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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