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Emotional continence

Harry Hutton and his commenters very quickly became fed up with people going on about the British Stiff Upper Lip, and the Spirit of the Blitz. I know the feeling, and I am sure they speak for many. A lot of this talk is indeed rather self-conscious and theatrical, by which I mean not arm waving and emoting, but just a case of us all deliberately summoning up our inner David Nivens so that the bits of us just above our mouths will look suitably stiff in TV close-up.

Plus, I wonder how stiff our upper lips would now be if three thousand people had died and London had lost two of its most striking buildings.

On the other hand, the father and mother of Philip Russell, the second person on this melancholy list, were briefly on the telly this afternoon. She was silent. He was a model of considered sorrow. There was no out-of-control display of rage, no “why us?” wailing, just calm grief, and quiet words of appreciation for the character of their departed son. If Mr Russell senior is shedding tears he was not showing it to the cameras, and we were spared those hideous, triumphant close-ups of a person showing more feelings to the camera-persons than he intended. To dismiss Mr Russell’s reaction as mere theatricality would be very tasteless, and I would say, mistaken.

But whether you think all this talk of stiff upper lips is a media led posture or the real thing or, as I think, a bit of both, the good news is that it all makes a most refreshing change from the emotional incontinence that greeted the death of Diana Princess of Wales. This, we all immediately realised, is the real thing. Quite enough real people have lost real loved ones whom they actually knew and really liked, without lots of other people piling in with self-indulgent displays of bogus misery concerning people they never knew.

There is also the fact that, whereas the message that all those silly public mourners were sending out when Princess Di died was all about what the Horrid Paparazzi had done, and of What She Meant To Us, blah blah blah, we now all understand that the more we emote about these bombings, the more pleased will the people be who did them, and who helped them, and who are now cheering that they did them. We do not want to give those people any further satisfaction. So yes, it is all a bit theatrical, in the sense that the tone is deliberate. But, good.

Tony Blair, instinctive politician that he is, tuned in to both moods. When Di died, he was on the verge of tears. When these bombs went off, he had already practised a much calmer display, to suit the new, far more serious – far more real – state of affairs.

Emotional continence is not the same as intellectual excellence. A stiff upper lip is no excuse for refusing to use the brain a few inches above it in an intelligent manner. I am not saying that everything Tony Blair and his supporting caste of cabinet ministers and coppers has been correct, just that the tone of voice has mostly been good. What we ought to think – and what we ought to do – is a quite distinct matter from how we should merely feel about all this. (I strongly agree with Johnathan Pearce that last Sunday’s Telegraph leader is an excellent place to start. And if you liked that, you will also like this by Mark Steyn.)

But, with all those caveats duly caveated (or whatever it is you do with caveats), emotional continence is entirely the right emotional atmosphere within which to get stuck into the process of sharpening up our thinking about all these matters, and then acting upon those thoughts. It is, in short, an excellent start.

18 comments to Emotional continence

  • Verity

    Brian, thank you for a thoughtful essay. From what I have seen from overseas, the British response – other than the foul BBC, the foul “Sir” Ian Blair and the foul Brian Paddick – unfortunately the most prominent faces of the British mood – has been downbeat and good. Too much stiff upper lip would smack, as you say, of people summoning up their inner David Niven. The only one I have seen do this is Blair, of course. I think he has struck an absolutely false note. He’s faking it. He’s acting. But Londoners themselves have been dignified and low key to a point where the bombers – all dead or horribly maimed one hopes – would feel cheated of any triumph.

    That was a very nice post.

  • That was a good post. The flaw in my “let’s surrender” plan is that it’s impossible, because they don’t have any demands.

    There’s a bit in Dr Strangelove where Mandrake tells General Ripper that he was tortured by the Japanese.
    “And did you tell them what they wanted to know?”
    “They didn’t want to know anything. They were just enjoying themselves.”

    (Quoting from memory, but something like that.)

  • Verity

    Harry Hutton – “they don’t have any demands”.

    Neither do we. Tony Blair has never demanded that Muslims who know something come forward. He has never demanded the fealty owed to the nation of their birth – and every one of them will have been born in an NHS hospital and nurtured and educated by the British taxpayer.

    Tony Blair has never demanded loyalty and has never rewarded it or recognised it as being in any way as different from, or superior to, treachery. Tony Blair is non-judgemental about murderers.

    Tony Blair knows of Muslim terrorists he is de facto sheltering by not returning them to the countries where they’re wanted. Why? Because they risk the death penalty.

    Godlike, Tony Blair would rather risk the death penalty for British indigenes in the form of being shredded in a terrorist bomb than let one Islamic sparrow fall on hard times on death row. His divine insights are more important than the basic human insights of the British public.

    Able assistance provided by “Sir” Ian Blair, professional nitwit, and Brian Paddick, professional gay.

  • Bernie

    Excellent peice Brian as was Mark Steyn’s.

    Interestingly what you and he and many of us are thinking is also being thought by many with no particular interest in politics generally. My brother-in-law was over tonight and he saw some of the news on Sky. I’ve known him for about 7 years but have never seen him so angry and animated. He was shouting at a Muslim “leader of the community” talking about “these crimes” rather than these atrocities and he told me about some conversations he has had in the last few days with muslims who live near him. He, along with many others, is begining to ask them “what are you doing to make sure these things don’t continue to happen?”

    It is not true that it has nothing to do with “the vast majority” of law abiding and good muslims just because they weren’t personally involved in the acts. They should be outraged and fiercely chasing out the vermin from their communities and making it known broadly that their communities are not safe havens nor recruitment pools for terrorists. If they are not doing that they are complicit.

  • Verity

    Bernie – Agreed. Unless they’re denouncing them, they’re complicit. And that makes them enemies. I cannot imagine any reason to have mercy to enemies who want to destroy me, my family and my country.

  • JuliaM

    I’m getting a little tired of every significant development in this being followed by police calls for tolerance & warnings that ‘revenge’ attacks will be dealt with most severely.

    Why do they do this? Surely the types likely to firebomb the nearest mosque (or Sikh temple, God knows they aren’t smart enough to know the difference) won’t be inclined to listen, and they run the risk of alienating the law abiding majority by banging on about it. Can’t they see through their PC script for once, in respect for the dead, & give it a rest?

  • The thing about panic or other emotional incontinence is that it is infectious. The clear expectation that we will keep a realistic sense of proportion makes it all the easier for us to actually do so.

    The bulk of the Diana insanity was the result of a belief that one ought to show visible emotion, and that detachment was something to be ashamed of.

  • Johnathan

    Very astute post, Brian. I will not forget the awful, emotional incontinence displayed by so many when Diana died, nor the disgusting treatment of the Queen. In fact, the dignity of people like Queen Elizabeth and those of her generation is helping the likes of me to get a perspective on our current situation.

    I echo what Bernie said. I sense a hardening of the public mood.

  • GCooper

    Mr. Micklethwait has put it very well – congratulations.

  • pommygranate

    Following on from Brian’s post, can everyone agree to stop calling it 7/7. Not only were the events of last week incomparable to the NY attack, but by giving such an event a name, it merely serves to glorify the actions of the psychos.

  • Robert Hale

    Very good point.
    Harry Hutton:
    “It was just their way of having fun, the swines. Funny thing is, they make such bloody good cameras.”

  • I am a Brit abroad and have never been more mortified by embarrassment than over the display of hysteria that followed the death of Princess Diana.

    As Brian says, emotional incontinence would be a display of disrespect to those who were murdered and to their families.

  • Julian Taylor

    Andrew McGuinness wrote,

    The bulk of the Diana insanity was the result of a belief that one ought to show visible emotion, and that detachment was something to be ashamed of.

    Absolutely. Diana’s death and funeral was an overdone and vastly overhyped memorial to the paparazzi and the dreadful symbol they both spawned and, it is claimed, killed off.

    So what comes next? A vomit-inducing “778” memorial pop festival featuring another reworking of Candle In The Wind by Elton John, tears from Bono, crack cocaine from Pete Doherty and Kate Moss and a “lets not be beastly to the Muslims” theme?

  • Verity

    Pommygranate – agreed. It was a terrorist incident perpetrated by psychotic Muslim garbage. It should not be given a name.

    Tony Blair’s fellow moron, Tessa Jowell, is talking about building a monument to the dead – as though they were in the services and had fought for their country. They were a bunch of disparate passengers, for god’s sake! That makes the horror of what happened to them even worse, but they did nothing to have a monument built to them. How long will it take for the British to come to a screaming halt with this pc crap?

  • Julie Nilsson

    All this blether (mostly from Yanks) about the spirit of 1940 reminds me of Beachcomber’s definition in A Dictionary for Today of British Modesty: ‘Saying that although we are superior to other people, we never mention that superiority.’

    Speaking as a lifelong Londoner, I reckon these things are sent to try us, the solution would be worse than the problem, if the bomb’s got your name on it you’ve had it but it probably hasn’t, and compared with what our parents and grandparents had to put up with we’re bloody well off and shouldn’t grumble too much, and you’ve got to go on going to work on the Tube so why worry about stuff you can’t change?

    Not very ‘constructive’, I’m afraid. But that’s how most of us non-political types get along.

  • Stuart

    Got in one Julie! I am heartlily sick of people comparing last week’s murders to the horrors of 1940/41, when literally hundreds of tons of bombs rained down on England (not just London) overnight. God forbid a repeat of the hellish nightmare our parents and grandparents went through then – but at least in that war, we had a government that would fight back, not shield and defend the enemy.

    All the comments re- Diana are spot on too, I cringe with embarrassment every time I hear of it; likewise Phoney Tony’s role in it – not to mention trying to gatecrash the Queen Mother’s funeral. I wouldn’t put hit past him to stick his oar in when last week’s victims are buried either.

    And please, no more bloody two minute siliences!!!

  • Julian Taylor

    Sorry Stuart but there’s going to be a 2 minute silence tomorrow to mark 1 week since 7th July, as if we didn’t have calendars.

    Julie I heartily agree with your point. As a relative of mine, who lived through the Blitz and does not have many ‘fond’ memories of 1940 London, remarked, “if we had seen any downed Luftwaffe crews around London after a bombing raid we most certainly would have hanged them from the nearest lamp post, regardless of their protestations”.

    Stiff upper lip indeed.

  • Verity

    I feel terrible beyond words for the families of all those who were murdered last week, but having two minute silences for victims just chills my spine.

    And Tessa Jawohl has floated the idea of building a monument to them. I mean give me a bloody break!! But if Za-NuLab can sentimentalise something, presumably to take the sting out of it and put everything in soft focus, they will.

    Anyone who doesn’t think Phony will be front and centre and looking sombre with a trembling chin at the victims’ memorial service (trust me; there will be one) is not living on this planet.