Town Versus Country
"Anyone who does not know how to find food and feed himself is always frightened inside like a little child who has lost his mother and with that fear the vision of the spirit world departs."
Aboriginal elder quoted in 'Voices of the First Day' by Robert Lawlor.
Well here we are in a brave new United Kingdom! We have a New Labour government endowed with the bravery of an enormous majority in the House of Commons. The threat of nuclear world war has apparently receded with the fragmentation of the 'undemocratic' Soviet Union and the emolient effect of UN diplomacy in the Middle East. The pound sterling is 'strong'. The return of Hong Kong to China virtually immunises us against charges of capitalist imperialism. Most of our former dominions, colonies, protectorates and dependencies are glad to remain sovereign members of the British Commonwealth. English is the preferred medium of communication in world trade. So we should be happy to reflect that our former Imperial might has been transformed into moral and cultural ascendancy.
But turning away from outward appearances and looking within, we find worrying symptoms of fundamental ill-health. Notably, the 'Irish Question' still gives members of opposing factions an excuse to murder one another for arcane reasons deeply embedded in the human psyche.
There are moves afoot to divide the United Kingdom into chunks by 'devolving' powers, previously centralised in London, to Scotland, Wales and English 'regions'. While this may reflect a healthy appreciation that 'big government' is not only grossly inefficient but is the negation of true democracy, the 'top-down' condescending approach being taken threatens to 'Ulsterise' the entire UK by drawing artificial lines on maps and calling them 'borders' or 'frontiers'.
There are disturbing signs that old divisions in UK society are being revived: witness the recent 'industrial dispute' within British Airways whose internal conflicts inconvenienced the customer who ultimately pays all the bills.
The most disturbing sign of all is the unrest among 'country folk' who are giving notice that they are not prepared to submit tamely to insensitive and misguided legislation enacted by a Parliament consisting mainly of ill-informed, opinionated, dictatorial 'townies'.
The media have as usual over-simplified the issues by focusing on a Private Member's Bill proposing to make fox-hunting illegal. Certainly, the proposed Bill is an excellent example of what happens when people who have retreated from the real world of struggle, pain, hardship, cruelty and death, and have taken illusory refuge in sloppy sentimentality, are given legislative powers. I myself am at a loss to distinguish between the cruelty inflicted by hounds upon the fox and the cruelty inflicted by the fox upon the lamb. I cannot make any moral distinction between following the hunt and prying into the private behaviour of birds. If I were a fox or a dog or a canary, I imagine I should greatly prefer life in the wild with all its attendant risks to being made a pet for private enjoyment by a dweller in a high-rise flat or even in a suburban mansion. Confronted with a personal choice between the physical cruelty of corporal punishment for being a social nuisance and the mental cruelty of incarceration in gaol, I should assuredly opt for the former. But I was brought up in the country, in a subsistence economy, with no subsidies. I know that food is inseparable from death and that the life of every creature depends on the death of another. Let those vegetarians who pretend to themselves that plants are not alive sow pebbles in their window-boxes and see how they grow.
However, fox-hunting versus the League Against Cruel Sports affords only one example of misguided and unnecessary conflict between one culture and another. The country is groaning under the weight of legislative interference from London and Brussels in matters which should be left to the commonsense and goodwill of those actively engaged in, or directly affected by, the operations in question. There is already widespread contempt for regulations which are based on little more than the prejudices of one lobby or another, and it is but a short step from there to contempt for all law and ensuing civil disobedience on a wide scale.
We have long been accustomed to demonstrations, protestations, and marches organised mainly by townies in towns. They may occasionally erupt in violence of some kind, but they generally amount to little more than a nuisance for the minority of individuals whose daily affairs may be delayed or disrupted for a few hours and to a minor extent.
But new kinds of demonstration, more determined, more long-lasting, and far more serious, have manifested in opposition to the insensitive construction of roads, runways, houses, and other conversions of land from natural fertility to concrete sterility. Granted that some of these demonstrations have attracted token support from nimby townies who look upon the country mainly as a playground and who are able to tolerate the roar of the motorway while insisting that the crowing cock be put down. But the occasional camouflage afforded by such people should not distract us from the real underlying resentment felt by true country folk when unnatural restrictions are imposed upon them and their traditional occupations and recreations. They may be slow to wrath but, once roused, united, and determined, they have the power to bring any government to its knees very quickly.
Think of the effect on the denizens of towns and cities should the country's commercial arteries and access roads be blocked up by flocks of sheep, overturned trailers laden with bales of straw, convocations of tractors, spillages of liquid manure, and other unsubtle exhibitions of human ingenuity. How long would it be before the supermarkets ran out of edible produce? And once such a genie had been let out of the bottle, how long would it take before the inevitable enmity between the warring cultural groups in society had died down again? How long have the British Isles been bedevilled by the 'Irish Question'?
My object in drawing attention to these possibilities is not to further frighten people who feel all-too-insecure already. It is to stress the importance for government of adopting liberal (with a small 'l') policies that will restore some measure of personal liberty, lessen the tension, and make open conflict less likely. Such policies must start with the realisation that townies depend upon country folk for their food and water. Money, to which townies attach so much importance, is of little use when the necessities of life cannot be bought. For the sake of enlightened self-interest, if nothing else, the townies must remain friends of the country folk. MPs representing townie constituencies would do well to bear that fact constantly in mind.
If the ABC of New Labour means only Abolish, Ban and Criminalise, it is a pretty clear indication that its vision of the spirit world has departed. Everyone in any form of government would do well to meditate deeply upon the quotation at the head of this essay and refrain from using the law to impose the spurious morality of one section of the population upon another.