Trump

FAKE NEWS, REAL BULLSHIT, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF AGNOSTICISM

I got talking to someone earlier, a woman called Rachel. We'd kind of run into one another before, but not properly engaged. Rachel works in a charity shop near me, called Mesopotamia. And what the charity does is rescue refugee children and women from unimaginable situations in Greece, in Iraq, and elsewhere. What I hadn't realised until today, as I passed her cash for a couple of books and a CD, is that it's Rachel who goes out to these countries, risking her life to save others. 

We talked about that. And she told me about the situations she goes into, which has been part of her life since she married a Muslim Turkish man and discovered what was happening in his country and others where words like 'refugee' have a richer and fuller meaning than they tend to in the UK.

Rachel has been featured in the media a few times, with a Panorama documentary and other television coverage. She appeared on a daytime show at some point, but it was virtually impossible to say anything either useful or true. She was asked not to mention ISIS or Islam, and not being able to talk about them makes it really difficult for Rachel to communicate just what she's doing, and who it benefits.

The people with the biggest reason to be scared of ISIS are Muslims. And that's something it would be good to be informed properly about. Instead, newspapers shriek hatred towards brown people and lump them all together. Noam Chomsky talks about the difficulty of expressing views within the media that don't fit in the framework of stories already put out there. If you've only got two minutes before the next guest comes on to talk about the latest diet, getting into the necessary intricacies of varied interpretations of Islam and just what jihad means isn't going to happen.

In turn, that means a good percentage of what we come across in the media is bogus. If informed conversation about what's going on in Syria is impossible, and debates about what can be done about it are framed largely in terms of coverage which omits much of the salient information, then the solutions proposed necessarily lack credibility.

The mainstream media is telling us to beware of fake news. It's hard not to raise an eyebrow at that point, in a week when the Daily Express has run an entirely bogus story about German leader Angela Merkel's plans for an EU army, not long after an equally bullshit front cover claiming a 'polar vortex' would plunge Britain into subzero temperatures and make it the worst winter for a century.

To generalise, significant elements of the media are encouraging us to be scared, and angry, and hateful, about people we haven't met. And we're told that those people have been radicalised to hate us, and destroy us in a holy war. Which doesn't make for a great conversation starter if you're convinced the family next door are tooled up for jihad and planning for you to be their first victims.

I met a Syrian refugee recently. Ahmed was cutting hair in Damascus at 13, then moved on to Dubai, and is now based in Birmingham. He's recently dissolved his first entrepreneurial venture, a very successful enterprise which saw him collaborate with manufacturers in China, where he said he learned a lot from the people he dealt with. Now, he has bigger plans with a social agenda - not least to be a good role model for other refugees. I believe he's capable of achieving that vision.

Right now, I could be getting caught up in the Tweet-tsunami of people exchanging vitriol about Donald Trump as he's sworn in. I choose not to engage. The guy plays social media in a quite brilliant way, and has skilfully turned the phrase 'fake news' against some of the media channels that disapprove of him, and done a great job of bringing out all the people who object to him in the open, where they will be even more vulnerable to state surveillance now that Obama has increased government powers for Trump to play with . 

Once talk turns to state surveillance it's easy to get disheartened. It happened to Rachel, who came to the attention of Special Branch because of her frequent visits to Muslim countries and activities in refugee camps. They found her phone number by dognapping her pooch, who has it written on his collar. Rachel reckoned it was like something out of Dad's Army. Which is a much more comforting thought than some of the apocalyptic scenarios conjured up by believers of all persuasions right now. A reminder once again that, as Robert Anton Wilson said, 'Convictions cause convicts'. 

 

ANGER IS AN ENERGY

When I was a kid growing up in 70s Birmingham, my dad had a friend called Bill. There'd be a card game Friday night when Bill and other cronies came round, to gamble, drink, and discuss plans to renovate houses in the hope of selling them on for a fat profit. Bill was a builder who knew dad through their love of chess, Sean a plasterer who could knock back five pints of Guinness over lunch before getting seriously stuck in at night, and the gang also included a side-burned electrician, and a one-eyed upholsterer.

Bill had no sense of taste or smell. Some accident of army dentistry had robbed him of the requisite wiring. Another man might have taken that accident and turned it to his advantage, becoming a circus freak able to eat or drink anything put in front of him. Not Bill. He ate only those things he was familiar with, meaning gammon and egg, steak and chips, pork pie, and the like. Solid British food basically, though he made an exception for a few dishes that reminded him of time he spent with the army in Cyprus. 

We were pretty adventurous eaters as a family. My parents had some involvement with a wholefood cooperative called Red Beans, and many of our visitors were dad's students. They came from places like Malaysia, Nigeria, and Hong Kong where a fried breakfast was not on the menu. And sometimes they'd cook for us. If Bill was around, he'd be offered some of the food. He'd dutifully pick some up with a fork, raise it to his mouth - and put it down, shaking his head. The man who could eat raw shark lungs if he chose to could not cope with rice or beansprouts, because they didn't look right. Something in Bill feared what the foreign food might taste like, if he could taste it.

Fear is only a goose step away from hate, which I'm seeing a lot of lately. Wind back a few weeks to Nigel Farage, whose amiable incredulity about foreigners seems like blokey banter down the pub but soon became a thick vein of pus in the bloodstream of British public life. The National Police Chiefs' Council says the increase in attacks on migrants after the Brexit vote is the worst spike in hate crime they've ever known. Imagine killing someone because they don't talk like you. The words they speak won't fit in your own mouth, any more than Bill's would accept aubergine - and for that they have to die.

Donald Trump is peddling the same slurry of hate in the American election, against a backdrop of racial tensions rising in a way that hasn't been seen since the sixties. It seems we're wired to hate. At any rate it's easily manipulated by those who would rather we focused on some group declared Other than consider what alternatives there may be to virulence and contempt as ways to go about the day.

If we must hate, couldn't we at least be more imaginative about it?

Instead of homophobia, how about attacking poverty with the glee that some attack Poles?

Why do the same old same old hatred based on skin colour when we could turn our hate on company boards who plunder the pensions of the workers who've created that wealth?

The love thing is all very well, but there's too often a disconnect between people talking about love and actually doing something concrete to realise that vision. We need people who will do something constructive to create change.

Given that more of us seem to excel at hate, and the passive aggressive woolliness of many of the love advocates, I want to see more hate in the world - just please be creative about it, and make your hatred pro-social. Rather than base beliefs on illusion, as Bill did when he turned down food he couldn't even taste, be the Spielberg of spite, the Miles Davis of malevolence, the Bjork of bigotry, and pick on something truly worthy of your anger.