Ryeview – December 2001

Modern reflections bear an echo from the past

John Clark writes…

First published: December 2001 – Gazette & Herald

“It took the rape of Europe to make us fully alive to the Nazi menace” is a sentence in E. B. Balfour’s book ‘The Living Soil’. There is the obvious parallel “ It took the ‘Twin Towers’ to make us fully alive to the Terrorism menace.”

In 1942 E.Balfour described the threat of famine overrunning a continent. There are she says two routes

  • We all scramble for the remaining habitable part of the globe.


  • We create a United Nations (there wasn’t one in 1942) and that we “….. work shoulder to shoulder” – for any doubters I do have a copy of the book!

The government is going to introduce compulsory citizenship education for school children. “Citizenship is a New Labour Concept” (Laura Trevelyan, Newsnight 11th December 2001). Well maybe not quite so new – Balfour advocates education for service by the teaching of good citizenship followed by “The choice for nations will be the extent to which they have abandoned materialism”. Look at materialism in 2002 – 60 years later.

  • In the USA 4% of the world’s population uses 25% of the world’s resources. The average citizen in the US uses 8 times as much as other people in the world.
  • In Afghanistan people live in a non-materialistic nation. Many in abject poverty on the edge of starvation. The average person in Afghanistan doesn’t appear on the scale of using the world’s resources.
  • Christ is said to have lived frugally. Is there a probability that materialism has taken over the religious ceremony of Christmas? Our use of resources during the holiday period will be equally off the scale – at the other end to the Afghans.

George W. Bush says it is a question of defending democracy and civilisation. If this is the case there are two threats that stand out above all others. Civilisations that have gone in the past have usually gone for one or both of these reasons: –

  • Decadence, overindulgence, greed and other vices. This route was probably the fate of the Romans.
  • Ignoring the rules of nature including those for agriculture. This probably caused the demise of the North African civilisations – destroyed by the desert.

The west happily criticises the rest of the world for not being democratic. To a starving person or one dying from a water-borne disease maybe democracy is not top of the list. The west causes most of the environmental damage and uses most of the oil and other irreplaceable resources. It does not share. History looks well set to repeat itself.

All the world religions value virtues like sharing, belonging, community, and citizenship. Poverty is not a crime. Jesus was an impoverished carpenter. Compare this with the facts that our present ‘civilisation’ seems to be going down the road of ‘obscene materialism’. The treatment of the environment is leading to biodestruction. This combined approach means we are determined to bring our civilisation to an end. If materialism does not get us then destruction of our planet will.

Christmas should of course be a time for celebration. It may also be a time for excess. Above both of these it should be a time for thought and reflection. May I humbly suggest that in 2002 we not only slow down but we also choose our direction carefully – for the sake of future generations at future Christmases.

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