Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dave the Contrarian

(First an apology; my last piece here was pretty much shit. Captain Cabernet did a much better job. My bad for writing in anger on one cup of tea. I'll keep the SWP jibes. I meant those. And will expand some other time.)

You better watch out, because Aaro is back. You may think that the columnists on a modern newspaper are a random bunch of free thinkers, selected for their clarity of prose (or who their fathers are), but on the Times I detect a sort of structure. Columnists have roles, like members of a football team. Metaphors don't really work here (but try telling any professional journalist that!) and I suppose you could portray our eponymous scribe as a striker, boldly leading with new ideas. I prefer to see him as a sort of goalie though, deflecting the risky sallies of the opposing team.

On the positives, this is one of his better written columns - he writes from experience and with insight and humour, so he's earned his paycheck as far as I'm concerned. On the other hand, he doesn't really believe a word of it, does he?

Let's look at the flaws.

It hardly brushed their consciousness on the way to rejection, as far as I could tell, that Lord Goldsmith had been trying to solve a genuine problem - the difficulty of consolidating a national, British identity, in a time of unprecedented demographic change.

Since 'they' refers to "every section of British expressed opinion, from the termini of the League of Empire Loyalists to the New Communist Party and all stops in between" this is mind reading on a galactic scale. I've downloaded the PDF of Goldsmith's report (which is available through this page), but I haven't read it yet. That's partly because it looks long, and partly because Chris Brooke gave it a good kicking. In the comments, Chris says I've been looking at chapter two this morning, on the history of citizenship law in the UK, and it's difficult to escape the feeling that Goldsmith uses the word "complicated" as a synonym for "racist". Our Dave doesn't discuss what Lord Goldsmith proposes, instead he sticks to his own rebellions in Oxford (almost as childish as answering 'Marx', 'Engels', etc to every question on 'University Challenge' it seems) and the prejudices every other commentator brings to their commentary.

It's ironic then then that the 'Land of No' (oh very good, that man) seems to be where Dave himself lives. Rather than address what Goldsmith says and evaluate its strengths - yes, Goldsmith meant well, and was trying to address a problem he believed existed - but that's not enough is it? Is there a genuine problem of 'British identity'? (If so, has it been exacerbated by the governments since 1997 which pledged devolution-lite?) Do Goldsmith's proposals make sense? (I think the BBC coverage suggested some sort of reduced fees for university students who pledged allegiance; that's a bribe. What good does that do, other than feed cynism? Cordelia would refuse; Regan and Goneril would pledge. Wonderful idea, Dave, just wonderful.) It's here:

Council tax and student fee rebates are suggested for people who volunteer - as well as a "Britishness" public holiday.

Instead, Dave gives us this:

Now, I don't want my kids to swear an oath particularly, but if it helps national cohesion, I am eccentric enough to prefer that to having them troll around a modern British city forcibly dressed as medieval monks.

There's no evidence that national cohesion needs help. There's no evidence that a pledge would help it. Americans have a pledge and it seems to me that people on the coasts (generally better educated and better off) despise those in the middle of the country and vice versa, plus there's a fair bit of invective passing over the Mason-Dixon line at all hours of the day. Never mind all the squabbling over who's the most put upon. And there isn't a choice between having a pledge and wearing a gown in Oxford. Saying 'no' to both is possible.

Update. This is a bit off-topic, but this is sort of me whenever I read Aaro:

AR: I blame the government.
JS: What's the government got to do with it?
AR: I hate the bastard.

RIP Anthony Mingella.


Blogger ejh said...

deflecting the risky sallies of the opposing team

If they are risky, why do they need deflecting?

3/18/2008 08:00:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Hmm. Well, I was thinking of the sort of corner-of-the-net/goalpost sort of tap - and some do and some don't. However, I'll run any footballing analogies past you in the future.

3/18/2008 08:36:00 PM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

Can Aaro really be so ignorant of the history of the Pledge of Allegiance? The fact that the words "Under God" were added in the 1950s in order to harass Communists is like one of the most well-known civic facts there are. Given the provenance of this loyalty oath idea, I think we are rather right to be suspicious, particularly as there is every chance that the current Shadow Education Secretary might be getting his hands on it in short order.

3/19/2008 08:01:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

On the subject of the pledge - how effective can a pledge be if you have to renew it every bloody morning?

3/19/2008 10:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In another society it would be called brainwashing.

3/19/2008 12:51:00 PM  

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