Happy New Year to you all. Today is The Slog’s 10th birthday. Has it been worth it, and what is the point of it?
Up until now, I have eschewed the ‘Review of the Year’ thing at The Slog – for a number of reasons: as each year seems to get worse, nobody needs reminding about it; it’s going over old ground, whereas I prefer to look forward based on the experience learned; and equally, one has almost certainly made most of the the points already, so why be tediously repetitive?
I’m breaking the rule this year. First, because I want to look back over five years, not one. Second, I feel the need to write about some micro experiences, rather than merely the Big Stuff. And second, because many of the attitudes and behaviours I encountered over the demi-decade from 2014-19 do, I think, inform the macro picture…..and highlight one or more mistaken beliefs from which I fear my age demographic increasingly suffers.
Their “suffering”, I might add, is doomed to one day make life insufferable for all of us.
In embarking on this, I do realise that (even though I would never name names) some people will recognise themselves, and may decide they don’t need my friendship any more. To be honest with you, that won’t be a new experience for me. American corporates often say, “A principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money”. Insert “a friend” for money there, and I would say you have the full picture from my perspective.
In the early 1970s, a then well known journalist, TV satirist and allround very bright Jew called Bernard Levin published a book called The Pendulum Years. It was Levin’s insight that the 1960s represented the final death of the Victorian era in Britain, and that the period roughly from 1962 to 1967 represented “pendulum” years that finally snipped the corsets of sexual hypocrisy that had gone before. Not only was it a crackerjack title, it was pretty much in its entirety a brilliant (and often hysterically funny) tome. It hasn’t aged well, but that’s not the point: the insight is as fresh today as it was forty-three years ago.
I would suffer from the same conceit as Levin if I tried to write ‘instant history’ in this essay; but unlike him, I want to spend the vast majority of it examining the likely consequences of these last five Pendulum Years.
One bit of macro at the outset. When Jeremy Hunt – a Minister obviously guilty of abuse of office, deliberate and unlawful redaction of incriminating emails, and bias in favour of Newscorp while Culture Secretary – not only survived the scandal but was then promoted to be Health Secretary, it was the final evidence for anyone paying attention that the pendulum had now obviously swung with enormous power against the Rule of Law. It was the moment, I’m convinced, that both opportunistic politicians and the Unelected State said to themselves, “We can get away with any shit now, and nobody is going to do anything about it”.
It was about this time that I began to realise how a worrying proportion of close and good friends were increasingly repelled by my intensity of reaction to this cultural shift. And along the way – as I careened from one end of Europe to another (and beyond) in search of a relationship partner – it became equally clear that, whenever potential Lady Slogs popped out of varietal woodwork and dating sites, things were going really rather well until these feelings (and my blog) became apparent.
The fastest way to create some space at a crowded cocktail or supper party is to start observing the blindingly obvious reality of growing socio-cultural depravity in the West. Within minutes, you’ll be drinking or dining alone. The political class was right: nobody cares any more.
This ‘crowd’ (defining them has never been easy) are variously referred to as the Facebookers, the Smuggies, the FTWeekend fans, the Relativists, and the At-Home Counties. Elsewhere in the world, they are the BoBos, the New Nabobs and so forth. After University, they did quite well out of service provision, shrewd house sales and divorce. They’re not rich in the sense used by genuine Toffs, but they’re jolly well off: their money is new, and their aim is to stick to it.
Variously, a conversation, an email or a dating site biog will proceed as follows:
“I have no interest at all in politics. I just let them do what they want, ignore them, live quietly and keep my head low. None of it is important. Nobody is really poor any more and I have private health insurance. I keep fit, eat a sensible diet, read literature, listen to Radio3, see my grandchildren and ignore all the media. These conspiracy theorists are simply mad. I see myself as cultural rather than political. But I did vote Remain: it was the only sensible thing to do”.
Since the break-up of my second marriage seven years ago, I’ve wandered among various examples of what I call the Dead Set….in the West Country of Britain, London, Sussex, Brighton, Portsmouth, Paris, Aquitaine, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Goa. The nationalities have included French, Russian, Greek, Australian, Vietnamese, Brit-Brits and expat Brits: the latter two have been predominant because, while I speak French well, and have reasonable German plus a smattering of Italian, the fluency of one’s own language makes the process of separating wheat from chaff infinitely more speedy and accurate. For example, I met a lovely Russian lady in Goa – but we could only communicate through tablet-based translation apps. We both decided to call it a day fairly quickly. Her job was exporting tractors. Say no more.
I wouldn’t describe any of the women involved in these (frankly, at times) farcical liaisons as unpleasant – or indeed the ladies themselves (with one notable exception) nasty. But I do find it fascinating that 13 nationalities in nine countries produced such a staggering uniformity of attitudes. OK fair enough, I did the choosing, and so I wasn’t about to go out with anyone variously thick, on the make, chav or neet. Whatever their starting points in life, by this time in their late fifties or older they were all, like me, middle class. I have to fess up here too and accept that I have always been attracted to women who have a proven track record of independence. Being put on a pedastal and lionised is great for a week, but after a short time unalloyed admiration becomes impossible to bear: one winds up feeling dishonest somehow….even if you haven’t been.
But that aside, the commonalities were startling.
All of them shared a full-on, heavily signalled “worldly” cynicism looking down on anti-Establishment fervour as immature and pointless. Given I’ve been on the record many times as opining (“Cynicism is the new naivety”) that this is precisely the voter attitude élites desire to evoke, I wasn’t that impressed.
Even less impressive was the media consumption that had led to their conclusions: FTWeekend, Andrew Marr, Piers Morgan, CNN, Radio4, France24, Bloomberg, BBCNews and….well, all the usual suspects really. Every last one was either a Remainer or uninterested in Brexit.
Appearances in general and fitness in particular seemed crucially important: from walking dogs over miles of craggy terrain to gyms, dance classes, arduous jobs, squeaky-clean kitchens, obsession with a size 12 capability. They were all, in very similar ways, trying to stop the ageing clock. “Not bad for a XX year old,” was a recurrent self-observation: never “does my bum look big in this”….they absolutely knew their bums were divine. Which, to be fair, on the whole they were.
Closely connected to that was a generally dismissive and wholly judgemental attitude to imperfection in others, plus an inability to stop commenting on it: you talk too much, you drink too much, you blog too much, you think too much, you cough too much, you talk in your sleep, you like the limelight too much, you’re a bit of a baby really, you’re terribly vain, you’re full of semantics, you go on about Brexit too much. Totally missing was any interest at all in the person behind the symptoms, or understanding the connection between the two. Sympathy for the plight of WASPI/2020 women for instance was not only absent, when broached as a subject their view was that of the DWP: well they’re all silly and stupid, so they asked for it.
I don’t need to spell out what all those things add up to, beyond – and eschewing asterisks for once – “Fuck you Jack, I’m alright”. And yet, it wasn’t that totality which, in the end, I found repellent. It was their rock-solid conviction that they could cheat the law of consequences…..that no matter how bad things got culturally or economically, they could at worst hide from it, and at best be immune to it. It’s only a very small step from there to feeling oneself not just above the law of consequences, but above the Law, period. And whichever way you cut it, they saw the means to that end as, um, means: lots of munneeeee.
That’s the connection to the macro for me: things are going to have to get very, very bad indeed before this psychographic band of the older collaborationist female demographic ever does anything except keep on bribing people not to evict, attack, pauperise or otherwise disturb ‘them and theirs’. And by the way, as I observe the male version of these women every day among the expat Brits here in France, I do not doubt that women using dating sites (or otherwise flirting online) have had similar experiences to mine.
Why is any of this important? Lots of reasons, but three above all. First up, I know I am a curate’s egg, and I know that everyone else is a curate’s egg. But there is a terrifying percentage of our species out there who are in denial about that. The cancer of ideology feeds this belief in self and social perfection, and it leads to hugely flawed certainties.
Second, when it comes to feeling bombproof, these people are wrong: their media consumption keeps them well away from the truth, but the views of the gigarich 3% insist that they will have to pay for the financialised lunacy in the end. They can run, but they cannot hide: they are bank creditors, and they will be shafted. They could move to the Third World and hide, but none of them would do it: where, for example, would they find the high standard of private health care they take for granted? Or a gym, or an organic restaurant?
And last but very probably first, I met the great majority of these women via “respectable” websites. They were chosen as matches for me (and vice versa) on the grounds of Artificial Intelligence. The AI was wrong in 100% of cases.
And so I arrive at some kind of bottom line. Whether one’s ideological tunnel involves virgins in Heaven, everlasting youth, the rejection of emotional intelligence or the belief in human perfection, all such belief-systems are inherently dystopian. As an epoch, ours is rapidly turning into one of acceptance, resignation and narcisissm, and the organs of State are developing to ensure that such anti-social behaviours are both nurtured and denied at one and the same time.
I try not to judge others, but sometimes I fail. Over the last five or more years, I have lost a lot of friends who insisted on judging me for doing something – voting to Leave the EU, blogging “obsessively”, leaving Britain or whatever – while they were doing nothing beyond telling me that resistance is pointless.
There are always two sides to this question. One says “Don’t tilt at windmills”, and the other insists, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for many good men to do nothing”. It’s a circle one can’t square: yer pays yer money, and yer makes yer choice.
I say only this in my defence. I believe The Slog has persuaded perhaps two to three thousand people that the cultural dysfunction of our societies on so many levels is considerably worse than the Establishment would have them believe. That may not sound like a lot over the decade of existence the site celebrates today, but remember, there is only one of me – and I have only been using one medium to do it. It is a mathematical certainty (given equal levels of talent and effectiveness) as to what 1,000 people each using blogging, music, movies, literature, the theatre, TV drama, local initiatives and the broader internet could achieve in the task of moving citizens away from conformist, process-systemic ideology to creative, people-community utilitarian empiricism. In short, a movement embracing eight million people by the end of this new decade.
So while I’m sorry to have spent much of this extended essay with the glass half-empty, I end on the optimistic note of what is possible with the will to make it possible. It won’t, however, happen because some Great Leader emerges from one Party or another. Ground-Up and local is now the only way, and reliance on the person standing next to you won’t be enough.
An awful lot of enough is what we’re going to need. The disgraced incompetent Christine Lagarde has taken over at the European Central Bank. Her opening remarks asked consumers to be grateful that they have a job, and accept that they may well have to forfeit their savings with a degree of grateful fortitude.
This is the mindset we face. A generation is coming through convinced that perhaps she is right. The Brexit rebellion put Boris Johnson in power – but if you look at the popular vote for the Tories versus the Leftlibbers, he won by precisely 0.8%. Ten years from now, a lot of we the Baby Boomers will be dead. To do nothing in the way of persuasion is to hand the future to the 3% and their growing army of Useful Idiots. I think we above all have a duty to stop that – if only because most of us have granchildren.
But that’s only my opinion. What others do is up to them, and I leave them to it….just so long as they stop their superior critique of what they see as me “wasting my time”.
Here’s to a happy new year, and an even happier 2030.