Tunes of Glory
“Whisky, for the gentlemen who like it, and for the gentlemen who don’t like it…Whisky !” Alec Guinness as Jock Sinclair, “Tunes of Glory”, 1960
Next year will be the fiftieth anniversary of the Ronald Neame film “Tunes of Glory”. A well received, but strangely forgotten portrayal of the destruction of two competing Colonels of a Scottish regiment following World War II, both from the same Island, but different worlds. In viewing the film last night it struck me as to how much has changed in our world view since 1948 and indeed, since 1960.
We barely think in terms of class now, at least not to the extent we used to. Class structure in 1948 was still pretty well built into society. It began to crack in England, where it practically started, and still survives to some extent, after the 1945 Labour party victory. It is hard for one to know ones “place” if one is running the country. Popular culture generally now flows counter to what it did for the previous several hundred years. In 1765, popular culture flowed from the top down, today, when it is not flowing from the bottom up, it at least flows from the middle up. It was not the rich who invented hip-hop, nor made Tweeter a phenomena. The rich did not establish (although they may have thought of) fast food restaurants or wearing your pants so low that you trip over them as you walk. The stratification of society by order of class has changed, as it has by order of race or sex. All of these changes have taken place within the lifetimes of millions of people who are alive today. Putting aside passing phases, such as the French Revolution, the last century has brought more changes in the structure of society than any other time in recorded history.
Is life better because it is fairer ? That is what my philosophy of life has been premised on. Does that mean people are happier ? I really think not. Happiness is relative in any society. Just because I have a high definition T.V. set does not mean I am any happier than the fellow who had only a crystal radio set. I may well not be any happier than the fellow today who has only a small black and white set. Justice, as Rawls would say, is fairness, not happiness. Is the world today broken because of consumer societies striving for a happiness which can never be attained through the accumulation of wealth and ignoring those things which might truly make us happy ? Really, is happiness a legitimate end in itself, or just a simpler and less sophisticated way to look at life ? But if happiness is not the end result of a well lived life, what is ? What if the pursuit of Justice makes you miserable as some might believe was Mother Teresa’s lot, if one examines her diaries ? The founders of monotheistic religions put great emphasis on this pursuit of Justice, outside of one’s self. The Eastern religions seem to turn inward to a peace which is not so much happiness as contentment with your situation. That is why Tibet has no Disney World, and may also be why they find themselves autocratically ruled. Yet there is a nagging suspicion in many of us, maybe all of us, that their approach to life may be fundamentally correct, where as ours is the culture of pigs.
In these musings I have tried not to venture into the supernatural, I am not talking about striving for heaven or nirvana, although I realize that it is just such concepts which create a culture. I simply want to say that the final “triumph of the masses” ,which is the short sighted way in which Marx described this evolutionary sweep ,may well not change the total sum of human happiness at all. What will be our final tune of glory? For those who like it, whisky ! For those who don’t like it, whisky ! We just need to figure out what Whisky really means.