Lent is the traditional time to deny yourself your worst habits. I thought I’d give up double entendres; but it’s so hard.
I always thought that the easiest thing to give up would be denial itself. But then, I had no idea how deeply in it I was. Turns out that most of my life I’ve been pretending to myself that the entire western world was just like my bubble: some bad eggs but mostly full of nice, intelligent, reasonable, liberalminded people with quasi-socialist values inspired to support egalitarian projects like paying tax, universal healthcare and legal access.
The reality is I’ve been deeper in denial than Cleopatra’s sunken barge. It was merely a fantasy. It’s just that I happened to be fortunate enough to have been born in the peace between the Second and Third World Wars. A time when our scarred societies would do almost anything to avoid future conflict: be nice to old enemies, mutually assure destruction, help the vulnerable, have faith in secular morality, set up internationalist quangos and entangle every nation in globalised codependency. But, between the financial crash and the election of Trump, the veil, or burqa if you prefer less cultural appropriation in the cause of clichés, has gradually slipped from my eyes.
Now it’s clear that the sort of good old-fashioned, self-centred, small-minded, nationalist fervour, that Delete the elite? did Oswald Mosely so proud, never left us. The likes of Brexit and Trump have reawakened those who have been failed, by that lust for peace and capital, in their prospects and, possibly, in their education. What’s more, their seething anger is aimed squarely at the precepts that have provided us with security for over 70 years. At last they feel legitimised to voice long supressed bitterness and release the gobs of war. Really. WWIII no longer seems quite as impossible as it once did. Europe divided, nationalism on the rise, bareback horse riding bare chested muscleflexing from expansionist Russia, a super militarised China and the chief strategist at the White House, Steve Bannon, convinced that, “We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict … If (we do) not … fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity … (it) will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.” The only thing more galling than some smug bastard saying “told you so” is a long line of despots, oligarchs, dictators, potentates and caliphs saying it.
Transmoral types have been asserting for centuries that you cannot trust the hoi-polloi to make decisions. And we’ve known that too. Democracy in its purest sense would be mob rule, so every western democracy has been a fudge of some sort. A delicate balance between a figurehead, an elite club claiming to be the servants of the public and the public itself, who are only ever allowed to make the narrowest of democratic choices. But our Western Spring is having its own Lent, intent on purging itself of ‘experts’ and shady ‘elites’, albeit by electing blatant ones instead. We’ll have none of those secretive dark deals between oligarchs anymore, just billionaires and hatemongers openly grabbing the spoils and crying fake news whenever they’re called on it. The City wrings its hands over Brexit but how many there were willing, even bankrolling, it? With instability comes fluctuating markets, the perfect rollercoaster for those hedgefunds who would spread bet on shares dipping and rising like a window-cleaner’s sponge in a 70s sex comedy.
Clearly there are people in privileged positions who really shouldn’t be trusted. But ‘Elite’ as our hateword du jour, like all generalisations is only useful as a dehumaniser. A blunt instrument in argument and claiming they’re all the same makes no sense. History tells us we’ll never get rid of elites mainly because, when benign, they serve a vital purpose. Every revolution has simply replaced one with another. Societies need elites, and experts and specialists. In June last year we were all asked a bloody complicated question which I simply didn’t have enough facts to answer, nor did I have the time to truly examine it. But then that’s what I pay MPs to do. Now it seems that even they can’t grasp the specifics behind, or the consequences of it. We could have done with an educated ‘elite’ that we could trust, to take the time to examine it, study it, to understand and explain, instead of undermine and exploit. Yes, the system is broken and many ‘elites’ aren’t fit for purpose. Yes, we need to reform or exchange them. But to bundle everyone richer and more powerful than us in our social colonic is to not only throw the baby out with the bath water but the bath, chrome taps, Cranberry Lush, bath bomb and half a litre of TRESemmé as well. But then common sense is like deodorant, the people who need it most never seem to have it.