Magazine article The Spectator

The Philosophy of Modern Britain: I Must Have It and I Must Have It Right Now

Magazine article The Spectator

The Philosophy of Modern Britain: I Must Have It and I Must Have It Right Now

Article excerpt

It's not all doom and gloom, then. A new study suggests that we are turning into aborigines - or Indigenous Australians, to use the more acceptable term. Various anthropological investigations have depicted aborigines as being remarkably cheerful, laid-back and contented, all of which are admirable qualities. They also have a tendency to defecate wherever they are standing, according to one of the first investigations (1929) into their behaviour, from the Hungarian psychoanalyst and anthropologist, Geza Roheim. When nature calls, Roheim asserted, the aborigine simply squats and has done with it; he has not the slightest notion of deferred gratification. He is, in all possible meanings of the phrase, easygoing.

So too with our children. A new study sponsored by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers insists that there has been an enormous rise in the number of children attending infant school still wearing nappies. The younger classrooms are, these days, a noisome quagmire of urine and faeces, according to the ATL. Some teachers are required to attend to the incontinence of their charges nine times a day, thus detracting from the hours which they can spend teaching the others how to glue toilet rolls together and properly appreciate the totally legitimate aspirations of transgendered persons. Some schools have even started classes for parents showing them how to - and, crucially, why they should - train their kids not to take a crap the very second the notion occurs, but to wait a while.

Of course, teachers spend a lot of time whining about children and parents to the press, sometimes to mask their own manifest inadequacies. But this one has the ring of truth about it, I think. And the unpleasant duties thus imposed upon the teachers are not the worst of it; they are simply the turtle's head of the problem, if you will.

The Arrernte people studied by Roheim (and referred to by him as the Aranda) lacked any notion of time, but also, by extension, any concept of the benefits of deferred gratification. As a consequence, agriculture and cultivation was wholly beyond them;

they could not understand the point of doing some hard work now and reaping the rewards six months hence. Or even six hours hence. They lived, Roheim implied, for the moment and only for the moment.

So it would seem to be with our latest generation of Britons - and indeed the last generation of Britons. Over the last 30 years the notion of deferred gratification, the idea that it is something worth practising, has disappeared almost entirely. Children cheerfully crapping themselves in the classroom is but one symptom; there are countless others.

The epidemic of obesity, for example. The extraordinary amount of private - and, in a more psychologically complex sense, public - debt. Our world-beating rates of teenage pregnancy and, to a slightly lesser extent, the enormous rise in the rates of divorce. Even down to such arcane matters as the dominance of pop music, with an easily acquired hook presenting itself to the listener within 30 seconds, or the ubiquity of drug and alcohol abuse, or the popularity of the National Lottery (indeed its very existence). …

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