I am not left wing. I am not right wing. You need two wings if you want to fly and I'd like to think I can flap my way out of any box people might try to put me in*. As part of my committment to this way of thinking I always try to read a paper which is the opposite of my usual point of view. This has meant that I've been a regular Daily Mail reader for the last five years or so. Recently though I've started to nod in agreement when collumnists assert that we need to be tough on crime or quake in fear at the oncoming big brother nanny state.
Once I noticed this I thought it was time to find a paper I agreed with a little less frequently so I've gravitated towards The Guardian's opinion pieces. Annoyingly, at first I seemed to agree with most of their version of the truth until I found a piece which quite literally blew my mind. It was like the old days when I used to get riled up about the Mail's take on asylum seekers.
An online (slightly ammended version) exists here.
It's a piece written by Erwin James which argues that 'we' all share in the blame for Jon Venables's recent alleged crime, whatever that might be. I've long had a problem with the word 'we' in this sort of context. Writers use it without seeking the permission of those they choose to represent. I don't give, Erwin James, permission to appropriate my identity under the umberella word 'we'. I suspect most people don't. It's likely, in fact, that the only person in the group he describes as "we" who has can fairly be represented is Erwin James himself. So, it might be more accurate to substitute the word 'we' for 'I' throughout most of the article.
This simple exercise radically reinterprets what he's saying when writing about the killers of Jamie Bulger:
"[T]hey traumatised not just a family but a nation. And in return we traumatised them".
"If Venables has committed a serious crime then due process must be followed. But for this failure, however trivial or grave it turns out to be, we all must share some of the responsibility".
"I traumatised them".
"If Venables has committed a serious crime then due process must be followed. But for this failure, however trivial or grave it turns out to be, I must share some of the responsibility".
Try this exercise with the whole article, it stops being a self satisfied smug finger pointing fest and transforms into to a bizarre confession of sorts. The power of individual responsibility is often missed by someone who flaps only their left wing and, while I appreciate Erwin was only trying to earn a coin by being a bit polemical, it will be more interesting when he uses both.
*I've used this rhetorical flourish more than once during my day job as a radio presenter. It reminds me of a sketch in, The Mighty Boosh, where they parody the expression "stop trying to put me in a box" by having Vince ask Howard who exactly is trying to put him in a box and has he told the police about this yet?