1960s >> 1961 >> no-678-february-1961
Sin on the Underground
What’s your pet worry? The Congo? H-Bombs? The Cold War? Anybody who is preoccupied with these pleasantries may have missed the petty censorship which was recently imposed upon London’s Tube stations and which passed, in fact, with only a little comment from one or two newspapers and the House of Lords. The subject of this censorship was a poster issued by the Family Planning Association which, after being displayed on many Tube stations, was withdrawn when the Transport Commission received some objections to it. The Commission justified their action by referring to a ruling of theirs which states that they “. . . will not accept posters which refer to religious or sacred subjects in a manner which might give offence or which contain matter or illustrations likely to be considered religiously controversial.”
What sort of a poster was it, to involve this ruling? We decided to find out. We spent a fortune on Tube fares, our eyes grew sore on advertisements for corsets, for films starring curvy B.B. or tough- slugging Westerners. We saw posters which exhorted the rush hour workers to partake of gracious living by drinking a certain Brown Ale—with out-of focus candelabra in the background.
Apparently, nothing in this pot-pourri of sex, violence and alcohol had raised a murmur of protest. At last we found the poster. We examined it closely, searched diligently for something in it which a reasonable person might object to. We could find none. It was not offensive, nor was it lewd. If anything, the people in it were a little overdressed.
It is difficult, then, to imagine the majority of Tube passengers objecting to this advertisement. We can only assume that it was removed because of a minority of religious purgers, who pressed their point in a barrage of protest. We have seen this happen before; the Lord’s Day Observance Society has used the technique for years, often against Roman Catholics. A more subtle method of suppression, this, than of yore, when Catholics would reduce to human charcoal any burglar or peasant who had difficulty in grasping a Papal chemical formula about bread and wine turning into flesh and blood. Or when Calvinists would burn a scholar who rejected a complex theory which held that there was a being called God, who was three people—and at the same time only one. More subtle, because the spread of materialist knowledge has made it harder to whip up hatred over theological disputes; but still reprehensible. For human progress depends upon the decisions of conscious people, not upon gags applied to society by a sanctimonious minority.
What about birth control? Much of the opposition to it is almost a mania for the intensely personal nature of sexual relationships makes it easy to rouse strong feelings in the matter. Some opponents—notably the Catholics —maintain that the use of contraceptives is a defiance of the “Almighty Will”: others that it invites an increase in juvenile promiscuity. Can we expect, then, that Catholics are not promiscuous? The Chief Medical Officer of the London County Council has reported that during 1959 there were 183 unmarried female immigrants from Catholic, anti-birth control Eire who, because they were pregnant when they came to this country, had to be assisted by the L.C.C. Welfare department. The Catholic Church is as helpless as any other organisation in these matters. Without a doubt, much of the religious opposition to birth control is roused by the fact that it is an attempt to shape our own environment, instead of leaving it to the will of a mythical supernatural being.
In fact, birth control is at present only a method of spreading out workers’ relative poverty, an attempt to prevent ourselves slipping too far into degradation and dire need. Whether we practice it or not, whether we have two children or sixteen we remain workers, depending on our wage to live. In underdeveloped countries, birth control is often given official backing, but the older established capitalist nations leave it as a matter of personal choice, only raising the issue of government support in. for example, times of slump.
We should remember that man’s future lies within his own society and that birth control could be a factor in fashioning the sort of world that man desires. But this in turn depends upon man’s social knowledge and his rejection of, for example, religious theories with their threats of hellfire and purgatory. When he has reached that stage, he will be facing the many aspects of living a civilised life in a developed society and there will be no bigots to decide what he may or may not do.