The Apoplexy of Fools

Posted by in August's Magazine

Remember Monkey? For the uninitiated, Monkey was a crazed Japanese saga of near psychedelic proportions inspired by Buddhist legend (no angry letters from Buddhist pedants by the way…actually as a matter of religious purity that’s not likely to happen I guess). True to that backstory, one of the characters was Tripitaka, a shaved serene monk child who whispered gnomic utterances aplenty, ostensibly to drive the plot and anchor us in some kind of narrative reality. I hated that baldy wee bastard with a vengeance.

What troubled me so about Tripitaka was the sanctimonious nature of his serenity; there was a spiritual hauteur about it that was unbearably smug in the face of a real world on fire with jealousy, rage, spite, envy and crucially…anger. Ah yes, anger, that most volatile energy, fuelling triumph and disaster in equal measure, such a human emotion that to remain placid in the face of adversity seems an alien trait worthy only of disgust.


Of course that’s not how I understood my loathing for Tripitaka back then. No, it was more the frustration of a ten year-old who wanted more fighting and less dialogue in a Japanese fantasy series as I digested Findus Crispy Pancakes and Angel Delight. But perhaps festering away underneath that simple dissatisfaction lurked a rage as pure as Tripitaka’s monastic bearing. And that idea of a pure anger is maybe the greatest danger of all, as we take stock of recent events.

I encountered it first in a pub on Leith Walk. A perfectly reasonable venue full of perfectly reasonable people – all was at it should have been in the tipplers’ universe. Then raised voices at the end of the bar; political slings and arrows; Brexit…aw Jesus, not here too. It was kind of inevitable that the vomiting clown that was the referendum vote would creep in again and piss on our chips but this little intervention was soon to become very unwelcome thanks to ‘pure anger’.

A girl from the north of England who had herself voted to remain was angrily defending her friends and family back home – who had voted en masse to leave – against glib accusations of racism. But her logic as to why her kith and kin had voted out was absurd. Apparently they had “nothing to lose” and this was a golden opportunity to register “how angry they were with their lot in life.” My Pale Armadillo drowned my brogues when I heard that. Such virtuous anger, it seemed, despite the facts, was enough for them to shit in their own cage as a way of demanding a fragrant existence.

In effect, it was too much to ask to consider channelling/directing their perhaps justifiable anger more accurately at the cause of their misery and easier for them to lash out at a convenient bogeyman. But it’s just one small example. I read the other week about potential uncertainty surrounding Nissan’s future investment plans for the car plants in South Shields owing to Brexit – South Shields being of course a leavers’ heartland. I hate to admit this but part of me would be pleased to see them endure the adverse economic consequences; you reap what you sow.

Still that would be churlish at a time when we’re all supposed to be pulling together as one, right? Well, sorry but I can’t subscribe to that flawed unity. Not because I’m angry – it’s more of a calculated disdain for those who revel in the purity of their cause without examining its true nature or the true consequences (whether because they’ve been obscured or because they’ve succumbed to wishful thinking). Witness the grotesque brown trousers sham taking place across the pond right now. The US presidential campaign is so damn scary it should be sponsored by Immodium. But on it goes.

That balloon Trump (or hoofwanking bunglecunt to give him his proper title, selected from one of the many marvellous epithets sprayed at him online) is…or at least, was…exploiting that righteous anger quite spectacularly. Thankfully, his recent meltdown may suggest some kind of filthy sanity will be restored come November. Provided of course, the equally righteous anger of Sanders’ soldiers is not allowed to intervene. Dirty sell-out merchant who advocates Crooked Clinton? Damn right I am, there’s too much at stake to wear a hair shirt on this one, we need body armour and fast.

Which brings us to the reality that soi-disant progressives the world over have to wrestle with – there’s no such thing as a quick or indeed a clean revolution. Not when the Overton Window (see Leither passim) has moved so far rightwards. A pure anger about the state of things will not change the state of things. It’s going to be a filthy, sneaky, underhand business and anyone who thinks otherwise is seriously deluded. To which end, I enter the lion’s den by finishing on Corbyn.

I’m conscious that by using the lion’s den metaphor I am no more than an ‘establishment shill’ to those who hang on JC’s every word, but anyone with a mere soupcon of reality in their soul can tell you that it’s not enough to win a shouting contest in an echo chamber if you wish to change the future for the better in politics. Preaching to admirers in Liverpool is not the same as winning seats in Nuneaton. To pretend otherwise is an act of supreme arrogance.

Does that mean you have to dilute your promises? No, but you have to package them in a way that persuades people who don’t think like you. That’s not being a Red Tory, it’s just refusing to wrap oneself in the comfort blanket of principles – they should be lightly held and strongly applied, not the other way round. In any event, political or otherwise, we’ve had enough anger. I never thought I’d say this but I think the time has come to be more Tripitaka and less Monkey…provided we all get to ride on his magic cloud once in a while.

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