Confession time … oh, nothing you might read about in the newspapers, no shameful lapse into avarice, bullying, callousness, demagoguery, envy, folly, gullibility, hopelessness, idiocy, jiggery-pokery, know-nothings, lip-service, myopia, nastiness, ostracism, prejudice, quiescence, robbery, stupidity, terror, unfairness, viciousness, woe, xenophobia, youth-quake nor zealotry.
That’s the A-Z of stuff-in-the-news from my previous post, by the way, published a week ago. All that ugly stuff out there – nothing to do with me!
Well, I might confess to a touch of hopelessness – a modicum of quiescence – a degree of woe. It’s all that other stuff, see? 3 letters of the alphabet, you might say, at the mercy of the other 23. The clue is in the phrase ‘published a week ago’. The truth is – and here’s the confession – I’m finding it hard to think up posts and even harder to complete them.
It’s not for want of trying. My back catalogue contains 129 drafts, each one more half-baked than the last. For all I know, this is #130.
So far, the signs aren’t good. Who the hell wants to read about somebody else’s reasons for not doing something? You’ve probably got enough feeble excuses of your own. Perhaps you tried some of them out on your teachers. The dog ate your homework. You’re wearing the wrong trousers. The doctor has diagnosed amnesia.
My crummy alibi is that I’m too nice. I gave that idea a dummy-run in the previous post. Weaned in the liberal 1960s, you see, I love everybody. Live and let live, each to their own, horses for courses, whatever floats your boat … yeah, do your own thing, man! Whenever I hear that track where Jimi Hendrix says It’s all freedom my fingers still make an involuntary peace sign.
I know, what a paradox! No way is freedom to wage war on my wish-list. Freedom from war, maybe. The conundrum is only solved by remembering that freedom is just one of the essential human rights. The other two, equality and solidarity, are no less important. How to get the balance between them is the $64,000 question – more like $64bn after inflation! And I’m no philosopher so it’s time to enlist the help of one.
The other day I watched a remarkable film about intolerance. It was Rupert Everett’s tour-de-force about the final years of Oscar Wilde. Its title – The Happy Prince – comes from one of Wilde’s radiant, life-affirming fables. Somehow Everett manages the triple feat of writing, directing and starring – his passion shining through to make it a movie like few others I’ve seen. OK, no others.
Another confession – several times I was surprised to find tears rolling down my cheeks. Wilde’s suffering becomes symbolic and the film achieves that rare thing in these days of CGI insincerity – catharsis. For once you can believe the reviews. I cannot recommend this film too highly.
Two scenes stand out – two emotional poles which couldn’t provide a more powerful contrast – one where he has to endure the abuse of a crowd, the other where he finally stands up to his tormenters. At risk of running on empty, I can only repeat what I wrote in my previous post:
There comes a time when the worm has to turn and fight. Or a mouse, when there’s an elephant in the room.
Tolerance can’t be infinite, as Karl Popper says, any more than freedom. But what made growing up in the 1960s such a gas was watching one after another side-lined social group achieve – or begin to achieve – parity. Once the Beatles had made it groovy to be young and northern and working class – and in the USA to be white and into blues and soul music – other glass ceilings beckoned. Race, gender and – with Oscar Wilde now a counter-cultural hero – sexual orientation. As a white heterosexual male whose mum taught him to look beneath superficial differences to the person beneath, I always knew that what mattered was character – not characteristics.
The movement was international in outlook and, for many of us, its substantial gains remain firm red lines against any retrenchment. Public displays of intolerance should always be challenged. A phrase variously attributed to Jefferson, Paine and Lincoln runs: The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Well, I don’t suppose I’m the only one who wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about that. Not that I’m complaining. It’s a whole lot better than being woken by a sudden knock on the door.
Hmm … if confessing stuff isn’t good for the soul, at least it helps write posts. May try it more often.