Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Goodwin Fall

There has been an interesting rally to the side of ex-knight Fred Goodwin. I spent a little while in argument with a fellow writer on Twitter who was upset by what she considered the brutal vindictiveness of his accusers. And there is some sympathy for this view. Martin Rowson in The Guardian sees him as a scapegoat for the bankers and the Tories. To say, well he would, is not to say he is wrong, it's just, however brilliantly drawn as ever, that it is a kind of obligatory gesture.

The other words that come up are savage, sadistic, bitter mob, nasty, pointless, vilified, blood lust, humiliation.

The idea is that Goodwin is taking the can for everyone else who gets off blameless; that it's not him, but 'everyone' and 'the system', because 'even the rich have feelings'.

Yes, I think, but so have the poor, of whom there are very many more, many of whom are now poorer, some directly as a result of Goodwin's actions. Goodwin remains rich, secure and, no doubt employable. This little local difficulty will pass for him. It will not pass quite so easily for the jobless and dispossessed. These people will not be featuring on the news and front pages except as statistics. There will be no expression of sympathy for them because they have feelings too.

In other words I am indifferent as to the fate of Goodwin, not delirious with happiness, not dancing on the grave of his knighthood, just indifferent.

Because he is not simply himself. He is part of an ethos - a culture - that is disgraceful in itself, and however pragmatists might feel about it being, on the whole, better that some people should be very rich ('filthy rich' as Mandelson had it) in order that the poor should, as a by-product, be slightly better off than they might possibly have been otherwise, the culture remains ugly and, in the long run, deeply corrosive.


You are, of course, welcome to blame 'the system' though that seems to trip off the tongue rather too easily, especially if you don't explain what aspect of the system you mean and what you might be able or willing to do about it. You might well mean capitalism as a whole, in which case you ought to take the suggestion very seriously indeed. Do you mean all historical forms of capitalism or just this latest twenty- or thirty-year old model? Will you plump for another 'system', and if so which one? If you do plump for one are you willing seriously to argue for it, plan it and work for it? The old state-socialism model has not been out of the garage much since, well, 1973 say. The model pre-1989 wasn't really an option, that was the falling apart of what had remained of the 1973 model. Chinese communism is not a workable model here either, without the resources, the population, the distances, and the arbitrary application of power by the state as and when it suits it. Cuba? Venezuela? North Korea? Unlikely right now.

The only live viable alternative option, popular in Africa and the Gulf, is militant Islamism. That's clear enough as a model and plenty of people are choosing it where they are choosing it, but, honestly, I can't see it being introduced in Skegness or Warmington-on-Sea next week, not even by a popular man like Alex Salmond, who now regrets backing Goodwin.

If you want a revolution, that may happen anyway, because something is pretty close to bankrupt here, not just financially, but morally and intellectually too. 'The system' may survive through sheer mobility but it might not. Climate may do it. Shortages may do it. A fuel breakdown might do it. But maybe 'the system' is just going through a periodic wobble, chewing up and spitting out people, people not so much like Goodwin, more like those we never hear about.

Speaking flippantly of 'the system' is gesture politics. Revolutions may begin with gestures but generally involve tumbrils and bodies in the street. Nor is it guaranteed that once the revolution has taken over there will be no bodies in the streets or that no one will be tortured in the usual well-worn, well-equipped cellars. That doesn't mean that revolutions shouldn't happen - they have, and often for the long-term good - just that one should understand what one means when gesturing.

It's not really about Goodwin, it's not even so much about scapegoats, knee-jerk reactions, and political advantage: it is about trying to moderate a culture that works as an ethos in a confined space, an ethos that claims that if so-and-so doesn't get his or her bonus of £2-3 million every year on top of his or her millions per year salary, his or her reputation and that of the entire country is shot. That's the ethos and it needs discouragement.

I'm with Zoe Williams on this:

This feeling of sheepishness is unavoidable: we gave the crisis a human face because without one it would have been even more incomprehensible, alienating and frightening than it already was. But to heap so much disaster upon one man could never be proportionate, and his disgrace leaves a hysteria-hangover. I'm sure this is how it felt to drown a witch – loads of excitement, a magnificent climax, then a drab, embarrassed realisation that you just wanted her to get wet and didn't mean her to actually die.

The difference here is that Mr Goodwin did not die and was not innocent. Stripping him of his knighthood would be a tawdry sideshow if it were the end of the story. But if it's the beginning of something, the beginning of accountability, the beginning of a new way of doing things, then it's not a bad place to start.

Yes, that is the difference.


Coirí Filíochta said...

I tried to instigate an argument with some arts journalists on Twitter and they just ignored what I had to contribute, even though the 137 characters revealed a lot of narrative capacity within this form of text that Sir Geoffrey Hill spoke of recently in his latest assay from the bough on which he's sat as one of the finest and most humble poets performing in the English language today. Sir Geoffrey's modesty and deep personal faith in the mystical heartbeat of Albion bardic practice, held him back from butchering Her Highness's Poet Laureate to the full of his extra-poetical self's capacity, the other day, and as a master craftsperson engaged in the full spectrum of existential academia, this septugarian force of profundly Anglo-Saxon vintage, said in a recent and entertaining six minute segment on Newsnight, that all he can hope for now is to perform with one billionth of the skill and clownship of Knotty Ash's most successful coalman and Diddymen puppet-master whose work, along with other comics of his generation, has a deep and profound influence on England's finest poet's own approach to, and composition of, poetry, as Sir Geoffrey knows it to be within the innermost credit of a - perhaps - unlikely influence on his work (Ken Dodd):

I was in a shop in Leeds the other morning, I said to the fellow, I said excuse me can you help me out, he said certainly, which way did you come in?

"I allowed my love of the comedians to get into my poetry."

'So future scholars of your work should have your stuff open on the one hand and Ken Dodd's or Frankie Howard's material to hand?'

"Yes, do them no harm at all"

'They would see a connection you think?'

"I think that, well I hope so, yes. I mean I leave, I mean I'll leave a lot of heavy hints"


"The way a comic will often seem to stress the unim, the grammatically unimportant word. It brings out a quite exquisite sense of the individuality breaking through the formula."

'Why haven't we heard more from Geoffrey Hill' George?

Coirí Filíochta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
George S said...

Coiri, I never envy the Poet Laureate. It's an impossible position. Hill is a remarkable poet and not Laureate material unless the world to which he was laureate were substantially to change, something I don't anticipate.

But should I assume that you wish Hill to assume a more direct political role? I have an excellently gifted Anglo-Welsh PhD student who is much inspired by Hill and understands the political aspect of his poetry.

Coirí Filíochta said...

Do I desire to witness political change in England, Europe and America? Yes, no, not especially, unless.. I dunno. Perhaps. Who knows what the mind enfolding allusively in on itself, knows of all this talk from everybody about what's gone on?

The tragedy embodied in the former Irish Finance minister, Brian Lenihan, a man in the same position as Christopher Hitchens during his final two years of life, resonate with Zoe Williams's opinion on the bankers who assisted in the bankrupting of Britain.

No remarks were recorded, publically, that articulated the very most obvious parrallel most thought of when we read of his terminal diagnosis, dying contiguous with him stoically grappling 19 hour days, during the first days of the current recession, when the accurate scale of a private bank's overstretch was concealed from him, and us, by the spivs in charge of Anglo Irish Bank.

As a consequence of their percuniary hubris Lenihan made the most important decision in the financial history of Ireland, and a very, in hindsight, tragic one, being based on false financial informational fantasies that resulted in the Fianna Fail Bank Guarantee, pledging an unknown amount of Ireland's future tax take, on the 'cheapest bail out in history', theoretically possible to incur cost but in practice, 'shouldn't cost a penny', or if it did, not very much, some 'several' billions the absolute maximum 'exposure', the Public were told by Fianna Fail's finance minister at the time of the Crash, when he was at the helm of the Irish Treasury.

Michael Fingleton was taken in for questioning by Garda the other day, and blown up on page one of the Irish Times, the tragic human fraility of his visage was very sobering.