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Sean Jones: Brexiters, Elites and the Death of the Irish Joke: Weekend Reading

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Sean Jones: Brexiters, Elites and the Death of the Irish Joke: "One of the oddest aspects of the Brexit Kulturkrieg has been very rich white men depicting themselves as an oppressed minority standing up, heroically, to 'the Elite'... the defence of the Rees-Moggs and the Johnsons suggesting that it is outrageous to 'blame' them for going to Eton.... WTF, says half of Twitter, WTAF? I think I get it, but to explain it I need to take you back.... When I recall the laughter now about the Irish; about 'women’s libbers' and immigrants, I can hear a fear in it that I was deaf to at the time. To use words that would have horrified my father, it was a defence of sorts; a defence against the challenge to privilege. The cartoonist in the Sunday Express was Cummings. Here is cartoon of his from the mid-80s. It’s astonishing to look at, but its message is clear. It’s an image that is wringing wet with fear. British society was under threat from malign forces that believed in things like 'anti-racism' and not discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation. Here’s the thing though—it was. Although I do not pretend we are an equal society, the argument that we should try to be prevailed. We won.... The clearest sign was that the Irish joke had vanished...

...I cannot say when it happened. The long tradition of “thick Paddy” jokes just collected its shabby raincoat and slipped away without a goodbye. What angered people of my father’s generation about do-gooders and political correction was that they could no longer talk in derogatory stereotypes and expect to have them met with laughs and nods. “You can’t say anything these days” they would complain. “Call a spade a spade and you get arrested”. You didn’t get arrested, but the steady evaporation of the social affirmation of prejudice had left them feeling ashamed to express prejudices that had once got them a backslap and a laugh.

There are different ways to react.... One is t... take on the struggle of overcoming your own biases and prejudice.... I make it sound easy, but I acknowledge that it isn’t. Another response is to leave the prejudices undisturbed but unexpressed. You live with... discomfort.... A war was declared and you lost it before you could get your boots on. That will, of course, chafe. You will feel that others get to decide what you can and cannot think and say... the dreaded Metropolitan Elite... not the people who have the money and the political power, but those that have the power to determine what is and is not socially acceptable: the people on the telly, the lefties on marches, that busybody in HR. They are the real bigots. They’re the ones who want to put a policeman in your head. They know but don’t care about the daily grinding humiliation of being told you should feel ashamed for the way you feel about foreigners, or women, or Scots or whoever you feel is being advanced at your expense. Worst of all, because they preach at you, they are forever implying that they are better than you.

For me, it’s not that I can’t understand why people may feel the way they do, it's that having lived through the last 50 years, we are a better off being a tolerant and liberal society.... If people feel they can’t say the “N word” out loud in company, well, good. If there are women leading political parties, sitting on the Supreme Court, running hospitals, in fact doing anything other than being judged on the size and “perkiness” of their breasts, that is an unqualified good. Our progressive to-do list is so long that we can easily lose sight of how much we would all lose if we turned back the clock even 40 years...