2005 Edition 1 Editorial31 March 2005
CLARE: And so chaps, what have we to say on the them of “The Importance of Being Earnest”? It seems a long time ago that we were brooding about the theme of this editio
n. I believe the conversation started something like this: “it would be nice to write about people who give a shit”, or something. What, pray tell did we discover? Has earnest
ness been crushed under the jackboot of coolness and irony? And what exactly does it mean anyway…
(Enter Zoe, oozing post-fare-evasion despair.)
ZOE: Nothing! It means nothing to be earnest! Earnestness is dead! Redundant, impotent, tragically obsolete! (Thespian pause) Being earnest will get you nowhere in this age, founded upon capital and social alienation. So utterly dissociated are we, that you may as well give up hope of ever experiencing anything even remotely resembling human empathy! Everywhere you go you are talking to a machine or a machine in human clothing…
JIM: Earnestness is dead because mass media has changed people’s expectations about living. It’s all about fun and immediate gratification. Ideas of duty and social responsibility have fallen by the wayside. Not that I am advocating a return to the old uncritical ideas of duty, to one’s family and one’s country; rather, I think that there are things that should be done out of obligation to society that don’t register as an immediate individual payoff. A society needs a population that’s really concerned with social welfare and social life—otherwise it becomes fragmented and sick. The decline of earnestness and rise of apathy is both a symptom and cause of this sickness.
CLARE: Oh Jim it is, can’t you see? People are caring about ideas and people all over the place. Being openly passionate and dedicating yourself to a single cause has perhaps become unfashionable but as this edition shows, whether it be books, saints, cricket or Vikings there are people all over this town ready to give damn.
TOM: Yeah, I concur. The fact that we have two generations in this newspaper espousing their earnest opinions—or at least their yearning for the earnest approach—seems to show that despite popular opinion, earnestness prevails. Rather than describing it as “dead” I would say that earnestness is beleaguered, troubled and unfashionable. As an earnest guy (self-proclaimed) myself, I believe that earnestness lies in dormancy, waiting for the abdication of hollow irony and decadent cynicism—the flavours of the epoch. It is tough to be earnest in these decadant times, because to be earnest is to be true to oneself, to others and to one’s believes.
ZOE: What does that well-worn aphorism really mean in practice Tom? Show me the hard evidence of this alleged trueness of mind and person!
TOM: A brief citation of earnest influences: Pete Seeger, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Alan Ginsberg, Robert Crumb, George Orwell, Schopenhauer, Omar Khayyam and our forebears, the middle-class-lefties of yore. But, like Benjamin Disraeli said (quoted by Joel Cardwell), “what is earnest is not always true; on the contrary, error is often more earnest than truth”. Annoying ideologues (and I’m looking especially at the “left” here) are as responsible for the fall of earnestness as the influences mentioned by Zoe and Jim. Best just to rule out dichotomies like “Left/Right” entirely, I say (and so would George Orwell, if he were living in these strange times).
ZOE: But Tom, we can’t just always scapegoat those devious ‘lefty-ideologues’ for every social malady! They are not to blame for the fall of earnestness, if we were to follow that tangent of designating culpability, we could equally say that Christian youth groups or clean-living, crafter-noon type vegan puritans are responsible. While these beret-wearing, hymn-rocking, tahini-high pamphleteers might sometimes be cringefully lacking in self-awareness (and, some (but not I) might say, style), they are not the culprits. At least they are doing something to counter the capitalist legacy of human numbness. And it is their condemnation that testifies to my very point that it is fashion and all its slaves that are responsible. Like those commodified T-shirt wearers, that Rosa highlights, it’s consumerist fashion that has bred the callous, egocentric and acquisitional culture of apathy prevalent in our generation.
JIM: Hmm, interesting… (Jim strokes his chin) People form across the political spectrum have all contributed to the degradation of earnestness… Yes, some of these people are doing something, but being earnest is about more than simply caring about the world. It is about being earnest in the way that you think and act. Those who ‘care’ in a reactive and thoughtless way, without ensuring that they undertake earnest and hard contemplation, devalue the term… They make it uncool to care because they use their ‘caring’ as a psychological crutch and as way to attain moral superiority, not as a starting point to achieve any real and thoughtful change… That said, there are many who are genuinely earnest, hopefully the following pages are a reflection of this.