A hitherto obscure Conservative MP called Nigel Mills was photographed playing the game Candy Crush on his mobile phone when he was supposed to be listening to people from the insurance industry boring him rigid about stuff. Mr Mills – obscure no longer! – is a member of the Works and Pensions Committee, but found a game presumably designed for four-year-olds more captivating than what the likes of Aviva and so on thought about the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. And then there’s the Prime Minister.
He cheerfully admitted to regularly playing another mind-numbingly infantile computer game Angry Birds. When I first read this, I hoped that it was simply Dave trying to be more Dave-ish and with it, and in touch with Britain’s diverse lobotomised community. But I wouldn’t be so sure. Behaving like a toddler, with all the self-absorption and narcissism of the very, very young, seems to be the defining characteristic of our population. Once it was confined to only the most stupid sectors of the adult population, the mouth-breathing halfwits who really have not progressed much since they were five years old, and so could be forgiven. But not any more; now it is OK for everyone to act like a child – a small and fairly stupid child.
I suppose you might argue that, based on the example I have given, it is simply that technology now allows us to do the childish things we have really always wanted to do. The yearning was ever there, and now we have the means. Perhaps this is true and, given those means, Ernest Bevin would have been beavering away at Candy Crush as he prepared to sign the Dunkirk Treaty of 1947. I have my doubts, frankly.
The kiddie thing is not strictly technology dependent; it is a common feature of the general national discourse: an infantilism and an apparent terror of seriousness, a moral and intellectual vacuity. It is there in almost every facet of our lives. We are treated like children and, consequently (perhaps), we behave like children.
It is there in the hyperbolic tantrums occasioned when a public figure says something with which someone else might disagree. Take Nigel Farage’s comment that women who breastfeed in public should probably try to do so discreetly. Cue the immediate stamping of 100,000 little feet, splenetic outrage, fury, tears before bedtime and demands for prosecution. Or the actress (and anti-apartheid activist) Janet Suzman suggesting that theatre is a white European construct, which might explain why so few people of colour bother going. Ignorant, racist cow! Hang her! And so on. A mass screeching at every utterance which does not conform precisely to the safe, sanitised, politically correct, kindergarten view of the world. In other words, a tantrum. A million tantrums every day that God sends.
But it is there, too, when the camp, pirouetting weatherman tells you that it’s going to be cold tomorrow – so you’d better wrap up warm! And put your wellies on! Or when the documentary you are watching about a subject of which you know very little tells you less, in an hour, than you knew already from having read the back of a cereal packet in 1968. And you see it in your local museum, where it is not enough to simply look and wonder any more. Did you know, incidentally, that the number of unaccompanied adults visiting Disney World is now greater than the number of adults with kids?
In a deeper sense, this infantilism can be seen in our record levels of personal debt (or “credit”, as it is now known); we want everything now, right now, regardless of whether we can afford to pay for it, or might suffer penury when we try to pay back the loans. It is the guileless aspiration of the very young child: we want, and expect, something for nothing, with no consequences forthcoming, and we become enraged if anyone dare suggest that this might be unwise.
I don’t think that it is stretching it too far to say that you can see the same lack of foresight and lack of responsibility in our record levels of divorce and separation, the casual manner in which we have children – and then desert them. I wan’ children! Now I wan’ play Candy Crush with the pretty girl
The cause? Technology and comparative affluence play their parts, of course. And also two corrosive ideologies – the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School of the 1960s and the no less repellent Chicago School of Economics which fuelled the Thatcher and Reagan (counter) revolutions in the 1980s. But the retreat of religion is in the mix, too, and perhaps plays the decisive part. Freed from the timeless strictures of a divinely ordained moral code, we feel that there is no longer anything to stop us. We can behave as we wish, without fear of censure from something above and beyond us. And the resulting vacuum is filled solely with self-gratification which, as ever, becomes more and more puerile.
Rod Liddle is the author of Selfish, Whining Monkeys: How we ended up greedy, narcissistic and unhappy, published by 4th Estate, priced £14.99
This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald magazine (16/1/15)