Meritocracy; Something to Report


The movie October Sky conveys it all,

Serves either as a warning or a guide.

We can take it as a fine uplifting tale

Or look more carefully at the other side.

Four teenage boys in a struggling town

Are science-geeks and full of eager flair.

As the local coal mines are closing down

They’re firing home-made rockets in the air.

This well-presented film unfolds to show

How they rise above their families and peers,

How they gain their opportunities and go

To blossom into aerospace engineers.

The town will eke its poor and broken lives

In the absence of this chosen little band,

For the whizz-kids are off to all that thrives

In some far Californian yuppie-land.

The moral is that winners must cut free

And kick away the props of all they were,

And the confident assumption is that we

Have no thought but to heartily concur.

But of course there’s a whole other ethic

The movie could have set itself to trace,

With one of the boys determining to stick

To his own people and his native place.

We’d watch the temptation being pressed,

The Devil’s bargain that would let him win,

The wicked deal that skims away the best

And tosses the remainder in the bin.

We’d note how his nerve and spirit held,

And how he comes to recognise his goal

Is not the flashy gaining of the world

But rather the retaining of his soul.

We’d see salvation isn’t in the new,

In the glitter of what you rush to find,

But gleams at its deepest and most true

In the things you refuse to leave behind.

Something to Report

One evening in a Gloucestershire town,

Having covered many miles on his way,

Cobbett had the pleasure of writing down:

“I have seen no woe-worn creature this day.”

He meant the ills were not at fever-pitch,

The desperation wasn’t dark and deep.

He had found no one starving in a ditch

And no one hanged for stealing of a sheep.

He contemplates the horrors further north,

Broods yet again on how the System kills

To dampen “revolution” and bring forth

The booty of those dark satanic mills …

So here was a blessing to be thankful for,

One glimmer of satisfaction all too brief.

When a scheme is ferocious at the core

The lesser harms can seem like a relief.

Now allow the picture to whirl ahead

And we’re two centuries on from that night

When a friend of the people went to bed

For once not wholly livid at their plight.

Although its key assumption is the same

—That lives are as disposable as trash—

Our system might appear a trifle tame

In contrast to the gallows and the lash.

And yet if Cobbett saw it he might say

That we have other savageries to show,

And smaller chance of riding for a day

Without encountering the face of woe.

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