In conversation in the Smoky Drinky Bar last night, TwentyRothmans remarked that he was thinking of leaving England, in part because he didn’t think the English had it in them to resist the loss of freedom they were experiencing.
I could well understand what he meant. Freedom is being eroded in small ways and large ways all the time these days, and the English seem to have little interest in defending it. But does that mean that they will always be uninterested? And is it only the English who have (or are supposed to have) a particular interest in freedom?
I think the answers to those two questions are: a) No, and b) No.
The loss of freedom we’re experiencing is all being carried out salami slice by salami slice. And I think that when this happens, there’s usually some alternative freedom that can be fallen back on. Imagine a bar somewhere with 20 different chairs or stools in it. And imagine that you’re a regular visitor to the bar, and you have a favourite chair you like to sit in. And suppose that one day you go into the bar, and notice that one of the chairs has vanished, but it’s not your favourite chair, so you’re not much bothered about it. And suppose that next week you arrive to find another chair has gone, but once again it’s not your favourite chair, so you’re not bothered about that either. And then you read somewhere that the Health Ministry is looking to create a “chair-free” society, because Studies Have Shown that sitting on chairs causes cancer or heart disease or rabies, or maybe all three. And you start getting a bit worried about what’s happening, but you’ve still got your chair, so you’re really not bothered. But then one day, when there are just 12 chairs left, you arrive in the bar and find someone sitting on your chair, and you have to sit on another one. And you kick yourself and say it was you’re own fault for not going to the bar at opening time and claiming your chair before somebody else got it. By now more and more customers are finding that there simply aren’t enough chairs for them all to sit on, and they have to stand, and they don’t stay as long as they used to. And you don’t mind that too much, because you’ve still got your chair. And so it proceeds until there’s only your chair left, and you’re the only person who ever comes to the bar. And finally, when the bar becomes completely “chair-free”, you stop going as well, and the bar closes, never to re-open again. And then you’re angry, as it finally comes home to you how much you’ve lost: not just your chair, but also your bar, and all the friends of yours that used to go to it.
I think something like that happens with all these vanishing freedoms. There’s usually an alternative of some sort. And so people shift from one alternative to another. But in the end there are no alternatives left. And then it comes home to you how much has been lost.
As freedoms are gradually stripped away, like chairs, some people are more affected than others. The people who keep their chairs see no change: they don’t lose their freedom. Those who lose their seats, and can’t find alternatives, experience a loss of freedom. And since freedoms are being removed all the time, sooner or later everyone experience a loss of freedom.
I often wonder why I reacted so strongly to the 2007 UK smoking ban, when most other people didn’t. Was it because, unlike them, I have an inordinate fondness for freedom? I don’t think so. I think it was simply that the smoking ban affected me much more than it affected other people. It was as if my chair was the first chair that was removed from the bar rather than the last chair. And that was because I had no alternative to the pub. Other people had alternatives: they could entertain at home, or build little private ‘pubs’ in their back gardens, or visit the pubs after hours when they were ‘closed’, or smoke in back rooms they had access to. They could more or less carry on as before. But I couldn’t do that, and so I experienced the complete loss at the very outset. I lost my chair, my pub, and my circle of friends, all in one day. And I’ve been angry ever since.
But as they in turn lose their freedoms, everyone else is going to experience the same loss as I did, just rather later than me. And they’ll be just as angry as I am. And so you get a society where everyone is slowly getting angry. Or rather, you get a society where some people are angry at what’s happening to them, and some people are not angry, but where the numbers of angry people are mounting, and the numbers of people who aren’t angry are dwindling.
And that’s what I was writing about yesterday in Coming To The Boil. Smoking bans are one small loss of freedom that affects relatively few people. But there are lots and lots of other freedoms that are being lost. Later last night Gráinne in Ireland was complaining about how the Irish could no longer cut peat from their peat bogs. Some sort of environmental reason was given for it. Or maybe Studies Have Shown that peat causes cancer and heart disease and rabies. It’s something she’s mentioned several times. So it sounds like it’s a real loss of freedom she’s experienced, perhaps because there’s no alternative to peat for some people in Ireland. So that’s a few more angry people, this time in Ireland.
And think of all the countless other freedoms that are being removed, slice by slice. For almost every new law is a small new loss of freedom for someone somewhere. And the EU pumps out new laws by the gallon. And so does the UK parliament. and no doubt the Irish parliament as well. In the UK there was talk a few years back of a Grand Repeal of all these new laws, but nothing happened, probably because the political class likes having lots of laws.
The political class is the least affected, of course. They always keep their seats in the bar. In fact, they have their own bar, chock full of well-upholstered armchairs. Many people in the EU political hierarchy have got a job for life, and a good pension, and lots of kick-backs from lobbyists, and maybe even immunity from prosecution thrown in as well. Much the same seems to be true for the political class in Washington. So there’s a deepening divide between pampered political elites and the ordinary people slowly getting angry.
And all I can see happening is more and more people getting angrier and angrier. And maybe the big political divide of our time is between the people who’re getting angrier and angrier at the loss of countless small and large freedoms, and the people who’ve yet to experience that sort of loss. And the former are beginning to outnumber the latter. In the USA they elected Donald Trump. And in the UK they voted for Brexit. And maybe in Spain they’ll vote for Catalonian Independence. And in Italy they’ll do something else. But essentially the same thing is happening everywhere.
This includes the mounting terrorist attacks. Only a very few people are directly affected by these, as they lose friends or family. But they too will be becoming disenchanted. And they’ll join the ranks of the angry.
It all adds up. And when more or less everyone is angry? There has to be some sort of explosion.