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.