politics

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

'IN ADDITION TO A YES AND NO, THE UNIVERSE CONTAINS A MAYBE' Robert Anton Wilson

A lot of people get upset about grey areas, wanting there to be a definitive yes or no to the questions that concern them. Only, more often than not, life has complexities beyond the options of Stop or Go - the number of voters saying they'd vote differently if asked about leaving Europe a second time is a good indicator.

Whatever impetus went into people voting to leave, the consequences of doing so went way beyond what anyone envisaged. Not long after, we're wandering round dazed wondering where the Prime Minister went. And what happened to Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage? They were all about rallying the public before Brexit, and have gone strangely silent in the aftermath.

Owing to our tendency to believe that people either think this or think that, it's possible that you believe I'm a fan of the EU following that opening. And it's not that straightforward - I voted Remain, less out of a passion for a wildly bureaucratic institution that exists primarily to perpetuate its own growth, than because on balance I'd rather have stuck with a not-so-super superstate than risk Britain's chances free of that shelter.

What's this obsession we have with there being two choices? It's factored into so much of what we do. Our default is to think in terms of two political parties, even though there are more - as if the big issues those parties have to get to grips with conveniently sort into two piles, each side standing on top to be clearly identified. 

More than that, it's implicit within the way we code our perceptions. People are either male or female, black or white, straight or gay, freshly labelled for your convenience, to avoid having to expend energy on more detailed consideration. 

Only, that's not remotely how it is.

Our binary tendencies might have served us reasonably well in a simpler world, but aren't at all adequate for the 21st century. Scratch that...it's only 2016 in the Gregorian calendar. In the Assyrian worldview it's 6766, in Korea it's 4349, and if you're Burmese it's 1378 - the year is a function of where you landed when you were born. Same with gender - we favour male and female as the poles, some other cultures suggest three, and more and more biologists are inclined to favour that perspective.

We're wired to think in either/or ways, and can get outside those limitations. Hard to believe, when you see people like Donald Trump banging the drum for whatever hate-filled stuff he knows will strike a chord with his supporters, who having been fucked over by successive governments are willing to grasp for anything that looks like an easy answer and fits with the hurt and bewilderment they feel at a world that no longer seems to need their services.

Yet up the road in Canada, Justin Trudeau shows off some of his yoga moves to reporters, and demonstrates equivalent mental flexibility when he tackles a question about quantum computing, giving a succinct explanation of what it means to have digital systems that rather than choosing between 0 and 1 have a third option available. And it's the third option we need if we're going to make the most of the futures available to us.

Just 0.2% of the British public will get to decide who our next Prime Minister is. That's the number of people who as members of the Conservative Party get to make that vote, and they're a gerentocracy: the average age of this pro-authoritarian, anti-EU bunch, is around 60. Many people that age evidence suspicion about the naivety of the young, but my experience is it's exactly that kind of openness that will shape a brighter time to come.

Now, what I'm going to say is purely anecdotal, but it's very much the case that the young people I know are switched-on in ways that amaze me. I come across teens and sometimes work with 20-somethings, and what I encounter for the most part is people accepting of difference in all forms, and who actively contribute to furthering that awareness in their communication, work, and choices.

While silverback politicians gesticulate and point to the imaginary differences between people as evidence of evil to distract voters from the structural causes of injustice, a new world is being quietly created. Its distinguishing characteristic is people who when confronted with something they don't understand, approach it with curiosity and openness, rather than assuming that 'unknown' is synonymous with 'threat'.