Monday, February 15, 2010

“If you have tears, prepare to shed them now”

When Mark Anthony uttered those words, he could have had no idea that he was writing the manifesto of the politics of postmodernity.

“Bear with me,
My heart is in the coffin there with Jenny,
And I must pause until it comes back to me.”

And you can hear the electorate mutter:

First Citizen: It seems that what he says makes sense.
Second Citizen: If you think about this correctly, he has been treated very badly.
Third Citizen: Has he, gentlemen? I am afraid someone worse will come in his place.
Fourth Citizen: Did you notice what he said? He is very sincere.
Second Citizen: Poor soul! his eyes are red as fire with weeping.
Third Citizen: There's not a nobler man in Britain than Gordon.
Fourth Citizen: Now pay attention. He's starting to speak again.

And speak again he did. And there was no scowling, no coldness, no ‘clunking fist’: in fact, he presented very well indeed; his audience warmed to him.

“Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot,
Take thou what course thou wilt.”

Did we not distinctly hear Gordon Brown say last year, in a clear side-swipe criticism of David Cameron, that his children are not political props?

Unless they’re dead, it seems.

It is not so much the public display of grief – a grief which is doubtless sincere, for who can bear the depths of grief over the dead of a first child? But it seems awfully contrived, indeed, hypocritical.

Some politicians can woo crowds with oratory, some with policy, some with charisma.

But when all else fails, when you’re behind in the polls, besieged by your own ministers, derided by your supporters, despised by your backbenchers and rejected even by Polly Toynbee, cry.

The strategy appears to be to make us empathise with a man who appears to be devoid of empathy. And the vehicle is the Piers Morgan confessional (how did the odious Piers Morgan ever become the British Oprah Winfrey?) for the nation to grant its corporate absolution to the Prime Minister for his sins of omission, and commission. It is not so much sofa government as chat-show government: and debate about policy is supplanted by dredging up past experiences; thinking is subsumed to feeling; policy gives way to personality.

And this is a cross-party pursuit, for David Cameron did it himself.

On Scottish Television last week he talked about the past year, the death of his own son, and he too fought back the tears: “It’s an incredibly difficult thing when you lose a child. I took some time off, probably not enough actually – I should have probably taken a bit longer, and just stopped to think about everything.”

He continued: “It’s something that just hits you in an incredible way and it takes quite a long time before you can even start to put things on track. Then afterwards you do find things do get better, but it’s not a straight line, you have good days and bad days, and that’s the way that it goes.”

There is an apparently unbridgeable gulf between those who cling to the form, order and reason of modernity, and those who have adopted the postmodern narrative of sensing, feeling and intuiting. Until yesterday, Gordon Brown was unyieldingly the former; David Cameron supremely the latter. But Parliament is no longer about hard facts, lawyerly legislation or taxation, for that is a man’s world of sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. It has been feminised for an age which yearns for spiritual aesthetics more than hollow politics. And to marry politics with sentiment one has to be both male and female at a glance. It is the political age of androgyny; the Dianification of politics.

Remember the defiant gesture of Margaret Thatcher the day after the Brighton Bomb, in which some of her friends and colleagues were killed, maimed and crippled? Normal politics continued, enduring like the Royal Standard of England. Perhaps this was the final manifestation of political modernity – the age in which duty, obedience, respect and reverence were deemed essential. They underpinned the foundation of the dominant political and intellectual ideas of the age, forged through criticism and reform. But now we move in a different direction. Politics has been replaced by romance, and the narrative embraces the inexplicable and the indefinable. It is concerned with the science and mechanism of charm – the art of pleasing and imperative of weeping. One is no longer so much concerned with reason and logical discourse, but with reading human hearts.

And so the media places more emphasis upon clothing and jewellery than on policy or parliament. Politics is fused with feeling and experience, elation and depression. The antidote to the utilitarian creed of modernity is sensual emoting. What used to be masculine and muscular has been feminised with dreams of contemplation and moments of meditation.

Politics, like theology, has to embrace the vernacular. And the narrative has become that of illogic and unreason, and the medium is the television screen. It may not be right or good, or even conducive to the rational and reasonable, but it is real and it is now. Politicians, like priests, either use it, or they cease to communicate and simply confirm their utter irrelevance.


Anonymous graham Wood said...

YG Very good comment. A much older generation of politicians, even those without a clear Christian commitment, might possibly have said under such cirumstances of personal family loss - "The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away".

One of the stark differences between the older and the newer crop of politicians is that the loss is made public property, to be shared, and to be grieved over, and possibly exploited for its 'sympathy' factor mileage?
But -

The question remains for both, namely:

Why did they agree to PUBLIC interviews, including coverage of their bereavements, concerning largely private matters for the families concerned?
The briefest passing reference is enough - we the electorate don't need, or ask for more.

15 February 2010 at 10:08  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Both Brown and Cameron are at it. Both are despicable. I feel for both men that they have lost children. To use those tragedies to garner a sympathy vote is vile.

All I have for either of them is undiluted contempt.

15 February 2010 at 10:43  
Anonymous bluedog said...

Your Grace

When your communicant was a boy this kind of performance would have ensured electoral defeat, with the perpetrator branded unfit for high office. We must pray for the health of Nick Clegg's children.

15 February 2010 at 10:56  
Anonymous philip walling said...

This is all very disturbing, but in an age when more than half the people (more if you're considering the under 25s) can't read and write properly, see nothing more important in their lives than the next distracting sensation and are told what to believe by the popular media, it is hardly surprising that politicians have (lately) realised the power of the Diana factor to whip up sympathy from their enslaved populus.

It's not a question of politicians not having integrity, that went a long time ago when the people lost the wish to be told the truth and the capacity to cope with it. It's simply that for a politician to communicate with those whose votes he solicits he must speak to them in a language they understand and, above all, empathise with.

But manipulating the emotions of the mob (especially in a post-Christian age) is a dangerous game. Once they lose their restraint there's no telling where it will lead.
As Churchill famously remarked of the Germans' propensity to be sentimental "They're either at your throat or at your feet."
Either way it is inimical to parliamentary democracy and deeply worrying for the future.
I suggest it's part of a national and individual failure to take responsibility for one's actions - the supreme attribute of the slave.

I would like to see self-restraint and calmness under fire, and be treated by my political leaders as if they respected me (at the very least to credit me with the ability to see through their more egregious acts of dishonesty).

What would we think if our surgeon or barrister broke down in tears when we needed him most?

15 February 2010 at 11:30  
Anonymous I Albion said...

What prophet a man ,they have sold their souls for a vote.

15 February 2010 at 11:40  
Anonymous Trencherbone said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

15 February 2010 at 12:20  
Blogger Sinful Soul said...

Your Grace,

Truly shameless!

15 February 2010 at 12:35  
Blogger srizals said...

Brighton bombing, my, how could we have forgotten about it. The mind is a forgetful lot and do remember what Thatcher had said, "We suffered a tragedy not one of us could have thought would happen in our country. And we picked ourselves up and sorted ourselves out as all good British people do, and I thought, let us stand together for we are British! They were trying to destroy the fundamental freedom that is the birth-right of every British citizen, freedom, justice and democracy"

15 February 2010 at 13:05  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

Now that the platforms of the three major parties are indistinguishable, we must needs have some method of choosing between them come polling day. The prettiest face, the most abundant head of hair, the shapeliest rear, the fullest lachrymal sacs. As for the women…

Some of us, though, have seen through the anti-British LibLabCon Party. Join our ranks, Your Grace.

15 February 2010 at 14:03  
Blogger ultramontane grumpy old catholic said...

We get the politicians we deserve. It's a let-it-all-hang-out society that we have created and lovingly sustain.

Why wasn't Master J Ross sacked when he asked David Cameron whether or not he had masturbated in front of a picture of Lady T? Why wasn't Master P Morgan sacked when he asked Gordon Brown whether he had joined the mile high club? (Why is Morgan still in a job after his antics with framing British soldiers?)

15 February 2010 at 14:17  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your Grace

Let me say straight away that our present leading politicians who shed tears and (or) emote on camera seem to confuse the audience. There is a reason for this as all professional actors know: they are type cast.

I am unsure about the statement ‘Politics, like theology, has to embrace the vernacular’ when contrasted with the statement ‘Normal politics continued, enduring like the Royal Standard of England.’

What if there is a ‘universal vernacular’?

Why is the Chinese peasant able to understand and emotionally connect with the plays of Shakespeare (which no other nation upon this earth has been able to match)?

Why do the best English and Indian writers hail Kipling?

What is it about the speeches of Henry V that ennoble an audience? Or Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? Or Churchill’s ‘Never have so few…’? Or Luther-King Jr’s ‘I have a dream’?

What is it about the Bible (‘Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death; I will fear no evil; for thou art with me…’) speak to all men, in all times, in all places and in all cultures?

The ‘universal vernacular’ is superior; it connects with what the great Swiss-American philosopher-king, Francis A. Schaeffer, once called: ‘the mannishness of Man.’

Perhaps, it would have been better for Cameron simply to state: ‘One morning my arms cradled my son. In the evening; he was not.’

15 February 2010 at 14:40  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant post by Phillip Walling.

15 February 2010 at 15:21  
Anonymous pedant said...

We're told this interview lasted two and a half hours, and was cut down to an hour for broadcasting. We learn further that Mr Brown had received many hours coaching from Alastair Campbell before it. As if that were not enough, Mr Morgan was not ashamed to announce beforehand that he was going to do his best to help his dear old chum to appear human. Despite all this assistance - and doubtless despite careful post-recording editing by the likes of Mr Campbell - the grotesque Muslim Pig assertion still got through. Under the circs few will believe it to be a slip of the tongue.

One must conclude, therefore, that the Pig really did exist. To be told that it flew into Mr Brown's arms would be hardly less suprising! I would like to know more about this most intriguing of diplomatic gifts. Does Your Grace (who may have some sympathy for roasted animals, regardless of species) do FoI requests?

15 February 2010 at 16:34  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

"Does Your Grace (who may have some sympathy for roasted animals, regardless of species) do FoI requests?"

Mr Pedant,

The short answer is yes, though with varying degrees of success. And the Information Commissioner is bogged down with a vast backlog of complaints for the failure of certain bodies to comply with their statutory obligations.

15 February 2010 at 16:41  
Blogger Oswin said...

Wrong time, wrong place, wrong tactic (?)

I object to having my emotions toyed-with by bloody buffoons!

15 February 2010 at 16:50  
Anonymous pedant said...

I'm obliged to Yr Grace for his prompt response. I still hope someone else will follow it up, though.

Not the least unpleasant aspect of this Muslim Pig is the overt racism in Mr Brown's attitude: Look at these funny little brown johnnies, he seems to say, giving a hugely important white man like me a primitive gift like a roast pig! Ho ho,aren't they quaint! One doubts that many Middle Eastern governments will see it that way. HM's Pr Min and 1st Ld Treas seems not to know that, to the sophisticated and hyperbolical Arab mind, a European is but a dirty barbarian, barely out of his skins and woad, who hasn't yet learned to wash his bottom but has unaccountably struck lucky in the last few centuries. Muslim governments will not take kindly to being patronised in this singularly gross manner.

Had Mr Brown not made such a point of boasting about both his unusual rectitude and his unusual seriousness, we could perhaps forgive him for (in Mrs Clinton's lapidary term) "misspeaking". He has forfeited that indulgence, and must be content to be judged according to the standards he himself laid down.

Perhaps a newspaper which still has some sense of news values will do a quick trawl round the Middle Eastern embassies to discover the source of this pig. I fear, though, they will discover it is the first such animal to become a pork pie before it has even managed corporeal existence.

If that is so, one hopes that during the Election campaign the Conservatives will remind Mr Brown and his party of the Muslim Pig whenever he or they try to draw attention to his claims of moral superiority.

15 February 2010 at 18:30  
Anonymous no nonny said...

Wonderful post, Your Grace; spot on, in every way. Brilliantly done. Thank you.

I take your point Mr. Singh, about 'universal vernacular.' I do believe, though, that definition precludes its delivery via glottal stops, distorted vowels, and crocodile tears - at least if the deliverer is to be an effective leader.

I wonder, though, if our most powerful manifestation of that vernacular didn't develop more from the classic Greek rhetoric that came to us via assorted Romans. But I suggest that it also had the advantage of being compatible with both Celtic and A-S oral traditions ... all being from the same linguistic root, the latter carefully preserved by Druid-type leaders, btw. Not to mention the Hebrew influence, as you mention.

Horace has a thing or two to say about adaptation of rhetoric from one tradition to another (specifically Gk. to Rom) - as he does about purple patches. I read his Ars Poetica as being about appropriate application and juxtaposition of styles ... including 'common' and 'high.' Shakespeare used the principle, presumably to appeal to mixed audiences; but such great ones also make both styles appeal to all audiences. And so, I think he says, they raise the level of rhetorical purpose.

I don't think our present-day, facile, ignorant, franco-german- claptrap-piggie-wigs have either the wit or the application ... or the art or the nature ... to do that.

Cheap imitation is the order of their ways: that's all we peasants deserve anyway, isn't it? We can't tell the difference any more than they can, can we?

And yes, Philip Walling - I've been thinking, too, that the evil idiots just can't imagine what they're setting free from the self-restraints and cultural norms.

15 February 2010 at 19:55  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no nonny

I am becoming your pupil.

Thank you. x

15 February 2010 at 19:59  
Anonymous IanCad said...

One of your best posts Your Grace. Truly disturbing. Kudos to all who have so thoughtfully commented, particularly Phillip Walling. As a small aside, it should be noted that Churchill was notoriously lachrymose but it was accepted as part of his manly character.
Oh Dear! is it time for all true conservatives to vote Labour? Change from within is better than from without.

15 February 2010 at 20:41  
Anonymous no nonny said...

D. Singh - Och, as you might say!

Actually, thanks for wading through my infelicities. Didn't proofread too well as I had to listen to a prize-winning US author.

Part of his gist seemed apposite to our topic here, i.e. he noted the increasingly affective rhetoric of modern media. He appropriated some chemical-psychological suggestion that intellectual activity incites emotion. Then he suggested that earlier this century, in his experience, writers and broadcasters didn't use that knowledge, or couldn't find a 'decent' way to do it. They preferred to be more detached and impersonal. I guess so as to encourage more intellectual activity?

Now it's all about competition and no holds barred. He thinks everything the media feed us is about eliciting emotional response - thus 'race' etc. is presented so as to evoke fear; and 'news' is now mere entertainment, etc. He hasn't, of course, the benefit of His Grace's blog; and probably he daren't mention religion!!!

I guess I'll have to read the writer's book to see if he goes as far as we do here ... in identifying political purpose behind the trend. But it's nice to know other people notice.

16 February 2010 at 00:53  
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18 February 2010 at 16:47  

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