Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Don't worry, much

Further to yesterday's post and its comments, I have no doubt that in some ways we're more bestial than we were fifty or one hundred years ago and that in some ways we're more civilised. Personally, I think on balance we're more civilised than we were one hundred years ago and more bestial than we were fifty years ago. My guess is that two world wars and an economic depression did something to make society a couple of generations ago unusually disciplined.

However, I doubt it could be proven to general satisfaction and I have no real confidence that I'm right. We could share examples and counter examples until the cows come back, self-fulfilled, to their broken home.

But I am more sure of one thing and that concerns the fears of imminent social breakdown on the part of the Chicken Licken tendency. This is usually directed at the fear that Muslims are going to take over. But a different strain is coming to the fore as expressed by Sean in the comments yesterday and that is the fear that the People of the Abyss are going to strangle us in our beds if we can no longer afford to buy them off, an eventuality that may be just around the corner now that we're broke. (If you're interested in more spine-tingling tales, Chickenlickenism is retailed by P Hitchens, Melanie Phillips, Damian Thompson, and others as well as our Sean.)

Now I don't believe any of this is going to happen. In fact, I think it's a bit paranoid. But it struck me whilst watching the demise of the evil Moaty that anyone taking on the British state in determinedly violent fashion needs their head examined (as, indeed, did Moaty). There was enough force there - in one small and relatively remote corner of Britain and to challenge one individual whose threat to the wider society was absolutely insignificant - to defeat a small army. Tornado jets were deployed for goodness sake.

Leviathan has never been stronger. As a consequence, and absent some unimaginable catastrophe, reversion to a Hobbesian state is even more unlikely. I guess people might say we've gone soft and would shy away from a resolute response when the time came, that we've become too effete and decadent to defend Western civilisation (I'm beginning to see the attractions of this sort of language, by the way - declaiming stuff about 'Western civilisation' makes you feel very big and important).

The evidence is to the contrary, of course: we've gone to war on three continents six times over the last twenty years, a world record only surpassed (I think) by the US. At home, we have our largest ever prison population and a police force that's bigger, more militarised and better armed than it's ever been. And then look at your own circle of friends and acquaintances. Personally, I can think of plenty of people who I'd not want to get on the wrong side of by threatening them with forced conversion to Islam or expropriation of their goods and chattels.

The British state isn't one of the oldest in the world solely because it's been good at creating consensus and peacefully canalising conflict. It also happens to be one of the most effective monopolisers and projectors of violence that the world has ever seen. And that's not to mention the British themselves...


Brit said...

All of these things depend on where you look and what you want to see. P Hitchens would assume we all take it as read that things are getting more bestial at the small scale, the 'broken windows' level - manners, Vern's locked toilets etc.

Yet counter-examples are legion. eg. 20-30 years ago the streets were awash with dog turds and litter - as kids we would literally kick through piles of litter like leaves; disused factory buildings daubed in racist graffiti were ubiquitous; it wasn't pleasant or safe for families to go to football matches; kids with deafness, dyslexia and other disabilites weren't given proper help; women had to put up with sexual harrassment at work etc etc.

That's all improved beyond measure. Also, there were just as many gangs of horrible kids terrorising neighbourhoods and nicking your bike, only instead of hoodies they had mohicans or skinheads. Outside the well-known chronic sink estates, which hopefully this Govt under IDS is at last addressing, other areas which used to be No Go zones have become unrecognisably gentrified and trendified.

worm said...

hell+handcart etc.

Hey Skipper said...

Its worth comparing the dystopian movies of the 70s, particularly any featuring New York.

Then go there.

Much more significantly, though, is how thoroughly racism has been routed over the last forty years.

Gone completely? No.

After effects erased? Scarcely.

But I'm convinced my grandchildren's acquaintance with it will be precisely the same as my kids with the Vietnam war.

That is a moral achievement so huge, and arrived at with so little bloodshed, that I can't think of another historical parallel.

Although the emancipation of women is in the same league.

worm said...

I think people will get over the gays long before they get over the differently coloureds

Vern said...

I feel similar to you about this, GAW- that it's a continuum- shittifying over here, getting better over there.

Ironically enough however the sudden appearance of weapons on our police is often cited by declinists as evidence of the rising tides of the mob. I remember when I were a lad how proud the British were that our police didn't carry guns. Now they do.

Likewise the state feels the need to keep an eye on us at all times, hence the famous and ubiquitous and generally useless surveillance cameras. Does the powerful state fear the unwashed mob in ways it did not before? Does terror of decline and the filthy horde operate at the highest levels of society? Are they secretly in agreement with P. Hitchens?

Lastly, Skipper is right about New York. It's much better now. But it could of course get worse again. Detroit meanwhile remains a shitehole of cosmic proportions.

Gaw said...

Certainly London is better in every way than when I moved here in 1994. I really can't think of any things that have become worse. Except for the affordability of property but then that's mostly a consequence of the first bit.

Vern said...

Is the Underground better? It always seems irredeemably krap whenever I am in town.

Anonymous said...

It´s true that racism has greatly waned since i grew up in the 80s. Our genteel upper middle class neighbours used to let the air out of my father´s tires, and chalk racist graffiti outside our house (their parents were architects, solicitors, cops). i haven´t really experienced racist abuse in about 10 years, and that wasn´t very convincing.

Gaw said...

Vern, the line I use the most, the Northern, has improved hugely. In the '90s it was running trains and through stations that were unchanged from the '50s (or possibly earlier). Wooden frame carriages with moth-eaten seats and dingy, dirty stations. Now it's mostly new. My local station at Angel has gone from being a pit to an impressive grey and red granite-clad place.

Elb, we don't hear much about the racism of the respectable types in the old days. By the way, did someone call you a wop or something? You look a Mediterranean type to me!

Anonymous said...

No, they called me and my sister, and father, "pakis", because my father is Indian. In our first week in a new cul-de-sac (for rich people) the solicitor/ex-cop´s kids leant out of their windows as my mother, sister, and me were walking by their house, and one shouted to the other: "Don´t worry, it´s only a paki´s mother!"

They also chalked "brown paki shit" on the pavement outside our house. Perhaps because of such experiences i don´t get too upset by casual unmalevolent racism, unlike priggish white people, who often like to interpret racism into everything, precisely because they have no experience of it.

Gaw said...

Blimey. What swine.