In George Orwell’s novel, 1984, Winston Smith is tortured by the inquisitor O’Brien to agree that 2+2=5. The torture is so extreme that Smith eventually momentarily believes 2+2 does in fact equal five. Orwell’s concept of ‘thought crime’ paints a picture that jars with any concept of society that is pluralistic, a society were difference is celebrated, where the norm is a dangerous concept when framed by legislators and those in power.
Northern Ireland has traditionally been a ‘conservative’ culture (small ‘c’) where the norm is celebrated by both sides of the divide. It is a country where the dominant religions are monotheistic. Such monotheism drives towards totalitarianism, as to disagree is to reject the singular concept of abiding by set rules,dictated to the plebian masses by our betters and those who have access to divine revelation or well heeled barristers and PR consultants.
In court today a judge declared that one must agree to ‘rules’, however arbitrary they are. The rules in question are random. They decree that boys attending an Antrim Grammar School are not allowed to have hair that touches the collar of the school blazer or have a ‘number one’ cut.
Justice Weatherup, in an oral judgement, said that such rules are valid and do not sexually discriminate against boys. The legal decision he gave is that while the rules differentiate between boys and girls, the boys who were involved in the case which the school brought to school were not ‘treated less favourably’ as a result of being treated differently.
Justice Weatherup will provide a written précis of his judgement next week, with a full written judgement to follow later.
Both the précis and judgement will make interesting reading, not least to make sense of the logic, but to see if there are any grounds to appeal for the families involved.
With regards to long hair, Justice Weatherup, was clear that the school involved (Ballyclare High School) was correct to establish a uniform policy which clearly dealt with male pupils and female pupils differently.
For my sins I attended almost all of the court proceedings in Belfast High Court. Over the three days, I missed two and a half hours out of the 3.5 days of the judicial review hearing. My views, as expressed here, are mine alone, and do not relate to the views my employer may or may not have over this case. But still, my views were formed after a lengthy series of sessions listening to ‘learned’ barristers bat backwards and forwards arguments that were often repetitive and in many cases fatuous. That is, of course, my own opinion. As yet freedom of speech has not been declared illegal.
But what has this case to do with rock and metal fans?
Firstly, there is a lengthy (excuse the pun) tradition of people with long hair, whether they are fans of rock/metal or not. Even the monotheists have an image of Jesus with flowing locks. From the bohemian artists, through to classic artists, long hair was not an issue, until the relatively recent dawn of the culture of conformity that arose, especially, in the post-WWII years.
That too was quickly upset in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and the 1980s. Teddy boys, rockers, hippies, punks, metalheads all represented a change and a challenge to the conformist norm.
This was acknowledged by Justice Weatherup when he remarked that times change. He also acknowledged that change was ‘possible’ in school rules via school councils.
However, at present for rock and metal fans who wish to have long hair it is now likely that if you are at school you will have to have short hair. End of story. It matters not your views, lifestyle choice, your favourite music, the fact that you chose a challenging and diverse genre of music to listen to.
Justice Weatherup elucidated the fact that rules be rules and to hell with those that seek to challenge the vanilla norm.
To be fair to the learned Justice Weatherup he was asked to judge on a situation that should not have ever been a matter for the courts.
What he did clearly say was that rules, like fashion are subject to change. One way that change could happen was through school councils; though I fear that any proposals a school council may bring forth over hair length will be rejected by the forces that prefer the mediocrity of conformity over the dynamism of diversity.
What should be worrying fans of rock and metal are the comments made by the principal of Ballyclare High School, Mr Knox (no doubt advised and coached by his PR consultants), outside court.
He said: "This is an important decision not just for Ballyclare High School but for all other schools and organisation which operate a uniform code and will no doubt be of great interest and relief to them."
Implicit in his comments are the fact that despite your ability, your talent, your intelligence, your wit, your awards, your commendations, your achievements, and your lifestyle choices you can be told that long hair is wrong.
The fact that short hair is as much a ‘fashion’ statement as long hair, escapes the enforcers of the norm. Short hair, as mentioned above, is a relatively recent adherence in human development
Implicit in the comments by Mr Knox, is that any body of assumed authority, whether it be a school or an employer, can dictate a uniform/appearance policy which requires short hair.
The House of Lords, in the shape of the Law Lords, have already drawn a distinction between ephemeral appearance and permanent appearance. That is, ephemeral issues apply to things that can be changed easily, such as dress restrictions, and permanent features are those that cannot be changed between periods not in school/work such as tattoos and length/style of hair. In future such a difference cannot be taken into consideration if the judgement delivered in Belfast stands further tests.
If your school has a ridiculous restriction on your hair length, or your employer decrees that you should ‘get it cut’ then you will have little chance in Northern Ireland’s courts to challenge such a decision. It may be arbitrary, insane or directly infringing any given article of human rights legislation, but such stupid policies can be upheld.
I am a male with hair that isn’t overly long (nowhere near as long as Herman Lii of Dragonforce for example) but is well past the collar ‘test’. I accept that when circumstances demand, ripped jeans and black tour t-shirts are not appropriate when working in an environment that dictates certain styles of dress, for example when meeting barristers or politicians. Equally, when meeting children and young people in the course of my work, or suppliers, or during internal meetings I may, by making an informed choice, dress differently.
I do not accept that my hair length has any bearing on my ability to perform my job.
I believe that as an educated person, skilled in my chosen profession, I can make such choices over ‘dress’ as appropriate without interference or censure.
That the likes of Mr Knox would challenge such an interpretation perhaps says more about him than those of us who rely on our intellect and ability rather than arbitrary rules.
That he, and the forces of conservatism that are rampant in this new Northern Ireland, can take anything but the short view is, frankly, scary.
It is also part of a trend towards ignorance over intellect. The monotheistic obscenity that is the triad of school, church and government is now lumbering towards dumbing down and seeking a norm dictated by fundamentalist religiosity.
For those who haven’t been paying attention the DUP (yep, party of Government etc) has been campaigning to make sure that ‘Intelligent Design’ - also known as creationism - should be taught in our schools, It matters not to this fundamentalist coalition of ill-informed that 'Intelligent Design' is discredited by 99% of scientists, rejected by most philosophers and even rejected by courts in America.
The DUP, together with their fellow fundamentalists, also advocate (in an uncanny echo of Roman Catholic doctrine) that young people should just not do that messy sex thing at all before some Holy Man prays to the Sky Fairy and declares that a couple can now shag at will.
Research, evidence, peer reviewed studies, science, philosophy matters not at all to their views.
We are living in a Northern Ireland that is dangerously tottering towards an era whereby medievalists not only hold sway, but can begin to introduce laws and deliver precedent that curtail freedoms and paint all those who are not conforming to the received wisdom as deviants to be hated, despised and legislated against.
How long before rock and metal CDs are burned in the streets?
How long before 2+2=5?
Our schools should be where enquiry and creativity are fostered. Our schools should be where diversity is celebrated and encouraged.
In our monotheistic dominated culture rock and metal represents a challenge to the ill-advised quest towards conformity rather than encouragingn questioning.
Yet, there is hope. That hope was expressed, in some way, by Justice Weatherup when he acknowledged that times change and outdated rules and policies should change to reflect that.
He argued that young people should have a vehicle for change, and in school that should be the school council. By extrapolation such vehicles should be available in the workplace.
So, unless you wish to be a member of the pack, slavishly following the rules, doffing the cap to conventionality, it is incumbent to speak out. The courts may believe themselves to be the final arbiter, but they are not. Sufficient voices (or guitars and drums!) can be raised that the demand that we accede to 2+2=5 can be rejected in favour of rationality, diversity and a celebration of all who challenge the accepted wisdom of mediocrity.
But my cautionary note is this. Semi-literate rantings in text-speak will cut no ice. Bebo and the Stepen Nolan show have yet to be accorded equal status to the High Court.
Argue from logic and the developing continuum of a rights-based culture, not from blasé waffles. What is needed is clarity of mind, wit and a vision for a culture based on understanding that clones are just a repetition of past mistakes.
As Fish of Marillion wrote: “Where are the prophets, where are the visionaries, where are the poets?”
Where is the eloquence that does't talk down, but elevates debate.
We must not wallow in the norm if the music and culture beloved by many thousands in Northern Ireland is to be preserved and cherished. Northern Ireland rocks, let us never forget that.
Ok, rant over (for now) and no I’m not getting my hair cut unless it is my decision, not a decision forced on me. And to the young people concerned…I’m past 40 and the bastards haven’t ground me down yet!