One More River: Ants and Bees

The dynastic age was gone, with its appendages, feudalism, and the Church. Even wars would now be fought for peoples and their markets. No more dynastic or religious wars. Well, that was something! ‘We’re getting more like insects daily,’ thought Sir Lawrence. And how interesting! Religion was nearly dead because there was no longer real belief in future life; but something was struggling to take its place — service — social service — the ants’ creed, the bees’ creed! Communism had formulated it and was whipping it into the people from the top. So characteristic! They were always whipping something into somebody in Russia. The quick way, no doubt, but the sure way? No! The voluntary system remained the best, because when once it got hold it lasted — only it was so darned slow! Yes, and darned ironical! So far the sense of social service was almost the perquisite of the older families, who had somehow got hold of the notion that they must do something useful to pay for their position. Now that they were dying out would the sense of service persist? How were the ‘people’ to pick it up? ‘Well,’ thought Sir Lawrence, ‘after all, there’s the bus conductor; and the fellow in the shop, who’ll take infinite trouble to match the colour of your socks; and the woman who’ll look after her neighbour’s baby, or collect for the waifs and strays; and the motorist who’ll stop and watch you tinkering at your car; and the postman who’s grateful for a tip; and the almost anybody who’ll try and pull you out of a pond if he can really see you’re in it. What’s wanted is the slogan: “Fresh air and exercise for good instincts.” One might have it on all the buses, instead of: “Canon’s Colossal Crime,” or “Strange Sweepstake Swindle.”

—John Galsworthy, One More River/Over the River [End of the Chapter book III, The Forsyte Chronicles]

Indeed, “whipping it into people” did not work in the long term for Russia, and it seems to be breaking down in China too. But then the “bees’ creed” is wavering everywhere. What to do?

Advertisements