Calgacus, the first recorded leader of the early Scottish Picts, who resisted the first Roman invasions, is quoted by Tacitus as saying: ‘They Make a Desert and they call it Peace.’ How true that is today. We with the Americans are among the worst offender in our futile and ultimately doomed attempts to impose an alien culture which we hypocritically call democracy on other parts of the world of which we have no significant understanding, currently Iraq and Afghanistan, although in living memory it includes other places, especially those that once formed the British empire and still does the American one.
But I can think of many other deserts, often the result of misconceived and ignorant planning. Take the British educational system: as class-ridden as it ever was. The arts and any concept of cultural climate has been systematically ruled out of the society in which most children grow up. The arts and intellectual activity in general, which is the motor that drives civilisation and positive endeavour forward, are not taught because a government, as stupid, uneducated and philistine as any we have ever had, sees no point in having a civilised population, throwing words like ‘elitist’ at any effort to bring up the general level of education. Fashion and celebrity are the key words by which an ugly alliance of corrupt and incompetent politicians and greedy commercial interests (call them ‘Global Capitalism) replace any culture that might encourage intelligence and a life-style that from the early renaissance showed promise of one day achieving some kind of Utopia. Among the major European countries we are the only one where not only is philosophy not taught as a core subject, but neither is history, geography or the humanities generally. Everyone is trained to sit behind a computer screen and become a robot using a robot, a slave to a technology which has provided enormous new opportunities to the criminal mind, fuelled anti-social and very ugly sexual perversions, augmented unemployment by replacing people with machinery, much of it very fallible, and in general has created a cultural climate of dishonesty, confusion about the necessities of life, increased chances of war and especially of intolerance racial and ideological conflict, and the admiration of greed and misplaced power.
This January has shown another nature imposing a desert of cold and snow in a world where we cannot even agree and cooperate to slow down climate change, while in the southern hemisphere a different desert is growing, of waterless sand and earth, foodless tracts of baking ground, and soon the great underground lakes of oil, which finance many tyrannies, may start to run out, although there is a good chance that a number of Revolutions, most of them Jihadist religious ones, will occur before that.
Much of the world is becoming a man-made desert, increasingly overpopulated with no chance of any regime doing anything to reverse what is happening. Then there is the economic situation. The culture of greed that gave us Madoff, Conrad Black, Fred Goodwin and so many other crooks, some of them staying within the law, but all taking advantage of a gullible and easily deceived public that invests out of a blind faith just as thoughtlessly as it goes to churches or mosques, has been temporarily rescued and encouraged to continue by politicians, corrupted by money, honours or ‘Old-Boy’ networks. These politicians have no idea of the consequences of their actions or of the folly of the scale of their handouts. They will however have to face retribution and disgrace, and in the very near future, both for the deserts they have created by starting wars, and the economic deserts from which we may never recover. Unfortunately, less so in those countries that have trained an elite to run most things with some competence, the destruction of real education, which means a system that can enable the bulk of the population to understand its own society and culture and to think with confidence, has made recovery highly unlikely, especially in English speaking countries.
In Darwinian terms, we have failed to advance our species, and probably are headed towards a third world war, which may destroy us all. Recent archaeological discoveries show us that high civilisations have existed before our own recorded history, and they have disappeared. So may we. There will only be a desert left, such as is described in the last lines of Lucky’s speech in ‘Waiting for Godot’. Beckett was always prophetic about human destiny.
John Calder 11/01/09