By Jove, I think he's got it!


Nick Cohen starts off with this in his column:

Just before he died, Kingsley Amis wrote that two dismal groups fought over the use of English: the berks and the wankers. Berks were permissive types who rejected all rules. "Careless, coarse, crass [and] gross ... they speak in a slipshod way with dropped 'Hs', intruded glottal stops and many mistakes in grammar. Left to them, the English language would die of impurity, like late Latin. "By contrast, wankers were authoritarians who wanted to impose every possible restriction on speakers and writers. "Prissy, fussy, priggish [and] prim ... they speak in an over-precise way with much pedantic insistence on letters not generally sounded, especially 'Hs'. Left to them, the language would die of purity, like medieval Latin."

He then uses that to start talking about public health cares and the precautionary principle. But I think this basic division, between the berks and the wankers, explains so much more than either just language or health scares. I think it explains much of what is wrong with the modern world.

Being inescapably a berk myself I often look over at the others and think, well, just what are they thinking? Who really thought that it was necessary to use the criminal law to define carrots as fruit, jam for the making of? (That's an EU one.) Who could possibly believe that in the sad absence of a barcode tattooed on the forehead of every citizen they should carry an identity card instead? (A home grown insanity.) I can understand those in favour of immigration as I can those against but it takes a certain form of very non-berkness to open the borders to 450 million EU citizens but close them to a couple of thousand who have already fought for us.

In short, I'm taking the berk attitude to be the old English one, that live and let live sentiment, that freedom from rules and restrictions that we were really the first place to get as a civic reality from the 1660s onwards (even more so after 1689). And the other side, well they're the dirigistes, the pencil pushers, those who insist that there must be a rule for everything and everything must have a rule. And the power, sadly, seems to have flown from the berks to the others.

Or in Amis' terminology, the berks have let the wankers achieve power.