Archive for July, 2013

Hi! Let’s talk about dismantling the establishment and abolishing the dominion over the masses by a privileged minority.

No? You’ve already got weekend plans? It’s okay, we can start with something smaller. How about we just get rid of the monarchy?

I’m a republican. Not in the increasingly widespread “keep your Darwinian religion out of my schools and your tampons out of my gun rack” sense that’s still distressingly popular across the pond, but the ever-so-much more British meaning of the word. By which I mean, I rather think that still having a royal family in this day and age just isn’t cricket, old sport, though obviously I don’t want to make too much of a bally fuss over it.

First, though, if we’re going to have any sensible conversation at all, can we dispense with the caricature of the grumpy, resentful, joyless grouch, whose only real gripe about the aristocracy is founded in a cruel grudge against anyone else who gets to have nice things?

It’s odd how often this one is wheeled out. The claim of anti-monarchists is simply that having an unelected, hereditary head of state, in this day and age, is at best unnecessary, and at worst North Korea – and that it’s possible to hold this view as a matter of principle, not just because you’re greedy.

Even if you don’t agree with this claim, it shouldn’t be so impossible to conceive that someone might genuinely feel this way, that you have to start writing their own motivations and neuroses for them. It takes quite a determination to be cynical, and to see ill will and insincerity in those who disagree with you, for you to instinctively ascribe a lack of support for an institution to nothing more noble than bitterness.

As many republicans have explained time and again, it’s nothing personal. William and Kate seem like decent folk, as do many of their immediate family, and I wish them and newborn George all the best. But my friend Sara’s a good person too; that doesn’t mean I think she should be given a castle and a police escort at the taxpayer’s expense. (Just checking whether she still reads my blog these days. If so, sorry, Sara, I’m still totally buying you that castle I promised you when I’m a billionaire.)

Anyway, that could become a whole tangential rant in itself, but not today, because one particular argument in favour of keeping the monarchy has been bugging me lately.

The idea is that, although the Queen’s role is largely that of a figurehead, and she doesn’t take an active involvement in running the country, she’s someone the people who do run the country have to defer to. The Prime Minister’s the top dog of our democracy, but he still has to go visit an old lady covered in jewels and humbly beg her say-so before he’s allowed to do stuff. Which is meant to keep him in his place somewhat, or something, and not let him assume the role of the pinnacle of concentrated power himself.

A terrifying pair of words have often been deployed to explain this argument in an impressively succinct fashion: President Blair.

Ugh, imagine that. Not just Prime Minister Blair, but President Blair. That Tony Blair was awful, so just imagine if he’d been our President. Eesh. It would’ve been hideous. He might’ve gone mad with power and, I don’t know… started an intractable war in the Middle East on dubious legal grounds, or something. God, can you imagine? We’re lucky the Queen was there to reel him in and stop any such catastrophe.

Oh wait, no, sorry, this is completely asinine, his role would’ve been basically exactly the same, just with a slightly shorter job title.

Also, here’s the real problem with a democracy which maintains an unelected monarch, in order to keep its elected leaders in check:

Isn’t that supposed to be our job?

Seriously, if you’ve got a democratically elected leader, put in place by the people as a result of a popular vote, then aren’t the masses themselves supposed to be able to exercise their democratic powers to evict any unscrupulous politicians from office, and make sure that those in power really do represent the nation as a whole?

That’s supposedly the idea, anyway. How well it works in practice is another matter, but surely this is the promise of democracy, and is exactly what people mean when they talk about your “duties as a citizen”, and all that. We’re supposed to be able to keep our leaders in check ourselves.

But if we’re delegating even that duty – if we’re trusting in someone unelected, unappointed, born to the role, to do even this job for us, of stopping our representatives from getting drunk on power and running away with themselves…

…then isn’t that a pretty clear sign of democracy itself being broken?

If we don’t need the monarchy to keep our country ticking along, let’s get rid of it. There’s no need for any undue unkindness to the individuals involved; being born into a dynasty and having the world handed to you on a silver plate means you didn’t ask for any of the unpleasant side effects, either. They’ve had any chance of a normal life pretty much obliterated anyway by the never-ending media fascination and scrutiny. So let’s just gently shuffle them along. The Queen’s a nice old lady, and deserves a comfy retirement. One where she’s not expected to stand out in the rain and the cold for hours any more, watching endless processions of boats.

Or, if we do need the monarchy, because our megalomaniacal elected leaders can’t be trusted without it? Then we should be massively terrified of how potentially dangerous our elected leaders apparently are, and we really shouldn’t be satisfied with keeping a protective figurehead over the problem and hoping for the best. Either way, things need to change far more than any conservative seems willing to imagine.

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There’s going to be a royal baby. The royalest baby that there’s ever been since the last royal baby that was as royal a baby as this royal baby. Even though I’m against the whole royal baby, I hope it’s a safe and uncomplicated royal baby, and that the whole royal baby is healthy and happy with the royal baby.

Of course, this is all very royal baby. This royal baby could royal baby over us all, one day, if we haven’t done away with the whole royal baby by then.

But amid all the royal baby, let’s not forget to remember the royal baby. Because there are more royal baby things going on than the royal baby, after all. There’s a royal baby, which everyone seems to royal baby. And what’s the situation with the royal baby? These are the things we should royal baby.

Hopefully all this royal baby will die down soon, and we’ll royal baby from the royal baby. Then perhaps we’ll be able to royal baby about some more royal baby royal baby. But I suppose it’s no royal baby that there’s been so much royal baby over the royal baby. It’s not every royal baby you get a royal baby, after all.

Update: Since I wrote the above royal baby, there has been a royal baby! Apparently it’s a healthy royal baby, and mother and royal baby are both doing royal baby.

The noise currently in my ears is like if Charlie Brown’s teacher were a die-hard monarchist.

Anyway. I’m still not posting much, and not making much sense when I do, because I’m getting married in two weeks oh holy fuck sorry got to go do all the prepration for a big huge scary thing bye

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A brief rationalist take on yesterday’s glurge:

A lot of it comes down to fundamental attribution error, of course. When I make a mistake, or do something that might seem rude or insensitive or otherwise negative, I’m aware of all the extenuating circumstances. I let myself off because I was tired or stressed from dealing with so much other shit, or because the blame can be pinned on something else in the world… any excuse as to why it doesn’t really count.

But when someone else cocks up, obviously they’re an incompetent asshole.

We don’t live in other people’s heads, so we aren’t naturally inclined to make all the same excuses for them as we do for ourselves. And we don’t feel their emotions to anything like the same extent they do, either.

When somebody else is suffering, or delighted, or in pain, or giddy with adulation, I might experience a surge of the same emotion on their behalf. My mirror neurons will start flapping away (neurons totally flap, ask any scientonomer) and encouraging me to empathise and bond with my fellow species-member.

But when there’s especially intense emotion, that just can’t come close to matching the experience of actually going through it. Even if you’ve seen either people in profound emotional highs or lows, it doesn’t intuitively feel like what they’re going through is really real. Your friend’s drama only impacted on you a little, nothing like what you’re experiencing now, so yours must be more real, more deep and profound. They were just moping and wailing, they can’t have felt it as strongly as you are now.

Except there’s every reason to suppose that they do. And your intensity of experience is just as inaccessible to them, but no less real for it.

Now that I’ve written all that, I’m not sure it adds very much.

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(Not in God, don’t worry, it’s not that kind of outpouring.)

I’ve been having one of those days, a bit.

It’s hot, and I’m tired, and wedding planning is stressful. We’re still predominantly kicking ass, and it’s going to be a marvellous day, but sometimes it feels like it might’ve helped to have started working on it a bit sooner. I mean, it’s been over a year and a half since I asked the girl to marry me, why are we leaving virtually all the preparations till the last three months?

(It’s because we’re idiots. But we’re also awesome, and it’s all fine.)

So we do have our bumpy emotional moments, and today, though ultimately productive, has been a bit draining. Also, by a random happenstance of conversational tangent, I just learned earlier that Mog the Forgetful Cat, a barely remembered staple of my childhood, died in 2002. Which made me sad in a way that makes absolutely no sense.

And then later I realised I’d had a song in my head for a little while which my brain probably wanted me to pay attention to. I couldn’t remember what it was or any of the words at first, only that it was rather lovely and a bit sad. After a few minutes of humming it to myself, I figured out that it was The Only Exception by Paramore.

And it felt like time to sit and listen to sad music and have a bit of a cry. Just a bit of one. I don’t think you’re ever of an age or a situation where that’s not allowed sometimes.

It’s a really nice song, although I don’t relate to it to a huge extent. I’ve never been cynical about love, even when I didn’t much fancy my own chances. Nothing about my early experiences soured me to the concept of people caring about each other in a way that can last. And yet there’s not been a single person I’ve ever met, in my life, who I could be doing any of this stuff with, except the one I get to marry. I am very lucky in love.

Today’s been a day of being jabbed “right in the feels”, as the latest generation has rather wonderfully taken to describing things which resonate emotionally in an especially poignant way. I’ve been feeling things more strongly than usual, or at least perceiving my feelings that way. Love is stronger, the very wonder at existence is sharper, the thought of loss is a deeper emptiness, to such an extent that just writing again about some cartoon drawings of a cat who never actually existed is in danger of making me well up again.

It fills me with a need to express it, to get the words out to explain what these feelings are and why they matter, about the importance of compassion in life and the inevitable horror of death. A need which goes far, far beyond my capacity to actually express any such thing, obviously. But there’s so much going on in there.

While I was processing all this earlier, emotionally bubbling over somewhat and having conversations in my head, I asked myself something like: “So, what, do I think that makes me a poet?”

I wasn’t being serious, or I’d have had to tell myself to stop being a twat. Because, as I reminded myself straight away, the answer’s obviously no. Experiencing emotions which are occasionally beyond my power to articulate, and which aren’t very widely or comfortably discussed in public, does not mean that I’m some especially profound soul, who feels things more deeply than everyone else, or lives life more largely than all the numbed sheeple and deadened drones I share the world with. I know better than patronising bollocks like that.

Feeling like this means I’m human. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Now, some people don’t find that the easiest thing to take. Feeling deep, personal emotions is a deeply personal thing, after all. It feels like these moments should be rare and precious experiences, not something millions of people around the world are bound also to be going through at any given instant. I want to be special, dammit, because I’m feeling really hard and the world should appreciate me.

Well, profound and meaningful as it might feel at the time, it’s not as rare as all that. The world’s going through its own shit, at least as intense as this, all over the place, all the time.

As I say, for some this feels like a negative, seems to diminish one’s own importance. I’m not a special and unique snowflake because I feel things this strongly. I’m just a person. A part of me thought I might be more than that, something special.

But I also realised you can look at it the other way.

I’m capable of feeling such powerful things, such passion and desperation and love, of being moved by the sweetness of a song, of pining and longing and missing things I know have never existed, of my own head wanting to explode under the pressure and expanse of all the thoughts and ideas it’s trying to contain…

…and rather than having to be special or amazing or unique, you get all that just from being a person?

Well fuck, there’s billions of those. So, this must be going on everywhere

How much amazing, incredible, mind-blowing, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, unimaginable bursts and explosions of emotion and overwhelm must be punching the world right in its collective feels, every second of every minute of every day?

It’s not a diminishing realisation. It’s unfathomably expanding and awe-inspiring just to attempt to understand how much is being felt, so powerfully, all around us, all the time. How much it means to the people involved, how important it is to them, how much my own pangs of bewilderment and wonder are being replayed on such a colossal, constant scale. Humanity is astounding.

So yeah. That’s the kind of day I’m having.

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A very quick thought which doesn’t change the basic gist of yesterday’s post.

There’s a lot of online activism which encourages people to support good causes which don’t directly affect them. I don’t just mean things like donating money to people in distant, famine-struck lands, but causes which affect only a subset of our fellows, and so aren’t really on our radar so much.

One obvious example is the effort to provoke men to take an interest in issues that primarily affect women, such as abortion, female genital mutilation, or domestic violence.

A common piece of rhetoric employed to this end is: What if it happened to someone you know, or your daughter, or your sister, or your mother? What if the victim of some atrocity you’re currently unaware of was someone close to you?

You should care, because it could be your daughter.

While the conditional clause may technically be true, the reasoning is problematic. The fact that your daughter could be the victim of something horrible isn’t the reason you should want to stop horrible things.

The reason you should want to stop horrible things, is that the way you feel when you imagine horrible things happening to your daughter, is the way you should feel about horrible things happening to anyone.

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