Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Could the brats in charge please try to grow up?

Not before time, the new spirit of brattishness which seems to have infected adults, particularly those in public life, has been receiving attention.

Responding to a survey which purported to reveal that, in some countries, women are now brainier than men, the commentator Janet Street-Porter suggested that modern men have one or two maturity issues.

"Have you noticed how many of them are morphing into big babies?" she asks. "They dress like oversized toddlers. They read comics. They can't function without their toys. In short, many men have retreated into a pre-teen world, where they don't have to spend much time dealing with the nasty real world."

Immaturity becomes more than merely annoying when it is evident in the people who are meant to be in charge of things. Watching bankers as they appear before a select committee, or ministers and Press grandees giving evidence to Leveson, one is nigglingly aware of something new and unusual in the way these people see the world: they are never quite serious. Even when imitating seriousness (take a pearly-toothed bow, Bob Diamond), they are larking about. Nothing really matters that much.

Last week, in an important, but widely misunderstood essay called Why Our Elites Stink, the New York Times columnist David Brooks argued that the emphasis on youth and brains in today's meritocracy had come at a price.

Today's bosses lacked "the self-conscious leadership ethic" which the old, class-based elite once passed on from one generation to the next.

Those in power, Brooks argues, have trouble even recognising that they are part of a privileged elite. "Everybody thinks they are countercultural rebels, insurgents against the true establishment, which is always somewhere else."

The connection with hippies and the counterculture of 40 or so years ago is odd, but interesting.

Then, alternative leaders spread the gospel of play power: it was through having fun, making love and taking nothing seriously that a gentle revolution would be wrought. Hippies played while the establishment looked on disapprovingly. Now it is the other way around. People who believe that Western capitalism is fundamentally wrong - the Occupy activists and others - tend to be severe and humourless, while those in positions of power gad about merrily. For all their flaws, the suited worthies of the past were at least grown-up.

Our elites stink because they are run by people who prefer to think of themselves as mavericks, rather than members of the establishment.

In their cheerfully irresponsible world, what matters are the brattish pleasures of winning, being popular, bullying the wimps and, above all, getting lots of sweets.

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