by John Ward
Easter is here but dare not speak its name. Brexit is coming but the wreckers are still hellbent on stopping it. Corporate dictatorship or Marxist intolerance are the political choices open to us. Surveillance is universal, and casually accepted. The Government’s Skripal narrative is risible, but gaining overwhelming approval. The Slog looks at what we’ve lost, and why the Young don’t seem to care.
For some time now, I have been pondering the vexed question of why so many people below the age of around 45 seem to behave both abnormally and unnaturally. They potter around the Earth abusing its oxygen supply, merrily dispensing nonsense, not caring for others, not seeing themselves as fortunate, casually cheating the rules on a daily basis, working insane hours with much bitterness but no rebellion, demanding process while remaining devoid of creative ideas, and rating themselves as Mensa gods when in my day, they’d have been thrown out of the Secondary Modern and apprenticed for life to an assistant Park-keeper.
Please note that I did clearly say there so many people. Every week I meet and am amazed by 17 year olds I would gladly make Prime Minister, if only because there’s a pause before they reply for thinking to occur – after which they say something fairly modest and devastatingly accurate. It’s the other six I meet who look and sound as if they’ve got a bamboo shoot up their backsides: the ones always tapping at something, taking selfies and saying todally orrrrsummm about somebody’s ability to punctuate a sentence.
The independent mind can and does rise above every known form of institutional pack-barking. There will always be Winston Smiths and Caryll Churchills. But the question that keeps coming back to me is why does the problem of fearful, mediocre Groupthink seem more acute among those born after the early 1970s?
Education explains a lot of it: politicisation, pc, unchallenged truisms about anthropology, gender and ethnicity, risible target-setting, the dictatorial syllabus and so on. But education can’t explain what feels at times like a plague of narcissism, selfishness and insouciant acceptance of mediocre banality. It doesn’t, for example, explain the success of Ant & Dec….one of whom has now predictably spiralled down onto the rehab circuit. They seem nice enough lads: they stand on marks, they speak lines and as far as I know don’t soil themselves during their Saturday Night Takeaway. But if you removed the nails from their feet, the duo would fly off into the ionosphere, never to be seen again.
I suspect the key to this riddle lies in the exploration of one key question: what cultural examples have they had that Baby Boomers didn’t? And vice versa.
This isn’t an exercise in my-generation-good-yours-bad: there’s enough of that divisive piffle circulating (largely among the Left) as it is. No, this is a genuine investigation of how learning clues about socialisation differ between those born in the thirty years following the War, and those in the forty-odd since that time. The two most important ways to learn are by making mistakes and observing the examples of role models.
Obviously, in some ways post 1970ish kids are far better equipped than Baby Boomers for a life of buttons, screens, smart stuff, G4, Netflix, Satnav and all things remote from life in the wild. But on the other hand, my generation I would submit knows far more about natural science, and has far more experience of every kind of human hubris from the Titanic via Thalidomide to American dreams of world hegemony. Who might prove to be the more functionally equipped of the two is a question probably only future historians – if there is to be a future and more history – will ever be able to debate from a safe distance.
It is in our daily experiences, examples and role models that the gulf between us lies. It is I think important to understand that gulf, and perhaps get somewhere beyond ‘old people are slow and grumpy’ and ‘young people are shallow and spoilt’. There is something far more evidential than raw bigotry going on here.
It doesn’t take long to spot the role-model gap. In football, my role model was Bobby Charlton, and few if any footballers questioned a refereeing decision: if they persisted in doing so, they were sent off – and their clubs fined them. Goalscorers were hugged, but exhibitionist striker celebrations were very rare. Matt Busby never once said a bad word in public about any other club, player or official. Today, the referee is surrounded, pushed and yelled at every time he blows the whistle. Role models include Rooney and Ronaldo. Managers like Mourhino, Wenger and Allardyce criticise the referee in every game, and then defend their players’ childish behaviour at tribunals.
The key missing element here is accepting discipline and decisions with good grace. Hold that thought.
The managers there are the most culpable, because they don’t set an example to the players. Politics is another arena where the same applies. In my day, we had Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas-Hume, Jo Grimond and Hugh Gaitskell. Showboating began with Wilson, but by today’s standards he was a model of virtue – as was Heath. They all accepted an overall political consensus. The younger demographics today have been brought up on Thatcher (materialist class hatred), Blair (serial mendacity and perversion of justice) and Cameron (all of those attractive features). They now gather for Jeremy Corbyn (intolerant and anti-democratic class warrior). Boris Johnson, Peter Mandelson, Nick Clegg, Diane Abbott, Keith Vaz, George Osborne and Michael Fallon are all divisive, lazy, amateur, corrupt, hypocritical and egotistical liars with extreme views to one degree or another, and an air of perversion about them.
For all its hidden faults, seamy underground and at times tedious boredom, we had politesse, acceptance and consensus. The under 45s have been brought up on hatred, division, lack of compassion and extreme political cynicism. That may be too hot to hold, but try anyway.
Let’s look at the entertainment sector of the media. In the 1950s, the advent of ‘commercial television’ and “the adverts” was greeted by a majority of Brits as something regrettable, following which the tone of the medium was bound to suffer. They were right, but the process took some time to fruit: it was 1965 before the critic Ken Tynan said “fuck” on British television (on a late-late show at that) and the mid 1970s before brainless game shows modelled on US TV began to take root.
Only during the early years of this century did explicit gay comedy go mainstream, and quaint old “talent contests” become Celebrifame mania factories like The X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. And yet curiously, alongside this uncensored and potentially offensive content grew the equal and opposite obsession with not giving offence to the minorities and the untalented. It was just fine for Julian Clary to talk about “fisting Norman Lamont” but not on at all to critique gay obsessions with selfish sexual pleasure. It was de rigueur to avoid being sexist towards women, but impossible to have a go at the foul-mouthed misogyny of black rap artists. No longer could an X-Factor judge tell a kid she couldn’t sing: going beyond “you need to do some work on your vocals” was deemed unacceptable. And while feminism became increasingly extreme, nobody seemed to notice that the tabloids showed women off purely on the basis of mammories and buttocks on display in a manner that would not have been tolerated in the pre-“Womens’ Lib” era.
Before roughly 1963, “personalities” – as celebs were known back then – were expected to be good role models. The tabloid media’s nonstop attempt to catch them out was both hypocritical and stultifying, but a more open honesty about largely harmless and self-regarding lifestyles began, after 1980ish, to morph into a celebration of everything from sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll to overt attempts to be outrageous for the sake of it.
The generational entertainment difference between ‘then and now’ is not quite so clear-cut as some folks would have us believe. But I think it is fair to say that, while the Baby Boomers’ media experience led them to expect real talent to win through and famous people to accept responsibility along with their power, Thatcher’s children were weaned on mixed signals, denialism, altered reality, acceptance of mediocrity and irresponsible exhibitionism.
One of the many downsides of democracy is that, in the end, it all comes down to numbers. Being in the majority does not make one right (often the opposite is true), but once a vote has been cast, those in favour are in the right when they expect that legislative or blinding plebiscitary vote to become law. A clear majority of people vote in elections, pay taxes, and stay out of prison. All three things entitle them, as the majority, to expect 350 for and 300 against in the Commons to result in the 350 winning, and statute or statutes being drawn up accordingly.
Numbers are a daft way to decide anything (“eat shit – 500 trillion flies can’t be wrong”) but as Churchill wrote, it is probably ‘the least bad’ way of doing things. For example, four years ago a majority of Brits voted against proportional representation. In my view, the discussion of why we need PR – to break the duopoly at Westminster – was discussed in a low-key and puerile manner by Tory and Labour MPs and their followers…almost all of whom had but one aim in mind: to stop their undeservedly easy route to power becoming mercifully more difficult. But a majority voted against PR, and so we still have not just our political decisions being made on the basis of numbers, but warped numbers that act as the catalyst for a continuing oligarchy of privileged morons.
Now during that campaign, all kinds of scare stories, lies, obtuse maths and sins of omission were variously kicked about, hidden and spun; but to my knowledge, nobody suggested afterwards that the statutory process of staying as we are must be undermined, sabotaged, and stopped before the next election….which once again gave a bizarre and in many ways embarrassing victory to about the most economically and fiscally illiterate government since King John’s.
In that context, every objective observer must surely ask what right on God’s Earth all those conniving, power-driven anti-PR scoundrels have to throw a Terrible Twos hissy fit on the sitting room carpet designed to stop the statutory follow-up to the Brexit vote from taking place.
The “rights” they put forward are beyond infantile. First, it was a close result. Second, editorial and paid-for media lies misled allegedly badly educated/stupid people. Third, without the EU, the UK economy will tank. And fourth – the latest kid on the block – the collective security we will lose gives Russia the chance to poison us all. Sadly for them, all these “arguments” add up to two conclusions: Remainers only like imperfect democracy when it works for them; and they are liars more categorical in their mendacity than even Boris Johnson.
Yes, the result was close: but in a majoritarian system, ‘close’ is irrelevant….and until Jo Cox’s murder, the polls showed a seven-point lead for the Leave campaign.
Yes, lots of misleading statements were made, and as usual last-minute Leaver BoJo was at the centre of them. But the Remain side told whoppers about the ‘benefits’ of EU membership (the Truth as per the ONS is that we lost money as members 45 years out of 46) and their younger voters’ knowledge of the issues included idiocies such as “the EU gave us the NHS”.
Yes, life will be tougher for all those espousing a continuing EU relationship – whereby they effortlessly export to Germany and France (while ignoring the disgusting and illegal bullying of Greece, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary along with the Italian disaster) – but they should bear in mind that our combined trade deficit with the two big guys is €38billion a year. And the Remains told us the UK economy would be “damaged within nine months” by a Leave vote (CBI); two years on, it shows little sign of that. So they lied. Gracious me, really?
Yes, NATO may well be damaged by the UK leaving the EU. I’m just unclear as to how this gives Vladimir Putin a straight run at poisoning the entire (already starving) UK population, and exactly what is going to allow him to do that with impunity.
The daily anti-Brexit barrage continues across most UK and all EU media outlets. My own local paper here in south-west France ran a double-page spread under ‘Foreign News’ entitled ‘In Britain, there is a rising tide of opposition to Brexit’. A wildly inaccurate headline, but again I keep wanting to yell, “It hasn’t even bloody happened yet for crying out loud”.
Andrew Adonis pumps out lie after lie on Twitter, including this latest effort accusing the BBC – the BBC? – of being pro-Brexit:
Tony Blair – the man who failed to educate the voters he calls “uneducated” – continues to be a high-profile demander of…..what exactly? Best of three? No, he wants the vote overturned so we can have another go at getting it right. This is of course the EU way, and we all had enough experience of Iraq and Saudi Arms deals (and their aftermath) to know precisely what Tony’s ‘way’ is. His creature Alistair Campbell behaves in a similar manner….but then, Chemical Ali has always been a wielder of blunt penknives.
What do all the losers and their devotees seem to demonstrate above all? We’ve established that their influences were not of the best, and that they themselves added to the list while making existing ‘examples’ even worse.
But taken as a whole, we see the public figures losing with bad grace, cynically undermining democracy, sowing hatred, encouraging division, altering reality and denying other empirical certainties.
And such followers as they still have don’t care about majorities, insist that only oldies, racists and ESNs voted for Brexit, ignore the mixed signals coming from Brussels, don’t see the EU’s history of fiscal crime and mediocre management, exaggerate the consequences of exiting the EU, and see what their “leaders” are up to as both normal and worthy of plaudits.
Something they all lack is self-awareness of how badly they’re behaving in both a constitutional and political context. Without the sort of introspection that can examine their own faults, they are like babies who just never grasped at any point that the Universe does not orbit around them and their ideas or needs.
With mistakes come learnings. With learning comes maturity and humility. Without maturity and humility, there can be no dignity.
Dignity is the one thing beyond everything else that this generation of politicians never displays. And the tragedy is that, for far too many of that younger generation they influenced by example, there is litle or no idea at all about how to define dignity, let alone aspire to it.
This applies as much to oafishly dismissive Tories as it does to brainless certainty Momentum Labour. It applies 100% to the Democratic Party in the US, and it is obvious in every last one of President Trump’s actions. It shrieks out from the repellent behaviour of EC bigwigs like Verhofstadt, Juncker and Draghi. It is sickening when viewed in the actions and outbursts of David Cameron, Diane Abbott and George Osborne. And it is perhaps best personified by the mediocre, lazy trough-gobbling of Nick Clegg and Tony Blair.
As Edward G. Robinson often said in his films, “De jess ain’t got no class, sister”.