I can’t understand people who read almost at random. They read anything that is on the best seller list or that they come across by chance in a bookshop or library. I on the other hand am very selective in what I read. I know my time on earth is limited so I don’t want to spend it reading something clichéd or lightweight. This inevitably leads me to read in very focused areas; I ignore areas like religion since I am convinced that it is all nonsense. Equally I no longer read atheists like Richard Dawkins since they have so thoroughly convinced me that they are right that there is no point to read any more. Pop culture seems trivial and silly to me now, though I was once really interested in it. A 56 year-old still keen to Keep up to date with the latest bands and fashions strikes me as odd. A popular novel is almost by definition not for me, not because I’m a literary snob but because I know from experience that my taste is different from that of teenagers, or middle-aged people with minds like teenagers, and it is generally these people who determine what becomes popular. Instead I now read articles about the political right, popular science and consciousness.
Today I decided to try and finally get round to reading some of the hundreds of articles I have bookmarked over the past couple of years. I first went to the oldest one on my list, an article in the New Statesman by Colin McInnes about the impossibility of us ever explaining consciousness to ourselves. He takes a ‘Mysterian’ approach to consciousness.
While halfway through the article I glanced across at the sidebar which showed a book review of the singer Morrissey’s new novel. I left Colin McInnes for a while and clicked on the review. It could not have been more scathing. The reviewer thought that Morrissey had probably lacked an honest friend who could have told him to simply dump the novel and start again.
I have always liked Morrissey’s lyrics without liking either him or his voice. I don’t know what it is about his voice that I dislike and this puzzle took me to an interview with Ian Scott, the guitarist of the group Anthrax, who hates Morrissey’s voice even more than I do. He also couldn’t explain what it was about Morrissey’s voice that makes him turn of the radio whenever Morrissey comes on.
I then watched a couple of old interviews, first with Johnny Marr and then with Morrissey. They were both sensible enough though both were perhaps a little eaten up with themselves, Morrissey especially. I wondered if Morrissey’s personality and views had matured in the intervening 30 years so I watched him being interviewed recently by Larry King. Morrissey is now, in my opinion, much better-looking than he was, probably because he has filled out and looks more manly but everything else seems to have stayed the same since the 1980’s. You could almost have predicted how he would be now by simply projecting from his trajectory at that time into the future.
In the Larry King interview Morrissey opined that Hilary Clinton was the stand-out candidate for the American presidency, despite the fact that she has been shown to be a serial liar and that her term as Secretary of State was a complete disaster. Morrissey also thought that all the Republican candidates were indistinguishable from each other, including Donald Trump! He seemed to dislike the fact that they all wore suits and ties and he wanted someone to break the mould. Yet surely it’s enough that Donald Trump thinks and talks differently to all the other candidates. Why is it necessary for him to also dress differently? A few weeks ago Ed West had something to say about people who feel that dress rules don’t apply to them:
…formality…restrains people by illustrating in a sartorial manner that there are rules and they must play by them. The leader throwing off his tie is effectively asserting his dominance by saying such rules do not apply to him; in contrast the uptight, stuffy old backwoodsman who wears tops and tails is showing his submission to the rules.
I agree that people who think rules are not for them are often arrogant rather than quirkily interesting.
Morrissey thought Barack Obama had acted ‘against his own people’ when he (allegedly) sided with the police during the Ferguson riots. Morrissey gave the impression of only ever having read Salon Magazine without ever having bothered to read anything that differs from the mainstream narrative. It probably hasn’t occurred to him that some black people might be to blame for the awfulness of their lives, or that something other than white racism and oppression might explain disparities in racial achievement in America. Neither did Morrissey appear to think it strange that an American President should side with his own racial group rather than uphold the law, something that is in the interests of all Americans.
None of this is unusual for someone on the political left with its obsession with race. I have a friend who thinks that it is the other way around; that writers like John Derbyshire can’t leave the topic of race alone. My own impression is that race realists would like nothing more than to write about something less boring than race but that they are forced to respond to accusations that blacks fail only because of white racism and oppression. I personally think that writers like John Derbyshire are doing a public service by refuting the slanderous accusations of Barack and Michelle Obama, eric Holder, Al Sharpton. Jesse Jackson and yes, Steven Morrissey.
Morrissey didn’t explain how Obama siding with the rioters against the police in Ferguson would have helped the mainly black residents of Ferguson, who now find they are paying mortgages on houses that have lost two-thirds of their value since black rioters burned and looted Ferguson. Now no one is his right mind would want to start a business there, nor would anyone want to live there if they could afford to live anywhere else. If the media and local government had supported the police more then things might have been different.
To a large extent Obama is to blame for what happened in Ferguson by riling racial hatred among blacks with his provocative pronouncements, starting with the Trayvon Martin shooting, that blacks were being unfairly profiled and disadvantaged in American society.
So just out of interest I looked up exactly how often people are killed by the police and it turns out that more whites are killed by police than blacks. This is to be expected since there are more whites than blacks in the population as a whole, yet it is surprising once you consider that blacks commit over 50% of all violent crime in America. You would therefore expect young black men to be around 50% of all those killed by police but the actual figure is only 37%. And did you hear anything about this an unarmed white man killed by a black policeman? Or this man? Or this man? Me neither. I just happened to come across them while looking into the above figures. It seems that for white people don’t demonstrate, loot, rob, burn or assault others if a white person is shot by the police.
Anyway, I couldn’t help feeling that Morrissey, allegedly a clever bloke, hadn’t looked into any of this. Surely being a pop singer gives you a lot more time to grapple with these topics than say, a factory worker has at his disposal. Even so, Morrissey’s views were conventional and populist and no more nuanced or thoughtful than those of any left-wing internet blogger. His songs might have caused a stir back in the 1980’s because his lyrics were spoke to disaffected teenagers but it appears that his political views ossified around the year 1985. This doesn’t mean that his views are therefore wrong, though I think they are. I had just thought he might arrive at a view that was less mainstream.
Anyway, all this lead me to an online discussion of whether other bands’ covers of his songs are better than his own, which in turn lead me to listen to Dum Dum Girls, t.A.T.u. and the Deftones, none of which was bad.
In the end I never did get back to the Colin McInnes piece and it is still at the bottom of my bookmarks, now with several new ones added. Reading randomly made a nice change and was an escape from the usual furrow I plough. I’m beginning to think that it might be a mistake to be so selective in my reading and perhaps I should take my eye off the clock for a while and read whatever I find around me. Emily Dickinson might have been right when she wrote:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise;
As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.