We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Grandma socialism

I just did a little talk spot on the radio, jabbering away about politics with a guy called Mike Dickin, who, in addition to doing his fare share of sport talk, takes care of the political chat on Talk Sport Radio. I’m doing little spots with Mike Dickin quite often at the moment, although usually at very short notice. When I typed “Mike Dickin” and “Talk Sport Radio” into google, this came up as entry number two, out of just ten. I don’t know what that proves exactly. Perhaps that most of the people who listen to Mike Dickin are too old or too poor to be bothering with the internet.

Mike Dickin is what we here would call a Carr-ite. The world’s going to hell but what the hell can we do about it? “I don’t trust the police. I don’t trust social workers. I don’t trust any of the people to whom I pay such vast sums of money to take care of things” – that’s what he was saying today in his intro. In among agreeing with him about state over-regulation and the state crowding out individual initiative, I tried to put in an optimistic word along the lines of “you can still do some things – it’s not all misery”. He replied “Maybe you can, but I’m starting to think seriously that you can’t do it here any more?” “So where can you?” I said. I can’t remember what he replied, but no specific locations were mentioned.

During our brief conversation, I accused Dickin, politely I hope, of being a fine example of the Baby Boom generation having entered its Grumpy Grandad phase. When the Baby Boom was a teenager it told the world it had invented sex. When it got its first job it and started driving about in a flash car it told the world that it had invented the idea of getting a job and driving about in a flash car. And now the Baby Boom is starting to creep away to the pub where it booms forth to anyone who will listen that the world is going to hell, and that young people these day, blah blah blah.

However, it occurs to me that I might just as fruitfully have identified the particular way in which the State now makes a mess of our lives as having lilkewise entered its Grandad phase, or to be more exact its Grandma phase. When young people use politics to wreck lives, they do it by shouting at you with megaphones, by yelling big vague words at you like “Freedom!”, “Revolution!”, “Democracy!”, “Peace!”, Participation!”, and of course, by way of justifying all this, they generally also yell something like: “Socialism!”. If they shout their way into a position of real power, they get hold of the most impressive old people they can find and of whom they are most jealous, and they sit them in chairs and stand around them in a circle and yell big words like these at them, until the old persons are blubbering wrecks. This is what the Red Guards of Red China did to their elders and betters during their infamous Cultural Revolution, and I had a close enough look at their ideological cousins in western Universities when I was a sociology student at Essex University in the seventies to know that our would-be Red Guards would have done something like this to their professors and betters if they could have.

But when Grandma makes life hell for you, she doesn’t do it with generalities like “Freedom” or “Democracy”, or even “Socialism”. With Grandma, the hell she inflicts on you is done with a relentless stream of detail. Don’t talk like that! Beans aren’t supposed to go on that bit of the plate. Here, let me do that, you’re doing it all wrong! And when Grandma uses politics to make life hell for you, the laws and diktats she throws at you are not tyrannical in their vagueness. Rather are they tyrannical in their relentless volume and their relentless detail.

Young people use the grandiose vagueness of political ideology to even the argumentative score with the oldies they are up against. Detail (by which they often mean experience) doesn’t matter, they say. What matters is the Grand Principles. What matters is the simple list of Big Ideas against which all the Old People type detail can be checked and found wanting. But old people, when they hold the political whip, smother the young in detail.

Looked at in this light, the much trumpetted “New” left, “New” Labour shunning of ideology looks rather different and rather more sinister and creepy. A major paradox of New Labour is that although it is feebler and more timid in the Big Word aspect of socialism than any previous left-inclined government that I can remember, the volume of legislated complaint and nit-picking that it is presiding over is unprecedented.

Looking beyond Britain and across the channel, I also see something very Grandparental about the EU. In France, which I visited earlier this year, I got the palpable feeling that I was in a sort of giant old people’s home. France is beautiful. France does, in its own fuss-pot pretty-pretty way, work. It photographs beautifully. It makes a lovely calendar, practically everywhere you look. But if you are a entrepreneurially inclined twenty year old, God help you, because France will be no damn use to you. You can be a waiter. You can wipe old people’s bottoms in old people’s homes. You can sell little cakes in a little cake shop, the one run by your grandparents. And that is pretty much it, if you aren’t qualified enough to join the predator class by going to that Ecole Normal SUPERIEUR thing, or some similar place. At present, although I don’t know how long this will last, if you are a French person of spirit and you want to make anything of your life, step one is to come to London. That’s right, for a lot of French kids now, this is the country you flee to,

In my last Samizdata posting I pointed towards lawyers as one of the sources of the current maniacally meddlesome state. Commenters pointed out that there were other forces at work, and that a lot of the government lawyers now churning out laws were merely doing what their client wanted. So why does the client now want so many laws, and of such meticulous annoyingness, while in public claiming that socialism has nothing to do with it and its just commonsense and doing things the way they should be done?

The state is never your friend, but the kind of enemy it is varies from decade to decade. I think another part of the story is the particular style that the Baby Boom has imparted to state annoyingness as it has got older. This definitely makes sense to me.

I know. What comes next? It’s a horrible thought, isn’t it. The senile state. The great grandad and great grandma state. The state with its short term memory shot to hell. (“Never mind what I said yesterday!! Bring me my stick!! I want to go to Birmingham!!” “But Gran, you’re already in Birmingham.” “Bank robbing should be illegal!! It’s got to stop!! Stop it!! Stop it!!” “Gran, bank robbing already is illegal.”) And then eventually, the state just lying in a bed, breathing with extreme difficulty and running up a huge medical bill, fed with tubes.

I remember once talking with a priest – the father a school friend of mine – about a stint he did in Norfolk or some such rural place, and he told me that although the people there would never admit it straight out to a priest, as a result of such things as arms-folded silently meaningful eye contact what he became convinced they did with old people who had become extremely annoying and nothing else was smother them with pillows.

So, in twenty years time, we smother the state with a pillow? Or, the modern equivalent, we rip out the tubes and unplug the machines? This also makes sense to me.

11 comments to Grandma socialism

  • Patrick W

    I suppose that there lies an element of hope in this. The aching, grinding bureaucracy of the state would make recreating an abolished item virtually undoable. If one brave PM were to kill the TV licence fee, fund schools directly and fully withdraw from universities, actually create independent hospitals, pull back to an associate status in the EU, etc it would be nigh on impossible for a subsequent statist PM to renationalise it all. Unfortunately most politicians like to be remembered for the new crap that they create rather than the crap from the previous lot that they have abolished. I’m not aware of any serious political parties in the UK that are genuinely seeking to contract the state (as opposed to rearranging it).

  • That is the most Carrite posting by a non-Carr Samizdatista I have ever read.

  • Ron

    Being a Windows/database contractor I move from company to company and experience their different “lock-down” policies, where different features of Windows NT are hidden from a variety of classes of user, according to their broadly perceived ability and/or need to alter their Windows environment. For example, for clerical users most of the Start menu disappears, the C: drive becomes invisible, the right-click functions on the Start button are not available, etc.

    I wonder if that is analagous to the way that the State views different classes of citizens?

  • Ron

    Does anyone remember “Animals” by Pink Floyd?

    People are divided into “Pigs”, “Dogs” and “Sheep”.

    Presumably Samisdatistas would like to consider themselves as “Dogs”…?

  • mad dog

    …and a few bitches!

  • Ron

    Yeah, lets have a pink-pig dirigible above Battersea power station again…this time with a big Blair face on it!

  • Patrick Donnelly

    I just hope the Baby Boom and their attendant state leaves us before stem cell research turns out the cure for aging.

  • Gunner

    Ecole Normal SUPERIEUR thing

    What is this?

  • Byna

    Maybe that’s why Americans move around so much; To get away from Grandma.

    I know I primarily have warm memories of my grandmothers, but then I only saw them at most once a year.

  • Guy Herbert

    gunner –

    What Brian’s getting at is this: The French education system is extremely hierarchical and competitive, though it is almost entirely state run. Above the best universities in the pecking order are the so-called Grandes Écoles which were started in the 18th and 19th century to provide higher education for state administrative functionaries in technical subjects that Universities didn’t then do.

    Top of the tree is the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA) whose graduates (often known as énarques) run more or less every major organisation in France private or public. Tiny though their numbers are compared with Oxbridge graduates in Britain, énarques considered as a caste are usually considered more influential.

  • David Duff

    Let me recommend not only the estimable Mike Dickin, grumpy, miserable, old sod though he be, but also his broadcasting precursors, Mike Parry and Alan Brazil, who run the 6-10 a.m. slot on Talk Sport. They prattle on very happily and amusingly about sport, mainly football, a subject I knew nothing about – but I’m learning! I find it gets me through the hitherto awful problem of choosing between the clever-clogs on TODAY who know nothing but think they know everything, and the faux-friendly smart-arses on FIVE LIVE who also know nothing but pretend they know something.

    Needless to say, I rely more and more on the blogoshpere to gain real information and intelligent discussion. But for morning listening without cant or crap, Parry and Brazil are just the ticket. I suppose I should add that I am not connected in any way with Talk Sport
    David Duff