Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Henry Ford was wrong

Henry Ford was wrong! History may not have much relevance for industry or commerce which he saw as being about production and profit, but history teaches us lessons which we ignore at our peril.

I have been beside the River Thames this week, just above the great lock at Teddington. This relentless flow of dark water only half-hiding the secrets it keeps, and half reminding us of the past! Old Father Thames it is sometimes called, and like the ancients respected for their wisdom, it has seen so much, forgotten more than we can ever know, there like an icon to cherish and respect.

As I ambled along the towpath with my grandson in the early winter sun, what did I see reflected in the still, slow waters? Bridges, clouds and overhanging trees, each with their meaning or is it interpretation, vision, fantasy or truth? Bridges, symbols of contrasting cultures; clouds and trees of changing times? Or later in the week with the increasingly fast waters of winter as the rains hit the counties around Berkshire, fleeting glimpses of these same shadows but impossible to identify as they were spoilt by wind and wave. Life is like that, sometimes slow and easy to read, at other times a rushing bedlam of incident and accident thrown relentlessly and unforgivingly into the chaos of life.

There are those who pretend to unravel these mysteries, finding patterns of repetition, fate and behaviour in their or our lives; others who finding no pattern to explain the tragedies of life, blame it all on God or man. And others still who see our successes and failures as the natural or inevitable outcome of the life-chances we each inherit. Marx would have some sympathy with this last option … little choice, just the oppressive and given domination of the masses by an elite. It matters not which group we are born to, the elite to rule in largely robust health, the masses to survive for a while at least the vagaries of poverty and oppression, ill-health, unsafe employment, idleness and frequent childbirth.

How did they survive, those who mastered the oppression of the market, slaves of a political creed that was largely British and white and mostly protestant? And where did Adam Smith figure in this history of ours? There are many who writing their observations of 19th or 20th century urbanisation, Marx or Dickens, Descartes or Churchill, who did little more than describe what they saw, their analysis failing to challenge the established mores of society, simply to set them in the stone of eternity, the way that the world was established for ever and a day!

Now Lenin and Mao may have been different for they challenged established but unequal order. They tore down the century old bastions of privilege and power, and in ways which terrorised commitment to the new order, allowing other pillars of the establishment such as Christianity and the Catholic Church to adopt the Marxist theory of social disorder to sanctify its dominance of government and people. The established church was everywhere, different in each country, but everywhere. The French even built the Basilica of Sacre Coeur in penitence for their failures in the Franco-Prussian war, a fine example of the integration of church and state in the common perspectives of an allegedly secular state.

Where have I strayed on this mentally, meandering journey which began with the purchase of a Ford Focus some weeks ago. Ford’s surname, passing into our automobile history, set me thinking about the relative degrees of freedom ….. that I enjoy? … that I appreciate? ….. that I value? ….. that I understand? ….. that are worth fighting for? ….. or whether nothing has changed in one hundred years? Still trapped in the sociological quagmire that is a conurbation of several millions of people, I may dream of liberty, of equality, fraternity, even sisterhood in these politically correct days, but nothing has changed; we are all trapped in the crowds between riches and poverty, in the dreams of improvement and the fears of losing the talents we have.

Christ was right! If we accept the coin of Caesar, we also pay homage to the ethos and edicts of the Czar. Henry Ford was wrong; it’s not history which is bunk but our literal and uncritical reading of the past.