Our Heritage as

A Mess of Pottage

Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage when he was hungry

When I was about ten, the class studied the rise and fall of civilisations. Each culture went through a Bronze Age, an Iron Age, a Golden Age - and then slid into a sophisticated Silver Age as false as Demas. Clouds gathered, the images on the coins became crude, the pottery was garish and shoddy, the culture collapsed in on itself and then the barbarians poured over it. I wondered at how the classical Greek sculpture was betrayed, and spirit and even techniques were abandoned. How could those peoples let go what they had?

What they had was not taken from them; they threw it away.

It is stupid if we follow - trading the best of our heritage for messes of pottage and saying that is just as better. The evil that our ancestors did lives after them; the good is buried, the smelly bones exhumed.

We should not be letting all our inheritance go so easily, being loftily scathing about the weaknesses of those who managed some measure of greatness that we do not have ourselves. We do not pull ourselves up a ladder by pushing down the past - because in the past are the shoulders we stand upon.

It is stupid not to take and improve upon everything that makes for the social good, however much we may renounce the smirch-marks.

What have we inherited that we are so ready to lose?

It may be symbolised in what happened when a famous psychologist, Sir Cyril Burt, was accused after his death of publishing in his old age research on the intelligence of separated twins, that he purported had been done by two ladies who could now not be located anywhere and were thought to be mythical. "Alas," said the old hands who had known Burt, "What a noble mind was here o'erthrown." The younger psychologists, who had not known him, said, "I bet he was on the fiddle the whole time."

I am old enough to have known that good things have been true as well as evil. If you graph social norms according to the commonest form of the 'normal curve', then the peaks of the curves of recent 'Anglo-Western civilisation' must not be dismissed in disgust at the rot at the extreme ends. These we should not throw away as 'never was' or 'never could be'.

  • A remarkably uncorrupt and dedicated civil service -
  • Business not requiring bribery and corruption as standard dealing
  • Marriages basically happy because couples were cheerful and patient with each other
  • Sound plumbing - infrastructure and public buildings built solidly to last
  • Streets where children could play freely
  • Devoted teachers, doctors, nurses who worked beyond their pay.
  • Men who respected women, however protectively.
  • Music and art with a high degree of creativity, technical skill, form and communication of meaning.
  • Public values of honesty, decency and gentleness that were by and large honestly followed.
  • Wide public interest and concern for public affairs and social progress.

Let us consider what we leave as our own contribution to the future ~