This morning I had a debate on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme with someone called Owen Jones on the issue of class in modern Britain. It was provoked by Lord Fellowes (aka Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey), who argued in a Times interview that toffs are the one remaining minority in Britain against which it is considered acceptable to discriminate.
Recently, he was watching Loose Women — “a programme I rather enjoy” — and one of the participants declared: “I hate posh blokes.” Lord Fellowes says: “There was a cheer from the audience. If I said, ‘I hate Americans’, or ‘I hate blondes’, or ‘I hate common blokes’, that wouldn’t work. But somehow that one was OK.
“And of course it’s not OK. I suppose ‘poshism’ is the last acceptable form of discrimination. Having been fat, bald, posh and male I’m used to a certain amount of humour at my expense but rather than striving towards a pseudo-egalitarianism that in 2,000 years of recorded history has failed to come about, I think we should strive for a position of giving people their worth and being polite.”
Fellowes has lots more eminently sensible stuff to say in this vein. (He’s splendidly scathing about the recent Number 10 barbecue in which the British prime minister and the US president doled out burgers to show what regular guys they were: “There was an era when people wanted to be governed by great kings, then they wanted to be governed by great nobles who would keep the king in his place. Now they want to be governed by great friends. They want to know these people — whether or not they like toffee ice cream — and my natural pull is more towards the statesmen era.”) Indeed, it’s all so glaringly obvious you almost wonder why Today thought it a suitable topic for debate. Isn’t pointing out that toffs are discriminated against in modern Britain a bit like saying that ice cream makes your tooth fillings go funny or that Gordon Brown wasn’t one of the great prime ministers or that squirrels are great hoarders of nuts?
Well I thought so, anyway, but Jones and the interviewer John Humphrys begged to differ. Humphrys’s opening question invited his listeners to roll their eyes at the preposterousness of the notion that toffs faced discrimination, while Jones threw in his tuppeny happeny’s worth about the continued dominance of the “Ruling Classes” and about how many MPs had been to public school and Oxbridge and so on, as if somehow this were a major national scandal which needed to be addressed.
I wonder how parliament would look if Jones got his way. It would be imbued with a lot more earthy, horny-handed, echt, coal-ingrained, sweat-smelling, demotic, multi-ethnic, gender-balanced authenticity, presumably, for as Jones was keen to point out one of the problems with our current ruling class is that they are completely out of touch with the modern world. Actually I agree with him on this point, though not with his analysis of why this is so. The problem with government these days is not that it’s full of rich toffs but that it’s full of career politicos who instinctively want to extend the power of the state and have no understanding of what it is like to be an ordinary taxpayer who just wants to be left alone.
Anyway, Humphrys asked me for evidence that toffs face discrimination, and I suppose the best evidence there is is David Cameron. Here is a man who benefited from the best possible education in the world Eton and Oxford and who instead of feeling proud of the fact has been compelled by our prevailing social mores to behave as if it’s a toxic liability.
You could argue, indeed, that almost everything wrong with our current Coalition can be put down to the fact of David Cameron’s awkwardness about being an old Etonian. He daren’t reduce the 50p tax rate (though it makes economic sense) lest he be seen to be favouring his rich friends in the City; he daren’t create more free schools by allowing entrepreneurs to run them for profit for fear that this might come across as elitist; he daren’t address the issue of the Europe because this is just the sort of thing blimpish, blue-blooded, Tory reactionaries do in the shires, and we can’t have that now, can we?
And, of course, the main reason we’ve got the wretched Coalition in the first place is because Cameron was scared of advancing proper Tory principles, lest he be mistaken for the kind of terrible, evil person who went to a school where they dress you in a smart uniform and teach you all sorts of poncy stuff like Latin and Greek and you come away with ghastly behavioural tics like good manners and a strong desire to succeed.
O tempora! O mores!
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If anyone should ever wish to sound “posh”, one could presumably do so by taking posh elocution lessons (and maybe also refering to oneself as “one”, to really sound stupid). The problem with toffs is not the way they speak, or the clothes they wear, but the association of these things to stuffy, patronising and arrogant upper class conservative traditions (similar in all but law to the distinction between citizens and slaves in ancient Greece). The toff characteristics are a label of elitism, a badge of pride in being better than others. It’s regarded as arrogance, because it is arrogance.
People can learn foreign languages, and by analogy they learn different dialects and accents and blend in if they want to. It’s not rocket science. Those who want to stand out from the crowd by speaking “properly” are just annoying. Especially when they attract all the girls. Or at least, the slappers who are impressed by that kind of egotism.
People say “You should be tolerant.” Aren’t you being intolerant of me?”
By the way, isn’t this particular ‘victimisation’ blog a bit rich coming from someone who encourages others to use the word ‘LibTard’? Presumably JD wouldn’t like similar rude names for ‘upper class twits’.
In fact I debate much with Muslims. But it is Christians I hear making the claim I quoted (“It is intolerant to argue against intolerance”). And when dealing with subjects such as the teaching of evolution in schools in the US, or gay marriage, it is fundamentalist Christians with whom one finds oneself dealing, and it is then that you are told one must tolerate intolerance.
And it is hard to push the idea that Christianity is weak in the US – arguably the most powerful country in the world. The accusation that Obama is a Muslim is seen as damaging there. No atheist could get elected to high office there, and in fact politicians come in for criticism if they don’t mention their Christianity enough.
I think the word ‘better’ is subjective here. The term ‘Fatwa envy’ was invented for the sort of people who think that the Muslims have the ‘better’ system.
The definition of Nazi and/or fascist behaviour is intolerance, which itself is a “ends justify the means” stamping out of people they perceive to be inferior to them or to be dissenters. That’s the root cause of the holocaust, and the bigger Communist massacres of 40 millions.
It all began with lies about economic motivation in Marx and Engels, and about a utopia via eugenics and militaristic society in Hitler’s Mein Kampf. If this happens again, “Godwin’s law” will be used to prevent early warnings and comparisons being made. Then you end up with a repetition. There was effectively a “Godwin’s law” in place in the 30s concerning the lessons of WWI, which enabled most people to ignore Churchill’s warnings about Hitler trying copying the Kaiser in 1914.
If you want to censor out warnings about the perils of political correctness leading to Nazism, then you’re going to encourage and protect those elements intent on intolerance.
“Islam is better at dealing with sinners.”
Islam aims to deter sin by stated punishment for stated acts. It’s a stronger religion than Christianity, which stresses forgiveness. Sin is defined by the religion. Obviously there is going to be a possible conflict here between strict Sharia law from Allah, and “infidel laws” passed in this or that country. The bigger problem with Islam is limited to a few fanatical extremists who want a religious war against the “infidels”. The more general problem of intolerance to certain minorities by both Christianity and Islam in some ways is related to the other problem, since any alleged conflict between the Koran and Western (im)morality is going to feed the recruitment of the fanatical fringe. What is needed is an honest comparison of Christianity and Islam, to see exactly what the mechanisms of intolerance really are, and how Christianity has lost its grip. Galileo was imprisoned for heresy 400 years ago, when the European Christian political influence situation was like some Islamic countries today.
How do religions generally lose their bigotry, or gain strength? Persecution is what made Christianity powerful in the Roman empire, when the circus lions were fed with martyr. Similarly, the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis led to the state of Israel, a final Jewish homeland. So persecution ultimately backfires in the religious worldview. The only long term solution to Islam is to integrate it and reduce intolerance to religion generally, which is the opposite of the mainstream secular view of people like Dawkins. Religion loses its power not by being persecuted, but by being widely tolerated. Ignoring Islam to attack Christianity achieves nothing more than burying your head in the sand.
We’d have been in the situation of having to deal with a very difficult situation, but it could have prevented a world war and holocaust. In that situation, with Nazis disarmed by a preventative war in say 1935 or 1936 (our situation was deteriorating every year, because they were rearming faster than Britain), the objective would have been to coerce the remaining Nazis to rid them of “ends justify the means” extremity, e.g. racism/”ethnic cleansing”.
The whole problem is the ongoing one today after preventative wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You have a continuing problem of insurgents and military power can only do so much. You can’t expect to find and shoot all the troublemakers even with the best technology on the planet. Look how long it took to find Bin Laden. The idea of a making the enemy pay heavily after a war was tried with Germany when France caused it hyperinflation by demanding massive reparations for WWI. This was manipulated by the German government to maximise resentment and helped to kick start the Nazis movement in the first place. If France had handled the situation a little better, the Nazis wouldn’t have been able to exploit that. This is why the West is still helping rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq, instead of clearing out straight after the wars and letting the people get on with it. The bitter lesson has been learned that it doesn’t pay to take what looks like the cheapest and most moral option… you just end up with another expensive way a few years later.
“As for persecution, you can only make such a claim for Christianity if your definition of persecution is so wide that any questioning of an idea is persecution.”
Promoting falsehoods like Dawkin’s the claim science disproves God, and lumping Christianity in with Jihad extremists, is a kind of persecution of those who don’t need to be abused for their faith, I suggest? Maybe we can agree to disagree on this one?
“JD criticises liberalism every day, but I still don’t play the victim card.”
I think you’ll find that it’s not liberalism per se that gets his goose, but dogmatic environmentalism pseudoscience hype in the name “political correctness”, the term you claim to be a good way to close down discussions. It’s not criticism that’s a problem, but the corruption of objective criticism by the fascists who distort, misquote, or quote out of context what is said to create a “strawman” whom to attack, or shoot the messenger, or assert politically correct expert consensus of scientific opinion as though it is scientific fact.