Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Terence Blacker: Why we hark back to the old certainties

A left-wing British commentator has noticed a few things about his country:

For some time, there has been a population leak from middle Britain. Thousands, maybe millions, of restless, disgruntled Britons have sold up and moved abroad to somewhere with a swimming-pool, agreeable wine and surprisingly nice locals. Middle-aged, middle-class and mostly middle-brained, the emigrants are not much missed as they read up on the latest horrors of life back home in their weekly edition of the Daily Express.

Notice the cheap shot at the middle class. People who denigrate the middle class - you know, those law-abiding, ethical people who mind their own business and do most of the work - always affect to be doing so on the behalf of the oppressed lower classes. They themselves, however, are generally highly educated and well off. It's not hard to see what class they secretly see themselves as occupying. With their insincere championing of the lower class, which they plainly have no interest in joining, and their attacks on the middle class, one wonders what they have in mind. A society consisting of the impoverished lower classes and a tiny elite of them and their friends making the decisions for all, untroubled by those pesky bourgeoisie who keep expecting to be allowed to keep much of what they earn and to be consulted on affairs of state?

I don't mean to pick on Mr. Blacker in particular. I doubt he's thought it through this far, and there are thousands if not millions of other people who say much the same thing, who take the same cheap shots at the middle class without giving it a thought, just because they've heard others do it.

But now something rather more serious is happening. The foreigners are going. First it was the Poles, who had brought such energy and flair to these islands. Now, almost as seriously, Australians are packing their bags. Since last June, each month has seen an average of 2,600 immigrants from Australia to Britain returning home, an increase of almost 1,000 per month on the departure rate of the previous five years. The people who have brought a cheery dynamism to our businesses, bars and dental surgeries are deserting us.

Notice which immigrant groups are apparently not leaving.

He goes on for a bit about how confused Britain has been for most of the past half century before telling us what's bothering him:

A small but telling example of the new mood of backward-looking cultural jitteriness comes to us courtesy of the British Library. That great institution wished to mark the 10th anniversary of the move to St Pancras, and chose a peculiarly dire way of doing it. To point up its own treasures, the library will be running a poll for the public to elect the country's best-loved living characters – its national treasures.

He carries on for a bit about how terribly embarrassing this all is, then:

It is with the list of national treasures for whom we all can vote that despair sets in....

...taken together, this top 50 of national darlings suggest a national longing for comfortable authority figures. It is the sort of list which could only be compiled in a country caught uneasily between celebrity and seriousness, a collection of establishment sirs and dames who form a new media-led aristocracy. Containing a single black face (that of the Archbishop of York), it harks back to the safer days of the past.

He does not mention that among those for whom one can vote are Professor Richard Dawkins, whose religiphobia ruined a once excellent mind, and Sir Paul McCartney, who played a major role in degrading popular culture. Listing left-wing icons who have had a hand in cultural collapse isn't enough for Mr. Blacker if they're white.

Many of the names on the list mean nothing to me, though I see several actors whose work I have enjoyed, Baroness Margaret Thatcher, and Sir Patrick Moore, a special favorite of mine. I expect that if I looked up all the unfamiliar names, I would find many more people I would disapprove of entirely, who I would have expected to keep Mr. Blacker and his sort content. I am excited that "establishment" sorts were included at all.

It does not seem to occur to Mr. Blacker that he has acknowledged that the "days of the past" were indeed "safer" and that many Britons would like to go back to them, though I am sure with qualifications.

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