The last time I was roughed up was when I grazed myself on some sandpaper. The jury’s out on whether I’m a lover but I know I’m not a fighter. In my vocabulary, “punch” is a cocktail, “slap” is shoddy cosmetics, “hit” is an iTunes chart topper, and “knock out” is one of the rounds on X Factor. Violence is not only not an answer it’s a stupid bloody question in the first place. I am what Brietbart would call a snowflake and a soggy one at that. I try to avoid conflict in the same way I avoid charity bucket swingers, straphangers’ armpits and Birmingham. I don’t like it, it makes me nervous and anxious and far from the adrenaline rush of Fight or Flight it simply makes me nauseous.
Until recently I had thought myself pretty human in my disdain for disagreement and hankering for harmony. I considered myself evolved having no need to prove myself through physical prowess or even chuggalugga pint scoring. But I’m starting to realise I’m not evolved at all. My avoidance of conflict makes my genes one of our evolutionary tree’s billions of dead branches which would, through the generations, have become, inexorably ineffectual and unmatable had my kids not also had a mother who is more competitive than an elbow at the Harrods sale.
It’s true that after two world wars some deluded fools started to think maybe we could do things differently but conflict, it seems, is as human as halitosis. It is the perpetual state of man. The last few years have shown that it’s simply something that people are more comfortable with than concord.
I suppose that when there is us and them, we understand our place in the universe. A recent poll for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that people on low incomes are more concerned about immigration than jobs. Maybe because we know who we are through focussing on who we’re not. We can’t just know what we are for, we must know what we are against. Position through opposition. And anything that doesn’t overtly express the paradigm of conflict or competitiveness is odd and suspect.
It’s no wonder then that the EU appears so dubious to Brexiteers. Unless you are in opposition to all of it, within there are no clear sides, no distinct rivalry, no straightforward goal scoring, no lines to be drawn, nobody knows their MEPs or what they stand for and, maybe more importantly, what they stand against. For anybody wondering why the citizens of the developed world are voting for polarised politics, why Catalonians are desperate to express their difference to Spain, why Austria voted for a wing so right their reichsadler will only fly in circles, or why the US would vote for a man as transparently divisive as Trump, don’t. Conflict is us. It’s our dramas, it’s our stories, it’s what makes us us.
Every November we remember the dead, and we remember the conflicts that killed them. And though we murmur “never again,” stone me if I don’t detect an unspoken guilty yearning for yesteryear. Season of yellow fruits and wistfulness. It’s autumn-time and the nostalgia is high. We hanker for the good old days of black and white and knowing where we were. None of this spectrum crap, no shades of grey. The biggest computer game this season is Call of Duty: WWII with all-embracing immersive action bringing the past back to life like never before.
Yes you can be a brave Tommy biffing the evil Hun. It’s all so much easier than trying to cope with today’s reality of indefinites and infinitely variable social mores. A hand on a knee, is it a comforting gesture or sexual assault? Accepting a hug from a friend’s kid, is it affection or paedophilia? A sunny day, is it blue skies or global warming? Where are the boundaries, what’s the truth? We have Google so we know everything, we have Google so we know nothing, we need to remember nothing, we make our own memories and oh it was grand back then!
Except it wasn’t. Still. At least the squalor was closer to universal than it is now.
But in the end what we can be sure of is the fight. Perhaps it is the only thing we understand. It’s how we got here. When there isn’t a fight we find someone’s pint to spill. Our species’ evolutionary imperative is to survive and that’s done in battle. Forget the tanking pound, inflation, poverty and social injustice let’s have a punch up. We want parties of extremes and enemies of different skin colours and odd dress sense. We want sectarianism. We want to know there is us and them. The good guys and the enemy.
And when our radiated mutant descendents look back at the conflicts of the 21st century murmuring “never again” they’ll know that the guiding political polemic of the modern era were not Das Kapital, Mein Kampf or Wealth of Nations, but Nancy Mitford’s Noblesse Oblige in which she epitomised dichotomy and neatly defined everything in life as “U” and “Non-U”. Give peace a chance? Go on, I’ll fight you for it.
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