Category Archives: The quiet revolution

Contemplating Censorship

As far as I am concerned, a person’s right to free speech ends at the point where they start harming others. All freedoms need to be boundaried by an obligation not to cause harm. If defending the right to free speech doesn’t recognise this, it becomes a tool for promoting and enabling abuse.

Sometimes our ethical choices aren’t simple. But, in a choice between defending someone’s right to free speech, and defending someone from threats, harassment, intimidation, distress and so forth, it should be pretty obvious which way to go. People should have to deal with the consequences of their actions, and calling that out is one thing, and the threat of violence is quite another.

If everyone has the right to freedom of speech, this also means that we all have the right to tell people their words aren’t acceptable. Any one of us is allowed to tell someone else they should be silent. We all have the right to say that someone else’s opinion is invalid, ill founded, intolerable. We aren’t cancelling someone if we disagree with them, and we do not owe them our time and consideration. Demanding to be debated is a technique that appalling people use to try to legitimise themselves and make others listen to them. No one is obliged to go along with that.

Here are some considerations when deciding who to amplify and who to silence…

Doing nothing always supports bullying, oppression, abuse of power and the status quo. It is not a neutral choice, and we know it isn’t Druidic. Druids spoke to kings and sometimes got onto battlefields between armies.

If someone is causing no harm, or acting to challenge harm done, or reduce harm, and they are inconvenient to their government, we should not allow that government to silence them. In the UK, the desire of the government to protect statues from people challenging over racism is a case in point. We should always consider challenging it when a government tries to stop someone from speaking freely.

If a person is inciting violence or promoting hatred, they are not entitled to speak freely. If a person is lying, or promoting a belief that is harmful then we should protest against them. No one is entitled to a platform.

If in doubt, look for the power balance. The person with a TV presence, newspaper column, microphone on a big stage… this person has freedom of speech and you as an individual do not have the power to cancel or censor them. If they use their platform to complain that they are being censored, they are not being censored, just argued with. They are not inherently entitled to that platform.

On the flip side, many people go unheard. Many people are spoken about and spoken over. Amplify people who are working for justice and inclusion and who have no platform. Listen to people who are marginalised and ignored. Actual censorship tends to be subtle, and works by treating people as though they do not matter, do not exist or cannot speak for themselves. When did you last see a Rromani person on TV speaking about the issues they face? When did you last read a newspaper column written by a refugee?

Listening to your body

The idea of listening to your body comes up a lot around health work. However, I think it’s really important to ask why we might not be doing that in the first place. This won’t be an exhaustive list, do please add more in the comments if you see an obvious absence. Or an unobvious one.

You can’t listen to your body if your body is exhausted but you have to work. Poverty can make it impossible to take needful time off for rest or for recovery from illness.

Your body may require better food, more food, more protein, more fresh fruit and veg. If you cannot afford a better diet, you can’t afford to listen to your body. The same is true for being too cold, too hot, or in a situation of light or sound pollution you can’t do anything about.

You may have been told that you make a fuss, have a low pain threshold, overreact, exaggerate, lie, or that you just want to get out of doing things. You may have been taught to mistrust or disbelieve what your body seems to be telling you. This isn’t easy to unpick.

You may have listened to your body, consulted with doctors and discovered that there isn’t much that can be done to help you. This happens a lot around chronic illness, and you may be choosing to ignore things as being the best way to deal with them. If you’re not listening to your body as a way to stay sane and functional, that’s an entirely valid choice.

There are times when ignoring your body is vital. Dealing with addiction, or trying to break out of it requires you to ignore what your body is telling you. Changing your eating habits can mean ignoring what your body says. Overcoming anxieties can mean pushing back against the messages your body gives you. Some of the ways in which we are broken mean that we cannot trust our bodies to guide us. It’s hard work having to fight your own body, but sometimes that’s necessary for healing and recovery.

How we relate to our bodies isn’t just a personal matter. It’s held by a social context that can put all kinds of pressures on us. How many people are unable to eat properly because of the social pressure they feel to be thin? Not being able to rest, and not getting enough sleep are issues framed by working lives, social lives and often a technology-driven anxiety that makes us feel we have to be available to people all of the time.

It is good, often, to listen to your body. Sometimes it is essential to ignore your body. It helps to know what you’re doing and why. Some of these issues simply can’t be handled at the individual level and require cultural change, so it’s also really important not to blame or shame anyone who might be trapped by circumstance, and by what capitalism does to people. Not everyone can break out on their own.

Matters of Erasure

I do not believe that giving vulnerable people more rights and better protection in any way erases anyone else.

Erasure is most commonly a consequence of being ignored. People who aren’t represented, and are treated as though they do not exist are erased all the time, and for anyone not affected it can be an entirely invisible process. If certain kinds of people don’t show up in the media we consume, and have put in front of us, we may have no awareness of them.

Our sense of what is normal has everything to do with what we see and hear on a daily basis. If what we encounter is mostly white, straight, cis, able bodied… we may well end up internalising this as normal and being pretty oblivious to the very existence of people who are not those things. At the same time, not having representation, not seeing yourself reflected in your own culture is lonely, alienating and disempowering, amongst other things.

When representation exists but doesn’t come from the people being represented, that can also lead to erasure. Most films are written and directed by men. The women in those films do and say the things men think, or wish women would do. We see women on the screen, and it seems as though women are present, but what we’re really seeing a lot of the time are male fantasies. That’s erasure. Yes, I do think anyone can write about anyone else well and effectively, but if you ‘learn’ from other fantasists, as so many do, then you don’t get realistic representation. I give you female bodies in conventional comics as a case in point.

Similar things happen around stories about disabled people heroically overcoming their struggles, when that’s been created and presented by able bodied people. It’s what happens when cis people write about trans characters all too often as well. Further, when marginalized people do get the chance to speak for themselves, they’re often sorely limited in what they are allowed to do – black authors only being allowed to write about race, queer voices only wanted for stories of coming out and dealing with prejudice and so forth. 

Erasure happens when people are not allowed to speak for themselves. It happens when cliches and stereotypes are repeated by people whose only experience is of seeing those things. Erasure happens when people don’t do their research. It happens when areas of experience are ignored and voices aren’t included.

And as an aside, a person worried about female erasure might choose to put a female character centre stage. A person worried about lesbian erasure might undertake to put some visibly lesbian characters into their massivly sucessful book series. Naming no names, because that’s also an opportunity to illustrate how failing to mention someone functions as erasure.

Escaping clock time

Clock time is very much a feature of industrialisation. It goes with shift work, and the need to have workers in the right place at the right time. Regular working life gives us little to no scope for improvisation, flexibility, time off when ill or when needing things. For most of human history, we haven’t had clocks. We’ve had sun time, and operated in small enough communities that organising without clocks has been just fine. It’s notable that industrial towns and cities tend to have clock towers so that people too poor to have their own watches would know the time.

When the schools closed in 2020 for the pandemic, we no longer needed alarm clocks. Both Tom and I are self employed and can work when we choose. With study moving online, James’s start time was a lot later – he’d been getting to school by bicycle and needed to get up early for that. Suddenly we had a lot more flexibility. This was as well because pandemic stress played havoc with my ability to sleep. I slept when I could, and got up when I couldn’t sleep, and paid little attention to the clock.

We’ve stayed that way. James has continued studying from home and is old enough not to need any help with that. He’s also not faced with an early morning bike ride, so does not need a hearty breakfast, so we can leave him to it. In practice I mostly still get up early, but it’s nice not having to.

Last winter was the first winter I can remember of being free to wake with the light. It was lovely, soothing and restorative. I find winter difficult. Not having to get up in the dark helped me emotionally.

It’s also great having the freedom to sleep in a bit if I’ve had a bad night. I take sleep seriously, I go to bed at sensible times, I drink soothing tea, I am mindful of screen use and over stimulation etc. But, sometimes I get hit by insomnia. Sometimes the anxiety gets me, or the depression, or the menopausal weird night events – sometimes all of these things together, which means failing at sleep. The freedom to wake when I do has brought a lot of health benefits and greatly reduced my stress. Insomnia is much worse when you know how many hours you have left when you could sleep and you can see the next day falling apart before you’ve even got to it. The freedom to sleep in changes everything.

I’m not convinced that the way we currently organise our lives is necessary. With increased automation, we aren’t going to need people in factories working to clock time. Clearly there are some jobs – medical and emergency especially – where you have to be able to count on other people being there. But what if other work and activities were organised in more flexible ways? What if we had more scope to negotiate, or respond to the situation on the day? It would be a much kinder way of interacting. It would be interesting to see how much work doesn’t really depend on clock time, because my suspicion is that many things could be done more flexibly and much more comfortably than they currently are.

Taking your children to Pride

I’m seeing a lot of discussion online this week about how Pride should be safe and family friendly, and that people who aren’t sexual should feel that they can safely turn up and not see sexual things. This worries me.

Children are actually exposed to sexual imagery all the time – only usually it is heterosexual in nature. Try watching a Disney film… Straight sex is a constant theme in TV adverts. We’re all normalised to this so we don’t always notice the sexual lessons and stereotypes and the sexualisation of women that happens in front of us all the time. Children grow up seeing female bodies dressed for the male gaze – which means highly sexualised women.

I’m not aware of any Pride events where people actually have sex in public. There may be booths handing out information, there may be things you can buy. Pride is about sexual identity. If you take your children to a Pride event, you have to be willing to deal with whatever questions they have. Parenting is an active thing, and around sex it is really important to do clear and active parenting of your child. That includes making decisions about what you think it’s appropriate for them to encounter, and dealing with it when they encounter things that they weren’t ready for.

Because that’s going to happen regardless of whether you take them to Pride events. If your children are online, they’re going to see things. If your children watch television, they are already seeing things, and if you aren’t conscious of that because you think it’s normal, you have much bigger issues around sexual representation, and sexualisation than what might happen at Pride events. If you are happy to have your children soak up sexualised images of women presented for the male gaze but you worry that Pride events will corrupt them, don’t go to Pride events. Also, you have some massive issues to deal with and no idea what kind of sexualised ideas your children have already absorbed.

If you don’t know what a Pride event might involve and you take your kids along because it looks like a fun day out and are then horrified… that’s actually on you for bad parenting. It is not an issue with the event.

If you want the queers to behave nicely so that you can go out and have some innocent fun with your family, that is utter shit. That’s you wanting queer people to perform for your amusement in a way that makes you comfortable. If you want all the pretty rainbow flags and a nice parade, but you want it sanitised for your comfort – you have no business being at a Pride event. This is not a pageant for your amusement, you are not entitled to make it all about you.

And to any fellow queer who wishes those other queers would tone it down and be less controversial and not embarrass you…. or whatever it is… Take a moment to look at how patriarchal, hetranormative and toxic this whole line of thinking is. We live in a culture that has normalised presenting sexualised young female bodies for the male gaze, and we treat anything sexual that isn’t about the male consumption of the female body as offensive. It is vitally important to change this, and we may need to start with looking hard at our own beliefs and feelings.

What if we opened borders?

I’m in favour of open borders for many reasons. I think people should be free to work, live, marry, shack up, study and settle any place they like and that it should not be about the accident of where you were born.

The main reason against open borders is about not wanting a flood of refugees. Affluent nations fear being swamped by people fleeing war, poverty and disaster – human-made climate disaster included. This is precisely why we need open borders. Big, affluent nations are very good at causing poverty and are the major driving force on climate change. There’s a long history of affluent countries fueling war – for political reasons and to make money from weapons sales.

If we opened all the borders, there would suddenly be a lot of political pressure for those who have most, to end war, deal with poverty and tackle climate change. Those who cause most harm would have a vested interest in cleaning things up. Currently, we dump our waste and recycling on poorer countries. We denude their landscapes growing our luxuries and then we don’t pay properly for what we take. We export the shittiest jobs to places we can pay less to have them done.

No one wants to have to flee their home because of war, natural disaster or climate change. Yes, there’s a lot of attraction for a young person to go out into the world and seek their fortune. But that’s not the same as being an economic migrant, forced by lack of options and desperation to try and find a better life somewhere else.

Opening borders would pave the way to taking better care of each other. It would change how we think about war and refugees. It would impact on the willingness of wealthy nations to tolerate the behavior of countries who abuse their citizens. It would make it harder to image that there is an ‘away’ where we can dump our crap and ignore our responsibilities.

Why shouldn’t we have the freedom to travel about and live where we please? If there was more fairness in the world and a more equitable sharing of resources we wouldn’t find some countries overloaded with incomers and others denuded of their young and talented folk. It would all balance out plausibly well. ,

Gender and Domestic Abuse

Mild content warning, no graphic details.

This week, Mel B talked about her experiences of domestic abuse, and around this, I saw someone point out how seldom male victims speak up about their experiences. It struck me that this is really important. The majority of domestic abuse victims are women.  I know there are men who think the data isn’t being recorded to reflect the true scale of abuse of men… but… about three women a week in the UK alone die at the hands of their partners, and that’s not a subjective thing or a reporting issue. The same figures do not exist for male victims. Domestic abuse is an awful thing, even if it doesn’t kill you.

It is often the case that any attempt to talk about the way gender impacts on domestic abuse will bring out the whataboutery. This isn’t really about concern for male abuse victims, it tends to be a way of derailing the conversation. But the flip side of that is that it must be making it harder for guys who have been abuse victims, who also take the abuse of women seriously, to talk about their experiences.

Talking about domestic abuse is really important. The more people understand how it works, the harder it is for abusers to keep doing this sort of thing. The more people understand, the more support there will be for victims. When we pool experiences, patterns emerge and it becomes easier to see what might be supporting and enabling abuse.

When it comes to the abuse of women by men, this is clearly underpinned by sexism. It’s held together by a couple of thousand years of being told that men are better than women and should be in charge, that the man is king in his household and that women should serve and obey. Getting ‘obey’ out of the marriage vows is pretty recent.  A feudal-patriarchal history of treating women as property and giving them no rights in law has shaped our culture and informs abuse. Add to that, that we treat women in many contexts – medical, professional, personal – as irrational and likely to make a fuss. This makes it easy for abusers to laugh off criticism – she overreacts to everything, she’s such a drama queen, she’s mad, she’s making it up…. Cultural expectations help us accept this and ignore abuse.

When women abuse men, they aren’t able to draw on the same cultural context in quite the same way to justify it or hide it. So, what is going on there? What are the mechanics? What are the beliefs underpinning the abuse? We aren’t talking about this enough, so far as I can see.

I’d like to offer this space to men who want to talk about experiences of domestic abuse without having to worry about whataboutery or derailing an existing conversation. I’d like to better understand what happens around this, and I’d like to facilitate a conversation. Get in touch with me if you want to be involved.  I offer safe space, and anonymity for anyone who needs it.

Will anyone save you?

At this point I’ve seen far too many internet memes about how now one is coming to save you, and you have to save yourself.  This is bonkers, and promotes excessive individualism and may actually make a person feel more powerless, not less so.

Firstly there are people whose job it is to come and save you. Firemen and lifeguards, mountain rescue, lifeboats, doctors and paramedics, first aiders, and in some circumstances, the police. Social workers, all kinds of advocates, support workers, people from charities. You would be hard put to get into a situation where it isn’t someone’s job to help with that. Whether you can access that help is another question, and how quickly you can get help is an issue. In theory, someone should be coming to save you, or at least be able to signpost you ways forward.

Rescuing people seems to be getting a bad rap from the people who tell you that no one will save you. Rescuing is too often portrayed as controlling, or manipulative, co-dependent, as some sort of mental health complex, as being a white knight… But in practice people rescue each other all the time. They give and loan whatever’s needed. People save each other by making spare rooms available, paying off debts, buying food, sharing experiences, listening, hugging… there are many ways in which we can rescue each other. We don’t have to know each other or like each other to be willing and able to rescue each other.

In terms of emotional distress, I know people who have been saved by dogs, and cats and horses.  Books save people. Films rescue people. Songs, and works of art and other manifestations of beauty can help rescue people and keep them going.

Rescuing isn’t the same as fixing. We can’t fix each other, we can’t make each other heal. But we can provide safe and supportive spaces where healing is possible. We can rescue each other by creating the time and opportunity to fix ourselves. We can share knowledge and resources.

It’s not down to an individual to save themselves from all perils and setbacks. We need to stop telling each other we’re on our own with life’s difficulties, and instead invest in whatever we can do to save each other. A kind word, a smile, an offer – it doesn’t have to be heroic to have dramatic effects.

And if you truly feel like no one is going to help you, it doesn’t mean there’s no one out there who would care or help. Sometimes it takes a while to find the help you need.  Sometimes what you have to do to save yourself is get to the place where someone can help you.

What if we re-thought the Police?

In the UK and America alike, we’re seeing a lot of reasons to re-think policing. What could we do that would change how policing works?

The big one for me is to re-prioritise around crime. Currently the police seem far too focused on the small scale crimes of poor people, while there seems to be no way to even challenge the crimes of the rich – and the crimes of those in government and other positions of power. Those with most power should be held to most account.

Justice should not simply be about punishing people after a crime has been committed. Justice means fairness and equality of opportunity.

If we legalised all drugs, provided them safely through pharmacists and treated addiction as a medical issue, we could do a lot of good. I gather it’s worked out well in Portugal.

If we invested properly in mental health support, we wouldn’t have people in crisis becoming a police issue.

If we invested in quality of life for everyone – especially including easy access to green space – we’d reduce crime where it relates to poverty. Interventions like Universal Basic Income would wipe out the crime that only exists because of desperation.  Investing in communities would wipe out the crime that comes from boredom, frustration, lack of opportunities and feelings of alienation.

In a fairer and more just society, most of us would feel more motivated to support said society. Inequality and injustice encourage crime. When the crimes of the rich go unpunished – as is currently happening – a sense of obligation to each other is bound to be undermined.

What if policing included more community support and mediation? What if policing was more focused on abuses of power? What if ecocide was a matter for the police? What would happen to how we police ourselves if prison stopped being the default answer to crime?

Trigger Warnings

(A blog post for which no trigger warnings are required)

In some contexts people are really good at warning other people about content they may find problematic.  When it comes to films, we have a decent and longstanding warning system, based on the age of the viewer. Not only does it tell you how old the viewer needs to be, but also what the issues are.  As an adult you may well end up using those 12, 15 and 18 guidelines to help you figure out what you’re equal to. On television, timing is used to manage more challenging content. No one expects to find that at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon they could be watching a gory slasher movie on TV that they had no reason to expect would be seriously violent.

And yet, for some people the idea of giving trigger warnings about obviously problematic content seems weird and difficult. Why are people being so weak and fragile, they ask? Why can’t I make them face up to this thing I want them to look at, right now, on my terms?

Trigger warnings and content warnings help traumatised people decide how and when to deal with things that might be difficult. It makes it more possible for us to engage, not less so. There is evidence that those warnings increase anxiety for people who are not already traumatised, and that does raise some interesting issues. But we don’t fret over that so much when it comes to films. We also don’t expect people to watch films that have horrific content, if they don’t want to. So why is it different with novels, or non-fiction content?

I think it’s simply that there’s a long history of films and computer games coming with content warnings so we take this as normal, and we’re not used to it in other areas of activity so it makes us uncomfortable.

If you want people to engage with a difficult subject, the odds are you’ll get a better response if you tell them it’s going to be difficult and are prepared for that.  One of the things that trigger warnings do is protect you, as an organiser, or presenter from having to deal with someone who is triggered – and trust me, a massive panic attack can be really disruptive. Traumatised people who are triggered can be highly unpredictable.  Best for everyone not to go there.

There are of course people who feel that making people face their traumas is how to heal them – this can be true. However, it’s generally best handled by a professional who has the tools to deal with someone being triggered and to help them move on from that. Doing it unexpectedly while trying to teach a class, or somesuch isn’t going to work. Also it’s cruel.

Yes, it’s true that some people’s triggers are odd and obscure and you can’t warn people about everything. Those of us who have weird personal triggers know this and may deal with it by asking in advance if we think there’s a risk of troubling content. However, for most of us, the triggers are obvious – and they involve abuse and violence. The kind of things that make films 18s – child abuse, torture, rape, graphic violence. These are not hard things to spot and not unreasonable things for anyone to find problematic, that’s why we have 18 rated films.  It’s the detail that tends to be the problem, not the mentioning of an area of concern which is why a post like this one doesn’t really need a content warning.

Not being able to deal with graphic or detailed content on a difficult subject does not make you weak, or lazy. It may mean you have a lot of empathy. It’s not necessary to get into the awful details to understand the issues – unless you’re going to be working as a therapist in that specific area, or in the police or some other front line job where it would be fair to assume you’ve decided you can deal with it. For the rest of us, content warnings are an act of care and respect.

And anyone who wants to inflict graphically unpleasant content on people who may be traumatised already, without even warning them first, is simply a problem and needs treating as such.