My middle son doesn’t share breakfast with us during the week. He gets up at six and feeds himself. He has, however, agreed that at weekends we are to be regaled with a little of his time. Today, being Saturday, was one such occasion. It was a nice family moment which the older your children, the less frequently you enjoy.
At one point in the meal, carefully laid by myself and my wife with appropriately Christmassy-themed plates, cutlery and assorted items, he brought a 4-pint plastic bottle of milk to the table. We raised our hands in horror. He couldn’t see what he was doing wrong. As he wants to be a film director later in life, I asked him whether in the making of a film how he presented the content wouldn’t matter and be important. He said of course – but that would be a job with the reward of money behind it. There would therefore be a reason to take care of the hows and wherefores. Here, meanwhile, there was none of the above: what did it matter whether a plastic bottle or a beautiful jug was brought to the table or not?
I wonder if such attitudes don’t have an explanation. This, after all, is the generation of McDonald’s: a place where you are taught (if teaching were necessary) to eat with your fingers and without knives, forks or plates – and yet, simultaneously, clear up after yourself! What a contradictory set of lessons and messages our powerful corporates are able to transmit.
No wonder my son is confused about etiquette.
In a sense, so much of modern corporate education – for that is how I would describe what they spend so much time, money and effort on communicating – is designed to bring us closer to our forebears: from eating with our hands, on the hoof and as quickly as possible to only doing stuff for ourselves and others because there exists a reward of some kind behind the acts in question … well, it’s clear that something retrograde is happening here.
If anything defines what’s happening to the nations that currently compose the United Kingdom, it’s this generational conflict – this misunderstanding even – between these “before” and “after” moments: on the one hand, sensible British socialists as manifested by the NHS, Legal Aid, free education and the rule of an egalitarian law; on the other, unconscious children of the corporates.
The latter savvy, it is true, in their ability to read and absorb the meaning of the content faster than any of the rest of us – but perhaps without enough distance from the ideologies that underpin its transmission.
We feel we see it all clearly – and so we find it difficult to enjoy; meanwhile, they simply do and act – and so find it so difficult to question. Their futures are so very bound up in the structures we as failing adults criticise. In a sense, therefore, it’s understandable that they should wish to participate in what’s on offer. Our working lives are coming to an end whilst theirs are only just starting. If we cannot deliver the Jerusalem of educated altruism that we so fiercely attempted to build our postwar society on, how can they possibly continue to believe in anything but a return to the caves of yore?
Cameron is not a bad man, in himself. He is simply an enabler of a change of generations. He is continuing the work that Blair did before him. And whoever comes afterwards will not be able to stem the tide of conditional behaviours that dominate our societies.
We came from the caves, we created a society which strove to retreat from them – and now, in a matter of fifty years, it would seem that our children will return.
And what shall we call it – when the dust has gone and settled?
Whatever the label, we will shortly be in a position to understand exactly why McDonald’s – and those who like to follow their star – are bringing us all much closer to the caves we once escaped from.