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LET’S HAVE AN ARGUMENT

02/12/2011

Is it easier to have an argument in a city than elsewhere? It’s nice to focus on the random acts of kindness I often see in town but what of the random acts of rage?

Leaving road rage aside, an affliction that I often succumb to, it is quite amazing that people do not get upset as you might expect. A ticket machine not giving change, the restaurant not serving breakfast at 10.31, the bus driver seeing you run for the bus and still pulling away, the ignored racial or discriminatory slur, the price of a bottle of water, the automatic doors not opening automatically, spitting on the floor of the bus, the arrogance of a young man in a good suit. There are rules that apply to cities more than elsewhere, and one rule is: ‘Don’t make a fuss.’ The punishment for breaking this rule is ‘Standing out.’

I like to think this is something that will change, that people will see that challenging high prices, challenging the moral stands we can’t afford; challenging the neglect we should not allow can be affected by people taking action, but in my experience I know it takes generations to turn attitudes around. There are people who protest about the big things. They are prepared to literally blow up the city to make their point. I’ve seen this up close, been part of society’s response to it, and it hasn’t changed any opinion I might hold because it was a violent act. The city subsumes individual argument like a cry for help in a hurricane. Its institutions are designed to diminish the will to protest. Bank HQs are behind the island barriers of Canary Wharf. Parliament is behind ‘temporary’ concrete embankments. The open space of Paternoster Square is anything but.

In Tibet recently, another nun set fire to herself in protest because her society had ensured that she was unable to protest in no other meaningful way. Now I’m not saying that is a way forward, but seriously, £1.20 for a bottle of water? I’m not having that!

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