One of the nice things about having a spell without the internet is that it puts the professional culture industry out of reach for a little while and replaces it with a whole plethora of opinion-forming events, encounters and meetings that one might not otherwise have had if one sat down behind the computer for a nightly fix of news, comment and opinion. And what becomes more and more noticeable the longer one spends in such wonderful limbo is the fact that the imposing wall of orthodoxy one encounters amidst the professional commentariat loses its claim to universality as soon as one shuts down the t’interweb and speaks instead to people in the pub, or in the pews, or in the marketplace. Partly, it is a matter of priorities, but it is also a matter of genuine difference, and rigorously enforced metropolitan creeds have barely a spark of influence beyond that close-knit cabal who insist on the infallibility of their dogma – indeed, it is frequently contravened, and unashamedly so, and sometimes even cringingly so. All of which can leave a man feeling mildly optimistic about life.
Of course, this is not to say that everything which emanates from within the socio-cultural elite is wrong, and everything that emanates outwith that elite is right – it is merely to point out that the whole herd of hip young things, chanting their banal mantras in impeccable unison, should not interpret the fact that everyone in webland thinks the same as them as evidence that therefore what they think must be self-evidently good. And nor must those on the outside, exasperated with what appears to be the untrammelled dominance of the chattering classes, get too downhearted about the whole thing – they talk only to themselves, and only about themselves, and only for themselves. Fortunately, a great chunk of people outside this virtual Hall of Mirrors see right through the ruse and offer that one diagnosis that can bring the populace of this noisy culture industry into the most indignant of misanthropic rages: ‘all the same , them lot, couldn’t slide a fag paper between them.’
And it’s largely true, however much those who have every interest in maintaining otherwise screech and shout that it ain’t so. Ideologically, philosophically, and culturally there is very little diversity in SW1, nor amongst the commentariat, a body populated by those who not only look and think very much like the people they pass comment on, but also switch places with them quite regularly too. This is not to say that there is never effort to highlight difference, and it is certainly amusing watching the ferocity with which many manufacture political and ideological minutiae as a means of proclaiming their difference from the other lot – even so, place a trendy Fabian, a ‘progressive’ Conservative and a LibDim in an interview room and quiz them about their beliefs; you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart.
Maybe it was always like this. I don’t know. But as I have blogged before, the other side to the argument that the internet is the anarchists’ paradise is that can also be a fairly effective tool for propagating and rigorously upholding central orthodoxies, much to the exclusion of dissenting voices. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, perhaps the best way to encounter genuine difference and radical diversity is to turn the internet off for a while; all things considered, the ‘real’ world is far more anarchic.