Sunday 14 August 2011

Disaffected Youth - Some Utopian Remedies

Instead of importing police specialists on gang culture from the United States, perhaps the government might consider adopting some local practices from the utopian literary tradition. Of course, you don’t, by definition, get disaffected youth in utopia, but even in these perfect societies there is sometimes an awareness that the high spirits and coursing hormones of young people are going to need some form of creative physical outlet (apart from just sex, that is).

So short of a socialist revolution, which I don’t think we are going to get any time soon, how about such lesser measures as:

Working for two years on the land, as everybody at some point in their careers has to do in Thomas More’s Utopia. They thus get to understand agriculture, perhaps develop a more empathic relationship with Nature as they do so, and, from our own perspective, might helpfully burn off a good deal of excess physical energy in the process.

Strenuous rock-climbing as in Aldous Huxley’s Island, where this is consciously practised as an initiation rite for young people (even though it leads to occasional fatalities). The utopians thrive on the sense of physical challenge and develop an acute sense of responsibility both for themselves and for the rest of the team with which they are climbing.

‘War games’ as – very controversially – in Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia (where he only lets men participate, but we’ll include women too). Teams of young people get semi-drunk, do some ceremonial chanting, put on their totemically decorated costumes, and then fight it out with spears till someone is seriously wounded (in this case, the narrator William Weston).

Sensuously creative physical labour with one’s hands is the central utopian practice in Morris’s News from Nowhere, but we might also note such tougher manual exercises as ‘trying how much pick-work you can get into an hour’ when you are road-mending (ch.VII). Thus the muscle-bound Dick Hammond, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of Morris’s utopia, works off those physical energies of which Huxley, in particular, is very wary.

Plenty of other ideas elsewhere, including Charles Fourier’s masterstroke of letting children collect the rubbish because they so enjoy getting mucky. But since I can’t see Cameron and co. paying any attention to what utopia has to say on all this, I think I’ll stop here.

1 comment:

Tony Pinkney said...

My former MA student Chrissie Gladwin has drawn my attention to this apt African proverb: "If the young are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth". Thanks, Chrissie.