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Priest of the Awkward Squad.


IT IS A SAD sign of the times that most outrage storms in the media leave behind them no residue of intelligent engagement with the issues that give rise to them. In fact it may be the case that the very purpose of such storms is to drive out any trace of confronting real issues. All of us, as individuals and as a society, have to deal with difficult and painful things. We have to make decisions and we have to assume responsibility for those decisions. We don’t like doing that, so why not pretend there is no problem, or silence those who insist on asking awkward questions?

That’s certainly the case with Giles Fraser’s recent aggravation (“Why won’t Remainers talk about Family?”) in which he challenges the value of what he has called “the beautiful nomad” fantasy. This is:

…the philosophy of the unfettered self, free from restraint, free from the tiresome constraints of place and the local. Indeed, from the perspective of this liberal cosmopolitanism, the local community is a place to escape from, to grow out of, a place of narrow-minded sameness, a place to go back to at Christmas, but nothing more.

One of the moral dilemmas created by this mode of life involves how we deal with our aged parents when they become too infirm to look after themselves. Should we do as much as we can for them ourselves rather than let the state (in partnership with the private sector) automatically do it for us? Fraser clearly believes the former. That in itself seems to have incensed some. I suspect there is an element of guilt in the vituperation he has received.

To believe you should take more responsibility for the care of your parents you need to have a sense of duty to family, and family in this traditional sense is anathema to the progressive mindset.

But it’s the values that underlie his belief that really grate with the bien pensants. To believe you should take more responsibility for the care of your parents you need to have a sense of duty to family, and family in this traditional sense is anathema to the progressive mindset. You need to have that sense of individual responsibility, as a counterweight to the philosophy of progressive consumerism. That again is anathema, since the prevailing ethos is rights, rights and more rights. And in accepting the necessity for individual responsibility you are placing the state (and the market) in a subordinate role. Anathema to the progressive consumer.

As human beings, says Fraser, we need a sense of place and the interaction of face-to-face contact. Our lives and our communities are more than mere economic entities:

Human beings need roots for their emotional and psychological flourishing. They need long-term, face-to-face relationships; they need chatting in the local post office; they need a sense of shared identity, shared values, mutual commitment. No amount of economic growth is worth sacrificing all this for.

These basic human needs do not seem to be respected by Remainers. As devotees of the beautiful nomad fantasy they prefer what the EU offers. The unlimited movement of our educated youngsters away from home and the shipping in of European immigrants to care for our elderly (and anyone else) on low wages is acceptable to them. Economic growth is paramount. Brexit threatens this growth, just as it threatens the dream of rootlessness. No wonder the Remainer squad went mad.

Since Fraser knocks about with public figures he attracted the attention of Stephen Fry who intoned on Twitter, “What have you BECOME, Giles Fraser? Have a word with yourself, take some deep breaths. Go for a walk. Knit. Try a crossword. Bake a cake.” For which supercilious shallowness he was regally fawned upon by his admirers.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown managed, predictably enough, to make this about race:

“Your ignorance is worse than your phobias. Working class white people made families with dark strangers from the 16th century. There were Desdemonas in London when the play was written. Go educate yourself.”

(It’s not worth explaining.)

And after this brouhaha, what? The same questions remain. The same dilemmas.

You can agree with some of Fraser’s ideas and strongly disagree with others — or all of them. You may just disagree with the conclusions he is drawing. That’s fine. At least acknowledge there are important issues to consider. What is truly appalling about the responses to the article was that so many people were not even willing to think about the issues.

And so we come back to the beginning: somebody says something you don’t like, you push the outrage button, release the predigested script and hope the collective flood washes it all away. You’ll do anything to avoid the lonely process of having to think for yourself. That would be too hard, wouldn’t it? Worse, you might find you’re not as virtuous as you think you are.

suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet and writer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire. A Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Lincoln University (2005 – 2008), his poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent book is Albion Days (perennisperegrinator press). Sucks to Your Revolution is a collection of his Fortnightly columns.

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