Valerie Yules Letters

January 11, 2014

Truth, Lies and Pretends

Filed under: children, Education, Fantasy, social problems — Tags: , , , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 6:46 am

It is almost always possible to tell the truth to children – and to others.
And it is necessary for the sake of our society.

The general agreement on a recemt Life Matters program that lies were inevitable to children is a change from the past, when theology not psychology would have provided the standard – however much people might have in practice fallen away from that standard.

When the children ask, tell them Santa and the Tooth Fairy are Pretends. Do you want to join in this Pretend? (Oh YES)

“There’s a bear under my bed.” “Mummy can shut that sort of bear in the cupboard.” (She leans under the bed and then shuts the cupboard door, and for as long as necessary at bedtime she shuts the ‘Imaginary Bears’ in the cupboard.) If a scent is used, it can be called a This-Can-Work,-We’ll-Try -This, without specific details or promises.
Promises. “We might be able to go to the beach tomorrow but I can’t promise.”

(Do I look nice in this? ) I like the blue dress better. (It is not fair to someone to let them think they look good in something that makes them look dreadful.)
(How are you?) All the better for seeing you, or Better than yesterday, or Battling on.
A dreadful dinner party. Choose the least worst thing to praise. “I particularly liked the – “

I believe that . . . but I may be wrong.

Dreadful questions – “Where is your father?” demand the baddies. “I don’t know where he is just now” or whatever can be told truthfully. Let’s hope we never are asked that sort of question. It’s not the sort that we usually are tempted to lie about.

If individuals have a reputation for truthfulness, we then know we can trust them. Nobody – neither me nor you – has never told a lie, but we can do our best.
A country with a reputation for dealing in truth has a great commercial advantage in the world as long as bad apples can be prevented from taking advantage of that reputation. We must keep our land incorrupt.
Victorian England and Scotland had a great advantage in an incorrupt civil service. The Quakers became wealthy because people knew they could trust them in business.

There are ‘pretends’, stories and fiction that can be shared around, as well as lies intended to deceive, not to amuse.

Suppose Truth became an ideal stronger than power or wealth or sensual pleasure. All of these goals are finally inaccessible in any ultimate form – but all of them direct our lives. What could happen with a goal for Truth?

A country with a reputation for dealing in truth would have a great commercial advantage in the world as long as bad apples could be prevented from taking advantage of that reputation. Currently the shift in business theory is to be quite open about deceit as a legitimate business manoeuvre, with best-seller adaptations of Chinese treatises on the art of war, such as Chu Chin Chang’s ‘Thick Face Black Heart’ so admired by the chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank, which through a merger became the biggest banker in USA.
A great deal of time and money would be saved in politics with open government and even in diplomacy. ‘I am sorry we cannot support East Timor in this as we want the oil from the Timor Straits’. ‘We are backing X because we fear future invasion from Y.’ ‘We can’t ban landmines because we would need them if we were invaded ourselves.’ Such naivety would be so incredible that other countries would be stymied and incredulous.

No incoming government could be surprised by the financial situation it met – it would be open knowledge. No voters could be surprised by what a newly elected government would do – it would have told them. ‘We will do this, unless that happens, when we will do such and such.’ We could even have voting for major policies as well as persons on the ballot ticket – plus regular electronic voting.
Statistics would always be presented to the public with figures, not just percentages. For example, it could be made quite clear in an opinion poll on satisfaction with education that only 100 parents of primary children had been asked their opinion, so that the comment in a newspaper editorial two days later would read ‘as shown by the opinions of 68 of the 100 parents of primary children polled recently, the great majority of Victorian parents are very satisfied with primary education today’.
If a mistake was accidentally made in any reporting in the media, the correction would be given as much prominence as the mistake. When letters were published containing information that a newspaper knew was incorrect, the correct information would appear in an editorial note below.
A regular feature in all media, electronic and print would be features for viewers, listeners and readers, ‘We want to know’ – not just about pets, gardens, health, finance and kitchen renovations, but about what was going on. What special rebates are being given to which group where? Why can’t this be done? Why was this done?
Budgets and government accounts would be given mass media circulation in comprehensible detail, including spending on publicity and consultants. Calls for tenders would have open details. Government contracts, once made, would have no shield of ‘commercial confidentiality’. After all, a Victorian newspaper in the 1880s printed the whole of of the Westminster Confession of Faith during some local theological controversy.
Advertising – now that is tricky. At present advertisers are the real modern equivalent of Renaissance patrons for art – and they are the patrons of the art that the public really likes. And to a large extent, when consumers buy products advertised on television, it is really the cleverness of the advertising agency not the value of the product that has attracted them. I think my vision would be of ‘sponsored commercials’, rather like the present sponsorship of whole programmes – the advertiser produces a segment of pure entertainment, followed by a clear and accurate statement of the advantages of the advertised product. The policy of public benefactions and sponsorships would also continue to create goodwill for businesses. However, the disadvantage for small and new businesses in lacking capital for expensive advertising would be overcome by special chances for them too to advertise in print and in all the electronic and broadcast media. Truth in business and advertising would apply to prevent individuals simply changing business names to abandon responsibilities and to resurrect to despoil others yet again.

Mr Gradgrind of Charles Dickens’ Hard Times was suspicious of anything that was not a fact – and he backed teachers who would not allow that horses could be depicted on home furnishings because real horses could not prance up walls like that. Sometimes I sympathise with Gradgrind when I am fed up with too many whimsical picture-story books for preschoolers like ‘The elephant that wanted to be a geranium’ or ‘The best nest’ that get their laughs from depicting stupid and twee behaviour. Why shouldn’t reality be fascinating? Why shouldn’t a cabinet of crystals be delightful?
What would happen to schooling if truth was a priority?
In the first place, English and media courses could be radically different because they need not spend so much time and effort trying to warn the young against being duped by all the misinformation and misleading advertising they would face in the real world. They need not spend so much time teaching the young how to produce advertising copy that preached any side that was asked of them.
Historical novels such as The Hand that Signed the Papers would of course have disclaimers that fact and fiction were mixed; most would indicate the historical characters, and have a note about significant changes in interpretations and events – as many novelists already do.

History would contain many more connections and more context – it can never avoid interpretation, but readers would be given a note about interpretation. At present young students often study snippets of time without any overview, on the grounds that overviews are impossible – but they are necessary. The old memorising of dates was indefensible – but knowing about a time-line did give a setting for the present. Students need to know about how the past attempted to cope with its problems, and the results, and how it differed from the present, in order to stop repeating mistakes, and to have examples of ideals and heroes, with all their tragic flaws, and not just be fed models of the mean and mingy.

Drama is a special case – because here actors are deliberately trying to be other than themselves, in scenes that are not real events. I think that children, at least, are less likely to understand the characters if they act them than if they read about them or even watch great plays about them. This is because they cannot avoid injecting themselves and their own immaturity into what they play. After Socrates has died near the teachers’ desk or Captain Cook sailed on the playground or Antigone been shut in the cupboard or Jesus has had trouble adjusting his bath-towels, the triviality of the permanent impressions can make it unlikely that most members of the class will ever understand any of these above a childish level. Simply reading around the class divorces the present scene from the remembered language. That is what I liked about the way we ‘studied’ Hamlet and Macbeth at school, not the pundits who had written about them.

‘Honesty’ is often given the tag ‘brutal honesty’, in the same way that ‘reality’ is hard to dissociate from ‘harsh reality’. Here we face how much damage is done by people who think that if a cruel thought happens to come into their head, in order to be honest they have to say it and hurt people, often with barbs that never can be torn out. The matter is not as simple as that – the real truth is how to say what needs to be said in ways that will help not harm. If we have to say everything that comes to mind, we would all be the greatest bores, muttering all the time like so many Stephen Blooms.

If people felt bound in their inmost hearts to tell the truth, the law would be revolutionised, probably changing from the British adversarial to the Continental truth-seeking system. Pleading guilty or not guilty would solve most issues. However, I doubt if my vision can really assume a change in how easily human nature can deceive itself and in so many ways, when the personal costs can be so high. On the other hand, at present the law makes it often very difficult for the truth to come out. The only time I was called to be a witness, in a car accident case, it was possible to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, but to tell the whole truth was against all the rules of procedure – and yet the magistrate could not judge the case fairly without knowledge of significant facts that were necessary and relevant for the case. I managed to tell the whole truth but it was hard in the face of the legal procedures,

Religion is an interesting case about Truth. Faith has been defined as ‘belief in what cannot be proved, the experience of things unseen’ and certainly there are more things in heaven and earth than can be proved. Prophets and their followers can be sincerely convinced of their messages. However, today there is a good deal of religion-inventing that is not based on experiences of revelation, deluded or not. People can invent goddesses simply because they don’t want to be patriarchal, not because they genuinely think a goddess exists. Druids dress up imagining horned gods in Sherwood Forest. Superstitions multiply today without any concern for scientific evidence. “Do you think it is true? What are the grounds for you thinking this up?” are simple questions that should get answers. Do Satanists really believe in the Devil and seek to propitiate it? What if they were truly faced with what they conjured up?

A fairly general opinion now is that there is no Truth, not even at the bottom of the proverbial well. Everything is mirrors, illusions, change. This perception is increased by the scams and spams on the Internet, by computer imagery and by psychedelic drugs, which at one stage people like Timothy Leary thought might make truth more accessible to consciousness. Watch a few dozen videoclips or virtual reality, and the real world may only be recognised in the prick of a pin – ‘I dislike what I fancy I feel’.

In personal affairs, the Moral Rearmament people have found that living by absolutes is pretty hard. There is the joke about the competition for liars, which so shocked a parson who claimed he had never told a lie in his life – and so he was awarded the prize. Francis Bacon’s essay on Truth (‘What is Truth?’ said jesting Pilate and would not stay for an answer) is worth revisiting – Bacon himself had problems in the practicalities.

Truth is a journey that may never have an end. Old-time pilgrims believed they followed a track with maps. The modern tourist usually does not even have a brochure, but it would be the holiday of a lifetime.

February 15, 2013

A Peace Museum


The Peace Museum

Many countries have War Museums, but war does not stay in museums.

Peace Museums could glorify Peace.

   How?  Displays of civilisations, and Before and After  Displays of Lost Treasures, built up over hundreds of years and destroyed in brutal minutes. A child, nine months in the making and the short time of its little life, and the minute that destroys it.  Smiling countrysides and beautiful cities – and the desolate wastelands made of them The suffering of survivors. War is harder on the living than the dead. The other creatures that die when men fight.

What it is like in countries that do not know war.  That do not pay for  armies, and military research.  The many causes of war – and how they could   be removed.

See the delights of constructing, and creating. Little toddlers love to smash  towers that others set up – when they grow rightly, the greater pleasure can be to build towers ever more wonderful, but stopping before the pride that brought down Babel.  Nine-year-old boys love to scuffle, and join a mischievous gang, and revel in tales of blood – but as they becomes men, they can put away these sorts of childish things.

The Peace Museum would show how human energy can turn away from aggression, and if there is a Freudian Death instinct how even this might be turned to prevent killing and grief.

The stories and histories which live to warn us.  Gulliver’s little people, who fought over which end of an egg to cut first   An honour roll of real life Peace-makers, who made ‘Peace with Prosperity’ and not just a staving-off, and not those who ‘made a desert, and they call it peace,’ as Tacitus said of his Romans.  Stories from this honor roll would be studied in schools –  but not killed by exams.

The Black Lists of arms manufacturers and traders and similar war criminals, kept up to date.   Inventories of what poor countries pay for the arms that destroy them, and how they paid for them.

Music is playing in the Museum forecourts – “Where have all the flowers gone?“,  and the music that Beethoven composed as he was deafened by the siege of Vienna, and the laments that have arisen at so many times, in so many languages.

Peace blockbuilder films and documentaries go all over the world  to arouse appetites for Peace, with ‘Irene’ awards  more beautiful than Oscars.

Whom the gods destroy, they first make mad.  The people of Athens knew this saying. Their story too, would be in the Peace Museum, in hopes that we can stop our own madnesses.

One of the most mad of our ideas is that we would find peace and goodness boring.  Real peace and real goodness are not neutral and boring – they are at the opposite extreme to war and evil, and far more satisfying.


Write a Script for a Peace Block-builder Film


A Fijian full of dignity said on television that civil war in Fiji was possible; he said, it was probable, and his face was impassive.  He did not scream and howl, that those fair islands could be swept unnecessarily with ruin and suffering, and with modern weapons, might be made deserts.

When I was small, the Preacher would say, “I have set before you life and death, light and darkness; therefore choose life.”  The answer seemed obvious to a little child  – everyone would choose life.  Then when I was eight, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, and I was shocked to find that in real life, not just in adventure stories, people would deliberately choose darkness.

The choice of darkness has spread so far.  When as an adult I worked (played) with children, we had a set of little toytown buildings, which in recent years included a blackened ruin.  Young children often chose the ruin first for their play, saying it was ‘more interesting’.  A salesman of these toytowns told me that they included the ruins because they were so popular.  Young teenagers will choose smoking or drugs or self-mutilation, taking the risks willingly.  And what is there that adults will not do, to destroy the world around them.

The Holocaust Museums around the world could contain many mansions, for Jews, gipsies, Armenians, American Indians, Cathars, Caribs, thousands of extinct peoples, and now every day more rooms are added as more innocents are slaughtered on the grounds of ethnicity for the sake of the space they take up. It is as if Death, hand in hand with injustice and crowding beyond resources, has sown dragon’s teeth broadcast over the world.

Many many countries have War Museums, but war does not stay in museums.

The Peace Museums that could be built would glorify Peace, and show how fair and fragile she is, and how much more beautiful and interesting than black destruction and red explosions and the ruins that they leave, silent except for vermin.

The Peace Museums would not be like the War Museums that show the business of war.  Instead, there would be displays of civilisations, Before and After.  There is a book  Lost Treasures of Europe.   There would be displays about so many lost treasures over the millennia,  destroyed for a brief brutal delight.   We would see a cathedral as it was hundreds of years in the building, and the ten minutes that smashed it, and the loss afterwards.  We would see a child, as it is nine amazing months in the making and the short time of its little life, and the minute that destroys it, and the grieving after it.    We would see smiling countrysides and beautiful cities and the desolate wastelands that have been made of them – and the remorse after, if any are left to feel remorse.   We would see the other creatures that  also die as we fight each other.  We would see how people suffered who survived.  War is harder on the living than the dead.

We would see what it is like in countries that do not know war. And how their disputes are resolved and how much peace depends upon justice.  What happens in countries that do not have to pay for standing armies, and what could happen if other countries could be saved from realistic fears that make military defence appear essential.   The Peace Museum would include examinations of the causes of war – and how they could have been and still could be removed.

We would see the delights of construction, and slow creation – and how children learn this delight.  It is the little toddlers’ pleasure first to smash he towers that others set up – but as they grow, in the normal way of things, the greater pleasure is in building towers ever more wonderful, short of the hubris that brought down Babel.  It is the nine-year-old boy’s delight to scuffle, and join a mischievous gang, and revel in tales of blood – but as he becomes a man, he can put away these childish things.  The Peace Museum would show how human energy can turn to other things than aggression, and if there is, as Freud came to think, a Death instinct, an urge of Thanatos, how even this might be turned to prevent killing.

There would be the stories and histories which live to warn us.  The little people that Gulliver met, who fought over which end of an egg to cut first – and how Gulliver could see how to stop that war.  An honour roll of real life Peace-makers, who made ‘Peace with Prosperity’ and not just a staving-off, and not those who ‘made a desert, and they call it peace,’ as Tacitus said of his Romans.   And the stories from this honor roll would be studied in schools, but not killed by exams.

There would be the Black Lists of arms manufacturers and traders and similar war criminals, kept up to date.   Inventories of what poor countries paid for the armaments that destroyed them, and how they paid for them.


There would be Peace blockbuilder films and documentaries, that would go all over the world to raise imagination about what can be done in place of strife, and to arouse appetites for Peace.  The ‘Irene’ awards would be more beautiful than Oscars.

There are 250 bible passages about peace.  How many, even among fundamentalists, know more than about a dozen?

In a Scots warning about the Last Judgement, the sinners cry, “Lord, Lord, we didna ken!  We did not know!” And the Lord replies, “Ye ken the noo.”  This too would be written up over the gate, together with, “All hope take with you, you who leave this place.”  The Peace Museum would be a chance to take up hope and resolution.

Imagination is the ability to consider what may be possible, in the real world, not only in fantasy.  On the TV screen, ruin, destruction and suffering are entertainment for voyeurs.  Through the living eye of imagination, we try to feel what these really would be like for our own selves,  and imagining further, imagine peace and pursue it.

March 15, 2012

The social value of middle-aged spread

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 2:36 am


My theory about the middle-aged spread (10 March, p 48) is that it has a world-wide social purpose, in imparting gravitas and importance to the wise elders and warm cuddliness to grandparents for the grandchildren.  The size of the middle-aged is important to society. Our modern age forgets this because it emphasises youth and slimness.


April 27, 2011

What we waste for short-term pleasure

Filed under: conservation, Pleasures, Waste — Tags: , , , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 1:54 am

When I was a child thinking that the bushland and the seascapes were infinite, we used to go with our buckets and bring home what we found in the rock pools, and collect all the wildflowers we could pick from the bush.

Now the fish and other creatures and the living shellfish are gone from the pools.  The rare and beautiful flowers are gone from what remains of the bush – the orchids, greenhood, tiger lily and the delicate spider orchids are gone. The sky-blue pincushions, the early nancies, the trigger flowers, the milkmaids, the egg-and=bacon, the chocolate flowers – all gone. Only occasionally a century flower appears in my garden.

We used to collect all the tadpoles we could find from the creek. Frogs are rare nowadays.

Boys – and men too – collected eggs from birds’ nest for their collections.  Lots of folk collected butterflies – blue, brown, white, and every sort of patterned wings.

If only we had collected photographs, if only we had been bird-twitchers watching for a sight of them.

We did not know.

Today we still do not know much.  Our cars, four-wheel drives especially, do not take photographs of what they leave behind us, on creek banks, on rutted earth.  The photographs in the ads show them plunging through creeks and standing amid low grasses, not the aftermath.

The beaches that were once so white and soft, and edged with marram grass and ti-tree – now cleaned by tractors from the litter people leave behind on the grey sand. These beaches were close to home.  Now people go further and further seeking more unspoiled beaches – to spoil.

We build our houses where the bushland creatures and flowers once flourished.

Today we need to think of pleasures as enjoyments that are watched rather than touched and collected.  We need to look behind us we leave

January 3, 2011

Still time for a New Year’s resolution

Filed under: Pleasures — Tags: , , , , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 12:08 am

Still time for a  New Year’s resolution

Two delightful books that are recommended reading are A.J.Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically, in which for a year he tried to live according to all the rules of the Old Testament, being Jewish.  He found some of the rules beyond him – he collected pebbles to stone adulterous women but never actually stoned one. Other rules were indescribably finicky or old-fashioned, but some of the laws were really worth thinking about – and doing.  The Year of Living like Jesus, by Protestant minister Ed Dobson, who has lived with a progressive terminal disease for nine years, is remarkable in showing how a man can live like a well-off American being obsessed most of that year by eating kosher and reciting the Rosary as a way of remembering Jesus’ life, with his greatest act of courage for the year in imitation of Jesus being to cause a great fuss among fellow American Christians by voting for Obama.

We are now in New Year 2011.  Read either of those two books, and then try The Year Of Living like Jesus said, going through the gospels. It will be extremely hard.  You can keep a diary like a ledger, red and black, according to how you find what he said is beyond you, and what is within your capacities. At the end of it you can throw the ledger out or not, but it will be an experience to try, if you like to try living dangerously.  Some priorities in religion may change, but you will be closer to realising what our times really challenge us with.

April 28, 2010

Seven deadly sins for today

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — valerieyulesletters @ 11:06 pm

The Seven Deadly Sins for today are the opposite of the medieval 7 Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Restraint as Temperance, Courage as Fortitude, Faith, Hope, and Charity as Love.

The opposites to these Virtues are far more likely to kill us all off than the sensual sins usually thought of as Deadly, which can kill us individually.

Create a free website or blog at