Thursday, 16 March 2017


Hooligans break into your home, beat you up, sodomise your spouse, vandalise your valuables and flee, guffawing. What punishment would fit their crimes? Hard labour? Chopping off limbs? The whip? Or, more radically, excising their evil will?

Anthony Burgess’ ultraviolent literary masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange, pulls no punches. Director Stanley Kubrick made a riveting and controversial movie version way back. The current Park Theatre stage adaptation – saw it last night - combines fun and ferocity. Along with his mates, feral teenager Alex rampages with gusto on the streets of a modern Western city. Kids who are like Hobbes’ human wolves, bent on making innocent lives nasty, brutish and short. Even jail proves unable to curb the handsome brute’s savagery. Until scientist Brodsky subjects Alex to the Ludovico technique. It works! He won’t hurt anyone again – even a fly - but…is the cure right? Too high a moral price to pay?

Anthony Burgess penned a dramatic novel about the conflict between free will and determinism.  The Ludovico technique uses negative behaviour reinforcement to cure Alex of his violent impulses. He is robbed of his power to choose between good and evil. Drugged and strapped to a lab table by sinister Dr Brodsky, he is forced to watch newsreels depicting sadistic scenes like Nazi tortures, murders and mayhem. Every time violent images show up, Alex gets a painful electric shock. Again and again the procedure is repeated. After two weeks the wretched boy is ‘healed’. No longer a danger to society. He can be safely released into the world.

Reformed Alex’s problems have just started. Rejected by his unlovely family, he can’t defend himself when attacked by his former friends, now ‘redeemed’ as police officers. Unable to do harm to others, the homeless boy can’t resist harm done to him, even if unjustly. The only man who is kind to him is an odd, half-mad fellow who takes him in – only turning fiendish when he recognises in Alex the former rapist of his wife. It does Alex a fat lot of good to swear he is now changed – the guy, maddened by hatred, seeks revenge!

The worse aspect of the treatment is that Alex is conditioned to feel pain when the music of his beloved Ludwig Van Beethoven is played. It’s become an unbearable, hurtful symphony. But so what? Music is only noise, ‘an emotional heightener’, opines philistine Dr Brodsky. In the bleak world of stimulus-response behaviourist science, beauty is as meaningless as ethics.

Alex and his fellow miscreants talk in a bizarre, fascinating lingo. An idiolect created by Burgess, a learned student of foreign languages, by mixing English and Russian words. ‘A great strain to read’, complained a dumb critic once. Quite the contrary. A juicy, gorgeous linguistic feast. Roussky words like malchik, rassodock, moloko, gromky and malenko sound rather topical. Long after the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia is again demonised. The idiotic rulers of the West are out to rerun the Cold War. The Russian bear they love to bait - makes its growls chillingly fashionable, perhaps?

A Roman Catholic, Burgess believed that free will is the glory of man as a God-created being. Free choice, the capacity to choose between different moral actions is what differentiates human beings from brutes. But the capacity to do right, to choose good instead of evil, logically implies the capacity, the possibility to choose an evil course. When deprived of that capacity a person is no longer human. He becomes like one of the pseudo-intelligent machines that science is busy inventing. Robots which are not real persons. Only mimicking human conduct. Because they are not free to choose. Machines programmed, determined to act in a particular way. Unlike the clinical programmers, the Creator has gifted his creatures the most precious of gifts: freedom. God since the Garden of Eden has bestowed upon you the faculty that makes you truly human. The faculty to freely choose either or good or evil: free will.

The Park Theatre production – an athletic all-male cast - updates things by introducing a strong homosexual strand, absent from Burgess’ novel. A fashionable sop to our culture. The audience made the priest think, though. Overwhelmingly white and middle class. Odd, because the theatre is bang in the heart of Finsbury Park. One of the most multi-ethnic & artisan areas of North London. The Left’s dream of making culture accessible to the working classes clearly has not worked. Because, groan…the masses don’t give a damn for culture. Football, darts, trashy soaps, mobile phones, boozy hols, the betting shop – that’s all they care for. Too bad. You can take a horse to the water, you can’t make it drink.

Intellectually, the battle between free will and determinism rages on. Yesterday it was Marx & the economic structures that ruled men, today it is Dawkins, Dennett, genes, neuroscience, that gaff. Philosophically, the modern forerunner was materialist thinker Thomas Hobbes. (Why is there so often an Englishman at the root of  mischief?) He concocted a caricature of free will, reducing human actions to mechanical effects imposed on people by their desires and appetite, like beasts. Plainly false, because people can decide to act contrary to their desires, if they are wrong.

Still, watch out for youths like Alex. He is still out there. And not quite reformed yet…

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


** follow on Twitter (Twitter Account not yet Authorized)
| ** friend on Facebook (#)
| ** forward to a friend (

Copyright © Fr Frank Gelli
Email Marketing Powered by MailChimp
** unsubscribe from this list (
| ** update subscription preferences (

No comments: