Calling a Chav a Chav

Yesterday, I emerged from my house into a sleepy, sultry and somewhat grey July morning, and discovered that my town centre had been turned into a rubbish tip.

I live a stone’s throw away from a pub, so I’m not unused to tomfoolery emerging late at night; the previous evening, I had heard the usual cacophony of swearing at top volume and standard issue arguments between boyfriend and girlfriend. Sometimes the chatter is amusing: once, a group of teenagers dared each other to pose naked in front of the police CCTV cameras.

However, the spectacle of my town’s streets choked with trash indicated that something more sinister than a torrent of f-bombs had crashed into the neighbourhood. It seems that the vandals had torn open the rubbish bags put out by the local shops and liberally spread out the contents. As I made my way to the train station, I had to step over garbage as wide ranging as torn up shoe boxes to rotten food. Other remnants of the previous night’s mischief included a sign that had been stolen from a pub and placed in front of a shoe repair shop.

Fortunately, the clean up crews were already out in force, sweeping and tidying. I sympathised with them: they were much more perturbed by the insane mess than I was. Furthermore, there was a weariness in their look as they tended to their work, which indicated they had been at it for some time before I had happened along.

I found out from a colleague that a similar incident had occured last week in another nearby town: we theorised it was probably the same youths, given the same mindless destruction, and the same extensive tidy up operation required.

George Orwell sprung to mind. He once said that we had the right to do as we please. In the next breath, however, he said that peaceful people needed to be protected. He was right on both counts.

In another development, it appears that the Fabian Society would rather linger in rarefied heights than think about civil peace. Tom Hampson, one of their spokesmen, said that progressive people should not use the word “chav”, deeming it “way above the level of acceptability”. His justification of this policy was that the “chavs” have no means to defend themselves.

I wish Mr. Hampson could live next to a pub for a while. My local, which generates so much mischief, is a part of the Wetherspoons chain, a group famous for being able to provide cheap beer because it is close to its expiry date. It is where many “chavs” go to imbibe, and plunge into the pleasure of oblivion. Alcohol kills inhibitions; most of the time, we find what was inhibited was the need to swear and yell. As this week’s example shows, it can also liberate a desire to destroy.

There are other features to this segment of society besides beer and mayhem; these are the people that read the tabloids, prefer celebrity to intellect, and have little or no consciousness of environmental or health issues. In short, it is most uncultured and suicidal part of Britain.

To be sure, education, or lack thereof, plays a huge role in all this. Somehow our schools did not open the door of knowledge. This may be more a cultural rather than public spending issue; it used to be, in particular during the Twenties and Thirties, that even the poorest Yorkshire miner had access to a lending library that was filled with great literature. These institutions were funded by unions; at the time, the ethos stated that self-improvement as well as political change was necessary to achieve lasting gains for the working class.

They were correct. However, it appears the “chavs” lack the impulse to apply self-criticism, and thus genuine improvement may have stalled. Certainly, economic policy plays a role in the increasing stratification of Britain, but there is an element to narrowing the gap that involves educational attainment and the desire to learn. Allowing this state of affairs to continue is an act of neglect; trying to suggest that progressivism exists to hide the absence of a self-improving instinct is to distort its meaning. On the contrary, progressivism should seek to encourage people to achieve better, and comment on the status quo as something undesirable.

Furthermore, we should not excuse behaviour when it doesn’t allow “peaceful people to live peacefully”; when progressives do try to excuse this behaviour, it switches off the wider public, who see their rights trampled upon in being told what they have to excuse and to tolerate. Progressivism in this scenario becomes a message of a narrow, removed elite, rather than something that can be applied to the every day. Fortunately, Mr. Hampson is apparently out of the mainstream on this: Barack Obama, a reliable barometer of the future, has already spoken about cultural issues and personal responsibility.

So we should call a chav a chav: the label does, as Mr. Hampson says, carry negative connotations. Who knows, perhaps being called a “chav” will be a mark of shame at some point in the future, rather like being a “disco enthusiast” is now, thirty years after Saturday Night Fever deluged the land with the Bee Gees and bell bottoms. At the very least, using the term “chav” should trigger some debate, and perhaps through debate, some idea of an answer.

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