Nostalgia for mud
Bunting is at the old stand again.
But it is [A C Grayling’s] claim of the west’s steady march of progress to the happy lands of a universal ideal of rationality and freedom that strikes so hollow. The more vehemently one hears liberal progressives claim progress, the more one wonders who they are trying to convince. Increasingly, the stridency with which the non-religious attack the religious belies their own profound insecurity – that the progress they like to attribute to western or enlightenment values is a much-compromised property. It is challenged by almost everything we see around us: climate change, rising levels of mental ill-health, growing economic inequality fuelled by debt and hyper-consumerism. As Oliver James’s new book, Affluenza, makes clear, the nostrums of the west’s “good life” – success, fame, wealth – mask an extraordinary vacuity of purpose, a desperate, restless discontent.
Isn’t that just the truth? Don’t you just want to leap out of your seat and yell ‘Dang, Madeleine, you are so right!’? That stinking old progress we like to attribute to something called ‘western or enlightenment values’ is just such a, a, a dead mackerel, compared with the bliss and joy and heaven of the alternative. How I wish I lived in Bangladesh, or Zimbabwe, or Darfur, or Congo, or Guatemala, or Indonesia, instead of here in the poxy old ‘West’ with its poxy old enlightenment values. How I wish I were dirt poor, and illiterate, and crippled from overwork and childbearing (or in fact dead, which is more likely), and malnourished, and bossed around by some man who sits smoking and bullshitting with his friends all day while I do all the work. Doesn’t that just sound like paradise? I do so agree with Bunting about that – how I hate all this education, and clean water, and edible food, and electric light, and functioning plumbing and sewer systems, all these streets and buses and libraries and shops, all these books, all this music, all these schools and universities cluttering up the place.
Anthony Grayling agrees with her just as warmly as I do. He is as impressed with her good sense and powers of observation and inference as I am.
Ms Bunting will be on top of the mailing list for the large tome I’ve just spent years writing (I thank her for this advertising opportunity) on the way liberties, first of conscience, then thought, then the person, then for working people and women, were wrested from the bitter opposition of church and absolutisms premised on “divine right” and their joint legacy of oligarchies of privilege and patriarchy. If the Catholic Church were still running Europe, Ms Bunting would not be writing for the Guardian. Actually, if this was 1950s Ireland, she might not be writing anything.
Indeed she might not. Especially if she’d grown up at Goldenbridge, or been shoved into one of the Magdalen laundries. But she appears to be, frankly, not clever enough to grasp that not very difficult point. She’s just clever enough to do the Christianophobia schtick, and not one bit cleverer.
Finally, Ms Bunting wheels out the bunkum that we (here in Britain?) live in unhappier and more spiritually impoverished times because we do not dwell – well, where? In the warm glow of Torquemada’s Inquisition pyres? On a slave plantation in Jamaica? Would she prefer to be in a harem, or an undermaid in a medieval kitchen?
No, but she thinks she would, which is what makes her so absurd. One of the things – she has other ways:
Having abdicated so much ground in political life – particularly over the economy – liberal progressives have to scrabble together another way to define their notion of progress, and they have recycled old anti-clericalism to attack religion. Faith has become a curiously faddish target in a new, ersatz politics. Judging by the outcry over the past few days, Catholics, or Christians in general, are lurking on every street corner to deprive the English of their most cherished liberties, as they have done all through history. The National Secular Society even raised the cry of English kings down the centuries last week: “Who runs Britain – the government or the Vatican?”
Yeah, yeah, yeah, and Catholics have a duty to care for the millions of people who are under their authority, so shut up about them, even if they do demand special exemptions from regulations mandating equal treatment. If it were some dreaded arrogant liberal progressives demanding such an exemption, would Bunting be so briskly dismissive? I don’t know, but [darkly I doubt it.