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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Out-takes VI

‘One of the challenges of our time,’ he said without a hint of self-consciousness, ‘is to re-interpret the Ten Commandments.

‘The Ten Commandments are not the Ten Tentative Suggestions. They were given to us at a time when the great Other of traditional society was a necessity. Since we have now internalized the Other we need to objectify the Commandments again for our time. Each of us, in his or her own way, need to define what the Commandments are, and to what extent we are going to allow them to direct our lives.

‘Because we now have Rights as well as Commandments. And if we take as an example the Right to Privacy we have to admit that it is, in fact, a right to commit adultery, in secret, with no one else watching or knowing about it. That is what we and our politicians mean by a Right to Privacy.

‘So what do we do about the Commandment which forbids adultery?

‘Well, we simply re-write it. From our present standpoint adultery is not wrong, especially if it is committed with sincerity and leads to the ultimate goal of self-realization.

‘This is our world.’

13 Responses to “Out-takes VI”

  1. Maxine says:

    Hello John. Is your posting ironic? I think the concept of a modern ten commandments is interesting, but what do you think about the goal of living by them. Can people be “happy”, or internally reconciled with themselves, if they break the commandment you discuss (adultery)? I’d like to debate some issues your provocative and interesting post raises, but you are hiding behind it. What do you think? Is the post you or are the quote marks distancing yourself from what is written?

  2. john baker says:

    I called the piece Out-takes VI because it is actually that, something I wrote some time ago, part of a longer narrative, which for one reason or another (I don’t remember why) didn’t make it into the finished piece. I cut it out. It didn’t fit. I have a number of such pieces and I post, and intend to post, them from time to time. I think it is interesting that pieces like this are cut from the narrative, not because they are badly written, but for one or more of many reasons which have to do with the overall balance of a fragment of writing that has gone on without them.
    But I can see you’re not going to let me get away with that.
    For my part I obey no commandments. I recognize no absolutes. The only constant I see is change.
    ‘Thou shalt not. . .’ is an imposition, allegedly from the mouth of God, given to a small population some two-thousand plus years ago. I don’t believe it has any relevance in our time.
    Instead we have, out of our own consciousness, to learn to live together, to care for our environment and to leave a legacy worth inheriting for our children.

  3. Maxine says:

    Thanks, John. As an editor I too have lots of things on the cutting room floor!

    I suppose I have trouble with this (modern ?)concept of “rights” as opposed to “commandments”, by commandments I mean an “inner moral sense”.
    For example I read in the Times today that a suspected car thief in Gloucester ran away and sat on a roof and began pelting people with rocks. The police supplied him with “Kentucky Fried Chicken, soft drinks and cigarettes” while he was up there because the police said they had a duty to protect his human rights.

    I agree with what you say in your last paragraph in your comment, of course. But how do we achieve this? Children are the victims of people more concerned with rights than doing the right thing, not to mention the values with which those same people bring up their own children.

    I don’t have any answers, but I don’t like the selfishness of what I see a lot of the time when “rights” are being invoked rather than a sense of care for others.

  4. roger says:

    I like the fragmentary feel of this. It gains something too from being denied a context. The reader imagines what it could have been taken from.

    I could see some sort of artwork consisting totally of out takes, perhaps stencilled on to obsolete PCs, winning the Turner Prize. It’s kind of voyeuristic too, for the reader/viewer. We are seeing something we’re not meant to see.

    I keep my out takes in files as well, by the way. But I have never thought of going back to look at them. Most of them are false starts.

  5. john baker says:

    Maxine, your post draws attention to a phenomena which is a real problem in the social life, and for which, I believe, there is no easy answer.
    The modern State seems incapable of distinguishing between freedom and equality and refuses to see that although there are areas of our lives where equality, rights, should always be paramount, there are other areas where equality doesn’t enter the equation, and we are simply free individuals. It is possible to legislate about one and impossible to interfere with the freedom of the other.
    The life of rights is concerned with the social life and should ensure access to food and shelter and justice. But when we try to extend it into the realm of thought or the cultural life, Yeats’s blood-dimmed tide comes into play.
    There is little we can do about this just now. The people who run our world, those people and the institutions which serve them, are actively encouraging the selfishness which you deplore.
    But nothing lasts forever. A time will come around again, when people will be open to different kinds of experiences and will look for a kind of social organization that serves their best interests rather than the jingling insistence of political spin.

  6. john baker says:

    Thanks for your contribution, Roger. Nicely observed points, and I particularly liked the idea about voyeurism – I hadn’t thought about that.
    It’s good that you called in.

  7. crimeficreader says:

    I now have a right under law to break the ten commandments? And Cherie Blair’s a Catholic?
    Er excuse me. Where do we queue to re-write (or complain) about the (moving) values and standards this country has always upheld and fought for?

    I’m not even baptised or christened and yet I hold some historic values true.

    Do I need to be sectioned?

    Please forgive me – I’ve had quite enough of this government and its double standards. My fantasy? Let hype be reality. And, oh yes, I see prescriptions for SSRIs coming…

  8. Divine Calm says:

    There is a murky and forever changing line between self-realization and harming others. I view the line as doing little harm as possible to others while still being true to what you need to be happy.

  9. Maxine says:

    I don’t much like governments and all of that, but I don’t understand why it is the government’s fault (any government) when people behave selfishly, etc.
    I don’t think the government is relevant to my point about inner moral sense vs people’s quick assertion of their own rights, or those police thinking more of the “rights” of the pelter rather than of the people he was pelting.
    Surely an inner sense of morality is independent of who happens to be in goverment?

  10. john baker says:

    I feel as though I’ve been pulled out of my comfort-zone here.
    When we talk about concepts like an inner moral sense it can appear as though there is a concensus as to what that means, but I don’t believe there is. Are we talking about some kind of innate reason here, a kind of spiritual given, the instinctual ability to know good from evil? Or are we talking about conscience (See my post of last month on Huckleberry Finn)?
    In my last post I tried to talk specifically about the State rather than whoever “happens to be in government.” Because it is the State, for example, which sets up and orders curricula, and through that influences opinion and justifies certain prejudices while undermining others.
    How else can we begin to understand why certain societies retain and routinely use State-sponsored execution as a so-called deterrent to crime?
    And others, who believe that the chopping-off of limbs represents some form of justice?
    I just finished reading a piece on the resurgence of fundamentalism in Iraq, where women are routinely beaten, have their heads shaved, are crippled and killed for having opinions that differ with those of their menfolk.
    I don’t believe, in instances like these, that we are looking at genetic issues, or that we are witnessing individual opinions. On the contrary we are looking at learned behaviour, which, with political will and courage, can be changed.

  11. Maxine says:

    I was just talking about showing care and respect for others in our daily lives.
    I have observed over the years that when people start insisting on their rights, small people suffer — usually children.
    I wasn’t trying to be political or talk about governments, but what used to be called “common decency” which I wonder where you place in your original posting about “rights”?
    But I accept I may be missing the point of the debate here, in that you may be more interested in the political aspects. I’m not very interested in those — I wasn’t referring to people living under the threat of state sponsored executions and awful things, but of people living in free democratic societies. Sorry if this is not your area of interest, my misunderstanding.

  12. Maxine says:

    PS sorry, I don’t mean to sound callous and that I am “not interested” in people living under terrible regimes. I feel desperately sorry for them, but helpless from a distant place and viewing them from a different perspective. I merely wanted to respond to your original post in the context of what is immediately meaningful to me, ie the society in which I live and in which I observe that when people have lots of freedom, and don’t have “commandments”, they don’t always behave very well to their fellow man, woman and child — and what can we do to improve our own society in that respect, for the sake of future generations of it?

  13. john baker says:

    I can ‘hear’ the frustration in your voice. And I feel a little the same way. Obviously because we’re not communicating here.
    But I’m not just being ‘awkward’ here. I do find it very difficult to separate the personal and the political in this respect.
    Of course, I agree about what you call ‘common decency’. I try to see the point of view of others and to treat them as well as I can. I think most people do that.
    At the same time I’m aware that there is always an element of selfishness in people, that they look after their own first, that they believe that ‘charity begins at home.’
    We have dual, nay, multiple, personalities in this respect, we contain the good and the bad and the indifferent, and at any given moment of time we may go one way or another. It is not always easy to tell which.
    You begin to lose me, however, when you ask what we can do to improve our own society, yet maintain that there can be no political solution involved in the answer.
    That seems like a unreal premise to me. But given those parameters I can only say you live your life, you do what you think is important and hope that others will do likewise.