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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

January 26, 2006

What people are like

I've been watching the series on Wednesday nights in which a celebrity traces their ancestors, sort of. So far I'd watched Jeremy Paxman, Sheila Hancock, and last night it was Stephen Fry.

I don't watch it because of any sort of lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous voyeurism. I'd watch if it was about you, or anyone else. I like the sense of the passing of time that it gives me; how fortunes change; how things pan out. It's the nearest we get to immortality, to be able to look down on somebody's entire life. It's the stuff of epic.

The problem is that once you have kids of your own, you immediately find that ill fortune falling on other people's children has an extraordinarily moving effect on you. You feel the pity as if it were your own.

A large part of Stephen Fry's matriarchal family ended their lives in Auschwitz. Some of them were children. It's very easy to be flippant about events in the past, and I think that to some extent you have to be, as none of us has broad enough shoulders to handle all that tragedy. But I felt for them. What an awful hand to be dealt with by fate. Slow, hopeless, and agonizing.

It's also easy to ask how could this sort of thing happen in a modern, civilised land. The authorities kept records of the fate of all the people who were shipped to concentration camps too. Because they were acting legally. It's very much like the romans and damnati ad bestias. One man's barbarity is another's bureaucracy.

You see, it comes back to the thing again, that we're all animals. Actually we're all violent, selfish, aggressive animals, and we constantly have to put systems in place to keep us on the straight and narrow. That's what is so fundamentally flawed about excessive liberalism.

The truth is, that when murder is legalised, given pseudo-justification, and when it is generally accepted by society, we're all capable of it. In the right circumstances we would all happily send somebody else's babies to be gassed, just because we don't happen to value some part of their cultural history; just because we think that they are different from us.


  • I only caught a bit of the Paxo one, but it had a remarkable amount of social history in it, didn't it? Sort of thing you could show in a history lesson in schools; or the sort of thing people who decry socialism should be forced to watch, after you've smashed their faces in.

    By Blogger bot37363838, at 3:03 am  

  • They've all been good so far.

    Plenty of social history, as you say.

    I don't know how conctived it is (not much I suspect) but it is amazing how people's lives sway from fortune to poverty in as little as two generations.

    It's sobering to see how the general direction of our lives and those of our relatives is utterly out of the control of any single individual.

    By Blogger SimonHolyHoses, at 4:22 am  

  • "contrived" I mean

    By Blogger SimonHolyHoses, at 4:22 am  

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