Category Archives: The quiet revolution

Tips for angry arguments

Politics doesn’t bring out the best in people, and angry political exchanges can put strains on otherwise viable friendships. What to do if someone you thought was ok starts spewing hate, insults and what looks to you like madness?

  • Don’t respond in kind. You’ll just cause them to dig in and may confirm their prejudices.
  • If they respond to facts and evidence with insults and unfounded belief, you won’t shift them by hitting them with facts. Instead, ask for their facts and evidence. Ask for the underlying philosophy of their stance. The odds are they are regurgitating unconsidered propaganda. By asking them politely to explain it, you force them to look at it, and this can be rather effective.
  • People project. If greed and self interest are their major motivators, they may be unable to imagine that anyone else has other motivations. Thus it is normal for anyone defending the welfare state to be told that they, personally want a handout and that’s their only motivation. It is worth saying if you are secure and altruistic, but don’t expect them to believe you! Try asking how they picture their old age, how they feel about their own health care prospects, how confident they are that their families can pay the bills for them in an emergency. Keep it focused on them if that seems to be all they can think about.
  • Don’t rise to the insults, and don’t reply in kind. Insults can be undermined as conversation weapons by agreeing with them – I’ve told many an antifeminist that yes, he’s right, I am fat and ugly and that doesn’t bother me at all. When recently told I lived in a swamp I enthused at length about how fantastic swamps are for water management and wildlife. You get the idea. Laugh at the insult and say you’ve heard it before and they need to try for something more original if they want to cause offence. Give them points out of ten for creativity. Treat it like a joke. If they cross the line into hate speech, report them, but otherwise laugh until they lose the will to abuse you. This includes being called stupid, naive, gullible etc – don’t defend your politics to them, it doesn’t work. ‘I’m sure it comforts you to believe that’ is more effective.
  • Sometimes on social media you’ll meet someone who is working from a script. They may be a hired troll. They may be part of a group with unpleasant intentions. Their main aim may be to suck up your time, energy and hope. Unless you know them personally, I advise stepping away because they’re a waste of your time. Here’s some signs to take into account – no discussion, only insults. Incoherence – dropping things like ‘ah, the sweet taste of liberal tears’ in where it makes no sense, referencing irrelevant things (still banging on about Hillary Clinton for example) responding to all questions by calling you butt hurt…. if there’s no real exchange, there’s not much point and they may not be a real person anyway.

It is always ok to walk away from people. Even people you know in real life if they become unbearable to deal with. We are not obliged to try and save other people from themselves. There are some big, social conversations that need to be won, but we don’t win those by echoing the behaviour of angry trolls, or by getting lured under their bridges to play their games.


The people who sneak into your home

Modern technology means we’re letting a lot of people into our homes, into intimate spaces where they can talk to us without interruption and we can’t question them or answer back.

If you give a poem, one person to another, on a card, in an email, it becomes personal. It hardly matters what the poem says it will seem like there must be some kind of personal message in it. At the same time you can put a more personal poem in a public space and unless you’ve made some unmistakable references, most readers will not assume it’s about them. People don’t tend to take it personally if you give them poetry collections, also, unless perhaps it’s all handwritten and manifestly about them.

Poetry itself is a delivery method which suggests the personal – something I’ve blogged about before.

It’s worth thinking about the things that we allow into our homes to speak to us personally and directly. Who gets to stand in your living room (on a screen) of an evening and tell you how it all works? Who is on your phone, in your hands, talking directly to you? Do you feel like their message is for you? One of the things many broadcasters seem to do on radio (I don’t watch TV, I can only speculate) is create a sense of intimacy, it’s just you and them in a small, dark cupboard (maybe that’s just me!). Having dabbled in making youtube videos myself, I know how to do it, how you talk to the camera as though it was a good friend. It’s also how I write the blog, aiming for a specific kind of tone, a feeling of closeness and complicity…

Now, if a person presses a handwritten poem into your hand, that’s a rare event and it stands out. The people who come to whisper to us in our own homes are there more days than not, and familiarity can have us paying less attention. It’s worth paying attention to how these curious guests make you feel, and if they make you feel uncomfortable, turfing them out and not inviting them back is always an option. I don’t have a television because there are too many people I don’t want to invite round of an evening.

Every book imagines its reader. Every speech imagines its audience. In part because it is hard to communicate well without imagining you are talking to someone. It helps to know your audience and to pitch the language accordingly. But at the same time, anyone who has studied writing, or speech making or any other kind of presentation soon learns things about how to make the recipient complicit. How to make them feel involved, and like this is very much for them and about them. This blog, it’s just between you and me, dear reader. When you read it, you read it alone, and sometimes I strike a chord and you may feel I wrote it just for you, and maybe… I did.

Like any tool set, these skills can be used well or badly. Communicating in a way that develops insight and understanding has to be a good thing, but I don’t think that’s what mostly happens at the moment. If the glimpses I get of mainstream media are indicative, then the intimacy of the voices we let into our homes is not doing us much good, collectively. It’s discouraging empathy, feeding feelings of powerlessness, making us wary of each other, and inclined to blame each other and not looking for who or what is moving on the other side of the curtain. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…


A Druid on election day

I made the decision during this election not to campaign for a specific party. I’m Green, to the core, but aware that this is complicated. Hand on heart I believe nothing is more urgent than dealing with green issues – clean air and water, sustainable energy, food security and the long term viability of our species. I like and value the NHS, but if we can’t breathe the air, health care won’t save us.  At the same time, a Labour government would be a good deal better to press on this than a fracking-obsessed Tory outfit, and I have every sympathy for the SNP, and think independent candidates are an important part of the mix.

I’ve invested time in trying to persuade people that they should vote. I think non-voting is a massive issue. No matter why you do it, those in power will see it as apathy. They will see it as a blank cheque to do whatever they like. In all parts of the country, if non-voters  showed up, everything could change. If all previous non-voters voted Green, we’d have a Green parliament tomorrow. That’s a lot of potential power going to waste.

I want people to understand that their voting does make a difference and can change things. That even if you don’t get your candidate in, your support for them can still help shape national politics. I want people to realise that every single aspect of their lives is shaped by politics, and that not being interested means it is done to you, perhaps without your knowledge, likely not in ways that are in your interests.

There is a lot more to democracy than voting in general elections. There is a lot more to politics than newspaper headlines and dubious BBC reporting. It is not inevitable that things will stay as they are.

More than this, I want people to look around them, at the land they live on and the society they live in and vote for something better. Not the politics of fear, hate, and greed, which we’ve seen a lot of recently. Not the politics of who can give my family the best deal for the next five years. A proper look at who we want to be and how we want to live with an eye to the long term.

We have to ditch austerity. It doesn’t work on its own terms even – government borrowing is up. Austerity doesn’t deliver economic growth or prosperity for any but the very richest.

We need long term thinking so that our species can survive and thrive without wiping out everything else.

We need to care about each other, and care about our shared resources. We need to ditch the politics of the personal grab and face up to our collective responsibilities for each other. We need to be a good deal more civilized, and some enlightened self interest would go a long way. Any one of us can be knocked down by bad luck, and ill health. Most of us will be lucky enough to get old and need looking after. We have to stop pretending that the good things in our lives are earned and that our ‘hard work’ insulates us from misfortune and start recognising that anyone can get in to trouble, and build systems that are kinder, and fairer.


What I want from politics

I write this a day before a general election, conscious that the things I am most concerned about are not on the agenda for mainstream parties. Here are the things I wish were major election issues. There’s no priority order here.

Climate change – real commitment to tackling the causes and preparing for the uncertainties of the future. Recognition that poorer countries and the most vulnerable people are likely to suffer most as a consequence.

Recognition that capitalism is a snake eating its own tail, that we are exploiting finite resources and cannot have perpetual growth. As automation replaces jobs we need a radical rethink about the structure and purpose of society.

Exploitation – both on the domestic front and internationally. We drive down prices by oppressing others, exploiting finite resources and exploiting workers in other counties. There are many international forms of slavery still functioning, including debt slavery.

Recognition that we all need clean air and safe, drinkable water and that these issues do not respect borders. Recognition that we need to co-operate internationally to safeguard these essential things and to work for long term food security for all as well.

A proper look at the causes of terrorism, and most especially the financing of terrorism, with actions to change this that do not simply involve killing more civilians. Recognition of the role of the arms trade in terrorism. Recognition that no matter how great the imagined benefit of profit from weapons sales, selling weapons is fuelling international violence.

An end to habitat and species loss, with recognition that trying to turn everything into fleeting profit regardless of the long term cost just isn’t clever or good. Stopping killing the oceans.

An approach to humanity that recognises common dignity and basic rights rather than seeing the many as a resource to be used and abused for the benefit of the few. A rejection of all political and religious grounds for dehumanising others.

Recognition that war, terrorism, oppression, exploitation, and the consequences of climate change and resource loss are the reasons for mass human migration at present. This will not be solved by closing borders, but by facing up to the causes.

We have the resources, the knowledge and the means to deliverer a fairer and more sustainable way of life for everyone. While we reject that in favour of short term profit for the few, we make ourselves ever less viable as a species.


Everyone I know is tired

Everyone I know has too much work to do, but not enough time to do it in and not enough energy to do it with.

Everyone I know could do with a decent holiday right now, but having the time to organise it, and the resources to pay for it – that’s a whole other question.

My facebook feed is full of exhausted people struggling on as best they can.

I took a day off yesterday. A whole one. I’ve been doing weekends for about nine months now, but it is hard getting more than 2 days back to back. Today I have to run to catch up on everything i didn’t do because I took a day off.

If you’re working multiple jobs, or your contract doesn’t have proper hours, getting and affording breaks is hard. If you’re self employed, how do you say no to paying work, even when you really, desperately need to rest? Because there’s no knowing when that paying work will dry up. Trying to get ahead so that if things go terribly wrong, you don’t fall into debt.

All that stands between most households and total financial disaster is the next paycheck, assuming it lands.

Being tired does not improve your judgement, or your efficiency. It makes everything harder. Being tired is a stress on the body, and body stresses increase risks of illness, exacerbate conditions and cause mental health problems.

Everyone I know is tired.

This really, really needs to change.

Security has to be more important than job flexibility. There have to be safety nets that people can count on. The role of rest in health – mental and physical –needs taking seriously. Illness is expensive, it isn’t efficient either.


Healing, and playing the victim

Devote too much attention to your experience of being a victim, and someone will come by and knock you back. Wallowing in victimhood, you will be told, is bad, and wrong and just keeps you in that victim place and you should shut up about it and move on. We have a culture that does not give any of us much space for supposed negative emotions – grief, rage, pain, and so forth are to be tidied away and denied. It can also be uncomfortable for people who are fine, to hear from people who are not, because it may challenge assumptions and beliefs, expose vulnerability and/or complicity.

A person who has been a victim – be that of exploitation, abuse, assault, emotional, physical or psychological mistreatment has a process to go through. Abusers tend to be good at victim blaming. There will be reasons for what happened and the victim will have been faced with the reasons enough times to believe them. This happens because you are bad, you deserve it. You aren’t worth a proper wage, or respect, or kindness. You don’t properly qualify as a person so human rights don’t apply to you. Hearing those reasons keeps the victim in a situation. However, oppression can be bigger and systematic – as with racism and sexism. Your people deserve no better. Your gender has less value to this community.

In order to change anything, the victim needs to see their own victimhood. They need to recognise that what happened was not fair or deserved. Often this process means connecting with others who have had, or are having the same experiences. It is easier to see what’s wrong when you see it happening to someone else. In swapping notes, victims gain insight, courage and confidence. At this point, it is not unusual for non-victims to pile in and complain about the pity party, the reinforcing of the idea of victimhood. I’ve never experienced sexism so you other women are clearly the problem. I’ve never experienced racism so I don’t think it exists… and so forth. It doesn’t help.

When people recognise the abuse, and start picking apart the mechanics of the abuse, they become able to make changes. They get out of the relationship or the job, if it’s that easy. They start protesting and demanding equal rights – which evidently takes decades if not longer. There comes a point when the victims start demanding that the non-victims pay attention and make some changes.

If you don’t let people recognise their victimhood, you don’t give them the space to get angry and change things. If you don’t let people swap notes about their exploitation, you don’t let them organise to make change. If you don’t let victims speak about their mistreatment, you will never see what in the system facilitates it. You stay comfortably inside the system that is facilitating abuse. That’s no doubt why it is easier to complain about the pity party, tell people to shut up, and denigrate them for ‘playing the victim’. Otherwise we might have to deal with our own advantages and complicity, and that would be uncomfortable. It is easy to put personal comfort ahead of social justice.

Abuse and exploitation are not things that happen away, in private arrangements. These things happen in the context of cultures we are part of – systems, laws, balances of privilege that we are all upholding. If we make it the business only of the victim to work out how to turn that around and become a survivor, the underlying causes of abuse and exploitation remain, with our tacit support.


Keeping it real

We are social animals and we often do better when we can gather with other people. I’ve been noticing over the last few months some of the ways in which social media doesn’t answer social need.

In times of difficulty, many of us seek relief in saying what’s going on, but on social media at the moment this translates into a relentless wall of negativity. I find, and I’m no doubt not alone in this, that I can’t come up with something good, supportive, encouraging or just simply witnessing for every facebook friend who is struggling each day. I’d like to be able to, but with the way politics is grinding most of us down right now, it would be a full time job, and I don’t have the emotional resilience to do it.

By contrast, I found myself at a spoken word event at the weekend, where politics came up. Politics handled by clever, funny, good hearted people turned into the cathartic power of being able to laugh at it in a room full of likeminded souls. I came away feeling better about things.

I’m lucky in that I live somewhere there are more good and affordable events than I can get to in a week. I’m blessed with a fantastic network of friends as well. No matter how bad things look, they seem less grim when in the company of other people who care, and feel anxious, frustrated, angry… because what we do with those feelings over a pint or on a walk enables us to witness each other, and think about how to keep going, where the bright spots may be and so forth. Sharing with people in person has power.

Of course not everyone can get into spaces with other people, for all kinds of reasons. I’ve been there – cut off by a lack of transport and money, living in a place where very little happened. It helps if those who have the means are willing to get themselves to the people who don’t once in a while. It helps when we think about each other and support each other.

It doesn’t take prohibitive amounts of time and effort to name a place and time. I’ve been doing this for a while now, and doing it as someone with unreliable energy levels and limited resources. Keeping it minimal helps. A drink and draw in the pub. A walk. A picnic. Making sure there’s easily accessible space every weekend for anyone who wants it. Posting on events and social activities other people are running. It’s important that we keep putting our bodies in the same space when we can, because humans respond well to being in the same space as other humans we like.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. It’s easy to feel lost and alone. Ostensibly social media can often be a blessing, but it can equally serve to make things seem even worse. Being with other people gives us more scope to change things within ourselves. It’s a small resistance, a small revolution, but I think that right now, just refusing to be beaten by all the hate and mean-spiritedness out there is a significant act of resistance.


How to heal

Over the last few years I’ve noticed that there are a lot of underlying factors when it comes to healing. These apply to both mental and bodily health – which henceforth I shall just describe as ‘health’.

Most importantly, if you are going to heal, you have to not be living with the thing(s) making you ill in the first place. Otherwise all you can do is tackle symptoms. This is often really hard to achieve, because work life balance, family responsibility and where you live are most likely implicated if your health issues aren’t caused by accident, cancer, virus or bacteria.

Healing requires a good diet. Illness may be caused or exacerbated by poor nutrition. It is important to note that for people in significant poverty, this is often hard to fix because protein is expensive. You need it to heal brain chemistry as much as you do to heal skin or muscle.

Healing requires rest. Rest requires time, peaceful spaces to be in, and being free from the demands of others.

Healing has to be a priority. You need to be able to put it ahead of most if not all other considerations in order to achieve the points I’ve raised above. If you can put your healing first, it is much easier to heal. If you have to prioritise other things – work, family, someone else’s needs… your own healing may take longer, or may be set back.

If these kinds of resources are available to you, then it is easy to get on with the work of making yourself well again – or as well as you can be in the context of what’s made you unwell. At this point, deploy your positive thinking and do what needs doing, and you can get results. However, if your life does not allow you to prioritise healing, if you can’t afford to eat well enough, if you have no way of getting out of the toxic workplace or the mould-filled flat, or the demands on you won’t ease off… healing is difficult and slow if it’s possible at all. All the positive thinking in the world cannot replace what rest, space, good food and the such will achieve.

On the alternative side, we’re too quick to look at the power of positive thinking and we aren’t talking enough about the privileges involved in being able to stop and sort things out. Given the way in which disability increases a person’s risk of financial poverty, there is potential for some truly vicious circles here. Poverty makes you more vulnerable, which increases the odds of not getting over a health setback, which will make you poorer, and more vulnerable to poor health. Illness, accident and health-destroying experiences will, if you don’t have a safety net of some sort, throw you into poverty which reduces your chance of being able to recover. There’s no reason it has to be like this, the choice is purely a consequence of political decisions and priorities.


Against tyrannical clothing

Let me start by saying that I have no problem with gear needed for health and safety reasons, because health, and also safety. I have no problem with anything a person chooses to wear, or with people not wearing clothes – your body, your business. I am willing to accept that uniforms are helpful in some circumstances, both for practical reasons and for ease of being able to see at a glance who is doing the things. These are not tyrannical clothing issues.

Tyrannical clothing is about imposing unreasonable clothing on people so as to emphasise the power difference. There’s no practical aspect to it – in fact it is often profoundly impractical and designed to make the wearer uncomfortable so as to keep them constantly aware that they have no power. Using the power imbalance to force clothes onto people that are unsuitable, uncomfortable, humiliating, is all about disempowering the victim, and it has to stop.

I’m thinking primarily of two items here in conventional western use – the neck tie and the high heeled shoe. I was obliged to wear a neck tie as part of a school uniform, and many people – especially men – are required to wear them at work. In hot weather, they are a source of misery and discomfort. They serve no purpose. We perceive them as smart because we’re told that’s what they are, but they are just a dangly bit of fabric. Woolly neck scarves, and tying lace around your neck is not considered smart, because there is no inherent ‘smartness’ in the bit of fabric. It’s just a tool of social conditioning.

The high heel is far worse because they can and do cause harm to the feet, the hip joints and in women who are still growing, you can get bone deformity. In old age you can have bunions. Most of us can’t walk any distance in a high heel, we certainly can’t run apart from some very talented exceptions. High heels make you feel precarious and vulnerable if they aren’t your thing, and yet some ‘uniforms’ require them of female workers.

We could also afford to look at double standards – work and educational spaces that allow women to wear cool, lightweight clothes in the summer while the men have to sweat it out in shirt, trousers and tie. Workspaces and educational places that let men be warm in the winter but require women to freeze in short skirts, tights and impractical shoes. There is no practical gain here, only those in power ignoring the needs of the people who have less power.

If a uniform item serves no practical purpose, and instead causes discomfort, it should not be legal to enforce the wearing of it.


Politics for the common good

Imagine for a moment how different things would be if the whole point of politics was to serve the common good. Clearly there are, around the world, parties, leaders and individuals who very much care about the common good, but far too many care about their own power, and the preferences of rich lobbyists.

What would politics for the common good look like if we imagine that on a world scale? An end to war. A fairer planet, free from slavery, exploitation, poverty and hunger. An end to oppressive regimes. Taking care of the Earth and making sure we don’t pollute the air, or the water, or over exploit resources, or mistreat other living things.

At a country level, it would mean putting quality of life for all ahead of profits for the few. It would mean everyone with a roof over their head and no one going hungry. Free healthcare and education for all, access to leisure, sports, culture and community for all. It would mean freeing ourselves from the politics of hate and fear to focus on the good we can do for each other. It would mean resources going where they are most needed, rather than to the highest bidder.

All sounds a bit far fetched, doesn’t it?

Except for the small issue that politics is something humans invented, and what’s running it and doing it is nothing but other humans. Why can’t we change it so that it works for everyone? Is it just the fantasy that we too could magically become one of the minority who benefit rather than being part of the exploited majority that stops us trying to turn things around? Is it lack of imagination? Or lack of belief? What’s stopping us? Are we all so obsessed with competing for survival and our own personal greed that we can’t see the massive advantages in fairness and co-operation?

Imagine if politics existed solely to provide and facilitate good things and to manage resources fairly and responsibly. What would it take to make that happen?