Is Your Bacon Sandwich Oppressing Women?
Unwise Counsel

Sweet Sorrows

Ace ruminates on leftist piety as a kind of status signalling

I’ve heard it called “Luxurious Concerns.” That is, your concerns mark your social status. If your concerns are about keeping your job, paying your rent, or whether your kids’ school is any damn good, you’re worried about Big Things, and therefore you are marked as a Struggling Person. Only those who have really made it -- who are at the top of the economic and social order -- have the luxury of worrying about the Small Things. And if you worry about the Very Small Things, or indeed the Microscopic Things, then, well and truly, you have arrived… If you can’t afford a Luxury Car, or a Luxury Apartment, you can at least adorn yourself with Luxury Worries. It’s very cheap. Easy, too… Our modern class of intellectually-insecure social climbers are posing as connoisseurs of offensiveness. 

See also Kristian Niemietz and Daniel Hannan on the same. 

The attempt to cultivate pretentious guilt and pretentious indignation, and to balance grief and umbrage on a very tiny thing, the tinier the better, is of course a Guardian staple. It gives the left’s national organ its distinctive tone - that tinny, unconvincing high-pitched whine. Affecting woe, especially improbable woe, is how many leftwing columnists signal their position in their own moral hierarchy, relative to you, the heathen rabble. As I said some time ago

It’s important to understand these are not just lapses in logic or random fits of insincerity; these outpourings are displays – of class and moral elevation. Which is why they persist, despite getting knottier and ever more absurd. Crudely summarised, it goes something like this: “I am better than you because I pretend to feel worse.” 

And this is why, for instance, a tearful Theo Hobson tells us, “There is no excuse for failing to feel liberal guilt about race and class.” Because until “this problematic world” has been purged of all vice and inequity, however unrelated to your own behaviour, a heavy, heavy heart must be worn on the sleeve. How else will people know how superior you are? According to Mr Hobson, if you aren’t ostentatiously fretting about the eating of meat and “affluent lifestyles endangering the planet,” and if you aren’t “anxious about your status as a comfy bourgeoisie” and ashamed of earning more than some other random person, then there must be something wrong with you. And so you should feel guilty for not feeling guilty about things you shouldn’t feel guilty about. It’s the Guardian way.

Which is why the paper’s roster of opinionators is a chorus of improbable, often baffling sorrow, from heteronormative cupcakes and insufficiently considerate spellcheck software to the proletarian horrors of “blokey barbecue chat,” which is “oppressively penetrating.” And who could forget the reliably ludicrous George Monbiot? A man who agonises over the “isolating” effects of disposable income, double glazing and TV remote controls, and who believes that we should imitate the peasants of southern Ethiopia, where homes are made of leaves and packing cases, and where, despite Stone Age sanitation and alarming child mortality, “the fields crackle with laughter.” Or you could heed the wisdom of sociology lecturer Edward Skidelsky, who frets at length about the evils of pre-washed salad, before telling us that the state should “create conditions favourable to simpler, less acquisitive modes of living.”

Economic self-harm is a recurrent theme, the bulb that attracts the moth, and some Guardian regulars have declared their plans to make us “better people” by making us poorer and freeing us from the “dispensable accoutrements of middle-class life,” including “cars, holidays, electronic equipment and multiple items of clothing.” And if that isn’t sufficiently hardcore, sufficiently wrist-slashing, you could howl at the moon with Guy Dammann - who asks, “Am I fit  to breed?” – and the equally pious Alex Renton, who tells us, with just a hint of satisfaction, that, “Fewer British babies would mean a fairer planet.”

Come play with us, Danny



Come play with us, Danny.

That. :-)



I think it captures something of the flavour of prolonged exposure to the Guardian’s comment pages. It’s not just an honest difference of opinion; there’s a smell of bad faith, something pathological, possibly hazardous.

Lancastrian Oik

I share an interest in a slightly obscure 1970s singer-songwriter with some like-minded people and we have "befriended" each other via social media. I have become genuinely friendly with one or two of them (one reason why the internet is a good thing), but keep some of the more strange and obsessive at arms length whilst maintaining FB "friendships", in order not to upset the delicate balance of the fan group.

One of the latter (let's call him "Des Goodwin") fills his time line and Twitter with constant updates from "Hope Not Hate", "Unite Against Fascism", "Another Angry Voice", tendentious quotes from Chomsky (usually accompanied by a "Yes, Noamh!"), swear-word filled rants about Cameron/Osborne/Duncan-Smith/whoever ('vile Tory scum"), shouty stuff about the "apartheid state of Israel"... you get the picture.

What Des wants most of all is revolution. I know this, because he tells us all, at great length, all day long.

So I worked up this little piece- the scene is post-revolutionary Britain, a few years hence following the overthrow of Parliament and the exiling of the monarchy:

SCENE- Interior We are in a large hangar-like structure. The hall is largely filled with plastic school-auditorium type plastic chairs, with wooden benches parallel to each wall. At the far end are six tables, each bearing a laptop and behind each of which are seated two people, mostly pairs of men. All the people at the tables are wearing grey suits. Around the hall are armed soldiers, some singly, others in pairs. The plastic seats are occupied by a great many people, most of whom look extremely upset and nervous, apart from DES GOODWIN a small, grey haired, pugnacious man who sits upright, looking perky and confident.

ANNOUNCEMENT VIA LOUDSPEAKER: Mr. Des Goodwin to table six, please.

DES, smiling, approaches table six, behind which are a stern looking man and woman. The man (the COMMISSAR) is a shaven-headed weaselly-faced man. His ASSISTANT is a stout unsmiling woman of indeterminate age.

DES :Good morning comrades.

COMMISSAR: (unsmiling): Take a seat please.

DES: Of course, comrade.

COMMISSAR: Comrade Goodwin, do you know why you are here?

DES: I think there has been some sort of mix-up, a mistake comrades, because I...

COMMISSAR (glances at unsmiling ASSISTANT and interrupts DES): You are here because it has been deemed necessary to make inquiry into your pre-revolutionary life...

DES (interrupting the COMMISSAR who begins to bridle with anger): That's easy, comrade- I was a socialist, a man of the Left, just like you!

COMMISSAR: Your job?

DES: My what?

COMMISSAR: Your job. How you earned a living.

DES: Oh, that's easy comrade. i was involved in restructuring manufacturing facilities for a multi-national business. It involved a bit of travelling- really opened my eyes, that did, let me tell you comrade. Reinforced my commitment to the cause, and all the time I was a socialist, a man of the Left, just like you!

COMMISSAR: Hmm. According to the testimony provided by a representative of your former employer to the People's Court, the restructuring of which you speak involved negotiating the closure of factories and the concomitant loss of jobs in countries such as Taiwan and Malaysia, and the relocation of those factories to countries where manufacturing costs were cheaper such as China and Indonesia. Yet you often boasted on Twitter and Facebook of your solidarity with the working classes and the importance of the hard-earned workers rights won by the organising of labour into trades unions, and the evils of exploitative capitalism.

DES: Yes, but comrade...

COMMISSAR (exchanging sideways glances with his ASSISTANT: How did you travel to these countries in the East, comrade?

DES: By air, of course.

COMMISSAR: Yes, involving business class. We know this because of your Facebook check-ins which correspond with airline ticketing records. And where did you stay?

DES: In hotels, comrade.

COMMISSAR: Five star hotels, comrade. And, where did your wife and children live?

DES: In (names Third World country). It was handier, you see, because I was out there so much, and...

COMMISSAR (interrupting): As tax exiles?

DES: Excuse me?

COMMISSAR: You installed your wife and children in a villa with a swimming-pool in a country which was then run as a military dictatorship, where they enjoyed tax-free status.

DES: Yes, comrade, but it's now how it looks- I mean, the way you put it, it looks kind of bad, but...

COMMISSAR (silences DES with a wave of his hand and exchanges whispers with his ASSISTANT and paperwork is completed): Comrade, you are reassigned to Re-education Camp 12, which is situated in Redcar in Area 14. Please attach this table to your lapel and take a seat on the benches to my left to await transportation....

DES (panicky): But comrade, I'm a socialist, a man of the Left, just like you!

COMMISSAR: Not on this evidence, matey. GUARDS!!!

Lancastrian Oik

"Please attach this label to your lapel".

Bugger. Proof-read it four times and still missed that.


And so you should feel guilty for not feeling guilty about things you shouldn’t feel guilty about.

Funny how Groan editor Alan Rusbridger didn't feel guilty about pocketing £520,000 a year.


I know a local tree surgeon (who I refuse to use) who rants to anyone that will listen of evil, fascist Tories and big business etc. He dreams of a socialist Utopia and is to the left of Corbyn.
But he lives in an £850,000 house, drives a huge car, and has an extensive buy-to-let portfolio and a holiday home.

I know a rich Labour councillor who, along with her husband, have never had jobs that were not financed by the public purse. She rants about tax dodgers, yet pays her cleaner in cash. She spends at least £1000 a month on clothes, but wears cheap stuff to visit her poor council constituency.

I know the head of a large London housing dept (hard-left, union supporter through and through ) who is utterly opposed to cost-cutting measures in local govt yet, has said many times that her dept is massively over-staffed with union hard-nuts, layabouts and time-servers she can't sack because of the power of her union.


Funny how Groan editor Alan Rusbridger didn’t feel guilty about pocketing £520,000 a year.

Ah, but he was doing work vital to The Cause, hence the tacit exemption. One has to bitch about capitalism and inequality in comfort, after all. Just ask Paul Krugman.

Also, I’ve just realised I swiped the line you quoted from Rafi in the comments five and a half years ago. Mortified.


Facebook has now gone the way of Twitter. My profile is now overrun with moronic political statements from others. What a bore, time to ditch it.


Also, I’ve just realised I swiped the line you quoted from Rafi in the comments five and a half years ago. Mortified.


It's an OUTRAGE!!!!


It’s an OUTRAGE!!!!

Don’t hate me. Capitalism made me do it.


a tearful Theo Hobson tells us that, “There is no excuse for failing to feel liberal guilt about race and class.”

Why on earth should I feel guilty about THINGS I HAVEN'T DONE AND AREN'T MY FAULT?


Why on earth should I feel guilty about THINGS I HAVEN’T DONE AND AREN’T MY FAULT?

You’re being much too logical about this. Even though Theo’s egalitarian, class-free society is both physically impossible and morally outrageous, not least because it would require total state control and the denial and rewiring of human nature, you’re still supposed to think that he and his ilk are enlightened, caring people. Not demented fantasists.

Just surrender to the dishonesty, neuroticism and emotional bullying. Then you’ll become pious and sophisticated, just like Theo.

mike fowle

"There's no excuse for...." should perhaps be used as an updating example of begging the question.

Dr Cromarty

Facebook has now gone the way of Twitter. My profile is now overrun with moronic political statements from others. What a bore, time to ditch it.

Both are the electronic equivalent of a Che Guevara tshirt.


“There’s no excuse for....” should perhaps be used as an updating example of begging the question.

Quite. But in Theo’s world, any social stratification, any broad differentiation in ability and status, can only be a result of something heinous and unfair, some dastardly imposition. The obvious fact that human beings have a very wide range of abilities and aptitudes, that bell curves exist, is anathema to his worldview. And so he doesn’t think about such things. Everyone, everywhere must, simply must, be inherently equal and deserving. And yet despite this ludicrous egalitarian conceit, Theo clearly thinks himself much smarter, much better, than thee and me.


I’ve heard it called “Luxurious Concerns.” That is, your concerns mark your social status.

That is a nice update of Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class, complete with conspicuous consumption intended to signal a person's superior status. Interestingly, in Veblen's world, conspicuous consumption was bad, a sign of inefficiency. It is now the only type of consumption that is not bad. Of course, Veblen wrote at a time when penury was still the normal condition of mankind, even in the developed world, so the idea of conspicuous consumption of material goods might have seemed a tad inappropriate. Now, in a world in which, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the people who were able in earlier times to engage in conspicuous consumption, nobody actually lives in penury in the developed world (Talia Jane excepted, of course - ), conspicuous consumption is now de rigueur, at least as long as it is done to advertise one's moral superiority over the rabble with their base and materialistic concerns.


And Theo Hobson also provides us with an interesting update on the notion of Hobson's choice. All told, a successful day, then.


Meanwhile, Laurie Penny is telling the world: “People are not poor because they… made bad choices. People are poor because capital requires a surplus population.” (Or as one of her Twitter circle puts it, “Poverty is a structural consequence of capitalism.”)

This, of course, is the same Laurie Penny who tells her followers to “Fuck social mobility. Fuck money. Fuck marriage, mortgage, monogamy and every other small ugly ambition.” And who urged her readers to instead embrace “polyamory” and to wage “war” on capitalism. Because employers can’t resist job applicants who want to wage “war” on capitalism. And shunning marriage and opting instead for “polyamory” and unstable family structures, or no family structure, and sneering at bourgeois values and conventional avenues of advancement and security, these things couldn’t possibly have sub-optimal consequences, could they? They couldn’t possibly be bad choices, ones that are likely to lead to failure, resentment and perhaps even poverty.

Patrick Brown

To be honest, I think it's less conspicuous consumption and more straightforward emotional blackmail. Do what I want, agree with me on everything, walk on eggshells around me, or I make a scene.

R. Sherman

I've concluded that the vast majority of this worry and anger over minutiae is simply recreational. That is, the practitioners derive some sort of pleasure from it, the way the rest of us enjoy a walk in the park.


Oh, walk. I had to read that twice.


"...or I make a scene."

Sort of like a recalcitrant toddler perhaps.


Oh, those nagging nancies, how they moan.

And how little I care.

That's the key, not caring about their poor, bruised feelings and their moronic cause-du-jour. Laugh and point. Really. Drives the buggers nuts.

And if they become really annoying, we can always shoot them. We have the guns, after all.


Some Student Activist , who evidently can't blink, is sad that Rutgers University didn't indulge her childish behaviour more. Comments are hilarious

Patrick Brown

"Sort of like a recalcitrant toddler perhaps."

Exactly. How else would you characterise the way Black Lives Matter, or that kid demanding the professor at Yale "BE QUIET!", get on?

They're not helpless, mewling babies who can't cope with discomfort. They're spoiled toddlers, and they know exactly what buttons to press.

This hypothesis has further explanatory value. Feminists throw most of their abuse and accusations of mysogyny at western men - especially pro-feminist men and lonely "nice guys" - and none at genuinely patriarchal Muslim men. Of all the presidential candidates, Black Lives Matter have aimed most of their abuse at Bernie Sanders. Any spoiled toddler knows, if faced with two adults, one who wants to make you happy and for you to like them, and one who just wants you to do what you're told, the one who wants to make you happy is the one whose life you make a misery.

dicentra ن

Only a TRUE princess can feel the pea under so many mattresses.

The higher the mattress pile, the greater the urgency to feel the pea.

Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK

That's ok. I don't have to feel guilty until we pass $100 million in spending:


So, we didn't close the asylums, we just moved the inmates into columnist jobs.


Only a TRUE princess can feel the pea under so many mattresses.

One of my favourite moments of pretentious guilt was when Decca Aitkenhead insisted that the “vilification of Jamaican homophobia implies… a failure to accept post-colonial politics,” because the “precarious, over-exaggerated masculinity” and murderous homophobia of some Jamaican reggae stars are products of the “sodomy of male slaves by their white owners.” Therefore, and I quote, “their homophobia is our fault.”

And so hand-wringing Guardian readers could feel guilty not only for “vilifying” the homicidal sentiments of some Jamaican musicians, but also for the culpability of their notional ancestors, i.e., complete strangers long dead. One wonders how those gripped by this fiendish dilemma could even begin to resolve their twofold feelings of shame.

David Taylor

But look at things from Laurie Penny's point of view. She makes terrible choices every day and she's not poor.


People are poor because capital requires a surplus population

It follows, therefore, that people were not poor before capitalism developed?

Trying to kill animals with pointy sticks. Trying to plough a field with a branch from a tree.

Oh Bliss it Was To Be Alive!

Vince N

There is no excuse for failing to feel liberal guilt about race and class.

If they can make you feel unearned guilt, they've got you by the short and curlies.


But look at things from Laurie Penny’s point of view. She makes terrible choices every day and she's not poor.

Laurie has the advantage of being raised, comfortably, in a stable family by two middle-class parents with the terribly bourgeois values she now claims to despise. If instead she’d been raised by her own professed standards, by a single parent with multiple transient partners, I somehow doubt she’d have been able to spend time at Wadham College playing “riot girl.” In effect, and like so many of her type, she’s coasting on the legacy of values that she claims to despise and urges others to reject.

Laurie and her followers are now being outraged by a Telegraph article by Frank Field, who suggests some pretty obvious ways to avoid poverty, and who mentions the fact that two parents are generally more able to cope and less dependent on the state - and less likely to be poor and to stay poor - than single parents. And so lots of 19-year-old students and self-styled radicals who know bugger all about the world are now telling each other how “angry” the article makes them. Presumably on grounds that one mustn’t acknowledge the fact that poverty is very often caused and prolonged by a series of bad decisions.

[ Added: ]

I think I’ll give that one a post of its own.

David Taylor

I know David, I was joking! Of course Laurie has all the advantages in life, and I hope she feels super guilty about it. Despite being so privileged, she knows someone has to start breaking the system down or it will never end and we'll get another generation of disparity, rather than everyone being in poo together.



Reddit is a bastion of “Luxurious Concerns.”


"Unhappiness is the hallmark of virtue. If a man is unhappy, really, truly unhappy, it means that he is a superior sort of person.” -- James Taggart, 'Atlas Shrugged' (1957)

Spiny Norman

... rather than everyone being in poo together.

"Dennis, there's some lovely mud down here!"

Spiny Norman

Lovely filth, dammit.

Greg Allan

"The obvious fact that human beings have a very wide range of abilities and aptitudes, that bell curves exist, is anathema to his worldview."

That diversity in attributes is a huge contributor to our success as a species.

"Everyone, everywhere must, simply must, be inherently equal and deserving."

He is, of course, a standard bearer for divesity. Therefore everybody must be a carbon copy. Of him.

Ultimately it's suicidal at a species level.

David Gillies

"People are poor because capital requires a surplus population"

What does that mean? It's grammatically orthodox but, as far as I can tell, bereft of any meaning whatsoever. It's not even cod-profound like a lot of post-modernist writing. It's just bollocks.

The comments to this entry are closed.