Thursday, May 19, 2005

More Respect ...

Richard Sennett in a garbled Guardian piece which I've read several times without being able to make head nor tail of. Apparently the government "often battered its opponents into verbal submission" over Iraq. Uh ? Were they forced to recant their views like Galileo ?

I was going to write that he'd got the wrong end of the stick, but that implies some kind of theory and plan, however poorly executed. What I read is more the equivalent of pushing the stick about randomly with his nose, accompanied by incoherent sounds and gestures.

"In society the "culture of respect" names a greater difficulty: how can mutual respect be fostered in an age of inequality, an age as class-ridden as that of our grandmothers' grandmothers, without its glue of manners. Politicians might restore their authority by learning better the manners of modesty. If the theme for this new parliament is really serious, however, they would have to embark on a sweeping transformation of the institutions of everyday life."

Que ?

I think if the good professor opens a history book he'll find that there was a fair bit of inequality in Victorian times, actually. And would he care to give an example of the kind of transformations he has in mind ?

I think what he's trying to tell us is : "Respect will only return to society when the Government listens to LSE professors of sociology". Battered as I am, I refuse to submit even verbally to that idea.

Moving on from the man witb the dustpan and brush to the head of the Lord Mayor's Show, we find the great Dalrymple in his element :

One word is conspicuously missing in all the talk of a culture of respect: and that is respectability. No doubt the reason is that the word has bad connotations of mean-mindedness and twitching net curtains at best, and of bigotry and gross cruelty at worst. And there is no denying that horrible things have been said and done in the name of respectability.

On the other hand, the desire to be respectable in the eyes of one’s neighbours is a strong incentive to good behaviour, provided that the social code that constitutes respectability is itself reasonably humane and flexible. Not everyone can be a moral philosopher who decides on his own conduct by the application of first principles to the situation in which he finds himself; and without the notion of respectability, things (by which I mean social conduct) soon fall apart. And this is precisely what has happened in Britain.

And north of the Border, Professor John Haldane hits the nail on the head :

"... there is a failure of confidence in the idea that anything can be said to reclaim the cultural environment for a better way of life.

It is not just that we lack the courage to take a stand, it's that we lack conviction that there is anything to take a stand on behalf of."

How gratifying it would be, to be able to say, as great civilisations have done: "Look around you and see what we have created, how it expresses our common values and achievements and how it can help our children grow to the point where they will add to this, for their sakes and for future generations."

In fact, much of what surrounds us is a brutalising wasteland. It is worth considering, therefore, as we observe a new parliament, whether the measures promised by government are likely to make any serious contribution to the cultural revival of Britain.

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