Being disabled is neither pleasant in any given society, and Britain is a society civilised enough to appreciate the fact very fairly in all institutions. Not everyone in Britain shares such civilisation.
I do not know if facial and actual expressions of nobility and meanness are so similar that they can be conflated with each other. All institutions are based on the capacity and discretion of officials to accept or reject requests from members of the public as long as they effectively conform to the ethically consistent goals of the institution. Rules are rules, agreed, but not when applied wrongly or immorally. I guess everyone whose formal request has been rejected by an official must have at least once experienced the sudden transforming aristocratic sense of smugness experienced by the official in doing so. The head moves back, the upper lip stiffens, the demeanour becomes dour, the voice thickens and slows, self-satisfaction mixed with contempt is written all over the face, the rules are emphasised to perfection, the logic of “if I do it for you, I have to do it for everyone else” is flaunted, an aura of superiority is exuded… all because one had the ability to say no to a request.
It gets disturbing and totally misplaced when the person on the receiving end is disabled and struggling to cope in society. The main culprits of this cheap ‘flash of aristocracy’ at the expense of a disabled person I have observed are ASDA store managers / supervisors, Post Office counter staff, University security staff, London bus drivers and shockingly, ambulance drivers, yes ambulance drivers. Parking attendants, perhaps because of cultural differences will tell you No, when it is evident they could have said Yes, but without feeling smug about it. These people are should not be condemned but offered large doses of sympathy and pity; they are not aristocrats and are eternally oblivious of the fact feelings of aristocracy is strictly about sensibilities of nobility and a noble spirit rather than unnecessary snobbery. And they do not realise odd or laughable face pulling and bad ‘received English’ (if they can) is not the stuff of authority, power or privilege. How the meanness of rejecting or neglecting an obviously disabled persons in desperate need when the provisions of discretion or the letter of the law stipulates that one should give assistance or make an exception to rule for such persons beggars belief. Or is evidence that person is very disabled themselves perhaps emotionally or morally.
Rights for disabled people is a fundamental institution of modern day society, but too many people living in our “civilised, democratic” country simply do not get it. They think the legless are ‘taking the piss’, the wheel-chair bound are ‘jumping the queue’, the armless are ‘looking for sympathy’, the disabled person seeking to live independently ‘should have come out with a carer’ and the list of insensitivities go on. When the disabilities are not visible but no less debilitating (e.g. when one presents a Medic Alert bracelet or card), the case of ‘what the cheek’ or ‘nothing is wrong with her!’ easily arises.
Something I would not talk about in-depth is my conversation with an “aristocrat because someone was disabled” of the worst kind who I met wheelchair bound and distraught in St Thomas’ Hospital, recently. His words were “… if I truly did treat a disable person that badly when I should have known, I deserve my own disability… disable people are not a really thought about group”. Is that a credible excuse for being unnecessarily mean to a disable person trying to be part of society? Well, at least he now has time to think about the disabled. And he could not reproduce his flash of aristocracy all through our lengthy conversation.
Something to be genuinely optimistic about is that there are several people in society, perhaps the majority, who respond to the needs of disabled people when they should or can do so, out of internalised moral obligation or common sense. This represents a genuine nobleness in society of its own.