One of the themes I'm obviously pursuing here is how diametrically
opposed Gaelic society (really all traditional society -- but I'm
using Gaelic society since I know it best and people have an interest
in it) is to modern techno-consumer society, and rather than using
my own conclusions I'm passing along to you some of my source material!
And then I'll elaborate the ideas...
One of the best essays (of some length) of the modern predicament,
the ironies and painful complexities, of the modern Gaelic world
and how it is being destroyed by materialism is "Real People in a
Real Place" by Iain Crichton Smith in his book "Towards the Human".
Other themes in the essay, which I might pick up at a later time,
are the ravages of the centralist English state on Gaelic and the
nature of communities and individuality and exile.
Here's a few excerpts:
"The urban world in which so many inhabit is not in itself an
attractive one, and it is quite possible that the contradictions
in society itself are so deep that it may not be able to supply its
own people with the necessities of life. Now will anyone be satisfied
with the impression of sordidness that he gets from travelling through
British cities, the breakdown of transport, the graffiti which shows
the aggression of the "homeless," the language of hatred, ferocious and
misspelt, the feeling that one has of an urban world breaking down: the
rushing from late trains to vandalised telephones, as if his was a land
where people no longer feel at home.
Such a world is not progress, it is the sick turning-back of progress
itself, for the uprooted are taking revenge on society by turning
against it and writing on walls the grotesque language which is the
reality that lies deeply beneath the contradictions of school and other
institutions. Where is the home of the urban dweller now? And if he
looks into his mind what does he see but images of aggression and
violence, beggary and greed, hatred and envy? One stands at railway
stations and stares at West Indian ticket collectors, wrathed in filthy
smoke, looking furtive and hunted, without pride.
It is against such a failure that one can set the idea of community,
the idea of a culture, and who would care to say that the islanders
[of Scottish Gaelic islands] have turned their backs on a world that
is viable and worth preserving?
It is possible that far from the world of the islands being archaic
it is a model of a world which might return, though not exactly in the
same form. The individual cannot go on forever bearing his alienation
and abtraction: for if he will not find a true community then he will
find a false one, like the National Front or some other organisation.
For it is clear that the returning exiles who may appear comic are
searching for that which they have not found, meaning a home, materialism
having left them in the middle of the wood in darkness.
The attack on the island world both internally and externally was
based on the values of materialism, and now that the possessions and
treasures have receded, perhaps forever, such a criticism might seem at
the least short-sighted. To learn French in order to enter the ranks
of the unemployed is a real paradox [analogy of Gael having to learn
In a society [modern] which is still concerned with class to a great
extent, it is important to say that the community in which I grew up
[on Lewis] was a classless one. It is possible that, seen from the
outside, the islanders might be characterised as belonging to a
peasant society. Seen from the inside, however, the islander does not
think of himself as a peasant nor does he consider himself as being set
in a particular social scale. Indeed, questions of that nature have
never really troubled him...
The criterion in such a society always was, not what class does such
or such a man belong to, but can he do the things that are necessary?...
One of my most surrealistic experiences was to stand once on the deck
of a ship sailing to Lewis and hearing an English voice say, "I shall be
glad to get home to Bayble" (my own village), and I remembered then that
there were many people who never got hom to Bayble, among them relatives
of my own, no matter how much they might have wished to do so...
My uncle worked building railways [on the mainland -- outside of
community life], and sometimes did not work at all,
and slept in dosshouses where shoes had to be nailed to the floor
lest they be stolen during the night. His underwear, like that of his
friends, was at last in rags. Many of them died of drink, others
starved. He was lucky, eventually reaching Vancouver where he became
a Fire Officer at the end of his journey. Latterly he would fly to
Lewis, even at eighty years of age, and every week read the
Stornoway Gazzette, which he had sent to him from home. When I saw
him, and later in Nova Scotia I saw the Scottish names familiarising
the exiles with their lost homes, when in Australia I heard of Highland
exiles who had drifted into hopelessness and alcohol, I was angered
by the waste, the dreadful waste of our island humanity. We are owed --
such men are owed -- not indifference but at least understanding and care.
It is not right that a whole culture should have been trated in this way,
that like the Red Indians and the aborigines so many of our people should
have had to leave their homes to inherit the worst aspects of a
so-called superior civilisation.
There are many who wish to stay in the islands. They wish to stay
there just as everyone wishes to stay in his home. They wish to stay
there because they are surrounded by familiar resounances. But how is
it possible for them to do so when unemployment is so high, when they who
have so very little money hjave to spend more on their necessities than
those who are closer to the heart of civilisation [?? what heart??].
"The qualities of the islander are those which are not suited to the
modern world" -- thus the given impression. They are not suited because
the islander is in general honest, law-abiding, modest in asking for
rights which should be human rights. If the qualities demanded of modern
civilisation are slickness, greed, willingness to get away with what one
can at whatever cost, aggressiveness and even violence, then the islander
is not civilised...
There is no question in my mind that a society which lives by
materialistic values will be destroyed by them. If materialism has not
been accepted by Western society as a philosophical concept then it has
accepted it as the force by which it lives. The great powers are, to
a larger extent than one is often willing to accept, mirror images
of each other. I do not think that the opposite of materialism is
another inflexible concept but rather the motions of the spirit which
see the human being as he is, whoever he is, and really notice him.
That materialism, naked and unashamed, has come to rest in Britain is
a fact, however we choose to disguise it. That the belief in materialism
is closely connected with the destruction of community is also, I am
sure, a fact, for materialism depends on individuals being set over against
each other/ It is now much more difficult to see the human being as he
is without the armour of money or achievement...
If we do not remember that reliance on materialism is the death of a
civilisation as surely as the barbarians have been, then we are lost...
And when one considers the multiple ironies of making Stornoway a
NATO base one is staggered and bemused. What exactly is this NATO
base defending? Is it defending the values of materialism which denuded
the islands themselves? Is it defending the many exiles who have
already left? Is it defending us against opposing mirror images of
materialism?... No wonder that deep in the hearts of the islanders, in
their very bones, must resound the laughter of the absurd. In these
dizzying multitudes of ironies the mind is lost and confused..."
There is much more to the essay -- I highly recommend it.