Monday, April 15, 2024
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Our angry, ugly, graceless age – and the Queen


THE early twenty-first century is a time of ugliness, in art, architecture, in popular culture (anyone for Love Island?), in writing, in the way humans present their bodies to the world, in politics, in sport, and, worst of all, in human behaviour.  Everywhere you look, there is hubris and anger. 

It is a graceless age. Here is the Biblical definition of grace: ‘The spontaneous, unmerited gift of the Divine favour in the salvation of sinners, and the Divine influence operating in individuals for their regeneration and sanctification.’

Not only have we rejected God’s grace, we have lost our own. Look at the synonyms for grace: poise, elegance, charm, courtesy, beauty. These virtues once described a way of being, of acting towards one’s fellow man, and encompassed an age very unlike our own.

The 19th-century French philosopher Victor Cousin coined the phrase ‘the good, the true and the beautiful’, which sums up the ends which Plato, Christ and their scholastic philosopher-followers claimed humans were configured to pursue. This trifecta has been comprehensively dismantled in our age.

All this has been brought to our attention by certain recent events in New York and elsewhere. Specifically, on a tennis court. 

First, we had the gracelessness, ongoing and super-charged, of the American Serena Williams, who kind-of blamed God and the fact that women are the child-bearing sex for her failure to win 30 Grand Slam tournaments and thus beat God-fearing Margaret Court’s record.

It is passing strange that Russians were welcome at the US Open, but not an all-time great men’s player who happens not to have been vaccinated for Covid. Russians, of course, are the current sworn enemy of the Biden gerontocracy, so you might have expected them to be verboten, as they were at Wimbledon. This, of course, would have been a travesty. But an even bigger travesty was the exclusion of a perfectly healthy and therefore harmless tennis player for no real reason. Enemies in the war on Russia are OK, but not enemies in the war on a middling virus in which most governments in the world have declared a ceasefire.

Similarly creeps are okay. Toys out of the cot merely adds to the atmosphere. Value for money for experience-starved, graceless punters.

One of the creepiest happens to be an Australian. Beaten by a Russian, of all people! This brings us to the second graceless episode, witnessed the globe over. As one commentator noted, Nick Kyrgios is meant to be an adult. A temper tantrum by a two-year-old is embarrassing for all concerned. What to make of the rampant petulance of a 27-year-old who has much to be humble about, and not a lot to be proud of, but who yet has been gifted with potentially awe-inspiring talent?

If the punters wish to court and reward the ugly, whether the ugliness of boorish behaviour, of reality television, of the brutalist architecture of our cities, of the woke-and-ugly art that graces (no pun intended) our galleries, of bodies disfigured with tattoos, good for them. And with the instant reward and punishment system we now have via social media, the approval (or not) will be instantaneous. And delivered without much grace.

It isn’t only sports celebrities who deliver graceless behaviour to those whom they are meant to serve and to whom they owe their living. No less than the US President, a position once recognised as the leader of the ‘free world’, in one of his few lucid moments, has insulted and berated around half the American adult population for having the temerity to have a different world view to his own. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy blasted the president as someone who has ‘chosen to divide, demean and disparage his fellow Americans’. He called on Biden to apologise for his recent remark equating ‘MAGA’ beliefs with ‘semi-fascism’.

McCarthy was being way too polite. One commentator noted that the President had declared war on his own people. Biden himself is a barely coherent, divisive, totalitarian demagogue and usurper. An economic vandal. An enemy of the people. No grace there, I’m afraid.

Ironically, it took the passing of one whose life of grace (in every sense) blessed us all. No leader could be further from the American President in carriage of the cardinal virtues. Sure-footed, with endless poise, effortless style and bucketloads of substance.

On her 21st birthday in 1947, the then Princess Elizabeth said: ‘I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.’ And so it was.

What stands out most about that quote, and about the Queen generally, was her absolute submission of the self. There was no exemption for love, as her uncle had made, or cloying need for ‘me time’, as Meghan Markle seems constantly to require. Her surrender to her duty was total. Much of her life would be planned down to the minute; the needs of Britain had to come first. 

Ah, Meghan Markle. Now there is gracelessness personified, along with Biden, Kyrgios, Serena Williams and all the rest. All of them blissfully at home in a lost, tasteless, directionless, deluded, superficially ideological world that chases empty utopias and recognises nothing of true and lasting value. The latter notion is, for them, not even a thing. They are people for whom ‘grace’ is entirely a foreign concept. 

The endlessly troubled American songwriter John Murry, a relation by adoption and forever-fan of the peerless novelist William Faulkner, produced an extraordinary album in 2012 called The Graceless Age.   

John Murry’s would be a compelling story had he never made a record – an addict who lost his wife and child and home, and almost his life, before cleaning up. And then you get to the record. The Graceless Age is extraordinary, a profound and moving meditation – the kind of album that answers questions you didn’t realise you were asking

Then there was The Eagles’ Don Henley, who wrote these words in 1989:

These times are so uncertain
There’s a yearning undefined
And people filled with rage
We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive
In such a graceless age?

How can goodness survive?  Or truth?  Or beauty?

These are anthems of our times, and we are suffering purgatorially for them. Various writers have categorised our age as one of madness, of evil, of ignorance, of cluelessness, of godlessness. All true enough. But surely gracelessness is a contender.

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Paul Collits
Paul Collits
Paul Collits is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Quadrant Online

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