Friday, August 14, 2015

The pleasures of the flesh

It gets to me sometimes, the relentless wholesomeness, the earnest denial of pleasure, the smug self-satisfaction at not having that extra piece of cake - even though you want it, really want it. There are columnists who go on about obesity, look on us fatties pityingly, and then act as our defenders - because we have an incurable disease! Then there is the war on gluten, the paleo diets, the insufferable idea that booze comes in units (which need limiting), and don't get me started on "wellness gurus." As for political asceticism and its mean-spirited sense of self denial in pursuit of a higher purpose ... I give up. And at peak despair along comes an unreasonable rant that I can really relate to. Bravo Suzanne Moore!
The anti-austerity movement is real and necessary, but the need of middle-class people to pretend to live austere lives is beyond me. It demonstrates a fantasy of class difference fuelled by guilt that I don’t share. If you have been poor, you don’t want to be again. Now a peculiar re-enactment of poverty is available to all in the name of being Green or even healthy. Entire conversations revolve around people who, unprompted, will list the things they are depriving themselves of, with a further 10 minutes on their fascinating “intolerances”. The rise of the individual detox sits alongside the rise of food banks, whose users have no choice about the manner of their deprivation.
This isn't new, and asceticism can be a response to the experience of poverty too. Keir Hardie was a temperance campaigner. But I am more instinctively drawn to Nye Bevan, the original champagne socialist. Enjoy the good things in life to their fullest extent, but make sure that everybody else can too.

Virtue isn't a vote winner, but neither is hypocrisy. To preach morality in public, whilst enjoying vice in private, is punished. In contrast, openly embracing pleasure, flaunting it even, is rather attractive to everyone except the disapproving middle class reformer. People are entitled to their own misery I suppose and they are quite capable of enjoying different things, but what I hate is when they seek to impose their own faddish mores on everyone else. I like to quote this from a fascinating bit of social reportage from 1911. Seems So! A Working Class View of Politics, was written in Devon vernacular by Stephen Reynolds and based on conversations with Bob and Tom Wooley, two fishermen. This summed up their attitude to temperance reforms.
"There's a lot to be learnt in pubs, an' 'tis a fine affair, I reckon, for to hae a good chatter over a glass or two o' beer. If you didn't do that you'd go to bed an' sleep. An' that's all some o'em wants 'ee to do, seems so - work an' sleep - an' never enjoy no life."
Bloody puritanism. It's everywhere. I hate it.

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