For the love of books…

img_0338

Ok, first up: I’m biased. I have a literature degree. I teach literature. Of course I love books. I’m not fussy- I love hardbacks, paperbacks, and eBooks. I love the classics, the highbrows and the cheesy ones. In honour of World Book Day, here are some of the reasons why books are brilliant.

Books = knowledge. When the printing press made books more freely available, more people were able to read, and so knowledge was shared and increased exponentially. Huge socio-political changes came along, transforming the world. I’m not exaggerating.

Books provide a framework for understanding the complexities of the world. If the science is a bit much, well, we have stories. Stories that we use to figure out the apparently incomprehensible, to make sense of pain, to process grief, to understand the depth and range of human emotion, and to contemplate our mortality. We tell ourselves stories to feel better about the dark and scary parts of life. Know where the stories come from? Books.

Books make us better people. Stories encourage empathy, often literally forcing us to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Books are manifestations of our culture and history. They connect us to the world before, and show us the wisdom of the ages. They connect us to a shared history. They are the products of their environment.

Books are magical. Ink on a page can transport us to a different world entirely, making us believe in and care about places and people that only exist in someone’s imagination. We can escape the dreary and the bleak, and go hang out in Narnia if we want. We can go on adventures, fall in love, and seek the Holy Grail in our pyjamas.

Books are the manifestos of the ultimate warriors: writers. Dystopian writers entertain, sure, but they also construct an alternative reality not too far from our own, which makes us re-evaluate what we see when we read the paper, or watch the news. The pen is mightier than the sword, and what is a book if it is not the product of many pens?

Best of all? Books aren’t elite. Reading is a great social equaliser.

Books can break your heart and make you cry. They can lift your spirits and inspire. They can be new and exciting, or as comfy and familiar as a cuppa and a blanky on a chilly day. They can keep you company on a train, and keep you awake at night. They might scare the bejesus out of you. They might, on occasion, make you want to throw them across the room. They might make you roll your eyes and seriously question how they got on the bestseller list. They might stay with you forever. They might give real life people a lot to live up to…

But they will always be brilliant.

So here’s to you, World Book Day, and your raison d’etre: the book ūüďö ‚̧ūü•ā

For POTUS is an honourable man…

img_0335Friends, allies, citizens, lend me your ears;

I’m here to mourn Obama, not to praise him.

The evil that men do is oft repeated;

The good becomes a distant memory;

So is it with Obama. The noble POTUS

Hath said Barack was rubbish:

If it were so, it was a grievous fault,

And grievously hath Barack answer’d it.

Here, as POTUS has not banned free speech

(For POTUS is an honourable man;

So are they all, all honourable men‚Äď)

Come I to speak of Barack’s legacy.

He was our friend, faithful, fair and just:

But POTUS says he was appalling;

And POTUS is an honourable man.

Protecting the poor, the needy and the sick

Who lacked sufficient healthcare coverage:

Did this in Barack seem so awful?

When that the poor have cried, Obama wept:

(Should presidents be colder, more aloof?)

Yet POTUS says he was horrendous;

And POTUS is an honourable man.

He spoke of kindness, dignity and love,

Was diplomatic when he faced his foes,

Had huge approval ratings: was this bad?

Yet POTUS says he was disastrous;

And, sure, he is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what POTUS spoke,

But here I am to speak what I do know.

You all did love him once, not without cause:

What cause compels you then, to damn his work?

O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;

My heart has fled the White House with Obama,

And I must pause till it come back to me.

“Who would not lie, when men are hanged for truth?”

IMG_0325.JPG

Is anyone else sick of Trump using the phrase “fake news”?

img_0318

It seems that he has declared war on the media, describing various news outlets as “the enemy of the people”; he is either unaware of the sorts of leaders who have used this sort of phrase in the past, or he is involved in a ruthless and Machiavellian scheme to seize power and deny any story that is not his own. I am usually more inclined to see ineptitude than conspiracy, but either way, this is a worrying development.

A free press is a necessary foundation for democracy. The media have an essential role to play in holding politicians to account, and to undermine that is to undermine democracy itself.

“Fake news” is a pretty big accusation to throw around. I gather that he intends it to mean wilfully misleading the public with¬†untruths – i.e. deliberately lying in order to promote their own political agenda. I don’t deny that almost all media companies have an agenda. Media bias exists – and there are almost always ‘angles’ that are taken on stories. Does that make the content “fake”?

Media outlets sometimes mess up or mislead. They might take statements out of context, or use unreliable sources. They might allow their agenda to lead the story, rather than provide an angle on it. They might need to print retractions if they are proved wrong. They can be sued for getting it wrong. As a result, there are usually scrupulous processes that writers go through, in order to protect their reputations and their businesses.

Actual¬†“fake news” does exist of course, in clickbait pieces and in deliberately misleading propaganda.¬†But I don’t think that’s what Trump is talking about. For him, anything that contradicts the narrative he has constructed for himself is branded “fake”. And that is dangerous.

img_0320

Let’s examine how media bias works. The events themselves might be neutral, but the bias often shows itself in the language – the emotive adjectives used to describe events, for example. Bias can reveal itself in the references to expert opinions – who is selected to provide their point of view? Is that person a reliable and credible source? If there is a picture of them, has this been chosen to make them look sensible or silly? Opinions can be presented as facts – any teenager who has studied persuasive writing know how to do this. And bias can also reveal itself in what is selected as ‘newsworthy’ and what is not.

Let’s not confuse¬†bias with political¬†independence, though. News outlets might have to report inconvenient truths, or provide stories that are not flattering, and not particularly kind. As much as the President might not like this, it is actually their job.

Journalists are also required to fact-check politicians. And that is something that is apparently much more necessary right now, as, let’s face it, some of the most¬†egregious and ridiculous examples of fake news seem to be coming directly from the White House press team, or from Trump’s Twitter account.

img_0322

Here’s an older example, but still a classic: Trump denied climate change- and then denied denying it. With such a deliberately flexible and inconsistent understanding of facts, is he really a competent ‘arbiter of truth’?

img_0323

What is the alternative? State-controlled media? Are we all looking forward to lots of stories about the emperor’s new clothes?

I wondered earlier in this piece whether this was just inept or Machiavellian, and for me, the jury is still out. If it is a long-game plot to undermine the media and secure unquestioned power, then it is essential that journalists keep doing their job. If it is incompetence instead, well, Trump is being very optimistic indeed in starting his 2020 campaign. He is bringing his party into disrepute, and if that’s the case, I suspect he won’t be permitted to continue for long.

So Mr Prez, if you are reading this (as if!), instead of complaining about the media, just do your job. If you feel you are being treated unfairly,¬†let your actions speak for themselves. Close scrutiny comes with the job, I’m afraid. You may as well make peace with that now.

When news sources fact-check you and reveal that you are telling untruths, do not claim that you have “alternative facts” because that’s not a thing. Just admit your mistake. Thank the press for keeping you honest. Engage with journalists. You are all trying to make an honest living, right?

A word to the media: look, I know you want to deal with these accusations head-on, but you run the risk of falling into a Bannon-trap. Don’t let these unsubstantiated allegations get in the way of you doing your job. This may well be sleight of hand – drawing your attention to one battle, to distract you from the greater war. Bannon is probably trying to pick a fight with you. Don’t fall for it.

And a word to the public: if you are concerned about whether something is “fake news” or not, there’s a handy guide below.

Peace and love x

img_0324

Britney & Eugene: A barely-veiled allegorical love story for our times

Theirs was a marriage that had lasted for more than 40 years. But Britney was getting¬†bored…

img_0287

There was little doubt that marriage had been good for Britney. It had brought her support and stability in some dark times, and had definitely protected her household staff’s working conditions and pay.¬†But that’s not to say that the marriage was perfect; oh no. The little quirks and foibles that had seemed so adorably eccentric in the early days had been grating for a while now. It all came down to a few unfortunate¬†details…

Firstly, Eugene was pretty dull. There was no great passion here; he wasn’t one for the Big Romantic Gesture. There were no fervent declarations of affection, no outpourings of devotion, no special presents to celebrate their anniversary.

And Eugene was a little too particular. He only approved of certain types of lightbulbs. He had entire rulebooks for the proper size, shape and weight¬†of groceries. He ironed his underwear. He had very strict stipulations about how Britney lived her life. He wasn’t controlling per se, but he had high expectations, and showed¬†his disapproval by peering over his rimless glasses with a familiar look of disdain that she had come to find grating.

He had a very big family. They were all very nice, but Britney often got annoyed when, on returning from work, she found her living room full of strangers. Eugene didn’t like it when she called them that – they were her extended family now too. But as they sat around the dinner table in the evening, chattering away in a language Britney didn’t understand (she was no good at learning languages so never bothered to try), she felt isolated and resentful, and Eugene had caught her rolling her eyes at them on more than one occasion.

“You were unspeakably rude tonight”, he said to her, as they were brushing their teeth with toothpaste that was on Eugene’s ‘approved’ list.

“Is it so wrong to want my house to myself?”

“I didn’t see you complaining when my cousins were building the extension, fixing the plumbing and washing the car. Or when my aunt checked that dodgy mole for you. Or when second cousin Bob represented you in court. Oh no, you just got grumpy when you had to sit at the same table as them.”

Britney did what she usually did when they were arguing and she knew she couldn’t win: she walked away and decided to sleep in the spare room. As she lay there, quietly seething, an idea started to take hold of her.

Eugene would always remember the exact moment it happened. It was a quiet June morning, and as dawn broke, his phone beeped. In disbelief, he read the message twice.She was leaving him. He sighed heavily. So be it. Part of him was a bit relieved, to be honest. She wasn’t the easiest person to ¬†live with.

Britney was on top of the world. What a brilliant idea it was! She would be independent again; she would be the boss of her life again; she wasn’t restricted to buying items from the approved list anymore! She thanked her lucky stars that she had always kept a separate bank account- that would surely make it easier…

She knew once she filed the divorce papers there would be no going back, so she moved into a caravan in the garden¬†and starting preparing for a legal battle. She took photocopies of the documents in Eugene’s ‘household’ folder (which was alphabetised and colour-coded, naturally) and started studying. It had been over 40 years since she had had to look after herself, and she had forgotten how time-consuming and incredibly dull it was. She called the utility companies, the insurers and the credit card companies, only to find out that without Eugene’s ‘friends and family’ discount, everything was going to cost her more than she had expected.¬†When she went shopping, she realised that if an item wasn’t on Eugene’s approved list, it actually looked pretty shady. She didn’t fancy using ‘Crusty Bake’ sun tan lotion, or ‘Look Cute but Fry your Eyes’ sunglasses. Hoping no-one would see her, she bought herself ‘approved’ toiletries, vowing to hide the receipts and cover the labels when she got home. But the cashier was a friend of Eugene – and said that as she was leaving Eugene, she couldn’t use her loyalty card points there anymore.

Britney was facing an expensive future. Her lawyers were still drafting the divorce papers, so she told them to type more slowly while she concocted a plan.

It was pretty straightforward – she needed another rich husband. So she downloaded Tinder. She used a few candid snaps from the good old days, trying to gloss over her fading complexion. She was still a catch, right? Out of sheer desperation, she swiped right on anyone and everyone, as long as they were rich and powerful. Let’s face it, Eugene had never really been a looker, and they had lived in mediocre contentment for decades…

The lawyers were typing as slowly as they could, but Eugene was getting impatient and suspicious. Britney had to make her choice quickly- but the matches she had had so far weren’t that auspicious.¬†She had ruled out the sweat-shop owner, and the guy who looked a bit like a serial-killer, whose pictures were of him in various butch scenarios with his top off. There was a terrifying child-man whose pictures were either¬†posters declaring how awesome he was, or staged shots of him playing with weapons of mass destruction. That left one.

Marcus¬†was definitely an odd one. She had shown his pictures and his messages to her friends, and none of them were convinced, but she thought there was something weirdly charismatic about him. She thought she could get past the fake-tan and the questionable comments. (She was pretty sure it was just banter, though her friends kept comparing him to Hitler.) What was that on his head though? A dead ferret? Maybe he just needed a bit of a make-over. She didn’t really mind a fixer-upper.

So she set up a date. It seemed to go well – he declared how much he liked her to the whole world. He even held her hand in public. (Eugene didn’t really like public displays of affection.) She thought – “sod it”, and filed the papers.

Eugene’s legal team hammered hers in court. She lost far more than she had anticipated; it was a nightmare. She left court weeping, and fled to Marcus’s house. “There there,” he said. “I’ll look after you.” She was filled with gratitude. It was all going to be all right.

On the day of their wedding, Eugene watched the ceremony on television. There was something iffy about that new man of hers, and he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

Britney was having a wonderful day. She was free of Eugene and his boring rules. She had a rich new husband who had promised her the world. She was wearing lipstick again! Everyone around her was sure she looked 40 years younger. It was a return to her prime, she was certain of it.

When the guests had gone, Britney and Marcus went to their honeymoon suite, and Marcus poured them each a glass of bubbly. “A toast”, he said. Britney smiled and raised her glass expectantly. “To us,” she said. Marcus laughed. “That’s not quite what I had in mind”, he said. A predatory look was in his eyes. Britney suddenly felt a shiver of fear.

“The thing is”, said Marcus, “you seem to think that we are equal partners in this marriage. I don’t know if it’s funny or sad.”

Britney had a sick feeling in her stomach.

“Here’s how this marriage is going to work,” he continued. “You will do exactly what I say, and exactly what I want, or-”

The silence was loaded. Britney’s mouth was dry, and she could barely muster the courage to speak.

“Or what?”

He smiled and then any humour fell from his face as he whispered, “Or I will destroy you.”

With that, he left the room, locking the door behind him. She was a prisoner. As she fell to the floor weeping, she thought of poor, boring Eugene. He might iron his underwear, but he would never have hurt her.

What had she done?

 

 

 

“Ye are many – they are few.”

There are plenty of intelligent, reasonable and compassionate people in the world whose political opinions differ from mine, and who I enjoy a bit of political banter with from time to time. We can have grown-up intellectual discussions about what’s going on in the world without resorting to trolling and abusing each other. So when I say that this week’s post is about uniting against a common foe, you understand that I don’t mean you.

Our common foe: bullies.

I took a trip this week. I went on a little journey out of my social media echo chamber, to see what was being said by people on the ‘other side’. As predicted, there was a lot that I didn’t agree with. That’s fine – I was on their turf; it was to be expected. But¬†a lot of it really wasn’t pretty.

Some of it was fairly predictable. Some of it – not so much.

Some of it was quite well written. Some of it – not so much.

I think what surprised me the most was the use¬†of the phrase ‘liberal elite’, which has apparently become a fashionable insult. Its use puzzles me; it doesn’t really hold up as an insult, and it has been deployed rather disingenuously by far-right¬†politicians in their (sadly successful) attempts at capturing the mood of the moment.

Which part of it is meant to be insulting? A liberal person is¬†progressive, left-leaning, open-minded, tolerant, in favour of equality, compassionate, probably inclined to pacifism… As far as labels go, I’m happy with that. But let’s face it, one doesn’t need to identify as ‘liberal’ to be anti-violence and compassionate… Liberals aren’t the exclusive owners of¬†these qualities, and¬†it’s not helpful¬†to set up liberal/conservative as a pair of binary opposites, where we use nice sounding adjectives for one and mean sounding adjectives for the other… That’s not ‘grown-up’ politics.

Is the ‘elite’ part insulting then? To describe someone as elite suggests that they are powerful, privileged, and rich. Again, not really seeing the insult. And this part makes even less sense. There are elites on both sides of the political spectrum; to present Brexit and Trump in terms of working class revolutions against ‘the elites’ is a grotesque misrepresentation of the facts. A presentation of alternative facts, if you will. (Sorry- cheap shot.) The Trumps couldn’t be more elite if they tried! And Brexit shifts power from EU elites to British elites.¬†Let’s not pretend otherwise.

No, the problem comes from the collocation ‘liberal elite’ itself, for it is meant to conjure up images of two things: smugness and weakness. ‘Snowflake’ emphasises this weakness. And ‘libtard’ is a blend that’s meant to undermine the intellectual capital of this group, suggesting¬†its political foolishness and (apparently) easily exploitable vulnerability.

It’s all very ‘playground’, isn’t it? This sort of behaviour is what we all saw from¬†the domineering and obnoxious kids in school,¬†who picked¬†on the smart kids. They were¬†told then, “don’t bully nerds- you might need them to hire you one day”. They¬†have been waiting to get their own back, and now is their moment. When Gove infamously declared that “people in this country have had enough of experts”, he was signalling this shift in attitudes.¬†They perceive this ‘liberal elite’ as condescending know-it-alls who have been scolding them for years, while¬†crying sad little tears of stupid empathy, tying the public up in ‘red tape’ and generally being interfering busybodies. They think that this excuses targeting liberal people online and saying hurtful, hateful things to them.

According to some tweets I had the misfortune to come across this week, ‘liberal elites’ are “brainwashed morons, who need to accept that their liberal ideology is going to be eradicated”.¬†Sorry to disappoint you, but no, it won’t be. Not while we are here to defend it. We might need to take some time to think about where we ‘went wrong’, but we aren’t going anywhere…

We won’t stop being compassionate, or tolerant.¬†We will defend the people you attack. We won’t be led into hate, and we won’t support attacks on fundamental human rights.

We will call you out on your alternative facts. We’ll stick up for science, for research and for actual facts. We won’t let you disparage the qualifications that we worked for.

We can win arguments with words. We make excellent placards. And we are not afraid to wave them.

The more you bully, threaten and mock, the more we will keep going.

And after a while, I suspect we will start to see something that my lovely, brilliant¬†sister calls ‘Negative Unity’. This is where people find common ground despite their many differences, by uniting¬†against a common foe. The grown-ups of the world – the ones who can have very different political ideas and discuss them in a civilised manner without resorting to name-calling and threats –¬†will start to see past the binary oppositions that we thought divided us. We¬†will recognise that we all want to do what’s best and what’s right¬†– we¬†just have different ways of going about it.

We will unite against the bullies.

So let’s keep it civilised and polite. Let’s be emphatic, yes, but never cruel, personal or offensive. Let’s focus on the real enemies here.

Bullies are cowards. They lash out at others to hide their own shortcomings. They think of nothing but themselves. Sometimes, they hide behind pictures of eggs, and fake names. Sometimes, they are in plain sight and are even elected to office, but even then, they cannot stand up to a united opposition. So rise like lions, my friends, whether you are liberals or conservatives, elites or ordinaries; rise like lions.

Peace and love x

Rise like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number –

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you –

Ye are many – they are few.

 

 

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

img_0275

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.

 

 

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…”

img_0274

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.

‚ÄúFor last year’s words belong to last year’s language / And next year’s words await another voice.‚ÄĚ*

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