Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Chaos and anarchy

'Once you remove cultural restraints you have chaos and anarchy.' A quote from Prince Kassim of the royal house of Buganda in V S Naipaul's The Masque of Africa, subtitled Glimpses of African Belief'. This is peculiarly appropriate reading, in light of the recent riots and looting south of the border in England. The book has been wrongly criticised for making modern Africa look foolish and superstition-ridden. On the contrary, it is a subtle and penetrating account of what has happened to a society faced with similar challenges to our own. Reviewers failed to see this application near to home. Kassim continues: 'People put under this will do anything ...They will do anything and at the same time they want the technological advances of the world. The race for these technological advances has replaced culture'. Moffat Book Events today is sitting down to explore the practical modalities of involvement with an international conference being planned for next Sept 2012, on the interface of our secular society with the positive side of our Christian heritage. At a recent family wedding I attended in New York, the young couple had invented the ceremony in consultation with a friend authorised to conduct weddings. After the ceremony I fell into conversation with friends of the bride, and was musing about the absence of any reference to a greater power such as God, to which the husband replied: well, there's family. A propos, I have discovered Julian Fellowes' TV series addictive Downton Abbey which I had been avoiding until now, and worked my way yesterday through all 3 DVD discs of the first series. The story concerns both a literal family, - people related by marriage and birth - and a virtual family, which is their household and village. The first series examines the social changes affecting a landed estate in the years immediately before WWI, and how various members meet the challenges of events including death, love, duty and betrayal. The law is rarely invoked; issues such as petty theft and bullying are dealt with by consent, authority is exercised by people such as the butler and the owner ('custodian' as he prefers to describe himself) of the estate. But the force of the series is that it is not merely a delightful escape; like my other favourites Murder, She Wrote and Miss Marple, it faithfully reveals how beneath the beautiful facade - and the vision - of an orderly, paternalistic society seethe the recurrent 'worms i the bud': the envious troublemakers, the human frailties - pride, vanity, sibling rivalry, lust and revenge.

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