2 Conversations

One man is nothing...

Nothing if not a complex creature, that is.

Many, many men? Well, that's something else entirely.

So what informs this World? Journalists, and their squalid pay-masters, try to tell us all what to think. Bloated politicians pontificate and preen. The siren voice of commerce promises easy pleasure. In Houses of God, madmen rant and claim divine guidance.

They are all irrelevant, in the end. There are deeper currents here. We live, each one of us, in a world driven by the accumulated momentum of billions of opaque minds.

The opacity is important. Each individual's perspective is different. Sure, we're all susceptible to persuasion, but few of us stay on message for long. We re-mould the facts and platitudes alike into our own private realities, believing them, enacting them. Nobody but you sees your reflection in the Mirror of Conscience.

Which is why you need a construct, a philosophical artifice, a mute code of values that brings you in line with the herd. You will never articulate these values, because they are not yours to define. They are the Will of the People. They are an irresistible tide.

Yesterday, the World marched. In London, the Ritual of Disparate Estimates declared a throng of two million, or perhaps of three-quarters of a million. You can choose whichever you prefer, since for once they are the same number. The ninety-five-percent-plus of the country who didn't come along are irrelevant too. By the arithmetic of populism, Everyone marched. The reach of the tide doesn't matter. It rushes to shore, and that's all that counts.

The subtlety of personal opinion is lost in such a horde. The crowd can only accommodate a single, necessarily simple, message. A strange and pliant thing called history decides what that message is to be. It takes a perverse length of time for this definition to be drawn, but, like everything else, history moves more quickly these days.

And then there are different kinds of marches.

There are the 'feel' marches, ones that variously smile or sneer in the face of a general establishment, taunting its imminent obsolescence. Most of what went on in those heady days of the 60s was of this sort. The trouble is, revolutions are not sustained by mere euphoria. They must be underpinned by something more substantial than Dylanesque philosophy.

Then there are the 'strength' marches. Their hallmark is defiance; the football terrace, or the union meeting, or the moribund sectarian ritual, whipped up to frenzy pitch and loosed onto the streets. They are war in miniature. They are liable to degenerate into blood and fire. They delineate winner and loser. They are ugly, and pretty well exclusively the domain of the male.

Now and again, though, marches grow into more than either of these things. They achieve an inclusivity beyond self-interest. They achieve a focus beyond fashion. They become collective conscience on the move.

Historically speaking, marches based on pure conviction have rarely been genuinely populist. The protesters of past times were usually prone to cliquishness. Among British examples, Aldermaston may be the closest precursor of yesterday's phenomenon, but even that march went down as the preserve of a duffel-coated elite carrying virtual copies of 'Das Kapital' in their pockets. There is something easy, something safe about proclaiming the Power of the People when your elitism guarantees your minority. Anyone with a modicum of education can posture among the avant-garde. It's when the crowd at your back begins to swell, and when their chanting seems almost to drive your heartbeat, that your certitude is put to the test.

Avant-garde. Bourgeoisie. Much of the vocabulary of this subject is French. Their arrival in this tale is timely. An oily, unctuous pseudo-statesman has invigorated the present tide. Chirac's motivation is quite perfectly dishonourable, be assured of that. If there is any justice, it will consume him in the end, just like the others.

The Canutes are lined up along the shoreline now. Bush's inundation will not be particularly satisfying, because he is so deeply inconsequential. The water will swirl around the hocks of the huge, myopic pachyderm that is America. The Nation-Beast will snort and lumber off someplace else, oblivious to the grisly flotsam of its erstwhile masters.

The drowning of Blair will be a matter for more regret. His morals are fine, but he is now hamstrung by the crassness of allies and recalcitrant neighbours alike. He alone among the main players has the wit to understand his fate before it befalls him. He cuts a miserable figure, as the waters lap around his throne.

The sundering of Chirac will be a cause for quiet celebration. Or is this wishful thinking? Are the whores and a**eholes in the Elysee Palace and the White House destined to survive? Is only the relatively well-meaning Blair set to founder? It might yet turn out that way. Until it does, we can hope for something more all-inclusive.

And what of Saddam? He will persist as a murderous and repugnant despot for as long as the World allows it. We had none of us better forget that, as we stand at this cross-roads. Down one road lies an utterly mindless and criminal war, but another leads to a destination only slightly less ruinous - craven appeasement that sullies the name of Peace.

I didn't go on the march. I considered it, prevaricated for a while, and finally made a forthright decision to stay away. I judged that I do not sufficiently agree with the simplistic message that the march would project.

  • I truly hate war, but I do not deny its occasional necessity.
  • I believe that the UN mission is still moving forward, and that it must be allowed to reach a conclusion, whether successful or not. The Co-operative Spirit of the World is invested in it.
  • I believe that Saddam should be overthrown, not merely disarmed. The World is as safe as its Leaders, since Weapons of Mass Destruction are already out of the box. The best we can do is to be careful in the choice of those to whom we entrust the button.
  • I believe that the US should dump Bush, and never again elect such a fool. I believe, moreover in a World whose Bushes never achieve wealth, let alone the Presidency. He deserves no more nor less than millions of other wholly ordinary people, all equally unfit to wield power of any sort.
  • I believe that Europe, and ultimately the World, needs NATO, and that recent French attempts to subvert it leave Chirac more dangerous than Saddam. I believe Chirac's games have made innocent bloodshed in Iraq more, rather than less, likely. I believe that the French government always knew as much, but still chose the course of manipulative populism, which puts them beneath contempt.
  • I believe that We, the World, are much closer to a legitimate invasion of North Korea than one of Iraq. On a par with Saddam's, I would like to see regimes in Israel and Zimbabwe overthrown too, and those just for starters.
  • I do not believe I am a racist, but there are aspects of Islam, of Zion and indeed of Christendom that I deplore. The World is not safe while ever their proponents profess God-given insight.
  • I believe that the ineffable thing mentioned earlier, the Co-operative Spririt of the World, is of the utmost importance now. Those who threaten it are the true enemy, and that means Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, but also Chirac and in some measure Schroeder. Saddam is merely vile; a rapist, a usurper. The others named have betrayed the ideals of their people, and have twisted the constitutions of great nations to their own ends.

The cruelty in Iraq is nothing very new. It was ever thus. More significant now is that the finest societies that mankind has yet produced are regressing in the charge of vain and inadequate idiots.

You see? Too complex a set of opinions for any march. I would rather say just this, in just this way.

If you went on the march, then good for you, but don't be carried away by the 'feel' or the 'strength' of what must have been an exhilirating experience. Use it instead to develop your own conviction, to find a clear and steady view of the right and wrong in all of this. Don't simply accept anyone else's version of truth. Choose to be pragmatic or idealistic, hawk or dove, but choose, and know why you have chosen. Only when enough of us make the effort to think will this World ever change.

I stayed home and watched the televised rugby from Twickenham, of course. The English were predictably valiant and single-minded. They will have come away bruised but happy, in their characteristic manner. The English are always proud in battle, and demand nothing more than the right to pick their own fights.

The French displayed great pride, too, along with some flair. They came back to lose with honour towards the end. On the whole, both sides displayed a lot more Blair than Chirac, I felt, and there was no sign of Bush anywhere in sight.

25-17. A very European occasion. Let's put the result down as One for the Turks.

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