Once again, here's a startling piece by Theodore Dalyrimple, the one conservative who should be required reading for all liberals. This one is also worth reading because it contains an excellent analysis of Anthony Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange. Dalyrimple aptly notes:
"Clockwork Orange remains a novel of immense power. Linguistically inventive, socially prophetic, and philosophically profound, it comes very close to being a work of genius."
How right he is.
I think it's amusing that Burgess was a schoolteacher; lucky myself not to have taught any droogs. Dalryimple contends that Burgess: "sensed a stirring of revolt among the youth of his country and elsewhere in the West, a revolt with which—as a deeply unconventional man who felt himself to be an outsider however wealthy or famous he became, and who drank deep at the well of resentment as well as of spirituous liquors—he felt some sympathy and might even have helped in a small way to foment. And yet, as a man who was also deeply steeped in literary culture and tradition, he understood the importance of the shift of cultural authority from the old to the young and was very far from sanguine about its effects. He thought that the shift would lead to a hell on earth and the destruction of all that he valued."
Was the lapsed Catholic really so gloomy? In the Britich version of the novel, the Ludovico Technique, a Skinneresque behavioral modification approach, fails miserably, of course. But Alex does outgrow his violent ways, bringing to mind the often startling difference between a boy at 19 and a man at 25. Again, I think Dalyrimple might go too far in universalizing what he has seen as a prison social worker.
But, I don't know if he's wrong, and I think that is usually the strength of his writing. Is it as bad as all of this? "It would not have surprised Burgess that magazines for ten- or 11-year-old girls are now full of advice about how to make themselves sexually attractive, that girls of six or seven are dressed by their single mothers in costumes redolent of prostitution, or that there has been a compression of generations, so that friendships are possible between 14- and 26-year-olds. The precocity necessary to avoid humiliation by peers prevents young people from maturing further and leaves them in a state of petrified adolescence. Persuaded that they already know all that is necessary, they are disabused about everything, for fear of appearing naive. With no deeper interests, they are prey to gusts of hysterical and childish enthusiasm; only increasingly extreme sensation can arouse them from their mental torpor. Hence the epidemic of self-destructiveness that has followed in the wake of the youth culture."
Dalryimple's central claim is that we live in a society in which values have been so inverted that young people are considered to have a wisdom that adults lack, and not vice-versa. And, sure enough, I often find that my student's are trying to educate me. "Mr. TA, you just have to accept the fact that some people are just not going to read, and you have to figure out how to teach us this stuff some other way." Of course, I ignore this. But I wonder if this sort of laying down the rules for the old-timers isn't just accepted everywhere else. Certainly, the university does spew its share of "You tell us how you should be taught" bullshit. Pop culture is similarly obsequious to whichever kids who will buy, buy, buy. Parents worry about being "cool" because they haven't the time to be parents. Even among conservative talk show hosts there seems to be an attitude that: "Those farty old eggheads don't know anything. Come on! Let's have a therapeutic religion, therapeutic patriotism, and a therapeutic war, and tell them to blow it out their ass!" Again, it's the conviction that there's no more genuine expression than a loud belch in a public place.
I think Dalyrimple is correct that young people are sort of floating, cut off from anything ordering or elevating in their lives. But, I think, far from being droogs, many of them are simply profoundly boring people, more ready to shop for more clothes than cut someone's throat. I tend to ascribe to J.G. Ballard's even gloomier belief than Burgess's that the future will be incredibly boring, punctuated by the occasional meaningless act of violence.
More somnabulant than ultraviolent.