Vanitas vanitatum, et omnia vanitas

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Now would not be the time for me to go into depth about my tragic youth in Corca Dorcha, but suffice to say that a superabundance of rain, mud and potatoes may account in large part for my melancholy and cynical cast of mind. And this would explain my low tolerance threshold when it comes to leftist vainglory.

The late Tony Cliff used to have a good story about the Hungarian Revolution. Like most of Cliff’s stories, it was probably either made up or substantially embroidered over time – either way, I somehow doubt that real events so neatly illustrated his point. Anyway, his story was this: six far-left groups met in London to discuss the exciting events in Hungary. Five were in favour of sending arms to the Hungarians. Cliff said he voted against on the sensible grounds that neither he nor anybody else present had any arms to send. I only wish Cliff and his successors had managed to hold to that modesty.

The other thing that strikes me is the often ludicrous level of self-dramatisation on the left – if the SWP and SP are having a bunfight on Indymedia about tactics for this or that campaign, the accusations will reach astounding levels of vitriol. Every dispute is couched in terms of equivalence to the big split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks over a century ago. In real life, disputes between those two groups bear more resemblance to the rivalry between Swiss Toni’s Motors and Crazy Alan’s Bicycle Madhouse. (Where the analogy breaks down, of course, is that the SP hierarchy has no obvious counterpart for Crazy Alan. Emmett is probably the least morose of the bunch, but even he doesn’t really qualify as “crazy”.)

This lends left journalism something of the quality of the Skibbereen Eagle. You remember the Skibbereen Eagle. This was the famous West of Ireland newspaper that once warned the Tsar of Russia that he’d better mind his step, because the Skibbereen Eagle had its eye on him. It comes irresistibly to mind whenever Prof Callinicos sets himself up as the alternative to Wolfowitz.

And of course, muscular liberal journalism is just as bad, and in some respects worse, than Trot journalism. You have of course the inheritance of sectarian leftist bombast, but forming a potent cocktail with the pseudo-Orwellians who like to think that writing a column for the Observer or Evening Standard qualifies as “fighting fascism”. One would think, from reading our Decent scribes, that Iran’s irrepressible president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quaking in his boots at the thought of the latest salvo to issue from David Aaronovitch or Nick Cohen. As if.

Is there any hope of pundits forming a modest and realistic idea of their influence in the actual world? Probably not, but we can hope, can’t we?

Rud eile: For the second issue running, I notice that Private Eye is curiously free of Decency. Not that I’m not grateful for the respite, but I’m beginning to worry a little about Francis.

5 Comments

  1. WorldbyStorm said,

    September 16, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    Isn’t the indymedia bunfights and wearing stuff in left papers simply the left equivalent of the hyperventilating prose and headlines in the Redtops where everything is Scandal! Crisis! Disaster! and so on and so forth. Solipsistic, all too solipsistic!

  2. ejh said,

    September 17, 2007 at 10:38 am

    One would think, from reading our Decent scribes, that Iran’s irrepressible president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quaking in his boots at the thought of the latest salvo to issue from David Aaronovitch or Nick Cohen.

    Possibly a bad example. Aaro is a courtier and no doubt lunches with the powerful and influential within the political establishment: if he says “I know, let’s bomb Iran” (or similar) he may not be directly channelling the Foreign Secretary but he is, wittingly, part of a system of influencing public opinion to soften us up for war.

    Skibbereen Eagle

    I have to admit I rather like them for that. Of course one should not really make threats that one cannot carry out, but I do remember being barked at by a tiny terrier once, about one-fiftieth my size, and thinking all credit to it, it’s just doing its best….

  3. Martin Wisse said,

    September 17, 2007 at 2:00 pm


    Is there any hope of pundits forming a modest and realistic idea of their influence in the actual world?

    And you ask this as a blogger??

  4. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 17, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    Well, we should be allowed the odd rhetorical question…

  5. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 18, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    Yes, on reflection Aaro (who is a courtier not an ideologue) isn’t the best example. For self-dramatisation it’s hard to beat Nick and Francis. “I write columns calling for foreign countries to be bombed. Ergo, I am Orwell.”


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