Wednesday, April 18, 2007

It's a cloudless mid-May Sunday afternoon in 2004. Two boys, all biceps, and two girls, all chest, are watching their two housemates have a casual kickabout.
Without warning, one of them smashes the ball as hard as he humanly can. It lands inches away from the glass wall of the nearest pub and bounces to safety. As the giels recover from the shock, the boys offer their amused assessment of what they've just witnessed:

"No go" repeated in a caricatured Northern accent.
"That was like the John Smith's advert: 'ave it!"
"It was like something off Jackass."
"It was like a Roy Keane pile-driver."

It would be absurd to compare such a harmless incident to Monday's shootings in Virgina. However, having skimmed through James Delingpole's How to be Right in Waterstones yesterday, I've been thinking about some of the issues he brings up: liberalism, egalitarianism, indiscipline, the youth of today. I thought an incident that involved staggering inarticulacy, complacency, callousness, and indifference that can all be partly blamed on the forces in question, was a good place to start.

Instead of being a guide, as the title suggests, it is actually an A-Z, not unlike a disproportionately politicised riposte to the decidedly leftist Is It Just Me or is Everything Shit? It rants about many predictable things: pro-Eurpoean and pro-Palestinian bias at the BBC; Britain becoming the world's endearingly dippy rich uncle over the Make Poverty History campaign; and a supposedly limp-wristed egalitarianism that has allowed Polytechnics to call themselves Universities without raising their standards.

The book is, unsurprisingly mean-spirited and distortive. But just as the third point is lent some credence by the afore-mentioned incident, it begs questions. If the Right has such a love affair with Free-Trade that unashamedly swallows everything, why is it the left that perverts tradition? Hasn't the undermining of education at least partly been down to the valuelessness of the Free Market? Hasn't the Market been responsible for the decline of traditional pillars of the curriculum like Classics, Latin and Greek and the rise of less 'academic' courses like Media Studies and Sociology? The main point against the BBC seems to be a lack of patriotism in war-time, but don't you just have to view Fox News to see how self-proclaimed patriots make poor journalists?

The most interesting subject to discuss though is Britain's perceived over-generosity. In The Myths We Live By, Mary Midgely argues that Enlightenment ideas of human rights and the social contract are horribly outdated. It made sense at the time that human-tights were the result of mutual obligation, yet this moral tradition has no place in a less manageable, globalised world. Our behaviour impacts far away people in ways that were until recently, impossible.

I'm interested in exploring the links, economic, spiritual, social, between us and those who've experienced things we can't imagaine. And reading another example of the left and the right tossing insults at one another encourages me to look beyond mainstream commentary to find the answers.

The pleasure is in the digging (eg the summer I spent digging to Australia when I was 9), and it's failing to seek an answer that leads to the kind of impotence, confusion and rage described at the beginning of this entry. I should know, I've been there.

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