10 April 2011

An Analogy Sets Me Thinking ...

A movement which started after WWII, and which gathered pace during the fifties took off in the sixties and by the early seventies had carried all before it, leaving us a much impoverished bunch.  I refer, of course, to metrication. 
Rereading Warwick Cairns book about the origin of traditional, pre-metric measures, and where they came from, their links back to to the distant past, leads one to an inevitable and clunking analogy about the New Mass: it's fine, it does the job, but it's a dimension short of what we had before.  It's all very well that a kilometre is (well, isn't actually, but what the heck) a ten millionth of the distance between the North Pole and the Equator, but a mile is two thousand paces, and an acre is ten furlong strips ploughed, and a brick is a hand's breadth, and shoe sizes are measured in barley corns.  (No, I won't!  Buy the book - it's brilliant.)  And just to finish off the analogy, the crying shame is that the change was introduced just as any justification for its being necessary disappeared: just as universal literacy meant that anyone could follow Mass in an English-Latin Missal, so the electronic calculator made the introduction of the metric system unnecessary.

But hey ho!  Metric does.  If you go to the supermarket, there is a suspicious number of joints of meat weighing in at 900 grams, 1.2 kilos and so on: it's all still being done in imperial: they're just not letting on.

But a kind soul showed me James Preece's rather good article in the Catholic Herald against Children's Liturgies, and a sentence he chucked in about the precipitous decline in Catholicism in England and Wales being due to execrable catachesis (my words) made me realise that the analogy might hold a deeper message.  I can cope with metric because I keep translating.  A 1.2 kilo joint of pork is three pounds, so it does for 3 x 30 minutes plus 30, whereas if it were beef it would do for 3 x 20 plus 20.  No matter how the meat is packaged, I cook it in imperial.

My children however, have no concept of measurement as something instinctive.  They did calculations in metric at school, and hear imperial at home but have no concept of what the terms mean in any meaningful sense.  The radical disconnect with the old system has bothered me, but not too much as I can translate.  They don't know how to because they haven't absorbed either system except as an intellectual exercise and at a shallow level.  Their children will only ever understand one new system (and will be more deracionated and therefore poorer for it) and it will be the new one, but taught to them not by their family in the context of their environment but as an arbitrary external absolute.  It will measure things for them, but it will separate them from their past.

I'd love someone to explain to me why this analogy is wrong if applied to the New Mass: that the heritage of the ages, the hermenwhatsit of thingummybob, is just as rich in the new as in the old, and that what I (taught by people, it has just struck me, who possibly never uttered the word "liturgy" in their lives) learned by the time I was eleven, will be understood at all by those teaching my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


Left-footer said...

I'm sure you're right, but I must work out why. If/when I do, I'll be back with my pennyworth of wisdom.

God bless.

Anagnostis said...

Attenuation of tradition as a consequence of responsibility for it being resigned to the few.

One of the saddest things about decimalisation was the manner in which every crowned head but that of the present Queen disappeared from the currency overnight. My children have no idea who preceded her, or what they looked like.

I still do sums in Old Money for amusement, but also because almost nobody else still can, or can visualise a Victorian penny or George V sixpence. Like many of our generation, I can do 'cold' only in Celcius, and 'hot' only in Farenheit.

Rita said...

Metric has always been favoured by "little Napoleons"; those who wish to force change and order and "common sense" on others.

Metric simply isn't common sense; 10 is not divisible by 3 or 4 which makes is decidedly unusable, unlike imperial units. Metric is clunky and actually makes its users less able to have a feel for numbers and mathematics. There is a strong analogy to the relation between the EF and the clunkiest of NO Masses here. Metric has it's place, but to argue about its superiority is misguided.

Let is also be said that as much as you may wish for a wholesale return to Feet and Inches, there will always be someone campaigning for Ells and Fingers...heigh ho.

Ttony said...

Rita: yes, indeed! And the fingering ellers will no doubt set up their own measurement community with proper dress for the Weighmaster-in-Chief and his acolytes. "There's only three of us but we do it right."

Anagnostis: Celsius below zero, Fahrenheit above: indeed, me too. It's a bit 1967 though. ;-)

Londiniensis said...

Ah, but isn't the analogy the other way round? The Metric System is, like Latin, the universal language. Our imperial and avoirdupois, just as all the pre-metric continental systems, leagues, versts, et al. are the slightly dodgy vernaculars ...

Ttony said...

Londoniensis: No. They're the uses. Sarum, Bangor, York, Aberdeen; and bits fall away or are added as needed. A league is the distance it take you an hour to walk, and as long as you need that measure then you have it. It's still three miles, though.