All Kids Now: the Infantilisation of Britain  

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All Kids Now: the Infantilisation of Britain  
« on: June 28, 2017, 06:50:18 PM »
  All Kids Now: the Infantilisation of Britain  
“From Plato onwards, Greco-Roman society was living its life as a rear-guard action against emotional bankruptcy. The critical moment was reached when Rome created an urban proletariat whose only function was to eat free bread and watch free shows. This meant the segregation of an entire class which had no work to do whatever; no positive function in society, whether economic or military or administrative or intellectual or religious; only the business of being supported and amused. When that had been done, it was only a question of time until Plato’s nightmare of a consumer society came true: the drones set up their own king, and the story of the hive came to an end.” The Principles of Art by R.G.Collingwood.
It is almost twenty years since I co-edited a book of essays by British and American scholars entitled, Faking It: The Sentimentalisation of Britain. While I was preparing the material, there occurred an event which rather startlingly seemed to confirm our book’s thesis. Princess Diana died and the country went to pieces in what I termed at the time as The Great Dianafication.
It was hard to imagine that the emotional life of the nation could descend any further into emotional incontinence and sheer mawkishness but, twenty years on, we have gone beyond sentimentality and regressed to blatant babyishness. I need a new phrase: The Great Infantilisation.
This infantilisation is in every aspect of our lives and it has come to define the national character. We make only babyish responses to our most serious problems and our severest perils. When innocent bystanders are blown to smithereens by a suicide bomber or mown down by an Islamovan, do we consider calmly and intelligently how we might counter these attacks on our public life? We do not. Instead, we make war by means of floral tributes, wayside shrines and teddy bears. We engage a pop singer to croon his new “number” and dedicate it not even to the victims but to the geographical location of the terrorist outrage – as it might be Westminster or Manchester. And we say, “We all stand together.” No, we do not. Babies don’t stand. Babies roll around in their incontinence and whine petulantly. It’s the spirit of corporate thumb-sucking. And, like infants who believe in the Tooth Fairy, we fall for the propaganda which says, “Islam is the religion of peace and love.”
Having abandoned Christianity because it is too grown up for us, we yet misappropriate religious images and rituals. So a people secularised into gross triviality holds its “vigils.” But we no longer understand what a vigil is: the crowds floating on a sea of floral tributes and clutching their night-lights can’t even keep silence for a quarter of an hour. The observance of a public silence used to be a significant business. Now the minute’s silences are like buses: you don’t get one for ages and then three come along in a quarter of an hour. We don’t understand that to order a minute’s silence, as it seems, nearly every week only trivialises the observance and the people involved. 
I mentioned the pop-singer. These practitioners are the new priests and priestesses of our babyfication. When once we would have sung something stirring, now we get someone to croon something gooey for us. Pop music has replaced the folk songs tradition and the hymnal. Moreover, it is ubiquitous like the flies. And it’s not something only for youngsters, something we grow out of. On the new-style
infantilised pilgrimages to such as Glastonbury are men and women old enough to qualify for the free television licence. By this behaviour we stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age, as Chesterton said.
 
This audible treacle is featured and promoted not just in the tabloid press, but in the serious newspapers: thus demonstrating that there are no serious newspapers. It gets everywhere, even into natural history programmes on TV.  The eerie and brilliant white silences of Antarctica are polluted by the jingles in the sound-track . Every news and documentary programme on radio and TV is punctuated every few minutes by a blast of this noise. Channel Four offered a documentary about a Trappist monastery - with accompanying pop. Pubs and restaurants are similarly contaminated. It has leaked into supermarkets, banks and the doctor’s waiting room. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the public lavatory, behold it is there also.
 
In former times, we differentiated between music and pop music. Pop music was then regarded as an innocent diversion, but we knew that pop music was nothing like what we thought of as music. In fact pop music has been redefined simply as “music.” So if you wish to refer to what we used to mean by “music,” you have to say “classical music.”
 
TV is awash with inane quiz shows and when a competitor chooses the category “music,” he is quizzed on pop music. So called “classical” music is an elitist ghetto nowadays, for even formerly intelligent networks such as Radio Three constantly strive to obliterate the qualitative differences between real music and pop. The lie is put about strenuously that pop is just as worthy of our attention as real music. A celebrity prankster such as the late Michael Jackson is described as “a great musician” and literally worshipped. When Jackson died, my wife and I were on holiday in Salisbury and his death was announced on the early evening news as we were getting ready for dinner. When we returned from the restaurant, the news was still all about Jackson. And the following morning   you might say the news was “Michael Jackson: still dead.” Bob Dylan, the adenoidal crooner, doggerel-monger and writer of “lyrics” for his own politically pretentious pop songs, is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. F.R. Leavis said, “Show me what you value and I will tell you what you’re worth.” What is the worth of a society and culture which accords the highest value to the Dylan drivel?
 
The old commandment was “Honour thy father and thy mother.” In the General Infantilisation, this has been inverted to “Parents, obey your children” – as anyone who travels by bus, train or aeroplane or who visits the supermarket will confirm. Typically, the child – who will be eating something – is noisy and unruly and continues to be noisy and unruly while its mother shouts repeated reprimands which the child ignores. But things are not so straightforward, for the mother will, from time to time, interrupt her angry reprimands by clutching up her child into a tender embrace and cooing, “Who’s mummy’s little treasure, then!” The child will demand, with whines, something else to eat – an ice cream, lollipop, bar of chocolate or a packet of crisps. These demands will be met by a fierce, “No – you’re not having anything else!” Then she will give the child something else. As a recipe for inducing schizophrenia in a child this could not be bettered.
 
You might think that this awfulness is just a stage which children go through and which will pass. Unfortunately not, for children are not encouraged to grow out of it and to put away childish things. The roads are clogged with traffic every morning and teatime because parents drive their children to school and collect them when lessons are finished – for fear of predatory paedophiles. State schooling is a form of systematic child abuse as the youngsters are not given those things which would equip them for life – the basics of arithmetic and the English language - but instead much time is given to teaching them about sex in its many varieties  -  only its mechanics without moral reference or content. The old commandments about sexual conduct have been abolished and replaced simply by, “Wear a condom.”
Then the teacher should spend much time telling little boys they can become little girls if they wish, and little girls may change into little boys.  And if they like, in due course, they can always change back again. The Department of Education’s own statistics proclaim that 43% of children leave school after eleven years of state schooling unable to read, write and count efficiently. But they know – such as there is to know – all about the evils of empire, the higher righteousness of Nelson Mandela, the blackness of Mary Seacoal, the slave trade, global warming, homosexuality, equality, diversity and multiculturalism; and that they must not commit the crime of Islamophobia. I forgot to mention the initiation rite which will set the tone and help make sure your child never grows up. Give him (or her) a stupid name such as Jayden, Waylon or Kayleigh – but don’t have him christened. Remember, the child should be encouraged to express his emotions, without first being equipped with any emotional education.
Never mind these incompetent and farcical beginnings, matters will improve when the child grows up and enters university.  But the child doesn’t grow up. How can it when all the forces to which it is exposed only perpetuate its infantilisation? Universities used to be places where excellence was aimed for and often achieved. Leave aside excellence: even ordinary competence in the things of the mind can be reached only through a grounding in the process of rational thought. At the most elementary level this involves learning how to frame an argument and understanding pros and cons: that is gaining the capacity for critical – including self-critical – appraisal. Regrettably, this no longer happens. At all costs, the student must be shielded from anything which might upset him – such as the discovery that not everyone in the world shares his unexamined prejudices. These are the ordinary prejudices and the regular shibboleths of political correctness which have been implanted in him from his infants’ school upwards. He must not be exposed to speakers who promise to air views which are at variance with this politically correct orthodoxy. Such speakers will not be allowed on campus. In the current jargon, this is called “no platforming.” The very purpose of the university was always the inculcation of the capacity for criticism. That is what the medieval schoolmen were all about, what Francis Bacon, S.T. Coleridge, Matthew Arnold, William Empson, T.S. Eliot and F.R. Leavis were all about. But today’s university has no time for the elitism of these dead white males. So the modern university engineers “safe spaces” for its students in order to make sure their smugness is never disturbed by critical thinking.
 
The foundations of western civilisation, beginning in Greece and Rome, were built on the conviction that there is such a thing as truth and that this might be discovered by the rigorous processes of rational thinking.  But our new professors have abolished truth as something shamefully “uninclusive” and declared that we live in a “post-truth” world in which there are no absolute truths, only “your” truth and “my” truth. But if these professors say there is no such thing as truth, as the word was traditionally
understood, they refute themselves. For, consider the proposition, “There is no such thing as truth” – well, is that true?  Anyone who claims in the name of right thinking that there is no truth, thereby undermines his own claim. But our new professors cannot be expected to understand this, for they do not know what rational thinking involves. In fact, there is no need to prefix the word “thinking” with the word “rational.” For any activity which is not rational – that is, which contradicts itself – cannot be what is meant by “thinking.”
  
In the university or out of it, people still have to find something with which to fill their time. Increasingly, this involves the solipsistic obsession with electronic gadgets. When, some thirty years ago, estimates were made as to how much silicon the world’s industries would require for all their computer operations, it was discovered that the whole amount predicted sufficed merely to provide for the manufacture of electronic games.  This obsession with gadgets has reached such a pitch that clinicians describe it as an epidemic as millions are addicted to their games and require “therapy” to wean them off. Extreme cases have to be consigned to “rehab” to help them cope with their withdrawal symptoms.
Of course, while it is natural for any one of us to enjoy being diverted from dull routine from time to time, diversions can become excessive and obsessive. For countless millions of people this is what has happened and their whole lives are dominated and consumed by attention to their gadgets. It is another example of our infantilsation – one most resembling the baby constantly sucking its dummy and becoming distressed when the dummy is removed. Of all the gadgets, the mobile phone is the most used. (Though it’s worth pausing to notice that these phones are not mobile. They do not move under their own steam. They are portable). As with the other gadgets, the mobile phone has its uses. Walkers out on the moors or the Downs are advised to carry one in case they fall, become ill or get lost in the fog. Since the trains are so unreliable in my part of the world, it’s handy to be able to phone my wife and tell her what time I hope to arrive home. Famously, these phones have now become so sophisticated that each one carries more computational power than all the computers in NASA which guided the moon landing in 1969. The latest i-phone is a portable encyclopaedia and useful for finding everything from street directions to the periodic table, from the cricket score to a news summary in Mandarin.
But the rational use, the grown up use, of the mobile phone has been eclipsed by its irrational use, an app on which people play out their neurosis. I often think the I-phone should really be called the me-phone. For it’s not principally used as an aid to communication but rather as the most technologically advanced form of self-advertisement. The mobile phone addict simply talks about himself, puts out photographs of himself, tweets and twitters. Revealingly, these photos are called “selfies” – and people have been known to place themselves in positions of great danger in order to be able to send out shots of themselves in precarious positions. More than once, I have seen grown- ups – but what do I mean “grown- ups? – dangling over the edge of the cliff top at Beachy Head to get that selfie and to send it out instantly to all their contacts. Obsessive users of these gadgets are not saying, “Let’s have a conversation.” They are saying, “Look at me!” – just as an infant does when it craves attention. Sometimes this, “Look at me!” goes very explicit as people take off their clothes and send selfies of their private parts to all and sundry. This is only an extension of the “I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours” which was the familiar cry in the junior school’s lavatories.
Quite the most annoying thing about mobile phone usage is its very ubiquitousness – even in the so-called “quiet” carriage on the train, even in the concert hall and even in church. I was once celebrating  Thursday lunchtime Mass in the City of London. A glamorous Italian woman in a plunging neckline
approached the altar when her mobile phone rang. Unabashed, she answered it. For what could possibly be more important than the bloody phone – certainly not the Real Presence of Our Lord and Saviour. When her phone rang, she did not switch it off with a blushing apology. No, she knelt at the altar, stuck her hand out to receive the Sacrament while using the other hand to put the phone to her ear and answer the call.  I can’t remember what she said. But what does anyone ever say? “I’m on a train” or “I’m in Tescos. They’ve no cabbages. Will a cauli do?” Everywhere, jabber-jabber-jabber, like the constant dripping on a very wet day.
Thus the great curse of the mobile is that it gives people the means of acting out their banal private lives in public, to the irritation of non-users. I recall Isaac Asimov and his laws of robotics. I would say there are similar laws governing the uses and abuses of the mobile phone. And the first of these laws is: “No one shall ever use this instrument to utter anything that is even remotely interesting.” 
Collingwood wrote of a whole class of people whose sole purpose is “to eat free bread and watch free shows, to be supported and to be amused.”  This remark is in need of substantial emendation, for we assume at least that the bread which was part of the Romans’ “bread and circuses” was real bread. Today, we can improve on boring old bread and graduate on to junk food, which is really baby food, food for the infantilized palate. Pizzas and kebabs, burgers and crisps, all washed down with sugary fizzy drinks. Basically, this menu is sugar, salt and monosodium glutamate. Tastes for the tasteless. And tasteless because no one has bothered, or been taught, to educate his palate. In other words, babies’ Junk food is unhealthy, fattening and addictive.  A gastronomically-infantilized society is an obese society.
Babies do not sit at tables but in their high chairs. Infantilised adults don’t sit at tables either and many don’t even own a table. Instead, when they wish to eat, they do so while lolling on the sofa to watch something on TV. What they watch are the “free shows” mentioned by Collingwood – the circus part of “bread and circuses.” Like their food, their entertainments are similarly childish and tasteless. Millions gawp enthralled at the “nuts ‘n’ sluts” shows such as Big Brother in which celebrities are hired by the TV company to demonstrate varieties of fornication on screen. Then there is the milder pornography and bad taste innuendo of Blind Date, memorably described to me by one devotee as, “The nearest thing you will see to a knocking shop on the telly.” They wouldn’t miss the opportunity to watch as such as Ed Balls or Ann Widdecombe make cheerful fools of themselves on Strictly Come Dancing. Or there is Britain’s Got Talent – a show whose title surely must be in breach of the Trades Descriptions Act. If you prefer something stronger, you could try the show in which the presenter eats enormous quantities of food in a very short time – as children do, just before they are sick. I once took some children on an outing to the Manchester ship canal. One little lad was violently and relentlessly sick, so I went to comfort him. When he finally recovered at least a little, Iasked, “Well, Steve, have you any idea whct brought all this on?”
“Yes, sir,” he replied, “I’ve just eaten thirty-four Curly Wurlies.”
You might like to view the show in which fat brides are to be seen spending – or rather their fathers spending – unconscionable amounts of money on dresses which can only be described as voluminously grotesque. Then there is a programme about people reckoned to be so ugly that you wouldn't think they would ever find a mate. But they do, of course. Another show gleefully features stomach-churning medical procedures. There are no limits. And if you remain un-surfeited, the football is always with us
When you get sick of the telly, you may turn to the tabloid newspapers which serve up titillation in the form of supposedly attractive women – and men - with hardly any clothes on. There are the preoccupations with celebrity – abbreviated to “slebs” by the cognoscenti. Members of the royal family treated as if they too were only slebs. Turn over a few pages and you can find all the varieties of the therapeutic culture: diets, detox, superfoods and superfads, counselling, agony aunts and the relentless promotion of “self-esteem.” Constant injunctions to “pamper yourself,” – as if we needed to betaught self-obsession and self-indulgence – and on the back page “your fate in the stars.” 
I am describing the content of the “red tops,” the tabloid newspapers. But the broadsheets are now competing to offer the same fare – only with half a gram less vulgarity.
Welcome to our infantilized society! As Timothy Leary used to say, “Turn on, tune in and drop out.”
I began with a quotation from R.G. Collingwood. I’ll end with another which should be read as a prophecy:
“Civilisations sometimes perish because they are forcibly broken up by the armed attack of enemies without or revolutionaries within; but never from this cause alone. Such attacks never succeed unless the thing that is attacked is weakened by doubt as to whether the end which it sets before itself, the form of life which it tries to realize, is worth achieving. On the other hand, this doubt is quite capable of destroying a civilization without any help whatever. If the people who share a civilization are no longer on the whole convinced that the form of life which it tries to realize is worth realizing, nothing can save it.

”- An Essay on Metaphysics by R.G. Collingwood


 
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