Back in 1972, a historical drama series was made for British television. Filling a Sunday teatime slot, it was family viewing. It was set against the background of the 1685 rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth against the rule of James II in England. Monmouth’s rising became known in retrospect as the “pitchfork rebellion.” Much of his army were ill-equipped Somerset peasant farmers, they hadn’t a hope when faced with the army of King James at the Battle of Sedgemoor on 6th July 1685 and hundred were cut down. The battle was followed by the “Bloody Assizes” of Judge Jeffreys, in which more than 300 of Monmouth’s ragged band were condemned to death. The television series The Pretenders came as a shock to an eleven year old who had grown up on Disney stories and commando comics. For the first time there was a realisation that the good guys didn’t always win.
The series came to mind in discussions with a colleague who said to complain about something. “What’s the point of complaining?”
“So that someone will do something about it”.
“I don’t know. Someone.”
It is a familiar conversation. Most people believe that when something is not right, there should be someone there who will do something to put things right.
There has developed a mindset that there should be some government agency or statutory body to deal with every grievance. RTE Radio 1 fills airtime every lunchtime with people phoning in about wrongs and injustices. Joe Duffy, the presenter of the lunchtime Liveline programme, fields a stream of calls with a Job-like patience and a Solomon-like wisdom.
Yet there will always be a wide spectrum of human experience where unfairness and injustice are simply the order of the day. There is a fundamental inequality in the order of things – otherwise why would we not have all the same physical attributes and mental capabilities?
The old catechism, which was taught to Anglican young people for centuries, had about it a feeling of stoicism. There was a mood that whatever came along was the way things were and not to expect any fairness. One’s duty towards one’s neighbour included:
To be true and just in all my dealing: To bear no malice nor hatred in my heart: To keep my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue from evilspeaking, lying, and slandering: To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity: Not to covet nor desire other men’s goods; but to learn and labour truly to get mine own living, and to do my duty in that state of life, unto which it shall please God to call me.
No suggestion there that the good guys were going to win. No suggestion that complaining was going to change anything. No suggestion that anyone could be called upon other than oneself.
In an unfair world, the old catechism was perhaps not such a bad philosophy of life.