Robert E. Howard
And their wives.
And their children.
“Because we have to beat the savages.”
I cannot personally remember signs outside shops saying “No dogs, no blacks, no Irish” but I can remember when the BBC showed black face minstrel shows as part of a normal Sunday afternoon entertainment -- and everyone, even nice people, thought this was perfectly normal. And I can remember when it was perfectly normal for children (including me)to have rag dolls called “Greedy-Yids” with cute hook noses, skull caps, yellow stars and little bags of money and no-one could see what the problem was. (Some people still can’t.)
And obviously I remember when the Tories made a law that you could only talk about homosexuality in school if you made it clear that it was a Bad Thing. (That one was abolished in 2003.)
But, on the other hand.
And that's a big part of the problem. When the Nice Party wins a victory, it is inclined to regard that victory as won. “Hooray!” we say “We have abolished slavery, done away with capital punishment, given women the right to vote and gay people the right to get married -- so now that’s over and done with. Onwards to the next victory!”
Partly, I think, it was down to a naive belief in progress. Yes, my parents and grandparents remembered the days when it was quite legal to pay a lady less than a gentleman and to refuse to employ a black person at all — they remembered July 1916 and September 1940 and October 1962 — but that was back when everything was in black and white and hardly anyone had broadband. All those really terrible things like hangings and concentration camps and grammar schools happened in the olden days, like pirates and highwaymen and the Tulpuddle Martyrs. There are good reasons why none of it could possibly ever happen again. Give me a minute and I’ll tell you what they are.
If you have spent your whole life teaching P.E, you probably aren't going to say that rugby is a fine thing in its own way, on a level with collecting stamps and painting 25 mm Space Orks. You are much more likely to say that sport is a corner stone of civilization and the only thing that will save us from the Commies.
So if you are a politician, of course you are going to say that the only things worth fixing are the kinds of things that politicians can fix — schools and hospitals and welfare and housing — and that once they’re fixed then everything else will be fixed too. If human beings are Nasty, they were made Nasty by poor health and slum housing and rotten schools; fix all that, and all the Nastiness will go away. Now we’ve rehoused the poor in Nice housing estates, they won’t want to steal from each other any more. Now we’ve made prisons humane, there won’t be any more crime. Now we have reproductive rights and no-fault divorces there won’t be any more domestic abuse. Now we have pot luck parties where the Asian mums bring curry and the Jamaican mums bring fried chicken the Christians will stop hating the Muslims and the Muslims will stop hating the Christians…
But what if there were no natural inclination among people to be Nice?
What if Nice values were, like chivalry and sportsmanship, a made up thing? What if people with black skins naturally think that people with white skins are aliens and people with white skins naturally think that people with black skins are aliens? What if straight people naturally think that gay people are weird and yucky? What if it is natural for big boys to beat up little boys and for little boys to form gangs to protect themselves from the big boys, and for the big boys to get knives and the little boys to get guns? What if people had to be persuaded to be Nice? And what if, having won all the victories, the Nice party didn't think they needed to do any more persuasion?
Since the Bad Thing happened the Nice Party has been told, over and over again, even on this page “You made all this happen! If you hadn’t spoken so stridently in favour of Nice things, the Nasty people would not have got so cross and voted for the Bad Thing. In fact, you were so strident that a good number of Nice People voted Nasty just to piss you off!”
But let's also keep in mind Screwtape's warning: that preachers and politicians always admonish people about the exact sins which they are least like to commit. If you live at time when everyone goes to Church as a matter of course and doesn’t do much about it, then you can bet that you will hear stern sermons warning you of the dangers of religious fanaticism. But if you live at a time when everyone is gung-ho to go on a crusade and give Johnny Infidel a damn good thrashing, then expect to hear firey sermons warning you about the temptations of lukewarmness and nominal-ism. It was when the Nice Project was about to come tumbling down that Nice Leaders started to say "Well, I think actually the Nasty Party has a point. Maybe we are a bit snowflakey. Maybe we are a bit prone to political correctness. Maybe people sometimes use racist language and don’t mean anything by it, and even if they do, maybe it’s patronizing of us to tell them they shouldn’t?” Which pretty much amounts to surrender. You don't wait until the Knights are slitting the French prisoner's throats and then say "Well, to be honest, maybe some of what's been said about chivalry is a little bit unrealistic." You don't pick the Saturday afternoon when the team captain has kneed the referee in the bollocks to say "I am not at all sure that some of the posher schools haven't gone a bit overboard in preaching about sportsmanship."
It may be possible for the Nice Party to regain some ground. Some of the Nasty Party are still a bit ashamed of being Nasty. If you call them Racists or Fascists, they will still deny it -- because they have some residual sense that Racism and Fascism are bad thing. Like the guy who cheats at games, but will punch you if you say he is Unsportsmanlike, because he was raised to think that Sportsmanship was a good thing. But this won't last forever. Plenty of the Nasty Party's supporters are already openly saluting Swastikas.
But to do this, we are going to have to go right back to first principals and explain, until we are blue in the face, why we ever thought that multiculturalism and women's emancipation and gay equality and the welfare state and human rights were good ideas. Nice people are going to have to challenge Nasty assumptions whenever we hear them.
No, actually, I am pleased to pay my tax, it’s a way of sharing the important things between everyone.
Stop talking about “them” and “us”; so far as I am concerned, we’re all British, even if some of us dress differently and have a different word for God.
There is no such thing as political correctness; it’s a lie made up to make people hate each other.
Isn’t the Health Service brilliant.
Isn’t it fantastic that we can all vote.
Aren’t human rights a fantastic idea.
Isn't multiculturalism wonderful? Isn't it depressing to look at one of those old movies and see only white faces (and everyone dressed the same.) Isn’t it brilliant how you only have to walk down the Gloucester Road and find Italian Pizza and Greek Kebabs and Jewish fish and chips and Indian curry and American coffee houses using Brazilian coffee beans selling French croissants and that's before we even get onto Greek tragedy and German opera and Danish thrillers.
Those of us who grew up before the Catastrophe are going to have to tell this story. No-one else will. We will be told that we are speaking against the Will of the People. I don't think that we will be treated as traitors and subversives, fun though that would be. I do think we will increasingly be regarded as weirdos and eccentrics, in much the way that people who thought that it was okay to be gay were regarded as weirdos and eccentrics in the 1970s.
"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that was given us." Our generation was handed Camelot as a gift. We couldn't be bothered to defend it. But we're going to have to keep the memory alive so the next generation can have another shot at rebuilding it.
I am not here to argue that the British Labour Party or the American Democratic Party have the monopoly on goodness. I am not here to claim that Theresa May or David Cameron or George W Bush or Mitt Romney are simply evil. I think that most people on The Left and most people on The Right are mostly in agreement about most things. We all think it would be a good thing if everybody was well-fed, well-educated and could afford to see a doctor when they got ill; we all think it would be a Bad Thing if there were a nuclear war in the next few years. What we disagree about is which Good Things it should be the government’s job to do, and which Good Things should be left up to individuals, and who should pay for it all. And even that doesn’t necessarily split along neat party lines.
If someone says “I think that we could get rid of the National Health Service and replace it with a German model of subsidized private health insurance, which would provide better hospitals for less money” then I would call him a Conservative. I would disagree with him politically. I think “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” is basically a good principal, but I wouldn’t think that he was stupid or evil.
But if someone said “I don’t think that one penny should be taken from the rich to pay the medical bills of the poor; if the poor can’t afford to pay their own hospital bills, then they should be allowed to die; you have no more right to free health care at the point of need than you do to free chocolate cake or free motor cars, then I would happily say that that person was both stupid and evil. (One such person writes to the Bristol Evening Post at least once a week.)
I don’t think that all Conservatives are stupid and evil, and I don’t even think that all stupid and evil people are Conservatives. (That is a pleasing paradox, but I don’t set very high store by it as an axiom.)
Hence, I am reduced to calling the people who believe in sharing the “Nice” party, and the people who believe in keeping all the good stuff for themselves the “Nasty” party. I have to say that the idea that we are all basically human and should be treated the same is a “Nice” idea and the idea that Our Lot are better than Your Lot and definitely better than The Other Lot is a “Nasty” idea.
Regular readers will be amused, but not surprised, to hear that in an earlier draft of this piece I tried referring to them as “The Light Side” and “The Dark Side.”