My newsletter gets sent out 8 times a year – you can subscribe here. This is the newsletter that was sent on 20 March 2019…
Higgs’ Foolish Octannual Manual #10
A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs
There’s no avoiding it, politics here in Britain are currently totally nuts.
One side effect of our Brexit delirium is that we’re witnessing the Great British Coming Out Party. Most people on these islands understand that we are not the sanest, and they are pretty comfortable with this. Our history is a long balancing act of keeping things just-about-working whilst we drunkenly freak out on the heath. You can see examples of who we are in work as varied at the @Coldwar_Steve twitter account or the BBC4 art film Arcadia. We are a surrealist, psychedelic mob who howl at the moon as politely as possible.
If you had to distil this complex, irrational and multi-faceted national personality down to a single universal archetype, the closest you can find is the Fool. I’m not being critical here. Being the Fool really isn’t the worst. The Fool traditionally has the right to speak truth to power and is often the only character who can understand the big picture. It is only the Fool who gets the Cosmic Joke, and if you have not seen the humour in something, you have not seen the truth of it. Plus, the Fool is allowed to muck about and arse around, in search of what National Treasure Bob Mortimer calls “daft laffs and that”. This is a pretty good deal. When you’re the fool, different rules apply.
When I say most British people understand that we’re the Fool, I don’t mean everyone. Part of being a really good Fool requires pomposity and arrogance and having no idea at all that you’re the Fool. We have a special section of society who take on that role for us. They genuinely have no idea, because they are sent to different schools to keep the truth from them. They are taught that the ‘Great’ in ‘Great Britain’ is more than just a geographical term and, God love them, even as adults they still believe this. They genuinely have no idea what this country is like. Despite living here, and being occasionally exposed to the people and the culture, they still somehow think we are Downton Abbey.
Unfortunately, they also believe that power is their birthright and sometimes we foolishly support them in this. It’s like a toddler trying to drive a bus; you know it’s not wise, but you want to see it. Alas, one of them got into power and decided to ask the British people in a referendum if they wanted to tell a bunch of politicians to go and fuck themselves, thinking that they would say no. That’s probably worth dwelling on a little. He asked the British people – the British people, that’s the British people – if they wanted to tell some politicians to go fuck themselves, and thought they would say no. During a time of austerity. He genuinely thought that. Those are real thoughts that he had in his head. Such is the extent to which the social niqab of elite education blinds its victims to the actuality of this country.
Oddly, a number of other countries, despite all evidence to the contrary, have also taken the view that we are Downton Abbey. Quite why they did this I know not. I assume they have their own pathologies to deal with. But suddenly, thanks to Brexit, these countries are now sitting up in alarm and crying, ‘My God! Look at Britain! They are not Downton Abbey. They are the Fool!’ As a Dutch Journalist said to Jonathan Coe, ‘We love Monty Python, but we always thought it was comedy, not a reality show.’ You might think, ‘No shit, Sherlock’, but this is significant.
We have had a global coming out party. The Downton Abbey spell has shattered. We stand here exposed, butt naked, and our role as the Fool can no longer be denied. This is not something we can undo. This is us for good now. You can’t unring a bell.
We’re in new territory. Exposed as we are, we now have to make the decision we have been able to put off for too long. We are now understood to be the Fool, but exactly what type of Fool are we? There are options.
Are we the timid, fearful, poodle-type Fool, seeking a master to discipline and lead it? We can do that.
Or are we the Arrogant Fool – the boisterous pain in the arse, hitting downwards, putting it about and not caring about our impact on anyone else? We can do that as well.
Perhaps we are the Happy-Go-Lucky Fool, doing our best to have a good time despite everything. There’s a long tradition of this.
Or are we the tell-truth-to-power type Fool? It’s a bit of a thankless task, admitedly, but someone has to do it.
Or could we be the strange surrealist Fool, the Lord of Misrule, odd as all hell and entirely unpredictable? We can definitely do that.
Or, maybe, just maybe, we could be the visionary Fool? The creative, inspired, enthused, uplifted soul, far outside the ‘mind forg’d manacles’ of normal thought like the “unfortunate lunatic” William Blake. As John Balance once said, “Why be bleak when you can be Blake?”
Our politics and culture is, essentially, is a never-ending debate about which of these Fools should be primary. Perhaps we should hold a referendum to vote on it? Only joking! No, the trick is to decide which type of Fool you are, then vote by your actions.
And do it quickly! As I said last time – the 2020s are coming.
My new book must be getting close, because I’m due to read the audiobook version next week. If you’re in Brighton, come along and help me launch it with some very special guests – all selected as representative of where the future is going – on May 15th at the Bosco Tent in the Brighton Fringe.
If you’re in London, I’m in conversation with Luke Robert Mason of Virtual Futures on May 20th. And – get this – there’s a 50% discount code for newsletter subscribers, you lucky sods. Use the code VFHiggs50 when you order.
Other events are being planned – see my events list for more details.
HITHER AND THITHER
I had the Psychedelic Detective Agency round for a nice chat the other week.
I’ve also been talking about the importance of story to Justine at the screenwriting site Shore Scripts.
My saintly writer friend Jason Arnopp has launched a YouTube channel called Jason Arnopp’s Terrifying House of Obsession, full of horror, VHS and retro-gaming goodness, which you should go look at.
That’s it for now. Keep safe. Don’t forget to listen to April 5th by Talk Talk on April 5th.