Friday 12 November 2004

Johann Hari is wrong.

Here's the angry young man's latest diatribe. It's about as insightful as gravel.

Mr Hari's argument can be summed up thusly:

All poor white people are chavs.
All chavs are poor and white.
It is wrong to hate people for being poor.
Therefore, anyone who criticises chavs is a hateful elitist classist bastard.

Assuming The Independent pay by the word, they should hire me instead.

Now, I don't call them "chavs". I lived in Glasgow from '96 to '03, and Scots call them "neds". In fact, when I first moved to Scotland, the Scots had the word "ned" while the English simply didn't have a word to describe them at all. I don't know why they eventually chose "chav", but I prefer "ned". I'm now in Northern Ireland, where they're called "steeks" and "spides". "Spide" is pretty good: it just sounds inherently derogatory.

I'm not poor, but I'm not that well-off, either. I can't afford a ned car, or ned clothes, or the amount of alcohol and cigarettes neds get through every day, not to mention the harder drugs. I can't afford to take the amount of time off work that neds seem to enjoy. Contrary to what Hari seems to think, fast food isn't that cheap — certainly not compared to cooking at home. I like the occasional burger or fish supper, but, unlike your average ned, I can't afford to go out for one every day. However, I can (just) afford a mortgage on a three-bedroom house in a fairly expensive area.

During my time in Glasgow, my building was set alight by neds three times, once seriously endangering my life. The reason for this was so that ned kids could try and jump onto the back of the fire engine when it left. Windows in the common stairwell were smashed by neds a couple of times, just for fun, like. The communal front door was kicked in by neds. Before we finally managed to get the communal stairs secured, they were a popular location for neds to come and drink, smoke dope, scrawl their names, smoke heroin, inject heroin, occasionally spit at my friends, and — on one memorable occasion — have a crap. My then girlfriend and I once walked out of the front door to be greeted by the wonderful sight of a ned standing on the stairs with his trousers round his knees, injecting heroin into his penis. The ned living in the ground floor flat threatened my life a couple of times, but he wasn't there long: his landlord got rid of the bastard and replaced him with an extremely nice, friendly, reasonable, poor single mother who was definitely not a ned and didn't want her sons to become neds.

Eric's got the right idea, as has Harry, despite feeling he needs to descend into Marxist terminology to describe the problem. It took a heroic effort to read past the word "lumpenproletariat", I can tell you. Please.

Anyway, here's the thing. Everyone hates neds, but the people who hate them by far the most are poor people. Everyone has to put up with the little bastards' vandalism and violence and abuse and theft and bad clothing choices, but poor people also have to put up with being associated with it by class-obsessed idiots like Hari.


Anonymous said...

Good post, Mr. Squander. Couldn't agree more. Harry and some of his commenters appear to be a bunch of howling snobs.

Gary said...

Bang on, sir - although I would point out that as much as Hari's tarring all working class people with the same burberry brush, there *are* horrible elitist, classist bastards out there too. Many of them on an infamous gossip board that coined the term "pram face", for example.

Blognor Regis said...

Good stuff S2.

I can't imagine the squalor forced upon you be these scumbags though. How could you put up with it at all?

Will said...

Good post Squander fella, but... what is it with the self hating. You know deep down that you are a socialist. Come back to where you belong and stop playing to the gallery. Us who have stayed and are determined to fight the scum know that all of the bull is just that.

(I've had a libertarian drink the night so I reserve the right to take all back the morra). For real. and stuff. Like.

Squander Two said...


When I list events like that, it really does look bloody awful, I admit. But Glasgow's actually not a bad place to live, and I generally enjoyed it. And my flat was dead nice, especially once we finally got the communal areas properly secured. That being said, ultimately, I didn't put up with the neds: I moved to Northern Ireland, where they are considerably less of a problem.


What self-hating? I honestly don't know what you mean.

Just for the record, I abandoned Socialism for a large number of reasons, one of which is people like Johann Hari, but another of which is that I no longer think wealth redistribution by the state does as good a job of alleviating poverty as lowering taxes and leaving people be. That one pretty much scuppers any chance of my ever returning, wouldn't you say?

The irony os that the issues over which I find myself in most violent disagreement with the Left these days are the ones that I never changed my mind about. I can understand how Christopher Hitchens feels: the entire Left changed its mind, and is now accusing the handful of people who remained true to their principles of being sell-outs.

Will said...

Scrub the self-hating bit. That was garbled rubbish. Don't know what the hell I was on about there. Obviously. And I won't try and convert you again as well. Promise ;)

Squander Two said...

Hey, you can try to convert me all you like. One of the problems with the modern Left is that they've stopped trying to persuade people of their point of view and turned to simply assuming that their point of view is morally right and accusing anyone who disagrees with it of being evil. So convert, convert away!

Won't work on me, mind, but it's the principle of the thing.

Will said...

It's the 'working on' part that puts me off trying, not the principle. I hear you tho'.

Andy said...

Don't let Rosie Kane hear you talk like that.

Squander Two said...

Ah, the delectable Ms Kane. I applaud her efforts in drawing public attention to the value of the Scottish Executive.

Squander Two said...

Absolutely. I'm all for a safety net, but the Left have convinced themselves that the purpose of the welfare state is to make unemployed people well off, rather than simply to stop them becoming homeless and hungry. Now, any attempt to turn the welfare state back into a safety net would be denounced as evil capitalist cruelty to the poor.

What I really object to.... Oh, hang on. I'll blog about it.

LBH said...

Good to see someone out there knows what they are talking about. Anyone who has encountered chavs recognises them which leads me to think that poor Johann Hari never actually ventures out in the world most people live in.

A friend of mine was attacked at petrol station by a bunch of chavs who then forced him to drive them home. On route,'for fun' and 'for a laugh' they repeatedly slammed his head against the steering wheel thereby endangering all their lives. I don't really feel sorry for disliking them so intensely.

AndyB said...

I think sometimes people confuse disliking people who assualt and abuse people and disliking poor, unemployed, culturally and socially impoverished people in general.

Beyond that, this is not to excuse for terrible behaviour, but we need more of an explanation than 'they're not afraid of authority any longer'. If that is the best that can be offered then we've got to conclude that the people presenting this explanation are prevented from committing assualt and abuse by fear. Either that, or that they are an entirely different category of human being.

Which brings us back to the idea of a welfare state, and a demand for its expansion beyond keeping the unemployed fed and sheltered, to keeping the unemployed involved in civil society and culture. It is easy to point to an individual and say, 'get a job', but for long periods in the 1980s and early 1990s there was a greater number of jobless than there were jobs. Of course, when we include the goegraphical location of these jobs, and pointing out the socially destructive nature of 'on yer bike', this disparity effectively increases. We are now dealing with the second generation of people who have been cut off from civil society and culture.

The remedy might involve police, and laws, and deterrence. But more than that, the remedy must involve an aggressive welfare state, involving these people as participants, else we will produce a third, and a fourth generation in even greater numbers.

Squander Two said...

>> we need more of an explanation than 'they're not afraid of authority any longer'. If that is the best that can be offered then we've got to conclude that the people presenting this explanation are prevented from committing assualt and abuse by fear. Either that, or that they are an entirely different category of human being. <<

Why not both? There's no inconsistency in saying that some people are antisocial and others aren't, and that the former used to be kept in check by fear but are no longer, while the latter used to keep themselves in check through decency and still do.

There are plenty of unemployed people who are involved in civil society and culture. I've known plenty of people who have lost their jobs or fallen on hard times and have completely failed to lose their good manners or common decency as a result, and certainly haven't been cut off from culture. Good people are good people, and it takes a lot more than a bit of unemployment to turn them bad. Similarly, bad people don't tend to turn nice when they get a job, which is why every work place contains its share of bastards.

I agree with you that it is important to instill a sense of civilisation in people, but I don't think that this can be done by the welfare state, whose job is not to teach opera appreciation classes. It can, and used to, be done by schools, but that's considered elitist nowadays, schools have had traditional culture rigorously pruned from their curricula, and teachers can get severely reprimanded for suggesting to pupils that some types of activity are worthier than others. Oh, except in privately funded schools. Natch.