Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Judge Me Not

There have been plenty of attempts to understand the motivations of Brexit's Leave and Remain camps, but few better than David Goodhart's theory of "Anywheres" and "Somewheres" - of a rootless, educated class and those with a stronger sense of place and belonging. While not specifically writing about Brexit, Goodhart believes the mindset of aloof, progressive Anywheres explains their allegiance to the EU, and since this group is so influential in high places, the reason for their allegiance is a key factor in the rift that has split our country in two.

Goodhart claims that Anywheres are married to the concepts of individualism and autonomy, evident among diehard Remainers in their desire to travel unhindered around Europe. This, he suggests, is central to their liberal, citizen-of-the-world identity and distinguishes them from the more parochial Somewheres. But there's something amiss with this part of the theory. While it's true that the story of modern Britain features an arrogant, entitled elite (the Anywheres) versus everyone else, it's surely not their attachment to personal freedom that defines them. How can it be when they are so besotted by an institution that is inherently illiberal and undemocratic?

The easy answer is to say it's a case of autonomy for me, not for thee - that the EU's suffocating bureaucracy and lack of accountability doesn't stop the better-off from doing what they please - but that's not quite right. Everyone feels the EU's bureaucratic pinch, and the professional middle-classes (the bedrock of Remain) particularly so. It's those with the wealth and opportunity to spread their wings who first run into the flak of Euro legislation. While they would undoubtedly like as much autonomy for themselves as they can get, middle-class Remainers don't care for it much in principle. On the contrary, they recognise its absence as bringing considerable benefits.

The thing with autonomy is that it allows us to decide for ourselves what we like and need, to reveal what qualities we appreciate in others and what endeavours we deem useful. This promises success to those who give us what we want, but offers short shrift to those who think the world owes them recognition regardless of what they bring to the table. And this is what lies at the heart of our present situation.

If people truly had a say in how their taxes are spent and to what extent they are governed, a vast number of elite jobs simply wouldn't exist. We wouldn't have the same number of regulators, bean counters and other makework mandarins. There'd be fewer speech censors, health tsars and eco enforcers. Put simply, there wouldn't be as many people working towards curtailing our freedoms and wasting our money, because few of us would voluntarily pay for this work to be done.

As long as those freedoms still exist, however, we can call people out for being obnoxious, lazy, useless or anything else we don't like about them. We can deny them the power and prestige they crave but don't deserve. It's this freedom and this obligation to the little people that our ruling class fears most. It's what threatens their pampered existence and must be stopped at all costs.

To contend with this, the elites have spent years building a society within a society: one based around their own value system, full of lucrative jobs that play to their 'skills', contrary to the wishes of the wider public, who are forced to bankroll it all the same. The denizens of this world live behind the frontline, beyond accountability. Within their Shangri-la, they decide what's important and valuable, and who's deserving of recognition and reward, even while those on the outside look on with despair.

This has allowed them to make victimhood a marketable quality and grant victims moral authority over everyone else. Since anyone can feel persecuted by anything if they try hard enough, free expression in general can be portrayed as the source of hatred and injustice in society, allowing the ruling class to stamp it out and, with it, the challenge to their own power.

It's not just ruling class bigwigs who fear other people's judgement. It afflicts everyone from obstructive NHS receptionists to sad misfits who weren't asked to the ball - anyone, in fact, who thinks life would be less rosy if they were on the end of an honest appraisal. They hide their fear behind causes that blame our freedom for hurting others, ruining the planet or making us fat. They use 'whiteness' and 'the patriarchy' as metaphors for free will and its consequences, and portray them as part of some oppressive social order. They want us silenced and they favour arguments that render our opinions irrelevant.

This is why the trans movement is such a big deal at the moment. If the public can be made to accept that a man is a woman simply because he says he is, then all bets are off. Truth, fact and our preference for them over delusion will be rendered invalid. All judgement will become mere prejudice unless it falls into line with approved opinion. Our ability to argue against official diktat will be removed, and with it the freedom to live as we choose. Lose this battle and we won't have a leg to stand on.

This contempt for human autonomy, particularly among the untutored masses, is what unites Remainer extremists, crony capitalists, Third Way nannies, and progressive movements like Extinction Rebellion and Hope Not Hate. The champions of these causes recognise that their place in their world and their precious self-image depend upon not being exposed to honest scrutiny. In many ways, the real point of conflict in our society today is the divide those who willingly avail themselves to the free judgement of others and those who won't.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

The real origins of Brexit

It's not that long ago we seemed to be cruising serenely towards a particular future. The pieces were in place, the scene was set, even if a little fine-tuning was needed. The arrangement seems obvious now to those not too invested to notice: we were, and still are, in the grip of a professional elite who expect a decisive say in how the country is run, and in how its people should think, behave and be treated, without ever having their own sovereignty or supremacy challenged, and despite bringing very little to the table in terms of talent or achievement. At one point we seemed destined for more of the same, but Brexit was a vote for a change of direction.

What's curious is how all this came to pass on the watch of supposedly egalitarian governments, in an evermore progressive culture. What were the ideological underpinnings of a development that saw well-heeled nonentities accumulating ever more wealth and prestige, while contributing precious little to the national good?

It can, in fact, be traced to the socio-political assumptions of the post-Thatcherite 1990s, when a new, more compassionate form of liberal-left politics took hold. The basic set-up was thus: the working classes were cast in the role of childlike victims, providing feel-good fodder for members of the educated middle class, whose social concern and support for state remedies established their moral superiority, and provided them with plentiful jobs dedicated to the care and tutelage of the helpless masses - jobs that ordained them as society's rightful leaders, while being sufficiently free of accountability to satisfy their sense of entitlement.

Even those not in cushy public sector jobs benefited from the culture that blossomed around them - one in which credentialed people were well-rewarded and insulated against the whim of their inferiors, even (or especially) if they didn't create anything of value. Whereas blue collar trades were increasingly seen as gauche and retrograde, professions that utilised certified planners and pontificators assumed an air of sophistication. Before long, even businesses were overloaded with backroom meddlers cooking up problems to solve, enforcing government regulations and mimicking its paternalistic attitudes. The country was soon awash with ambitious mediocrities, enforcing compliance, ensuring diversity, drawing up guidelines, and doing other such 'work' that added sweet F.A. to the bottom line.

The creative sector benefited, too, from the notion that the brightest and the best shouldn't be subject to the vagaries of the free market or the vulgarity of popular demand. If an artist considered his work worthy of an audience, then funding would be provided whether that audience existed or not. It was a similar story for experts in any field ostensibly concerned with the disadvantaged. Money and power would be transferred their way, without the consent of the paying public.

This wasn't just the most agreeable arrangement for the benign dictatorship of technocrats, intellectuals and luvvies, it was the righteous and proper one. The work they did was, in their eyes, the only means of serving the greater good, making their success and their immunity to interference something as virtuous as it was necessary. They were not, as they appeared to outsiders, a new aristocracy full of arrogant self-regard, but latter-day saints making the country a better place. They were like the man with a hammer who sees every problem as a nail, and considered their own interests indivisible from those of the country as a whole. They deserved to waft through comfortable lives, largely unaffected by the policies they supported, disconnected from the people they patronised, because they held the right credentials and the proper opinions.

They claimed a belief in left-wing politics, of course - not so much the power-to-the-people stuff, but the idea of a ruling class, managing society with the help of favoured groups, whether in the public sector or the higher echelons of business. They attached themselves to any cause, from environmentalism to fighting obesity, for which more government could be recommended as a cure - for these causes highlighted the danger of too much freedom among the rabble, advanced the case for more power to the elite, and helped burnish their halos. The policies they recommended rarely queered their own pitch, so they could afford to overlook their consequences, and demand support of them as a basic requirement of human decency - knowing, perhaps, that the less privileged would fall short of their lofty standards.

Anyone who identified with the ruling class and parroted its beliefs could feel a part of it. They could enjoy a vicarious sense of power each time it upbraided the little people, and feel generous whenever it bestowed a gift on them at the taxpayer's expense. Each time they guffawed at on-message comedians and approved of establishment-friendly art (oh so edgy and rebellious), they congratulated themselves for having escaped the herd and its reactionary ways, even if this didn't put them among our brave new world's philosopher-kings.

It's no surprise that this phenomenon coincided with a sharp increase in the number of people going to university. After the Blair government sold a degree - any degree - as a golden pass to a better life, the number of graduates skyrocketed, and many emerged from university believing themselves members of an exclusive club, who should be exempt from the cut, thrust and toil endured by mere mortals. Such people were naturally receptive to a social structure that mirrored this assumption, and found a debt-fuelled economy and a bloated public sector on-hand offering all the makework jobs their egos could hope for.

This entire, rotten state of affairs was underwritten by the productive members of society - those maligned and supposedly obsolescent folk who still made a living by meeting people's freely-expressed needs. No one on the gravy train particularly cared that the spread of their own kind would eventually kill their golden goose. Nor did they imagine the productive would one day revolt against the people sucking them dry and telling them how to live. But that's what happened.

It turned out the working classes were not content to play the victim. They didn't want to be cared for, or instructed how to act and think; they wanted to shift for themselves. Nor did they see their designated enemies - the lower middle-class and traditional conservatives - as the greatest threat to their wellbeing. Their allegiance to old-fashioned institutions like family and nation, and their lack of fealty to the ruling elite, irked the latter, so they turned on them. If these ingrates refused to be grist to the elitist mill, they had no value. Worse, they were traitors to the revolution.

With the grounds for their faux compassion removed, the ruling classes learned to despise their treacherous countrymen, whose values and loyalties represented a social order that disrespected their right to rule. British culture and identity became tainted in their eyes, as a rejection of their own sense of entitlement and their monopoly on wisdom and virtue. By extension, the exotic, the foreign, the 'other' were romanticised simply for sitting apart from the traditional social order, and because fear of all things different was a characteristic of the Little Englander straw-man our self-styled betters liked to define themselves against.

Through all this, two lumbering, socialistic behemoths served as lodestars for the ruling class. The first was the NHS, an institution for which the argument in favour of top-down control seemed to have been settled, in which accountability was all but nonexistent, which embodied the elite's something-for-nothing entitlement, and stood as proof of their munificence and righteousness. The second was the EU, the enforcement of whose rules offered them influence and jobs, which existed as a monument to undemocratic power, and represented a cosmopolitan otherness that distinguished its supporters from those benighted Brits back home.

As the disloyalty of the masses and the petit-bourgeoisie became evident, the ruling classes took Bertolt Brecht's advice and decided to appoint a new people - one sufficiently alien to their own culture that its very presence would undermine it and blunt its stubborn attachment to self-determination. One, too, whose estrangement from the mainstream could be repurposed into a state of perpetual victimhood that could only be remedied by the intervention of the anointed and the suppression of the lower classes.

In fact, it wasn't just one people that was chosen, but a coalition of marginalised groups, defined by their race, religion, gender and sexuality. Immigrants were shipped in wholesale and encouraged to cling to the beliefs of their homelands - all the better to cause friction, create grounds for their victim status, and dilute our own hated culture. All minorities, whether foreign-born or homegrown, were told dark tales about a bigoted population hellbent on oppressing them. Women, meanwhile, were fed the story of the patriarchy: a misogynist plot that conspires to keep them down. In every case, the plight of the victim was presented as proof of the evil men do when they are left to their own devices.

During the years leading up to this change of tack, the ruling class had completed its march through the institutions, ensuring that whenever anyone turned on a TV, opened a newspaper or interacted with a public body, they would find a favourable impression of the establishment and its narrative, and a dim view of naysayers. Given this, and because establishment types had little meaningful contact with regular folk, they truly believed their opinions and their preeminence were the stuff of common sense - an assumption that only made their eventual rejection that much more shocking.

When the EU referendum took place, members of the ruling class knew this wasn't just a vote for or against membership, but for or against their own supremacy. They were convinced of a Remain victory, because everyone they knew wanted to preserve things as they were, and understood that the alternative would turn back the clock to a time when status and success were awarded via the whim of less refined people: an unthinkable prospect.

When defeat came, the elitists struggled to conceal what they thought of the traitorous masses. By hindering their prospects of a gilded existence, the proles had also rejected the elitists' holier-and-smarter-than-thou self-image. It followed, then, that these Brexiters were ignorant bigots, making their victory a blow against decency and good sense. Even their best attempts to avoid such accusations portrayed the electorate as idiots, who'd been duped into voting against their own interests. Condescension abounded.

In attempting to foil Brexit, the ruling class has been trying to get its hegemony back on track. Its increasing 'wokeness' is its way of delegitimising public opinion. Intersectionality - the cornerstone of progressive dogma - places more value on the wishes of designated victims than on those of the majority, and the leaders of progressive culture reserve the right to define victimhood as they see fit, perpetuating a narrative that identifies themselves as our only hope of a better tomorrow.

Because mainstream media is now the PR wing of the establishment, it decides which stories to publish and which to sit on (when it's not simply lying, that is) thereby preserving the narrative and encouraging people to its way of thinking. MPs, being predominantly Remainer elitists, reframe their attempts to spoil Brexit as a blow against tyranny. Anyone who questions their motives or policies is portrayed as a bigot, a xenophobe, a fascist. Free speech has been reinterpreted as a licence for hate. Democracy itself has been recast as the right of politicians to follow their own consciences rather than the instructions of the electorate.

Make no mistake, the roots of this situation run deeper than the 2016 referendum, but its causes will never be addressed unless we get the Brexit we demanded and deserve.

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 the convivial atmosphere. 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 our notion of Christmas in the Anglosphere is inextricably tied to the traditions popularised by the Victorians. Christmas is an exercise in nostalgia for our own pasts and those of others.

Try as we might, we can never recapture the magic of a childhood Christmas. This is partly because our sense of wonder fades as we grow older, and we lose the ability to be enchanted by the small things: the sparkle of tinsel, the novelty of once-a-year customs, the thought of Santa tiptoeing through your house. It’s also because gift-getting is less beguiling when you can afford to buy things for yourself and can no longer immerse yourself in a spirit of unbridled selfishness.

It seems to me the Christmas we reminisce about and try to resurrect each year belongs to an age that ended sometime in the early 1990s – 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 dog-eared version of the here-and-now.

Christmases of yore were chintzy and cheap, but that was their charm. The gaudy decorations, tacky gifts and blurry snapshots of yesteryear contained more authenticity than than anything found in the big-budget, pixel-perfect modern Christmas.

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 modern 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; what used to be hard to find is just a mouse click away. We expect and demand convenience and sophistication. That’s the price of progress and there’s no way of putting the genie back in its lamp.

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 from anywhere on the planet. This is a far cry from when teenagers relied on letters, magazines and transistor radios to reach beyond their provincial bedrooms – lines of communication that made the world feel bigger for being so insubstantial. 

This sense of detachment from the wider world made it less relevant to people than the comings and goings of their own lives. They were less susceptible to fads and opinions from faraway places, and more concerned with what was happening on their own doorsteps. The wider world repaid this indifference by leaving individuals, by and large, to their own devices, free to manage their affairs, voice their opinions and rub along with others as they saw fit. People’s lives were smaller, yet more intimate, and called for more personal engagement.

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 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 visit Club Tropicana or holiday 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, forward-looking nation. It was the twilight of a less cynical, knowing age; gloriously corny, perhaps, but but less uptight and pretentious than 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. It 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 ink-stained lid-top desks. It was a cold morning and I was enjoying the warmth of an 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 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 were small monuments to rituals and experiences stretching back a hundred years or more.

This conservation of what has stood the test of time and is still fit for purpose - be it accumulated experience or old buildings - is a disappearing practice. In its place has grown a conviction that the past is a country best forgotten. The Britain many people grew up in stands accused of doing wrong. The guardians of tradition have been usurped by the champions of the ‘wronged’, who have built a society in their own image - one that worships the new and disparages the old.

And so shared customs and common ties have been scorned out of existence; cherished artefacts have made way for charmless replacements; the freedom to live an unsupervised life has slipped away. These are not things to be discarded lightly, since they contain the wisdom of the ages, and catalogue the stories and traditions that make us who we are. They don’t dictate our fate, but inform our choices and embolden us to do things that conventional thinking might put out of bounds.

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 realised 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 similar events to have taken place in 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 who don’t really care for them, or are hoping to resurrect experiences and sentiments that have been lost to us.

Progress - particularly the technological kind - has made it easier for us to stay connected, but has enabled us to keep each other at arm’s length. As online communication has become the norm, the civility of face-to-face contact has evaporated. Battlelines have been drawn, positions have hardened and resentment has intensified. Meeting in person is seen as weird and troublesome, and staying in to avoid the hell of other people is preferable to setting aside your hang-ups to be part of a crowd.

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 who we used to be. Not racist, drink-driving caricatures, but the people who came together to enjoy simple pleasures and common causes in an unironic, heartfelt way.

So, 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.

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 changed 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 progressives 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, progressives 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, progressives 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 victims de jour, no matter how impractical, unaffordable or harmful, is disparaged.

Having painted themselves into an ideological corner, progressives 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.

This is how the modern 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.