, perspectives, hopes, desires.


In Rev Smartie’s version of things, we need to reconcile our differences by smoothing them out. It would perhaps be uncharitable to suggest that he would prefer to see everyone embracing Jeebers – I gather he was Church of Scotland, not one of the evangies they sometimes get in1. But by promoting this ‘all the same underneath’ message with the authority of a churchman…isn’t he assuming that the cultural assumptions of the white, surburban, Scottish are the default position to which to aspire? This Is The Church’s Way? And perhaps it’s not a bad way, if it leads to love peace and harmony etc. But can’t he just trust people? Can’t he accept that people might not be the same as him underneath…but none of that don’t matter?

This sort of thing is why I’m not a Liberal. This article by notorious neo-post-Marxist provocateur Slavoj Zizek on the ‘barbarism of Liberal Multicultural’ puts it nicely. [EDIT I've linked this before. Sorry for being boring.] What is being sought is ‘the decaffeinated other’ (and, true to form, he ends with a defence of Christian values. J ). It’s a dumb way of being. In a bland monoculture…where’s the next, earth-shaking surprise going to come from? We simply can’t afford to take on board this kind of Fukuyaman ‘End of History’ thinking and assume that a neo-Liberal, Euro-American stasis is the way to be. It won’t work and it’ll end in tears.

Fortunately…the world is getting smarter than Church of Scotland ministers. Example: big, fascistic corporations (I won't give examples) have started paying at least lip service to this thing called ‘Diversity and Inclusion’. They ain’t doing it to be nice. They’ve woken up to the stark reality that they are not recruiting talent from a uniform demographic. Given that talent is evenly distributed between all sub-groups (Ya don’t say?!), if they’re underrepresented in any then they’re probably failing to recruit the best available. Worse! They’re leaving the talent for their competitors to pick up. And once they get the talent in….they don’t want any unfortunate atmospherics in the company that will make them uncomfortable, decreasing their productivitity or sending them out the door. Who’d have thought that pinko-lefty ideas were good for business? Who’d have thought that countries that spend most on health, education, welfare tend to have high GDPs. Healthy, well educated, happy workforces are productive? Imagine that!

Or in schools. The modern education system is constantly berated, although its got much, much better, year by year. OK – in Britain it still has some way to go. But all those pinko-lefty teachers are at least, by and large, now treating children as humans and teaching them to be citizens of a future world. The stuff my son has been taught on Children’s Rights is far more progressive. There’s no kowtowing to the popular ‘Ooh! There’s too much talk about Rights and not enough about Responsibilities’ tosh. Sensible teachers realise the two are the same are simply using the UNDRC as the governing principle in their schools. ‘Stop disrupting the class! You’re depriving everyone of their right to education!’

Or…when I was young, Disability was A Big Thing. You didn’t see it on the streets, let alone in classrooms2. Now…some school pals go away to special classes a couple of days a week, but no biggie. Oh…and by-the-by they’re moving the classrooms around because one child has a wheelchair…

And all this is normal. None of the kids bat an eye. They just carry on playing with…whoever is their friend. Only their parents, fixated on the past, notice that one is wearing hijab and another has cerebral palsy. But if we want lessons on how to handle our Brave New World (and probably I need some – otherwise I wouldn’t be making a big deal of it) – I’d, take them from the kids, not a Minister. On my brighter days, I think it’s almost as though humans were programmed to be sensible.

Or...I might be wrong. Maybe our kids are going to louse it up although they show rather fewer signs of doing so than previous generations). Yes, there's a certain misty-eyed liberalism in what I've said - a 'Whig View of History' which assumes constant progress for the better. Also I'll admit that there are certain Enlightenment Values that I'd like to see go forward. But mutatis mutandem. Que sera sera.

Whatever - the world is for the next generation to shape. At least they seem to be able to cope with Difference.

1 The school has an unfortunate infestation from The Scripture Union. By my other Kids' High School, the title of 'RME' (Religious and Moral Education) was changed, following student demands, to 'RMPE' (Religious, Philosophical and Moral Education). Teachers do not divulge their own faith - although one keeps mentioning Jesus. He's the one they take the piss out of.

2 More than once I've heard the issues of Disability Rights and Abortion conflated - as though the latter were a breach of the former. Abortion 'devalues' the disabled, who are simply damaged foetuses to be got rid of I like to point out that the remarkable progress that has been made in Disability Rights over roughly the same timescale that abortion has been legalised. This is not to make a positive correlation - just to point out a lack of connection. To twist the knife, I like to mention that my wife and I declined amniosentisis. There was no point because we wouldn't have considered abortion if the result were positive. But that was a purely personal matter: other mothers should be able to make their own decisions. I am, of course, fully supportive of contraceptive abortion. FULL DISCLOSURE: I am the son of an abortionist.


Anonymous said...

If I could just play god's advocate for a moment, I'd like to think the silly god-botherer was trying to make the point that all people are of equal value (in some sense), not that they are indistinguishable.

Artificially separating kids is stupid. What really pisses me off about education here in Scotland is the obscene apart-hate Catholic schools. They instil from a very early age that that lot over there (from both sides of the fence) are different, and that perpetuates all the Old Firm crap.

Edward the Bonobo said...

Ah. It wasn't intended as an anti-religious point. It's mainstream liberalism.

It was more that it was rather odd that the schools needed someone to come in with this banal and outdated message when contemporary practice in education is further ahead than that.

Sho said...

I like your point that today's children see things differently. My two simply can't believe that gay people just don't have all the same rights as straight ones - and are always genuinely shocked and brought up short by demonstrations of an -ism.

So there is hope - you know, slowly slowly catchee monkey...