It all started when I was a kid. A cousin, a year or so older than me and scion of what I later learned was a very right-on family, termed his own view of the world as ‘intellectual politics’. The implication was clear to me at once. It hit me like an express train, and I have never forgotten that moment – the implication was that every other form of politics, particularly mine, was non-intellectual, inferior, backward, regressive, unworthy of discussion or engagement. Years later I came across a quip (I wish I could remember the source) that those at the more ‘progressive’ end of politics believe very strongly that everyone should be able to hold any view they want – provided it’s theirs.
As the years passed, I would often find myself on the wrong side of cool. The Tory when everyone else was Labour. The Heavy Metal Kid when every one else was Punk. The research group of one, when other graduate students had others to talk to, with whom to share experiences. I have only rarely experienced a sense of belonging so inclusive that every person of my acquaintance shared a view that bore any resemblance to my own. And so it is today, when my circle consists very largely of academics easy with one anothers’ political views which are of course alien to mine. This was brought home to me in Katherine Haxton’s blog, Endless Possibilities. The author is an academic chemist who is entirely candid about how the views of her circle are restricted to the views she holds herself:
This is the first general election I’ve experienced with the “aid” of the internet. By internet I mean twitter and the circle of similar-minded folk that I follow over there. It is, undoubtedly, a microcosm that bears little resemblance to reality. That’s not to say that the folk on twitter aren’t real – they are, just that I select that the residents of my online microcosm on certain characteristics (witty, scientists or related, care about similar things to me). The big bad world doesn’t reflect those characteristics as strongly.
Being always something of an outsider, I have never had that luxury. As a result, my friends (or ‘friends’, if one includes those on Facebook) are a piebald bunch. They come from all religions and none, and political persuasions from fairly leftish to somewhat more right-wing even than mine. But being, as I am, in a somewhat academic milieu, I have found myself, once again, isolated. One correspondent wrote that he thought I must be the only ‘out-and-out Tory’ he knew. Although many are sympathetic towards diversity and regard my allegiance to the Conservative Party somewhat odd, I do get rather a lot of remarks one might call ‘snarky’, and am sometimes on the receiving end (if unintentionally) of badinage suggesting that Tories are aliens, or worse, and should be shunned.
Imagine, then, my relief at the election just gone, when the Conservative Party reaped the largest share of the popular vote, and the largest number of seats in Parliament. Clearly, there are a lot of people out there in the ‘big bad world’ who think along the same lines as I do. This only points up the inward-looking, closed-mindedness of any group – in this case, the academic, intellectual Left – who are fastidious about choosing their friends from people whose views bolster their own self-regard mirror their own. I realize that I really don’t have to put up with snarkiness any more – I can see it as the desperate rearguard action of a minority defined in equal measure by its own inflated sense of self-worth; its own over-developed sense of entitlement; and its own fear – of what it sees as a barbarian horde, baying at the gates.
I shall continue to adopt a more inclusive policy towards friendship than this – or so I hope. But the recent election has brought some nastiness out of the woodshed. If my so-called-friends are unable to adopt the catholic (small ‘c’) attitude towards their own circle as I have been forced to do with mine, such that they post childish remarks about Tories being aliens, designed to appeal to an in-group that doesn’t include me, for all that such notes are posted publicly under the tacit assumption that everyone must surely agree; or continue to spew half-baked tripe under the assumption that no-one in their in-group will subject it to any kind of critical scrutiny, thereby exploding it; then I shall assume that the intellectual caliber of their ‘intellectual politics’ doesn’t rise above sixth grade, and is therefore not worth my consideration (or that of anyone else, frankly).
I’m 48, you see, and whereas one can indulge such stuff as a student, I am increasingly conscious that Time has gotten up on his wingèd chariot and is disinclined to spare the horses. And thus, sadly, my own in-group will begin to shrink, until I, too, will not see anything with which I would disagree. And that would be a sad day.