Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Say no to the nay-sayers

According to Thomas Paine, ‘That government is best which governs least’. Paine was no fool. He knew a thing or two.

Sabina Buzzanti’s pretty smart too. She’s an Italian comedian who recently told the Guardian, ‘in a democracy, there’s no right not to be offended.’ She said that because the authorities in Berlusconiland had tried to prosecute her for a tasteless joke she had made about the pope.

That’s feels like a bit too much government.

I get fed up with being over-governed. I get fed up with being told what I can do and I get particularly fed up being told what I can’t do.

That doesn’t mean the sensible things. Why should I drive at speed past a school? Why should I blow smoke in my neighbour’s face? Why should I watch a pirated copy of a film? Well, actually, I might be inclined to reply ‘why not?’ to the last one, but you get the general point.

It’s the senseless, meaningless restrictions that grate on me.

Take Maggie. People used to call her the ‘iron lady’. I used to think of her as the ‘iron lady with the wooden head’. She decided that I shouldn’t read Peter Wright’s book Spycatcher. It was freely available in every country except Britain. I went to inordinate lengths to find a copy of it. My friend Alasdhair got me one in the States and posted it to me. It was one of the most turgid books I’ve ever read and I can’t remember a word of it. Honestly. It was worse than Proust. Worse than The Bostonians. Why, it was worse than Dan Brown. It took me for ever to finish but I struggled on, partly because Alasdhair had taken so much trouble, partly just to spite Maggie. I like to think that I really got under her skin.

And it didn't stop with Maggie. Now we have an Italian comedian ‘guilty’ of mocking the Pope. Hey, this Pope used to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which in a previous incarnation used to be called the Holy Office of the Inquisition. He was the inquisitor in chief. And he gets offended by some off-colour remarks?

Of course, the remarks really were off colour. It’s just like the Danish cartoons of the prophet. Why did they publish them at all? What useful point did they make? Who on earth needed them? Being gratuitously offensive is just bad manners and it isn’t funny. To say Bush is stupid is just rude. To say that he’s a shining illustration of just how far a C grade student from Yale can get, is funny because it dresses up the same insult as an apparent compliment and has the advantage of being incontrovertibly true.

It’s also directed against a powerful target. The cartoons were directed against a minority already the butt of worse than humour. It’s like kicking a man who’s down: not attractive, not funny.

On the other hand, I deeply resent anyone preventing me seeing the cartoons. I mean, apart from myself. I was perfectly happy not to read them, I just didn’t want anyone telling me I couldn’t and I get sick of the people who try to. You don’t like the cartoons? Take another paper. You don’t like Buzzanti’s mockery of the Pope? Don’t go to the left wing rallies she addresses. You don’t like Spycatcher? I respect your literary taste. Write a blistering review of the book.

But let the rest of us make up our own minds.

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