Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Decency Makes A Difference

Yesterday I had coffee with Cath, and I brought up (once again) the subject of The Girl Who Spat On My Hair. Really, I still can barely believe it happened. There I was on the bus, not saying a word in any accent whatsoever, not wearing anything particularly noticeable, and a girl in her teens, sitting directly behind me, spat in my hair.

Now this was, of course, the Rough Bus, and the girl did, of course, get out in a neighbourhood notorious for povertycrimedrugabuseteenpregnancy. But--how do I put this--she was Scottish. Since when do Scottish teenagers spit on adult women, eh? When half-Scottish I was her age, I could barely SEE older women on the bus, unless they were pregnant, and then I gave up my seat.

So I go about asking Scottish people how this incident might have come about. First I asked my husband, who suggested that I previously had a romantic view of poor Scottish girls. Then I asked the son of a labour organiser, who suggested that it was a result of the collapse of heavy industry. And then I consulted Cath, suggesting that it might have come as a result of the loss of religion, and Cath agreed. And whatever the reason, we decided, moral degredation was the result.

The problem with private behaviour is that it so rarely is, or remains, private. Unless you're a hermit, what you do affects everyone else. If you snigger and sneer at chastity as a bourgeois value, then simple people, those who have the most to lose by unchastity, are going to start devaluing chastity, too. And apparently the girls who are most likely to submit to underage sex are girls whose friends have already submitted to underage sex.

Yesterday the story of a poor Scottish child appeared in the Daily Mail. She got pregnant at the age of 11, after a booze-fuelled consensual romp with a boy. She gave birth at 12, and both she and her infant were taken into care.

Authorities decided that the baby would be better off with a married adult couple, and now, age 16, the child-mother would like access to the baby. She swears she's off booze and drugs--well, drugs, anyway. Still a bit of booze. No mention if she's off romps with boys. Pardon me if, having read her interview, I suspect that she is still not a particularly fit influence for a four year old girl. The one thing I can say for her is at least she had the moral gumption not to have the baby killed before she was born. And having an adoptive mum and dad means baby is likely to have a better childhood than the birth mother did.

This is where my husband would observe that this story could very well have been the story of a poor Scottish girl in any decade going back to 1790. But before 1960 (the collapse of heavy industry, the breaking of the Scottish Sabbath), most girls in Scotland were taught that premarital sex, drug-taking and boozing would make them unhappy. These activities were not held out to them as glamorous pursuits. They were described as sure routes to hell, both literally and figuratively. A self-protecting society frowned.

Now society smiles indulgently but finds its hospital wards packed with dangerous people out of their minds on drink and drugs every Friday and Saturday night. In some communities, more babies are born out of wedlock than in, which means that increasing numbers of children never know the absolute security of going to sleep as their father and mother companionably watch telly together. And increasing numbers of teens and adults have their hearts broken because they think A) sex is a just a bit of a laugh or B) "a piece of paper won't make us love each other more than we do." No wonder so many turn to drink and drugs.

So I am feeling particularly fond today of Single people who do not get drunk or drug or have sex. Drinking, drugging and having sex are all fun things, but legions of decent people eschew these pleasures for the greater values of sobriety and chastity, values that nourish society. In addition, I am also feeling fond of people who sit up straight, who dress with dignity, who keep their voices down on the bus so as not to disturb others, who do not spit in public and who watch their children like hawks, to make sure that they will grow up as decent people.

Cath and I were giggling over some American neo-Calvinist who is trying to promote Calvinism as cool.

"Cool is the problem," I said. "Christians should be against cool. We should be decent, dull and buttoned-up to the neck."

Death to cool. Long live decency!


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theobromophile said...

Seraphic - sometimes, your posts come at just the right time. Today is one of those days (the "Why, in heaven's name, do I even bother" days), so thank you! :)

So I am feeling particularly fond today of Single people who do not get drunk or drug or have sex.

As you know, the Single life often feels rather devoid of dignity (at least in our society) - going to formal functions by oneself, living with one's parents or with roommates, not being treated as a grown-up no matter how old you are, etc.

A lot of us just don't want to compound that unavoidable indignity with the avoidable indignities of being drunk (as distinguished from having a glass of wine with dinner), doing drugs, sleeping around, etc. I would love to say that it's for the greater social good or for long-term benefits, but sometimes, it's just about not wanting to be "that girl" who is making a muck out of herself that evening.

Seraphic said...

I do understand about not being treated as a grown-up. As a Single, one doesn't really FEEL like a grown-up much of the time either, in part because one doesn't have children around demanding that one be THE grown-up. I don't always feel grown-up myself, but I feel more of one when I am not in Canada but in Scotland where I have to do laundry and actually cook instead of my mother doing it, boo.

I'm glad the post was helpful. Civilisation (and civilization) depends on men and women not wanting to make a muck of themselves any evening.

Virtue may be its own reward for the virtuous, but it is also good for society as a whole, of which I am a part, so thank you.

Alisha said...

Since Christianity is truly both/and at its heart, we should live decency so freely and beautifully that people will see in it its intrinsic coolness.

fifi said...

I agree with theobromophile, it's nice to hear; and Seraphic, the single people who don't booze/drug/sleep around are fond of you too!

Do you mean to imply that marriage actually DOES make you finally feel like a grownup? And having kids does too? Honestly, this may be the most tantalizing perk of marriage I have heard in a very long time. Darn! Just when I was getting all happy and content with single blessedness, too!

I never feel like a grownup... having just gone through the job interview/new hire and car-buying process I hate having to know how to do and worry about "grownup" things like insurance and mortgages and that. I always feel like the most gigantic sham, and like someone will see through me easily and discover my callow inexperience.

Of course, I also cringe when I go to a party with the home folks and am once again my mother's daughter rather than an adult with a degree who can think for herself. Man, you just can't win, can you? ;P

cath said...

I'm not exactly sure of the cause and effect relationship here - do people lose religion and then sink into Moral Degradation, or do people lose religion because their tastes have changed? Whether religion in the sense of personal piety or the external/cultural society-wide structures of organised religion.

Also meant to add at the time that there's more to the story of the housing schemes than might be apparent - many of these schemes are a standing testimony to a terrible social dislocation, when people were moved from their existing neighbourhoods to go and populate these new builds. Possibly their previous housing had indeed been the just target of demolition programmes, but suddenly people could find themselves on the opposite side of the city to the rest of their family, or their family scattered all over the place. That must have taken its toll too, and it would be much more recent than the collapse of heavy industry.

There's an extremely interesting book called The Death of Christian Britain, written by Callum J Brown in I suppose the 90s, which argues that secularisation in Britain/Scotland was not the long drawn out process often envisaged but that the 1960s saw a sudden, dramatic abandonment of national religion and a catastrophic decline in religious affiliation/ religiously inspired behaviour. Whether he offers anything to account for this I can't remember offhand, but it's a very thoughtful/thought-provoking book.

Either way, although it's obviously not entirely unmitigated, Scotland is a mess.

Seraphic said...

Alisha, I have a problem with the whole concept of "cool."

The "cool" is not the "good". When a little boy shrieks "Cool!" upon seeing a human head blow up in a particularly vivid way in a video game, he is not saying (or not just saying), "What a masterly advance in the art of the video game; it looks so real." He is saying, "I am excited by the viciousness and violence of what I have just seen."

"Cool" includes the very bad, and always has. It pimps for the glamour of evil.

Fifi, believe me I am a kid when I go home, too. That will always, always happen, but I like it. I assume I like it, though, because of the power of my Inner Child.

These are my favourite grown-up moments:
1. I cash a cheque I earned.
2. I pay a bill for something I acquired.
3. I offer to do a selfless thing.
4. I am addressed as Mrs. McAmbrose.
5. I tell either my mum or dad when they are in the wrong re: me. (How scary!)

I think Single people would feel more like grown-ups (when they don't) if strangers would address them as Miss and Mr So-and-so instead of by their names, like children. I am sure teachers and professors must feel like grown-ups because they get a chorus of just-for-adults respect, no matter how begrudging, e.g. "I hate you, Sir."

Cath, very interesting although in North America people move away from their families ALL THE TIME without a demoralizing loss of identity, etc. Even immigrants, whose families are on the other side of the world, tend just to dig in and flourish (unless the cultural problems they bring with the are inimical to flourishing).

I agree, though, that a breakdown in social cohesion must take its toll. The sufferings of impoverished indigenous people are often linked to the loss of their religious and cultural traditions. I don't see why the Scots would be any different than contemporary Plains Indians (for example) in this regard.

I hope Scottish children are being taught that their history is GLORIOUS and not that that Scots were just the equally sinful white supremicist-colonial lackeys of the English. Otherwise, no wonder they shoot up and spit in my hair, etc.

Amusingly, BBC Scotland claimed last night that they had done an interview with a Scot who had been in the Aid-to-Hamas flotilla.

I was all agog, but all they did was show a Middle-Eastern guy in a modern sitting room in Glasgow (although it could have been in Toronto or anywhere) speaking in a foreign language on his phone. He spoke English with an almost impenetrable non-Scottish accent. If that guy is a Scot, what the hell does Scottish mean anymore? For example, am I a Scot just because I live in East Lothian? Or do I need a British passport? Is an Englishman born in London a Scot just because he lives in Moray Place? And if he isn't, how is does Mr. Hamas-supporter on the telly have any right to the name?

cath said...

Sorry: not moving away from families, as some sort of natural growing up process, but people being moved out of their original localities/neighbourhoods because the housing was so atrocious, into new schemes which had the benefit of, I don't know, wallpaper and an indoors toilet, but people found themselves living among complete strangers and in architecture which has become a byword for misery. A social engineering experiment with appalling consequences. If you go to the People's Museum on the Royal Mile (or whatever it's called) i think it tells the story there. It was the same in Glasgow.

"Intrinsic cool" would be fine for me if cool = good, dignified, having moral fibre ... It generally doesn't, though - Christianity has almost always been in the most trouble just when it is least discomfiting to the non-Christian world-outside-the-Church. Cool Christianity is tame, precisely because in becoming cool it makes itself untroubling to the non-Christian conscience.

Seraphic said...

I agree that the destruction of the slums was, in hindsight, a socially lousy idea. The government of Nova Scotia tore down a ghastly slum called "Africville", where Canada's oldest black community (descendents of 18th/19th century freed and run-away slaves) resided. It was very unhappy with where it was resettled and has demanded restitution.

My feeling is that every Scottish neighbourhood needs a church and a pub for the sake of social cohesion. The gov't should fund a Church of Scotland preacher to go in and preach every Sunday, no matter how empty the church is. The idea of planning a new neighbourhood in Scotland with no pub and no C of S church is appalling to me. (See how ecumenical I am.)

As for cool, I believe that the "law of the cross" is that in a fallen world, the more faithful you are to God, the more likely you are to end up crucified. I think that's what my prof said.

We're not supposed to TRY to get ourselves crucified, but I suspect that one is not living one's life as a faithful Christian as well as one can unless one is seriously annoying people. And it isn't really hard these days to annoy people by being a Christian and just stating Christian beliefs. I dare you to read the Shorter Westminster Catechism aloud in Nicholson Square. I DARE you. [;-)]

cath said...

Only if you film me, so we'll have evidence when we end up in court :o)

Seraphic said...

B.A. fear open-air evangelism no longer works and only puts Scots off. We will have to think of something else. Radio, perhaps? Or a Scots television station?

Er, blogs?

cath said...

True. The days of the sermon on the Mound are probably over.

theobromophile said...

On the "feeling like an adult" thing:

I do not feel like an adult when it is my parents, not a husband, whom I call in one of those emergencies that family members help out in.

I do not feel like an adult when it is my parents to whom I turn for help when struggling to find a job.

I do not feel like an adult when I spend holidays and birthdays with only my parents, as I did when I was a kid.

Sure, I always cook my own meals (which I have since I was 17 and became a vegetarian) and do my own laundry (my dad, not my stepmum, does the laundry chez Phile, and I just cannot fork over my bras and underthings to my dad to wash), but there's still that feeling in being in a state of suspended animation, somewhere between being a kid and an adult.

On a side note, Seraphic, I seem to recall that you have a very conservative, sweet, brilliant atheist friend who was (is still?) struggling to find a compatible woman. A friend of one of my friends (who is in Georgia, not Boston, sadly) is looking for a conservative, pro-life, non-religious man. Thoughts?

Seraphic said...

Theobrom, I do have a super-Republican, sweet & brilliant atheist friend, but I have no idea how I would approach him with the suggestion that he contact the Georgia friend of a friend of a Massachusetts reader of mine.

Occasionally he used to trawl Republican dating sites. If your friend's friend put a profile up on a Republican dating site and said exactly what you just did, she might run across him.

Amusingly, the American Republican Party and the American Democratic Party are themselves like religions, with their own popes, and their own saints, and definitely their own allegiances and difficulties with interfaith marriage.