History should change people

History should change people

Tatiana is Karla’s deranged daughter in Smiley’s people. Like many who are thought to be unbalanced she comes out with profound thoughts now and then. Her observation that “it is the task of history to change people” is indeed something to ponder. History changed humans for sure and yet we seem to be slow to learn some of the fundamental rules of life from it. Perhaps the most important of these is that all rules should be questioned.

Our annual pause to remember those who died in hostilities makes us also think about the possibility and threat of future wars. As things stand they will either be non-nuclear battles of a largely territorial or religious nature or a nuclear holocaust destroying much of the species and maybe large parts of the planet. How can we even contemplate such a possibility? We have so much history of the relative ease of knocking down versus the painstaking sweat of building, that further annihilation of people or property seems unthinkable.

Has history taught us nothing about creation and destruction?

It seems as if rather the reverse has happened. We have brought up – and continue to raise – generations of children to glorify killing. We have even made games of it. “How many characters can you kill in a minute?” appears to be the entertainment of preference when it ought to be “How many beautiful pictures can you create in an hour?” In modern drama the criteria for success is how often the F word can be spoken – or, better still, shouted – rather than can we develop the language with words that enrich even as they describe?

Children understand the realities of the world very young because of the internet but the old sayings about the importance of the first few years still hold true. Our archives of the past can be used to create thrilling stories without making them grotesque and without glorifying acts of desecration and lewdness. Parents, teachers and the media all have a responsibility to change the present trend. Governments have a responsibility to create the conditions in which they can do so.

The suggestion that such discipline would restrict freedom is laughable when your mobile phone feeds back to a central Big Brother where you are, what you are doing and how often you sneeze. We are already significantly controlled by techies, let that control produce better not worse human beings. The manipulation foreshadowed by Orwell when he published his dystopian novel “1984” in 1949 now seems a far cry from the personal invasion that has taken place in the last twenty years. We accept that invasion in the interests of knowledge.

It is time we accepted some invasion of privacy designed to steer our heirs and assigns towards a higher common factor of purposeful and meaningful lives rather than let the myth of ‘wealth happiness now’ reduce the race to a lower common denominator of dirt. We do no service by spoiling children and young people. More than 30 years ago my No 1 son thanked me for letting my children fall over, graze their knees, get into scrapes. His gratitude was based on his and his siblings ability to stand on their own feet. I am deeply thankful that my grandchildren all reflect upbringings based on the same philosophy.

The issues today are different. Inevitably parents have less influence over their offspring. Availability of knowledge and access to news and entertainment ensure that. That is why those who control the well of information, from Facebook to Google and beyond, must start to behave in some measure like good parents.

We should cherish freedom to create that which enhances life but not freedom to develop that which desecrates it. If we can produce artificial intelligence that will soon be as sensitive as a human being we can also control the proper use of our new-found resources.

Not to do so is not only an act of suicide. It is also an act of murder.