Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 13, No. 1. March 02, 1950
In the "Forgotten Factor" . . . — An Overlooked Conclusion
In the "Forgotten Factor" . . .
An Overlooked Conclusion
The Moral Rearmament movement opened its Wellington session with a flourish and fanfare which comes naturally and easily only to those whose modesty is submerged by money.
From the opening of the evening it, self, this critic was vaguely uneasy; if the play was as good as we, were told at some length; if the ideas so good, then why the Introductory speeches and backslapping, the little pep talks on how successful it had been in other countries, the horribly coy and lipstickless chorines pale in the glare of the footlights with the too, too rousing choruses? Why, not let the thing stand fan Its own feet?. However, we were willing to understand that in their enthusiasm for the movement, its advocates were rather over-anxious to impress us with its worth, and rather over-reached themselves in their anxiety to do it. We personally could never stand revivalist meetings, and this looked like deteriorating into the intellectual equivalent of one.
Let's take the play from the technical angle apart from its "message" as it was termed. Frankly, it was lousily done. The producer had some ability—the timing was occasionally good—but it would have taken two cheer leaders and a battery of competent West-end producers to make anything at all out of the cast Some of them rose to the mediocre on acting ability; others were not quite so convincing. Unfortunately, Betty, the millionaire's daughter, and also her mother neither of whom had very important parts) were better than the rest. The male lead, on the other hand, suffered the disadvantage of being quite the least convincing actor they possessed: his movements somewhat irritated, because they were singularly ungraceful—even if he had been smitten by a sudden change of heart in the best tradition of the old-time theatre he had no need to look quite so out of this world. To some extent the lack of polish in the acting may have been the result of the gross overdrawing of the characters—which is the fault of the playwright, not the producer.
Old time stuff
Of the play itself, it is more difficult to talk. Divorcing it from the ideas it expressed, the plot was rather conventionally melodramatic—the sudden conversion overlayed with the Sort of wisecracks which an Oxford don, trying desperately to make a play appeal to an audience used to Cochran and Coward, might be expected to use. The dialogue was good in parts: the adolescents seemed more at home in their dialogue than any of the adults, which may be a significant fact.
And for the ideas the play expressed? The theme of the play was almost wholly devoted to industrial relations, showing how disharmony and strife could be broken down by a willingness to admit error, a readiness to art the other fellow's point of view. The stubborn business man, the equally stubborn labour leader, both heated and opposed each other doggedly. Now it is all right, you say, to preach this philosophy of loving each other all of a sudden, of forgiving all past antagonisms. But how are you going to get people to do this so smartly? The play answered it by making the millionaire's son suffer (the audience, too, rather suffered at this point) a sudden conversion of spirit. From being a gay dog who came home (shoes in hand) in the morning, he changes to a conveniently serious deus ex machina in a matter of days: then, hey presto! he is available to go round converting everyone. Those who have no such convenient del to convert them may feel dubious still, but the play was presumably meant to do this for the audience. But still, one must be careful not to let something valuable slip lightly past in an easy cynicism. In fact, the play had a worthy contribution to make to present day thought. It said, in fact, that we are by no means likely to be infallible about our judgments: nor is the other bloke likely to be quite so completely fallible as we would wish to suppose. There was much mention of co-operation, of pulling together, of unity and understanding and so on. This was all rather annoyingly nebulous in aim and in manner of achievement—it appealed more to a generalised and vague herd instinct than to any moral sense which one might possess. However, one felt that over all, there was some good in the idea; certainly a great deal of the difficulty we face in international relationships comes from this stubbornness, or its larger counterpart, national pride. And certainly, one felt that the play was now getting somewhere. It was going to move on from preaching the smaller value of personal humility and understanding to the larger value of appreciating that the other nation is not so bad as it has been painted for us all this time; that we tend to think of the other nation in catch words, not on personal terms. Maybe, one even thought at this stage, it is going to finish up with the obvious logical conclusion—that by international understanding and abandonment of national pride, we will reach true world government. Ah, one thought, how mistaken I was about these people. They may be a little impractical in the optimism with which they hope this state of affairs will be reached, but there is no doubt that world government must come, and this is the way to get it.
The disillusionment from this happy looking-ahead into the plot was not rude and sudden. Maybe one shouldn't have forgotten the little talk given first (before the play started) when we were told that unity (that word again) would provide for us the surest defence against any menace, with a dark reference to Asia. Maybe we should not have overlooked the significance of the name of the movement itself—Moral Rearmament.
For in a fine peroration, the labour leader convinces the mob that only by unity and understanding can—a stronger America be reached. Why, in the name of the Lord? Why, in the name of logical thought, stop this fine idea of co-operation short at the boundaries of national unity? Might it not even be that international disharmony is caused by the same "forgotten factor"? The programme which we were provided with should have prepared us for this too, for it noted that this unity, moral rearmament, was the ideology which was necessary for us in the fight of good against evil. Hadn't the play been trying to preach that, when genuine understanding existed, we found that those whom we thought evil were, in fact, pretty much like ourselves?
And then, I'm afraid, one started to see through this thing.
Many—no, all—of the cast were obviously sincere. Most of the back-era for this movement in New Zealand are probably also sincere. But are their feelings, genuine desires for peace and tolerance and understanding not being used viciously to create a well disguised hatred, a reformed national pride on an ideological plane?
And anyway, one started to wonder, is the trouble with the world only that people won't admit error. Are the words "I'm sorry" quite such a panacea? Maybe there are other factors—economic, social, biological or what have you—which also help to create this situation; perhaps a social and economic revival and overhaul is indicated, too? And anyway, after it was all over and everyone was jolly good friends, would the labour leader not go back, with his crushed-in-spirit wife, to the poverty-stricken home, to the leavings of those ham and eggs, while the millionaire returned to that comfortable chair there in the corner to enjoy his after breakfast coffee? Maybe, in fact, this movement could be used to ensure the evils of our system—mal-distribution of income and living needs.
We were not morally rearmed.
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