Jul 24, 2008

Civility and Decency

This is a spin-off from my post yesterday about Quentin Fucking Letts, but its something I've been considering for a while, and wanted to talk about more, as a general trend within current political discourse, especially among the “opinion-formers” in the media.

Its hardly a novel or surprising insight, I'll be the first to admit. I know that its a particular aggravation of the brilliant American blogger HTML Mencken, of Sadly, No! fame and the more I see it within our own papers and political discussions, the more it pisses me off.

Some people, it seems, are far more in favour of civility in a discussion than actual decency. As anyone who reads me fairly often knows, I am hardly the poster-child for civil discussion. I rant, I swear, I mock and I troll. “All your carefully picked arguments can be easily ignored” and all that. But I think, underneath it, I am a fairly decent person. Not in the 'decent left' sense, hell no, those people are the poster children for Civility over Decency (especially as Alan 'Not the Minister' Johnson's lack of concern for human rights shows), but in the basic sense that no matter how nasty or cutting or rude I am, I'm only violent in my presentation of language.

In short, I'm not the sort of person who calls for pre-emptive attacks on enemy countries. I do not condone torture. I despise 'extraordinary rendition', hate racial profiling, cannot stand people who barely disguise their bigotry and blood-lust under the guise of cheerleading the “war on terrorism” and the war in Iraq especially. I don't think we should be throwing out everyone whose skin colour is a little too dark, nor cutting benefits for those most at risk in society. I don't think we should deny gays, atheists, Muslims, transsexuals or anyone else rights that the majority enjoys.

That's decency. Having some motherfucking respect for the people around you, not demonizing people who have never hurt you, not acting like a jerk simply because “I've got mine, and fuck everyone else”. Or cowering in a corner going “oh no, scary people who are different to me are here, this is an outrage!”

Because, lets face it, when you dig behind what is, on the face of it, 'respectable' and civil writing of commenters like Richard Littlejohn, or Mad Mel, or Amanda Platell, or Alison Pearson. Its dressing up ugly and vile opinions in nice sounding tones. A perfect example is that insufferable cunt Peter Hitchens, who just recently denied that homophobia has any real meaning. Well I'm sure gay people all over the world who are being killed, denied rights, attacked and smeared for their sexual leanings will be SO glad to hear that.

But you see, he said it in a nice way, with clean respectable words and no swearing, so he's perfectly alright!

Whereas on the other hand, all those nasty people over at the Guardian who were saying rude things about Thatcher are evil and horrible leftists. Never mind that none of them are contributing to a set of beliefs designed to deny Thatcher any of her basic human rights. Never mind that Thatcher put in place policies that did ruin many peoples lives, to benefit a few. Oh no, the problem is all those terrible and potty-mouthed Guardian types, who refuse to shed a tear at the idea of Our Great Leader passing away.

Well fuck that, and fuck anyone who thinks in that way. Oh boo-fucking-hoo, the nasty little leftists won't be all nice and civil when discussing your sacred cows? Civility is “manners masquerading as morals”, to quote Sidney Blumenthal. Its about an unspoken social code that relates in absolutely no way to the actual ethical ideas. Its a way of controlling the forms of argument, of dismissing people without actually having to refute what they say.

Noting the letters that Lett's reprinted at the Mail, the common theme among them seems to be that Thatcher's leadership did not enrichen or improve their lives, so why the fuck should they have to kowtow to her and her legions of brainless followers and admirers among the press corps? Letts doesn't answer that, because he can't. The idea of treating such a woman as a great leader worthy of such honour is to very many people disgusting, and the level of invective it deserves from those quarters is well beyond that expressed in the Guardian. Presumably Letts would have us all drink tea with our little finger's sticking out while discussing the pro's and con's of torture and genocide as well.

And the worst part is when people on the Left capitulate to such people and cede the ground to them, hoping to engage them in debate. The fact is that you simply can’t fight some people and the ideas they espouse by being civil. You have to let people know that they’re vile, hateful scumbags with no sense of standards or simple human decency. You have to stand up to them and (rhetorically) kick them in the balls. Repeatedly, in some cases. This whole “oh I respectfully disagree with your views on kicking out all the 'Muslim terrorist scum infesting this country with foreign diseases'” bollocks has to stop.

And yes, I am an angry leftist. If you call yourselves a decent fucking human being and you look around at the state of current affairs: a supposedly left-wing government tearing down civil rights and engaging in pointless foreign wars while the gap between rich and poor rises, and a bunch of cretinous reporters in the tabloid media who are willing to give them hell over the only few things they have done right, then you'd be fucking angry too.

And if you don't like it, Letts, you can blow me.

1 comment:

High Heels said...

Yes! I've noticed this on a micro level, too, since moving to England at the age of 16 - particularly (almost exclusively, actually) amongst the middle-classes - a terrible, paralysing, reified tension created by "good manners" between/from people who basically nasty pieces of work but get away with it by putting it politely.