Terence Blacker: Enough of townie prejudice against the countryside

The Way We Live

Share

Most of the time, those of us who happen to live in the country are happy to ignore the casual urban prejudice which characterises British politics and the media. Now and then, though, the level of metropolitan silliness reaches a level which is impossible to ignore.

Those occasions tend to occur when big decisions affecting almost exclusively those living outside cities are being made, just as exclusively, by those living in them: housing plans, wind turbine developments, power stations, changes to the transport infrastructure. The debates may vary but what they all have in common is a high degree of urban ignorance, often revealing an inexplicable hostility to the mysterious world of the countryside.

Society has, on the whole, learned not to judge people on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation, but rural stereotyping is more prevalent than ever. Sooner or later in these discussions, a succession of tired old clichés will tumble out.

The countryside is an essentially middle-class place of affluence and privilege, it is said. Those who live there are conservative, backward-looking and wedded to tradition. They are also innately selfish: that useful catch-all term of abuse "nimby" is rarely applied to those living in cities. They are more money-minded than urban people, forever obsessing (although they deny it) about the value of their house. For them, no progress should be allowed to spoil the precious view they have from their windows.

These casual, blinkered assumptions transcend political boundaries, and are as likely to be uttered by a business-friendly Conservative minister like Philip Hammond as by as aggressive a man of the people in the House of Lords as John Prescott.

Perhaps, tugging the burrs from my old ratcatcher coat and wiping the drool from my sagging jaw, I might correct, in my simple, country way, just a few of these expert views.

Those who live in the country are by no means better off than their urban counterparts. In the last report by the Commission for Rural Communities (subsequently abolished by the government, it almost goes without saying), 19 per cent of those in rural districts were living below the poverty threshold.

Selfishness and financial greed are urban not rural characteristics. If people argue for the landscape, the local environment and community, it is not out of beady self-interest, but because they value the qualities of the countryside. It is often why they live there.

It is a strange fact that, having spent at most an occasional weekend in the country, metropolitan commentators are breezily confident that they understand it. Last week, one columnist reassured readers that he understood all about the impact of railways on daily life and the need for quiet. He himself, an Islington man, lived near a track, and the loudest noise he ever heard was the sound of the crowds at the Arsenal stadium.

Nor is the argument in favour of local environments, and against grand political gestures, necessarily old-fashioned. Every survey of human happiness, a growing concern of educationalists and politicians, confirms that contact with nature, and a degree of tranquillity, have a positive influence on human behaviour.

The shortest stay in the country will reveal that more people are involved in local activities, have a sense of involvement with the community, than will be found in any city. In an age when computers are changing the way we live and work, it could be argued that it is those who champion an ever-larger, ever-faster and more intrusive transport network to hurtle business people around the country who are old-fashioned.

There is in fact more curiosity and knowledge about these big decisions and what they involve among those who live in the country than one normally finds in towns. Those who live in the rural landscape care about the detailed effect rather than the grand political gesture. They look beyond the debate's well-worn clichés, and ask the awkward, interesting questions.

Is nothing private?

Hard on the heels of the revelation that some police are using lie-detectors comes more alarming news about our mental security. A boom industry is developing around what is known as "neuromarketing". By attaching electrodes to the heads of those watching, for example, a TV commercial, researchers can measure brain patterns to reveal people's true emotions.

Traditional market research – questions asked, replies given – has been found to have a flaw. "When you ask people to tell you how they feel, the very act of thinking about a feeling changes the feeling," says AK Pradeep, a leading neuromarketer.

Finding a direct line to our unspoken feelings is already big business. Ten per cent of TV commercials have been tested this way. Companies, led by Google and Facebook (no surprise there) have been eager to use it. Presumably, there are Westminster spin-doctors working on a neuro-plan to tap to win votes. Soon, even our secret selves will be ripe for exploitation.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: I’m not saying the Ed stone is bad – it is so terrible I am lost for words

John Rentoul
 

Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living