No alarms and no surprises, please

Le refus des louanges est un désir d’être loué deux fois. (The refusal of praise is only the wish to be praised twice.) —François VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld, le Prince de Marcillac, Maxim 149

Disparate though we as a species indubitably are, there is one trait that unites every human being on the planet, from the smallest, most annoying children to the oldest, most eccentric members of the House of Lords. It is not a particularly complicated concept to grasp; it is indeed so concise, so unquestionable, and so devoid of an ability to foment arguments along racial, gender or class lines that the most senior and troubled Guardian columnists have flatly refused to recognise its existence.

It is simply this: everybody is right about everything all of the time, even when they’re wrong.

This does, of course, make life terribly difficult for just about everyone, save for the most fervent dope fiends and those in comas, who are somewhat less in thrall to the debilitating levels of frustration, pity and self-righteousness that ensue from the world just not understanding one’s unimpeachable greatness.

The problems are exacerbated by the sheer universality of the concept. Because everybody is right, but not always in the same way, there are a lot of people being angry about a lot of other people. And when they’re not getting angry, they’re getting evangelical and annoyed at others’ incapacity for wanting to help themselves; impositions are only ever undertaken for the good of the impositionee.

It is a tiresome and lonely situation that we find so few persons of good sense that have been so blessed as to agree with us in all that we think and do. To think of a world without someone to reassure us with acquiescent replies to all those sentences that contain a proliferation of ‘like’s or end with an ‘innit?’ or a ‘dyaknowwotimean?’ is to think of a hellish and swinish place, to be trapped like rats in an unholy neighbourhood.

In order to wrench ourselves from this melancholy, we need coping structures, and we need these structures to be real, tangible, and corporeal. It is thus that we grab all those with appropriately congruent clear-sightedness at every opportunity, be it in matters of nationality, ideology, party politics, the opinions of a dominant alpha being or simply a shared sense of sagacity brought about by seven pints of Stella and a suspicion of Sven Göran Eriksson.

Combating the pernicious and harmful effects of independent thinking is mankind’s greatest and most successful experiment. Groupthinking makes people dishonest and intellectually anaemic, but it saves a lot of alarming egoistic trouble.

In the amusingly myopic world of politics, groupthink gibberish, bathing in the elixir of power, is more than a cerebral palliative; it’s both a full-time occupation and an art form. The people here are righter, and they’re more inclined to let you know about it: it’s what happens when slightly-ill people pick up their papers, don their ill-fitting suits and go off in search of a way to make themselves sicker.

Someone with whom my paths have not so much crossed as become entangled with, recently fell head first into the venus fly trap of big-p politics and is making an admirable effort to sink as fast and as deep as possible into its slimy goo. Within just a few short weeks, he has successfully lost his skills of reasoning, his regard for honest debate and 73 per cent of his sense of humour. He has negotiated with ease the complicated journey from being never wrong to being Never Wrong, during which the ability to confess to little faults in order to persuade oneself that one has no great ones vanishes into the ether. Personally, he’s delightful. Professionally, he is as noble as an estate agent.

It’s a familiar story, told by all those with close ties to both politicians and other assorted people yet to meet ideas that they can’t pigeonhole into preconceptions.

The statistics that evidence our propensity to belabour politicians as a group while actually not really minding them too much as individuals are well known. They are regularly held up as a way of besmirching the prejudices of the populace, who, we are told, would be neither so quick to denounce the whole merry political scene nor so reluctant to turn up at the polls, if only they took the time to actually meet the poor souls who get paid to think too highly of themselves.

The trouble with this is that it mistakenly sees the members of a group of politicians as people, when, in fact, they are nothing of the sort. They are all-too-human, of course, but they are not individual people.

Confront an elected representative on his own, and he is generally nice, quite good at his job, well intentioned and working hard to accomplish achievable goals, often with some success. Confront him with an idea and no avenue for running away from it, and he will likely spend at least some time thinking about it on its merits; he is, after all, of above average intelligence and, on the whole, means well. View the same man as part of a herd, however, and he becomes remote, idiotic and incapable of achieving anything save earning money by wasting yours chasing after a series of bugaboos and utopias. The merits of a particular issue are lost amid a maelstrom of conflict, be it over something large like class- or party-lines or something more personal, like ‘agreeing’ with a person who is in the position to enhance one’s career.

But why this discrepancy, this political personality paradox? The answer, once again, is simple. Or rather, simplicity. The simplest path is the one down which everyone runs. In a herd, this means either placating the powerful, in the hope that some of the puissance rubs off either in passing or (more likely) as a reward for oleaginous ingratiation, or playing servile, hiding in the corner and hoping not to be either eaten alive or found out.

Politicians at a national level cannot be viewed as people, because we do not elect them as such. Rather they are appointed thanks to their qualities as soulless and unscrupulous creatures, each one characterised by a long, mendacious nose that knows how to do only two things: sniff out power and stick itself where it is not wanted. Thrust into an arena about which they are incapable of comprehending, politicians come back to what they know in their capacity as simpletons, and seek solace from the scariness in the reciprocal rightness of those around them.

These appointees are the ultimate expression of the necessary evil that is the inappropriately named ‘Party’ structure, quasher of debate and rewarder of those members of society that are the least capable of resisting the urge to interfere. It doesn’t lead to anything that one could decently and honestly wish to hold a party in honour of—philosophers operate alone, hooligans do not—but… for the goodness of those unfortunately affected, it should be remembered that any spectacle so gaudy is not without its charms. Circuses are not laid on for the benefit of the clowns.

  1. Sim-O said:

    Ah, so that explains why politicians defend everything their leader says when they are in the cabinet and then “set the record straight” when they’ve been sacked.

  2. Dunc said:

    Bravo, sir!

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