There are many kinds of revelation. But the most powerful is the vision which transcends the mental boundary between life and non-life, and Scotland is a place where this sort of revelation often approaches. Staring into a Scottish landscape, I have often asked myself why--in spite of all appearances--bracken, rocks, man and sea are at some level one.
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By the middle twentieth century, few European nation-states had not at one time or another figured themselves as 'the outpost of Western Christian civilisation': France, imperial Germany, the Habsburg Reich, Poland with its self-image as przedmurze (bastion), even tsarist Russia. Each of these nation-state myths identified "barbarism" as the condition or ethic of their immediate eastward neighbour: for the French, the Germans were barbarous, for the Germans it was the Slavs, for the Poles the Russians, for the Russians the Mongol and Turkic peoples of Central Asia and eventually the Chinese.
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It was a real revolution. But with one missing feature. That is the feeling in a people that "We have done it once, and if the new lot let us down, we can do it again!" It was that proud, menacing confidence which made the French revolution special. But it's not around in 21st-century Europe. After 1989, the people handed over liberty to the experts. Will they ever want it back?
History--the product, not the raw material--is a bottle with a label. For many years now, the emphasis of historical discussion has been laid upon the label (its iconography, its target-group of customers) and upon the interesting problems of manufacturing bottle-glass. The contents, on the other hand, are tasted in a knowing, perfunctory way and then spat out again. Only amateurs swallow them.
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But the people did get it. They had lost something -- not exactly their fear, but their patience. Suddenly it seemed unbearable to go on accepting these systems, these portly little idiots in their blue suits, for another year, and then for another day, another hour. That special sort of impatience is the power-surge of revolution.
In Moscow, dim and green under the summer rain, columns of armour were waiting in the side-roads off the long avenue from Vnukovo airport. Tanks from the Taman Division stood beneath the dripping trees around Moscow University with their field kitchens and command trucks. This was not a new sight to me: the Soviet tanks had rested like that beneath the trees of the parks in Prague, late in another August twenty-three years before. Now they had invaded and crushed one more country -- their own.
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English stupidity is an organism so primitive that it is apparently impossible to kill off. It reminds me of Physarum Polycephalum, the gigantic slime mould recently bred by scientists at Bonn. Bright yellow and about two millimetres thick, this monocellular creature--neither plant nor animal--grew to a size of 10 square yards before the scientists took fright and froze it. It can smell its favourite food, and move towards it at a speed of up to two centimetres an hour. This favourite food is porridge.
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Who should regulate the media? Who should control the press? The commentariat agonises, as if the choice was between state control through some autocratic press law or a new Press Complaints Commission redecorated with false teeth. But there is another way. Let journalists regulate themselves.... Let's have a little democracy in the media. Even in the Murdoch papers, the number of journalists who are irretrievably lawless and callous is quite small. Most of the disasters at the News of the World happened because its editors treated their staff in the style of Muammar Gaddafi.
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When Tony Benn became a minister in the 1960s -- and I think this must be apocryphal -- he had a huge map of Britain hung upside down in his office, so the channel was at the top and Scotland was at the bottom and, apparently, he said, "This is how we need to look at this country, with the money and the power draining by force of gravity out of the south east." That was a great idea. I rather liked him for that. I don't know if it's actually true or not.
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All human populations are in some sense immigrants. All hostility between different cultures in one place has an aspect of the classic immigrant grudge against the next boatload approaching the shore. To defend one's home and fields and ancestral graves against invasion seems a right. But to claim unique possession "" to compound the fact of settlement with the aspect of a landscape into an abstract of eternal and immutable ownership "" is a joke.
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The very word "change" has changed. When I was young--and not just because I was young--we looked forward with confident impatience to change. Planned, controlled, beneficent change would continue to clear slums, sweep up the remains of empire, raise living and educational standards, tidy away--firmly but kindly--the last aboriginals who still raved about martial glory or the pride of wealth. Now, as it seems to me, change is set almost exclusively in the minor key, change seen overwhelmingly as loss.
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