Sweet dreams are made of this

IssueOctober 2008
Comment by Jeff Cloves

In the current edition of the always interesting Fourth World Newsletter*, there is a page which brought me up short.

Titled A Bill of Rights for Future Generations, it originates from Adbusters** – a Canadian “radical arts journal” – and something about the directness and simplicity of its composition lifted my spirits during a bleak spell of unrelieved wind and rain.

Its authors may be radical and arty but they’ve pleasingly compressed their thoughts and feelings into the kind of plain speech which is seemingly beyond most political theorisers and polemicists whose words I chance upon. It deserves quoting in full: for if not in Peace News then where?

We, the people of the future,

like the multitudes who came before us, have the right to air that smells sweet, to water that tastes pure, and to land that is fertile, unsoiled and green.

We have the right to inherit a world free of chemicals, of nuclear waste and of genetic pollution. We have the right to live alongside nature, some of which is still untamed.

We ask you, the people of the present, not to bequeath us a toxic legacy. We ask that you not gamble with technology that may backfire in the future, and request that you do not burden us with the weight of ever-deferred debt. We would like to claim our share of the planet’s wealth. Please do not use it all up.

In turn, we promise to grant these same rights and privileges to the generations who follow us, in the sacred hope that the human spirit will live forever.

A curse on any generation who ignores this desperate plea.

I might have a mild reservation about one or two words in the above and it’s “sacred hope”, I notice, not “sacred belief”.

However, the idea of placing a curse upon the ignorers strongly appeals. It has a righteous – even Old Testament – ring to it which puts me in mind of Blake’s bow of burning gold and his arrows of desire.

And I hear this in another Canadian voice sometimes, for Leonard Cohen – undiminished by time and “the little Parthenon of an opened pack of cigarettes” – can also thunder with the best:

Shame on you great poets!
I love the past as well as you
but I’ve got to do something
to change your stupid
bloodthirsty music
Which no one but G-d
really likes

I suppose – as our government writhes around in its death throes – its soon-to-be-ex-ministers are busily getting back to their diaries.

They’ll need to turn a quick coin or two between the red box and the ministerial salary and limo (being snatched from their grasping fingers) and the expected offers of directorships in the power and arms industries. Thus the air will soon be heavy with self-justification and denial.

I worked as a (part-time) publisher’s reader during the rise of New Labour and my employers were ardently instrumental in its birth.

They even published the appalling collected speeches of Neil Kinnock.

There were unsold boxes of the wretched things all over the place and I’ve never yet met anyone who bought a copy – let alone read it.

This spectacular misjudging of The Market will not, of course, prevent publishers from consistently repeating their past mistakes and wantonly flooding it with unsellable political diaries.

I harbour an unrealisable fantasy. It’s this: I creep into a publisher’s offices after hours and photocopy hundreds of copies of A Bill of Rights for Future Generations. I then paste them on to the fly-leafs of these unreadable unreliable self-serving memoirs as they await distribution.

Thus the few misguided souls who actually want to read Politicians’ Piffle, will also be faced with a 150-word challenge in clear unequivocal language.

Future generations are not only entitled to sweet air, pure water and unpolluted land but to truthful writing.

However, as the letters column in PN reveals, The Truth – even with the best of intentions – is hard to achieve. A curse on any generation which doesn’t even try.

Topics: Culture
See more of: Jeff Cloves