Sunday 23 October 2016

Ethic of after-work socialisation? Cheers!

Published 11/09/2016 | 02:30

Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Cartoon by Jim Cogan

It takes a special human quality to be able to offend so many people in such an apparently effortless manner, yet the cliched sitcom character Jeremy Corbyn, who has somehow found himself the leader of the Labour Party, just seems to have it.

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Nigel Farage came out of the same 1970s sitcom, spouting saloon-bar prejudices while Corbyn nurses his pale ale in the corner of the lounge, reading Spare Rib, trying to rise above Farage's jibing and sneering.

While they both seem largely unaware of the risible British stereotypes which they embody, it is Corbyn who is perhaps emerging as a more rounded character. It is Corbyn whose recent remarks about the culture of after-work drinks managed to offend absolutely everyone - men and women, for a start, which is probably as large a sample of the overall population as you're going to get in this game.

A Farage or a Trump may fancy themselves as offence-givers on a grand scale, but they have the consolation of knowing that some people at least will love what they are saying, people with "common sense", as Farage calls it.

Corbyn is better than that, offending everyone in a kind of methodical style, like a punter "going through the card". And all he said was that "the behaviour of companies that encourages an ethic of after-work socialisation in order to promote themselves within the company benefits men, who don't feel the need to be at home looking after their children, and it discriminates against women who want to, obviously, look after the children that they've got."

He wasn't calling for the overthrow of anything, he wasn't in total self-parody mode as he was last week when, sharing a stage with members of UB40, he spoke of the role of music in people's lives and how he had recently enjoyed some "Romanian folk music".

No, he was just questioning the way that folks organise the few pints after work, and what happened? He even offended me.

As a rule, I am almost unoffendable, but when I see a phrase like "an ethic of after-work socialisation", naturally I reach for my gun. Anyone who can turn "the few pints after work" into "an ethic of after-work socialisation" is in league with forces which must be faced down and ultimately eliminated.

Meanwhile the offence given to the broader community of men here is multi-layered. The statement as a whole sounds like it was drafted by an elite corps of the Stop Relaxing brigade, opposed at all times to anything in the world from which men may derive some pleasure, however small, and determined to take it away from them sooner or later.

Given that our old friend, the "ethic of after-work socialisation", would traditionally have been favoured by the male worker, Corbyn's statement reeks of that other ethic, the ethic of Stop Relaxing at its most virulent.

And of course men would also be offended by the suggestion that they would prefer to be in the pub instead of going home to their children, but they're used to that. They just wish that Corbyn was more in tune with the complexities of the relationships between men and women in this domain. And all the other domains.

It is Corbyn who is creating this crude demarcation between the bad men who don't feel the need to be with their children, and the good women who are discriminated against because they do feel that need, and they respond to it, often at great cost to themselves.

Except the women don't see it like that either, lambasting Corbyn for tacitly endorsing the patriarchal superstructure which decrees that women must be the primary providers of childcare, ironically perpetuating the hegemony which he is supposedly trying to challenge, or words to that effect.

Moreover, for some of us who have been working in areas such as, say, the newspaper industry, the idea of anyone getting excited about "an ethic of after-work socialisation" seems strange, given all the socialisation that used to be done during work and even before work, and perhaps instead of work altogether.

Certainly anyone who happened to drop into Mulligans' pub on Dublin's Poolbeg Street on any day between, say, 1931 and 1995, would have a more informed and a more mature perspective on these matters. So we are moving towards the only conclusion which can be drawn from this whole wretched affair - the one possible verdict: Corbyn is right.

When a man succeeds in causing offence on such a scale, without even trying, clearly he is on to something. Clearly, he has nailed it.

Because the thing to understand, is that giving offence is not the same thing as being wrong. And taking offence is not the same thing as being right.

Indeed, often the reason that offence is taken, is because the offender has cut to the inner truth of the matter, and the offended one is just not able to take it.

Therefore it follows that in our culture in which enormous energies are devoted to the suppression of the truth, the man who is able to offend everyone at the same time is working well.

So this is the truth: the "ethic of after-work socialisation" is one that discriminates against women. And though old Corbs mightn't like this either, you can take that to the bank.

Sunday Independent

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