Christina Patterson: Britain needs a midterm rally for sanity too

Hyperbole and hysteria make for great headlines and TV ads, but they don't make for such a great political, or national, culture
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The Independent Online

"Anger," said a man who used to call himself a Sex Pistol, and now appears in ads for butter, "is an energy". Well, it can be. You could, I suppose, say that filling printer cartridges with an explosive that can't be picked up by X-rays, and sticking them in the post to a synagogue in Chicago, though actually you're hoping it blows up the plane it's being carried in, and, of course, the people in it, is an energetic thing to do. Not, perhaps, as good as a half-hour on the Stairmaster, or maybe the rowing machine, but certainly better than a waddle to the fridge.

You could also say that running to become a member of a legislative body that helps to run the world's only superpower, even though you don't seem to have read its constitution, or anything else, except perhaps a pamphlet on witchcraft for beginners, and another one on how masturbation is almost as sinful as providing affordable healthcare for poor people, is quite an energetic thing to do. You've got to get your hair blow-dried. You've also got to make TV ads where you say things like "I am you", which isn't as easy to understand as "this butter is nice", which is, in fact, and particularly if you don't get your hair blow-dried, extremely confusing, but you probably can't say it's not energetic.

Can you say that sitting at a computer, and hammering out messages, while somebody is paying you to do something else, to whoever will listen, which may, I'm afraid, be not very many people, about why everything, and everyone, and in particular the columnist on whose work you're ostensibly commenting, but which actually you don't seem to have read, is rubbish, be described as energetic? To me, it doesn't seem very energetic. To me, it would be more energetic to go to one of the adult literacy classes that are now quite widely available, and learn some basic grammar which might mean that you could one day write a sentence and put your real name next to it, but I can understand that that would take a lot more effort, and that you may very well be someone who doesn't like effort.

Is it energetic of the firefighters to say that they won't go to work on Bonfire Night? It's sometimes quite hard to see how not going to work is more energetic than going to work, though it's true that some jobs, and particularly those where you spend most of the time sitting around and perhaps watching telly, may not be that energetic, and you can also understand that if you've got two jobs then you might want your second one to be a little less energetic than your first one. You could, I suppose, say that it takes some effort to all agree to not work at the same time, though with things like email and text messages you can probably do that while also watching telly.

Was it energetic of an awful lot of French oil depot workers, train drivers, tube drivers and air traffic controllers to all not work at the same time, to try, in fact, to bring the country to a halt, because they didn't want to have to carry on working beyond an age that was several years lower than for most of us? You could say that it looked quite energetic, because they weren't all just sitting, watching telly – quite a lot of them were marching in the streets, and waving their arms, and waving placards.

Quite a lot of people in Washington on Sunday also marched in the streets and waved placards. The placards they were waving said things like "Maybe you're wrong, maybe I'm wrong – let's grab a beer", and "I disagree with you but I'm pretty sure you're not Hitler". They also said things like "Even God gave it a rest for one day – tone it down America", because the point of all this energy, and all these people, some of whom had driven for more than 20 hours to be there, was to counter that other kind of energy, the energy that has a non-masturbating marketing consultant running to be a member of the Senate, because she, like many of her compatriots, thinks her country is being run, and wrecked, by Osama bin Stalin.

It was a "rally to restore sanity", a rally to remind Americans, and the American media, that hyperbole and hysteria may make for great headlines and TV ads, but they don't make for such a great political, or national, culture.

Certainly, you can understand that an economy which is still in the doldrums, and unemployment that's now near 10 per cent, and mass evictions from homes can make a lot of people very, very cross, though it's hard to see how a government which hadn't tried to stimulate the economy, and didn't want to help the people who were now losing their homes and unemployed, wouldn't make them crosser. It's hard, in fact, not to agree with the placard that said "Want to live in a place with no government? Try Somalia!" But Tea Partiers, and mama grizzlies, and blow-dried wannabe witches, and their acolytes, don't want to live in Somalia. They want to live in Utopia.

The Tube drivers who don't want any jobs to be lost ever, even if they don't involve any compulsory redundancies at all, and the firefighters whose new shift patterns might affect the ability of some of them to earn £20K – £30K for two days' work (and two nights' sleep), which they are able to do while commuting from a home in a much cheaper area, and claiming a London allowance, which may be why there are 40 applicants for every vacancy, also seem to want to live in Utopia, and so do the French workers who would like to retire at an age now barely considered middle youth.

We'd all like to live in Utopia. Some of us would like to live in a Utopia in which the terrible consequences of a massive sub-prime crisis caused under the watch of a very lazy President are instantly wiped away by a new President, but without having to pay any taxes, and without having to let poor people go to hospital. We would also like the country we live in to remain the world's leading economic power, even if a country with 1.4 billion people all offering very low-wage labour seems to make that rather unlikely.

Some of us would like to live in a Utopia in which a deficit caused by a global crisis is removed without anyone having any changes to their pay or conditions or pensions, or losing any public services, and in which the welfare system is fair to poor unemployed people and to poor employed people and to rich people, but without changing the whole system of property which means that in many cities you have to earn several times the average wage to even think about buying a small flat.

And some of us can't quite decide what kind of Utopia we want to live in. It might be a beautiful garden where there are roses and nightingales and virgins, and also the severed heads and limbs of the people we've blown up to get there, or it might be a place where we're famous and admired, and not in a job where no one minds if we spend all day firing off bitter little messages, but where our opinions are taken very, very seriously.

What do we want? We're not quite sure, but we definitely want it now. Until we get it, we'll shout, and scream, and rant, and rave, and write snarky little blogs, and call other people Hitler, and turn printer cartridges into Yemeni cocktails, and blame everyone else for everything all the time.

What do we want? We want to be happy. We want to be right. What we don't want is to have to do anything as energetic as developing, presenting and winning an argument.;