Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 2014

Well, here we are again. We have reached election day. The voting hour is upon us. It’s tick-a-box-and-consider-your-democratic-duty-fulfilled o’clock.

You might have already voted today. Or maybe you’re planning to go squeeze out a sneaky vote later. That’s fine. What you do in the privacy of a small booth with a curtain for a wall in a primary school or a church is your own business. I just don’t want to have this unnatural lifestyle of yours constantly crammed down my throat.

I’ve not changed my mind on this a great deal in the past six months, but the rhetoric over the importance of this democratic right may have become more obnoxious since the last round.

Maybe it’s the centenary that’s got everyone all a-flutter, but I don’t remember the memories of the First World War’s dead being abused so vigorously last time around in order to guilt me into doing what they supposedly died fighting so that I could do.

The average 19-year-old in a trench may or may not have had keeping UKIP out of the European Parliament on his mind, even more pressingly than praying he didn’t get shot by some other kid who was also only there because someone who’d been voted into office had told them to die for their country. But regardless, dragging up his sacrifice in an attempt to drag me to the polls fails as a coherent argument.

A cause isn’t rendered noble, nor a course of action obligatory, simply because some people died for it once. People died for the right to keep slaves. People died to kill thousands of others for the greater glory of God. Western democracy might be a more benign notion than either of those examples, but I maintain my right to my own moral decisions all the same.

Anyone still pushing this line should consider adapting it slightly for the next vegetarian they run into. “Hey, you should eat this hamburger. A cow *died* to bring you this. Its sacrifice will have been in vain if you cast this precious gift aside. You wouldn’t want to disrespect its memory.”

Also infuriating is the claim that it’ll somehow be my fault if I fail to vote and UKIP get in. Particularly when it comes from people who voted Lib Dem in the last general election and are thus equally responsible for the coalition they currently despise. Guys, I’m in that boat too; look how badly I managed to fuck things up when I did vote.

I’m treating this democracy like an angry wasps’ nest. You might be certain you’ve found just the right voting bat to thwack it with so that it’ll make things better and not release any furious insects this time, but I’m not going near it again in case I make it worse.

It’s a mathematically illiterate assertion, for one thing. And it hypes and over-prioritises the act of voting, as our one moment of political influence or social usefulness, to the point of fetishisation.

If the rest of our lives were as unimportant as some people imply whenever voting day comes around – if global politics, and people’s views on trade and immigration and economics, and the rules imposed on us which govern our lives, remained entirely unaffected by all our conversations, our protests, our discussions, our reading, our listening, our efforts to connect and engage with other people, outside of this one moment where you put an X in a box and select your favourite from the sanitised list of options prepared for you – then that would be incredibly fucked up and monumentally depressing.

Fortunately, it’s completely untrue.

If I have a political discussion with a dozen work colleagues, or if I post an infographic which gets retweeted to a few thousand people, and if just one person shifts from thinking “None of these politicians have any understanding of everyday life for someone like me, but this UKIP guy seems more down to earth” to “None of these politicians have any understanding of everyday life for someone like me, and that UKIP guy sounds like a bit of a twat as well”, then I have done as much from my computer as I will ever have the power to do at the polls.

If someone with a bit more clout changes two minds, then they’ve already had twice the impact of casting their own vote, by means of direct engagement and public interaction with other people.

There are other ways to get things done. If you’re going to vote, then vote, but stop acting like that’s the most important bit. Fucking talk to some people.

The bullshit idea of “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain” also misses the point that I don’t want any of these people holding political power. I don’t want these authoritarian roles to be filled with better people, or for the least worst option to keep us safe from the BNP, I want them not to exist. We’ve had centuries to give this “just vote the right people in” thing a go and we just keep going round in circles.

The NHAP are enough of a shambles that if they had a candidate in my area, I probably would vote for them; they’re a one-issue party on one of the most important issues going, and I can see them doing more good than harm through the political process. Which is part of the reason they’re never going to sweep to power in their current form. (I say “shambles” in an entirely positive way, incidentally, in contrast with the well organised, highly efficient forces for evil they’re sharing space with on the ballot.)

But primarily, I object to the forced assumption that putting a small cluster of individuals, with a statistically implausible quotient of complete pricks, at the top of this particular power structure, with this particular set of checks and once-every-few-years-everyone-gets-a-say system of reshuffling things, is the way that anything should get done.

The part of the whole kerfuffle I consistently find most offensive is the constant insertion of the words “bother to” in between “don’t” and “vote”, when describing the behaviour of the substantial swathe of the population who remain unconvinced of their powers to effect meaningful change. As if the problem were solely located in the apathy at our end, and the predominant responsibility didn’t lie with the parties vying for our concession to their dominance, who repeatedly prove themselves inadequate to the task and fail to persuade a majority of us that they have anything to offer. (Blaming young people for their own disenfranchisement is especially galling. Never mind that you’re being ignored by all the major parties, they’re told; just bother to vote for some policies that won’t help you at all, and better ones will magically appear somehow.)

I’m interested. I’m engaged. I try to be involved. I could always be doing more. I have ideas to share. I spent an hour getting all this off my chest last night, aided by the fact that my wife’s on a night-shift and I’m alone in the house with a cat who prefers staring out the window to getting in my way for a change. I am not an apathetic, disinterested citizen.

But I reject your sole sanctioned method of political engagement, almost as vehemently as I reject the fanaticism with which you insist my part in society is effectively nullified if I don’t fall in line and make my protest known in this one regimented, authorised manner.

Voting is merely one among many, many ways for you to make a minuscule, barely perceptible effect on society’s machinations. Go for it if you like; it’s very unlikely you’ll hurt anyone. But stop fixating. Broaden your mind and try something else as well sometime. Not everyone has to be into your weird shit.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Recently I experienced one of the shockingly few occasions, in my thirty years and change on this world, in which death wasn’t just an abstract concept for me to vaguely understand from an intellectual distance.

Our guinea pigs died a little over a week ago, and as such, this blog is now sadly mascotless.

A couple of years ago I wrote about the loss of Kirsty’s cat Bruno, in a post critically acclaimed and highly lauded by a wide audience of in-laws who’d known Bruno for years longer than I had and were also sad that he’d gone.

This isn’t a eulogy post for Higgs and Boson in the same way that that was for Bruno. But I wanted to write about a few things that I noticed, in the immediate aftermath of that time I wandered outside to give our furry friends some fresh water and grass, only to discover two motionless corpses.

1. I was surprised how bothered I was that they were dead.

I say “surprised” because this was undoubtedly a less significant and tragic moment than when my cat housemate died in 2011. This is true even though I’d only lived with him for his last couple of shaky months, while the pigs had been around for a few years.

I mean, guinea pigs? C’mon. Not to diminish anyone else’s attachment to their own furry rodents, but they’re a bit rubbish.

Higgs and Boson were squeaky idiots without a great deal of personality, lacking the brainpower to even conceptualise who I was in any meaningful way which might have let me delude myself that they cared about me. Not like cats. Cats are very good at forcing that delusion upon you, especially when they’re hungry.

Our pig-interest had drifted notably in recent months, anyway, especially since Pi came along and was way more interesting. We kept them fed and watered and safe from wild animal attacks, but we hadn’t had much socialising time with them lately. Aside from bringing them in to splash around in the bath while I was cleaning out their hutch a little while ago, we hadn’t really ventured very far above the base level of Maslow’s hierarchy of piggy needs. They were fluffy and cute, and a regular part of my life – just not a hugely important or stimulating one.

But for nearly a week, my mind kept wandering back to the fact that they were gone, and feeling horrible about it. Several times a day my face and throat would start doing that thing like when my wife sees a John Lewis advert or a lonely owl.

I’ve never actually lost anything that’s been as big a part of my life as they were. Which sounds ridiculous, but I think it’s true. Nothing else has been there so constantly and consistently – checking their water and food just about every day, letting them run about in the grass while their hutch gets cleaned out most weekends, making sure they’re tucked in safe every time the wind and the rain picked up – and then suddenly not been anywhere any more.

This was the first death of a pet that was really mine. Not like Bruno; I was just his fellow lodger for a couple of months. But I went with Kirsty to pick Higgs and Boson out from the pet shop. And I dug a hole to bury them in at the bottom of the garden.

2. I think the pigs have kinda acted as a proxy for something I’ve had very little experience of having to face directly.

There’s something ideologically offensive about the idea of something, which once was, just suddenly ending like that. The guinea pigs turning up dead has been a reminder that this is something which can just happen, out of nowhere, to me and to things in my life. Even if pigs rank pretty low on the heartbreak scale, I’m going to lose things I love.

I didn’t so much miss them and want them back – they’re guinea pigs, there’s not a lot to miss – but I wanted this whole thing not to have happened. And let’s be honest: I wanted it not to have happened to me. It was a selfish feeling, more than something based on real sympathy for the pigs’ own plight.

It makes everything feels less certain and stable, in a way that I’m pretty sure you’re meant to figure out when you’re about six, but which I seem to have missed.

3. Often, your physical response determines your emotions more than the other way around.

The phrase to Google if you want to find out the fascinating story here seems to be “misattribution of arousal“. Basically, various physiological states such as fear and excitement have a lot in common, as far as what’s going on in terms of your body chemistry – and whether you’re frightened or excited in any given moment is, to a surprising extent, something your brain can just decide for itself, rather than being entirely determined by the situation you’re in.

This is why horror movies and roller coasters are good first date ideas. The actual reason someone’s pulse is racing might be because they’re being flung through the air, or screaming at an actress not to go outside alone because she’s going to get eviscerated – but on some level, all they know is that they’re sat next to you, and they’re manifesting all the same physical symptoms of romantic interest and excitement, so they unconsciously make up a story to explain why you appear to get them all hot and bothered.

I’ve been able to watch something similar happening to my own emotions. When I was back at work a couple of days after burying the pigs (it was a long bank holiday weekend, I didn’t take compassionate leave), there were a couple of moments when I walked briskly across the office, sat down, felt a bit out of breath (because I walk fast and my body is a frail bundle of out-of-shape twigs) – and suddenly felt sad about them again.

The natural assumption, if I were still labouring under the common misconception that I have any innate understanding of my own thoughts and feelings, would be that my grief sometimes causes me to feel physically lethargic and run-down. What’s actually happening far more often is that, after some minor physical exhaustion, my brain notices that slight feeling of sagging due to being a bit puffed, and decides after the fact that I must be feeling sad about the pigs, so it conjures up some appropriate emotions to suit my physical state.

Sometimes, I’m not crying because I feel sad; I feel sad because I’m crying. This is a ridiculous way for a conscious mind to arrange things. But it’s also seriously empowering to know that, if your mood’s kinda low, maybe you just haven’t stood up straight, adopted a Superman pose, and forced a smile in too long – and that such easy fixes can really make a big difference.

4. I gave blood again last week.

It was my fifth time, and it’s still an important, easy, wonderful thing that you can probably do too. It hurts less than banging your toe on a door, which I’ve also done this week, only this way you save lives and you get a free biscuit.

And although that’s still all true, and I believe and stand by my usual spiel as much as ever… I believe it as an idea, on an intellectual level, at a remove from what it means.

When I exhort you to find a blood donation centre near you, and go along sometime to chat about your suitability to donate with some wonderfully professional and friendly nurses, and let them look after you every step of the way while you stop people from dying, just by having a bit of a lie down and then a snack… I’m not really feeling the emotional impact of what I’m talking about.

I absolutely mean every word. Giving blood is good, saving lives is wonderful, and people are important. I’ve been sad, and I’ve missed people, and there are people in my life who I really don’t want to die.

But these two guinea pigs are about the greatest loss I’ve ever actually had to personally deal with.

What it’s actually like – the actual sensations, the qualia, the damnable phenomena and experiences we’re trying to prevent, the aching hollowness, the bewildering sense of loss and being lost, the disorientation of stumbling on a missing stair… that’s all still new to me. It shouldn’t be, for someone my age, given the inevitability of having to face it, and the lack of notice with which it may come. But there it is.

And if it scales up proportionately – from unremarkable whiffly balls of hair who it’s been quite nice to have around, up to, like, people, with brains full of personalities and agency and hopes and clich├ęs and all the rest – then holy crap. Death sucks.

Yep. That’s why you come here. For the frequent updates, and for the profound and original insights into the human condition.

That’ll do, pigs. That’ll do.

Read Full Post »

Still mostly on hiatus while existing in a state of half-packed limbo and ever-mounting impatience and bafflement at the convoluted antics of fucking mortgage underwriters. But chipping in with a quick thought.

I agree with the bulk of Alex Andreou’s latest column. I have little doubt that Jimmy Carr’s a bit of a twat, Gary Barlow’s a major bell-end, JK Rowling is fairly splendid, and David Cameron is a gammon-faced fuckbucket wankspangle with the face of a dish. This has broadly been the left’s characterisation of players in the latest celebrity tax avoidance psychodrama, and it seems largely acceptable to me.

But as a recovering liberal, I have to keep reminding myself to get the fuck over this fixation with paying your taxes as being the ultimate expression of civic duty and compassion for your fellow countryfolk.

My corner of the internet’s been all a-twitter lately with quotes from Rowling in particular – transcribed next to a picture of her in a way that apparently constitutes an inspirational piece of art – describing how obligated she feels to her home country, and how privileged she feels to be able to give something back to the land which supported her when she was going through hard times, now that she has the means to support others in the same way. This is an under-appreciated point among many rich people, and is commendable and warm and fuzzy and all that.

But if JK Rowling, driven by a desire to help those less fortunate than herself and ease the burdens of those troubled by circumstance, cannot think of any more effective way to achieve this goal than to give vast sums of money to David Cameron, George Osborne, and Iain Fucking Duncan Fucking Smith, to let them spend it doing what they think is best for the country…

…then she appears to have been stricken by a colossal and uncharacteristic lack of imagination since the last time she set pen to paper.

Look, giving something back to your fellow man is a great and important thing, and paying your taxes so that government social programmes can be funded is sometimes one way of doing that, but if it’s the best way, or the only way, then we’re all fucked. The very fact that charities exist and solicit donations directly should tell you that helping people directly without letting a bunch of politicians get involved has a lot going for it.

Which isn’t, as I can tell you’re already objecting, simply the standard right-libertarian argument in favour of letting private organisations fix all society’s ills on their own. We absolutely need to have a national and collaborative way of supporting the less well-off, and leaving it all to the presumptive benevolence of an Ayn Rand fan’s idea of the “free market” is absolutely not it. But we need to stop clinging to the notion that letting people gather thousands of lifetimes’ worth of wealth to themselves, then having the state claw half of it back again before redistributing it among its own pet projects, is a good enough solution that we can stop working on anything better.

JK Rowling is most likely a good person acting kindly toward people. And the result of her doing this is that the coalition government, which is slashing benefits and demonising the poor across the board, is now better funded to embark on whatever projects it chooses to spend taxpayer money on.

Gary Barlow’s probably a cock. But – although the double-standards of the government and the extent to which tax avoidance by the wealthy gets a free pass are serious problems which imply a need for monumental systemic change – keeping your money out of George Osborne’s coffers is something you should be aspiring to as well. And it’s not incompatible with a dedication to providing compassion and assistance for other people.

You just need to be less of a cock than Gary Barlow. How hard can that be?

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: