In my last Ericle post commenting on the US Presidential Election, (here), I suggested that the US & UK Constitutions were ill-matched to the 21st century as they encompassed a sense of ‘reasonable behaviour’ which was in some evidence at the time of their inception. The UK’s so-called Unwritten Constitution is proving incapable of withstanding the wilfulness of a political leadership that has an unjustified sense of its own right in pursuit of vested beliefs & interests. In the USA we have witnessed a Presidency that has similarly invoked every loophole in its Written Constitution to have its way in numerous areas of political excess. And lest we choose to blame governments alone for this state of affairs, they – at least, the so-called ‘democratic’ ones – still have to operate within a spectrum of broad public approval. On the broadest gamut of issues, individual human behaviour is demonstrating a parallel desire to gets its own way regardless of a consideration of reasons behind expressions of counter-opinion. As I said in my July post, (here), we really do get the government we deserve.
In 1969, during my year in the USA on an American Field Service Scholarship, I visited my cousins in Los Angeles who had moved there from London in 1960. One day during my stay there, a letter arrived addressed to my relative which informed him that he was going to be the object of legal redress sought by his paperboy who had stumbled and hurt himself on my cousin’s property while delivering the daily newspaper. The communication claimed that my cousin’s driveway was uneven and that the effect of this grievous neglect had resulted in the paperboy suffering a pulled muscle. My incredulity at this opportunistic claim and pursuit for redress, following ‘a minor mishap on the road of life’, was met with amusement by my cousin who simply smiled and informed me that it was nothing to worry about as these things happened all the time and, in any case, he had insurance to cover these kinds of eventuality. When I responded that such a situation would never come about in the UK as a result of a ‘sense of reasonableness and self-responsibility’, such that any even-handed person would accept this to have been an accident, my cousin laughed saying: “Well this is the USA!” I should have taken note how quickly, in just 9 years, my cousin had adapted to the American sense of values; the sad truth today, half a lifetime on, a very similar legalistic interpretation of the substance of interpersonal transactions is in evidence in my own country. When ‘bad things’ happen in our lives, the tendency is to look for somebody to blame and, in many cases, pursuing for compensation as a result. The bottom line is that we have evolved from a society, where most accept that ‘into every life some rain will fall’, and where basic human relationships were predominantly prescribed by a need for social co-existence, to one which defines a baseline of individual expectation that, when frustrated, seeks for somebody else to blame.
The sorry truth is that we have morphed into a world that marches to a mood music ultimately defined by legal prescriptions at all levels. Isaac Asimov, in his Foundation series of Science Fiction novels, imagined a galaxy of different worlds with Trantor, a world with 40 billion inhabitants, and Solaria at the other extreme. Unsurprisingly social inter-relationships differ in character between his various worlds and Asimov proposes that there is an predictable scientific rationale (‘psychohistory’) why this has to be the case. Today we are a world of almost 8 billion – one where the extended family is no longer in the ascendance. Perhaps there is an inevitability in the ascension of a legal code that frames our society at the public level. However, as individuals, we still do have a choice. It is a choice to be kinder on others and to be guided by the oldest of all prescribed prerogatives: to treat others in the way that we wish to be treated ourselves. We need to reverse our direction of travel of self-entitlement to one which not only considers our co-travellers but also trusts them to offer us the same consideration. If we can do this, then I do most truly believe that the sum total of our individual adjustments will reflect not only on ourselves but on those that we chose to represent our societies and our world. Inshallah.