Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Let's Get Critical; Julian Baggini on Why the Art of Having a Moan Is Essential to Public Life

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Let's Get Critical; Julian Baggini on Why the Art of Having a Moan Is Essential to Public Life

Article excerpt

The political animal doesn't need telling that complaint is a good thing. To complain is to stand up and say that things are not as they ought to be: global trade rules, the under-taxation of aviation, or whatever. It is unfortunate that complaint is more usually associated with moans that there's nothing on the telly or the weather is crap.

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However, political complaint can be as futile as railing against the rain. If a complaint is to have constructive purpose, it has to be about things that can or should be changed. That might seem obvious, but some of the gravest political errors have been made by people who have, usually unwittingly, ignored these rules. For example, many are concerned by the competitive, egotistical and materialistic nature of contemporary culture. It seems to me to be a legitimate complaint, that we should not just let this go without challenge and should think of ways that public policy might do something to counter the trend.

Yet complaints are rarely constructive when they are too general. We need some specificity, and this is where we can either hit the nail on the head or go horribly awry. For instance, many have said that the corrupting nature of advanced capitalist society is wholly to blame for the status-driven selfishness of our age. If that is our complaint, then we are wrong, dangerously wrong. One of the gravest errors of the socialist revolutions of the 20th century was that they often assumed that people would be good and kind once liberated from the malign influence of capitalism. …

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