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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, October 1918

Free Discussions Club

page 52

Free Discussions Club

"Now conscience chills her, and now passion burns,
And atheism and religion take their turns."


Liberty of thought, liberty of speech, the desire to follow truth wheresoever it may lead—these are the ideals which our Club tries to foster in our College. A great many people are afraid to form opinions of their own, perhaps a greater number are afraid to express, especially before a crowd, those opinions they do possess. We would like to see a large number of students express their views at our meetings. Still it is pleasing to find so many differing opinions put forward and such keen interest shown in the discussions, even though the circle of speakers as compared with listeners is to as large as it might be.

The last meeting of the first term took place on May 30th, when Mr. Miller opened the discussion on "Ethics and Economics." Each individual, each community, each age has its view of social life. That to-day is the day of the chattel is due to the exclusion of the ethical aspect from economic theory. Political economy must deal with man as a moral being. Economic conditions are affected by morality or vice versa. Wealth is not money, he urged, but men and life.

Miss Crabb wished to know how these ideas were to be propagated.

Miss England thought that this could be done by changing the public estimation of the value of money. Public opinion should be against the accumulation of riches.

Professor Hunter considered that business was founded on the gambling principle. A business man played his game. If he won, he took the profits, if he lost, society paid. The Press with its distortion of truth was the greatest enemy against which the moralist had to contend.

At the first meeting of the Second Term the Japanese intervention in Russia was discussed, with Mr. Mansfield as leader. Japan, he considered, is rather a dangerous ally. If here intervention is successful, the Allies will be indebted to her, and she will be able to ask her own terms at the peace table. Japan is the Prussia of the East. Her foreign policy in Korea shows that she stands for those principles against which England is fighting in Europe—expansion of Empire irrespective of the rights of small nationalities. We should, therefore, prevent Japan from intervention in Russia.

In discussing the matter, the view was expressed that it was a case of conflicting interests between Germany and the Allies, chiefly England. While the Allies hesitated to take measures to control Russia, Germany was over running the country.

The meeting was fairly unanimous that from a strategic point of view intervention seemed desirable, but from the moral point of view, it was incompatible with the principles of liberty.

Miss England opened the next discussion (August 2nd) on the "Evils of Uniformity" Her contention was that uniformity though useful in practical life up to a certain point is wholly evil in the realm of thought and in every way retards the progress of human culture. Uniformity is the refuge of the indolent thinker and organiser, hence it is beloved by officials of all classes. She illustrated these ramarks by reference to history, religion, art, literature and education. Uniformity always presupported the authority of the few imposing their will on the many. Conformity to type thus crushes individuality.

The discussion which followed chiefly centred round the position of the "conscientious objector."

"Shelley, the Poet," was the subject of the next discussion, which was led by Miss Davies and Miss Woodhouse. Miss England was in the chair. Miss Davies's remarks on Shelley dealt with the greatest of his longer poems—Prometheus Unbound, which expressed the spirit of democracy and the passion for liberty which was beginning to stir in the thought of his age. The 18th century poetry had been tired, but in Shelley the spirit of wonder and eagerness moved. This is the child-like attitude to life, and Shelley never rose higher than that. This passion for liberty meant an absence of law and the overthrow of all institutions. His weakness was the weakness of the revolutionary ideal. Miss Woodhouse dealt largely with the poet's philosophical point of view. His atheistic conception was replaced later by a broad pantheism, which bound the world into a unity. She believed benevolence and justice to the highest virtues and was therefore an advocate for more humanitarian ideals. Several points of interest came out in the discussion which followed. Whether Shelley was funda page 53 mentally optimistic or pessimistic, whether or no his charm as a poet lay rather in his lyrics that in his more didactic poems, whether an artist or a poet can be judged apart from his life, what influence character has on art, and art on character, were the chief questions raised.

The Gyamnasium was well filled to hear the discussion on "Marriage," which took place on August 30th. Mr. Pope, as well as Mr. Leicester, was to have opened the discussion, but as he was unfortunately ill, his paper was read by Mr. Leicester. It criticised the existing conditions of marriage. The effect of the Church was bad. In fostering public opinion against divorce, many couples, entirely unsuited to each other, were held together in a false union. Marriage was not to be tolerated after love had disappeared.

Mr. Leciester was inclined to think that friendship formed a better basis for marriage than that that evanescent emotion—love. Woman should be accounted as man's equal and the man's salary should be shared between them. Divorce ought to be able to be effected more easily than at present, an any conflict in the home is against the welfare of the children as well as inimical to the happiness of the parents.

These views were criticised by various members. Mr. Murphy thought that the divorce laws in New Zealand were quite lax enough, and greater freedom would not be desirable. Professor Hunter expressed the opinion that the before-marriage problem was the more important one. If young people were properly trained to the realisation the responsibilities marriage entailed there would be less likelihood of unhappy marriages.

There was a good deal of discussion on the economic equality of men and women. Two points of view were mainly stressed. If women received equal pay as that of men, there would be less inducement to marry, for they would then have to share between two, what one had originally earned and spent. On the other hand, it was urged that unequal pay meant that women were driven by poverty into marriage, and the proposal was put forward that, in view of the fact that a mother performs a very high duty to the State, she should receive a salary for her services and thus would not need to be economically dependent on her husband.