The nameless scourge

“Courage alone is not enough in war: victory will go to the side that best organises that courage” – Peter Watson, “A Terrible Beauty”, 2000

I harbour a strange, nameless bigotry. It is a visceral loathing of a common type of person I recognise easily but struggle to classify. There is no -ism that defines my prejudice.

Some times I see them in traffic, driving badly and breaking the law. Normally I hear them, their sonic signature is unmistakable: the violent blast of the horn, the revving of engines at 4AM, the chanting of the hooligan songs and the thumping of degraded euro-techno.

More often than not, they appear to have plenty of money. They drive massive, expensive cars but they are bereft of taste, class or education.

Many are members of the criminal elite (or the brutes that guard them), which where I live means war-profiteers, looters, people smugglers, child rapists, terrorist armourers, assassins, knee-cappers, and mass murderers. Some are just lowly common thugs, thieves and woman-beaters attempting to ape their Mafia betters.

I see these people every day but the problem is I cannot define exactly what they are. All I have are examples:

There’s one, phone pressed to his ear as he corners his behemoth SUV at tire screeching speed, scattering pedestrians. In the passenger seat a shapely, over made-up simpleton gapes out, scheming of fashion purchases, avoiding his simian touch.

There’s another one. He is jumping the queue at the turn-off, or breaking a red light, or reversing back-wards the wrong way up a one way street, delighting in his own cunning. He is quick to attack, but like all cowards, only with sound and mouthfuls of air. His weapon of choice is the horn. He will ruin a quite Spring morning to punish those too slow away from the traffic light, or decent enough to allow a pedestrian right of way. If you catch his hooded eye, he will flinch. Aggression only prospers in the cowardly heart when escape or victory are certain.

Occasionally you see them dismounted:

There’s one by the riverbank, in his shiny Adidas tracksuit tucked into his matching boxing boots, he clutches his man purse (murse) and looks sullen. His lopsided gait combines a saunter, with a jaunt, with a Hyenas sneaky low-necked slink. He pats his companion on her backside, and as she swishes her ponytail (cutely tucked though her Versace cap), she imagines holding his greasy head under the water until mutant river crabs eat his blue lips whilst he screams a bubbly accompaniment to his own sub-aquatic death opera.

There’s one in the restaurant, clicking his fat fingers at the gentle waiter, his beard stained as he hurriedly forks pasta into his sucking lizard lips (held close to the plate, pig style). He spends the entire meal shouting into his phone as his dinner companion looked on, dreaming of jabbing a red hot fork into his pallid eye, and melting that damned phone into the smoking socket as he choked in shock on his cold pasta.

Who are these people? What are these people?

The Danes call them “Brians”, but that is not it. Brians are boy-racers, a dangerous urban irritant indeed, but a mere sub-class of the scourge I am describing . In Africa they call them Wabenzi – a ruling elite, rich on stolen taxes and corruptiuon. Whilst this is close,  it does not fit. The African Wabenzi occasionally have taste or an education, no so the people I am trying to identify.

I am sure they have a secret, universal name – possibly in Latin – and a formal classification in a sociology textbook somewhere, but I have no idea what it is.

They are not a class (in the sociological sense). They are not a stable section of society, a social level, a layer.  These are not a lumpenproletariate or underclass. Quite the opposite, they are an economic elite

They are not a family or a tribe, as apart from their behaviour they have no relation to each other. They span every nation, ethnicity and culture. Most are men, but they have attendant womenfolk. Their provenance is diverse. They are an unstable phenomenon.

I am starting to see them as monsters in the classical sense, warnings to us about the state of our society. They are human symptoms. Part of a syndrome. The side effects of a particularly vile form of societal rot, the pustules of society, the poultice that draws (and stores) the narcissism, vulgarity and violence out of the body politic. Thankfully, they mostly kill their own – be it in fiery crashes or shoot-outs. This keep their numbers below then critical threshold above which civilization itself breaks down.

Perhaps they have a positive role? Perhaps they are the gut bacteria of our society. There to soak up and process the cultural filthy, and to give off the cautionary gas, a miasma, a stink that reminds us why education, culture, civility and decency require such aggressive defence.

I am still deciding which of these it is.

Whatever they are, they are a scourge, and I for one an devoted to curbing their power and influence. If I could eradicate them (as a cultural phenomenon, not as people) I would do so.

I would love to see an army form. A cadre of gentlemen and gentlewomen, countervailing against this scourge with eusocial activism (civility and kindness), education and the cultural dreadnoughts of literature, art, science and philosophy.

Unfortunately I see no such phenomenon. We are neither “sustaining our own morale” nor are we “attracting the uncommitted”. We are in wholesale retreat. Our culture now effortly produces these people. Auden’s prophecy has come true:

“One doesn’t have to be a prophet to predict the consequences . . .

Reason will be replaced by Revelation . . . Knowledge will degenerate into a riot of subjective vision – feelings in the solar plexus induced by undernourishment, angelic images generated by fever or drugs, dream warnings inspired by the sound of falling water. Whole cosmogonies will be created out of some forgotten personal resentment, complete epics written in private languages, the daubs of schoolchildren ranked above the greatest masterpieces . . .

Idealism will be replaced by Materialism . . . Diverted from its normal outlet in patriotism and civic or family pride, the need of the masses for some visible Idol to worship will be driven into totally unsociable channels where no education can reach it. Divine honours will be paid to shallow depressions in the earth, domestic pets, ruined windmills, or malignant tumours.

Justice will be replaced by Pity as the cardinal human virtue, and all fear of retribution will vanish. Every corner-boy will congratulate himself: ‘I’m such a sinner that God has come down in person to save me.’ Every crook will argue: ‘I like committing crimes. God likes forgiving them. Really the world is admirably arranged.

The New Aristocracy will consist exclusively of hermits, bums and permanent invalids. The Rough Diamond, the Consumptive Whore, the bandit who is good to his mother, the epileptic girl who has a way with animals will be the heroes and heroines of the New Tragedy, when the general, the statesman, and the philosopher have become the butt of every farce and satire.”  WH Auden “”For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio”

2 Comments The nameless scourge

  1. Kieran

    I’m beginning to feel the same way, as if the side of civility and kindness is no longer considered relevant, necessary or important.

    I enjoyed Matt Ridley’s Origin’s of Virtue – His main point is that humans, although driven by selfish genes, interact in altruistic ways because this is beneficial to the individual. We have enforcement mechanisms in place which make our neighbours and ourselves comply with a cooperate-cooperate partnership. We behave well and signal this behaviour in order to induce cooperation in others.

    Our ability to sustain civility and kindness relies on community action, shunning the selfish, rewarding the kind. Communities do well at this, where individuals take responsibility and check others. This is our natural environment, conducive to good behaviour, yet this environment has collapsed.

    It is large systems of government which, albeit with good intentions, strip away the skill set of communities to do this (or strip away our sense of responsibility). We no longer rely on ourselves but an invisible hand to guide those in our proximity. We don’t use past histories as much in choosing who to interact with. We rely on an outsourced police force and justice system. We live in a global community that is (perhaps) too large for us to have a significant effect on.

    We need, essentially, to call on our built in methods of enforcement, subtle and non violent, yet powerful. The idealists need to be idealists. We need as you say a strong army of gentlemen and gentlewomen who demand kindness and civility and we need to be outright defiant of this new breed of ‘hawks’ as they would be termed in game theory.

    Maybe hawk is not a bad definition.


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