I was having a drink the other night with an agreeable-enough fellow, let’s call him Henry. All was going well until Henry, like the Guardian reader that he is, felt it necessary to bring up the war in Iraq.
Wanting to a) talk about something more interesting, and b) provoke dear old Henry, I treated the topic with a healthy mixture of mockery and flippancy, remarking how at least it was nice that the US military was getting to test out some of its weapons given that they’ve spent so much money developing some pretty cool stuff, and other quips along similar lines.
Henry bore this for a while with a forced knowing smile and a growing sense of indignation. His welling worthiness was never going to stay quiet for long however, and when I expressed shame that Saddam’s beautiful palaces had been turned into the much less attractive ‘rubble with optional civilian body parts and weeping women’, he lost it, and proceeded to make himself look very silly.
Optional blood-soaked Independent-front-page accessories aside, he said, the razing of the palaces was one of the few good things to come out of the war, the symbols of oppression felled, the totems of tyranny terminated. The city could now be rebuilt, he continued, to represent a fairer, democratic, way of life.
Which is all complete crap, of course. Anyone who claims to be unquestioningly opposed to all forms and occurrences of flagrantly oppressive hierarchical structures is a fraud and a liar.
“Henry, you hypocritical swine,” I muttered, “where did you go on your last holiday?”
“Why, Egypt; you know that; but what relevance does it have here? And how am I a hypocrite?”
“Do you remember, upon your return, describing the pyramids as the most amazing thing you’d ever seen (and thus replacing the previous title holder, Moscow)?”
“Were those edifices which so stirred your soul the result of an anarcho-syndacalist commune with a rather nifty aptitude for lumping bricks on top of each other? Or were they rather the result of the taking of some liberties that would make Blair blush? Khufu the Pharoah wasn’t big on workers’ rights, I hear.”
“Don’t be daft. That’s different.”
“Go onÃ¢â‚¬Â¦” says I
“They’re not so closely associated with the evils that built them.”
“Give it time. Anyway, by going all goo-goo over the glories of Giza, you’re saying quite clearly that the methods that built them are justified, because it makes you happy to look at them and marvel. If you ask yourself whether you would rather they existed or that both they and the evils employed in their construction didn’t exist, you’re going for the former. That’s okay. They are rather cool, and a bunchÃ¢â‚¬â€hell, millionsÃ¢â‚¬â€of dead Egyptian slaves mean tit-all to me.
“If you deny such a thing, you bracket yourself with the queer moralisers that think that so long as dead Iraqi babies aren’t on the front pages, then they aren’t so important. And that’s not a pretty place to be. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that oppression has its upsides. We’re all heartless goons; at least some of us are honest.”
At which point Henry finished his drink, uttered a soft, but deliberately audible “idiot”, and got up to leave.
“Same time next week?” I said.
“Of course” replied the deluded, dishonest fool.