Apparently, as I get older, I’m becoming ever more misanthropic and miserable. Or so I’m told. Can you blame me? It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the rest of the human race are complete arseholes. No, really – people are just such horrible bastards. I should know, I have to deal with them on a daily basis, and frankly, I’m getting sick to death of them! Now, you might think that I’ve just had a few bad experiences with people, resulting in a warped and prejudiced perspective on humanity. However, it seems that others are coming, quite independently, to the same conclusions. For instance, there was recently a piece in The Guardian in which one of their writers described her recent horrendous experiences travelling on public transport in London. The poor dear was shocked by the lack of orderly queuing at the bus station and the terrible free-for-all when the bus arrived; people pushing and shoving to try and get on, with no regard for their fellow passengers. According to the author of the article, this was symptomatic of the general decline of manners and community values in modern Britain. My first reaction on reading the piece was to think that the writer obviously hadn’t travelled on public transport for a very long time. I was a commuter for many years, originally into Bristol, later into London. Believe me, public transport users were just the same back then. I well remember the jostling for position as the train approached the platform, as everybody vied to get themselves in line with the carriage doors, so as to be first aboard and thereby have a better chance of getting a seat. I remember having to fight my way off of a train at Bristol Parkway one morning, as commuters surged onto the train before anyone had a chance to alight. People really were rude, even in those days. Tempers got frayed very quickly and pin striped office workers would quickly transform into ill-mannered louts if they felt their position on the train was threatened. I recall having a stand up row with some jumped-up middle manager type one morning during an enforced train change at Woking (due to locomotive failure), when he tried to push me out of the way whilst everyone was running from one platform to another. I really couldn’t believe that anybody, a particularly a so-called professional, would actually physically shove a complete stranger, just to try and catch a train. Incredible!
Clearly, if there has been a decline in values, it’s been going on a bloody long time! When I think about it, those years of commuting were probably instrumental in formulating my jaundiced view of humanity. You learned to truly hate your fellow commuters (none of whom you ever spoke to, although you travelled on the same train, often in the same carriage, week in, week out, for, quite literally, years), their every quirk and bad habit magnified by your daily forced incarceration with them. I had names for all of them: ‘Shit bag’, ‘Bum face’, ‘Wide boy’, ‘Bald git’, etc. Of course, I’d only think these, never say them out loud. I’m sure that every one of them were doing the same thing. So, there we’d all sit, consumed by silent mutual contempt, five days a week. Is it any wonder there was a distinct lack of community? Indeed, immersing yourself in a crucible of hatred like that was positively guaranteed to promote the growth of bad manners and naked self-interest. And yet – within this bubbling cauldron of simmering loathing you could still find individual acts of decency: the person who gives up their seat on the crowded train for a pregnant woman; the person who helps someone with their heavy luggage; the person who helps a mother up the station steps with a pushchair. And it is the same today – the same acts of selflessness can be seen on a daily basis. There’s a dangerous tendency to hark back to some mythical ‘Golden Age’ – which usually lurks on the periphery of our earliest memories – when everybody was politer, when we all pulled together in adversity and had a community sing-song around the piano, when policemen weren’t corrupt and could be trusted, when people were just, well, more decent. The fact is that no such time ever existed. We complain about an apparent lack of standards in contemporary public life, yet go back forty, fifty or sixty years, and you’ll find just as many political scandals. We complain about the police and their apparent lack of effectiveness, yet go back to the 1960s and 1970s and corruption in the police was endemic – they seemed to spend more time colluding with criminals than catching them. We complain that youths today are running amok – I remember my own youth and its amateur arson sprees. We complain about a general lack of respect in society today – go back to 1958 and, in their first league match after the Munich air crash, Manchester United players found themselves barracked by opposing fans chanting “Why didn’t you all die?” Really, there’s nothing new.
But if that’s the case, why do we think things have got worse? Is it just us who have changed? Not necessarily. One thing which has changed is the amount of information we have available to us today, thanks to 24 hour TV news and the web. Back in the ‘old days’, many of the scandals and outrages simply weren’t widely reported. If they happened outside of London, the odds were that they’d remain confined to local newspapers. Nowadays, if a local councillor farts in Hartlepool, it is all over the web within minutes. As for the rest of it, I blame Thatcher. The whole underlying creed of the Thatcher years was that self-interest was good, it was what fuelled the market. According to this philosophy, it was OK to be selfish, putting yourself first, ahead of the rest of society, was a good thing. At the same time, the privatisation of various areas of social activity – including some areas of law enforcement – which were previously the responsibility of government, gave the impression that they were no longer being taken seriously. Obviously, if parking regulation, for instance, is left to private cowboys, rather than being properly administered by local or central government, why should anyone take it seriously any more? So, what’s the solution – massive re-nationalisation of our economy? I doubt it. It all comes back to the fact that most people are horrible bastards. Personally, my preferred solution is simply to lock my front door and tell them all to “fuck off”! You see, if you could just cut people out of the equation, life would be so much pleasanter. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t propose that we should practice mass exterminations, until only us few ‘decent’ people are left. No, I just think that we should minimise face-to-face human contacts. After all, that’s where all the trouble starts. It’s having to deal with the selfish bastards that gets us so enraged. No, instead I think that we should extend the virtual world. Wherever possible we should only deal with other people via online link ups. That way, if they piss you off, you can just switch them off. Perhaps the guys behind ‘Second Life’ have got the right idea – give up on this world and start again in a whole new one. Mind you, it hasn’t taken long for the anti-social behaviour to creep into ‘Second Life’ – you can’t seem to keep the bastards out. Maybe that’s what is behind the popularity of things like ‘Facebook’ – the ability to create private networks which can exclude the bastards. Roll on the advent of the virtual pub, I say. I’ll never have to leave the house! Until next time, keep it sleazy!