‘No Such Thing as Society,’ Implies Cummings

If you think about it, the recent actions of Dominic Cummings illustrate perfectly the Thatcherite maxim there’s no such thing as society.* In putting himself and his family first, in neglecting the needs of others and the common good, he exemplified that maxim in action. Me and mine come before you and yours; that’s what it boils down to, plus an egoistic plan to interpret the rules in your own way. Supposing we all did this? Supposing we applied our own interpretations to, say, the speed limit? I might say ‘Well, I know it’s supposed to be thirty round here but it’s fairly quiet so I choose to interpret the speed limit as forty-five.’ Or, on the motorway I might say ‘Yes I know it’s actually seventy but I take that as a rough guideline. The road is clear so I interpret seventy to mean up to eighty-five.’ And so on. This is the worst kind of egoism and yes, we are all prone to it; I cannot hold my hand up and say I’ve never broken the speed limit. I find it very hard to stick to thirty mph on a straight road with no traffic; I am often tempted to exceed seventy on the motorway. However, were I caught I would absolutely expect to suffer the penalty. I would I hope admit my mistake.

* To be fair, Thatcher may not have been suggesting that people should be quite as selfish as this implies. She was telling people to look after themselves and their families first; it was an argument against the state rather than ‘society’; however it has been interpreted by Left and Right alike as a call to rampant individualism.

And therein lies the problem. Had Cummings only apologised his job would not now be under threat. Had he acknowledged the insult to the rest of us who followed the rules; people dying alone, people unable to see dying members of their family, people risking their lives to self-isolate; his job would not now be under threat. Instead he came up with an ‘explanation’ that insults not only our suffering but also our intelligence. Yes, we are all prone to error and should be slow to judge others who err. But as Rev Richard Coles pointed out (on his Facebook page) you cannot be a law-maker as well as a law-breaker. You must hold yourself to a higher standard. Cummings must go – and the sooner the better. Now. Today.

And here, Marina Hyde in the Guardian has a brilliant and witty analysis of why Johnson is reluctant to sack him.But I shall conclude with some words of Oscar Wilde might have uttered in this situation: ‘Never speak slightingly of society. Only those who can’t get into it do that.’

Kirk out

The Wall of Loneliness: Radcliffe Hall, ISIS and The Handmaid’s Tale

I’ve been thinking a lot about societies lately; how they can restrict us and how hard it is to do without them.  A society is like an impossible partner: you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.  And two recent dramas which explore this theme are surprisingly similar, though one deals with ISIS in Syria and the other with a fundamentalist Christian dystopia in America.

These are so similar that at times ‘The State’ seems like a fantasy and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ like the reality: both are repressive totalitarian regimes in which women have to cover themselves when they go out or risk brutal punishments.  Beatings and executions are common, though in Gilead they go for hanging rather than beheading; and both feature stonings and chopping off hands, though Gilead being wealthier does at least anaesthatise its victims first.  In both societies women are reduced to chattels, kept only to serve or to procreate.

The difference is that, astonishing as it seems, the women in Syria have actually gone there voluntarily.  The series features two groups, one of men and one of women, and follows their diverse experiences as the men are trained in fierce combat and the women kept indoors to cook and clean.  As in Saudi Arabia they are not allowed out without a male guardian and have to obtain permission before doing anything beyond their normal duties.  It’s all the more chilling for being real; yet ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ is not less chilling for being fiction, because it’s plausible.  You can imagine a combination of circumstances in which it could happen.

Which brings me to Radcliffe Hall’s famous novel on lesbianism, ‘The Well of Loneliness.’  This is equally gripping especially if like me you remember a time when gays and lesbians had to hide for fear of internment or worse (it wasn’t all that long since Oscar Wilde had walked the treadmill at Reading Gaol.)  It was written in 1928 and immediately banned because it contained the line ‘and that night they were not divided,’ making it clear that the two women had shared a bed.  They manage to make a life together in France but in the end their isolation from home, family and society at large makes their situation intolerable, and the ending is heartbreaking.

Kirk out

Pun of the Day

Here are a couple of puns for you which just came to me today:

pan-stick – a lipstick which makes you one with everything

Peter pan-stick – a stick which makes you look eternally young.

And that one set me off thinking about Dorian Gray.  I’ve always thought Oscar Wilde seemed like someone who was afraid of himself and of what he might do if let loose on society.  Dorian Gray preys on young boys and girls alike; he murders and corrupts the innocent; he ruins lives.  Gray, being a sort of alter ego of Wilde’s, represents two sides of his character, the hidden and the public.  In public his face is clean and innocent, but in private he hides a well of corruption.

This surely has to do with Wilde not being ‘out’ as a homosexual.  One can only speculate on the damage it does to be unable, your whole life, to express that which is a deepest part of your reality.  Now, my significant other (as I have begun to call them) and I have been having conversations about sexuality.  I maintain that hetero- and homo-sexuality run deep within most people: in other words, whichever is your orientation, it’s a profound part of you.  Hence the word – orientation.  It’s what you’re pointed at, as a ship is oriented towards its destination.  It’s your sat-nav.

OK that’s enough analogies.  The point is, you can’t choose your sexual orientation, else why would there be gays and lesbians in countries where it’s illegal – and, moreover, where punishments for homosexual acts can be horrific?

There wouldn’t.

So: here’s the thing I’m trying to put together – I would not have married a woman.  I would not have married a trans woman or a cis woman, or any other kind of woman – because I’m not gay.  And yet I’m being asked to stay married to someone who regards themselves as a woman.  So you tell me how that works.  MSO, as I’m now going to call them, would like me to see our marriage as a lesbian relationship.

Nuh-uh.  Ain’t gonna happen.

If you’re wondering where this sudden burst of frankness has come from, it’s because MSO just published a blog post about all this.  Like all their posts, its increeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedibly long but here it is:


Like most of his posts it contains not so much a welter as a positive spattering of ideas, and after I’ve finished reading it he says, ‘What do you think?’

Where to start?

Well, I’ll let you read it and form your own opinions.  As you have now read this, please likewise form and state your opinions below.

Kirk out

*My Significant Other (MSO – sounds a bit military, don’t it?)

So, are you a Gay Christian?

The subject of gay marriage came up on the radio this morning and Mark burst out, ‘Oh, that is such a mistake!’

‘Really?’ I said, surprised.

‘Yes!  They want to get married!’

‘So?  What’s wrong with that?’

‘I don’t believe in marriage!’ he retorted.

‘That’s sweet, darling,’ I said, ‘but save something for our anniversary….’

It’s our 20th this year, which is quite a landmark – although I think we’ll be saving the celebrations for our 25th.

So: gay marriage.  Should it happen?  On the whole I think that if gay couples want to get married then they should be able to; but it does pose a lot of questions about what marriage is – and what it isn’t.  I don’t at all buy the argument that gay marriage weakens straight marriage: marriage is not a fixed quantity where everyone has less the more you share it out: nor is it a concentrated liquid which can be diluted by diversity.  So what is it?

Well, the obvious bench-mark definition is that it’s a union between two people who love each other and want to dedicate their lives to each other.  It’s intended to be for life, whatever may intervene; it’s taken seriously – and it represents a public and continuing commitment as a couple in relation to society.  As far as that goes, it seems to me that gays fulfill these criteria as much as straights – and often more so.

But many people object to homosexuality on the grounds that it isn’t ‘natural’.  Leaving aside the vexed question of what ‘natural’ means (else we’d be here all week) one possible answer to this is that it is natural to them.  Clearly being gay isn’t a choice (much less a ‘lifestyle choice’) – nor is it something that can be suppressed or ‘reformed’.  Therefore it is natural (in the sense of ‘coming naturally’) – and to stigmatise people for what they are, is like stigmatising people who have red hair.  Yes, you can bleach it but it will always grow back.

So, I think gays should be allowed to marry.  That being so, should they then be able to fulfill one of the basic tenets of marriage and adopt children?  Here are some thoughts:

1.  As things stand, gays * who want to get married are on the whole more likely to be in a committed relationship than straight couples because of the obstacles they will have had to overcome.

2.  There are children waiting on the adoption register and what matters is for them to have a loving family.

3.  It may be objected that the children of gay parents won’t grow up having one role-model of either sex.  Whilst this is a consideration, loving parents will always allow their children to grow and provide them with opportunities to do so.  I suggest that gay couples, again, are more likely to do this than their straight counterparts because of the obstacles they will have had to overcome.

4.  It may also be objected that because the parents are gay, the children will also grow up gay.  But if parents could influence their children’s sexuality through their own, there wouldn’t be any gay people to start with.

I’m going to conclude with a story.  This is a true story but the names have been changed.  There was a couple – let’s call them Mark and Liz.  Mark was gay but wanted to be straight: he converted to Christianity as a student and after having sex with a woman, decided he definitely was straight.  After leaving university he married Liz and they had three children.  At first the marriage was fine but problems soon began to arise; difficulties that no-one could really fathom.  Liz was hurt and bewildered by his behaviour and didn’t know what to do.  Eventually after a lot of heartbreak they divorced and Mark is now living as a gay man.

This is what happens when you try to force people to be what they are not.  And I have some experience in this area (though not to do with sexuality).

If you want any more examples just look at the story of Oscar Wilde.

A long post this morning but I’m making up for the last few days.  I’m happy to report that I slept well and I’m starting to feel better.

Kirk out

*I’m saying ‘gays’ but obviously this includes lesbians.  Oh, and the title, as if you didn’t know, is from a ‘Not the Nine o’clock News Sketch’: