These are strange days we’re living through. It seems that the whole world is at a point of change. Struggles are going on to do with climate change, power and control, religious ideology, and the settling of old scores. And while this purge is taking place, ordinary people live, suffer and die, unheeded by all save those nearest to them.
In trying to make some sense of all this BREXIT induced mayhem, I’ve been working backwards. I came across two old books in a local junk shop, the first one intriguingly titled OUROBOROS, the Mechanical Extension of Mankind, by an American writer called Garet Garrett writing in 1925. Students of Williams Blake will be familiar with Ouroboros – it’s the mythical serpent that eats its own tail.
Garrett’s book reminds us that civilization makes demands on us and satisfying those demands requires more of us than we are prepared to give. Mechanization has enabled us to produce things – lots of things – but we can’t do that and provide food at the same time, so the population becomes divided. Rural and industrial activities both demand time, money and effort. The products of mechanization – cars, guns, technology are exported to other countries who sell us their food in exchange. But once the needs of the industrial workers exceed the amount produced by the local rural economy, Garrett claims the world is out of balance. In order to buy food not available locally, men either have to sell their goods overseas, or travel to where the food is produced. The balance between consumption and production of goods as well as food creates a cycle described in the book as Ouroboros. Garrett felt that the mechanized world and the agricultural world were in conflict, that nationalism and the desire for economic independence were dangerous destabilizing forces unless well controlled. Garrett was ahead of his time in his thinking and writing, and he was punished for it.
The second book is an edition of Mannheim’s DIAGNOSIS OF OUR TIME, written in 1943.
“The dangers involved in failing to achieve a democratic reorganization of the world might act as a pressure similar to that of fear of the enemy…” he wrote, fearing that unless this could be achieved we might be at the mercy of a totalitarian government or a dictator. Mannheim, a respected psychologist, had something to say about public schools and how they create an opportunity for gang experience and do not foster ‘the self-regulating aspects of group life’ – rather the reverse. He writes further about the Hitler Youth movement and the gang mentality.
Why are these writers relevant today? Industrial revolution and world wars are not just past events. The growth of the internet, climate change crisis and the rise of extremist groups are creating a perfect storm and we are having a hard time trying to achieve the democratic reorganization Mannheim advocated.
For me, as an ex Relate counsellor, I see the split between Europe and the UK as very like a marital breakdown. The ending is protracted, because the alimony is complicated and the reasons for the breakdown have not been fully divulged to us. Also, we’re beginning to lose sight of what it was that was good about our membership; the freedom to travel, agricultural subsidies, agreed standards of practice, the ability to speak with a collective voice, assurance of mutual protection and help when push comes to shove, plus the money injected into projects we conveniently forget to mention.
We gained a lot, and gave away a few precious things with little compensation, including the fisheries policy. Perhaps the MEPs should have fought harder to save the marriage while it was still possible to do so. Disgruntled family members need to know where they stand, and that means us.