The Bickering Society

To misquote Jonathan Swift, the Thatcher funeral should have reminded us that in the country of the blind, the one-eyed woman is Queen.
Yet, if my acquaintance is any guide, many ordinary people are waking up to the reality of life in the 21st century with its host of bickering groups. Anyone looking for a quick introduction to that in the UK should tune in to The Big Questions or Sunday Morning Live on a Sunday morning. Then just ask yourself: When does anybody ever acknowledge a good point from their antagonists or modify their position in response to what they said? Sadly the political class still show no sign of awakening to this reality. Yet even a casual perusal of reports on affairs elsewhere in the world tells you that campaigning pluralism is truly a global phenomenon.
The half-blindness of Thatcherism (‘neo-liberalism’ in some quarters) and its associates reveals itself in failure to see that the very disintegration of international Communism has, amongst other things, opened the door to a feuding variety of religious groups around the world. It is not only on ceremonial occasions that the political class assume that religion(s) will unite us – no doubt through the common values of empathy and compassion that religions claim to express. The problem here is that the world’s religions may share common values, but they do not share a common theology, identity, or history, and that can vitiate the common values.
The more complete blindness of Thatcherism’s antagonists shows up in refusal to acknowledge that class politics is already replaced by a chaos of sub-groups, with the poor (very different from the old working class) as merely one amongst others. The mishmash of campaigning cultural, economic, regional, religious, gender, charity, and moral cause groups – some of them NGOs with global reach – shows itself in startling ways, such as the fragmentation of the Arab Spring; leading to actual civil war in Syria. My personal acquaintance includes people alarmed for intellectual and cultural freedom in face of commercial pressures, one reason why intellectual and cultural freedom became associated with the Left as freedom itself disintegrated after the Second World War (except in dictatorships which denied freedom in all forms). But my advice to such people would be to stand up for their part of freedom directly, and not dress it up in the clothes of 19th century ideologies which simply do not speak to the 21st century world.

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