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Home > Culture and Society

The New Puritans

28 October 2005

According to their website, the mission statement of the Future Foundation is 'to help you understand what is going on in the minds of consumers worldwide'. Sounds rather repulsive, doesn't it? But then, at the end of the day, we've all got to make a living. It's just such a shame that so many of us have to make a living at the soulless crass end of the capitalistic wedge, helping - in one way or another - to shift product which we know is not good. But this is the way the world ends and there's no point trying to change it. Or at least this seems to be the opinion of James Murphy of the Future Foundation. Which is probably why he's so peeved at the emergence of the nattily-named New Puritans.

Murphy wrote an article back in August proclaiming the arrival of what he rather emotively dubs the 'Assault on Pleasure'. In this article he mentions in passing 'the new Puritanism'. This week the cover story of the Observer Magazine was given over to this new demographic. We have to admit - despite the spuriousness of the whole thing - it is a nice hook.

The New Puritans then, may be roughly delineated thus: if they drink at all, they don't do so to excess; if they eat, they do so not for pleasure, and obviously, fast food, chocolates, meat, sugar and salt are off the menu; they boycott all the usual suspects (Coke, McDonald's, Gap, Nestle, Nike, The Evening Standard), as well as any other company that stoops to make a profit; they do not smoke cigarettes or take drugs; they do not indulge in casual sex - indeed, many of them only copulate in order to procreate, although approximately half do not copulate at all as they consider over-population the most important issue of the day; they make it their business to champion issues; if they do procreate, they neither talk down to their children, smack them, give them sweets or refer to them as children - they are 'pre-consensual autonodults'; if they drive, they drive cars powered by potato peelings; if they go on holiday, they go on retreats or hemp-knitting holidays in Wales or Eritrea where they sit on spikes and wring their hands and whinge and whinge and whinge. More importantly, as well as disapproving of all of the above, they make it their business to communicate their disapproval to others. They like to lobby. And they have influence. You can see it everywhere. The smacking ban, the smoking ban, the hunting ban, the ten-mile-an-hour speed limit on Lake Windermere...

Or - quite possibly - all of this is merely twisted propaganda put about by self-centred hedonists who are simply too lazy to attempt to change any of the things they know are actually wrong with the world. The New Puritans make these people feel exceedingly uncomfortable when they remind them what superficial short-sighted shits they really are. James Murphy certainly seems uncomfortable. In his August article, he warns of a future where angling is banned and airplane passengers are booed as they board their flights, a future where nannyism has become fascism and hedonism is outlawed. One can't help feel he's making a mountain of over-protest from a rather ramshackle hill of muesli.

Conversely, when Lucy Siegle in the Observer argues that New Puritanism is a comforting thought, then goes on to profile a few of the New Puritans themselves, one finds it impossible not to dissolve into knee-jerk reactionary hatred of all things worthy. 22-year-old Claire for example, who likes boycotts, being in control and good grades, but dislikes debt, Coca Cola and drugs. Claire says, 'I just don't drink to get drunk. I've been to the pub and thought, "You know what, I'm not even thirsty, so I'm not going to have a drink."' Claire says, 'If taking drugs is a choice, it's a really crappy one.' Then there' s 26-year-old Katie. Katie dislikes smokers, junk food and fat people's excuses. She likes hard work and organic food. Apparently she 'feels that it's not enough to try to educate people and that the only way forward is to regulate smoking and bad diets.' 19-year-old Louise on the other hand, dislikes cars, meat and ready meals, but likes staying in, where she enjoys 'being responsible, being thin'. Then, finally, there's 27-year-old Alasdair. Alasdair 'thinks it's ridiculous that his mother owns five dogs' as it is a waste of resources.

Heaven help us. On closer analysis, 'New Puritans' is too good for these people. Rather, they are The Joy-Cancer Club, and the worst possible ambassadors for a Caring Society. They make you want to go right the other way, just to spite them. They make you want to open up factories in freshly-decimated rainforests and pay tiny children a bag of rice a month to knit CFCs. They almost make you want to eat a Big Mac. They are dreadful, barely-living proof that Good is the new Bad and that anyone without at least three vices should be taken out and shot.

Thank God then, that they are but the simple, malleable tools of journalism, no more representative of your average citizen than Prince Charles is of your average pig-farmer.

Now put out that cigarette.

Your spike awaits.

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