Sunday, 15 November 2015

Fighting at a funeral

I had a fight at a funeral once. Not really a fight, just a bit of tugging and pulling. I'm not proud of it.

The funeral was my grandfather's and my antagonist was my father. I'd not seen him, save one occasion, for about thirty years. Not talked to him either, save that same occasion. But this was his father's funeral, or rather, the reception at the Legion afterwards. I was avoiding him, he didn't like it and finally he came up to me and said something that he shouldn't. He walked away, I walked after him and pulled him round and said something back I probably shouldn't have either.

I couldn't tell you exactly what - and it doesn't matter what. I could tell you what I think of him: I could tell you he's a louse, and why. But I can't really do that, having told you I was fighting at a funeral. I'm already in the wrong. I'm a louse.

Because you can't fight at a funeral.

I used to think that what you thought, and what you said, was the most important thing about you. I'm built that way, or I turned out that way. It's a view that probably appeals most to the opinionated - and that's how I am. But it's not a stupid view. Ideas have consequences. What you think about other people, how you think they should be treated, has consequences for those other people. A political opinion is not always a private thing in the sense that a preference for pop rather than classical, for league rather than union, for belt rather than braces is. It needs to be defended. Which is to say, from time to time somebody has to challenge it.

But there are times, and there are challenges, and there are ways and means of making them.

The argument about Paris started as soon as Paris happened. I don't blame anybody in paeticular for that. Nobody started it. The arguments are there in front of us whether we choose to make them personally or not. It's an argument we've been having for the last twelve years or so at any rate, apologists on one side and warmongers on the other. You can't avoid it. You can't go on the internet and avoid it.

But you don't have to raise your voice about it. Because raising your voice is fighting. And you can't be fighting at a funeral.

Now nothing I say about Paris matters. And I don't really have any business liking anything about Paris or anything relating to the massacres in Paris. But in so far as "like" is the proper word - and this is all about words, and whether they are properly expressed - I did like the passage here:
the command to not politicise means to not make someone’s death about something else: it's not about the issue you’ve always cared about; it’s not about you.
You can say things, You can look for contexts and you can disagree with other people's contexts. If you want to say that the meaning of murder isn't simply murder, you have to say so and you have to be allowed to say so. But the meaning of murder is death, and death is a time for proper words, spoken in a proper tone. We understand that. We understand the seriousness and sacredness of death. It's why we have funerals, and why we do not just speak and behave and dress just as we please at a funeral: because it isn't about us. And it's why we do not fight at funerals.

Because death is about the people who have died. It's about the people who have lost them. But it's not about you. It's not about your quarrels. If you make death about your quarrels, you insult the dead, regardless of what those quarrels are and regardless of whether or not you are in the right. It doesn't always matter if you're in the right.

Of course if somebody says something that you think is out of order, you can say so. Once. You can do it once, and then you're on the record. Exchange of views. It involves a certain degree - not too much - of etiquette. You don't have to respect your adversary but you have to respect the people who hear you and the situation in which you are speaking.

After that, it's a fight. After that, what you're trying to do is give someone a chasing. And that's a process that is always about you. You, the righteous one. You, the issuer of condemnations. You, the righter of wrongs. You, the crusader.

So while it's perfectly in order to say that Stop The War sent a stupid, idiotic tweet, you don't go chasing after them, after they've withdrawn it, so you can shout about it. That's just carrying on the fight you were already having. And that's fighting at a funeral. That's making it about you.

And while it's perfectly in order to say that John Rentoul issued a petty, nasty tweet, you don't go chasing after him, after he's apologised, to shout about it. That's just carrying on the fight you were already having. And that, too, is fighting at a funeral.
Dr Borkenau has performed a feat which is very difficult at this stage for anyone who knows what is going on in Spain; he has written a book about the Spanish war without losing his temper.
We have been losing our tempers for a dozen years now. And that has been a dozen years of funerals.

I'm not even-handed, in my outlook, in my opinions, between the people who do not want to pursue war and people who think that it's the best course. One of these sets of people frightens me and the other - usually - does not. I'm definitely on one side of the argument. But I'm even more against having that argument, in the form of an argument, and using the funeral parlour as the background.

We are talking about death. And we're probably talking about much more death. You do not raise your voice where people have died. We've had enough of raised voices in plain sight of death. We've had enough of voices that are always raised. This is an argument that needs to stop being a fight.

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