Schadenfreude

What does it say about me as a person that almost the only pleasure I get from the News nowadays is reading or hearing about the discomfort of people I loathe? (Famous people, that is. I don’t think I loathe anyone I know personally.) The Conservatives’ misfortunes this week have been a joy to me; almost on a par with Chelsea Football Club’s sudden decline this season. They’ve brought sunshine into my declining years. God, I wish I could be there, in David and Samantha’s drawing room, to see it on their faces! I only hope they don’t let it show to their kids, who are perfectly innocent now, of course, and will be until they inherit their parents’ offshore gains. The sins of the father should only be visited on his children when they get to know about them, yet don’t dissociate themselves from them. As David Cameron hasn’t, so far, in relation to his father Ian. (‘He was a stockbroker, after all.’)

One respectable reason for rejoicing in your enemy’s misfortune could be because you believe it could bring a better situation about. That might make me feel less uneasy about my Schadenfreude. My problem on that front, however, is that I don’t have that positive faith any more, or even much hope. For me, hope died with the Great Reaction of the 1980s-onwards, when our steady progression towards a truly civilised society – the welfare state, decolonisation – was brutally reversed, not necessarily by Thatcher – she was swimming with a global current – but on her watch. With all that has happened since, it’s difficult to have any confidence at all in a better world to come. Cameron will probably survive. If not we’ll have the awful Boris. Chelsea will bounce back. Whatever happens in the American Presidential election, the Republicans will be led by one of two monsters, and the Democrats by the unreliable Hilary. Sanders and Corbyn aren’t thought to stand a chance. (I suspect people might be wrong about Corbyn.) Overt Socialism is too discredited – unfairly, perhaps – to make a comeback. We progressives thought we’d won with Leveson, but look what has become of that. Murdoch’s and Dacre’s bile is still unshackled. With regards to Europe, whichever side wins the referendum we’ll still be saddled with the profoundly anti-democratic TTIP. Further afield, if Assad is toppled it will only be by someone worse, like ISIS, and if ISIS is ever defeated, it will probably be replaced by something almost as bad. (That’s been the history of the Middle East latterly.) On climate change, recent reforms seem to have been too little, too late. You can see why I’m reduced to crusty old despair, relieved only by my pleasure at seeing Cameron’s face getting pinker. Which isn’t very creditable, to me personally. You really shouldn’t get enjoyment from seeing people’s pain.

If there is to be hope, it may come from one or both of two directions. The first is the noisy world-wide reaction against unrestrained free marketism, globalisation and ‘austerity’ which is sweeping Europe and America just now. (Both Sanders and Trump are expressing this, I think, though somewhat blindly on the latter’s part.) If the anti-austerians could get their act and their splintered causes together (can I suggest under the banner of JM Keynes?), they might just become powerful enough to act as a challenge both to the ‘conventional’ political and economic establishments, and to the quasi-Fascist alternative represented by Trump. If they want a rough model of how things might be, they could look to Sweden, where I spend much of my time.

Secondly, there are women. Theirs is the only progressive cause, I think, which has actually gone from strength to strength since Thatcher’s time – though little thanks to her. In Britain their entry into the public sphere over the past twenty or thirty years has been remarkable. Once they’ve firmly established themselves in their rightful place in political society, they can turn their attention away from their own liberation and begin to have an effect in the areas they’ve traditionally been excluded from. (That’s how the British Labour Party evolved in the early 20th century.) Most of the reactionary tendencies of the last few decades have had a ‘macho’ element to them – Trumpery most obviously. So bring on the women. They may be our only hope. After all, isn’t that – reforming their menfolk – their traditional role? (Sorry.)

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