An incorrigible schoolmate of mine would exasperate his entire class by treating us to nonsensical updates on the college cricket score: “38 for 4, all out!”, he would declare blithely, with a serene smile on his diabolical features. At the other end of the spectrum, there are worthier declarations with more credibility behind them… or into which significance can be breathed even as we utter the words from which they are composed.
Religious creeds, for one; declarations of independence, for another. In-between such weighty statements and the juvenile jokes of schoolboys, there is a kaleidoscope of utterances ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous – but that is neither here nor there, dear reader! My present concern is not so much what declarations humanity has made over the past six millennia or so since recorded history began; but rather, the declarations that a sub-species of Homo sapiens is now refusing to make… but more about that later, eh?
“I do declare!”
Permit us to reflect a moment or three on some remarkable declarations. My mind goes back to a rare collection of ‘space poetry’ in which I read these lines: “The un-devout astronomer is mad; so Young declared a century ago! Today we’d like to know what right he had, to pontificate and lay the law down so?” Star-struck, I was, by that thought – and if you have surveyed the heavens on a clear night when you can see forever, you would be forgiven for wondering what humankind is that God should be mindful of us.
Two grander declarations spring to mind… Firstly, this by Martin van Buren: “For myself, therefore, I desire to declare that the principle that will govern me in the high duty to which my country calls me is a strict adherence to the letter and spirit of the Constitution as it was designed by those who framed it.” Pity that this declaration has not made much of an impression on those on whom it should have made more of an impact for the common good… van Buren, by the way, was known as ‘Old Kinderhook’ by his compatriots in the legislature – and whenever he was absent from the caucus and an important bill was to be passed, he would vote in favour of it in absentia by telegramming his initials of acquiescence: “O. K.”
This, we are given to understand, by those who have a lot of time on their hands to research trivia, is one etymological root of the ubiquitous ‘okay’… Secondly, a quote from that inimitable monarch, Elizabeth II: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” Now, we’re not entirely sure if this is a royal motto worth emulating, but at least one latter-day family with ambitions of empire have adopted it uncritically – no, dear, I’m not telling you which family that family is!
Nothing to declare?
An all-time favourite of mine is the irrepressible Oscar Wilde, who once told Customs Officers at New York that he had “nothing to declare” but his genius. Evidently, this wild streak has inspired many of our parliamentarians-to-be (they wish). Only this week, many of them – far too many of them for our liking – declared that they had nothing to declare in terms of their assets. Genius?
Or sheer disingenuousness? The public will have to make up its own mind about these budding MPs hastily summoned from the ranks of sportsmen, movie stars, and other scum… er, I mean, salt of the earth. Why will they not declare their assets? What is it about their assets that make otherwise perfectly forthcoming athletes and aesthetes shy and retiring?
Is there something about their putative declarations that will not stand up to public scrutiny? In the unlikely event that they are elected to the House, how likely is it that their undeclared assets will be deposed of and the proceeds disbursed in favour of the public that they loudly claim to serve? Not half likely, by crikey!
Why is it, then, that we allow these undeclared asset-holders to get away with it time and again? How did it come to pass that where previously persons of means got into politics to serve the people, today people with no means get into politics to serve themselves? When will we, the people, declare that enough is enough and act decisively to “usher in a new political culture”? Yes, that hackneyed phrase trotted out by lame-duck professorial-type theoreticians who wouldn’t know a political culture if it infected their bread and spread in their butter!
The rest is silence…
Sorry, dear, to be so bitter. But galling it is to be gulled so many times by the wiles of those who are in it just to feather their nests! We have been let down so many times by brass monkeys who don’t give a tinker’s farthing for anyone but themselves that we have come to distrust and disbelieve the honest Injun who genuinely wants to make the legitimate buck on the side… I mean to say, who could grudge the righteous brother who will work half the time for the poor, starving masses; and the other half for his fed-up-to-the-gills fellow travellers a.k.a. friends and family?
If you’re willing to play the percentages (as, no doubt, such hypocritically crooked politicos are), isn’t it better to have an elected representative who’s not only not as crooked as his chums, but smart enough to spread the commissions around so smoothly so as not to ruffle other envious feathers? I’m not so sure…
The old argument that this is a developing nation and that some corruption is par for the course in the developmental phase, just does not wash anymore! And that’s all I have to say about that! (End of my declaration!)