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Home > Culture and Society

Losing the war on abstract nouns

15 July 2005

The scary thing about terror in the modern sense, as is generally accepted, is that it’s not actually there. You can’t get at it. It’s an abstraction, an idea – it uses people’s reactions and emotions as weapons against themselves. This is why you can’t attack it in the conventional sense – it’s like Stan hitting Olly in the head with a two-by-four to get a fly. It is warfare by mindfuck. Thus it’s only logical to deploy our own mindfuck, but rather a pleasant, peaceful, masturbatory, orgiastic sort of mindfuck.

So you get the pride thing. Pride means ‘to take pleasure or satisfaction in an association’, it says here. (The brewers of London Pride are doubtless bracing themselves for a spike in sales and a shiny new tear-jerking ad campaign, the swine.) Pride is also something that isn’t really there, and if you’re a fairly ordinary self-aware London-dweller then you probably feel a bit funny about it sticking its puffed-out chest in your face. You’re not supposed to have pride, really. It makes you insufferable and cocky. You’re supposed to blush and say ‘crikey’ and explain away all your achievements as ‘oh nothing really’. And then publicly flay yourself for such immodesty.

It’s an amorphous, dubious notion, and wherever it does pop up its lantern-jawed head in this country it isn’t especially welcome. Pride means gushing first-time parents going on about first garbled exclamations of ‘mmmrurflebuuu’ and first instances of holding up giant wobbly heads, as if this were the first time an immature homo sapiens ever dared to try. Corpulent execs bragging about obliterating their targets, shopping at Snots of Savile Row, buying yet another brand-new gas-guzzler. Barely-sentient footie louts justifying their pointless existences and even more pointless arse-slapping rampages, mooing and mooning like twats. Tony Parsons. Scousers. And of course those hand-rubbing pronouncements on terrorist websites, gloating and crowing that ‘Britain is burning with fear’ and that the brave and mighty have done glorious things. Pride has many faces, most of them as alluring as the Home Secretary modelling for Agent Provocateur.

But just as there’s no reason not to wear cowboy boots just because Posh has made them look a bit rubbish, there’s no exclusivity where pride is concerned. It doesn’t have to be dumb or misplaced or arrogant or a shield to hide your miserable worthlessness. It’s a valid, human response to the sight and sense of lots of people pretty much shrugging off what was calculated to reduce them to quivering, sobbing wrecks. It’s also very odd, because the most banal and inconsequential things will suddenly start to speak of dignity and stoicism. People getting on and off public transport, striding about wrapped up in their own concerns, shouldn’t be anything to feel proud of. People being nervous and frightened isn’t anything to be ashamed of, of course, and there isn’t a hope of getting rid of that right away. But somehow, people just acting like ordinary people is something to salute. Which is why, although the timing of the London attack was great for silencing the Olympic hurrah, it was bollocks given that the WWII commemorations were days away. Londoners massed in recollection of their place in a noble line of tough leathery fender-offers, drank an ocean of tea, and said dry sarcastic things to each other about what a feeble effort the attack really was.

So in order to squeeze the juice from the bulging rotten grapefruit of terror, and maybe even boot the preposterous, oppressive, counter-productive Biblical notion of ‘evil’ from the modern lexicon, it’s good to bump up the pride quotient. In the absence of physical defence, which you can’t have, you’ve just got to use words and meanings, resolving outer threats in your own head. So it’s also important to elevate the very normality of London travel. Embrace your obstreperous, petty inner grumbler. Roll eyes at delays. Mutter and swear when your Oyster card fucks up. Sigh when the pleasure of grabbing a comfy tube end-seat is tempered by the view of a tourist’s peach polyester arse squashed up against the glass partition. Because each kilojoule of energy you expend on being peevish about the little things, just like you always did, is one that you’re not using to worry and fear. It undermines the hell out of terrorism. ‘Suspicious packages? Whatever. I just sat on some chewing gum in my new linen-mix trousers, you fucker.’

Given the choice between a lonely death – the thing most of us claim to fear the most – or an exit preceded by the communal experience of mass panic, we’d probably still choose neither. Death is nasty. Suicide bombers almost seem nastier. Language grants them far higher status than it should – the deaths of their victims are described as ‘pointless’, while by implication the deaths of their higher-purpose-filled killers are anything but. But they don’t have a monopoly on death, as they seem to desire and we almost seem to bestow. Death comes in the form of too-big chunks of tofu, ironic allergies and sexual over-enthusiasm. Suicide bombers on transport aren’t much more than just another modern hazard, like trains and traffic themselves. So you should worry about your weight. Fret about money. Chew your nails at the thought of having to tell your boring partner that it’s not them, it’s you. Go back to being preoccupied with the little stupid concerns of life and you suck all the energy and anger from the meticulous planning and ranting and attacking and manipulating of those silly, silly men. Not ‘evil’ men. Not even men. Silly boys.

And then what you can do, as Bush revs up the presses for another big batch of glossy WAR ON TURR posters and all this just rots down into political mulch, is eat an ice-cream, sniff a lily or fuck a Portuguese barrista. Do stuff. Just try not to think about Charles Clarke in a lace thong.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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