“All of this has happened before. And all of this will happen again.”

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It’s been hard to know where to start with this week’s news. Earlier this week, I had a whole post drafted out; it was written at the height of a feminist rage, and I thought it was best to let it sit in my drafts for a while, until the red mist dissipated slightly. That was the writing equivalent of taking a deep breath and counting to ten.

I haven’t abandoned the original post, but I have edited it significantly. As the news piled on further shock and disappointment, I found that there was a recurring theme, and that’s where my title started to appear from the mist. In the end, I went for a quotation from Battlestar Galactica*. References to post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian texts are currently as ubiquitous as demonstrations of Godwin’s Law, but we have got to a point when they require very little stretch of the imagination.

My theme for this week: history repeating itself. Ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

It started with an executive order that effectively sentenced thousands of women to death under the guise of being in favour of life. Predictable, yes, but horrifying nonetheless.

I’ve always tended to think of Pro-Choice vs Pro-Life as a false dichotomy. I am passionately Pro-Choice because I am pro life. I care about the women whose lives and psychological wellbeing are threatened by pregnancy. I care about the lives of women who will lose access to contraceptive and reproductive services because some men in Washington feel squeamish about a medical process that, let’s face it, is never going to be someone’s first choice, never going to be something fun to do, and never going to be a decision that is made lightly.

I respect people’s right to have different opinions on abortion. But you know what? If you don’t like it, don’t have one. Don’t ban it, or feel that a woman’s uterus is within your moral jurisdiction. Mind your own bloody business.

A few days ago, I found myself saying, “At least Gilead only went this far because there was a population crisis…” That’s how angry I was.

Was this all Trump? Not convinced by this… unless it was a revenge move against the women who humiliated him last weekend by, you know, turning up to marches, trying desperately to prevent this sort of thing happening again.

Was this just to keep Pence on his side? Possibly. Was it just because it’s become a Republican tradition? Again, possibly. But I thought he wanted to do things differently?

He could have played a blinder here. If he had openly declared a change of heart on this issue, he could have portrayed himself as a president who listened and wanted to do things differently. It would have momentarily wrong-footed his opponents. He could have portrayed himself as a moderate, single-handedly keeping the extreme Christian right at bay. And it might have worked. (Yes, I have a Machiavellian side. Apparently more so than his team – that’s worrying…)

But that’s not the only scary development of the week. This was the week that also brought us:

  • The wall. Historically, when have they gone well?
  • The Orwellian press conferences, and “alternative facts”.
  • The denial of climate change and the silencing of scientists who spoke an inconvenient truth.
  • Trump’s idea that torture’s not that bad really.

And then, finally, on Holocaust Memorial Day, the edict that finally broke me.

I mentioned Godwin’s Law earlier, and how it requires no stretch of the imagination any more. It’s not even like it is evidence of an argument being taken to its extreme, or reductio ad absurdum any more. It’s right there on the surface, and we need to call it what it is. If we start using euphemisms like ‘alt right’, we are letting fascists hide in plain sight. Let’s describe the attitudes here- what we have is the demonisation of human beings who happen to have a different theological perspective. These are people who are suffering, and turning to the USA in desperate need of sanctuary, only to be turned away; people who will die unless they are given aid; people who are viewed with suspicion because leaders don’t understand that national, political and religious identity are separate things that can co-exist peacefully. The comparison makes itself. Has America not learned from the past?

Can we break the cycle? I don’t know. But we can certainly try. The best tool we have at our disposal right now is refusal. And fortunately, for the world and for my blood pressure, there have been some heroic tales of refusal this week as well. My favourites? The park rangers who wouldn’t stop tweeting. Not all heroes wear capes.

Refusal and resistance are not the same as rebellion. They are not mutinous. They are merely a reminder to leaders that they rely on the consent of the governed.

In case this all blows up as horribly as it could (and as horrendously as it has in the past), I would like to leave a note here, to the historians of the future, who are reading the online outpourings of this generation in order to understand how it all began: yes, we could see it starting. No, we did not accept it.

Peace and love x

*If you really want to be a pedant, a very similar line appeared in Peter Pan, but the wording isn’t exactly the same, and the context is different. So there.

 

 

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Letters to two presidents

Dear Barack,

I doubt that words can express how I feel about your time as POTUS coming to an end, but I will give it a go.

I am not really one of yours- I cannot claim the honour of having voted for you, being British and all… But for a year, early in your first term, I was an adopted citizen of your nation during my teacher exchange, and so you were my President. You are the only President I have ever had.

Thank you for your dignity, your eloquence, and your gravitas. You have been an inspiration to so many, in your own nation and around the world. Please pass on my thanks to Michelle- my only First Lady- for being such an excellent role model. Her warmth, intelligence and kindness never failed to inspire.

I am sure that it will be painful for you to see others trying to dismantle your legacy. If you ever want to get away from it all, you are more than welcome to come round for a cuppa. You were such a lovely host that I would be happy to return the favour. (Just give me a heads up so that I can tidy up a bit.)

Yours sincerely,

Hannah

 

Dear Donald,

You have always been a powerful man, and I can see why you wanted to become the most powerful man in the world. But as we learned in Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility”. I’m guessing that you are starting to feel the weight of that responsibility now. Being a head of state is a burden- your life is not your own, and the lives of millions of people are in your hands. This is likely to keep you awake at night- and it should. It is not a job to be taken lightly.

I know that you want to make political changes, that’s inevitable. But please, take the opportunity to listen to your people. All of your people. Especially the ones who didn’t vote for you. The ones on your side? They’ll give you some time. You’ve won them over already. It’s everyone else you need to be worried about. There are millions of your people who are terrified right now. They are terrified that they will be assaulted, oppressed and persecuted. They are terrified that they will be left to die without medical insurance. And you are the only person who can reassure them. To do that, you will need to change your ways.

You might not feel that you want to. You might be angry with the people marching in protest this weekend. You might be too angry at the way you are being satirised. Guess what? If you didn’t like it before, you are in for a shock. There will be 4 more years of pretty brutal comedy at your expense. But here’s the thing: you have to take it on the chin now. You’ll need a thick skin for this job. Did I mention it was a burden?

You need to recognise that your opponents have a point, listen, and think about what they are saying to you. You need to let your anger go. There is no room for a temper any more. You need to modulate your language. You need to apologise when you make a mistake. You need to put your ego aside. You need to be- dare I say it- a little bit nicer…

The world is watching, Donald. We are hoping that you rise to the opportunity. If not, well, we’ll be scared, but we’ll definitely join in with the satire. (And as a warning, we’re pretty good at that over here…)

Yours sincerely,

Hannah

P.S. I won’t invite you round for a cuppa, as I can’t risk you getting too close to my cat. I know how fond you are of kitties, but my Cosmo doesn’t take too kindly to being grabbed… he would lash out, and I wouldn’t want the Secret Service to shoot him for scratching you.

“Woe to the land that is governed by a child…”

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In the current political climate, which is fraught to say the least, I miss the ‘good old days’ where leaders behaved like grown ups…

There have been losing sides for as long as there have been elections, and when the people you vote for don’t win, there is an inevitable sadness and disappointment that accompanies this. You might feel ideologically opposed to a party that wins, but you can comfort yourself with the notion that at least the winners are equipped to do a competent job. And a difference in ideology doesn’t always mean that you will automatically disagree with everything that the victorious party decides to do.

This is where maturity comes in.

I was recently very surprised to find myself agreeing with a politician from the other side of the fence (it was George Osborne talking about Syria), and it reminded me of this need for maturity in both the electorate and those elected to represent us and debate the issues facing us. The idea that we don’t reject an idea simply because we don’t particularly like the person presenting it to us is a fairly basic one, and something that I think our politicians should bear in mind.

Because traditional debate in the House of Commons isn’t renowned for being overly mature. The braying atmosphere, the childish filibustering… none of this fills me with confidence that our elected representatives are engaging in sensible, mature debate about issues that are literally life and death.

But calling this ‘immature’ is in itself underestimating the problem and insulting children. Because most children know better.

Children know how and when to apologise. They evaluate their own behaviour, understanding when they have made ‘sad choices’. I love the term ‘sad choices’- it puts the onus on a decision being made rather than presupposing innate naughtiness, which in turn legitimises it (“I can’t help it, it’s just the way I am”). Bravo, primary schools.

Children are open to new ideas. They know that they don’t know everything, and they are happy to learn. They might view difference with fear, initially, but they will ask questions to further their understanding, and will more than likely reserve judgement. They take a stand against bullying and they have a very clear sense of right and wrong.

Children know that when they are asked to explain what a word means, they don’t repeat that word in the definition. Yes, Mrs May, I’m looking at you.

Our American friends might worry that in a few days, they will be “governed by a child”, but unfortunately, it’s much worse than that.

They will be governed by a toddler.

There is something narcissistic and tyrannical about a lot of toddlers. They can’t be reasoned with. They have tantrums if they don’t get their own way. They don’t understand sharing, or taking turns. How can they? They don’t have the tools for this yet. They are called the ‘terrible twos’ for a reason.

When Trump gave his press conference this week, he had an opportunity to reassure the public. He could have spoken with dignity and gravitas. He could have been calm and rational. He could have been fluent and eloquent. But he didn’t do any of these things, either because he was inherently unable to, or because he made sad choices. All he gave us was the same narcissistic tosh he’s been spouting for months.

The moral of this story comes courtesy of William Golding, who must have had a pretty hard day in class to go home and write ‘Lord of the Flies’. He understood the calm and logical potential in children, but he knew this can only exist with the supervision and guidance of grown ups. Without grown ups, the kind voices are the weakest, and violent, short-sighted tyranny will ensue. Without the influence of grown ups, toddlers don’t become children.

We can only be governed by children if we are the adults holding them to account.

There are myriad tools at our disposal- and there are more of us than them. We can insist on mature, rational and calm discussion. And we can call them out on their sad choices.

Somebody put Donald on the naughty step. He needs to think about what he’s done.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language / And next year’s words await another voice.”*

Has political correctness broken the world?

Where there is progress, so there must be backlash. A premise rooted in physics- for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In philosophical terms, this gives us balance. In terms of political correctness (which will usually auto-complete to ‘gone mad’) the reaction beast that has been spawned is truly something terrible to behold. In an attempt to encourage kindness and tolerance, political correctness has created something terrifying: Katie Hopkins. A nightmarish thaumogenesis indeed.

Political correctness has its roots in linguistic determinism- that words determine thought, and redirecting language has the power to redirect thought. So to break unpleasant patterns of thought, words themselves are altered and some even become taboo. There is definitely some Orwellian potential in this, but the original aims of PC language were rooted firmly in kindness, respect and tolerance. So far, so good, yes?

Objections to this usually take the form of resistance to being told what one is or is not allowed to say, and a reluctance to recognise any problems with language previously used and its ability to cause harm or perpetuate intolerance and inequality. I can see some of the arguments here: harm is not always intended, and sometimes what is referred to as ‘bad language’ is only language inappropriate for the context. Some words and phrases have a more fluid status; some are reclaimed over time.

But we have gone further into Backlash City now, beyond the outer suburbs of sympathetic debate.

Because linguistic determinism has limits. The thoughts never went away. They went underground instead.

And deep underground, these thoughts grew. Somehow, they became perceived as heroic outlaws, rebellious and naughty. They became the secret language of an unhappy people. They became badges of honour for those who sneer at “safe space liberals”. And then, those who wished to become powerful realised the words could be used for personal gain. Those ‘courageous’ enough to wield them suddenly became Truth Warriors, rather than just people with unkind ideas. You know the types: Nigel Farage, Katie Hopkins, Donald Trump…. And the people who felt resistant to political correctness suddenly weren’t being told off any more. Permission was granted to ‘speak freely’ again. They approved of this, on social media and at the ballot boxes.

And the rest of us looked on in horror.

What happens next? Answers on a postcard….

Here’s what I hope for. I hope that the desire to be kind wins in the end. Seeing the young people I work with every day boosts this hope. This is a generation far more tolerant and accepting than any the world has seen before. They barely bat an eyelid at things that would make their grandparents spit out their tea. Being tolerant is natural for them.

So maybe the future lies with linguistic reflectionism instead. Maybe the language of the future will reflect the next generation’s ideas, with words that are chosen freely, rather than provided or taken away.

The kind folk might have lost ground, we might have lost a battle, but the war is far from over…

Yep, those oft-maligned millennials might be the ones to save us all from Katie Hopkins.

A few additional notes before I end this post:

  • isn’t it interesting that The Trump made use of this weapon but can’t stand it being used against him? “Say what you like, as long as it isn’t about me!”
  • can we please stop legitimising hate with the suffix -phobia? Let’s be totally clear: xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia are not phobias.
  • *thanks to T. S Eliot’s Four Quartets for the title

Today’s rant = done.

Peace and love x

Much that once was is lost

The world is changed.

I feel it in the water.

I feel it in the earth.

I smell it in the air.

That rising sense of doom that lurked over much of 2016? It hasn’t gone away. It didn’t disappear when the ball dropped, when Big Ben rang in the new year. We might have hoped for a sudden epiphanic revelation, a global awakening, or at the very least an epic ‘what the hell happened’ hangover, the likes of which I haven’t seen since the infamous Gin Imps incident of December 31st 2009 (short story: free bar). At times like this, when we have an only semi-hyperbolic sense of the world slipping into darkness, the urge to howl mournfully into the void becomes irresistible. So this is me, howling. I will take up my metaphorical pen and hope that it is indeed mightier than the sword.

Peace and love x