In light of recent events, this passage from John Berger’s A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor, has been playing over and over in my mind. Quoting it in full probably doesn’t count as fair use, so if everyone could do me a favour and buy the book I’d feel I had done my bit. Plus, it’s a truly great book.
“There are large sections of the English working and middle class who are inarticulate as the result of wholesale cultural deprivation. They are deprived of the means of translating what they know into thoughts which they can think. They have no examples to follow in which words clarify experience. Their spoken, proverbial traditions have long been destroyed: and, although they are literate in the strictly technical sense, they have not had the opportunity of discovering the tradition of a written cultural heritage.
“Yet it is more than a question of literature. Any general culture acts as a mirror which enables the individual to recognize himself – or at least recognize those parts of himself which are socially permissible. The culturally deprived have far fewer ways of recognizing themselves. A great deal of their experience – especially emotional and introspective experience – remains unnamed for them. Their chief means of self-expression is consequently through action …
“The easiest – and sometimes only possible – form of conversation is that which concerns or describes action. It is then not the experience of the speakers which is discussed, but the nature of an entirely exterior mechanism or event – a motor-car engine, a football match, a draining system or the workings of some committee. Such subjects, which preclude anything directly personal, supply the content of most of the conversations being carried on by men over twenty-five in England today.”
Much to think about.