Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Geronimo and Conservative Philosophy

The saga of the dearly departed Geronimo rumbles on a week after he was put down at the government's behest. There's a lot of toing and froing between Defra vets and Geronimo's owner, Helen Macdonald, about the meaning of the results, but it's the actual politics surrounding the demise of the hapless alpaca that have got interesting.

As noted last month, this case allowed Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer to burnish their tough guy/tough choices credentials. We can't well have our leaders swayed by things like compassion or common sense, or allow a case such as this be seen to undermine their standing. For Johnson, too many u-turns undermines his precious authority. For Starmer, protecting and re-legitimising state institutions, particularly the power of the executive, are also central to his politics. It's not that he failed to make populist capital out of Geronimo's onrushing doom. I doubt the notion even occurred to him.

More interesting, however, is the popular reaction. Or, to be more precise, the reaction of voters who normally support the Tories. Tory press comment sections and Facebook groups are wall-to-wall with lamentations for the dear departed and anger aimed at Defra and the government both. Curious, one might think, how an animal can inspire a show of mass empathy and sadness when human tragedies caused by the wars of Western governments, like Afghanistan, for example, raise barely a murmur of concern from the same quarters. What is the difference?

If one has enjoyed a passing acquaintance with the banalities of conservative philosophy, its positioning of human nature has it as something heartless and cruel. The emergence and maintenance of tradition married to cautiously slow-paced change and the smack of firm government helps keep the demon spirits in check. What the Tories have managed to do, with the able assistance of New Labour, is over the course of 40 years is organise, socialise, and cultivate this misanthropic assumption via conscious political strategies and institutional design. A case of the reality of human nature catching up with its idea off the back of a programme of social engineering.

There are some exemptions to the de facto distrust and cynicism this organises in millions of minds. An ever-shrinking pool of who is permitted to be regarded as the deserving poor. And animals. Here, animals are positioned as innocents, helpless creatures who can't help but be the victims of cruel humans. Their non-sapience and relatively fixed natures, and ignorance of the human world simultaneously renders them objects to be pitied and entities to be envied. Because of their fundamental, essentialised naivete they require protection and, in the thoroughly neoliberalised conservative imaginary, are much more deserving, rank higher than, and find a place in the hearts of these people than human beings. After all, as sentient beings capable of making choices, if we end up in a bad or sad situation it's our responsibility we got into a mess and our responsibility to climb out of it.

In the case of Geronimo then, we're seeing a well publicised but modest blowback against the Tories. Having cultivated mass indifference to the suffering of other people, Johnson's complicity in the destruction of a harmless alpaca has struck at sections of his party's loyal supporter base like few things can.

Image Credit

6 comments:

Alan Story said...

Had a good chuckle.

I can see a sequel coming.

BCFG said...

This is indeed disgusting but the tip of the iceberg, factory farming is literally Hitleresque,and Hitler was simply employing the tactics that worked so well in the colonies.

While we have mentioned the colonies, and to reassert the tough leadership of Britain's elected elite, cant we think of some women that need sending to school, in say a mineral rich nation. This would tick all boxes, strong leader standing up for the wretched by killing evil dark skinned farmers, and nudge nudge wink wink, some booty to be made boys and lots to plunder while we are at it, shore up those ISA's nudge nudge wink wink. Just don't mention the scores of dead cattle killed in the carpet bombing.

Maybe Denham can even suggest the point on the map where they can send in the drones? Or better still, send in your GPS locations and we can have a raffle, raise some money for the RSPCA while we are at it.

chris e said...

I don't think it's blowback as such. I think as you allude to in your penultimate paragraph, a certain mawkish sentimentality can exist alongside policies driven by extreme viciousness (and it exists precisely because it is sentimental and doesn't actually involve any committent to anything in particular).

Blissex said...

"There are some exemptions to the de facto distrust and cynicism this organises in millions of minds. An ever-shrinking pool of who is permitted to be regarded as the deserving poor."

Social darwinism does not exempt animals from "dog eat dog" as the very same saying demonstrates. For example battery chickens, pigs, coww, turkeys, are treated viciously for minimal savings, just like workers were and perhaps will be again.

"And animals. Here, animals are positioned as innocents, helpless creatures who can't help but be the victims of cruel humans."

That is not a Conservative attitude, it is a typically "do goodery" english attitude, that is however mostly reserved to cute furry animals with big eyes that trigger in (often female) english middle class people an instinct about babies. Those 'innocent, helpless' but ugly and not human looking creatures like snakes or moles or insects don't trigger the same instinct. That is as another commenter wrote:

"a certain mawkish sentimentality"

IIRC Disraeli said something like "On the continent people have sentiments, the english have the humbug" :-)

can exist alongside policies driven by extreme viciousness (and it exists precisely because it is sentimental and doesn't actually involve any committent to anything in particular).

That is also the reason why identity politics is so popular with the master classes: it does not aim to change the power and amount extracted by business and property rentiers from workers, but mostly it is about redistributing some of the small number of "good jobs" from "white male supremacist" workers to other workers. Small stuff and so useful as a distraction,

Blissex said...

'mostly it is about redistributing some of the small number of "good jobs"'

A archetypal example of this common employer strategy: a report that in a box store a manager would reward deserving employees not with cash bonuses, but with coveted options like the ability to choose the most desirable shifts or have priority in the booking of holidays. A cash bonus would have to come out of his budget, the cost of the options was borne entirely by other employees.

BCFG said...

"not human looking creatures like snakes or moles or insects don't trigger the same instinct."

There are lots of humans who detest factory farming of chickens and Turkeys, yet they are hardly the most pleasant of gods creatures.

Having said that I much prefer a Squirrel in my garden than a rat! Still that is furry and has pretty big eyes and has even been the star of many a cartoon series. And isn't a Squirrel just a rat with a big tail?


"that trigger in (often female) english middle class people an instinct about babies"

I really fucking hate it when the left try to downplay something by bringing up the Middle classes, as if the working classes hate compassion and only like to see dog fighting! For the record I live in a solidly working class area and there are numerous volunteers who work tirelessly for animal shelter organisations, for example Hedgehogs. It is mostly women that do the volunteering to be sure, and these are the genuine heroines of our communities.