A good rant
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Date: 19 April, 2004

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'Pearse summons up observations from history and an understanding of modern society. Here we have a lively history, in which John Stuart Mill and Tom Paine rub shoulders with McDonalds and Bill Clinton.'

Huw Thomas reads Meic Pearse's book Why the Rest hates the West

What do you make of bar room ranters in your local pub?

They tend to fall into two categories. In one there are the ranters that build a virtual perimeter around themselves, and are to be avoided. Meic Pearse is in the other camp. A ranter who can keep you interested.

In Why the Rest Hates the West he has a rant. The focus is on western culture and Pearse is looking at its peculiarities from an opening stance of asking why post-modern Western culture can prompt such hatred. Why 'they' hate us becomes a study of what's wrong with us.

Pearse summons up observations from history and an understanding of modern society. Here we have a lively history, in which John Stuart Mill and Tom Paine rub shoulders with McDonalds and Bill Clinton.

Nothing is wasted as all sources and quotes are from the pen of a writer quite obviously at ease with this material, drawing out the useful insights with a gift for explaining them.

From this background Pearse is able to offer perceptive comments on a range of facets of modern society, bringing them home to bear on everyday reality. He offers an explanation of how the decline of traditional authoritative structures has put immense pressure of the intermediate institutions in our society, insights that will ring true with those who work in the public sector in education or social services.

Trends

He is able to present the way in which lifestyle trends and changes in mobility have impacted on the family unit in ways that help me appreciate why, living 300 miles from my grandparents, I struggle to get baby-sitting support.

Where this book works, it works well. It does what it claims it will do and doesn't widen its scope. If you don't already share many of its stances, however, it doesn't do much to persuade you.

Another example of the limited scope is the book's focus on the West. There is a clear refusal to engage in much talk about the rest. This is a rant about our society its people.

Like any ranting polemicist, Pearse makes up a few straw men.
His caricature of 'multiculturalism' presents the reader with an unthinking political correctness - light years away from the thoughtful debate found in a writer like Yasmin Alibi-Brown or even the genuine negotiation of day to day realities found in an average inner city, diverse primary school.

Another quality shared with ranters is Pearse's tendency to sometimes tell us what we think. It is assumed that utopian ideals have been abandoned. It's taken as obvious and therefore something with which the reader is bound to agree.

However, given these limitations, where it works it works well. The book presents an engaging point of view. With Pearse we step outside the West for a moment and look at it from a range of angles.
This will include things you hadn't noticed, such as his striking discourse on how the use of passive verbs in common parlance (as in "things should be sorted") tells us about a change in social responsibility.

Wider picture

By taking some steps back, Pearse is able to look at a wider picture. When he discusses abortion he takes us on a step back to see the dilemma of right versus responsibility and how you can reach different conclusions depending on which you emphasise.

It did leave me asking where there was scope for redemption. There are some fantastic rants that are beautifully written, but Pearse was a little too unbending for my liking.

When I read some of his writing on personal morality I ask: "What of those of us who have made mistakes?" On a societal level I'm asking: "What if we're making one bigger mistake?"

Maybe Pearse has these sorts of thoughts lined up for another book.
If so, I'd very much like to read it.

Why the Rest Hates the West by Meic Pearse, SPCK, pp192.

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