The sun filters through golden leaves in the early afternoon. The grass in front lawns and the meadows further out in the countryside is bright green. No frosts to freeze it brown – yet. The leaves make a pleasing pattern on a green background. Dogs are out in even greater numbers, but owners are careful to clean up after their pets. What is wrong with the world?
Bafflement. Over choice in election time. Over what is beyond choice. It seems that the more talking there is, the more newspaper columns there are, the more that is posted online, the greater the confusion. This disturbing situation may be what is driving radical outcomes. That much-repeated quote about Mussolini returns yet again: ‘Mussolini made the trains run on time!’
Clarity, not obfuscation. Blessed simplicity. Any prompt solution preferred, even if the consequences may be disastrous. Information fatigue – even decision-making fatigue. Brexit is at least a solution, though potentially it may be the first example in history of a nation taking a democratic decision to commit economic suicide.
Once upon a time schools were urged to devote at least two lessons a week to current affairs or civic education, whatever the name. Subsequently, they were squeezed out by separating the components of General Science into classes of Biology, Physics, and Chemistry. Nothing wrong in that, even admirable, if only there were more hours in a day and therefore more spaces in the school curriculum. Something had to go. Not the science subjects, as that would imperil the scientific future of the nation. But nobody would notice if one pruned history and geography, or even chopped them off forever. And so it came to pass, all protests ignored.
The result is now unsurprisingly evident in the ignorance of the masses. The bedrock knowledge of how society and nature function is too thinly spread. Schools have tried to do their best, but concentrate on more on maths and science teachers and they are hard to find. I recall hurrying along a school corridor following a disturbingly strange smell to end up in the chemistry laboratory. There the teacher responsible stood scratching his head while standing on some liquid substance spilt on the floor. We had already learnt from him that ‘the sense of smell is easily fatigued’. A figure bemused by his own chosen environment – not an uncommon situation.
And so we come to another unfortunate situation – Prime Minister Boris Johnson standing in floodwater and trying to mop it up. It was clear that he had never ever had to use a mop in his whole life. He was presumably trying to show that really, sincerely, he did want to help out in a local emergency, even if submerged by a national crisis. A scene of personal contact with voters, of a caring PM, or a vision of ineptitude?
The trains did run on time, so Mussolini secures his place in history, even if he led his country into a disastrous war. Boris mops up floodwater, an image of competence and practical solutions. Thus he shows he really does want to help out on a local level, even if the national one is disastrous. Personal contact and all that. Or an image of ineptitude? Self-perpetuating illusions intrigue and enter the social bloodstream of the internet to blot out the realities behind them.
Are we actually living through an all-encompassing thriller? Imperilled Europe, enjoying a period of peace far longer than any known in the past, nearly 75 years in fact, is now under threat from three titanic powers: the capitalist imperialism of the USA and the communist imperialism of Russia and China, all determined to control and profit from Europe’s commerce, trade and invention. Geographically this continent lies between rival nations to the north, west and east.
When I found the hapless chemistry teacher, I was in charge of the curriculum in a school and fighting for the inclusion of history and geography as the basic knowledge required for future citizens in their own country and the world. Every time I squeezed history and geography into the timetable and then turned my attention to some other urgent matter, when I returned to the timetable for a final check, invariably those two subjects had been drastically reduced and even omitted altogether.
About a few years ago David Cameron admitted on TV that he did not know what Magna Carta was. What had they been teaching, I wonder, at his prestigious and expensive school, Eton? Incidentally, this same school is not far geographically from Runnymede where the historical document, the foundation stone for western democracy, was signed.