A Monday Evening Ramble Through My Thoughts

Not much blog traffic this weekend so my start to the week felt like a great indifference. Instead I poured my energy into a new piece on the political situation in America which you can read over at Reaction.

Meanwhile, my post from last week on Lebedev has been bothering me for days. It left me wondering how much I’ve become jaded by politics. The point of that article had only been to voice some (perhaps misguided) optimism about journalism, rather than become year another depressing judgement about the state of our legislature. Yet today, somebody on Twitter noted their shock at how the son of a Russian oligarch can get into the Lords but not John Bercow or Dominic Grieve. It’s a fair point, though I know one wrapped in the Brexit debate. Yet it also shocks me that we are not more appalled by this that we should be. By “we” I also include myself. Surely, isn’t this one of those warnings that history was supposed to alert us about? When people lose faith in the political system, they become amenable to other political systems that might not have their interests at heart.

Was the first trick Putin played was convincing us that democracy wasn’t such a good idea?

Probably.

Trust in politics feels to me to be in terminal decline and I don’t see how it’s rescued, though I also accept this is hardly new. But has it ever been this acute? It is cyclical? Might we need politicians to rescue us from something before we learn to trust them again. As it is, we learn that a Tory MP has been accused of rape but it is greeted by another shrug of the shoulders. Of course they have, we mutter, as if this is commonplace among the powerful for whom punishment seems such a quaint notion. Prince Andrew’s name is muttered in US courts and terrible crimes described. This side of the pond: a shrug.

One person I know – a historian – darkly muttered that they wonder if Andrew will be alive by the end of the year. There is apparently a season when the establishment have a way of concocting interesting ways to make scandals disappear. It all sounds far-fetched until one remembers how George V was supposedly hurried to meet his maker with a dose of morphine and cocaine so the news could be carried by the morning papers.

Ah, such quaint notions of good and evil we all have, those of us who pay our taxes and feel paranoid wheneve we fill in even the most innocuous government form… Claim a bit of money from the government and the shame in indescribable, whilst MPs take large donations from former Russian oligarchs or put in a claim for every Jaffa Cake consumed in their life. Meanwhile, the men in grey suits go about their business.

In an aside, I notice a new book has come out written by the son of Pablo Escobar. I have no idea how much his story is true but, in the blurb, it mentiones that “it becomes apparent that the British government is working covertly with the gangster in an attempt to control the money laundering and drug trades.” I read that and muttered a WTF. Good marketing or a reality I didn’t know about?

I mean: WTF?

But moving on in this slightly rambling entry for today…

There was a time when it was assumed that, irrespective of their broader ambitions, a government would work for the public good. I’m not so sure when we have people arguing that the economy comes before the people. I notice that Michal Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine, tweeted something along those lines over the weekend: that she didn’t expect anybody to sacrifice the economy just to save her should she contract COVID-19. The obvious answer to that is that nobody would sacrifice the economy just to save her. We might, however, accept damage to the economy to stop a hundred thousand people dying.

Sigh.

So, we have eventually reached this stage. How much is a life worth? I’m sure there are people who spend their days making these calculations, which probably works out as some value slightly above the average wage. There are certain people who greet this news with a quiet satisfaction. I’ve met the type. They’re the type who spit on compassion for as long as they don’t need others to feel it towards them. I’ve worked with people, in good jobs, who didn’t believe in the welfare state until they lost their jobs and needed the welfare state. They are the types quite capable of reducing morality to a figure on a piece of paper.

They might have an argument except making the argument they lose a little bit of what it is to be human. But then, I guess, I’m shifting from my usual cold rationalism to something like religion. “What it is to be human”. Next, I guess, I’ll be thinking about a soul.

Or perhaps not.

There are good rational arguments to back this up; arguments that set ethics inside an evolutionary frame. Valuing life – and by that I mean all life – works to our advantage eventually, though perhaps there are contexts when the opposite is true, when the tribe succeeds by having a Spartan attitude to life and death. It makes no odds. Inside this frame, most people feel that there’s something morally wrong about putting a price of life. It might well be another of those quaint notions we hold onto but, damn it, we should probably hold onto it.

The rate we’re going, it will be the last illusion we’re left with once the bureaucrats have taken the rest.

4 thoughts on “A Monday Evening Ramble Through My Thoughts”

  1. I don’t actually think politics or public attitudes to politicians have changed very much. The old chestnut is after all, “how can you tell when a politician is lying?, … his lips are moving”.
    In the 70’s you had some great scandals. Reginald Maudling’s involvement with Poulson and Malta. Jeremy Thorpe and the hitman. Both of these men were political heavyweights too. Then you had Labour MP and former minister John Stonehouse faking his own death and going to prison for fraud, while there it emerged he had been spying for the Czechs while a minister!.
    Of course there was also Wilsons notorious retirement honours, “the lavender list”
    Moving on through time you have Thatcher giving Savile a peerage, Archer, Aitken, Cyril Smith, Mandelson, Keith Vaz, Labour cash for honours, cash for questions, the expenses scandal. And I’m sure I’ve missed a load off.

    We don’t value life that we can’t see. If we did we would all be wearing the hair shirt and sending our money over to Africa to save the tens of millions of people who die there every year due to lack of foods, clean water and medicines. Every pound of discretionary spend on ourselves is a pound we have not used to save a life.

    1. Of course you’re right and I said I was sure history would prove me wrong. But perhaps my point was really a point about nuance. Given that politicians are (probably) human, they don’t change that much, one generation to the next, but our attitudes towards them do. Politics has become another of the lifestyle choices we all make post Thatcher and with the rise of the market. People get into politics and wallow in the partisanship like they’re supporting a football team, or they ignore it completely (and giggle unashamedly about it when they’re interviewed for TV and can’t name the Prime Minister). Do we still have a culture where the guy gets home from work, sits down in front of the fire with the newspaper, shouts to his wife “I see that bloody Harold Wilson is at it again”? It doesn’t fell, to me at least, that politics is quite so central to people’s lives as it one was. There’s no long that sense that we have to maintain a minimum interest in politics to prove we’re good citizens.

      You’re also right about the life not seen but it’s linked to the point I just made about lifestyle choices. Hasn’t compassion become another coat we wear? So many people either don’t eat palm oil to save the orangutan (and have stickers in their windows to make that point) or they take genuine delight in importing a pair of orangutan loafers.

  2. Those orangutan loafers are a nightmare, you can’t get them to do anything, they just sit around all day living the life of riley.

    I find it hard to understand how anyone can virtue signal with a straight face given the lifestyles we lead in the developed world. Whenever I see it, “We Care a Lot” by Faith No More starts playing in my brain.

    I think it’s true that the old patterns of how we imbibed politics has changed but looking at the past decade I would say there has been a bit of a revival of interest, the turnout figures would certainly suggest so, rising as they have from what seemed a terminal decline in interest during the Blair years. It feels a bit to me like we are about to enter a period of 60’s/70’s consensus politics given the situation likely to be facing the country for the next couple of decades. I think that the political choices people make will then increasingly come down to what is labelled culture wars rather than differences in taxation, public spending or law and order. Culture wars/identity politics seem to get people very animated indeed. I think this will be more of a problem for Labour as they have a broader church in those terms than the Conservative party do. How do you keep your woke vote onside while not alienating your muslim vote for instance.

    1. The latter point probably goes back to what I keep saying about the problem on the left of three parties (at least). The Tories have worked hard to establish themselves are the only part of the right. It was pragmatic of them to move to reintegrate UKIP voters, even though it lost them some centre ground. Labour never did that and allowed the SDP to become a reality and have always lost the odd memeber to the Lib Dems. The Blair success was reaching across the centre ground but he had to be non-ideaological to do that and there haven’t been any Labour leaders since willing to do that.

      As for virtue signalling: the only thing to say is that perhaps it doesn’t matter why people do good things so long as they do good things. The reverse of that is that they’re not choosing to do good things for the right reasons. They could just as easily decide to do bad things. After that we quickly spiral into the whole argument about how Western lifestyles survive in the age of climate change and diminishing resources. It gets depressing pretty quickly.

      Loafers. Snort. I see what you did there. ;o)

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It’s a cool domain name and it was available. Yes, I know. Available. Crazy, isn’t it?

Really?

Yes. It also helps that it’s also my favourite satire written by Alexander Pope, one of the most metrically pure English poets who also knew his way around a crude insult or two. If you’ve not read it, you should give it a try.

So this is satire, right?

Can’t deny it. There will be some. But it’s also an experiment in writing and drawing, giving work away for free in order to see how many people are willing to support a writer doing his thing. It’s the weird stuff that I wouldn’t get published elsewhere in this word of diminishing demands and cookie-cutter tastes.