It seems that everywhere I see articles by this Christopher Hitchens fellow, and they’re usually quite interesting. At The Atlantic this month, Hitchens has published one about Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, and his Scouting movement. It’s titled Young Men in Shorts and it’s rather worth a read.
Its emphasis on the outdoors and on personal courage and initiative notwithstanding, the scouting ethos had always had something modern and totalitarian about it. B-P could not even keep his nature notes under control: he told his trusting readers that industrious bees were to be admired: “They are quite a model community, for they respect their queen and kill their unemployed.” He repeatedly referred to the movement he had inaugurated as “a factory,” for bodies and minds as well as “characters.” The expression “to be a brick,” still in use if somewhat archaic, originates with this fearsome injunction:
You should remember that being one fellow among many others, you are like one brick among many others in the wall of a house. If you are discontented with your place or your neighbors or if you are a rotten brick, you are no good to the wall. You are rather a danger. If the bricks get quarrelling among themselves the wall is liable to split and the whole house to fall.
Some bricks may be high up and others low down in the wall; but all must make the best of it and play in their place for the good of the whole. So it is among people; each of us has his place in the world, it is no use being discontented.
Hitchens’ fascinating reflections on this movement make me think back to my own experiences as a Boy Scout; my experience, in Canada, seems to have been much more focused on the nature-and-survival side of things, though it’s notable that the one person in town who was vaguely British when I was a Cub Scout (the younger version of a boy scout) was my father. I don’t know what my postcolonial-lit friends would think of his teaching us a Zulu war dance (he did so in a massive indoor gymnasium, and we bore hockey-sticks with the heads removed as our spears in the dance), but it certainly bore nothing of the revulsion that Baden-Powell might have felt at seeing boys learn the traditional war dance of a pack of Zulu Africans.
Or would Baden-Powell have embraced such a thing, as he did Bushido? It’s difficult to say.
In any case, this Hitchens guy: he’s worth a read.