Which of our attitudes will horrify future generations? What blind-spots will show up large and clear for all who follow us to point at in sneering horror?
I thought about this because of the discordant notes I found as I read the pre-war letters of the Mitfords and a couple of light-weight romances about English middle class life in the 1930s by Angela Thirkell. The Mitford letters are in a class of their own and Unity’s breathless descriptions of Hitler are almost beyond comment. But Thirkell shocked on a more banal level, with its casual, almost colloquial anti-semitism (the heroine’s publisher is good at business and has dark hair, legacies of Jewish ancestry), its incidental acceptance of ritualised brutality (a schoolboy who has a toy called “foxy” which is the tail of the fox that blooded him, mounted in to a silver handle), and the assumption that driving a car into a ditch is nothing more than carelessness (perfectly normal because you are drunk or showing off). Oh and the entirely unironic statement that someone was “adored by her servants”. Yeah. Right.
So which of our assumption and norms will chime as discordantly on our offspring’s ears?
- Our casual consumerism.
Our economic woes already makes this seem extravagant, it won’t be long before it is in poor taste and finally becomes unfashionable. The question is whether the economy will recover enough before the oil runs out for the indulgences of the previous decade to occur again.
I hope future generations judge as as harshly for buying clothes made in sweatshops, wearing them once and throwing them way, as we judge those who opposed Wilberforce’s campaign to abolish slavery.
- Recreational travel.
The idea that responsible, intelligent people who can see the climate changing before their own eyes would indulge in recreational travel without compunction will, surely, be as abhorrent as … oh fill in your own exploitative and selfish horrors here. And so much business travel is unnecessary that it’s no more than an indulgence.
- Personal transport.
- Plastic cutlery and plastic packaging.
Our hydrocarbon-starved progeny will curse us for taking something as rare and unrenewable as oil and turning it into something indesctructable but used only once, and tossing it away into landfill.
The mines of the future. Hey kids, curse our names, eat our shit.
- Our dual standards around obesity, dieting, size zero and BMIs.
Next time you are in a supermarket, count the magazines by the till that are running two cover splashes, one on the dangers of anorexia or dieting, and the other jibing at some poor famous neurotic’s gain in weight.
- Our hypocricy about the sexualisation of childhood.
Same as above. Newspapers simultaniously run “string-em-up” rants about paedophilias and drooling comments like those about the then 15-year old Charlotte Church’s breasts.
- Our simultanous delight in technology and indulgence in pseudo-science.
My mind’s run out of things to say. Just read any ad for cosmetics or the incomparable Dr Ben Goldacre.
Ach, that’s enough to be going on with.
Incidentally, it isn’t just about when people live it’s also about how they react to their times: Thirkell is particularly insensitive to the darker side of the 1930s but her conteporary Margery Sharp had a much clearer understanding of the social and political nuances of the times she lived in.