COLUMN: June 23, 2016


BECAUSE of the mysterious ways newspapers work, I have to write this before the results of that Big Important Vote are announced, so hooray, if the side I like won, and booo, if the side I like lost.

But one of the most striking things that has come out of this ridiculous and divisive vote has been the revelation that a surprising number of people in this country believe that being good and being clever are bad things.

Imagine the state of mind you must have to consider “do-gooder” an insult. Perhaps you use it as an insult yourself. What does that say about you?

“Tut, there I was, minding my own business pulling the legs off live rabbits and scrawling, ‘I just don’t get this. Call this art? My five-year-old could do better if I had one’, on the wall of the Tate gallery. And then this namby-pamby do-gooder comes along and tells me off, because apparently it’s not ‘politically correct’ to set fire to public buildings. I want my country back from people who just want to make life better for other people.”

You’re right, of course. What sort of country wants do-gooders? In fact, let’s just abolish police forces and fire brigades and hospitals.

And while we’re at it, let’s make charities illegal. Who wants people going about the place raising money and protecting animals and keeping beautiful old buildings open and stopping abusive adults beating up their children? Do-gooders – they make me sick.

Because that is what it is about. When you feel the need to call somebody a “do-gooder”, it is because you know they are right but you want to do the thing that is wrong. And even if you do not agree, you are mocking the impulse to do good.

It is the same with mocking people for being intelligent. This is the only country in the world where it is possible to insult somebody for being “too clever by half”.

As a person who writes, mostly intentionally, humorous columns, I have found that the easiest group of people to mock is the stupid. I flatter myself that I am “punching down”, but I think we all know I am not.

But the reason it is easy to mock the stupid is that I do not receive letters of complaint from the stupid. To date I have never had an email which starts, “Dear Mr Bainbridge, as a member of the stupid community, I take exception to your assertion that there should be a special queue for us at Greggs…”

This is because nobody really thinks that they are stupid, in the same way that nobody believes they have no sense of humour.

But over the past couple of years, people have started to ally themselves with the stupid, so much so that the worst thing you can call somebody is an “expert”.

Even the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice – a cabinet minister and former writer for The Times, no less – said during this awful campaign, which has divided families and generations, that people were “fed up with experts”.

I blame the media. Stories of national importance are routinely capped with vox pops, in which some unfortunate reporter has to stop people in the street and ask them their opinion on subjects they’ve barely considered. It makes the pronouncements of people who know a lot about a subject and people who do not appear equivalent.

Let’s make this clear. When you discount the views of experts in a subject in favour of what some bloke down at the pub thinks, when you don’t trust the judgement of somebody who has spent years studying a subject in detail and prefer the opinion of your mate Dave, who saw the first 10 seconds of a Facebook video on it once, then you are throwing in your lot with the stupid.

Apparently some experts are fine. People will happily go to the GP and show off their wart, because they know she has studied medicine, instead of trusting their mate Brian in the pub. Unless Brian is a GP.

But when it comes to constitutional politics or economics or climate change, experts are worthless.

That has to change. Whatever happens after this vote, over the next few years we’re going to need clever people more than ever.

Even if you think they’re just do-gooders.

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