At last I understood that the way over, or through this dilemma, the unease at writing about 'petty personal problems' was to recognize that nothing is personal, in the sense that it is uniquely one's own. Writing about oneself, one is writing about others, since your problems, pains, pleasures, emotions""and your extraordinary and remarkable ideas""can't be yours alone. [...] Growing up is after all only the understanding that one's unique and incredible experience is what everyone shares.
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All political movements are like this -- we are in the right, everyone else is in the wrong. The people on our own side who disagree with us are heretics, and they start becoming enemies. With it comes an absolute conviction of your own moral superiority. There's oversimplification in everything, and a terror of flexibility.
So a war begins. Into a peace-time life, comes an announcement, a threat. A bomb drops somewhere, potential traitors are whisked off quietly to prison. And for some time, days, months, a year perhaps, life has a peace-time quality, into which war-like events intrude. But when a war has been going on for a long time, life is all war, every event has the quality of war, nothing of peace remains.
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Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: "You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do."
Often the mass emotions are those which seem the noblest, best and most beautiful. And yet, inside a year, five years, a decade, five decades, people will be asking, "How could you have believed that?" because events will have taken place that will have banished the said mass emotions to the dustbin of history.
[The Golden Notebook] was not a trumpet for Women's Liberation. It described many female emotions of aggression, hostility, resentment. It put them into print. Apparently what many women were thinking, feeling, experiencing, came as a great surprise. Instantly a lot of very ancient weapons were unleashed, the main ones, as usual, being on the theme of "She is unfeminine", "She is a man-hater".
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But it isn't only the terror everywhere, and the fear of being conscious of it, that freezes people. It's more than that. People know they are in a society dead or dying. They are refusing emotion because at the end of very emotion are property, money, power. They work and despise their work, and so freeze themselves. They love but know that it's a half- love or a twisted love, and so they freeze themselves.
It has become a kind of religion that you can't criticise because then you become a traitor to the great cause, which I am not. It is time we began to ask who are these women who continually rubbish men. The most stupid, ill-educated and nasty woman can rubbish the nicest, kindest and most intelligent man and no one protests ... Men seem to be so cowed that they can't fight back, and it is time they did.
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A foolhardy lot, we accepted it all, as we always do, never asked: "What is going to happen to us now, with this invention of print?" In the same way, we never thought to ask, "How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by the internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that, once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc?
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Mostly getting old is boring. I hate the stiffness in the bones. I was physically arrogant for years. I don't like it now that I have difficulty getting around. But a certain equanimity sets in, a certain detachment. Things seem less desperately important than they once did, and that's a pleasure.
Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: 'You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself - educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.
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As in the political sphere, the child is taught that he is free, a democrat, with a free will and a free mind, lives in a free country, makes his own decisions. At the same time he is a prisoner of the assumptions and dogmas of his time, which he does not question, because he has never been told they exist. By the time a young person has reached the age when he has to choose (we still take it for granted that a choice is inevitable) between the arts and the sciences, he often chooses the arts because he feels that here is humanity, freedom, choice. He does not know that he is already moulded by a system: he does not know that the choice itself is the result of a false dichotomy rooted in the heart of our culture. Those who do sense this, and who don't wish to subject themselves to further moulding, tend to leave, in a half-unconscious, instinctive attempt to find work where they won't be divided against themselves. With all our institutions, from the police force to academia, from medicine to politics, we give little attention to the people who leave-that process of elimination that goes on all the time and which excludes, very early, those likely to be original and reforming, leaving those attracted to a thing because that is what they are already like. A young policeman leaves the Force saying he doesn't like what he has to do. A young teacher leaves teaching, here idealism snubbed. This social mechanism goes almost unnoticed-yet it is as powerful as any in keeping our institutions rigid and oppressive.
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But there is no doubt that to attempt a novel of ideas is to give oneself a handicap: the parochialism of our culture is intense. For instance, decade after decade bright young men and women emerge from their universities able to say proudly: 'Of course I know nothing about German literature.' It is the mode. The Victorians knew everything about German literature, but were able with a clear conscience not to know much about the French.
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A public library is the most democratic thing in the world. What can be found there has undone dictators and tyrants: demagogues can persecute writers and tell them what to write as much as they like, but they cannot vanish what has been written in the past, though they try often enough... People who love literature have at least part of their minds immune from indoctrination. If you read, you can learn to think for yourself.
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[... ] students should be told that an effort is always required, when you start to read a serious author, to overcome mental laziness and reluctance, because you are about to enter the mind of someone who thinks differently from yourself. And that is the whole point and the only point: the literary treasure-house has many mansions.