A Bigger Loss Than Anticipated

“A bigger loss than anticipated.

You ask yourself where you live. It is a country of raised eyebrows, deep scepticism, and of keeping things as they are in case they get worse. It is a country that believes in the NHS but will risk its future because it is sceptical about threats to demolish it. It is a country with a fragmented working class base with a fragmented sense of identity. It has no great opinion of itself but will not be told by others that it should have a low opinion of itself. Fuck you, it replies. It is several countries not one. Its sleep too is fragmented. In the morning it raises its eyebrows while one part then another breaks off. It needs to be addressed patiently, with deadly honesty, with some appreciation of its intelligence, even with some affection, especially by those who want it to change, to move from acts of individual altruism (of which it has plenty) to one of socially cohesive altruism. It needs stop raising its eyebrows. It needs to see the greater good against the cost. It needs to say, now and then, fuck the cost. The gain is greater.”
By George Szirtes, snagged from here: http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/whatever-it-is-were-against-it-3/

Honestly, it made me incredibly sad, but also oddly comforted, to see someone articulate this so well, because it’s something I’ve been getting steadily more frustrated and upset by as those actual ordinary people on the left and the right push further away from each other – with the help of self-appointed wobbly, affable totems like Nigel Farage and Russell Brand – these last few years and months and days.

My friends online – largely big hearted small “l” liberal or left-leaning – are understandably frustrated and angry today, and I get it. I do.
But I also worry that, as the trend seems to be in our culture at the moment, that anger will just get worse and make us less rather than more communicative and coherent.

Are people who voted against what we believe in all evil?

I don’t think so, but then I’ve always been uncomfortable with the binary magic-thinking of people being either “evil” or “good”.

I do believe that most people will not specifically and knowingly vote for the deaths of the children of the poor. I sincerely don’t believe that more than half the people in this country are deliberately “evil”.
(The key words there being “specifically”, “deliberately” and “knowingly”. When talking about the distribution of nuanced ideas, distinctions like this are important.)

Are they stupid?

We’re supposed to be the ones who get it. We complain endlessly about how stretched the education system is, and how hamstrung teachers are by government mandate, and how much our political establishment cuts off the poor from the most basic access to facilities, and how smart our media (even the BBC! Even the GUARDIAN!) is at whittling away our critical faculties and pushing narratives. We kind of get, or at least have heard of, cognitive biases, and know that we’re ALL susceptible to having them tweaked and fucked with. We used our understanding of herd mentality to explain why decent people turned violent during the protests a few years back.
We should know better than to write people off as stupid, based on a tick in a box. At worst, they’re ignorant. Most likely, they just weren’t bombarding themselves with the same data you were. Because most people DON’T go looking for more information once they’ve found or been given a solution that sounds, you know, maybe right.

It’s a useful rhetoric device to spit these accusations, and ones like them, at the people who didn’t vote our way, & understandable in anger, but from tomorrow we should probably start working on how to communicate better across the whole electorate.
This division and inability to understand each other only helps the people who want to rule us, and they’re getting better at taking advantage of it.

“On Charlie Hebdo: A Letter To My British Friends” by Olivier Tonneau

A great post shared by Mhairi McFarlane about Charlie Hebdo – specifically about the historical context of the magazine, and more interestingly French culture and the relationship between extremism, Islam and French culture.

http://blogs.mediapart.fr/blog/olivier-tonneau/110115/charlie-hebdo-le tter-my-british-friends

The only thing I didn’t really agree with is the author’s early reduction of an “I am NOT Charlie” position to a callous, simplistic, faux-lefty reaction to some difficult to parse imagery. Elsewhere, I’ve seen it described as “sneering”.

It’s pretty obvious that I’d disagree with this interpretation, as I’ve pretty much taken the “you know what, I don’t think I was Charlie last week, so I probably won’t be Charlie now” position on the aftermath of the attacks on Facebook and Twitter, and I’ve pretty much agreed with quite a few people responding similarly to me, and interpreted their feelings as coming from a similar place.

(Look, this gets really long and probably makes no sense. I kept going back to it during a night of procrastination and head-cold, so nobody should feel they have to read it. It’s brain splurge, and I’ll have forgotten it by morning.)

I know that superficially – despite my usual efforts to painfully, boringly announce and detail every damn feeling I’ve had about a thing – it might’ve looked like I was totally down with censorship, and believe that all satirists should be either kept quiet or murdered. But actually, that isn’t the case. There are a lot of things I don’t agree with, and near the top of that list is that innocent people shouldn’t be killed for making a joke that other people didn’t either understand or like. Yes, I believe that people are still innocent, even after they do stuff that offends people – even quite a few people. I feel that way about Damon Lindelof, and George Lucas, and even Bono.

When I noticed the first few comments about whether or not Charlie Hebdo was a racist rag, I thought it was a) irrelevant and b) a bit soon. The bodies weren’t even cold. Actually, at that point the bodies hadn’t even stopped falling. And now that the funerals have started, I still believe the same thing.

(There won’t be a point where I don’t think politicising the deaths of innocents within minutes of the news breaking won’t be both irrelevant and a bit soon. I’m being pretty consistent about this, too.)

I posted at the time something about the smartness of separating out one’s initial emotional reaction – the one full of grief and shock – and taking the big ideological stances a bit later, when calmer. I still believe that, too. Part of the reason for that is this: It takes a few days for even the smartest, best informed people to start articulating the big points that are really worth reading.

So, my first reaction was “fucksake, people, I know it’s almost always tacky and a bit reductive when people start blindly attaching solidarity hashtags to themselves, but at least they haven’t started on the colour coded profile pics yet… let people have a bit of grief. It doesn’t matter what Hebdo’s content was. The point of lunatic gunmen is they’re lunatic gunmen – you don’t respond to their rhetoric, you respond to the fact of innocents dying.”

Deep down I felt that, like most things, “it’s probably more complicated than you’re suggesting”.

But then within minutes of me seeing those first few dissenting voices, I saw Nigel Farage, on legitimate news sites, using the murders as a springboard to talk about a Fifth Column within “our” (meaning UK) society. And the counter to THAT was almost non-existent.

I DEFINITELY thought “it’s more complicated than Nigel Farage is suggesting”.

Most of the initial responses from normal people I saw weren’t as creepy, but there was this usual blind throwing in with rhetoric that they didn’t know much about. It’s often sincere, but also very immediate and superficial. I didn’t mind it, but I’m apparently a contrarian, so the bluntness of the sentiment didn’t hook me in.

(Also, I love dark satire – Chris Morris is one of my favourite humans – and I’m very conscious that the last thing satire needs is for a mass audience to blindly throw in with it. It’s a comedy that defies catch-phrasing. If you take many lines out of the Brass Eye paedophilia special completely out of context, not only do you sound like a cunt, you also totally break the jokes – which is the worst thing you can ever do to a joke. I wasn’t ever going to claim a different culture’s satire as my own on the spur of the moment like that.)

As the “Je Suis Ahmed” hash-tag started to appear, I got it. I couldn’t claim it either – not my place, and I’m not a big joiner – but I could see how followers of Islam were put in a difficult position by the other hashtag movement. These weren’t last-minute idealists-of-convenience – whether one agrees with Hebdo or Muslims or not, the magazine persistently attacked one of Islam’s deepest held taboos.
It’s impossible for me, and I imagine most of the people I know, to even comprehend what having an article of faith like that is even like, and usually we only see a twisted side of it.
As an atheist, and a Brit, and a white dude with a sociopathic streak, I’ve got even less context for what it would be like being a Muslim in France with a magazine like Charlie Hebdo breaking taboos all up in my face and me just dealing with it, and then the offices being fatally attacked and me having a natural instinct to mourn for the tragedy, than I do about the historical French context of Hebdo.

And liberals… well, most hard-core liberals didn’t have much choice in the matter either. In this world where nuance is dead on every side of every argument, where it isn’t possible to articulate uncertain or complicated points of view, liberals were stuck, because at a point where sincere offence has been taken by an actually marginalised group, liberals HAVE to take it seriously. As an instinct I think it’s broadly speaking a good one, because nobody should love a bully. But HOW seriously is a matter of personal choice, and like most ideologies it doesn’t scale down well into hash-tags.

And you HAD TO USE a hash-tag, so if you cared but weren’t going in kicking, what could you do? I think the main confusion in Tonneau’s post – at least as far as THIS “je ne suis pas Charlie or anyone” chap is concerned – is that not all of the reaction to this tragedy is just about Charlie. In my case, it’s to the cultural aftershock. (In my case it’s almost ALWAYS about the cultural aftershock). The immediate social networking solidarity, heartfelt and fast and as appropriate as it’s possible for tiny posts about shock and god-bless can be, and then the almost as immediate need for people to make deeper comments about it, before we even knew what “It” was.

Very quickly, before even “Je Suis Ahmed”, the hash-tag solidarity created this sort of “for-or-agin-it” culture. If you had any sad feeling about the attacks at all, it felt like if you didn’t frame it in the most simplistic, already echoing terms, you were INSTANTLY in an argument about how you weren’t being sad about the attacks in the right way – something depressingly familiar in online discussion of any big story, I know. I’ve seen someone cleverer than me refer to it as public mood being set at Dead Diana. It’s weird.

Worse, though – and this was really the point at which I started commenting on Charlie myself, because it’s when it got a bit uncomfortable personally for me – something which started happening among Brits I know, but that Tonneau is lucky to have missed, was that the discussion about Charlie quickly became about people defining what it is and isn’t right to be offended by, and what is and isn’t racist, and wrapping themselves in the Charlie Hebdo flag.

This isn’t a straightforward area – it’s a pure “it’s probably more complicated than you’re suggesting” one. Thanks to Tonneau – and I really do mean thanks! – I now have a better understanding of what the French cultural landscape is and has been like historically.

Among the things I now know – or had my confirmation bias massaged on – are that Muslims are a marginalised group in France, that their leaders have voiced issues with Charlie Hebdo before, but that those same leaders, with no real conflict of interest, decried the attacks. That the treatment of Muslims and immigrants in France is NOT GREAT, which was something that despite misunderstandings, Charlie Hebdo took great issue with. That according to Tonneau, historically speaking it wasn’t Islam or immigration that likely made young men into murderers in this instance.

As many have already said, over and over, France apparently has a tradition of this sort of confrontational satire.

But as much as I didn’t know about French culture, I personally also haven’t been responding to the French cultural response to the attacks. Aside from attacks on some mosques – which is terrible but not unpredictable – the French seem to be responding pretty well – the citizens marching for unity, the politicians acting like they’re down with free speech, and Charlie Hebdo still breaking the same taboo, but doing it in a heartbreaking, incredibly poignant, way.

Many of the Brits and Americans I know – because I’m lazy as hell and mostly only know Brits and Americans – have happily turned it into the same old cultural pissing contest we turn everything into, but with a side-order of sudden inexplicable solidarity with French Culture.

Which is a problem. Because in the UK, while we DO have a tradition of irreverence and satire, we’ve also got a deep seam of racism running through our media and our politics. We aren’t alone in Europe, I know, and at the moment, you’d think we only hate Eastern Europeans, but… But…

When you read about a long-held anti-authoritarian tradition in French culture and humour, that separates the conflation of religion from race – something Tonneau makes a strong case for – it’s worth considering that we don’t really have that same tradition in Brit culture, at least where Islam is concerned.

There are people who make the argument that we DO have that sort of nuance in our culture, but those people are usually quite canny racists, or such hard-line atheists that they don’t always care about the human implications of the ideas they’re leaning into.
Or idealists who ignore our mainstream media, or believe that because our mainstream media are dumb poo-poo heads they somehow aren’t a barometer for our cultural identity.

In the UK, at least in the UK mainstream, Islamaphobia and racism are definitely, often if not always, linked. To the extent that our news media, in the last year or two, have been able to sell a lot of papers and spread a lot of fear, on the idea that shockingly there are now white (WHITE!) fundamentalist Muslim terrorists! I don’t think that’s that controversial a thing to say.

For me, personally, at the very least my eyebrow raises when a white Brit friend starts explaining why a marginalised group is wrong to be offended about something, because most of the time it’s quite familiar, with unfortunate associations.

When that group didn’t actually raise the issue in the first place – Je Suis Ahmed seems a fairly diplomatic response to a situation that the murderers raised, and social media responded to, and most of us only know about it because our liberal friends are sharing it – long-winded, well-worn attacks on that group seem extra beside-the-point.

When the comments following most of those attacks very quickly give way to “you can’t say anything about the Muslims these days but I bet if it was a granny accidentally being racist at the Bingo the police’d be right down there” and “this is what happens when a government won’t listen and we’ve been going easy on these people for 15 years” – in THE UK, mind, where the government aren’t going easy on ANYBODY, but for years were happily chucking brown people into detention on the off-chance they might have met a terrorist once – I’m going to have trouble at least not taking the piss out of the commenters, and the post, and Islam and the French and every other fucker. And then I’ll make a joke about how I’m a wanking wanker.

Because we’re ALL ridiculous. And “it’s probably more complicated than they’re suggesting”.

It doesn’t matter whether Charlie Hebdo is racist or not, in relation to the murders, or any unlawful attacks on the magazine. To get into a debate about whether it is is a huge red herring – lots of energy expended, exposing our own personal agendas, while not really making any impact on the tragedy itself. It’s not a discussion that covers any one in glory.

And I’m not even convinced that standing for or against a hashtag has anything to do with free speech. I’m not convinced the murders at the Charlie Hebdo offices, or the ones that followed, had anything to do with free speech, and to suggest they were, however well-meaning, is to legitimise the excuses the murdered gave themselves.

I keep reading people with very worthwhile opinions, who are paid to give them, saying that democracy and the right to free speech can not be dictated by a handful of men with guns, and the truth is, they’re right. It can’t, any more than it can be dictated by the death of a dozen cartoonists. To suggest otherwise is simplistic.

At this point I can basically say what I like, right? Nobody ever reads past the second paragraph, and there’s a good chance I’ve been task avoiding on auto-pilot since the first paragraph, anyway. Let’s just say that, if you’ve found yourself disagreeing with me in the last few days on this subject, and yet are WAY more reasonable than, and don’t see yourself in, any of the behaviours I’ve described, than we’ve just been talking at crossed purposes, and have been experiencing slightly different parts of the internet at different times, and I still love you I PROMISE.

Grant me a couple of minutes, and you will see your choice was right. Affair is looking for its chance.

I’m pretty sure that sharing spam messages is old hat by now, and it’s a bit weird to drop this on a blog that’s as disused as this one is these days, but this arrived in a shared inbox at work, and there’s so much whimsical, poetically worded prettiness in it that I wanted to record it somewhere before deleting it forever.

So here it is, from Kelsey:

Hello sexual prince Are you okay? How is your mood? I am very worried and do not know how to start this letter . I am a beautiful , kind and sexy girl . my name Kelsey . I am 30 years old. I have the large business, I am engaged in sale of flowers. I will be very strongly glad to get acquainted with you. So it turned out that business took away too much free time and I didnt manage to find the man. Namely to your city. Certainly I not so imagined the rest and thought that to me will be interesting and cheerful. But now I decided to correct it. I took vacation at work and arrived to your country. I dreamed of that that I will get acquainted with the man and I will spend with him excellent time. But there was all absolutely on the contrary. Here within 3 weeks I am absolutely alone. I will tell you honestly. it is boring for me in your country. I go to bed and wake up one in a cold bed. I will tell honestly. that it is even more difficult to be without sex during the long
time. I forgot when in my life there was a sex. I am the nice, young, beautiful woman. I have money. At present I want to find the man for sex Yes, Yes the man for sex. I understand that I arrive strange but I offer you will meet me. I will pay all expenses. We could spend not bad time together. What do you think of it? I prepared video for you and posted it in the Internet. My spoken language is one many better than written. On it it would be pleasant to me if you watched my video. In it I tell about myself in more detail. I ask you not to write me on Email. As I very seldom check the mail. If you were interested by my offer, ask you to be registered on a site and to find me there. On this site I uploaded the video I Beg you to present to me one minute and to make it. Site Address SEXMEETINGCHAT.BIZ my nickname angelledy On it I will finish the letter to you. I hope that I interested to you. I wait for you on a site. I hug and kiss you in your lips, bye PS Ya publ
ished phone number on the website. I hope that you will call me.

Shameless Post About Podcasts

There’s a podcast called The Chick Whisperer. It’s exactly what it sounds like. It has 60 ratings on iTunes. So I’d very much like it if you could listen to one or more of the podcasts I do, & go review it on iTunes, maybe tell people you know online or off who might like it about it.

Even if you don’t like it, leave some feedback.

Because I try not to let audience size get to me, but for fuck’s sake. I know we’re not amazing, but I know we’re at least pretty damn good, and there’s A PODCAST. CALLED THE CHICK WHISPERER. THAT GETS MORE LOVE than any of the shows I do.

That doesn’t seem right.

If you don’t think you like podcasts, but you like listening to talky radio, you should give them a try. iTunes makes it half easy, but if you’re using an Android phone, I recommend Pocketcasts. Or you can listen right here in your web-browser, at the sites themselves.

So anyway:

If you are a parent, or have a parent, or like hearing idiotic men try and work stuff about parenting out, 2 Grown Men may appeal to you. This weeks’ episode was all about bringing kids up to understand consent, and is here:http://2grownmen.net/2014/04/28/35-fat-like-you-read-about/

If you like comics, or just like idiotic people try and muddle through how they feel about pop culture stuff without any sort of training or a safety net, you should listen to the MOMBcast. It’s here: http://mombcomics.com/category/mombcast/

If you like, just, I don’t know, the Socratic method, or half-smart people talking about half-serious subjects, there’s Unanswered. We pick a subject each episode and thrash it out for an hour, solving nothing. We’ve covered spoilers, cities, outrage, and in our most recent episode got into some uncomfortable territory talking about Empathy Vs Sympathy. That’s here: http://unansweredpodcast.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/show-21/

And please, I know it sounds like I’m banging on, but if you like one of these shows, or ANY podcasts (or blogs, or anything online), or think someone you know might like them, please do tell people. A “Like” or “Favourite” is super flattering, constructive criticism is always gratefully received, an “Share” or “RT” is incredibly generous, but nothing means as much to the people who make things like this as people enjoying it enough to personally recommend it to others.

Because, you know, people definitely did the same thing for The Chick Whisperer, as hideous as that might seem.

a noodle in a haystack