Land of Angry

Tom Harris, in Land of Angry, takes up the issue of commenters who, regardless of the topic he’s writing about, will use the opportunity to have another go at the government. He asks:

What is wrong with these people?

They’re clearly very angry. All the time. And they crave some form of outlet for their anger. Blogs – their own or other people’s – are, of course, the ideal medium, especially since their local newspapers stopped agreeing to publish their regular diatribes.

Well, that’s me! I’m angry, and angry all the time. And I regularly post up comments on Tom’s blog, very often about the thing I’m angry about: the smoking ban.

And then there are the others who, I have no doubt, speak in their private lives in exactly the same way that they write on blogs. They’re the scary ones. They’re the ones who genuinely believe everyone around them is as utterly obsessed with the EU, the smoking ban, and the imminence of Labour’s police state as they themselves are.

That’s me too. In my private life I’m as angry about the smoking ban as I am online. Although I don’t think many other people are. He ends by saying:

But I will cling to my belief that the people who read this blog and who choose not to leave comments are just like the general populace: normal, moderate, sensible, decent, and holding political views which may or may not be vindicated at the next election, but which aren’t worth falling out with anyone over.

I responded to Tom by suggesting that much of current ‘normal’ political concern was at one time entirely ‘abnormal’. I wrote:

Gay rights? Unheard of 50 years ago. Feminism? Off the map. Environmentalism? Non-existent. Anyone who campaigned for them was a nutter, and ‘abnormal’. Now they’re all mainstream issues that every political party has signed up to.

Replying in the following comment, Tom conceded the point, but said:

There is, however, something very wrong with people who are unable to talk or write about anything other than their own pet obsessions, regardless of the topic of the post on which they are commenting.

To which I replied:

Well, speaking as one of the nutters, we’re a bit like people who’ve had their foot run over by a car: they’re hopping around on the other foot, and that’s the only thing that matters to them. And how could it be otherwise? Sometimes that’s just how life is.

I added that half of the steam would go out of these issues if they were seriously addressed. And I believe that this would happen. People shout all the louder the less they think they’re getting a hearing. They quieten down when they feel their grievance has been addressed.

Take the three issues Tom cited: the EU, the smoking ban, and Labour’s police state. They never get a decent public airing. There’ no debate about them. They’re not talked about in the media. And yet they matter to some people. True, they probably don’t matter much to most ‘normal’ people. But hot political issues very often aren’t about what most contented ‘normal’ people are concerned about, but with what some minority or other is angry about. Unemployed people are usually a minority, but nevertheless unemployment is a political issue. The closure of a steel mill in a town only affects a minority of people, but it’s still a political issue. Discrimination against gays or blacks only affects a minority of people, but it’s a political issue.

The odd thing about the EU is that it used to be a political issue that got endlessly discussed 10 or 20 years ago. Now it hardly gets mentioned, even though the passions it arouses have not dimmed, but have, if anything, intensified. The EU is not a hot-button issue for me, but all the same I’m genuinely puzzled about the current lack of debate about it.

As for Labour’s police state, it’s not a hot-button issue for me either. But then, I haven’t been fined £200 for stubbing a cigarette out in the street. Yet. If I had been, it would be a very big issue.

As for the smoking ban, that’s a hot-button issue for me because it’s had a direct impact on me, and a very unpleasant one. So it’s a big issue for me, and I’m angry about it and I blog about it and post comments about it. It’s something that hurts. It hurts like a foot that’s been run over. It hurts to the point that it’s very often the only thing I want to talk about.

At any point in the unfolding political process, people are getting hurt. Once it was the unemployed. Or blacks. Or gays. Or women. Or handicapped people. And they made a fuss about it, and something was done. Maybe not enough. But something. But now different people are being hurt, and in different ways. And there’s yet to be any real public recognition of these new grievances, just like once there wasn’t any recognition of the plight of the unemployed, blacks, and gays. A new set of problems has appeared, a new set of grievances. And in time those will be addressed, and then there will be another new set of grievances about something else. And so it will continue, ad infinitum. There will always be problems. There will always be grievances. That’s just how life is.

And the solution to all these problems and grievances is to seriously address them as rapidly as possible. If they’re not addressed, people will just shout louder and louder until they are addressed. If they’re not addressed, people will just get angrier and angrier. Just like the unemployed got angry. And the homeless got angry. And blacks got angry. And gays got angry.

The mistake, I think, of someone like Tom Harris is to suppose that there is one single set of ‘normal’ political issues about which people can reasonably become exercised, and that all other issues – such as the EU, or the smoking ban, or Labour’s police state – are ‘abnormal’ issues about which people are unreasonably angry, and which don’t merit serious attention. I’ll bet that in 1900 or whenever, when unemployment was becoming an issue, plenty of politicians refused to take it seriously. No politician would now.

And the same is true of the welter of political issues which have emerged in recent years. The political issue of the EU is not going to go away. Neither is the political issue of the smoking ban. Nor (if Labour is re-elected in May) is the political issue of Labour’s police state. They’ll only begin to go away when they are openly and honestly addressed, rather than swept under the carpet as they are at the moment, because some people don’t think they’re serious enough to merit serious attention.

It’s not Tom Harris that is the problem here. He at least is able to gaze upon his angry commenters with dismay. That’s a start. And that start is a hundred times better than that managed by the wider political establishment, which remains largely oblivious to all but those historical political issues which it has historically successfully addressed, and which is why this is increasingly the Land of Angry.

About Frank Davis

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13 Responses to Land of Angry

  1. Anonymous says:

    Two Sets of Expectations
    I wasn’t able to read Harris’ blog entry because the link isn’t working for me for some reason. From what you’ve quoted, his views seem nonsensical.
    So, the political forces that create smoking bans are fine, but the political forces that oppose them are on the fringe? Instituting a Bully State is expected, but being concerned about it is an obsession?
    This means that there are two sets of expectations for different groups; those in favor of what the government is doing should speak right up, but those opposed are abnormal and should learn to simmer down.
    It almost seems like he’s saying “Hey, stick to the issues that the TV and the politicians tell you to think about. If you’re thinking about other things, this makes you abnormal, extremist, insensible, and indecent.”
    I see a lot of this lately. I think that some people can’t bring themselves to believe that the day-to-day issues that form the mainstream public dialogue are a flawed reflection of what people are really concerned about. If they came to realize that, it would make them realize how troubling state the media and the government have really become.
    Rather than asking himself “What’s wrong with people that they don’t want to discuss the issues presented?” Harris should be saying “It’s obvious from the feedback I’m getting that people are concerned about issues that the government and the media are failing to address.”
    This is also why grass roots efforts are painted as being “astroturf” while mainstream efforts are mistakenly believed to be genuine and organic. People are in such denial that they’ve come to believe that people with genuine concerns must be getting paid off, or under the influence of some corporation. It’s inconceivable to them that people might be out there thinking for themselves.
    Sorry for running long. WS.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Re: Two Sets of Expectations
    Reading that back, Frank, I think I simply restated the same objections you stated, but in different words. Sorry.
    However, one has to wonder by what criteria Harris and others believe certain issues are “normal”. What’s the source?
    I can only conclude that the media, the government, and special interests engage in a cult-like group-think, and they can’t make themselves believe that anyone would be thinking of anything else, even when the evidence is presented directly to them, as in this case. WS.

  3. Anonymous says:

    And the reason a minimum-wage worker who can only find one job, working in a bar, and who doesn’t smoke should have to take the unpleasantness and (let’s just leave it at ‘possible’) health-risk of inhaling *your* cigarette smoke because you can’t be arsed walking ten steps to the door is…

  4. Frank Davis says:

    Re: Two Sets of Expectations
    To his credit, Tom Harris is one of the MPs who didn’t vote for the smoking ban, and thinks that it should be amended.
    And I can understand his frustration when commenters hijack threads to sound off about something else than the subject he’s addressed.
    But I’ve never seen him use his blog to address the subjects that he complains of people being obsessed about (he may have, but I’ve never seen it). I only know that he’s in favour of amending the smoking ban because he said as much in a brief comment a few months ago. I don’t really know what he thinks about it more than that.
    And yes, it very often seems to me that the MSM try to frame the debate, and decide for themselves which issues are to be discussed and which aren’t. The smoking ban, here in the UK, is a non-topic of discussion.
    This applies to all sorts of other things. Global Warming is presented as a fact about which there is no serious debate or dissent. This has changed recently, since Climategate. But it’s still not an open dabate.
    I often think I’m living in an Eastern Bloc Communist country, in which the media faithfully reflect the consensus opinion of the politburo. And perhaps I am.

  5. Frank Davis says:

    Those are ten steps that destroy the traditional pub experience for smokers. There’s a lot more at stake than just the physical effort of it.

  6. amend_locke says:

    On the smoking ban it is like the old Eastern Bloc in this respect: there’s a huge disconnect between what the media say, and the statistics they report, and what you can see with your own eyes: half-empty pubs (and hotel bars) and closed pubs.
    As for the minimum wage worker who can only find one job, working in a bar – I doubt that such a worker exists, and if he or she does, in many cases they don’t even have that choice, because the pub has gone out of business.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Stewart Cowan here
    What gets me is that he doesn’t get it. For many months now, you and me and dozens of others have been providing him with evidence of impending danger to this country from the EU and elsewhere.
    Not only does he not understand, but he mocks us. He jokes about the fact that his party lied about the referendum.
    In hindsight, I could have chosen my words a bit more carefully yesterday in case some of the old soldiers or their families read the comments. The bottom line is that this act – is it an act? – of Tom Harris’s, the nice guy, the acceptable face of New Labour – is wearing a bit thin. Maybe he is a ‘nice chap’ – plenty of people say so, but he needs to be much more than ‘nice’.
    He didn’t approve a comment of explanation that I submitted yesterday, which had a link to my blog post about the affair.
    http://www.realstreet.co.uk/2009/12/ive-upset-tom-harris/
    Can’t really blame him, actually!

  8. Frank Davis says:

    Re: Stewart Cowan here
    I’ve looked at Tom’s Veteran page, and I really can’t see why he stopped comments. What was said was that the veterans had been betrayed. It’s what I feel myself. They fought for a freedom which we no longer seem to have. For those veterans must stand outside now with their cigarettes – the same cigarettes that helped them through their wars.
    I guess that Tom can’t – won’t – face up to that.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The guy (or gal) who came out with that flacid argument about the poor unemployed person only being able to get a job behind a bar, and how awful it would be if we could still smoke in pubs. Listen up. If I was unemployed and the only job I could get was as an assistant to a park warden, you know, keeping the park clean and tidy, I couldn’t do it, because I am allerrgic to vegetation (all except burning tobacco leaf that is). So, using the same criteria, keep parks but ban plants in them.
    Merry Christmas. It is timbone by the way.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Merry Christmas!
    Merry Christmas from inside the US and keep up the good fight.
    Your blog’s a real treat and delight, for lots of us, stories you don’t even know about, how personally the smoking-bans have caused not only loss of social life, business, employment and free choice/liberties, but loss of precious human life and loved ones itself – and yes, it HAS indeed taken place – and NOT “loss due to smoking” but loss due to smoking-bans, “loss due to NON-smoking”, because of the disruptions, mixed signals and loss of intuition that results – it HAS indeed happened and in the MOST eternally painful and forever-lasting unforgiveably non-reversible manner.
    The Truth of the matter hasn’t even been scratched on the surface yet, just HOW much horror and terror these bans have struck into what was once upon a time, the land of the free and the brave.

  11. Anonymous says:

    The minimum wage worker voluntarily assumes much greater risks every day. The only difference here is that this same worker , or anyone, is declaring a presumptive entitlement over the rights of the private property owner, and the patrons he or she wishes to serve. While demands are made for protection for workers from minimal health risks in situations where they have a choice, no such choice is afforded to property owners or their patrons.
    As usual, no one hears this plaintiff wailing from non-smokers if an establishment chooses to fire a smoker, even when the most broad prohibitionist rules are set into place. It’s perfectly fine to fire someone who smokes five cigarettes a day, but a non-smoker is somehow entitled to any job.
    Oh, how troublesome life must be for the hypochondriac non-smoking bar workers subjected to imaginary risks…
    To the person who wrote that, the worst I can wish upon you is the very protectionism you clamor for.

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