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Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Pet Hates


Other people’s pet hates are among most people’s pet hates. They are not things you willingly listen to, read about, or otherwise engage with. The moment we suspect that a Pet Hate is about to surface in conversation we start to prepare the manoeuvres necessary to secure a change of subject. Often enough, we can think of nothing better than headlong retreat: Sorry, I must just go and have a word with so-and-so over there in the far corner (Arm and index finger extended to maximum length).

People can be very, very attached to their pet hates rather as if they were pet dogs to be groomed and pandered to and whatever else it is that pet dog owners do. People would be lost without their pet hates. Just imagine the ill-effect on the nation’s mental health if  the Council .... FILLED IN ALL THE POTHOLES.

Those who theorise what is called Identity Politics have simply got it wrong in limiting themselves to the trinity of race, class, and gender. [Copy editor: no need to insert Holy Bible capitals there]. You may say, Speak for yourself! but I reckon that pet hates play a large part in making us who we think we are. I don’t think any identity theorists have developed a typology or studied the distribution of pet hates by race, class, and gender, or considered what might be the function of pet hates. And presumably the pet hates of one hundred years ago will not be the same as today’s, though in my country popular attachment to the bric-à-brac of Heritage may have kept some alive for a very long time. Maybe our trains have never run on time.

(Question to the Learned: What were Shakespeare’s pet hates or didn’t he have any?)

Some pet hates clearly bind us together, like The Council and The Government, and if we feel frustrated when someone launches into potholes, parking schemes, or cycle lanes - well, then that frustration  arises simply because we would love to get  in a word of our own if we only knew how.

Some pet hates are divisive, and deeply so, and that means they consolidate whatever sense we have of our own identity. In my country, Brexit opened up a whole new world of divisive pet hates which looks set to overshadow Dogs and The Daily Mail for a long time yet.

On the brighter side, pet hates which express how we feel do not need to have much of a knowledge base. Ability to articulate and enjoy them does not discriminate in favour of the well-educated. You don’t have to be a pub bore or barrack room lawyer to qualify as a pet hater.  Being strongly opinionated is quite enough.

Strongly opinionated or just opinionated? And is there anything wrong with Having Opinions? That, I put it to you, members of the jury, is an interesting question.

Asked about our identity  we are used now to talking about what we are not what we think or believe unless we give ourselves a religious identity. Speaking as an old and pale white male - I am one and I can perform the role of one with some pleasure just like all those others who go around Speaking as - there is a cultural shift I have lived through in which what you are has come to matter much more than what you think, believe, or feel, In my early 1960s boys’ grammar school, having opinions was a central part of being intellectually alive. We had opinions about everything, many of them againsts: we were against capital punishment, against apartheid, against The Bomb and we let anyone who cared to know know it.  But what we were - that was not really talked about. I can’t recall asking any class mate what his father or mother did or where they came from nor was I asked. That was a private matter; what you felt about apartheid was a public matter.

But, of course, Opinions can be tiring. So too can Facts. Sounds like we are caught between a rock and a hard place.

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