Let Every Taboo Fall

I can never quite make up my mind whether politics is important or unimportant to me. I have only to read the latest headline to feel either a surge of rage or despair, moderated by a brief burst of bitter laughter. Is reality satire, or satire reality? It is difficult to say these days. I used sometimes to write in a satirical vein, but am now hesitant to do so just in case some policy maker draws inspiration from it for a later foray into the higher (and compulsory or enforced) absurdity.

On the other hand, my life continues on its even path much as usual. I have, after all, lived for longish periods under military or other dictatorships without suffering acute misery, largely, no doubt, because I was protected by my foreignness from their worst excesses, but also because there is (within quite wide but not infinite limits) more to life than the political arrangements under which it is lived. Of course, there are some political circumstances that make life intolerable, but most of our political passions attach to relative trivia. How many times in my life have I worked myself into a tizzy at some new political idiocy, only to discover several months later that nothing much has changed!

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Nevertheless, despite my efforts to retain an almost Olympian detachment from the day-to-day flux of daily news, I have still not fully mastered the art. Part of the trouble is that, if you do not go to the news, it comes to you. I was about to say that the only way to avoid it is to become a hermit in the Syrian desert, but perhaps, on brief reflection, this is not the most fortunate of formulations. No; to avoid the news, one must turn on neither one’s computer nor one’s mobile telephone, let alone one’s television, pass no newsstands and go to no airports, where one will be surrounded by screens relaying news of the latest North Korean missile tests with that of a Hollywood star’s latest divorce, love affair, or entry into drug rehabilitation. I do my best, but it is not good enough.

I have therefore been unable to cut myself off from the news that the British government has managed to find a way to alter the past in a more radical way even than Stalin, in fact in such a way as might have made him blush with shame or reduced him to fits of the giggles. I refer, of course, to the legal permission for which the population has for so long thirsted: namely, that to change sex inscribed on birth certificates. Compared with this, removing people such as Trotsky and Yagoda from photographs was but a crude and primitive attempt to change the past.

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