Friday 21 June 2024

That bloody pendulum...

My late father was both wise and acerbic. He used the phrase 'that bloody pendulum' to describe the tendency in society, in cultures, in organisations, and in individuals (and on reflection I think within himself) to swing from one extreme to another.

Until relatively recently, the pendulum in educated British circles was swung rather too far to the side of self-adulation: the Empire, the White Man's Burden, all that kind of stuff. It was certainly in need of a corrective. But now, it seems to me, that bloody pendulum is swinging rather a long way in the other direction. The mere fact of being white is seen as problematic, in some circles.

Likewise, I think that conformity to social norms was over-emphasised, to the extent of ostracising anyone who deviated (or was perceived to deviate) from them. But again, that bloody pendulum... the very idea of normal, which is in the first place a statistical fact exemplified by the bell curve of standard deviation, is seen as problematic. Whilst I am all in favour of Diversity, Inclusion and Equality (and also of motherhood and apple pie, of course) they are not absolute values as I have written previously; and I think there are risks to normalising the abnormal and abhorring the normal. 

And I find it interesting that those who denigrate whiteness and extol the virtues of indigenous cultures where skin colour is a bit darker, seem somewhat selective in which virtues they extol. For it is very common, in such cultures, to venerate ancestors; whilst the modern trend in our culture is to denigrate them and apologise for them. 

Of course they weren't perfect; but if we think either that we are better than them, or that all of their wisdom is disposable because they weren't wise in all things, then we risk throwing out several babies with the admittedly dirty bathwater. 

I'm thinking of things like: innocent until proven guilty, or even just war theory. It's not that these are perfect solutions to human problems, but they are the best we have found so far. Consider the alternatives that seem to be rearing their heads. In the first case, we seem to have innocent until someone has decided that you are offensive, at one extreme, and innocent despite courts having found you guilty (if you are powerful enough...), at the other; and in the second case, passivity when the innocent are attacked, on one hand; or unlimited use of deadly force on the other.


Image from Mark Ross Studios via Scientific American

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