Thursday 29 August 2013


'We cannot stand idly by.'
Why is that whenever I hear this phrase, I think of the line from Beyond the Fringe, 'We need a futile gesture at this stage.'
Can we not stand idly by? (a) We can and frequently do. (b) What else have you got?
If only it were merely a futile gesture - that might indeed raise the tone. Futile and actually damaging to our interests is a more likely outcome.
All this, I fancy, is an example of the amazingly strong strain of priggishness that pervades our unserious culture - a cost-free claiming of the high moral ground. Cost-free, that is, to the person claiming it. As Marilynne Robinson says in her great essay Puritans and Prigs:
'People who are blind to the consequences of their own behaviour no doubt feel for that reason particularly suited to the work of reforming other people. To them morality seems almost as easy as breathing.' Indeed.


  1. It sounds as if Marilynne Robinson is personally acquainted with most of our current government, but I wouldn't wish that on anyone and certainly not her.

  2. Quite - and the previous one. I think all this really took off under Blair...

  3. Reminds of the science lab, months spent looking for the perceived perfect formula, when finally arrived at the building is blown to smithereens.
    I see one Rt Hon G Brown was absent from yesterday's stooshie, hmmm.

  4. Priggish and unserious, yes, but don't forget sentimentality as well.

    As I heard someone commenting the other day on the reaction to a piece of moral high-grounding - "long on celebration and short on cerebration."

  5. Well that post did the trick anyway - the MPs voted to stand idly by! The power of Nigeness...

  6. Fascinating Malty - that Berliner Zeitung page came up complete with ad for private health insurance illustrated by Old Man Steptoe-style geezer. They know me so well...