Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Two Types of Human

My political life has been a switchback ride. I was brought up in a family of small business-people, working-class in outlook and Tory by inclination. They had an old-fashioned belief in education. I learned I could have anything my limited young imagination could conceive, if I could only justify it as "educational". Looking back, I feel some guilt. Homework excused all household chores and allowed me solitude for listening to Led Zeppelin through earphones and reading for pleasure.

Inevitably, my reading tended Leftwards. Intrigued by the uproar when I brought a biography of Marx home from the library, I set out to read the great man's works. I am the only person I know who has read "Das Kapital". I live in Russia now, so that's a more surprising claim than it used to be.

I became a Maoist. I was suspended from school for selling revolutionary magazines; the high point in a period of teenage father-baiting.

Working during school holidays on a building site, I had a "road to Damascus" experience; an encounter with the Shrewsbury Pickets. They were not a rock group, but a foul, violent gang of Communist scumbags. An older fellow-Communist at school patiently explained that the violent intimidation I had witnessed was a perfect example of "the dictatorship of the proletariat"; my friends on the receiving end being, as mere construction workers, the "lumpenproletariat". I may have been an impressionable youth, but I knew that giving an evil thing a fancy name could make it worse, but could never make it better.

I dipped again into the political books. Within two years of that incident, I was chairman of my University Conservatives. I had the experience of being introduced to the late Ted Heath as "a recent convert from Maoism". He chatted amiably about meeting Mao, but gave no sign of knowing what a murderous monster the "Great Helmsman" was.

As a student Conservative, I was among the first to call myself a Thatcherite. Mrs Thatcher appealed to the no-nonsense working-class boy in me more than the pompous Heath or other sanctimonious asses (such as Geoffrey Howe) I met at that time. Her undoubted appeal to the working-classes frightened the old-style Tories. They reacted rather as did the more squeamish on the side of Men when Aragorn took the "paths of the dead" and summoned ghosts to their cause in the Lord of the Rings. They were happy to have their support, but reluctant to rub shoulders with such scary recruits. Like those ghostly warriors, working-class Thatcherites duly passed on - with their leader - into the Party's afterlife. So did I. I had read too much Marx, and experienced too much "dictatorship" to turn Left. I was politically homeless.

All might have been well were it not for the propensity of the British Middle and Upper Middle Classes to treachery. Just as their grandfathers had betrayed the nation to the Soviets in the days of the Cambridge Four (or was it Five, or perhaps Five Thousand?) so they flocked to Blair and his "Third Way". With that special British insularity that our geography explains but does not excuse, they had not noticed the outcome of almost a century of global Socialist experimentation. More than half of mankind lived under Socialism in the 20th Century. Behind the Iron Curtain at least, its failure had been accepted. Yet the Islingtonians turned from PG Wodehouse to a half-assed Readers' Digest version of Marx, just as the rest of the world had finally rumbled the old fraud.

I have spent the Blair years behind the Iron Curtain. My Polish, Russian, Hungarian and Czech friends and colleagues are immunised against collectivism. They had reason to fear the challenges of capitalism, for which their education had ill-prepared them. But their families' memories were enough to ensure they did not kid themselves that there was a second or third way to the rigours of the market.

I watched in dismay as working-class former Tories sank into apathy or worse. I took no more pleasure in watching the bitter political journey of the Northern Labourites with whom I grew up. For a while they were so happy their party was in power that they suppressed their doubts about the embroidery defacing its flag. They consoled themselves that once more they had the opportunity to divert the fruits of others toil to the Labour fiefdoms of the North and the Celtic fringe. Blair might have the "look and feel" of the most condescending and matey sort of Old Tory, but he still let good old Gordon channel billions to the public "services" for squandering.

Even the "accounting errors" in the Home Office last year wasted the work of over 150,000 average taxpayers. That's the kind of State the Northern comrades wanted. Their only problems were that they had to wear a tie when meeting journalists and couldn't call their comrades "comrade" any more. It was also embarrassing to watch Prescott's humiliating antics as the token Northern prole, but he was too much of an ***hole to pity much.

I hoped stupidly that the Conservatives would learn from their historic defeat. They didn't. They haven't. They had run out of ideas and were perfectly happy finally to be rid of "that bloody woman" and the embarrassing proles in her army. They retreated into their former mediocrity and squabbled for control of the bankrupt wreckage of what had once been the greatest election machine in Europe.

I hoped even more stupidly that there was some truth in Blair's rhetoric. I reasoned optimistically that only a Labour Prime Minister could muster the necessary support to reform State Education. A product myself of that appalling system, I knew that "Education, Education, Education" was the right set of priorities for Britain. Blair, sadly, was bullshitting. The product of "Scotland's Eton" was happy to send his own offspring to politically-correct faith schools, while leaving his countrymen's children to the "bog standard comprehensives".

Why did he he want power so much, when he had no idea what to do with it? However bad a barrister he may have been, surely he could have earned everything "power" has given him?

My political life now is a daily fight with cynicism. Liberties, carefully structured over centuries to balance the interest of the individual with those of the collective, are being rudely smashed. Blair rhetorically balances "the ancient right to life" against the "ancient right to liberty" as if the former were any use without the latter. By that logic, he might as well offer to lock us all safely away until the danger is over. Even such fragile reasoning goes unchallenged by a feeble Opposition.

I have come to the conclusion that there are two types of human. One believes that he, and groups of people like him, can shape his community to make a better life for everyone. He is a "joiner", who believes that the world can be a better place if only all "old" ideas can be reexamined and old ways "reformed". He feels for humanity in theory; worries about the needless suffering of those less wise than him. His only insight into history is that he was not there when previous attempts to perfect humanity failed. This time, it will be different. This time, it will work.

Tony Blair is such a man, as is every right wing taxi driver who ever said "there oughta be a law against it, Guv".

The second type knows in his gut that, however unfortunate he may be in life, he is a better judge of his own interests than anyone else, however well-intentioned. He does not trust the collective. He knows people will always form religious, political, social or sporting clubs, but he believes there must always be a good selection of them, so that he has choices. He feels for the humans in front of him, not humanity in the abstract. He may well be charitable, but he knows charity given freely is more likely to reach its target than "charity" extorted by the taxman.

In the last century, Socialism, Communism or Fascism were the creeds that offered the greatest opportunities to build an apparatus of "social control" to mould and perfect mankind. They attracted the first type of humans by the million. The second type was more likely to be a conservative (not a Tory), a liberal, or perhaps an anarchist. The collapse of the idea of Socialism, after it was tested in the largest political experiment in history, only gave the first types pause for a couple of years. They they regrouped; defining themselves by what they were against - racism, male chauvinism, homophobia or other evils (real or imagined).

By carefully selecting evils, first types justifed new apparatus of control. Once the apparatus existed, it was easy to expand its application. The lack of a guiding philosophy actually makes this easier! New Labour has become an umbrella group for everyone who wants to badger and bully his fellow men. By defining only what it is against, it has become more dangerous than ever. The uneasy feeling growing in the electorate is simply the dawning realisation that - like Mr Blair - New Labour has no policy goals. It is not for anything but the accretion of power.

I console myself that this too will pass. The amusing contradictions which require New Labourites simultaneously to defend Muslims who hate homosexuals and homosexuals who call Muslims "homophobic" are the first straws in the wind. The Conservatives are wrong to copy the Blair model just as the cracks begin to show. The only thing that unites the followers of our ruling Party is that each of them believes the collective will enforce his will. It must soon become obvious, even to the most blind amongst them, that even a collective led by spin doctors cannot enforce every one of a mass of unrelated and contradictory ideas.


Raw Carrot said...

I wholeheartedly agree that "the Conservatives are wrong to copy the Blair model just as the cracks begin to show." Interestingly, a few weeks/months ago I came up with a sort of binary theory of man too: that some people believe you should "never give up" on an individual; and others who believe that at some point you must give up. Of course, my little theory sort of collapses into ideas of personal responsibility, and ultimately, the bigger (and more important) dichotomy of collectivism vs. individualism - as you suggest.

Anonymous said...

A brilliant post you have articulated many of my own half formed thoughts. I have a fear that as NuLabour chips away at our liberties and puts in place legislation that will enable a future government to establish an authoritarian state probably based on the false fear of terrorism