I get people who tell me “if only you weren’t so awkward Richard we could deal with you”.
Others tell me “we don’t understand why you are so angry”.
John Christensen recently told me someone had said to him “we don’t understand your language”. Neither of us could work out what was hard to understand about “secrecy facilitates crime”.
The appeal is always that I or we moderate our view; that we take a less hostile line, offer more amenability.
I was interested therefore to read Robert McCrum in the Observer today. He notes, talking of art that:
Something has happened to Britain's creative community and there's no better way to understand this than to go back to a speech that Graham Greene, one of the most admired novelists of his day, gave in Germany in 1969 "on the virtue of disloyalty".
Responding to being awarded the distinguished Shakespeare prize, Greene used the occasion to extol the writers and artists for whom he had the most respect, those who by their calling were "troublers of the poor world's peace".
The writer's duty, said Greene, was to be "a piece of grit in the state machinery".
I make no claim to be an artist. But I have complete sympathy with McCrum’s conclusion:
the dreadful cultural cost of complicity is simply stated. If disloyalty encourages the writer to roam at will through human hearts and minds, and gives the novelist a fourth dimension of sympathy and intuition, then complicity just narrows the creative arteries. It propagates a me-too-ism in the community that works against originality and promotes a wannabe mentality that has nothing to do with Ezra Pound's famous injunction to "make it new".
Such lowered standards extend to the media, too: journalists following other journalists, like sheep; reviewers schmoozed by PRs; the newspaper commentariat looking over its shoulder, as it did in the run-up to the Iraq war. The complicity of all artists makes them fearful of risk, vulnerable to propaganda, and the prisoners of conventional wisdom. Disloyalty liberates, complicity enslaves.
I don’t seek to be awkward. I am because, like George Orwell “I write it because there is some lie I want to expose.”
There are such lies.
I think neo-liberal economics is a lie. It does not seek to maximise well being. It seeks to shift resources from many to a few.
I think much right wing and libertarian philosophy is a lie seeking subjugation for a majority.
I think accountancy lies when it says it is based on ethics, when much of what it does abuses all ethical principles.
I think the way we present public company accounts is a lie that hides the truth from the user.
I think our pension system is a lie that lets the City benefit now at cost to our future.
I think many say we can live without limits now, and that is a lie: we live in a finite world.
I think those who promote tax avoidance lie: they seek to destroy the nature of society whilst free-loading on its back.
I think tax havens are a lie: they claim to be well regulated when we know they wilfully turn a blind eye to what they facilitate beyond their shores.
I could keep listing the lies that make me angry.
And those who do not agree with me ask me to be “nice” to them? To be less disagreeable on this blog? To be complicit in their story?
No thank you: complicity enslaves. We need grit in the system. I, for some reason, seem to be made of grit.
The job of those who have, for too long, been used to a lack of opposition, to complicit acceptance of their narrative is to accept that there are alternative narratives, that they are valid, and they need to be not just accommodated but adopted. If not we will sink under the conventional wisdom that brought us the credit crisis, global warming, the enslavement of billions in poverty, a lack of real democratic representation, a world too divided to be sustainable.
Don’t ask me to be nice and accept those things. I won’t.
I will hold discussion with anyone in private and unblogged if it helps progress ideas about which I have concern: that makes complete sense, and happens far more often than most readers of this blog will, inevitably, ever know. That is, I think, an acceptable condition for some discussions. But to ask me to “be reasonable”, which means “see it my way” as a pre-condition for discussion is not possible when the problem being addressed is that the world is seeing and doing it “your way”.
As McCrum says, we have reached an awful state of complicity. For a great many — in the professions, business, the professions — even politics, there is an expectation that all will be complicit in the consensus of the current leadership. For those who have grown used to that it is time to get used to something unfamiliar: reasoned opposition. Progress is dependent upon its existence.
That’s why is it necessary to be awkward.