love

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LOOKS LIKE THE BEATLES WERE RIGHT ABOUT LOVE

I've been meeting some extraordinary people recently.

On Monday, went for a coffee - tea in fact - with someone a mutual connection suggested meeting over our shared interest in writing. He turned out to be one of the very smartest people I have ever met, and I know some very smart people. 

Smart is not always something that impresses me, not least because it often means someone who's stuck in their rationality. And what this guy does with his intelligence is much more interesting. More so, given that he's also somewhere on the autistic spectrum and thus supposedly has difficulties processing interpersonal matters.

Now, one of the things this chap does is profiling work for people operating in military intelligence. And the way he does it is really interesting. Asked, say, to put together a profile of people active in some or other sect implicated in ugly behaviours, it's heartening to me that he steadfastly refuses to label or judge, and especially not in a negative way. So, invited to pass comment on an Islamic group for instance, rather than define them in terms of their supposed dislike for the West, he instead looks at a uniting factor that works in its own right - say, for instance 'we like to celebrate community with family members of all ages'. You'll note that this pretty much presupposes no alcohol at such gatherings, without making a point of it...because the focus is on 'celebrate community' and not 'refuse to drink the cursed alcohol that Allah forbids'. The starting point is commonality. And I love the fact that this guy does work for people that may cause them to reconsider their assessments of those we label 'other'.

The other person I met is a woman who heads up an organisation that gets results around dealing with loneliness and isolation. It's verifiable that the impact she makes can impact health budgets, for instance - because people who find ways to cope with their social isolation feel better and make different and better choices. For her though, the data she gathers is necessary for stakeholders but not vital in terms of her priorities. What she's about is creating circumstances in which people experience love.

These are interesting times. And one of the things it's very easy to do is to feel bad, and hold some or other individual or group responsible for those feelings. It's called 'othering'. That is, we make fellow humans who we have so much in common with, something less than human. You can see Donald Trump do it in the way he talks about Mexicans, about women, about pretty much anyone outside his immediate family. You can see it in media stories like a recent one about a plane passenger who was taken off a jet because a fellow passenger felt nervous in his presence - all on the basis of his skin colour and the things she hallucinated on the basis of it. A few pointed questions would reveal the ugly thinking that had led her to feel uncomfortable, but right now it's somehow acceptable to go along with that kind of toxic mental activity because it chimes with what some political and media interests would like us to believe.

And...

There are other ways to experience the life we share with the fellow denizens of a rock that's spinning round the sun and getting more densely packed with people as it does. Elon Musk's mass market priced Tesla 3 electric cars have an amazing 325,000 pre-orders. These eco-friendly vehicles can make a real difference with regard to our reliance on fossil fuels. And the solar batteries Musk also makes mean the cars can be charged at home, without the need for centralised power that fossil fuel based distribution is predicated upon.

The ability to control what people do and have access to is based on a model that says someone else knows better than you. Which itself rests on assumptions that people at large can't be trusted. True enough - we are after all the people who implicitly support such a system. And it's not far from there to the dawning suspicion that the whole model of state control rests on a kind of othering made a lot easier when the media - which colludes with the state more often than not - makes it clear who the heroes and villains of the world are, and where our attention should be focused. Or, in headline form - ISLAM BAD, GO TEAM GO, NEW KARDASHIAN PICS.

There isn't a 'them'. All there is, is us. And if people in military intelligence are learning to understand that such a separating out is simplistic, and that action to address loneliness and isolation is rooted in getting people to engage with each other more...

Well - if all that's the case - and it is - 

Then maybe love really can change the world.