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January 06, 2005

The Buenos Aires nightclub fire: how the British press would respond to a similar disaster in London or Manchester

Posted by Anthony Daniels

In any other context than the East Asian tsunami, the fire in a Buenos Aires nightclub, which caused 175 deaths, would have counted as a major disaster. Apparently, a foolish and irresponsible reveller let off a firework inside the club, and set a fire in the flimsy ceiling that released the poisonous fumes from which most of the victims died. The fire escapes were blocked to prevent people from entering the club without payment; and the club had at least twice as many people – more than 2000 – as there were supposed to be there. A child as young as 11 was among the dead. Apparently there were babies left in the lavatories, while their mothers danced – and in the event, choked – the night away. Altogether, it was a true inferno.

Wild horses wouldn't drag me into one of those so-called nightclubs, though the prospect of money once did. An American magazine paid me handsomely to report from British nightclubs, which is how I came to know about them from the inside. If you want to know about the soul – if that is quite the word I seek –of modern Britain, I suggest you pay a visit to one of them.

The word 'club' suggests some kind of restrained and sophisticated sociability, but modern nightclubs are vast satanic caverns of mass solipsism. The only real meeting that takes place is fist to eye, when one enraged solipsist thinks that another solipsist has intruded on his privacy by looking at him in a funny way – which is to say, by looking at him at all. The question as to why so many young people should want to congregate in so unsocial a way falls halfway between sociology and ethology, and no doubt a gnu could answer it, if gnus could speak.

Let us imagine what the British press would say, and more importantly what it would not say, if (as is far from impossible) the Buenos Aires fire had happened in London or Manchester.

The British press would, of course, excoriate the laxity of the enforcement of the council's regulations as to the number of people permitted in the enclosed space. It would criticise the careless way in which security searches were carried out by those steroid-fuelled, eight-feet wide individuals who were once called bouncers, then called doormen, and are now called greeters, that allowed someone to enter with a firework in his pocket. And it would pontificate on the detestable, callous greed of the nightclub owners, who were so avid for money that they blocked off the fire exits rather than lose the price of a few admissions.

In fact, I am under no illusion that nightclub owners are philanthropists, even by the cut-throat standards of the most ruthless possible businessmen. The nearest I have ever had to a nightclub owner as a patient was his bodyguard, who was shot in mistake for his boss while watching television in his boss's house one night.

But there would be little commentary on the conduct of those who actually went to the nightclub, because 'the people' are sacrosanct, beyond unfavourable remark. What thousands or millions of people do cannot be wrong. Their worthless tastes, their vulgar habits, their frequently antisocial conduct, must never be criticised. No one, therefore, would remark in the public prints on the moral qualities of people who needed to be searched for knives, machetes, guns or fireworks before they could safely be allowed to associate with one another, supposedly to enjoy themselves. No comments on their tastes or their values would be allowed. Only the authorities and people with power, influence or money can safely be criticised.

At first sight, this might seem generous-minded. Actually, it isn't. It suggests that there are two fundamental kinds of human being, those with responsibilities and those without. The great mass of the people fall into the second category: however they behave, someone else is responsible for the consequences. As for the people with responsibilities, they are responsible for everything, because everyone else is responsible for nothing: and people who are responsible for everything must have power over everything. This, then, is the death of a self-regulating population. Those who refuse to criticise the common people for their faults are not so much the friends of the people, as the friends of authority set over the people. All power to the regulators!

Observe a queue of young people waiting to get into a nightclub, how meekly they allow themselves to be searched by the thuggish-looking bouncer-greeters, who (incidentally) have a very high rate of violence towards women. How the bouncer-greeters lord it over them! What power, moral and physical, they wield! They even have a star-like quality: I have seen a bouncer-greeter drive by (in a pastel-shaded BMW, it goes without saying), and have heard the admiring comments of those he and his type have humiliated a hundred times. The young people, supposedly so rebellious and anti-authority, are willing to endure almost any humiliation so long as they gain entry into one of the circles of hell, where the noise is so great that they enter a trance-like state almost at once. Slaves could hardly be more abject.

Of course, it is an illusion to suppose that everyone wants to be free. But everyone wants to assert himself, and no one likes to be humiliated. The way the abject slaves of the nightclub queues revenge themselves for their humiliation at the hands of the bouncer-greeters is by being insolent towards those in authority who nevertheless have an infinite duty of care towards them, such as doctors, who cannot answer back. A young man who grovels to a greeter-bouncer in a night club queue will have no hesitation in cheeking a doctor and letting him know who is boss. The doctor cannot refuse to cure a patient merely because the patient shows him scant respect, and for the first time the patient knows it.

Thus we see the dialectic of dependence and resentment in a population that is no longer expected to regulate itself, but expects always to be protected from the consequences of its own tastes and conduct.

Anthony Daniels is a doctor and writer.


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As a nearly boundless admirer of Dr Daniels, I am still taken aback by his opposition to Britain's nightclubs.

I'd have thought it worth a few hundred million a year to take so many wastrels and drug-addicted imbeciles and keep the off the streets from dusk 'til dawn. Moreover if word got out that we incarcerated them in dank, dark cellars stinking of antiseptic and Lord-knows what else, sluicing with cheap booze, pumped full of ear-splitting, mindless music to keep them from thinking up new ways to break the law, Amnesty International would never let us hear the end of it.

And it all happens voluntarily, through the magic of the marketplace. The little rotters pay for the privilege, and the riff-raff who own these dives appear to pay taxes that keep up our parks and symphony orchestras. And so long as the little nitwits remain standing all night they are unlikely to contribute to Britain's enormous and growing population of bastard children.

Better they were reading Milton, I suppose, but on the whole nightclubs may be not so bad.

Posted by: s j masty at January 6, 2005 08:01 PM
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Once again Doctor Anthony Daniels sums up with great perspicacity the frailties and wickedness of youth entrapped in the testoserone zone and those who both exploit it and suffer at its hands. The greater sadness of it, perhaps, is that it is unlikely that any of his subject matter ever see themselves in the mirror he holds up for them. Those like me who marvel at the accuracy of his observant reportage can do little about but suffer and repine. It is also unfortunate that in writings elsewhere Dr Daniels makes it perfectly plain that not everyone who eventually passes through to the post-testosterone zone improves as a result, otherwise one might consider selectively speying, as with cats, those with anti-social tendencies displayed during that tender age of awakening. Moreover, the young female of the species in this genre is fast catching up, in the tendency towards disgusting and violent anti-social habits. Perhaps the recent success of ''Strictly Come Dancing' may engender a re-issue of Victor Sylvester records and a return to the good manners displayed in the dance halls of yesteryear, when the 'excuse me' numbers and the excitement of the last waltz were the high-points of the evening; though judging by the spaced-out look on the faces of the night club patrons of today they all seem to come, dancing alone. Solipsism at its best, I guess they would say.

Posted by: Frank Pulley at January 7, 2005 02:35 PM
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Dr. Dalrymple: It would definitely be a mistake to call the nightclub atmosphere the "soul" of Britain. What these nightclubs represent is a place where the primitive, demonaical life forces abounding in Britain congregate. A place full of drunkards is always a place where a lack of consciousness prevails. So there should be no surprise at the fights, one night stands, attempted murders, and other general barbaric and chaotic nature that occur in these places.

In situations like these, the soul has little control over the bodies of these people; it instead will move futher and further away, and these people will be influenced more and more by forces of lower consciousness, primitive and demonaic.

Posted by: STJ at January 11, 2005 04:46 AM
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