Sunday, February 17, 2008

Rowan Williams, You've Been Nurembergered

I have recently re-read Grant Morrison's premillenial paranoia trip The Invisibles and been a little shocked by how things have changed since then. It's not dated as such, just strangely out of its time - a classic, irrefutably, but no longer a modern classic.

It's not that we've lost the cynicism and suspicion of the late nineties, nor our love of a good conspiracy theory - we still have all those things - but more that society as a whole doesn't really seem to care any more. Central to The Invisibles is justified indignation, rage at the notion of being controlled and lied to, the burning desire to break out of the conditioning and manipulation of an uncaring establishment-machine. No matter what you think of the late twentieth-century cult of the individual, it's undeniably human to feel that way.

Nowadays people actually don't seem to mind being told what to think, provided it gives them an excuse to be angry. People buy into the tabloid media hysteria around immigrants, Islam and the EU willingly, knowing full well these are slavering lies told to make them buy papers but not caring because it means they can be angry and violent in word and deed without ever feeling for a second that maybe they're not right. They're just following orders, and nobody ever got into trouble through following orders: so why not follow orders that are fun to follow? Just ask the gaolors at Abu Ghraib.

The modern Republicans in the US play up to this as much as they can, revelling in the notion of a harsh world where ideals are for children and idiots, where atrocity is always a necessity, where you're either with them or against them. It's worked well, just as it did for Thatcher - selfishness repackaged as a political belief. Michael Howard tried to do it again in 2005 and realised, too late, that we were not quite that simple any more. The USA appears to be approaching the same tipping point, with the Democrat nomination a fistfight between old cynicism and new idealism, and McCain roundly criticised for not being quite Republican enough.

McCain's no fool. He knows that after a decade of 'hard decisions' and 'harsh reality' America is ready to hope again. Whether he'll be liberal enough to win over the Bush-haters or hawkish enough to retain the fundamentalists remains to be seen: it depends on whether the split is within the Republican movement or the country as a whole. It's this very struggle we're seeing played out between Obama and Clinton, which is what makes it seem so much more important this time round.

And what of England? Well, last week a prominent archbishop opined that it might be sensible to talk about the application of some aspects of Islamic law, to Muslims, within courts that already do this and have done quite legally for over thirty years. A religious man appealed for rational and intelligent discussion of a religious issue, and was promptly lynched by the foam-mouthed press and the army of idiots that follow their every byline as if it were The Gospel According To Posh Spice. People are demanding he resign from his post as a religious leader on the grounds that he wanted to promote religious tolerance. All this while there's a public debate over whether we should ditch the uniquely British quality of multiculturalism on the grounds that it's not British. The same people who want us to retain a British identity want to cut off large parts of it, and they see no contradiction, because they've been told it's okay in the press and, hey, if it's in black and white it's obviously true, isn't it?

Depending how the next few years and elections turn out, we could find our accustomed national positions reversed. The USA could be telling Britain to tone it down, to be a little less belligerent, to stop and think. Perhaps Obama would have more sway with Cameron than Blair did with the Bush administration.

It's funny to think that, at thirty-four, I've seen so much political change in my lifetime... a colleague at work last week found it astonishing that I was born in 1973, as if I were a time traveller from a forgotten age where everyone worked down coal mines and smoking wasn't bad for you, an era known to the youth of today only through dull OU documentaries and Life On Mars.

Never underestimate how wilfully ignorant people can be, Rowan, and how willing they are to enslave themselves to whoever offers the most potent excuse for unfettered rage. Most people are idiots, idiots who carry knives and spit vitriol and follow orders. Don't blame the media, or 24-hour news, or religious extremists, or low alcohol prices, or lack of father figures, or lack of youth clubs for changing the way people behave: blame the people. Every one of them has a choice. Don't make excuses for them.

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