A good man, with a bad habit

Have I told you about my friend John? I’ve known John for a long time, and for as long as I’ve known him, I’ve been in thrall of his inability to actually ‘declare’ his convictions, never mind stick to them. Don’t get me wrong, I like the man. Anyone who can wake up naked in the aviary of his local park with a broken ankle, and absolutely no recollection of how he got there, is a good man in my view. You know, he actually blamed the two swans whose house he had slept in for breaking his foot, as if they had somehow enticed him into their home, specifically to smash his bones. Then of course, he instantly, magnanimously, forgave them their weakness for such brutal trickery.

Yes, John is a good man, but he has a bad habit; a tendency towards what he calls liberalism. I call it indecisive, neither fish nor flesh, wishy-washy, wrong-headed fence-sitting. It’s not that he doesn’t have any opinions. In fact he has opinions on a wide range of topics - he’s a bright boy, is John. No, the problem is that he has too many opinions, at least two on every subject, usually on opposite sides of any particular issue. In his quest to be both thorough and fair, the damn fellow just cannot make up his mind.

The funny thing is that he just doesn’t see it; at least he doesn’t see it as a problem. I tried to explain it using aspects of his life to illustrate my point, from his failure to commit himself to any one girlfriend, through his inability to decide which career path to settle on, and which route he’s going to take to any given place, to whether he is going to drink beer or wine tonight. He can see the good and bad on all sides. He says he likes to have as many viable choices as possible. I point out that that is fine, desirable even, just as long as he eventually takes some of those choices. 

We once spent a very lazy afternoon in the park together (actually within suspicious eye-shot of the aforementioned killer swans) and the conversation came round to equality. He announced with gusto his commitment to egalitarianism and propounded vehemently equal rights for all. All people, all dogs, all insects, all swans, and presumably all child molesters, murderers, terrorists, and asset strippers, I jibed. I pushed the point with him and I even got him to admit that lawyers too deserved equal rights; can you imagine?

So, I went on to add, there must then be equal rights to both the victims and the perpetrators of any particular crime. His reply was that, logically speaking, the answer to that was yes. Now, I’ve always had a problem with logic. It’s pure enough and helps out in making all kind of decisions, but sometimes it’s just not ‘hard’ enough. Sometimes gut feeling will stand you in better stead. Sometimes common sense will ‘have’ logic in a fight. Yes, the next time equality mingles with justice at a party near you, it can be guaranteed that the encounter will be edgy. There’s likely to be some frosty banter, a verbal scuffle or two and, if drink is involved, there could well be a fight. Bloody noses and tears all round. Parity and fairness streaming together down the ruddy face of life.

You need hands
Race, gender, age, size, weight, colour religion, proclivity, level of able-bodiedness, sexual orientation, occupation, sociological, economic and geographical background, accent, intellect, strength, looks, social status, financial status, moral standing, moral standards, sporting prowess, sexual prowess, taste in clothes, cars, music, films… some biggies to be sure, but also some pretty arbitrary stuff, and yet I have in the past formed opinions and ideas about the people I have met based on each, some or most of the above. We all have, and if we say we haven’t, then we’re lying, and we should add honesty to that list.

So where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us judging each other based on our own standards, which is not necessarily the way forward in a debate such as this. Equality for all has to be an objective… erm… objective. If we are subjective doesn’t that negate our purpose? Aren’t we then saying that everyone must be my definition of equal, that is, everyone must be like me? For some of us, that must truly be a terrifying thought. For everyone else, it must be seen as being at best a limiting horizon to walk towards, at worst fascism. Instead, we must be objective. We must develop a system of standards of the treatment we can reasonably expect to receive from the people we share our planet with, and at the same time agree to adhere to that system ourselves while, again at the same time, getting everybody else in the world to also agree. Hmm.

When we are young, our parents may or may not, suggest to us that we can most satisfactorily lead our lives by treating others as we would hope they would treat us, by not doing anything that we wouldn’t want anyone else to do – from walking on the grass at the botanical gardens, to shitting on the windscreen of a neighbour’s car because he plays his music loudly at night, to raping your boss’s wife and selling his children into slavery. As we get older, however, we realise that perhaps not everyone received even remotely similar counsel. Some of us have a very high level of integrity and choose to ignore this new fact. Others simply modify their behaviour in the light of the new revelation, allowing them to gain as much advantage as possible (or as much as they can live with) in this uneven world. They modify their view of equality to include a ‘two wrongs can actually sometimes make a right’ and some kind of ‘hypocrisy tolerance’ clause. Others still, attempt to find a middle ground where they can retain some of the whiteness of their youth, while not becoming too sullied by those who have been seduced by the dark side and who will, given half a chance, take them to the fucking cleaners.

It’s a situation tough to assimilate, and maybe John’s right, maybe liberalism can be a useful tool for some in this regard. But it’s not for me; you sit on the fence if you like, me, I’m going to stand on the fence, have a bloody good look at both sides, pick one and then dive in.


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