Saturday, 8 October 2011

A privilege to plead guilty to this charge

Isn’t it glorious when you face an accusation so flagrantly true that you can frankly find no answer for it?

Many years ago when I was in my twenties I hadn’t yet developed the strict moral standards I now uphold as a respectable member of the community. This led to my being accused on one occasion of being a ‘fucking little Communist Jew’. The person who made the accusation was upset by certain activities I had been engaging in, with the full and indeed enthusiastic consent of the woman involved, on the grounds that he was related to her, though only by marriage. ‘Little’ is a failing I’ve always had and never found any way of remedying. A Communist I most certainly wasn’t, but I knew that my accuser was so far out to the right of the British political spectrum that he would hardly have made the distinction between my mildly left-wing brand of social democracy and the views of Stalin, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Finally, a Jew I have always been, at least by blood – something that came as part of my inheritance, like the littleness.

So I found it difficult to come up with any kind of answer to the accusation. Just what part of it could I legitimately challenge?

The other week I faced another of those unanswerable accusations, though I’m glad to say on a very different subject.

‘I’d have to suspect you just don’t like privilege,’ I was told, by a good friend who happens to support the Conservative Party – living proof that some nice people can bring themselves to back the nasty party. The tone was one of reluctance, as though the allegation was so shameful that it was difficult for a friend to voice it. 

What could I say? ‘Privilege’, as Terry Pratchett points out, is a word derived from roots that mean private law and, yes, I loathe the idea of private law. If law is to make sense at all, it has to be public and to apply to everyone. I profoundly loathe the idea that some people should be above it, or worse still, should be able to make their own.

Pratchett - right on privilege as he is on so many things
In fact, it slightly shocked me that anyone could imply that it might be possible to like privilege. I thought that practically everyone despised it, except perhaps those who enjoyed it, and even they, if they had any conscience at all, felt a little shamefaced about it.

Of course my friend didn’t really mean privilege. I was actually being charged with disliking wealth. Now that's not right. I have no problem with people enjoying wealth. Someone can drive a better, or at least more expensive, car than I can? They can take better, or more expensive, holidays? They can eat at better, or more expensive, restaurants? Welcome to it. If you’ve got the money, go ahead and spend it.

But – you have money so you can buy better healthcare than the inhabitants of those neighbourhoods of Glasgow where life expectancy is 54? You have money that will buy your kids a better education than the inhabitants of those miserable neighbourhoods that burst into flames in this summer’s looting in England? You have money that open doors to you and your family that will remain closed to others?

Well then, yes, wealth is buying private law. And then, yes, guilty as charged – I’m not keen, not keen at all.

The offence isn’t as much fun as the one I had to confess to in my twenties. But it is at least a tad more principled.


Anonymous said...

You are not little, Mr Quayle, I am.

David Beeson said...

At least I can spell better than Mr Quayle