Self-pity – the nuclear option

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“We may have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea”.

The Donald’s ‘choice’ of language is revealing. Part of the #Trump schtick is to paint himself as a victim. This is also a trait I’ve noticed in the average #Trump supporter, when conversing with them, the average white male who feels victimised and put-upon for having to acknowledge the inequities of the past and present, and of narcissistic sociopaths of both sexes. It’s the trait of the adult that doesn’t want to grow up and acknowledge uncomfortable truths about themselves and the world they’ve created for themselves. It’s the trait of inmates and children of nursery and reception-going ages, both of whom I’ve worked with.

This sort of trait is not confined to a type, as such: One can be supremely talented, be an intellectual high flyer, be an average Jo(e), be a rare beauty, be plain. Ironically the place where I’ve seen this sort of self-pitying characteristic least is in special needs children. I know about this intently, because I was prone to this trait, and really had to come to a place in myself to re-frame my thinking on it – and it is still a work in progress. It’s an easy place to slip to, where everyone else and the world is at fault, without taking the time to do the adult, accountable thing and take stock of one’s own perspective. What are my patterns, and how do I overcome them?

Although this is still a theory in formation, there are two reasons that I can see that Trump is prevailing: 1. He is tapping into this infantile sense of injustice without challenging the recipients of his message to challenge themselves to rise above their own inner toddler and 2. He has authenticity. Now, I know there is a lot of evidence that could be thrown against that last statement, but hear me out, because this is key: He is authentically an asshole and he is living his truth in that. There’s a lack of pretence there that is clearly speaking to his supporters. And until people in opposition realise this, and start to think about how to combat it, we will always lose the argument, no matter how much evidence we have to the contrary.

Because the reality is: He is not put upon, and he has choice. He is choosing to rattle the sabre and poke the bear. There seems to be a lack of education and understanding about the effects of nuclear war, which back in the 80s was just par for the course. Every school child had seen ‘The Day After’, we all knew about Hiroshima, and we all understood the lyrics of Sting’s ‘Russians’ (time for a re-release called ‘Americans’). Mr. Sumner was accurate about the Russians loving their children – I’m not convinced pro-Trump Americans do, or that, due to a lack of education and understanding, they understand the Pandora’s Box that Trump is promising to unleash. Judging by the plethora of bombastic tweets in support of him, they don’t. Who would, having seen even the pictures of Hiroshima, would wish that for the world?

Mr. Trump has a choice; and he is choosing to take the lowest road possible. Perhaps in a bid to boost his flagging ratings and his dwindling crowds. His pronouncements are normalised and a logical outcome of the normalisation of white male privilege and a failure in our systems of teaching and enforcing personal accountability in our society. If we all survive the Trump presidency (my T-shirt is already on order), we have to focus on what is important: our interdependency, an insistence on equality and equal representation, respect for our differences and for our planet. The only point of being lead down a dark path is to embrace the light when we see it.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from Frankl, who was, the more I discover about him, an amazing character. One thing I did not know until recently was that he chose to go to Auschwitz. He had a safe passage to the US, but his parents were being deported to Auschwitz and he chose to go with them. So not only did he make a choice – he chose love. It’s always there, folks. In our words. In our deeds. In our reactions. You are not helpless. You have power, if you choose to use it. If you choose to live mindfully. If you do not, no matter your circumstances, you are a hamster on a wheel, an eternal victim of your own whining 3-year old. Ask yourself – isn’t it time to embrace being an adult, with all the wonderful joys and challenges that entails? There’s little point in being king for a day (or in Trump’s case, 7.25 more years and counting) if one’s head does not have the strength to bear the crown. There’s little point in being Emperor if the rest of the world can see, plain as day, that you have no clothes. That you’re just a big whining man-baby in a suit who, through circumstance, has access to the biggest and most dangerous toy in the world. Even standing on the precipice of obliteration, let’s see this for what it is. A choice.

“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
― Viktor E. Frankl

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In the shadow of a giant

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In the shadow of a giant
I was thinking about Sir Peter Hall the other day and did a Google of him – I was sorry to learn he had dementia. I’ve sung a great deal for dementia sufferers over the last few years, and the thought of that brilliant mind adrift caused me some sadness. I worked on the second tour of ‘As You Like It’ in the States, and was fortunate enough to experience playing at BAM in front of the Clintons, Lou Reed, Martin Scorsese and a whole host of other people whose names escapes me. Lucky enough to bask in the reflected glory of others.
 
About 9 months before meeting him, on a horrendously hilarious tour of ‘Death of a Salesman’ I read his autobiography, ‘Making an exhibition of myself’, so I knew all about his deep love of music and how that influenced his life. When I got the opportunity to audition for him, we spent a half hour just talking music. He then said ‘Well, I suppose we better hear you read’, which I did. Then he asked me to sing, so I sang the Habanera. I finished and he looked at me intently, and said: ‘Take care of that voice’. The next day I had the job.
 
I remember on the first day of rehearsal, some time in November, how delighted he was when he received his fish and chips and champagne from Judi Dench (apparently it was their ‘thing’). I remember his script on a music stand in the rehearsal room. I remember how he very firmly told me I could not use an Ulster accent for my one line, and how that amused me. Just the absoluteness of his tone that didn’t brook any argument – and why would one argue with Sir Peter? He’d earned his opinions on Shakespeare many times over.
 
I maybe didn’t get to see the brilliance of the director at that stage of his life, but he was definitely a great impresario. I remember when we got to LA and he stood on the stage and looked around, saying something along the lines of ‘My kinda town!’ Yes, it was cheesy and corny as hell. But it spoke of the irrepressible, daring, Barnumesque-impresario spirit of the man, and one could see the man who was a railway worker’s son who had made it to Cambridge, set up the RSC, taking a chance on bringing Samuel Beckett to London and putting on ‘Waiting for Godot’, and running the National Theatre.
 
A few years later, the director Michael Blakemore invited me for afternoon tea. It was a wonderful afternoon, and we talked about many things, including how my hero Laurence Olivier had backed Blakemore for the job of running the National, but that Peter had scuppered him for it at seemingly the 11th hour. Though it had clearly stung at the time, he expressed his admiration for Peter’s daring-do, political astuteness and gung-ho attitude.
 
I remember leaving Blakemore’s flat and wondering at the strangeness of life. These giants of theatre, whom I had read about in books, rendered human. And yet – they were giants. I know. There was an energy, a spirit there that was very special. And, having been lucky enough to encounter this spirit, I wonder will we ever see its like again.
 
We rarely appreciate events in our life as they happen. It’s one of the great tragedies of life, really. At the time, I totally didn’t appreciate how lucky I was to walk in the shadow of greatness. More often than I’d like to admit, all I saw was the shadow. But, similar to another Peter – Pan – the shadow is as necessary as the light-giver. And now, with the benefit of over a decade and retrospective wisdom, I can see the inspiration of those who have that extra brightness. To quote his beloved Bard:
 
“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”

Dear (fellow) White People

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Dear (fellow) White People

Like many people in the US and UK, I was glued to my computer and television screens yesterday, watching the horror in Virginia unfold. Right now, it’s really hard to take the positives from #Charlottesville.

I’ve been watching the rise of white supremacy over the last 10 years or so, and it’s shocking how it’s been normalised in mainstream politics, over here through Blair’s reintroduction of the Prevention of Terrorism act, which was always bound to unfairly vilify the Muslim community as it did the Irish community throughout the 1970s and 80s; Bush’s clampdown on civil liberties in the US and re-working of the facts of history to reflect a NeoCon narrative; and the demonisation of Muslims and immigrants by Cameron, Farage and Trump. This actions were always going to give credence to a white imperialist narrative of English-speaking white people being the fabled ‘good guys’, despite masses of evidence to the contrary throughout history.

I agree with MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, on the white moderate:

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”

If we have been shown anything over the last year, and in particular, the last two weeks, is that white male fragility turns nasty when faced with both the sins of the past and present. This must change. There are those who would call for tolerance. This, to my mind, does not solve anything when those calling for ‘tolerance’ are supported by systemic injustice. I think, rather than erring on the side of ‘tolerance’ we must have robust discussion. No holds barred, no punch unpulled. And not just with others, but with ourselves. How much are we willing to watch other people be demonised? Killed by police for trumped up traffic ‘violations’? Being twice victimised by the use of the false equivalence I have seen on the Twittersphere today, comparing those in Black Lives Matter who are standing up for their civil rights with those self-described Nazis who worship at the altar of a genocidal dictator? Being ‘tolerant’ of bigotry enables it – if we’ve learned nothing from the last 15 months, I think the evidence would point towards that. Power = privilege. It’s as simple as that. These last 15 months, both here in the UK and the US, and indeed, across Europe has been a sharp wake-up call to those who believed white supremacy to be vanquished; it merely was gestating underground, ready to rise up at the appropriate time.

But I will say this: There is hope. There are those who realise what is at stake and who stood up and were counted, like the counter-protesters stood up to Nazis and white supremacists. Everyone who stood against fascism and white supremacy in Charlottesville put themselves literally in the line of fire and did the right thing. That’s brave. Governor Terry McAuliffe gave the speech that Trump should have. Republican politicians like Rubio are calling Trump out on his ‘many, many sides’ endorsing of the white supremacists (and they are taking it like that, on social media forums – they’re emboldened). I can’t believe I’m writing this, but even Nigel Farage was shocked at the Nazi salutes and publicly expressed that, like Dr. Frankenstein horrified at the monster he helped create.So there is some hope.

The veil has fallen from the ‘alt-right’ ‘fashy’ neo-Nazi white ‘nationalist’ aka white supremacist KKK. I’ve long thought the term ‘alt-right’ was a dangerous one for the media to adopt – there is little hope of reasoning with fascists.  A rose by any other name is still a rose. A Nazi by any other name is still a Nazi.

I have two questions for the likes of Richard Spencer:

1. If white people (and white men in particular) are so ‘supreme’, then why do we (and they) require unfair, systemic advantage socially and politically?

2. There is much talk in fascist circles about ‘white genocide’ – isn’t the truth that it is closer to ‘white suicide’, as what psychologically balanced person (including white people) would want the continuation of an imperialistically-minded, misogynistic, racist, intolerant culture such as the one you and your acolytes are espousing?

Indeed, given that “inbreeding increases the chances of the expression of deleterious recessive alleles by increasing homozygosity and therefore has the potential to decrease the fitness of the offspring”, there is a strong argument that racial purity is unrealistic and undesirable – unless you are the sort of madman that wants to control those with a low IQ.

Many clearly were emboldened enough by the fact that Trump, with his KKK entourage in the White House, to appear at a rally without their masks. They have potentially given those who work in the area of counter-terrorism and terrorism prevention a huge gift by this shameless display of arrogance, through a theory known as social learning. This theory, developed by Albert Bandura posits that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. If organisations like SPLC has the facial recognition equipment to identify each and every one of them in such a way that they can out them within their communities.  Depending on the community, if  it has a tangible effect on their lives,  (through societal shaming, loss of employment etc) that they might really think about what they’ve signed up to. America also has a strong tradition of patriotism and religion that can be used positively – I can’t think of anything more antipathetic to the supposition of what ‘American values’ or ‘Christian values’ are than Nazism.  Because we’ve yet to hear any denouncement of these white supremacist Nazi terrorists from Trump, but logic would dictate that if anyone in white communities knows that one of their own is involved in white supremacy  and Nazism- report them to the FBI immediately and without hesitation. That’s actually the most patriotic thing one could do in this instance, if indeed one is sincere in one’s belief in the US constitution of equality for all.

If there are any #Trump supporters out there – shame on you if you quietly sit by and don’t petition him and/or your local senator to categorically denounce this as white supremacist terrorism. He contended that ‘race didn’t affect the numbers’ – now is your chance to do the right thing and show him that it will have an impact in 2020.

My hope today, in an American that seems more divided than ever, is that white people are reaching out to their black neighbours. If they don’t know someone who is black (and that is entirely possible), visit a black church to pray, or support a black business with your custom.  The only use of ‘white power’ or ‘white male power’ should be in the service of rendering an equitable world for all. Pandering to white and male fragility is no longer sustainable, especially among white people ourselves. There are ways you can show your solidarity, by being a great ally and listening to the black communities very real fears. if I was a black person or POC in Trump’s America, I’d now be officially terrified post-Charlottesville,  if I hadn’t been before. That’s unacceptable. Let’s stop tolerating intolerance. As the late and great Stéphane Hessel said, it’s ‘Time for Outrage’.

 

Britain – it’s time to talk

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Pull up a chair, Britain and sit down. We need to have a long overdue chat. And we need to be honest, so shudDUP and let us talk. Yup, pun absolutely intended. Never let it be said that we Irish don’t try and inject a bit of humour into every situation.

But after Friday, and yet another kick to the proverbial nuts, and yet another betrayal, and yet another situation where serious risks could be posed to Ireland as a result of English foolhardiness, the niceties are over. It’s time for the truth bombs. I think many Irish friends living in England feel the same. Hell, even our Taoiseach, Enda-ThirdWay-Kenny, has issued a little slapdown to the British government. So in the interests of inter-island dialogue and a baseline of understanding, and having been asked questions by so many English friends on Friday (which I’m always glad to answer) ranging from ‘Why don’t Sinn Féin do a solid for Corbyn and take up their seats’ to ‘What’s so bad about the DUP’, let me take you through a potted history of Ireland, and in particular recent history, and why this recent move on the part of the Tory party is beyond the Pale (that’s a little joke for Irish readers – British readers, you may have to do a little Googling).

Ok. 800 years of British rule, which was barbaric, unjust and brutal. I’ll skip through most of this section except to say that even dating back to Tudor times, the English have a nasty habit of believing and cultivating xenophobic divide and conquer tactics. The Paul Dacre of his day, Sir Edmund Spenser, described the Irish as savages; a description that stuck while they were being stripped of their lands, their languages, their culture, and even their crops (which caused the ‘potato famine’ of the mid-19th century – the lie is that it was a famine, it was more genocide for profit. No foodbanks at the time, so the native Irish either starved to death or left. The population was halved to 4 million. Some ate stones and grass in a bid to stay alive). Being hung, drawn and quartered was a punishment remembered in Irish songs like Robert Emmett. You get the picture. Being occupied is not fun. Hopefully it explains why we support anyone but the English in football matches.

So we then enter the 20th century, and let’s speed through the 1916 Rising. The Black and Tan lads added to the general jolly japes of the history of the British in Ireland with mass burnings of properties, scalpings, rapes and so forth. We come to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, whereupon the deal was made to leave most of Ulster in the UK and the other 26 counties as the newly-formed Republic of Ireland.

Let’s shoot forward to the 1960s. It was clear that there were civil rights abuses by the mainly Unionist political class against nationalists by this time, which lead to civil rights marches inspired by those in the US at that time. These culminated in Bloody Sunday, whereupon British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians in the Bogside in Derry who were involved in a peaceful protest against internment. This led to a cover-up by law-enforcement institutions across Northern Ireland and by the British government. It also led to a huge recruitment drive to the IRA.

British readers will know all about the bombings on their mainland. I’m not condoning the bombings or the killing of innocent lives. They do have to be placed in the context of loss of life on both sides, however. Loyalist terrorists were no slouches in that department either, which is why it is important to understand the DUP, the ‘confidence and supply’ partner of the Tories and their ties to them. So here are some interesting #DUPfacts  that the general British public may not be aware of:

1. Many of their politicians have roots in paramilitary activities – not unusual in Northern Ireland, but after all the Tories’ smear campaign against Corbyn for merely talking to Sinn Féin, this is a bit much.

2. They opposed the Good Friday Agreement.

3. They are the biggest anti-choice, pro-forced pregnancy party in the UK.

4.They are against equal marriage and fought hard against LGBTQ rights. Even David Cameron disagreed with their stance on this. Though he also toyed with the idea of aligning with them in 2015, had he not won a small majority. ‘Compassionate Conservatism’, eh?

5. Jeffrey Donaldson MP, worked with Enoch Powell,  when he was expelled from Tories, and claimed he was one of the ‘great voices of unionism’

6. They are climate change deniers who raked money off biofuels in a ‘cash for ash’ green energy scandal.

7. Accepted a £435k donation from Scottish Tory Richard Cook, from the shady Constitutional Research Council (links with Saudis), and ran pro-Brexit adverts in the Metro free-sheet in the UK.

The Good Friday Agreement, voted for in a referendum in good faith by Irish people both North and South of the border, has been the cause of almost 20 years of peace. The process broke down in March this year over the green energy scandal, in which Arlene Foster was deeply implicated, and which Theresa May would have known about. They’ve lost two of the major poster boys of the GFA, the late Rev. Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.

Given the history of the British government in Northern Ireland, their support of the interests of the Protestant political class over that of the nationalist community, to have been courting the DUPs since last summer for their support and then to enter into an ad hoc partnership with them beggars belief. It throws any pretence of the stance of neutrality on the part of the British government regarding Northern Ireland out the  window, and contravenes the tenet of neutrality on the parts of the British and Irish governments within the GFA. And it is a major security risk; not just for the people of Britain and Ireland, but most especially for the nationalist community of Northern Ireland. Unionists do not have a history, much like their English ancestors, of wielding power graciously.

The frustration on the part of Irish people like myself is that yet again, the interests of Ireland have been placed as secondary to those of the English, and in particular recently to the internal wranglings of the Tory party. Ireland took a massive hit in 2008 for the British and German bondholders. The pain was certainly not shared on that occasion. There was then the fallout from Brexit, where the impact on exports and the border between Ireland and the North wasn’t even considered. And now this. The most apt description I have come across about the DUP is from George Monbiot, as an organisation that are like ‘UKIP, supercharged by religious fundamentalism’.

The only very small silver lining from this is that it may inadvertently cause more of an understanding of Irish politics, and the politics and history of Ulster in particular. If the peace process doesn’t get shafted completely, we will all be very lucky. Suffice it to say, you have been warned. You think the Tory Party is the ‘Nasty Party?’ You ain’t seen nothing yet.

 

 

 

 

 

Why, with barely a vote cast, Corbyn’s Labour has already won

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I was getting quite emotional over the last few days thinking of casting my ballot for Corbyn. And make no mistake, it’s for Corbyn, not for Chuka Umunna, my local MP, who I once touted as a potential leader, but no more.

Disclaimer: I have long been a dedicated Corbynista. I barely knew who he was when I saw him interviewed two years ago. I knew after hearing him speak that here was someone who was different, and who saw what needed to be done for the future.

We are living in incredibly interesting political times, and what has happened over the last year is a paradigm shift. So I get that people were sceptical of Corbyn, not convinced, doubtful about his ability to lead the Labour Party. The recalcitrance of the New Labour old guard obfuscated what was necessary for the party to succeed. Their inability to see the shifting sands, the political weathervane moving, cost Labour dear in terms of obstinately promoting Ed Miliband, an abysmally weak leader whose time was over somewhere circa 2013 and the most disastrous Labour election in 30 years in 2015. But obstinately they clung to the echo chamber of neoliberal peers and journalists, and failed to embrace the very real alternative Corbyn offered from the very start.

Better late than never, I guess. While I don’t agree with Corbyn on everything (#Brexit), I admire his singlemindedness, his vision, and just his sheer self-belief. What he has undergone over the last 2 years would have knocked many another politician off their course. My gut instinct (as well as avidly reading newspapers from all political sides over the last two years) is that himself and John McDonnell have a transformational plan for Britain. The manifesto is the layman’s version of this. They, along with their campaign manager (who’s questioning Seumas Milne now?) have run the most brilliant campaign. I would go so far as to say that it is the most brilliant political campaign of modern times, and I include Obama’s 2008 campaign in that, run by David Plouffe. Never has someone had so much thrown at them and risen above it and flourished. He has managed, after years of the harshness of austerity being obvious, to change the tone, the nature, the focus of this argument. And that is why I believe, as I have done for the last two years, that Corbyn would be a transformative PM.

Labour may not win outright tomorrow – in fact, it’s very unlikely they will. Due to either bad advice or Miliband’s own ego, the losses made in 2015 are too hard to claw back. Scotland is lost, not least because of Jim Murphy’s failures there. And then there’s the BluKip factor. That makes the game unfairly skewed in favour of the Tories. However – in a very real sense, before barely a vote being cast, Labour under Corbyn has already won. They have made political discourse the new normal. They have engaged record number of supporters to the PLP. They have used social media in a way it has not been used hithertofore in British elections (more by necessity than by design, given the hostility of Fleet St, but still). They have taken the fight to the Tories, and even if the Tories prevail, it will be as a party battered and bruised, with their weak leadership exposed for what it is under Theresa May. They will not find it so easy to get their mandate through and ultimately it may even be the case that by 2020 we’re looking at a party torn asunder, eating itself alive through infighting and intrigue, and another election.

I never liked voting for New Labour under Tony Blair. I admired Blair’s political acumen up to 2003, but disliked his obvious actorly mannerisms and insincerity. His assuming of the NI Peace Process as his success, when anyone on the other side of the Irish Sea was aware that the success was all Mo Mowlam’s. ‘The people’s this’ ‘The people’s that’. Please. The illusion of allowing democracy, which he himself rent apart by pursuing a foolhardy illegal war. But I will be voting Labour proudly for the first time. Maybe we expect too much of our heroes. Maybe Corbyn will, for many millions of other people, turn out to have feet of clay. But in my opinion, he’s already won. He’s proven, in this campaign, that there is an alternative, there is hope, there is an appetite for a road less travelled, and that it is for the many, not the few. Most of all – he has brought compassion and humanity onto the political agenda. Dignity for those vulnerable in UK society. Pride in public services. The notion that no man or woman is an island. That government is there to work with people, to help them and not to scold or dictate to them. And above all, a question I raised a number of weeks back in my blog on the Huff Post – What type of country do Britons want to live in? I take nothing for granted, and I’m interested to find out the answer.

#VoteLabour #GE2017

#LondonBridge

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I was lying in bed in London on Sunday morning catching up with the news on #LondonBridge.

What to say? To be honest, I feel a bit numb. Before making it my permanent residence, I travelled through London a couple of times in the late 80s/early 90s en route to elsewhere. The main concern at that time, when there was a bomb scare, was to keep my mouth shut. It was pure instinct. Any bomb scare at that time was likely IRA-related, and while Irish people aren’t necessarily the most identifiable through skin colour or what we wear (apart from if one had a big auld Ireland/ GAA jersey), the accent could make one a target for aggression. Later, in 1998, when I first came to live here, it did. Barely-old prejudices die hard.

Since living in London, I’ve lived through several terrorist attacks. The most immediate for me was the Admiral Duncan attack, as I was around the corner on Dean St on a date. The one that resonated most was 7/7, as I was working in Covent Garden that day, in a new job at the private members club The Hospital. I wasn’t scared, funnily enough, and was kept busy helping panicked people to use the phone. One of my colleagues was in the bus behind the bus on Russell Square and she was understandably upset when she came in. There was an eerie sense of calm and desertion in Covent Garden that day. We’d been told not to venture out in the streets, because at that stage there were rumours about at least another 10 tube stations being targets, but being young(er) and maybe a little foolhardy, I went out for my lunch break. I’m really glad I did. I got to experience a noiseless Covent Garden, and even in the midst of terror, there was a beauty in this.

The most scared I’ve ever felt in London was during the London riots of 2011. I was living on my own, in Forest Hill, and it seemed during those dark days, like a wave of feral, unstoppable youth was marauding through London, like a wave of black smog, rampaging and overturning everything in their midst. Of course, the reality of what came out afterwards was quite different – it wasn’t just young, poor people, but also older, middle income earners who got caught up in looting and stealing, infected by atmospherics and their lizard brain being triggered. That hadn’t stopped assumptions by the media over the course of a week.

There have been more in the interim – Woolwich, Jo Cox, the Westminster attacks, Manchester etc – and this is the first time that I’ve felt this numb. I don’t think it is any coincidence that we are seeing an increase in attacks in line with cuts to policing and social services. The police and social services have their issues (racism being one of the biggest for the police), but police personnel and social care workers and all those who work with communities and that know their communities are vital.

There is also the issue of these attacks being, to a man, committed by men. I cannot tell you how deeply frustrating I find it that no one really has started to acknowledge this, apart from maybe people like Sara Khan at Inspire. There are issues with Khan and her organisation, especially with their once-entanglement with the Tories. However, identifying the seeds of radicalisation is incredibly important, be it white supremacist or Islamist.

I teach a lot of young boys when I am ‘resting’ as a private tutor, and young boys are loving, and immensely confused. They have all these feelings and emotions, and no one to really help them to process them as their society says ‘Stop crying’ ‘Be a big boy’ and other damaging messages. And their background has no bearing on the volatility of their emotions.

One of the angriest kids I teach (age 6) goes to one of London’s premier schools (hint: A certain former rightwing party leader went there). His parents are in very high-powered jobs, but by and large (from what I can tell), absent. We talk about his feelings, and he often said to me ‘I’m angry’. I don’t really need to help this kid academically – he’s far ahead of his age group (by years). But emotionally, he was a minefield when I took him on a couple of months ago. So I took him outside into his garden one lesson and showed him plants, and grass. I implanted the notion that maybe he could grow things so he would have something to pour all this emotion into. (Much as my parents did for me, when I was an angry 7 year old – my father’s answer to this was to give me his punch-bag and my mother’s was to give us all a little patch of garden to call our own. Both worked.) A mere two weeks later, this same kid was giving me some of his very precious football cards and showing me with pride his strawberry and thyme plants and was noticeably calmer. He’s probably my most extreme case in terms of his rage – but it is interesting that listening and giving him something to care for, and to love has worked.

The thing is: young boys who don’t know how to handle their emotions grow into men who don’t know how to handle their emotions. Given that men have the bulk of power and privilege in our society as things currently stand, this is a recipe for what we are witnessing. It is very easy for Wahabi Saudis, or white supremacists, or other damaged males with their hatred of Westerners/Muslims/women/gay people/take your pick to come in, and prey upon young men that, for whatever reason – life, family circumstances, lack of a father figure or positive male role model etc – feel enraged, alone, entitled and unaccepting of their own human vulnerability (because they’ve never been taught how to intelligently deal with it in emotional terms).

 

I’ve witnessed how this sense of coming into a ‘brotherhood’ ‘community’ can both stabilise the person but skew their thinking in a member of my own family. They were lucky enough to have some emotional tools to extricate themselves, even luckier to have met a fantastic woman that understood on a very visceral level how to modify some of the more destructive tendencies – but it’s hard. Others are not so lucky – the feeling of belonging to a community, be that Daesh, or the KKK, or the EDL is irresistible because, after all, it is a very human instinct to want to belong. Even if that community has a more malevolent purpose, those that are desperate for love will just want to belong. The saying of every child needing a village is so true, and in a society where society itself isn’t valued (according to Thatcherite and neoliberal principles) there is a falling through the gaps more and more of these angry, emotionally volatile young men.

Let me be clear as well: I believe that if young girls were raised along the same principles and thought processes and expectations that boys are, we would have exactly the same issue. I see no difference in emotional intelligence of girls up to the age of about 8 in those I’ve worked with. Society expects women to be in touch with our emotions; and for the most part, we are. Society expects men to suppress emotion on a grand scale, and for the most part, they do. Hence – if one looks at crime statistics, and abuse of power, attacks and other things that destroy our sense of well-being as communities and a society, one will find they mostly have, as a root, male disconnection from their emotional selves at the core.

This is not to reduce the absolute senseless, awful tragedy of lost lives in this attack and other attacks. It is just that I believe if we want a better society, and these sort of attacks to stop, we need to address the root causes. We can bring nothing with us into the afterlife – if there is even such a thing. All our energies must therefore be expended on (in the first instance) coming to a full understanding of ourselves and how we can overcome our own worst prejudices and accept ourselves and love ourselves. Secondly we go out in the world and help others, our communties on a small scale, or on a grand scale. For most of us, it will be on a small scale – and that is great. Every interaction we have with another human being has an effect. Sometimes it is difficult if the interaction itself is difficult. But there is great power in knowing that we can effect change, even in a small way.

Let’s really demand that, at another level, our politicians start investing in people rather than in bombs. If a group of people can spread this much terror with guns and what sounded like kitchen knives, we really have to question the practicalities of weapons like Trident. There are many layers to what is happening in the world, but addressing it with roots in teaching emotional intelligence, caring for each other in our communities and tribes and making sure our tax pounds/euros/dollars are directed to what is important rather than expansion of profits of the military industrial complex (banks, munitions, big pharma, energy companies) seems to be a good start. Most of all, let’s love. Let’s love ourselves and other human beings, with all of our collective faults and peculiarities and differences. Hell, let’s love ourselves because of our differences. We don’t see the rose hating on the chrysanthemum for being a different flower; as in nature, so should we be.

 

Let’s talk about polls

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Polls. Polls. Let’s talk about polls: Are the Tories really ahead still in them?

I think this is a pertinent question on a number of counts. Firstly – a disclaimer. I used to work in a position (for a fundraising agency) that required me often to analyse data. Analysing data is something that is very subjective – one can skew it in order to get an answer that is favourable to oneself, and/or to a client.

People talk a lot about opinion polls, naturally, in the run-up to a GE. The results of opinion polls are also dependent on the questions being asked. As posted on my Facebook page last week, an utterly biased poll was being sent out by #YouGov, with  some very leading questions. Then one gets on to the people surveyed – how can we be sure that this is genuinely a ‘cross-section’ of society? We only have the polling company’s word for that, and if they are being employed by Conservatives, they will most likely choose the option that appeases their client the most.

Think this doesn’t happen and that this is some conspiracy? Think again. I know that the Tories (for example) at the last election hired at least one telephone fundraising/marketing company to work on their behalf, Return Fundraising. How do I know this? Because they told me so when they attempted to ‘head-hunt’ me (a move motivated by the demise of a former employer). They also told me at the time that they did the canvassing for the MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.

When call-centres do this sort of work, their scripts will be scrutinised to the nth degree so that, subliminally, the answer will always favour the client. Of course people have their own opinions; but there is much that can be done, in terms of the language used, the questions asked, to subliminally affect the answers in favour of clients. Anyone who works in fundraising and marketing knows that this is the case, and in a sense, that is ok. As much as politics, it’s about the art of persuasion – but let’s be very clear also that an answer elicited for a survey/charity donation doesn’t always hold once the conversation is over and the phone put down. In fundraising, it’s known as attrition. So: pollsters may have an opinion at the start of a call, they may hold to that opinion or have their minds changed during the course of the call (because one of the curious things I found out when telephone fundraising is that even on the end of the phone, people are social animals that often want to be seen as agreeably nice people to the faceless voice at the other end of the phone), but when that phone is put down, they can often change their minds. In that sense, if one is polling people with semi-formed or wholly uninformed opinions, there is a high probability that those opinions are malleable during the duration of a call, but potentially not beyond that.

As well as all of this: how current is the data we are being presented with? How many thousands of people are being canvassed? Is it a genuine cross-section of society, or targeting areas where the answer is more or less a done deal? Who has commissioned the polls (this is important)? Which media outlets are these polls being distributed to, and what is their editorial agenda? (In the UK, this latter point is crucial) With those papers, would it potentially upset their investors/advertisers if the polls projected an outcome they didn’t want? Who are the polling companies being run by (as in who is their CEO), and what is their political agenda? For example, YouGov has as its CEO Stephan Shakespeare, who formerly ran ConservativeHome – immediately there is cause for scepticism there over political neutrality in their polling.

The media are also key in polling in the UK, perhaps more than in most countries, because they are undoubtedly (on the results of previous elections and the influence of Murdoch) able to sway elections. The Sun and Murdoch are the big beasts here as regards this, because to the best of my knowledge there has been not one PM since 1979 that hasn’t had Murdoch backing. Essentially what we’re looking at there is corporate propaganda filtered through politics at the highest level. Murdoch’s other investments (let’s say, like his investment in Genie Energy, as well as Sky News) would be subject to huge unbiased and potentially unfavourable scrutiny if the potential PM was not a Murdoch acolyte.

And then there’s the public. Up until a few years ago, there was little interest in politics among the British public, and often an embarrassment in saying who they were voting for (especially on the more right-wing side of things). This is in marked contrast to, let’s say, Ireland, where, for better or worse, people are incredibly vocal about their side of any given issue, thus enabling more polling accuracy.

This is not even getting into the increasing influence of organisations like Cambridge Analytica, who collate evidence from social media and target voters accordingly. We’ve seen how successful this was in the #Brexit referendum and in the election of #Trump.

So while not dismissing polls entirely, let’s be aware that they are (a) not unbiased at the source i.e. the company that is commissioning the polls and the company that is working on their behalf (b) dependent on media source and editorial bias (c) open to interpretation (d) time-dependent (a week is a long time in politics, etc) and (e) subject to change. It’s that latter point that the Labour Party and other non-Tory parties have to really make the case for.