At the End of the Day

There is nothing like a Name/nothing in the World

I’ve had a butterfly flapping about in my kitchen since late this afternoon. The poor little thing has hatched out on the promise of the last little redoubt of central heating I have left. I opened the back door to see if it wanted to leave, but it ventured out only briefly before wisely careering back in again. I am clearly in possession of the world’s only Mensa level butterfly.

For some reason, this made me think about the Accident of Birth thing. None of us choose our parents, or where they live. And equally, not many parents choose where they want to live in the first place: many of them wind up in one environ or another for a mixture of job, family, health and financial reasons. In turn, none of us choose the genes we inherit.

The entire process of getting born is, let’s face it, a multivariate lottery. Or (as the Conservative Party so unwisely suggested of the mythical working class last week) a game of Bingo. It is largely down to a thing called chance.

And yet – despite the random nature of all this – we do tend to admire people for their unearned inheritance. In the case of the Royal Family, this leads to lachrymose bollocks about Royals “lighting up a room” and so forth. Royalty is in fact one of the more glaring examples of how daft such hero-worship is.

I was struck earlier today by how, while most of us dislike the idea of privilege based on genes, a surname will still open doors: Hilary Benn was almost certainly not held back by his forebear’s reputation, and the younger Trudeau is an example of the same thing in Canada. George Dubya Bush of course is a case of how being even thicker than your Dad can be the exact requirement Wall Street and Texas want; and Neil Kinnock’s boy has just been selected as a Labour MP.

There is no shortage of examples in the media either: Lawson, Amis, Wintour, Rees-Mogg, Tarbuck, Coren, and a cast of – literally – thousands…these people all have talent, but genetic serendipity gave them an unfair advantage.

I do, for instance, find David Cameron laugh-out-loud funny when – in one ten minute session during PMQs – he can refer to his desire for “a level playing field”, but also an admiration for “the leg up”. Above all, this suggests that – even unto the 21st Century – the influence that accrues as a result of accidental genetic inheritance can still get the most unimaginatively superficial PR twerp into the top job.

There are myriad fascinating neuro-socio-anthropological reasons why this is central to our species, but I should like to make a plea tonight for thinking people to, as it were, think again. My thesis is this: we should all stop admiring people for what they were handed on a plate. Instead, we should admire those who are given a bum start in life, but use fair, legal determination to rise above it.

It is easy to admire Winston Churchill for his visionary stand against fascism, and War leadership. But it is more valid to marvel at the ability of a bipolar depressive to function in an age when there was no medication for his condition.

It is easy to celebrate the insight and quick wit of Aneurin Bevan, but infinitely more important to appreciate the skill and patience he (as an impatient and generally irascible man) applied to the establishment of the NHS.

Tony Blair inherited the ability to talk a good game and charm the arse off an elephant. Boris Johnson’s factory-wired gift for coming across as the Common Man is of the same ilk. I despise both men, because they have put a free gift they were donated into the service of Dark Arts and self-aggrandisement.

The obsession with celebrity that is such a dire sickness in our culture derives its energy from this awful oversight in the nature of Homo sapiens. We should all try to ignore the Right-brain response more often, and instead give our approval to those who overcome dyslexia, speech impediments, hearing difficulties, ethnic bigtory and a million other undesirable inheritances to make their mark on our lives.

Earlier at The Slog: Cameron’s workless households scam, and Labour’s lacklustre response