Wednesday 24 April 2013

The Wisdom of Iolanthe

Save for a couple of minor lapses, I managed to keep my counsel (ie my mouth shut and my powder dry) during the worst of the predictable firestorm of judgement and opinion that attended the death and funeral of Margaret Thatcher.  This took a bit of self-restraint: some of the stuff that was whirling around Twitter and the other media was provocative to say the least; some of it thoughtful, some of it silly, some of it extraordinarily nasty. And I do have an opinion.  But I'm glad I didn't get into any punch-ups: I might well have found myself on the same anger management course as Luis Suarez, and I know next to nothing about the offside rule.

And having (almost) succeeded in keeping my opinions to myself, I'm not about to be so crude as to let them come tumbling out now.  Not quite.  Instead, I am led to wonder - given the sharp divisions so recently and graphically expressed - how the political and other opinions we hold are formed.  How, for instance, did some come to admire Maggie and to mourn her passing, while others despised her and celebrated it?  I am not persuaded that this is altogether a matter of social class, of north and south, or of Orgreave or Goose Green; even less that it is the product of informed and objective reasoning which has led, unaccountably, to starkly diverse conclusions.  If you and I share a broad level of intelligence, education and social awareness, how do we end up in such different places?

I can see that how I think - by which I suppose I mean where I stand on things like politics and (perhaps) religion - is partly the result of my background: my parents, childhood, education, life experience and other influences.  Yet even they are not a reliable guide.  There are lots of people with whom we have a good deal in common in terms of our road through life, yet we by no means always share the same outlook.  And I also appreciate that political positioning (in Britain at least - is it as apparent elsewhere?) has a strong tribal element; yet even that is not consistent enough to prevent changes of government - sometimes quite radical and surprising ones.

My conclusion is that while all these influences are formative of opinion, what seals my worldview is much more nebulous.  It's related to my character, personality and temperament.  In short, it's about my disposition, or more simply still, what kind of person I am.  It could even be genetic. If so, I may not be able to help the fact that I am red or blue of political stripe.  It may be bred in the bone.

This is not an original notion.  As W S Gilbert has Private Willis observe in Iolanthe:

Then let's rejoice with loud fa-la-la
That nature always does contrive fa-la-la
That every boy and every gal
That's born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
or else a little Conservative!

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