Terence Blacker: Could the people who are supposed to be in charge please grow up?

The Way We Live: The idea has withered that our leaders owe it to society to take what they do seriously

Share

Not before time, the new spirit of brattishness which seems to have infected adults, particularly those in public life, has been receiving attention here and in America.

Responding to a survey which purported to reveal that in some countries women are now brainier than men, Janet Street-Porter suggested that modern men have one or two maturity issues. "Have you noticed how many of them are morphing into big babies?" she asks. "They dress like oversized toddlers. They read comics. They can't function without their toys… In short, many men have retreated into a pre-teen world, where they don't have to spend much time dealing with the nasty real world."

Some might see these grand generalisations as an instant refutation of the conclusions of the intelligence survey, but surely Janet is at least 50 per cent right – the other 50 per cent being provided by women, who are not noticeably more grown-up than men.

Immaturity becomes more than merely annoying when it is evident in the people who are meant to be in charge of things. Watching bankers as they appear before a select committee, or ministers and press grandees giving evidence to Leveson, or hearing quangocrats and academics interviewed on the Today programme, one is nigglingly aware of something new and unusual in the way these people see the world. They are never quite serious. Even when imitating seriousness (take a pearly-toothed bow, Mr Diamond), they are larking about. Nothing really matters that much.

Last week, in an important but widely misunderstood essay called "Why our elites stink", the New York Times columnist David Brooks argued that the emphasis on youth and brains in today's meritocracy had come at a price. Today's bosses lacked "the self-conscious leadership ethic" which the old class-based elite once passed on from one generation to the next.

The Libor scandal had shown that bankers were brats. In fact, Brooks argues, those in power have trouble even recognising that they are part of a privileged elite. "Everybody thinks they are countercultural rebels, insurgents against the true establishment, which is always somewhere else."

The connection with hippies and the counterculture of 40 or so years ago is odd, but interesting. Then, alternative leaders like Richard Neville spread the gospel of play power: it was through having fun, making love and taking nothing seriously that a gentle revolution would be wrought. The hippies played while the straight establishment looked on disapprovingly.

Now it is the other way around. People who believe that Western capitalism is fundamentally wrong – the Occupy activists and others – tend to be severe and humourless while those in positions of power gad about merrily, lacking any obvious sense of a wider responsibility, or what Brooks calls "a stewardship mentality".

Perhaps it was inevitable that, when PR ethics took over politics and business a few years back, the idea would wither that political and business leaders owed it to society to take what they were doing seriously. For all their flaws, the suited worthies of the past were at least grown-up. Because the culture is also in love with playfulness, politicians who are deemed to be guilty of the great modern sin of taking themselves too seriously (William Hague, Harriet Harman, Vince Cable, David Willetts) are mocked for being solemn, for lacking charisma.

Such is the sea change in public life that when, at one of the televised inquiries which have become part of ours news diet recently, a civil servant is interviewed and gives considered, sincere, slightly dull replies, it is as if a teacher has suddenly entered a riotous playground – both reassuring and slightly embarrassing.

Our elites stink because they are run by people who prefer to think of themselves as mavericks rather than members of the establishment. In their cheerfully irresponsible world, what matters are the brattish pleasures of winning, being popular, bullying the wimps and, above all, getting lots of sweets.

A lesson we could all usefully learn from Nature

Visitors arriving on these shores for the great Olympic bonanza will no doubt be looking around for signs of the miserabilism for which the British are internationally famous.

They need search no further than a report this week from that normally sensible institution, The National Trust. The rain and cold of this summer has had an appalling effect on wildlife, the Trust says. Only slugs, snails and midges have benefited. There will be extinctions among birds, bats and butterflies in some areas. The word "apocalyptic" has been used.

The problem with this tendency towards anguish and anxiety is that it affects the way we all view the natural world. The sight of a barn owl in the daytime provokes worries that it was unable to hunt at night. Dead hedgehogs on the roads will be seen as tragic news for the Tiggywinkles rather than evidence that they may not be doing as badly as we thought.

This summer is not an apocalypse. It is weather. Nature knows how to deal with it. We could usefully learn the same lesson.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
 

Cameron's speech was an attempt to kill immigration as an election issue

Andrew Grice
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game