“Men are grown mechanical in head and heart, as well as in hand…Their whole efforts, attachments, opinions, turn on mechanism, and are of a mechanical nature.”
THOSE ARE THE prophetic words of Thomas Carlyle nearly two hundred years ago. “There is no end to machinery,” he wrote, and indeed, there seems to be no end to dominance of the digital-mechanical in modern life. Matthew Arnold a few decades after Carlyle made the same point: “Faith in machinery is…our besetting danger; often in machinery most absurdly disproportioned to the end which this machinery, if it is to do any good at all, is to serve; but always in machinery, as if it had value in and for itself…”
Where will it all end? This constant pushing of single issues in the media, one thing after another, or the same thing repeatedly – the demand for equality and diversity, the attack on masculinity and men, the repeated calls for anti-racism going hand in hand with accepted racism against white people, the elevation of community as a supreme good while denying the validity or even existence of national community, the incessant, tear-soaked pleas to accept all refugees, asylum-seekers and immigrants irrespective of who they are, the envious criticism of successful businesses and the profits they make, the smug reiterations on the holiness of having no borders, the whining about Brexit and the need for a second referendum? The list goes on.
PATRIARCHY HERE, PATRIARCHY THERE, Patriarchy, patriarchy everywhere. It’s bad enough having to listen to feminists going on about the horrors of the patriarchy and hearing how it’s to blame for everything from making sure women are underpaid to driving men to suicide because they don’t talk about their feelings. Now we have to put up with blokes doing it as well. It’s the male version of white liberal guilt: you’ve got to feel guilty about something these days because if you aren’t the victim you’re the oppressor and need to grovel away your privilege. Otherwise you’re out of the Righteous Club and the nice people won’t talk to you.
THE GOOD THING about nostalgia is that it never runs out. Every day there’s more of it than before and there’s plenty for everyone. You don’t have to be a crusty 70-year-old or a grumpy 40 to be nostalgic about something. You can be nostalgic for your teenage years when you’re 25; you can be nostalgic at 20 if you want to be. You can be nostalgic for a time and place you never lived in. Nostalgia is the great democracy of the mind.
Unfortunately, for some people it’s the wrong sort of democracy, a bit like Brexit. Progressives, that sort. Guardian writers. Guardian readers. Schoolteachers. Or people who work for Sky or Demos, the think tank, and who get together to conduct a survey hoping to show how politically bad nostalgia is because it’s conservatives that get more out of it than the left. It was a Guardian writer who made the point, “Nostalgia is intrinsically conservative,” so there you have it. And that’s why the left hates it — they’re generally useless at producing anything people want to get nostalgic about. It’s a mixture of sour grapes and bad faith.
COMRADES! REVOLUTIONARIES! Let us celebrate! It is 50 years since the évènements of ’68 in Paris. Long live the spirit of the barricades! Remember what bliss it was to be alive then, what heaven it was to be young?
No, me neither. There was little bliss available in the rather dour, parochial environs of the ancient country town in North Yorkshire as I entered my fourteenth year. The political pronouncements of boss-eyed philosophe Sartre, the cobble-throwing students, the smart-arsed conundrums of the Situationists, these meant nothing to me or my contemporaries and barely even seemed to impinge on the consciousness of our parents who were more concerned by the fact that we had grown our hair long, dressed like scarecrows and listened to terribly loud music. To give them their due, though, they didn’t complain about us trying pass ourselves off as 18 in the local pubs (and sometimes succeeding) so we could get our hands on pints of cold, fizzy beer.