Down in the park below my window, it’s hot, the sun is out and after the miserable cold of the last few weeks, it really feels like summer. The trees are in full and beautiful leaf. Birds sing. People light barbecues. The smell of their cooking drifts in through the curtains. Children of all ages run around, shout, laugh, cry, push each other about, swing on the swings, whizz down the slide and generally, under the watchful and sometimes not-so-watchful eyes of their parents, have a good, child-like, timeless time. It’s very, very good to see and hear. But beware, you little people, you who will inherit this land – for on the horizon there be monsters. The world is insane. I’ve thought for a long time that might be the case. Now I’m sure.
I suppose to be fair, I should really speak only for my own small corner of ‘the world’ – the United Kingdom, (which looks like it might be dis-united in a few years’ time if certain Scots have their way, and good luck to them). Although from what I hear and read things aren’t all that sane almost anywhere. In the Middle East, a President once feted in the West, summarily executes and fires artillery shells on his own people, adults and children alike. And another rachets up the rhetoric about an Israeli strike on Iran. If all this isn’t insanity, I’d really like to be told what is.
But to be fair, I shall speak only of the one place I know from my own recent experience – this island that once ruled the world, this splinter whittled by the ice-ages off the mainland of Europe. And here there is insanity to spare. People at the top, in very high places, have been getting up to some very unethical things and an awful lot of the brown stuff appears to be hitting the turning blades. They’ve been up to things which would make some of the old-time politicians – those with gravitas if you’re old enough to recall a politician with that – turn in their graves/urns. Things – such as plain dishonesty, greed, graft – which, if perpetrated by children or teenagers, would result in a severe reprimand and warning never to do it again. And if by a tenant of a council estate, in a short trip to the cells. But it seems the closer you get to ‘the top’, the less you are accountable for your transgressions. And at that level, there is always available the defence of DKDRCBM as it’s now commonly known. Or ‘don’t know, don’t remember, can’t blame me’.
We saw that same defence expertly employed here in the current inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal. Top-ranking members of the Murdoch press could, however hard they racked their brains, remember nothing. Their memories were so bad I wonder they remembered to get out of bed in the mornings. And when they could actually, just about, faintly recall some event in question or someone – don’t know who though – telling them about some other event, they had no idea, could really not recall who had or had not had part in it. And that being the case, no blame can be thereby be attached. DKDRCBM.
It doesn’t work like that for those at the lower end of the social scale – despite the fact that our dear Prime Minister told us all – and with a straight face – that, “we are all in it together.” It’s clear we are all in something quite unpleasant. But the thing he’s in doesn’t seem to be the same thing the rest of us are in. No – at the lower end of the scale you pay the price for your misdemeanors, and you pay pretty quickly too. They didn’t waste a lot of time hustling those people – teenagers, most of them – who were involved in the riots last year, off to the stocks.
(As an aside, only the other day, a lady peer of the realm who is suspected of not declaring, when the rules say she should have done, rental money from a London apartment, fragrantly announced that it was ‘an oversight’ on her part. Those at the lower end of the social scale aren’t allowed oversights.)
On top of that, down at that lower end you pay not only for your own, but for others’ transgressions as well – the transgressions of those who, for example, toil (is that the right word?) on our behalf in the boiler rooms of Canary Wharf and Wall Street. It would seem on the face of it that they, along with their colleagues around the world have, through their rather less than rigourous ethics, come near to bankrupting half the developed world. In order to put that right, some ordinary people, minding their own business, who have had no hand in it whatsoever, are being subjected to such savage cuts in wages, pensions etc. that thousands of them have lost their jobs, their homes, their livelihoods. And on an international scale, one complete nation in the south of Europe looks like it’s entering a period of national poverty courtesy of those same people.
Now – if you were an innocent, if you were a child at school, you’d expect that people who’d caused such mayhem and misery would be contrite, apologetic. They’d want to reassure us that they would never let that sort of thing happen again. But that hasn’t been the way of it. They seem, in fact not really to have noticed. Despite the chaos for which they have been directly responsible, they respond by paying themselves their customary astronomical bonuses and crowding into the nearest champagne bar.
And there’s more. But what’s the point? It’s all the same really. It’s not a seemly picture. It’s insanity. It starts at the top and in Madame Thatcher’s infamous words, ‘trickles down’ and bit by bit becomes acceptable by default, corrupting every level of a society. It’s no coincidence that people in positions much further down the line show a similar reluctance to admit their mistakes. Whenever did a company receiving a complaint from a customer put its hand up and admit to screwing it? What you’re almost certain to get is a carefully scripted response of timeless vapidity about how committed that company is to customer service and blah, blah, blah.
So to all the little people playing happily out there in the sun today on the swings, the roundabouts, the slides – do be very careful as you leave the playground. A wicked, wilful, blameless and amnesiac world awaits you. You will not find the pathway clearly marked. And if you are not careful, you too will get swept up in this circus of the insane. The one positive thing that can however be said about it is this -a thing can fall only so far before it hits the ground and breaks. Then at least it will be possible to put the pieces back together again – but this time in the right order.