by MARTINE LEGGE
story of man's fight against misery is largely the story of the few fighting for the good of the many. All too often these few have been regarded by their contemporaries as eccentrics full of tiresome whims bent, willy nilly. on upsetting the status quo in ways which might prove uncomfortable, expensive Or politically embarrassing.
Consequently. the successful pioneers in this field of human behaviour have had to be fighters; single-minded, realistic, sure of their facts, dedicated and prepared to pull their punches to the point of irritating and sometimes frightening others into awareness of a situation and the need to do something about it.
Even today pioneers and reformers who set out to improve the human condition have to be made of iron if they are to achieve concrete results. On the other hand they have more opportunities than ever before of at least getting their message across.
This is partly due to the fact that it is no longer so mal vu by their colleagues if experts get down from their pedestals from time to time to explain their work to the public in language it can understand. But it Ls also because lay writers are now so geared to the dangers of inaccuracy that those who interpret the work of experts (with a view to entertaining as well as instructing) tend themselves to be involved with the message, or they would never embrace the rigours which writing such books today inevitably entails!
Voluntary Work in the Welfare State by Mary Morris ( Routledge St. Kegan Paul, 50s.) gives a detached and, on the whole. a well documented picture of the vital role which volunteers still play in the field of social work. More surprising is the revelation of how a large part of our statutory services would literally grind to a halt if all voluntary work were suddenly to be withdrawn.
The fact is that the State simply cannot meet all the country's social needs without
voluntary support and, although this is now officially recognised, it seems inconceivable in many people's understanding of what is meant by "the Welfare State." The principal reasons are the prohibitive cost of a comprehensive service and a shortage of trained personJae?.
But this situation is less often ascribed to the evolution of society which has created circumstances wherein more and more people need help with problems which, used to be dealt by families, friends and neighbours. There are also new areas of need which were
not even recognised in the past, or simply not considered to be needs which either could or should be met by the community.
By far the most interesting part of Lady Morris's book is her argument that in all societies and at all times, there are certain things which are done better by volunteers than by professionals in the context of social work.
But she also criticises the voluntary bodies for having failed so far to get together at a national level to work out overall plans (they are, apparently, still too suspicious of one another), as well as the lack of some kind of central agency which could coordinate matters concerning recruitment, training and allocation of job.s. There is still far too much wasteful overlapping.
My own criticism is that the author fails to discuss in depth the crucial problem of how the work of paid professionals and volunteers can best be integrated, nor does she attempt to define the exact sphere in which one is of more value than the other, despite the fact that this suggestion is central to her theme.
Another situation with far wider connotations which vexes many of us is the question; is the world really going to starve? The artiwers have rarely been satisfactory. They are usually too emotionally based and seem to see-saw between the alarmist and the complacent points of view. In Famine in Retreat? by Gordon Bridger and Maurice de Soissons (J. M. Dent & Sons, 45s.) the authors (one a senior economic advisor to the Minister of Overseas Development and the other a farming expert) have made a, thorough study of this elliptical subject and have come up with the argument, well supported by facts and figures and clearly stated opinions, that the recent alarmist theories about the inevitability of world starvation have all arisen out of a partial rather than a comprehensive view of the problem.
The message of this book is simple; that in spite of an encouraging prognosis and a situation which in many ways is steadily improving instead of worsening as the alarmists believe, we still cannot afford
to be complacent. O.K., there have been many extremely successful scientific discoveries in agricultural development (methods of cultivation and strains of grain which have greatly increased yields; protein production from such alien substances as oil etc.) But this is not the whole solution.
For it is upon the marriage of economic and sociological factors with technical advances (different in every country) that eventual success for the whole world depends. If, for instance. we are going to accept increases in population we must also create wealth as well as increase production and for this reason the fight against world poverty is every bit as important as the fight to grow more food.
And in the richer countries too we will have to decide which are the priorities. Many of the new techniques are extremely expensive. Do we spend our money on these or on other things?
Man Against Cancer by Bernard Glennser (Bodley Head 45s.) is a painstaking voyage in to the world of the expert in which everyone, including the author, gets lost. I am afaid I cannot sec the point of a nonexpert going through all the grind of producing a com prehensive picture of such a
complicated and highly
emotive situation as the cancer thing, when the results of research are still too opaque and controversial for the ordinary reader to make sense out of what is going on, or to give him enough hope (at this moment) to make reading such a book worthwhile.
It is, of course, imperative that the public should be aware of the extent and importance of the work being done to solve one of the most terrifying of contemporary problems. But. in my opinion, this kind of book merely confuses and upsets. It certainly had that effect on me.
And as for the style! God preserve us from all literary gimmicks aimed at catching and keeping your reader. When a writer uses the showbiz approach to sweeten the pill of imparting serious information on a subject about which many people are unduly fearful, the result is not only confusing but positively sets your teeth on edge.
All that most unforgettable character I've met sort of writing blends badly with the spectre of fear, pain and death which such a subject tends to arouse. And I could not help wondering what Dr. Cornelius Packard Rhoades of the SloanKettering Institute for Cancer Research thought when he read this description of himself. "He was big, handsome, brusque, irritable and he did not suffer fools gladly." It sounds like John Wayne ! No. no, no!