Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Best Lack All Conviction, While The Worst Are Full Of Passionate Intensity

The first time I heard that quote from Yeats it was on Lou Reed's live album Take No Prisoners. It was 1978 and I was appalled, surely it should be the other way round, as Lou mumbled it first then corrected himself? Conviction is what drives idealists surely and shouldn't we all be idealistic? That was then. Or does it?

Of course we have to consider what we mean by idealism. The dictionary definition is: the cherishing or pursuit of high or noble principles, purposes, goals, etc. Just in case, the dictionary definition of conviction is: a fixed or firm belief.

There's a debate to be had about that whole area really. No doubt Hitler had conviction and, in his own way would have regarded himself as an idealist. Most of us wish he'd had neither but there you go. As in everything there are convictions and idealism that are good, and convictions and idealism that are bad. What I find as I get older is that my conviction, certainly in regard to politics, diminishes almost by the day, by the hour it sometimes feels.

I increasingly fear that those drawn to politics are so bizarre as to be totally untrustworthy, at best. At worst they are certifiably mad and should never be allowed, in the words of an old boss of mine, to run a chip shop let alone a country, city or town. When you expand that to the European Union the characters involved, most MEPs and probably all the Eurocrats are certainly beyond certifiable and probably beyond help.

The problem is that the idealistic are invariably obsessive and don't realise that their obsession can be a little disconcerting to most people. In UKIP I used to cringe when I heard the more obsessive members refer to the EU as the 'EUSSR'. I'm not having a pop there at the majority of UKIP members, who are by and large, great people in my experience, just the nuttier element. Having said that I heard some mainstream politician on the radio this morning claiming that the Euro had been a great success. There's madness throughout politics.

In the last couple of years I've met some great people on the libertarian wing of politics. But again, too many nutters who attack anybody who disagrees with them as being 'unlibertarian'. Some people even claimed that asking people to pay a party membership fee was not libertarian. That is quite a minor point but I'm sure you get my drift. People more interested in throwing around slogans and bickering among themselves that getting on with the serious stuff.

Then you get the loony conspiracy theorists. I enjoy a good conspiracy like the next man. Who did shoot JFK? Did Stanley Kubrick actually film the lunar landings in a studio in California? Great fun theorising about after a couple of bottles of Burgundy at dinner, but the next person I hear claiming that Common Purpose is an evil conspiracy then expects the electorate to take them seriously, I will metaphorically swing for! And no, I've never been on a Common Purpose course, brainwashing session or anything else the loonies like to call them and probably never will.

So people say that you can expect nothing more when you spend 10 years or more on the fringe of politics, that's why it's often called 'the lunatic fringe'. Fine until you switch on the telly and see George Galloway followed by Dennis Skinner MP. Then you see Prime Minister's Questions. Then you think of how many people, from all sides, have died in Iraq. Then you think of how many people, from all sides, have died in Afghanistan. Then you think of how many people, on all sides, have died in Libya. Then you think, who is actually more dangerous, the mainstream or the lunatic fringe?

I no longer know what I believe, except that I wish politicians and busybodies would just leave me alone to get on with my life, and I'll continue to leave them alone to get on with their lives. It seems that once you label yourself, you then become fair game not only for your opponents, but for those zealots who label themselves the same as you, but regard themselves as 'purer' or 'truer to the doctrine'. Then they will spend as much time kicking you as they do the opposition.

That's been the nature of political movements, of left and right, over the centuries. That's why fanatics have not murdered more than the millions they have in Europe over the last 100 years or so. Because thankfully, apart from Hitler, Stalin and a few others, their hatred of each other ensures their ultimate failure.

That's why I'm increasingly on the side of Yeats: 'The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity'.

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