What is the half-life of our outrage?

With all the goings on of general elections, Brexit talks and acts of violence it’s been a depressing, and I use the term advisedly, few months. There have been unnecessary, untruthful, but not unexpected personal attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and others. Even the DUP claims they are feeling a lack of ‘respect’ from Conservative back-benchers. There have been manifesto u-turns, later denied, not from any change in values but by attempts at damage limitation driven by political expediency. People have died from violent aggression and what some have suggested is criminal negligence.

The self-destructive, sheer incompetence of putting the ‘dementia tax’ in a manifesto which would adversely impact your core vote is difficult to credit. Who the hell thought that was a good promotional strategy? Not turning out for a national debate and not being able to address public concerns without nervous laughter and the endless repetition of stock phrases didn’t play particularly well either. Don’t even get me started on the cabinet reshuffle – Gove again – only this time the poisoned chalice is Environment – as Caroline Lucas suggested, a man not overly qualified for the post. Time for a new Amazon best seller, ‘Everything I know about the Environment’ to follow up on ‘Everything I know about Education’.

OK, there has been a significant rise in the number of young adults voting – hooray! There has been some kindness and hope around as well as much venting of outraged opinion, at least in our house if nowhere else. There seems currently to be some impetus to adjust some of the inbuilt injustice in our society. Trickle down economics never worked and cutting police, education and healthcare budgets is so patently short-sighted that it’s very hard to believe that there is anything other than cynical exploitation of the poorest in society behind such actions. After all you wouldn’t want a poor person running the economy as POTUS would say.

“The distance between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, known in the Europe of the early nineteenth century, is coming back with vengeance.” (Zygmund Bauman in Collateral Damage, 2011)

What is the half-life of our outrage? What is the hope of those in authority over us –that if things can hang on long enough the anger will dissipate? The raised voices will become hoarse and fall quiet? The marchers will grow tired and the banners will be put down? With any luck the whole business will blow over like a ‘twitter storm’ and then the masses will have been allowed their whinge and it can be back to business as usual.

“Let the masses remain inert, unthinking; do not disturb them, do not arouse them; do not get them moving, for if you do you are an agitator, a trouble maker, . . .  you are a radical!” (Saul Alinsky in Reveille for Radicals, 1969

My own faith has as its main figurehead a religious, radicalised individual who took a home-made whip to those he felt where exploiting the poor. He overturned their trading stalls and no doubt caused a few people to complain. Did it have any lasting effect? I’m thinking that next day the same traders were back in business either dismissing it as a one-off action by someone who clearly needed help or perhaps muttering about who was to blame for such radicalisation and even perhaps how illegal it should be to confront the lawful authorities like that. Problem solved he was tried and executed within the week.

Our current government, led by Theresa May at the time of writing (next week who knows), has promised reviews and action to put a stop to the radicalisation of individuals. Really, you can legislate radicalisation out of existence? I’m part of the Christian faith – for God’s sake look at history. Christianity wouldn’t exist if you could legislate radical beliefs out of existence – the Roman’s tried some fairly drastic measures – it didn’t work.

“Compromise is as impossible between the church of Christ and the idolatry of wealth, which is the practical religion of capitalist societies, as it was between the church and the state idolatry of the Roman Empire.” (Cedric Mayson in the R H Tawney lecture entitled “Liberation and the wineskin business”, 1986.)

What scares me most is not acts of terror by individuals, fundamentalists or governments. These are a matter of record throughout history, present suffering and future inevitability. What does scare me is where the lines are drawn. Where does legitimate protest become terrorism – making a whip, turning over tables, interfering with lawful trade? When does sharing strong feelings about the manifest incompetence and injustice of government led policy become radicalisation of others?

Back at the beginning of the Blair years Bob Holman set out three key objectives for the sort of relational society he believed God wanted: “First, the relief of poverty. Second, the promotion of greater social and material equality. Third, the raising up of the powerless and the casting down of the powerful.” (Bob Holman in ‘A Voice from the Estate’ in Joined up Writing, March 1999). The first of these, I suspect few would object to in principle until it hits the wallet. The second – ah, a bit more tricky this one. There is, we are told, “No magic money tree” – so that means taking money from the rich and redistributing it to the poor – never been a popular policy with the rich. The third – yes raising people up – ‘uplift’ as they refer to it over the pond, but hang on this ‘casting down’ that’s a little bit radical.

So, when will the thought police come knocking? After all I’ve ‘preached’ enough ‘lefty’ stuff at long-suffering students over the last few years. I believe it was my job to do so.

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