So, I continue to deal with my recently acquired addiction for Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin novels. I am currently on Book 5, “Desolation Island”. To think that there are 20 of these books and to realise that I am not yet a quarter of way in on my journey, I despair. There are piles of books on my desk which I am supposed to finish before the year is out. Nonetheless, I keep downloading these quaintly written nautical tales onto my Kindle, much like Maturin toying with a bottle of Laudanum tincture, trying to convince himself that he is keeping his opioid addiction at abeyance.
It was an amusing discovery that I recognised the name of the man whose essay on Patrick O’Brian was inserted at the end of Book 2, “Post Captain” (HarperCollins edition). William Waldegrave was a member of Conservative cabinet throughout the 90’s, the decade I spent studying, working and loitering with undefinable intent in and around London. He served Thatcher and Major governments and, although he somewhat failed to reach the kind of prominence in political sphere he had obviously pined for in that grotesque cutthroat time and place that were the twilight days of Thatcher era, I couldn’t help but take note at that time of his impressive pedigree and CV: Eton, Oxford, Harvard on Kennedy Scholarship and a fellow of All Souls at 25. After a time at Think-Tank, he was elected MP in 1979 in the flow of Thatcher revolution and defeated in 1997 in the ebb of Blair’s Cool Britania.
Compared to “Just William”, who was but one of the teeming talents on the government bench at that time, it cannot be just my middle age nostalgia which sheds unkind light on the current bunch of politicos, some of whom seem to have left the quarterdeck overnight in the continuing Brexit fiasco.
Some blame soundbite news reporting in this media age for the rise of loudmouths, absence of substance, and unthinking populism. I am sure they have some points. But I think there is another cause for this vacuity: Finance.
I think Finance lured away and devoured the talented youths in the 80’s and 90’s with promises of wealth and early retirement, leaving if not the void then certainly a level of draught in other areas of worthy human endeavours, such as science, medicine, art and politics.
As we all know, this decades-long trend came to a sad end in 2007~2008, leaving many with not so much wealth but hunger for wealth and not so much early retirement but early onset of job insecurity. In the meantime, those few, who have made their bundles in time, secluded themselves in gated communities across the developed world and hibernate in yachts in the Mediterranean, trying to cut their ties and engagements with the “real” world, seeing them as liabilities, rather than assets, in direct dichotomy to the ancient Rome’s “cursus honorum” values.
Somewhere between George H. Bush (a veritable WWII hero) and Bill Clinton (a Vietnam draft dodger), the idea and ideal of politics as noble service, obligation of preeminent citizen, waned and were replaced by the public’s general acceptance that it is nothing but slimy trade plied by professionals of dubious morality and smooth talk. Politicians became commodity, to be traded for money by the rich seeking influence.
I hope and think, without too much optimism, maybe, that the tide has turned, though. The dearth of talents and character in politics is at its nadir and things can only improve from this Trumpian nightmare with its orange hue. Fingers crossed.