I seem to have had a quiet life. Yes, it began with deciding the proximity of the next Nazi bomb through the tune of its whistle or seeing how many doodlebugs I could count in a day. Then 10 years of a Jesuit education, a long marriage, a 40-year career, and some 23 descendants.
But as I pick up my newspaper each morning I get a renewed sense that the world is changing at a tremendous pace. I can’t give you a list of possible changes because that would take up the whole of this magazine. So I just mention a few which stick in my mind.
Government has changed. In the old days in Britain we switched between Labour and Conservative. But the differences were not great. So Labour would pull things a little to the left and the Conservatives to the right. Now – and I’m not going to use the B word – our democracy seems to have crash-landed.
It would appear that it only works effectively if we all have roughly similar principles, including the tolerance of those who disagree. Can we rescue it or are we going to end up like the tinpot republics running around to catch their tails?
Of course, the internet, and the multiplicity of computers, have been a huge factor – followed by the smartphone.
The benefits are substantial, but we have reached a stage where it is assumed that everyone is similarly equipped. My bank was quite put out to discover that I use no mobile phone. This is apparently needed to avoid scams. And that in itself relates to change: for most of my life I have never faced real crime. (Except for one serious threat of assassination some years ago. This came to me in a detailed email sufficiently plausible for me to call in the police. I never discovered the author or the reason.) Nowadays I deal with several attempts each month by criminals who try to swindle me.
Of course I am a sinner: I had five children, and nowadays that would be regarded as an irresponsible contribution to global warming. Indeed, poor British families receiving Universal Credit can only claim benefit for two children. This limit came into force for children born since April 2017. Clearly, having a third child is now a sin against the state, if not yet actually illegal. However, the average number of births per woman required to replace the UK population is 2.1. It now stands at 1.7 – down from 1.76 in 2017. Meanwhile, the longevity of the old continues to increase.
This failure of replacement has already had damaging effects, both social and financial, in Japan – and in due course it will hit us too.
Once upon a time I lived in a country which regarded abortion as a crime. Its fans today argue their case is a matter of “human rights”. And it is indeed a matter of human rights: the most obvious precedent for removing the human rights for an identifiable group of individual human beings was the Nazi government; presumably they were protecting the “human right” not to have Jews in the population.
LGBT? There have always been some people whose gender has not been fully clear. Such people were in the greatest need of sympathetic support. Ranges of characteristics were used to establish which gender was most appropriate. Now it has become a matter of choice. This would be simply comical, if there were not distressed people who are genuinely anxious about their ambivalent condition.
Decades ago, when I ran courses for engaged couples, we were looking at the menopause. When we asked the couples if they knew of anyone suffering from this, the only hand that went up was that of our chaplain. It turned out to be his housekeeper. This, in fact, is a serious condition, so congratulations for those who have an answer to it. It is, I read, to take and store ovarian tissue from young women. When they hit the menopause these tissues can be reinserted, and (bingo!) end of menopause.
The newspapers are delighted: this would be a fundamental benefit in the lives of women – who anyhow suffer quite enough to bring us into the world.
Unfortunately, Melanie Davis, a consultant gynaecologist, tells us that, despite the newspapers’ excitement, this is a complex matter, involving a number of issues, making it unlikely that this will become an effective solution.
But, today, my major concern is not the political decisions which we may hope will be made over the next few weeks. It is my fear that our former balanced democracy will be replaced by political squabbles rather than a stable democracy genuinely focussed on the benefits of the people.