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It's fine to be angry about government, but not to become self-righteous

A comment was made to me recently that I had been keeping 'rather quiet' of late.  It was nice of anybody to notice of course - and I muttered some drivel about marking, and assessment boards, and preparing a new module, and that sort of thing.  All of which is true.  However, the comment made was not a general one about the fact that I have not been irritating everyone with countless tweets quite so much, but was more specifically about the fact that they had not seen me rant and rave wildly about politicians. 

More specifically, about the Conservative government. 

More specifically, about Michael Gove.

It is not that I have become a convert to any of these things, but there are two reasons why I have been consciously trying to reign in my impatience for Conservatives policies and ideologies, and my tendency to twitch violently at the very mention of Gove.

Reason 1: Misery and Pessimism

The first is that the whole business has simply got me down.  I know this is a wussy, cheap and cowardly thing to admit, but frankly when took stock and surveyed an economic system in which poor people are expected to pay for rich people's debts, where arrogance overpowers knowledge or consensus, where education is tailored to increase the divide between the achieveing rich and the under-achieving poor, and where even the fire services are being covertly privitised so that getting burned alive is something that will only really ever happen to poor people - well, frankly it is difficult not to despair.

What kind of politicians are happy to create a country so lacking in compassion?  Even worse, what kind of a nation are we, that we elect them?

There is a local by-election taking place where I live, and so far I have had three leaflets posted.  One was from the Conservatives, playing heavily on the idea that my local area (an East London sink estate), strongly needed a 'local' voice on the Council.  Their solution?  Voting for one 'Marcus Llewellyn-Rothschild'.

I kid you not.

As though to hammer home the obvious advantages of electing a man with a top hat to represent the interests of working-class East Londoners, there is a little visual aid on the leaflet: A picture of some delapidated garages from the 1970s, with a caption implying (as I don't have the leaflet in front of me, I am working from memory) 'remember what it was like under Labour'?  Next to it, a picture of some renovated garages, taken a year ago - with the caption implying 'see how much better we are under the Tories'!

What should I been angriest about?  The sheer stupidity of this kind of campaigning, or the fact that I know without any shadow of doubt that it will work!!

But this is not the worst of it - oh no!  Another leaflet was kindly posted by UKIP.  Emblazened accross the top of it was a headline warning the people of East London that unless we do something now, the whole of Britain will be filled with...


Holy molely!  Quick, batten down the hatches!  Dig out the bomb shelters in the back gardens!  The leaflet went on with such a pile of twisted, hateful, panic-mongering distortians of facts - really, I wish I had the time to go through it all with you, but my blood pressure could not cope - that it took several hours, four cups of coffee and two episodes of Mr. Ben to calm me down.

But this is not the worst of it - oh no!  Another leaflet.  This time from our freinds the BNP.  This did not anger me, so much as make me want to sit with my clothes on under a hot shower for several hours.  Pages of stuff about the moral decline of Britain, particularly in relation to sex crimes - all written rationally and convincingly.  Yes you're right, sex crimes are a horrendous thing.  Yes you're right, we should do something about it.  Yes you're (surprisingly), right that it is not a simple issue.  It is not until you get to the back page and read through a little more carefully that you realise what is going on.  Every example given involves an Asian sex offender.  The back page details how sex crimes are not considered crimes in 'Arabic countries'.

So to translate: Solving the issue of sex crimes is not a simple issue - because its all done by Muslims.

Words cannot express the seething rotten blackness which filled my soul when I read this.  Words cannot express the feeling of hopelessness and despair when I recognised that of all three leaflets, it was the BNP one which managed to sound the most rational.  Words cannot express the despondancy I felt at the realisation that it will probably be one of these three that gets elected.

So - I have been quiet on politics for a while, in part because of sheer weight of misery and pessimism about the whole business.

Reason 2: Self-righteousness and Nastiness

The second reason I have been quiet on these issues, is the realisation that there is a fine line between righteous indignation, and self-righteous arrogance.  In fact, you can see this very problem in the section above - you may have noticed my implication that the people in my local area are somehow dafter than me, and more likely to fall for the lies and manipulations of local politicians.  You may have noticed that my criticism of the Conservative candidate was founded on knowing nothing more about him than his name.

What presumption.  What arrogance.  What self-righteousness.

The trouble is, it is difficult to express my own frustrations at things like this without slipping over the edge - sometimes before I have even noticed it.  I would normally go back and edit my above comments to take out this bit of pomposity, but have left it in because it is a good illustration of the point I am making.

It is right to get worked-up about things sometimes.  It is right to be passionate about injustice, unfairness and a lack of compassion for people in society.  It is right to be angry about corruption, lies and manipulation.  It is right for one simple reason: Because it is good to care about others beside ourselves.  We may not be directly affected by injustice, but we should be angry about the way it directly affects others.

In other words, it is not all about you.  Let's not forget that most of the injustice, corruption and lies which angers us have, at their root, the motivation of self-interest, and self-righteousness - the belief that there is no problem if other people have to make sacrifices in order to secure your power or your wealth; the belief that there is simply nobody better than you who has the right to tell you anything.

To slip into self-righteous arrogance then, is to end up being one of the very things you are attacking, and when your own indignation focuses on individuals who you have never met you can end up painting with one big sterotype brush (whether the brush be a Conservative one or a Romanian one).

Today I read an excellent blog titled (intriguingly) Avoiding the Bears by Kirsty Rolfe, which identified this exact problem in the ways in which people responded to the recent Oscars ceremony.  Kirsty suggested a few rules for behaviour in order to counteract the kind of sexism the Oscars represented:

  • Things you can write hateful screeds about: Objects. Foodstuffs. Systems. For example: ‘I really hate the Hammersmith and City line, because it’s always late’. ‘I hate drinking Bailey’s because I feel like a misbehaving babysitter’. Etc).
  • Things you can’t write hateful screeds about: Actual people, or generalisations about people (e.g. ethnicities, genders, sexualities, nationalities, professions, etc). For example: ‘I hate all bankers’ (oh, great. Yes, look, an acceptable bogeyman. Tell me, sir or or madam, have you met everyone who works in, or for, a bank?). ‘Ugh, I really hate Jennifer Lawrence. I know everyone likes her but she’s really fake’ (WHAT THE SHIT, HONESTLY. Have you met her? Or, indeed, to take a different tack: Do you believe that, interviewed by the world’s media, you wouldn’t put on some form of social act? Do you believe that you don’t do this at work, or on the phone? Would you be at the Oscars scratching your arse through tracksuit bottoms?)

This seems to me to be some useful advice for, well - everything really.  I will never stop being angry about politics.  Never stop being frustrated and furious.  However, I do need to be better at channeling that fury in a way which avoids more consistently the kind of generalised self-righteousness which I find so unpalatable in those very politicians that annoy me.

So does all this mean I have to be a bit nicer about Michael Gove?

It's a toughy, but I will do my best.

That is all.  Thank you.

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