Monthly Archives: June 2016

Politics just got serious

We’re having a referendum this week. One friend of mine described it thus:

Never in the whole history of people choosing cake or death, have so many people voted for death.

Now, there are many intelligent people on the Leave side who maintain the delusion that the UK will be able to maintain preferential access to the European Single Market without retaining free movement for EU citizens, but I remain unconvinced.

The entire campaign has been based around FUD and xenophobia. The main rallying points of the leave campaign have been immigration and how much money we send “to Brussels”.  The Leave battle bus has “£350 million a week” scrawled down the side. This is, simply put, a lie. Personally, I think whoever authorised and endorsed this figure should stand trial for electoral fraud, but that’s just my opinion. Boris Johnson, the most prominent leave guy, has even acknowledged that the figure is a lie, but he doesn’t care. It gets conversations started that seem, inevitably, to come back to how many different things that fictional money could be spent on if we left. Add up these figures and you come to at least a billion pounds a week. There’s something not quite right there.

The other point is immigration. In spite of the fact that EU migration results in a net profit for the exchequer, we are invited to hate all of those people with brown skin and/or funny accents. Because they are simultaneously stealing our jobs and scrounging off our benefits system. Never mind the fact that the NHS employs a bajillion immigrants because Tory cuts have meant that there simply are not enough home-grown doctors, nurses or other essential skilled staff.

Most disgusting of all, perhaps, is Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP (whose wife is German), who stood proudly in front of a large poster depicting a long line of refugees waiting to cross the border between Croatia and Slovenia. A poster that was only distinguishable from a Nazi propaganda picture by the fact that Farage’s poster is in colour. Nicely done. Of course, UKIP decided to try to shut down argument by invoking Godwin’s Law. Personally, I think that we can put Godwin aside given the specific nature of the picture and what UKIP is trying to do, but that is, obviously, just my opinion.

With tension between the Remain side and the Leave side rising – intelligent debate disappeared some months ago – it was inevitable, I suppose, that someone would do something really stupid before long. And so it came to Thursday of last week. Yorkshire MP, Jo Cox, was just leaving a library where she’d been meeting with her constituents when Thomas Mair (allegedly) shouted “Britain First” before shooting and stabbing her. She died fairly promptly thereafter. He gave his name, in court, as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.” Of course, all the people who have been stirring up xenophobic hatred are quite convinced that this act is nothing to do with them. There is nothing more likely to calm tensions than people and newspapers howling about how awful foreigners are and how they are taking away opportunity from “hard working” British (actually, usually English) people.

By all accounts, Jo Cox was an excellent MP who worked passionately for the underdog. She had a particular interest in the plight of refugees, and was outspoken about our duty of compassion to our fellow humans. She lost her life, apparently, because she thought that we are all people, and that those of us with resources to spare have a duty to care for those in greatest need.

Her murder underlines the toxic mood that has overtaken the UK recently. A mood that was loud and clear in the last general election campaign (where UKIP got nearly four million votes) and was, arguably, the reason David Cameron promised this godforsaken referendum. That mood has only been stoked by the referendum campaign, and risks getting the UK a reputation for arrogant xenophobic hatred. Admittedly, that attitude did make us the richest nation on the planet back in the days of Empire. We probably thought we were over it in 1948 when we drafted the European Convention on Human Rights. We probably thought we had grown up. We had begun to consider ourselves better than that, that Britishness implied openness, decency, diversity and compassion.

It seems I may have been mistaken.

For the love of God, can we please stop killing each other?

So, it happened again. The 133rd mass shooting on US soil this year, is the deadliest in US history. One person decided that he had had it with all those disgusting gay people holding hands and kissing each other and making each other happy and that the logical solution was to kill as many of them as possible. Where better to do it than at a place where they gather in large numbers to hold hands and kiss each other and, you know, have fun like humans do when they are hanging out together.

President Obama, only a fortnight ago, spoke to a gun shop owner and said that he could put known terror suspects on a no-fly list, but he did not have the power to stop that same person from buying as many guns and bullets as he could fit into his car. The last time there was a major mass-shooting, the president expressed his utter exasperation with the situation. Too many times, he’s had to address the nation because someone has decided to take an automatic weapon and unload it into people who were simply going about their lawful business.

Donald Trump, of course, has decided that an incident perpetrated by a US citizen born in New York, on US soil, is a good reason to close the borders to Muslims. Because locking yourself in a room with a killer is a truly sensible way to protect yourself from a killer. He’s also called on Obama to step down and for Clinton to drop out of the presidential race. Because they didn’t use the phrase “radical Islam” to describe the killer or his killing. Classy.

The arguments against mass gun-ownership by US citizens are getting very very old, and it may well be that argument is not going to convince US gun owners that they should stop owning and using weapons of mass-acceleration. When the UK suffered a mass-shooting, the government proposed a blanket ban on all handguns. The UK’s gun lobby complained loudly, but handguns were banned anyway. That’s not going to happen in the US, possibly because of the psychological make-up of the people concerned. Let us assume, for now, that thousands more people will be shot and killed by US citizens in the US by legally-procured weapons and that US law will not change.

As the gun lobby says, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. Of course, what they neglect to append is “with guns”. By that argument, you could say “guns don’t kill people, bullets kill people”, and further, “guns don’t kill people, blood-loss and soft tissue trauma kill people”, or “if people weren’t so squishy, guns wouldn’t pose a threat. It’s the people’s fault.”

But I digress.

Even a limitless supply of firearms and ammunition wouldn’t be all that dangerous in the absence of someone willing to point those firearms at squishy people and pull the trigger. Over and over again. And here is where we can take a look at what is more dangerous than all the guns in America: blame.

World War I began when someone shot someone and lit the powder-keg that was Europe at the time. A blamed B, who blamed C, who blamed A and B, who blamed D, and so on, and it all went south from there. World War II began when some guy blamed the Jews (and the gays and the gypsies). Which begat the Cold War, when the Soviets blamed the West and the West blamed the Soviets. In Russia, Putin is blaming the gays again and, of course, the West, and is marching into Georgia and Ukraine. Closer to home, the Leave campaign is blaming immigrants for most of our problems and, in turn, blaming the EU for the immigrant “problem”. The former Education Secretary blamed the teachers; the current Health Secretary is blaming the doctors; the Home Secretary is blaming encryption; Trump is blaming Muslims, Mexicans, women, Obama and political correctness; North Carolina is blaming transgender people and so on and so on.

When someone wants us to act against our own best interest, a simple and effective technique is to find someone else to blame for a problem that can be “solved” by excluding them. They then build up a case based on fear, uncertainty and doubt and let tribalism do the rest. Truly, it is the side that is trying to get people to do things to improve their situation that has the hardest time doing it. Mostly, I think, because the improvement campaign relies on information and hope and humanity seems predisposed to cling to the status quo and to fear: fear of change and fear of the other.

The world would be much happier place if we stopped for a moment and saw everyone else as people. But that would require us to open our minds to those who are different from us. And that is scary.

Women? Surely it’s time they shut up about equality.

Feminism, eh? Who needs it? We live in an equal society now, don’t we (at least in the “West”)?

Today’s essay begins at Facebook, with some text in an image.

Feminism didn't teach me to hate men, but it did teach me to stop prioritising them over women and it turns out a lot of men think that's the same thing as hatred

Feminism: it’s the same as hating men, right?

It sums up rather well the entire debate about feminism and why we seem to feel the need to have a debate at all. The best definitions I have seen of what feminism actually is is that it is a movement dedicated to the equality of people regardless of gender. This article describes the spread and evolution of a particular image online, an image that perfectly captures so much about equality that it deserves the fame it has acquired. It contrasts the concepts of “equality” and “equity”. Giving each of three children a box to stand on so they can watch the sports game is equal treatment, for sure, but it is not particularly equitable, as one of the children is tall enough to see the game unaided and another still cannot see, even when standing on one box. The obvious solution is to take the box from the tallest child and give it to the smallest. Equitable treatment: giving each the help they need so they all get equal access to the prize.

And so it is with feminism. Even in today’s modern “Western” societies, women are at a significant disadvantage compared to their counterparts who are perceived to be men. The simplest solution would be to give everyone a box to stand on, thus raising everyone up. Seems fair, certainly seems equal. As we can see, however, raising everybody up by the same amount does nothing to combat the inequality that existed beforehand. To raise everybody up to the same level, however, does two things: it does not treat everyone equally and the people who previously had the advantage now have competition for that which previously they simply took as their birthright.

But men and women aren’t treated any differently these days! Except they are. Time magazine looks at the experiences of trans* people who have crossed the hall. They have experienced life on both sides and can describe, first hand, the differences between the two. It is entirely real to suggest that men are treated better than women are in many places, in many ways.

To attempt to bring some equity into the arena risks a very strong backlash. This woman’s experience in South Africa shines a light onto various sides of the problem. Women are expected, even now, to be silent about unfair treatment (Not All Men syndrome). At the bus stop, a young woman was being verbally harassed by a couple of men. The woman writing the article snapped and decided to intervene. The rage she expressed was not entirely caused by the two men: it had built up slowly over years. Their bad behaviour had simply caused her to open the floodgate that had been keeping back a constantly-growing reservoir of grievance. Did those guys deserve the full flood of her rage? Actually, I’d say yes. Their behaviour was despicable, and they seemed to have no concept that it was wrong to attack someone in that manner. The bigger questions, really, are why did they find nothing wrong with their behaviour and what do we do about it?

A sixteen-year-old girl was raped by 30 people in Rio. Thirty people. And not one of them thought it was time to stop. Not one of them decided that it was the wrong thing to do. She was clearly begging for it. They could tell that from the way she was unconscious. Unconscious people are all gagging for sex. It’s obvious. If they didn’t want sex, they’d have remained conscious.

Let’s make this really clear: unconscious people don’t want tea. They certainly don’t want 30 different people pouring tea into them whilst they are unconscious.

Both of those stories are from far away places, though. That kind of violence towards women, that kind of silencing of women’s voices doesn’t happen in the civilised West, though. Not now. Not in 2016. We’re all modern now and we have grown up. Except we haven’t. This judge decided that he was quite sick of a lawyer representing her client whilst being a woman that he clapped her in irons. And, that’s how it is done. An example I am sure many white men are keen to emulate.

Feminism. It’s about equity. And it’s about men accepting that they are not God’s gift to the world. They are simply half of God’s gift to the world.

We are all people.