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HomeNewsThe Johnson Jive: Dancing at us, but not with us

The Johnson Jive: Dancing at us, but not with us


THE Canadian rock star Neil Young recently made an idiot of himself by demanding that Spotify (apparently that’s a thing) cancel the podcaster Joe Rogan

The latter, you see, has platformed guests who might be unforgivably open-minded about the official lockdown and vaccine orthodoxies. We are talking here about people who question the narrative. We cannot have that. 

Being a self-avowed liberal, Young has decided that the Rogan intrusions are intolerable. Liberals are rarely in favour of tolerance, unless they agree with what they are tolerating. Which, when you think about it, isn’t really ‘tolerance’, but narcissism. 

Nevertheless I will forgive Neil Young many things, not least on account of this beautiful celebration of the dance. 

What Young is announcing in that video is that when done formally, in observance of tradition, choreography contains rituals which enable traditions of courtship.  

And – more important perhaps – that the formal dance can recreate the courtship within a marriage as well as before it. There is joy in dance when it includes anticipation of what it might lead to, and a celebration of what’s come before. 

‘Because I’m still in love with you, I will watch you dance again . . . because I’m still in love with you … on this harvest moon. ’ 

So, to shimmy in the direction of the dance … 

The late Roger Scruton found it difficult to spot an area of human life which he could not recontextualise via the tools of his Cambridge analytical training. 

Scruton had a subtle and deeply embedded moral and intellectual instinct when it came to the quotidian. These instincts developed into a deep scepticism about the intellectual benefits of membership of the Academy. His worldview included a metaphysics of the everyday. That was the essence of his conservatism: Both instinctual and deep. 

 When it came to dancing, his approach was characteristically sharp. He said: ‘The traditional formation dance involves a posture towards the other, the partner. It includes the other essentially and includes him or her as a free being whose every movement is related to a movement of one’s own.’ 

Scruton acknowledged a distinction between ‘dancing with’ and ‘dancing at’, saying: ‘The difference between “with” and “at” is one of the deepest psychological differences we know. It is exemplified in all our encounters with other people – notably in conversation and sexual gambits … rudeness, obscenity, the “in your face” manners of the new TV presenter – all these are ways of being “at” other people. Courtesy, manners, negotiation, and deference are, by contrast, ways of being “with”.’   

Barn dancing, line dancing, ballroom dancing have this in common: They are rule-governed. It is that formality which makes them what they are, and which enables the joy that attends them. It is the rules which enable the freedom of the dance. 

Developing Scruton’s point, there are rules ‘with’ which need to be contrasted with rules ‘at’. The latter are capricious and introduced by fiat, at the stroke of a pen signing off on a Statutory Instrument. They are invariably ill-thought through and assume a knowledge of a future which my friend Michael Driver points out is not so much unpredictable as unimaginable.  

Rules ‘with’, by contrast, are settled forms of practice, versions of co-operation which accept that we can’t know what’s going on at the fundamental level (the Divine Mind possibly being cleverer than our own). The philosopher Wittgenstein got this right: Formal rules do not declare their own application – they are emergent human ‘forms of life’. 

Formality is an enabling condition of freedom. The problem is that this government has failed to recognise that essential difference. When I was homeless, I didn’t need my government to dance ‘at me;’ I needed it to dance ‘with me’ (it left me floundering on the dance floor in the end – another story). In failing to appreciate the distinction, Johnson has trodden on the feet of the UK people. 

‘Dance with’ versus ‘dance at’ … a huge metaphysical distinction. The Johnson junta and its Sage puppet masters have been ‘at us’, not ‘with us’. They have imposed a disco version of the pandemic when what was called for was a more formal relationship with the UK polity; one which acknowledged the ‘consensual set of relationships’ that Sir Roger so eloquently described. 

Dancing ‘with’ is an affirmation of the human condition, and its instinct of decency. Dancing ‘at’ is a denial of it, it is the default position of the narcissist who cares – in the dance – only how he looks in the mirror. 

Which do you think Johnson is? 

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Sean Walsh
Sean Walsh
Sean Walsh is a writer.

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