Don't Be Silly, Get Thee to a Monastery
Bywater, Michael, The Independent (London, England)
Shan't mention my illness. Not a word. You'll just have to imagine the coughing, the aching ribs, the red eyes, the unshaven chin, the stoop, the greyness, the sheer awful awfulness of it all. Last week I couldn't speak at all, which may turn out to have been one of the nation's most significant bouts of laryngitis.
Here's why. Last week I mentioned an idea I'd had about a sort of University for people of riper years. Not your free-access Open University notion, where people have to watch appalling television programmes about fish- packing technology, presented in the dead of night by haunted men talking in monotones, like revenants. I hold no brief for the Open University, although I like the idea of the summer schools; all these nice ladies from the suburbs turning up for a fortnight's Saturnalia, away from their husband Geoffrey.
My idea is more . . . exclusive, and if that makes your gorge rise, you need a year at my University to learn why exclusivity and elitism are essential to a civilised world. We need to face the truth - you may well have faced it already - that we are run by silly people. Not stupid people; not evil people; but silly people. Silliness is the curse of our age: silly journalism, silly advertising, silly television; silly businessmen, silly politicians, silly, silly, silly academics, silly spin-doctors, churchmen, pundits and publicists. Silliness is not in itself a danger, but the combination of silliness and greed (ambition being merely a specialised form of greed) is lethal. The trouble is that the rewards are so great. Silly, greedy people can and do rise to power and riches in almost every arena of our public and commercial life, and if you don't believe me, watch the news, tonight or any other night. This is what my University will exist to counteract. No good dealing with the top bananas; they are too deeply mired in their own self-regard to be susceptible to anything except a bullet smack between the eyes. No; what we must do is promote a grand trahison des clercs, an intellectual and cultural revolution among the second ranks - the people not quite at the top but headed there - and how we do it is simple. What we want, ideally, is a monastery. I haven't looked into it, but I have noticed that monks are pretty thin on the ground these days. I assume monasteries come up for grabs now and then, and it should be a simple matter to gazump some bank or business school to the freehold deeds. In this monastery, we then install our core staff. Most important of all is a Head Porter, preferably a retired Regimental Sergeant-Major, who knows everything that goes on, regards everyone with equal amiable contempt ("You're an arsehole, Sir") and won't stand for any bullshit. …