Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 22 September 17, 1969
The Age of Personal Disengagement
The Age of Personal Disengagement
There has emerged in the TV programme "Coronation Street" a character who remarks with seemingly increasing frequency that he is "not bothered". It is his stock response to any situation. Further, he alleges that his friends, his dog, and even total strangers whose reactions he cannot possibly know, are also "not bothered".
Now, the reason for the popularity of "Coronation Street" to a huge wordwide audience is that it is in reality a microcosmic image of the world at large, and its characters reflections of ourselves.
Most of us are faced with a nostalgic desire for what we recall (correctly or not) as the simplicities of earlier times. We are reluctant to transmit to our family and inner lives the complexity of existence which we perforce accept as part and parcel of or work tasks. And since the organisational efficiency of moder nsociety cannot survive without governmental intervention (or interference according to one's viewpoint) bureaucracy and the steadily increasing volume of laws has made more and more people acquire a feeling of helplessness at their individual insignificance.
Consequently, the irreversible shift of population from rural to urban living has had the opposite effect to that which might have been imagined. As people live in closer proximity one to another the sense of community becomes weaker, not stronger. The concern of one individual for another becomes harder to arouse, still more difficult to maintain. When mankind had strictly limited horizons it was easier to bring human intelligence and emotional responses to bear on the problems which could be seen. As man has been on earth for the merest fraction of the total length of time since any form of life first appeared, there is evidence that evolutionary and environmental changes have had the opportunity to enlarge his physical and mental capacity, Except for our immediately inherited moral values and for that minute portion of total knowledge which we individually acquire to equip ourselves for a place in society, we are forced to tackle the immense upheavals resulting from advanced technology with very much the same limitations and inadequacies of the first "civilised" man of 5,000 years ago.
Today, it would appear, we react to the general philosophy of our immediate forefathers. Theorising against the background of Newtonian "Grand Designer" logic the founders of the school of Utilitarianism profoundly influenced the young giants of the Industrial age, not only because they found the emphasis on the advantages of individualismconvenient, but also because their infectious optimism implied a Divine blessing upon their actions. World War I brought this to a sharp halt, and World War II demolished it.
Western Man has subsequently experienced nagging doubts which make him pessimistic about his nature, his methods, and his destiny. Assumptions which but a decade or two ago were held to be unchallengeable truths are now constantly challenged. To a degree thought impossible religion was displaced by a faith in the blessings of economic expansion, and now this in turn is challenged.
And so, to return to the character in "Coronation Street", who so aptly exemplifing so many people, in reality deeply "bothered", brandishes like a talisman his declaration that he is not.
This is an age of personal disengagement. Like rabbits in a huge burrow, we emerge at intervals to obtain our physical sustenance, an eye and ear open for real or imaginary dangers, diving back into the burrow as often as we can, confident in its cosy security. As with bears, we treat our working lives as the summertime when we garner those things necessary for our existence so that we can hibernate in a comforting womb-like leisure.
Is thc present and future so depressing as all this sounds? Have we. in fact, become not men. but mice? Significantly, it is to the young that we must turn to find the source of challenge.
In their impatience with pessimism, with their assault on closed channels of communication, because of their youthful arrogance, they often trample heavy-footed over accepted customs and attitudes. "Softly, softly, catchee monkey" is an old man's proverb they have not yet learned. And yet, can those of us with less time left than they have, show proof that our methods will show more success than those of these youthful dissidents?
We seem to have got our society (or perhaps society has got us) to a point where we are ready to cease to engage in struggle any further, to say we are "not bothered". They say that the greatest potential for continued expansion of the horizons of mankind, both physical and mental, lies with the productive forces and its controllers—business. They demonstrate how business increasingly shapes the attitudes and actions of government. They illustrate how business shows no inclination —despite its advertising gimmickery—to organise itself truly in the service of its public. Production continues to be linked in degree and priorities to yardsticks increasingly irrelevant.
Against the odds, the young who do "bother" about these issues are slowly but surely changing the shape and direction of society. In the process, those older ones sometimes feel resentful at their optimism and their successes. We vent this resentment in scorn at side-issues: their clothes, for example. But the most hopeful thing about it all is that as time goes by. more and more of their ciders are ceasing to be "not bothered". If the young accomplish this and nothing else, they will have done much.