You talk so hip

In the previous post, I wrote:

not only is the personal political, the political is personal: which way you’re heading, and how fast you want to get there, depends to quite a large extent on something as imponderable as who you are

Which is why I’m rather ambivalent about Andrew Neil’s monstering of Chris Mounsey, he of Devil’s Kitchen.

Mounsey says himself that when he wrote the posts that made Devil’s Kitchen famous he was in part railing against his own situation, and that he’s calmer and happier now. This is good news, and I sincerely wish him well. But that’s not all there is to say.

From my very occasional reading of DK I had formed the impression that the writer was a middle-aged Scot who had missed his chances or been robbed of them, had no real prospect of finding them again and was now taking solace in blaming everyone but himself. It turns out that Chris Mounsey is English and in his early 30s. He’s also an old Etonian; which is to say, his education cost his parents a minimum of £28,851 a year in today’s money. As of 2007/8, 95% of UK tax-payers have a post-tax income of £46,800 or below. Anyone as low down the rankings as the 96th percentile would need to commit nearly 2/3 of their income in order to see their son through Eton; I think we can confidently assume that the income of the senior Mounseys puts them in the top 2-3%. In other words, Chris Mounsey was born into the elite.

Here’s an example of what Chris Mounsey used to get angry about:

The Tories want parents and other organisations to have state funds to set up their own schools.
Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove issued the call in a speech to the NASUWT teachers’ union conference.

And can you guess what the union response was? Go on – have a guess.

Was it (a) yes, what a wonderful idea: we’ll show you how a school should be run, given how much we profess to dislike the constant state interference, or was it (b)…

The union did not want to run a school, [union leader] said. Schools should be “democratically accountable” and not operated for and by “the pushy and the privileged”.

Ah. So, schools should not be run for and by “the pushy and the privileged” unless those pushy and privileged are the union members under state sanction.

OK, so this is fairly stupid. Gove suggests a system under which state funding would be used to set up new private schools; these might be excellent or might not, but would sink or swim outside the state system. If standards were low, the government would have no way of raising them; at worst, in other words, this would mean messing up the education of the children unfortunate enough to go to those schools. If standards were high, on the other hand, this would benefit those particular children but nobody else. Anyone who is concerned with providing a consistently good universal service – rather than providing an excellent service to a few and never mind the rest – won’t touch such a scheme with a bargepole. No national teaching union could ever endorse such an idea – Mounsey’s professed outrage is either spurious or stupid. As for his parting shot, I’m not even sure what it means – joining a union, signing up for the collective defence of working standards and employment rights, makes you “pushy and privileged”? Brane hertz. All in all, what we’ve got here is someone with one set of beliefs affecting to be shocked and outraged that someone with a completely different set of beliefs doesn’t agree with him. Or, to boil it down a bit more, someone having a rant at his political enemies. Mounsey, like Gove, doesn’t believe in trade unions, or in state provision, and I shouldn’t think he’s too bothered about the provision of a consistently good universal education. The union leader believes in all three, and so Mounsey hates her.

That was fairly stupid, but it’s not the passage Neil quoted back at Mounsey. The post continued as follows (WARNING: nasty stuff ahead).

To describe people like [union leader] as disgusting bottom-feeders seems disrespectful to various families of single-celled organisms but, mostly, it’s disrespectful to those parents who might want something better for their children than the state-sanctioned pap supported by the likes of union thugs like [her].

Go fuck yourself, [union leader]: I hope that the massive black dildo – with which you while away the hours between raping babies and destroying the dreams of the young – ruptures you and you bleed to death out of your disgusting, filthy, piebald cunt.

Now, why don’t you go and hang yourself, and put us out of your misery, you filthy troll…

OK, so all state education is “state-sanctioned pap”, and OK, all union leaders are “union thugs” – so far, so John Junor – and… WHAT? This isn’t “a burning anger and righteous hatred of just about anyone in authority” (Mounsey); it isn’t even “almost poetic levels of lyrical violence” from a “furious, incisive, whirling dervish of fury” (Obsolete). It’s a man fantasising about a woman injuring herself fatally with a dildo, then amiably suggesting that she commits suicide.

Stuff like this doesn’t come out of nowhere. A couple of years ago, talking about the two-way connection between personal and political, I wrote:

Madness, revolution and the practice of theory … [are] all areas where ‘character’ (in what I understood to be Reich’s sense of the word) comes unglued and the spectacle with it. Closely related states, I would argue, include dreaming, psychotherapy and childhood. … As adults we partition off what matters (who’s in government) from what matters (who’s in bed with us), calling one ‘society’ and the other ‘private life’; but for children – as for psychotics, as for revolutionaries – it’s all in there together. … What this means is that your world was sculpted by love and fear before you ever started to put it together rationally – and, somewhere beneath the rational brickwork, it still is. In dreams, Gordon Brown is your Dad.

A couple of years before that, I wrote:

Political radicals and activists are often stereotyped as people who’ve got something wrong with their lives – it’s just displacement, his Mummy wouldn’t buy him a pony… This is mostly wrong, of course, but I think it’s also partly right – and for the same reason that it’s mostly wrong. After all, everybody – with the possible exception of the young Buddha – has something wrong with their life; everybody knows the experience of loss, rejection, loneliness, helpless anger, despair. … The question is, as always, what you do with it. Your knowledge of what it’s like to be down there may fire you with empathy for all the people who are down there in real, physical terms, every day of their lives – or it may fire you with the determination to ensure that you’re never, ever going there again. And it’s not always obvious which set of eyes you’re looking through. … More and more, I feel that when I post angry I’m posting, in part, to sustain and relish my own anger. It’s a bridge between personal and political (anger is always personal), but it’s a bridge in the form of a knot – all I’m doing is feeding myself reasons why I can go on feeling angry. And … those reasons aren’t necessarily there.

The political is always partly personal, and sometimes more than ‘partly’. Mounsey, clearly, was posting not only to formulate a certain kind of right-libertarian political critique, but also to “sustain and relish [his] own anger”.

And his anger was very much his own – which is why Mounsey (and the “Libertarian Party UK”, which he leads) can’t sidestep the implications of posts like this. Mounsey had been down there (like the rest of us) – and the effect it seems to have had was to make him determined that someone else was going to suffer worse, if only in his imagination. Now, nobody’s imagination is innocent: in the previous post I identified nihilist leanings in the basement of my own brain, and traced the paths that lead from fantasies of destruction both to the millenarian visions of revolutionary Marxism and to a disengaged, ironically optimistic attitude to contemporary politics. I’m at home with my nihilism, in other words; I know it’s there, it doesn’t bother me and it doesn’t stop me living a safe, conventional, non-nihilistic kind of life. The question is whether Mounsey has gained sufficient distance from his misogynistic torture fantasies to give a similar account of them – or, failing that, to put them behind him. (Saying “I was very angry then but I’m not quite so angry now” doesn’t really hack it.)

As much as it pains me to say it, Andrew Neil was right (and Chris Dillow was wrong): this stuff matters. It matters, in this case, not because it reflects on Mounsey’s character as an aspiring politician (a distraction at best), but precisely because of what it implies about Mounsey’s politics – and the passion that drives his politics. Here’s a young man with right-wing views, highly privileged but – compared with his peersnot especially bright; and he’s fantasising about a woman trade unionist dying in agony. It’s a personal statement, but also a deeply political one.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted 20 April 2010 at 02:32 | Permalink | Reply

    “calling one ’society’ and the other ‘private life’; but for children – as for psychotics, as for revolutionaries – it’s all in there together.”

    Jameson does not agree with this, he sees that distinction as false and arising as a sort of adornment. Perhaps this argument looks convincing simply because liberalism has, largely, won out in a society like the UK.

    “The dilemma is intensified when we deny ourselves, as we just have the solution of a coexistence of different functions, as when, for instance, it is suggested that the greatness of a given writer may be separated from his deplorable opinions, and is achieved in spite of them or even against them. Such a separation is possible only for a world-view – liberalism – in which the political and the ideological are mere secondary or ‘public’ adjuncts to the content of a real ‘private’ life, which alone is authentic and genuine. It is not possible for any world-view – whether conservative or radical and revolutionary – that takes politics seriously.”

  2. Posted 20 April 2010 at 02:34 | Permalink | Reply

    If you shuffle, for example – ‘those who cleave, knowingly or not, to liberalism’ over onto the ‘children and revolutionaries’ side…

  3. Posted 20 April 2010 at 17:44 | Permalink | Reply

    Christ, I didn’t know he’d written that. I knew he was given to ranting – come to that, I also knew he was an old Etonian – but I didn’t know he was quite as wicked in what he wrote as that.

    I have a longstanding theory that many rich men never grow up – they never have to, since growing up involves quite a lot of accepting that you can’t get what you want when you want it, and that is not their situation. Hence the shouting and screaming of libertarian rich kids (and hence much else besides). But even by those standards, that’s quite something. What a nasty, nasty little boy.

  4. Posted 20 April 2010 at 17:51 | Permalink | Reply

    …and also, I should say, because they so rarely have to face the consequences of their actions. Rich people very rarely become poor: they also rarely go to jail. This may be why they talk so much about individual responsibility.

  5. Cian
    Posted 27 April 2010 at 20:49 | Permalink | Reply

    My mum taught in a public school, so I’ve got a pretty good idea as to the value add offered by Eton. I reckon if he’d gone to a state school he would have had a tough time passing those A-levels. So yeah, not too bright.

    If you want to see a rather more spectacular example of this kind of thing, have a look at the current governor of S. Carolina. Fascinating from a distance…

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