I returned to live in Britain in April 2011. It was a while before I began to notice some of the changes since I left in 1992. Heraclitus said
No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man
Healthy societies change all the time. It would have been surprising if I had found the place just as I had left it.
I had stayed in touch with the changes at some levels. At first I had read flown-in British newspapers at great expense. Then as online news sources developed I had become more involved, starting this blog in March 2005. Still, I had not noticed many changes in attitude and the linked article provides a good example. Here is a man who thinks it wrong to present a TV play based on real events because
The programme is not entertainment. They are profiting from my mum's death
Ignore for the moment the schtick about profit being intrinsically bad. Let's assume that he earns no money himself. Perhaps, for all we know, he lives on unicorn farts harvested voluntarily by fair trade fairies of working age. Perhaps he works for the super-ethical Co-operative Bank.
Please also ignore the weirdness of a middle-aged adult, adopted in infancy, speaking schmaltzily of a 'mum' of whom he knew nothing until he was 40. Indeed of whom he still knows nothing except for what he can learn from the writings of policemen, lawyers, journalists, authors and now playwrights all 'profiting' in his terms from her death.
Does he really believe that his private emotional response to a play he refuses to see is of any importance to the world? Does he really think free expression should be curtailed because of his feelings? Mary Whitehouse was laughed out of this life by people understandably amused that she felt her feelings gave her a right to prevent others seeing shows she didn't want to watch. How is his attitude any different?
Yet he's part of a disturbing pattern. He belongs with the woman who asserted with menaces a right to prevent her car being filmed obstructing traffic. He belongs with the head teachers who prevent parents filming their children at school sports days for fear some pervert may get off on the images. He is at one with any group with a 'respect' agenda that seeks to curtail criticism of its beliefs or lifestyles. He is at one with the celebrities who want the law changed so tabloids can't service the public's salacious interest in their coke-fuelled encounters with whores. He belongs with the police officers who presume photographers are up to no good. Perhaps he even belongs with the men who murdered a disabled man because he took photographs of youngsters he suspected of vandalising his hanging baskets.
This has been going on for some time. Margaret Thatcher sagely observed that
One of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.
I fear that those in power are merely responding however to the mindless sentimentalism of the masses. When I flew into London shortly after the death of Princess Diana I was sickened by the ludicrous emotionalism. How could ordinary people be so inarticulately distraught over the accidental death of an aristocrat? I remember gagging as I watched a woman vox popped on TV during the funeral coverage saying (I kid you not)
No-one can explain the deepness we feel
I was angered by Tony Blair shedding crocodile tears for "the people's princess". Yet his personal stock rose with the public, while that of the Queen fell because of her measured, more English, more rational response.
Modern Brits over-rate the importance of their personal feelings. They tend to sickly sentimentality unmoderated by reason, religion, taste or manners. They also dangerously fail to distinguish between the private and public domains. They demand new laws in response to any private misfortune - even if compliance with existing laws, prudence or plain commonsense would already have avoided it. Some of the most dangerous words in the British media come from angry parents demanding a change in the law so that their child "did not die in vain". That hard cases make bad law is a wisdom lost forever. That some misfortunes are mere accidents and do not justify violent restrictions on the lives of others (which is what all laws are) is never considered amid all the tearful emoting.
Where does this sense of entitlement to control others on emotional grounds come from? More importantly, as politicians increasingly strive like fakely-tearful Blair to capture the cry-baby zeitgeist, where will it lead?