Reflections on t
he Revolution in France my Recent Mini Break in Oxford…
Below are some of my immediate thoughts upon leaving Oxford. They are largely unreconstructed and some ideas may form the theme of future blog posts, but for now I just wanted to keep it raw and real.
Going to Oxford for any self-proclaimed intellectual is a difficult and conflicting experience. Friends of mine who graduated from top universities, often in the face of mitigating circumstances, still harbor open resentment of Oxford and Cambridge for not accepting their applications. I was never in a position to apply to Oxford, but it is nonetheless difficult to escape Oxford’s shadow. Oxford is where our future leaders, Prime Ministers, academics and civil servants go to be educated. It is where Churchill grew up, Oscar Wilde learned his prose and Inspector Morse catches murderers. We ambitious, intellectually curious and slightly egotistical bunch who did not go to Oxford medicate ourselves with comforting notions like the existence of a class system and lack of meritocracy in society. Secretly however each has the suspicions that Oxford graduates, just maybe are better than us as we didn’t make the cut.
While irrational bitterness is a problem I openly struggle with, it didn’t take me long to realise that despite not going to Oxford I’m actually doing OK. I enjoyed University and made good friends there, including my lecturers, who I’m still in touch with. After a few years of grafting I have even managed to get a job that I’m proud of. Oxford hasn’t stopped me living a good life and I may yet lead a great one. But some things are still hard to shake. The debating society I helped organise at University was not the one that still today attracts experts from around the world. The anti-establishment political theory I enjoyed as a student was pioneered at Oxford and the lecturers I am still friends with, you guessed it were bloody well Oxford educated. Luckily I’m self-aware enough to know that I would never want to be a part of a club that would have me as a member.
I was visiting Oxford for The Oxford Lindy Exchange an excellent, if slightly imperial, weekend of dancing in venues such as St Columba’s Church and the historic Oxford Union Debating Chamber. After years of striving to explore the Union Debating Chamber it was actually the blues after party in a community center for the blind that blew me away. Dan Nash is a brilliant musician. He had the room in his back pocket, a deep knowledge of the blues and the ability to articulate this knowledge such a way that you actually cared what the hell he had to say. It was in this moments of intimate connection, I began realise that loneliness isn’t the exception it is the rule.
It is as if we have all been born with splinters in our hearts. In time skin grows over the splinter and we learn to ignore it until we have a moment of intimate connection. The splinter is then yanked out and we feel a great release; but at the same time are vulnerable because our flesh is laid bare. In time the protective skin will regrow and so will the splinter. Connection is bitter sweet, love is a drug and we are fighting the symptoms but not the disease.
I recently noticed something that made me feel uncomfortable while watching the BBC drama Broken. Broken made me feel sad and angry about the way benefits are organised in this country. However, I also realised that I felt far more empathy for the fictional woman portrayed on my screen than the homeless people that I had avoided on my way home from work.
Unfortunately, not everyone was sipping on beer and dancing in exclusive venues this weekend. Many more were working shifts to make rent or begging on the street. I encountered and to my shame ignored a number of the latter, but paradoxically was tipping generously the workers taxiing me around Oxford and serving me food. Perhaps this comes from a kind of Left Wing snobbishness. The working class are after all the instrument of history* while the homeless are just lumpenproletariat… Or maybe I just feel more kinship with service sector workers from my time being employed at McDonalds. Either way there are some inconsistencies in my morality.
The following quote from Rousseau’s essay on inequality, that I was reading this weekend, really has stuck out to me. Basically people have been sharing your anxieties for centuries and it is not your fault or even your parents fault. Rather, blame lies with those selfish monkeys’ who years ago traded society for the sweet harmony of the state of nature:
The great inequality in manner of living, the extreme idleness of some, and the excessive labour of others, the easiness of exciting and gratifying our sensual appetites, the too exquisite foods of the wealthy which overheat and fill them with indigestion, and, on the other hand, the unwholesome food of the poor, often, bad as it is, insufficient for their needs, which induces them, when opportunity offers, to eat voraciously and overcharge their stomachs; all these, together with sitting up late, and excesses of every kind, immoderate transports of every passion, fatigue, mental exhaustion, the innumerable pains and anxieties inseparable from every condition of life, by which the mind of man is incessantly tormented; these are too fatal proofs that the greater part of our ills are of our own making, and that we might have avoided them nearly all by adhering to that simple, uniform and solitary manner of life which nature prescribed.
Happy summer holidays everyone!
*Marx charmingly describes the homeless class as: The “dangerous class”, [lumpenproletariat] the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.