Mugged by reality

Posted by lex  on August 19th, 2007

“A conservative,” the wag once wrote, “is a liberal mugged by reality.”

FbL sends along a link to a Sunday Observer/Guardian Unlimited article written by Andrew Anthony, a once-proud member of the British liberal left. Anthony found his own epiphany on 9/11, and – having momentarily felt the fear of personal loss – wondered at how some of his allies perceived the meaning of the day:

A number of commentaries that articulated this response quickly began to appear in different newspapers. Perhaps the most indignant came, with impressive alacrity, on 13 September in my daily newspaper, the voice of liberal Britain, the Guardian. ‘Nearly two days after the horrific suicide attacks on civilian workers in New York and Washington,’ wrote Seumas Milne, ‘it has become painfully clear that most Americans simply don’t get it… Shock, rage and grief there has been aplenty. But any glimmer of recognition of why people might have been driven to carry out such atrocities, sacrificing their own lives in the process – or why the United States is hated with such bitterness, not only in Arab and Muslim countries, but across the developing world – seems almost entirely absent.’

One doesn’t need to work for a newspaper – though it probably helps – to realise that Milne was underselling his own speed of analytical thought. To get his piece published on the 13th meant that he would have needed to have completed it by around 6pm or 7pm on the 12th. Allowing for its considered tone, which must have been the product of several hours of sober reflection, it would be fair to assume that he would have begun writing it, at the latest, at around 2pm. In other words, at about 9am New York time. That left the Americans a whole 24 hours to absorb the shock, deal with the grief and then move on to some cold, hard self-criticism. And they flunked it.

From there Anthony spends most of his time looking inward, at home, rather than across the waters. What he finds gives him but cold comfort. A girl is attacked and, Kitty Genovese style, onlookers watch through shaded eyes, unwilling to “get involved.”

“Call the police,” is the refrain, but Anthony knows all too well that it in a modern, liberal democracy, it is the job of the constabulary to arrest criminals, not to deter them. He stands up to her attackers and for his efforts receives small thanks.

Whither then “community”? What obligations do we have to one another? In real time, I mean. Not just when the taxes are due.

Andrew Anthony doesn’t answer. But it’s a question that still needs asking.

(Note: For those who would follow links, go to section three first and then to two – they are flipped.)

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Filed under Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Politics and Culture

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