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[Listen to an audio version of this blog entry here.]
‘Until 30 or 40 years ago what I did was totally normal. People are radical in their youth and then they stop. That was the pattern of life until the 1960s. Then it changed. In the 1960s people stopped growing up when they reached their 20s and continued to be teenagers all their lives … Why should they grow up? … The world was revolutionised in the 1960s to suit them … Everything was made fantastically easy … I preferred to grow up … I felt it was time.’
The abridged version of words from the at times divisive English journalist, Peter Hitchens, expressed in an interview with me in January this year.
At the time of recording, those exact comments didn’t really resonate with me. Erroneously, perhaps, I was more focused on moving the conversation to our common position of being coronavirus-lockdown sceptics. Things that go viral do tend to dominate the discourse after all, for better or for worse.
Shortly afterwards, however, I began to reflect more deeply on that particular Hitchens observation.
In some respects, as a 36-year-old single, childless, relatively free man who reaped some benefits from Celtic Tiger Ireland, it could be argued that, on the surface anyway, I’m ripe to be in that not-growing-up brigade.
Compared to my parents and with a lot of thanks owed to them — although I didn’t think it at the time — everything was made fairly ‘fantastically easy’, at least until my mid-20s.
I went from secondary school straight to university. While not exactly stress-free, it was far from a chastening experience either.
After obtaining a BA degree followed by a higher diploma, I only had a few months’ wait before landing a full-time broadcast journalist job. For sure, working in a busy newsroom comes with many pressures, but I couldn’t say that I was learning life the hard way. It is, of course, all relative, that much is true.
Whatever the case, my decision to go travelling solo around the world after a switch of radio stations didn’t go the way I thought it would, led to, arguably, the first time I really had to be fully responsible for myself. I was 23.
‘People have become comfortable with Big Nanny State controlling practically every aspect of their lives.’
Brendan versus the big bad world. And first up it was the big bad world of South America. A baptism of fire you might say.
I certainly learnt much from that experience. It’s open to debate whether I became more responsible but I think it’s fair to say I became more streetwise. Either that or I was downright lucky on umpteen occasions.
An 18-month working interlude back in the relative comfort of Ireland followed that nine-month global adventure. After that, in 2011, came the return to South America.
Adolescents in adults’ bodies
Fast forward ten years later and with Hitchens’ opening salvo in mind, can I define myself as responsible and grown-up?
It depends on how one views it, really.
Money-wise, I’m independent, living within rather restricted means as I must. There’s no Nanny State to speak of in Colombia to help those in need in any case.
Even if there was, it would be rather impertinent of me to be looking for help considering I come from a higher-income country. Any foreigner from a First World economy based here who’s looking for government handouts, well that surely is a sign that one lacks responsibility.
In some ways, Colombia is a capitalist country in its rawest form. It’s every man, woman and child for him/herself. OK, there are those few in the upper classes who have had everything pretty much handed to them. You’ll find such types the world over.
I like to think I have a fair appreciation of the balance between my rights and responsibilities. As a traditional conservative, I believe this is what Hitchens was getting at in terms of people not growing up, although he didn’t explicitly say this in our interview.
In a UK and Republic of Ireland context, it comes back to the Nanny State. People have become comfortable with it controlling practically every aspect of their lives. As needy and selfish “grandchildren”, they cry and throw the toys out of the pram each time they feel wronged. Rather than becoming more independent, more responsible, they confer upon Big Nanny State ever-greater powers of control.
For some, this is blissful. It means virtually nothing is ever their fault anymore. Everything is in the hands of Big Nanny State. And as long as she hands out the occasional sweet treat, all is fine.
For others, the realisation that their own lives have practically been outsourced to ‘those who know best’ in return for an ‘easy existence’ is slowly dawning. However, what was easily surrendered is proving much more difficult to take back.
What it requires is the radical spirit of the immature, irresponsible youth, but one not anchored to the extremes. The centre ground must find its bite before it’s too late.
The responsible, grown-up adults in the room need to start behaving as such. The question is, have we enough of such types around to do this?
Listen to Wrong Way’s Colombia Cast podcast here.