Saturday, 16 June 2012

In praise of childishness

I’ve not been able to track down the quotation, but I remember someone in David Cameron’s circle pointing out, at around the time of his election, that complaining about unfairness was something indulged in only by those who hadn’t outgrown childhood.

The line stuck in my mind because it seems to me to sum up an attitude that marks the political right around the world.

What flows from that attitude is often comic. For instance, when Mitt Romney wanted to prove his commitment to US industry, he pointed to the four American cars his family owns, including the ‘couple of Cadillacs’ driven by his wife – one on each coast, as it happens. Clearly the fact that those who struggle to fill a single car with fuel might feel it unfair that he has four luxury models, simply didn’t occur to him.

Often, however, the injustice is tragic. In Britain, the Romney lookalikes are in office and have turned their baleful attention to the poor. Not sparing, by the way, the ‘deserving poor’. It’s difficult to know just who is ‘deserving’ but one might imagine that people in hard but poorly-paid jobs might be included, though they’ve just had tax credits withdrawn from them.

Even more shameful is the denial of benefit to the sick and handicapped. The iconic figure of this onslaught is Karen Sherlock who died soon after discovering that she had been found fit for some work and her benefit would be cut off within months.

Her case is representative of the most vulnerable who are being sacrificed by a government that has granted those with incomes of over a million pounds a year, a £40,000 annual tax reduction. The reduction alone is sixty percent more than median average earnings across the country.

If it’s childish to find this kind of injustice insufferable, I’m proud never to have fully grown up.

There’s nothing new about any of this. I’m enjoying Marion Meade’s excellent biography of Dorothy Parker, wittily entitled Dorothy Parker. Meade gave the book a more inspiring subtitle, ‘what fresh hell is this?’, but that came from Parker’s way of answering the phone.

I’ve just discovered that in the summer of 1927, Parker was arrested in Boston protesting against the forthcoming execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. 

Sacco and Vanzetti:
powerful symbols of insufferable injustice
Now I don’t know the truth of the case: Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian immigrants to the States who were undoubtedly members of an anarchist organisation which took part in criminal activities, including bombings. Did they commit offences? They may have. Was either of them involved in murder they were charged with? Perhaps. Were they given justice? Absolutely not.

Michael Dukakis, as Massachusetts governor at the time, got it right in his proclamation to mark the fiftieth anniversary of their execution on 23 August 1977: ‘any disgrace should be forever removed from their names’. But he didn’t pardon them, which would have been to recognise their guilt, or declare them innocent, which he didn’t have the evidence to do. What he knew was that the trial had been mishandled from the outset, principally because the two defendants were assumed to be guilty by ‘right-thinking’ people including the trial judge.

When Parker was arrested, voices in the crowd called for her too to be hanged.

It only heightens my admiration for Parker that she chose to speak out against those voices, and more generally against those who deny the right of others to be treated as human beings deserving precisely the same treatment as anyone else.

Of course, being Parker she found an inimitable way of expressing her feelings about the people she found insufferable:

If I had a shiny gun,
I could have a world of fun
Speeding bullets through the brains
Of the folk who give me pains;

Or had I some poison gas,
I could make the moments pass
Bumping off a number of
People whom I do not love.

But I have no lethal weapon –
Thus does Fate our pleasure step on!
So they still are quick and well
Who should be, by rights, in hell.

Fortunately, these days, we have the most lethal weapon of all against the David Camerons and Mitt Romneys of this world: the ballot.

With the British opposition showing double-digit leads over the Cameron’s government, there are grounds for optimism that we can rid ourselves of it at the next elections in 2015.

Romney has yet to win office, so there’s still every chance of denying him in November this year.

It all depends on just how childish we can all contrive to be.

Dottie: antidote to the Camerons and Romneys


Martin Lake said...

I agree with every word you say. Let's hope the world wakes up and sees sense, as the French electorate did when they elected Hollande.

Martin Lake

David Beeson said...

Thanks, Marting - much appreciated

David Beeson said...

... or rather Martin...