Sunday, August 27, 2006

Second thoughts

From my wife’s bedtime reading come the following insightful reflections:

Why is it that I have lived my whole life with people who are automatically against authority, ‘agin the government’, who take it for granted that all authority is bad, ascribe doubtful or venal motives to government, the Establishment, the ruling class, the local town council, the headmaster or mistress? So deep-rooted is this set of mind that it is only when you begin to climb out of it you see how much of your life has been determined by it. This week I was with a group of people of mixed ages, all on the left (or who had been once), and someone happened to mention that the government was doing something – quite a good thing, but that isn’t the point – and at once every face put on a look of derision. Automatic. Push-button. This look is like a sneer or a jeer, a Well, what can one expect? It can only come out of some belief, one so deep it is well out of sight, that a promise of some kind has been made and then betrayed. Perhaps it was the French Revolution? Or the American Revolution, which made the pursuit of happiness a right with the implication that happiness is to be had as easily as taking cakes off a supermarket counter? Millions of people in our time behave as if they have been made a promise – by whom? when? – that life must get freer, more honest, more comfortable, always better. Has advertising only set our minds more firmly in this expectant mode? Yet nothing in history suggests that we may expect anything but wars, tyrants, sickness, bad times, calamities, while good times are always temporary. Above all, history tells us nothing stays the same for long. We expect gold at the foot of always renewable rainbows. I feel I have been part of some mass illusion or delusion. Certainly part of mass beliefs and convictions that now seem as lunatic as the fact that for centuries expeditions of God-lovers trekked across the Middle East to kill the infidel.
From Doris Lessing, Under My Skin (London, Flamingo, 1994), 15-16.

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