"You and your pals are too weird for me"
I've thought about these words over the last couple of days and deliberately took the time to reflect upon them properly before saying anything meaningful. It is of course sad to lose a friend of any description, but some disagreements drive an irreconcilable wedge between people. I wish him well, and still think at heart he's a good bloke - it would be churlish and pathetic of me to believe anything else.
As I said at the time, shame.
I can't speak for my pals, but we move on...
He's actually right, even if it's for the wrong reasons. Politically, I'm most definitely something of a misfit. One of the reasons for increasing my social media profile and coming back to the blogosphere was to see how what is a distinctly minority view would fare in the public domain. My immediate observation would be to paraphrase Howard Devoto and note that I frequently find myself being "shot by both sides". Disliked (politically, if not personally) by the tribal left and the tribal right in equal measure - so I'm doing something right. Perhaps it was summed up best when I posted something broadly agreement with capping benefits, with the caveat that the Royal Family had their 'handouts' cut to £26,000. Now there's a great way to piss off just about everyone at the same time.
It's not childish exhibitionism, I'm just in a tiny minority who process and analyse things the way that I do. It's been a blessing to meet a few great people over the last few years who display similar thought processes. At the very least, it's nailed one argument in my favour, confirming that I'm not actually insane. I've even found the Libertarian umbrella a tad uncomfortable, increasingly preferring the term 'Instinctive Liberalism' to describe a certain belief system as time has gone on. Liberalism, in the original meaning of the word, means leaving people the fuck alone, not rewarding or punishing lawful behaviour on some 'moral' basis dictated by whoever is in office at the time. It's about resisting cheap populism, opposing mob rule and vigilantism of any description.
Most of all, Instinctive Liberalism is the antithesis of 'group think', or its more overtly political cousin, tribalism. That's why many Instinctive Liberals (myself included) are deeply suspicious of mass democracy and would like to see further checks (like a written constitution) to limit the damage it can do.
Tribes are the problem and always have been. Electoral politics without checks and balances becomes nothing more than a game of populist bribery. Shithead A turns up on yout doorstep, identifies the tribes he loves, the tribes he loathes, tells you which tribe is going to get more stuff and which other tribe is going to pay for it. Then Shithead B knocks on your door, identifies a different set of favoured and lamented tribes, thereby inviting you to decide (in the roundabout words of Billy Bragg) whose tribe are you on boy, whose tribe are you on? Pressure groups emerge, demanding more 'stuff' by proxy on the doorstep - usually dressed up as some sort of 'equality crusade' it's actually a crude appeal to the effect of give more stuff to me and I'll vote for you.
If all that seems a bit too abstract and not 'real world' enough for you let's have an example, a case study if you will, where both sides of the tribal argument talk a parcel of bollocks. I find the socially conservative obsession with marriage hysterically funny, so let's start with that side of it. "Marriage is the bedrock of society, an important part of raising the next generation and the only socially acceptable family unit, blah, blah" says some sad dinosaur like Crispin Blunt, before asking for sympathy as he 'comes to terms' with his own homosexuality a few years later. Sympathy I have none, you silly old hypocrite, now fuck off and leave me alone to sleep with whoever I want - as long as there aren't animals or kids involved it has precisely fuck all to do with you.
The Socially Conservative analysis (and I appreciate calling it an analysis is a mite generous) is that the mere act of asking for a divorce spawns an outbreak of utter selfishness in men and women who were utterly saintly beforehand. Getting married and staying married to someone, anyone, is automatically good for you, in the same way in which, say, spinach or pasta might be. It's bloody good for society too - it produces more geniuses, more entrepreneurs, more poets and scholars, fewer criminals. It's good for the environment, reduces classroom sizes, combats climate change (if you believe in it, and even if you don't it, er, still does). Fewer people take drugs, more people go to university and 'experiment' with Coca Cola and chocolate instead. Everybody loves each other and is a perfect neighbour. Nobody ever steals, tells lies, or god forbid, sleeps with someone they're not married to.
We all live in a fucking Tory Blue submarine...
Get a Conservative talking about marriage and he (or, highly improbably she) starts turning strangely Utopian. It's like one big hippy movement for the sexually repressed.
So, according to the tribal thesis, I must, must therefore be of the opposing view, that all of society's ills, including marital breakdown, are the result of dire poverty or illness in one way or another. When people behave selfishly or irresponsibly, driving away people who previously loved and cared for them, it will most likely be as a result of a lack of money. However prosperous a society might be, relative poverty is the cause of pretty much all mistakes and misjudgements within it. Poor mere millionaires living amongst billionaires eh - how on earth did they stay together for so long? As for 'marginal issues' that contribute towards family dysfunction, like substance abuse or violence, the answer is straightforward. Every last one of us needs treatment, and the taxpayer should pick up the tab.
Nobody is bad, nobody is stupid, fucks up, does something reckless and doesn't appreciate what they have until it is gone. Everyone is a victim in some form or another - in fact, everyone is diseased. Beating your wife and kids because they're weaker than you is a disease, the fantasy of addiction is a disease, beyond any sense of control or moderation.
Irresponsibility? A disease.
Wife/child beater? Anger management issues.
Bad with money? Shopping/spending addiction.
Infidelity? Sex addiction.
It's not your fault, remember...
This, apparently, is the choice - and I'm actually supposed to 'choose' one of them?
What if I happen to think both of these 'analyses' are incredibly fucking stupid? Who 'represents' me? From where I'm stood, the answer is nobody. Certainly nobody who knocks on my door at election time, and/or has a realistic chance of winning.
For the little it's worth, the reality based on personal experience is that a an awful lot of people get married when they're young because someone, somewhere, thinks that they should. This is the single biggest reason that marriages fail, because two people got married for entirely the wrong reasons to start with. I'm always happier for those who tie the knot later in life, since it's more likely they've reached that conclusion independently, as opposed to it being the result of parental or peer pressure. For that reason alone, I can't possibly go along with the idea that getting married is an inherantly good thing. In fact, it's this sort of societal hand on the shoulder (thankfully on the wane) that results in so many 'bad marriages' in the first place, leaving the rest of us, assuming they have kids, to pick up some of the consequences, and usually most of the bill.
As far as 'selfishness' goes, well some people are just nasty pieces of work, it's as simple as that. Anyone with half a brain will quickly divorce someone who turns violent, or empties the joint bank account to indulge in a weekend away with the boys, or girls for that matter. In reality, people who cannot see beyond the end of their own nose tend not to stay married for too long - i.e. selfishness is a cause of divorce and not a consequence of it as Social Conservatives would have you believe. An awful lot of people who ended up as single parents did so because they wanted the freedom of single life and therefore did not take the responsibility of marriage, and more importantly, parenthood, seriously. You feel sorry for the other half of that relationship who perhaps did, but to suggest that someone who wanted to have their cake and eat it is some sort of 'victim' is utterly ludicrous.
They simply shouldn't have got married or had kids in the first place. End of argument.
Ergo - both sides are wrong. There are a multitude of issues on which such a duopoly of tribal idiocy exists, but it made sense to pick an obvious one to illustrate the point.
In short, marriage and/or divorce does not cause or prevent irresponsible behaviour or nastiness. People make mistakes, do bad or stupid things, from which some learn something and others don't. To suggest that getting and staying married solves everything would be moronic, as is any idea that someone who fucks up is automatically diseased and needs State help.
And therein lies the problem on so many counts - Tory vs Labour. Marriage is wonderful vs Everyone is diseased. Drugs are bad vs Poor addict needs help. Greed is good vs Tax the rich. Racism vs Political Correctness. English Defence League vs Islamic Lunatics. I keep coming up with the same answer - neither. I suspect an increasing number are recognising the island of false dichotomy and bizarre non-sequeters we're living in, but out of habit you'll go and vote for more of the same in May. I'll come onto exactly why that's such a tragic and indeed dangerous move, but hey it's up to you. What I do know is that the current social discourse (forgetting the political discourse, which is even worse) finds precisely no room for the non-tribal amongst us.
So - I can't be bribed, because I'm not 'one of you' or a member of 'the enemy within' but an individual. Would I take to the streets, knowing people like myself are in a minority and try to exert unwarranted influence through violence? Absolutely not, no wannabe 'benevolent dictator' here since such a thing cannot exist. What about running for election? Being at the distinct disadvantage of not being able to bribe the rest of you with someone else's money, there would be more chance of a snowball fight in hell than yours truly scoring even a tenth of the vote. Still, I'd rather be right than be President, as Henry Clay once said. My ex-friend is spot on, politically I'm a complete misfit, there's no logical space in democratic politics for someone who thinks like I do - and anyone possessed of anything resembling morality knows the EDL 'profile by intimidation' route is totally out of bounds.
So...at a crossroads, I'm back in 'keyboard warrior' country - thoughts appreciated.
Take care and I'll catch you soon for Part 2.