Friday, 30 December 2016

The ghosts of Christmas past

I love Christmas and everything that goes with it: the decorations, the presents, the music, the shameless excess and, most of all, the convivial atmosphere – that thing the Germans call Gem├╝tlichkeit. It's the summer of the soul in December, as the Muppets once sang: a warm glow of joy amid that cheerless gulf that begins in autumn and ends in spring.

I once spent a Christmas in Australia and was amused to discover they share our imagery of snowscapes and roaring fires, despite it being the middle of their summer. Much of this has to do with their British roots, of course, but it’s also because in the Anglosphere our notion of Christmas is intrinsically tied to the myths and traditions popularised by the Victorians. Christmas is an exercise in nostalgia for our own pasts and those of others.

Any annual event is bound to induce nostalgia, but it seems to me the Christmas we reminisce about and try to recreate each year belongs to an age that ended sometime in the early 1990s. Since then, few memorable festive songs have been written, programmes made, or traditions started – perhaps because this is when the world began to take on a look and feel that is familiar today. The warm glow of remembrance is generally reserved for different, simpler times, not dogeared versions of the here-and-now.

Christmases of yore were chintzy and naff, but that was their charm. They lacked the self-consciousness and affectation of today, where everything is an ‘event’, finessed within an inch of its life. The gaudy decorations, tacky gifts and blurry snapshots of yesteryear contained more authenticity than than anything found in the pixel-perfect modern Christmas. Give me Joe Brown flogging C90 tapes dressed as a ringmaster over a John Lewis sobfest any day.

Maybe no one has recorded a decent Christmas single lately because we’ve lost the ability to be so cheerfully uncool. Then again, maybe we lacked the means to be anything else back then, and technological and economic advancements have cost us our appreciation of modest pleasures. Yesterday's stuff of wonder is today's humdrum, the once-luxurious is now throw-away cheap, and what was hard to find is just a mouse click away. That’s the price of progress and there’s no way of putting the genie back in its bottle.

Progress has also made the world a smaller place. We are connected as never before to other people, inundated with a constant flow of news and information, able to document our lives and exchange opinions on social media whether we’re sitting at home or on the other side of the planet. This is a far cry from the the days when teenagers reached beyond their provincial bedrooms via letters, magazines and transistor radios – lines of communication that made the world feel larger for being so insubstantial.

This was the Britain of my youth in the early 1980s. The country was still a grey, parochial place  a land of YTS schemes, picket lines and Findus Crispy Pancakes. Entertainment was three TV stations watched on a square wooden box. Offices were smoke-filled places, full of typewriters and casual sexism. Politics was a battleground, stalked by Tory radicals and Labour Trots. And above everything loomed the Cold War, the Russians, and the threat of armageddon.

No wonder feel-good pop music was so pervasive at the time. People needed a little colour in their lives, and those sun-drenched videos, garish hair-dos and ridiculous outfits provided the perfect tonic. Who wouldn't want to fantasise about visiting Club Tropicana or holidaying on Duran Duran’s yacht when there were three million unemployed and nuclear oblivion was a four-minute warning away?

The Eighties also represented a tipping point, from a Britain steeped in heritage and tradition to a modern, cosmopolitan nation. It was the twilight of a less cynical, knowing age; gloriously corny, perhaps, but thankfully devoid of the kind of over-thought, over-regulated bullshit that blights life today.

For a few brief years, we had the best of both worlds: a Britain that was still decidedly British, but experiencing the first exotic signs of globalisation. For the young, it was an especially thrilling time, because popular culture was pitched more squarely at them than ever before. A technological revolution saw home computers, microwaves and video recorders becoming commonplace in people’s homes, and all this razzamataz was sufficiently baffling to the older generation to suggest a line had been drawn in the sand. It was the dawning of a new era that belonged to the young.

This is significant because our way of life until then had been largely dictated by that older generation. Most World War Two veterans were barely out of middle-age, and their influence, interests and experiences loomed large in our lives. They respected the past and its achievements, and paid tribute to them through the preservation of everything from our social norms to our architecture. This was clearly no longer Victorian England, but enough of that period’s ideas and infrastructure had survived to provide a sense of continuity from one age to another.

I am reminded of this by an incident from my childhood. I was seated by the window of my school classroom in what is now an antiquated scene: blackboard and chalk, rows of lid-top desks stained with ink. It was a cold morning and I was enjoying the warmth of the old cast-iron radiator set beneath the window. In places, the paint had been chipped away from the metal, revealing ancient layers that marked the passing of the years like the rings on a tree. It occurred to me that some of the caretakers who had applied this paint were probably long dead, and that the hundreds of children who had sat in this spot before me were now grown men, or had already completed life’s journey. That radiator, that classroom and that school where small monuments to experiences and practices stretching back a hundred years or more.

Accumulated experience is not something to be discarded lightly. It contains the wisdom of the ages, and catalogues the stories and traditions that make us who we are. It doesn't dictate our fate; it informs our choices and emboldens us to do things that conventional thinking might put out of bounds. And yet discard it we have done in recent years – possibly because it humiliates our modest accomplishments, or because its life-lessons threaten our egotistical desires, or simply because we think that all change is for the better. Whatever the reason, its gradual disappearance has left a soul-shaped hole in our lives.

There's plenty about the past we are well rid of, but with change comes the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and surrendering to the nudge-nudge of those who think they know better. Gentle customs are scorned out of existence; common ties are sacrificed in the name of diversity; cherished artefacts make way for charmless replacements; the open spaces of childhood are covered in houses; the freedom to live an unsupervised life is whittled away.

Perhaps the nostalgia that consumes us at this time of the year is the response of people who feel that, in the march of progress, they have left something behind. Like the Soviets who knew their way of life was wrong despite knowing no other, the society served up to us nowadays doesn’t feel natural. It doesn’t reflect our tastes or stem from our experiences.

This is why the big public events we organise nowadays have lost their authenticity: because they are no longer a part of who are. I recall the celebrations that surrounded the Silver Jubilee of 1977 and the Royal Wedding of 1981 as being genuine outpourings of public affection. Street parties were just what people did. There was nothing contrived or ersatz about them; they were as genuine as any other similar events to have taken place over the previous century. By comparison, more recent public celebrations have had a whiff of tribute to them. They feel forced and phoney – simulacrums of the real thing, orchestrated by people hoping to resurrect experiences and sentiments that have been lost to us.

When striking poses of sophistication becomes a substitute for real accomplishment, the past appears shameful and ridiculous, with nothing to teach us about how we should live today. Society is rebuilt around our selfish whims, the need to feel good about ourselves and the snooty sophistication of . When the authorities step in to satisfy this need, they remove the autonomy and spontaneity that allow us to come together and build a society in our own image. They encourage us to look inwards, to feel vulnerable, and to regard other people as a threat to our wellbeing.

Technology has made it easier for us to stay connected, but it has also enabled us to keep each other at arm’s length. The more that Internet communication becomes the norm, the more weird and troublesome meeting in person seems. Staying in to avoid the hell of other people is seen as natural and healthy. Setting aside your hang-ups to be part of a crowd is becoming a thing of the past.

None of this is conducive to the joyous, devil-may-care attitude that characterises Christmas, which is probably why we still celebrate it so passionately each year. It’s a chance to throw off our inhibitions, ignore our modern pieties, and be the people we used to be. Not the idiots who goosed women and drunk-drove home, maybe, but the people who came together to enjoy simple pleasures in an unironic, heartfelt way.

To borrow from Ebeneezer Scrooge, honour Christmas in your heart and try to keep it all the year. Live in the past, the present, and the future. The spirits of all three shall strive within you. Do not shut out the lessons that they teach.

Friday, 25 November 2016

The war is far from over

Apparently, minority groups across America believe they will be vulnerable to persecution under a Trump presidency. Millions of bigots, whose tendencies had been kept in check by President Obama, will become suddenly emboldened. Hate crimes will skyrocket. Immigrants will be dragged from their homes and thrown into internment camps or deported. Gays, lesbians and transsexuals will be openly mocked and abused. Boozed-up rednecks will cruise the streets in pickup trucks, lynching anyone whose face doesn’t fit. And so on.

It’s true that Trump has promised to enforce immigration law (something that only seems outrageous after eight years of imperial disdain for the statute book), but the rest of this doomsaying is pure hysteria. The tempest of hate supposedly directed at the Left's favourite victims really boils down to a willingness to call bullshit on the lies and conspiracy theories that shore up these groups’ victimhood and empower the left-wing establishment.

From white supremacy and the patriarchy to Islamophobia and the cop-executioners of Black Lives Matter imagination, these fantasies have been uncritically reported by the liberal media as incontestable facts. The same media then calmly describes any contrary opinion as extremist - not opinions remotely on the scale of those progressive fables, you understand, but anything that merely contradicts them.

Breitbart News had a taste of this during its recent run-in with AppNexus. The ad exchange firm blacklisted Breitbart for allegedly using inflammatory language. It declined to give examples, so the BBC helpfully provided some in its report on the story: one headline suggesting women being offended online should log off, another calling for Southerners to take pride in the Confederate flag, and a third describing young Western Muslims as a ticking timebomb.

These headlines are only scarily ‘out there’ if you subscribe lock, stock and barrel to the progressive worldview. Otherwise, they just represent a different perspective - one that doesn't take the Left's word as gospel and doesn't believe that opposing its agenda amounts to an attack on the people it claims to care about.

While conservatives are branded bigots for failing to stand aside and wave through the progressive bulldozer, those caring-sharing lefties can do all the rioting, looting, punching, kicking and screaming they like, and if the media bothers to report it, it's to claim they were riled up by right-wing hate. Concerned about those fake news stories we keep hearing about? Look no further.

But times are a-changing. It's gradually dawning on the Left that it can no longer recite its favourite tropes without fear of dissent. The media’s determined efforts to thwart Trump and crush Brexit have destroyed what public trust it enjoyed, and harmed its effectiveness as a propaganda machine. The silent majority has had its say and the establishment is appalled to discover that decades of browbeating have not shaken erroneous thoughts from its head.

This must be particularly hard to take when (in cultural terms, at least) the Left seemed to be at some kind of apogee until quite recently. The banshee wail of social justice warriors echoed across the land, winning support from politicians, on-message hacks and harebrained celebrities. A blizzard of po-faced hashtags circled the globe, leaving no one in any doubt that racism, sexism, white privilege and all those terrible ‘phobias’ were grave problems that only a censorious left-wing establishment could defeat. The EU would march on, Hillary would be President, the SJWs would prevail, and all would be right in the world. Then this.

Anyone expecting a rethink by leftists will be disappointed. They will cling to their theories more fiercely than ever in the coming months. They will treat every bump in the road as proof that the Right got it wrong. If it rains on their birthday, it'll be the fault of Trump, Brexit, etc. And if reality proves otherwise, they'll bury their heads and carry on regardless.

They have plenty of form at this kind of thing. Take for instance that notorious symptom of the patriarchy, the gender pay gap - a theory so thoroughly refuted even the Huffington Post has been known to doubt it. Lefties still trot it out with a straight face and cry “woman-hater” at anyone who objects. Do they know it's a bogus statistic? Probably, but they would justify its use by saying it helps push the issue of sexism up the public agenda. And how do they know such sexism exists? Well, just look at the gender pay gap.

If misogyny were truly rife in society, proof of its existence would come down to more than debunked studies, prickly paranoia and mental gymnastics. Since that's all we get, there must be some underlying need by the Left to believe that we live in a deeply sexist society. Likewise, when Black Lives Matter jumps to conclusions and sticks to them long after they've been contradicted by facts, we're seeing a pathological need to believe that America is a virulently racist place.

These comfort blankets don't come without a cost. They sow disunity and distrust. They encourage a belief that the feelings of designated victims are more important than the facts of the matter. They dissuade individuals from examining the real cause of their unhappiness (often themselves). Perhaps worst of all, they describe millions of blameless people as bigots and invite them to be despised.

This isn't an unhappy coincidence. Left-wing ‘compassion’ always amounts to scapegoating someone else and punishing them for their sins. Outcomes that don't apportion blame and demand atonement don't pass muster. All those noble causes that lead to this point are just a pretext. It's screwing over others and destroying their way of life that matters.

What ‘white people’, the patriarchy and all those other bogeymen have in common is that they represent a particular social arrangement liberal-leftists object to - one that requires them to work hard, take responsibility, put a lid on their appetites, respect other people's wishes and meet their standards. By championing their favoured causes, leftists hope to undermine this way of life and avoid its clutches.

They won't be deterred by their recent setbacks. They will fight more keenly than ever to restore themselves at the top of the tree. So what? Let them rant and rave. A change is coming whether they like it or not. Just be warned: the battle may be won, but the war is far from over.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

The rise and fall of the new aristocracy

First there was Brexit, then Trump. Both represented the popular rejection of the establishment - of a self-satisfied, self-serving elite that thinks it knows best, and responds with petulant rage when anyone suggests otherwise.

So how did this elite come about, what's its motivation, and what is bringing about its downfall?

Here's what I think happened. We used to have a formula for a successful society and it largely involved leaving people to their own devices. They rubbed along together, suffered each other's judgement, satisfied one another's needs, and settled on guiding principles through trial and error. It wasn't perfect, but it was the most perfect state of imperfection.

Trouble was, all this toil and competition wasn't for everyone. Some people lacked the means or inclination to succeed on these terms, so chose another path. If they couldn't be the most socially-skilled or business-savvy, they could be the smartest and the kindest. Here were qualities that seemed lacking in the people they resented, which could be affected with little effort or sacrifice on their part. All they needed were the right opinions to parrot.

Unsurprisingly, they saw stupidity and cruelty wherever they looked: in every unmet need, frustrated desire and unequal outcome. Wherever reality fell short of perfection, they found proof of too much laissez-faire and too little control by people like them. If only they were in charge, instead of the fools, bigots and bullies, everything would be perfect.

In this utopia, thinkers and talkers would be held in higher esteem than lunk-headed ‘doers’. The most important of them would be freed from accountability, so they might get things done without interference from below. Educated, caring people everywhere would form a new aristocracy, whose ideas and feelings would trump the facts and deeds of the old guard.

And eventually, they got their way. What started as an effort to rationalise their grievances and assuage their insecurities became a route to power. Their central narrative - that freedom is a disease and learned caregivers are the cure - spread enough guilt and uncertainty to topple the traditional order.

The new ruling elite cherishes people and institutions that serve as standard-bearers for their kind. Be they the EU, the BBC or Barack Obama, they perpetuate the notion that society is a complex machine that only a select few can be trusted to operate. They reinforce the values that keep this anointed group in charge and hold the benighted masses at bay.

Unlike the aristocracy of old, today's nobles are often drawn from more modest stock. They're not all politicians, luvvies and tech millionaires. Anyone can feel a part of the ruling class simply by holding the proper opinions. These affiliate members might lack any real influence, but they live vicariously through those who do and share their smug sense of superiority.

When you deal in sentiments and ideas, there is no sales ledger to gauge your success. Your insistence that you are better than everyone else is everything. To concede for a moment that your naysayers share your perspicacity but simply take a different approach would be self-defeating. They must be measured as you measure yourself: not on results but on purity of intent. If you are better than them, it's because their motives are not as pure as yours. They are not just wrong, they are evil.

According to this philosophy, what is well-meaning is ‘good’, being ‘good’ is the acme of human endeavour, and expressions of ‘goodness’ by the ruling elite are the key to a better world. So anything that provides that elite with an opportunity to showcase its virtue is praiseworthy, regardless of its real-world benefits and irrespective of its veracity.

Calling someone a victim is the right thing to do, even if they are not being victimised. Promising people unearned benefits is honourable, even if it harms them in the long-run. Panicking about climate change is noble, because it expresses concern and empowers a benevolent elite. Pretending all cultures are equally compatible with our own is kind-hearted, even if it puts lives at risk.

Consequence doesn't enter into the equation here - partly because it is irrelevant to what is ‘good’ and partly because the cloistered lives of the elite distance it from any corrective feedback. Even its less privileged members, who are more vulnerable to cause-and-effect, are willing to ignore the contagion they help spread, so they can focus on feeling good about themselves.

When fine-sounding words are your trading currency, you have to keep spending to stay on top. You need injustices to fight and victims to save to prove your righteousness. You need top-down solutions to recommend to demonstrate your cleverness. If the causes don't exist, you have to invent them. If victims aren't forthcoming, you have to magic them into existence. If your solutions don't work, you need to suppress evidence to the contrary. Sooner or later, the very language people speak must be twisted to promote what is politically correct, rather than what is factually true.

This process intensifies as individuals dispense with the patronage of the ruling elite and reject its worldview. In doing so, they become persona non grata: part of the problem, not the solution. As the number of such people grows, the objects of elite sympathy become more exotic, encompassing obscure minority groups and foreign nations. Eventually, the elite comes to see the majority of its subjects as malicious cretins. The majority gazes back and sees an elite that is aloof, out of touch, and totally uninterested in its welfare.

Which brings us to where we are today: a society, a Western world in fact, that pours scorn and stigma on those who dare to speak the truth. In this way, it is not dissimilar to the old Communist states, where people had to degrade themselves by buying into self-evident lies.

Like those old Soviets, our masters pursue policies that trash our freedoms, vandalise our culture, destroy our wealth and threaten our safety. And we're supposed to indulge their dishonesty in silence. Well, not anymore. The people have spoken. The revolution has begun.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Snobs versus scumbags

Border controls and national sovereignty are the obsessions of thick, racist Little Englanders, too bigoted to care about the needy of the world, and too arrogant to understand the perils of leaving this country to its own devices.

That is the position of the political-cultural establishment and much of the mainstream media today. Having rattled around the liberal-left echo chamber for the past couple of decades, it has become inviolate. So whenever anyone steps out of line (Brexit anyone?), there is uproar. Oh my God, they cry, can you believe what these lunatics want? It's unconscionable. It's unthinkable. It threatens to reverse history's inexorable curve towards justice!

But strange as it may sound to some, the unthinkable was the stuff of cross-party consensus not that long ago. Before the Macpherson Report made everything racist and New Labour put immigration talk on a par with Holocaust denial, there was little enthusiasm for open borders. Before deference to Brussels became second nature, managing our own affairs was considered democratic and just. So what happened?

Leftists don't like to dwell on the past, unless it's to badmouth privileged white men of yore, so it's doubtful they spend much time contemplating what good sense looked like the day before yesterday. Were they to do so, they might notice that circumstances haven't altered sufficiently in the past twenty or thirty years to justify this sea change. Mass immigration and remote rule are no more necessary or beneficial now than when we signed the Maastricht Treaty or when Tony Blair came to power.

What's charged is the Left itself. It is no longer a movement of the working classes, but a refuge for holier-and-smarter-than-thou blowhards, who resent free societies for ignoring their sense of entitlement, and who validate their conceited self-image by watching their supposed inferiors trip over the ridiculous moral hurdles they throw in their way.

This hurdle-throwing is ostensibly done for the benefit of the mistreated and the maligned, but first and foremost it's a way for leftists to feel good about themselves by playing wise, caring guardians to designated victim groups. The more unpopular the group and the more unpalatable the demands made on its behalf, the greater the public resistance. The greater the resistance, the more people leftists can claim moral superiority over and the more power they wield when they get their way.

When peering down your nose at others is how you get your kicks, soon the only people you will be able to stomach are like-minded allies, pet victims and willing supplicants. Everyone else is a mindless savage, whose reluctance to toe your line is evidence of their selfishness and stupidity.

With the majority of the population written-off, leftists look further afield for objects of pity, and champion their interests over their fellow citizens’. The more those interests clash and the more this changes the face of their own ruined nation, the better. If this means getting into bed with some genuinely awful people, so be it. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

In their desperation to claim the high ground, leftists keep upping the ante. Yesterday’s respectable opinion becomes tomorrow’s thought crime. Those who fail to keep up find themselves branded haters and bigots. Eventually, anything that doesn’t prioritise the interests of the Left’s victims de jour, no matter how impractical, unaffordable or harmful, is disparaged.

Having painted themselves into an ideological corner, leftists are incapable of conceding an inch to their opponents, lest they give up the thing that makes them special: their monopoly on virtue. The idea that the basket of deplorables ranged against them should have a say in the running of their country is simply preposterous. Left knows best. Period.

This is how the Left’s new-found position on immigration and self-rule has come to pass.
It has abandoned its traditional clientele in favour of more exotic groups - and screw everyone else. This isn’t ‘progressive’ and it sure ain’t compassionate. Those who genuinely care about others don’t vandalise their own nation, sacrifice its people’s wellbeing and trash their hard-won liberties to demonstrate their untouchable moral credentials. Shame on them.