The wonderful world of newspeak

I think this week I may have to finally give up on hoping for any coherence or consistency when it comes to politics. Now obviously I gave up on that years ago with the press and politicians but I liked to give my friends a little more credit. Now a lot of my friends are rather left leaning but they’re still good people and in the normal course of events individually tend to be well-informed and able to hold a reasoned argument – but as with so many of us let them on the internet and social media and you can forget all that*.

This has been a week of people pivoting on news stories fast enough to get whiplash.

A soon as it was announced that we may be paying a sum of money to the EU as part of the exit negotiations, the narrative swapped from:
“It’s not a divorce bill, it’s just honouring our commitments”
“What a disaster Brexit is we’re continuing to pay for less than we currently have with no influence”

It was announced that India might want to be looked upon more favourably as part of a trade deal and this wasn’t welcomed as a fantastic chance to open our borders to the wider world beyond white Europeans. Nope this was “See we’re leaving the EU and still can’t control immigration”.

British farmers complained that they couldn’t get cheap immigrant labour and that British people wouldn’t do the work for the wages and there was no protests about the farmers not paying a living wage, or their previous exploitation of immigrants. Not a bit of it this was again purely a Brexit problem, as leaving the EU will stop us having cheap food. Cheap food being far more important than paying decent wages, and of course ignoring that there used to be seasonal work visas which allowed workers from all over the world to benefit from underpaid back-breaking labour on British farms.

Then to wrap it up President Trump retweeted 3 videos allegedly showing the actions of some Muslims. Horrifyingly the person he re-tweeted is ( apparently, I didn’t know ) a senior person with Britain First. Now I’ve always though that Britain First were a largely insignificant group within UK politics, but apparently I’m wrong. Apparently they are so important that the President of the USA should know who their senior members are. So important in fact that who they are far outweighs the content and legitimacy of the videos, though I’ve only seen claims that one of the three is misrepresented. So in this day and age the messenger is more important than the message and sharing an article is the same as endorsing. So because of who he retweeted, not what, there is a diplomatic spat between the UK and the USA that may damage future relationships.

At this point I may as well accept that up is down and I can see how ever many fingers they want me to see.

* In aggregate not individually, obviously if any of my friends are actually reading this I didn’t mean you. No you are fine I was talking about my other friends.

From hashtag to witch hunt #MeToo

It’s now just under a month since the #MeToo hashtag took off. Amongst my friends this happened shortly after someone moved from a bit dodgy to violence. The initial idea that people post if they had been subject to assault or harassment to show how wide-spread the problem is, had (in my opinion) merit and caused some interesting discussions. I posted a somewhat lengthy “#MeToo” myself, as like quite a few people of both sexes I’ve been on many sides of “#MeToo”. I’ve been assaulted (not seriously), harassed and taken advantage of but I’ve also not always been quick to spot when my attentions weren’t welcome, had false accusations made about me quietly behind my back and I’ve not got involved when I probably should have to stop things. None of my experiences did me any lasting harm thankfully and just taught me to be more careful and to avoid some people – also if you are a teenager about to go out cycling for the day and get asked to come into work as an emergency remember to take a change of clothes. How one reacts to such events is down to the individual and what they’ve been taught. I’d been mainly taught that as a man I should just suck it up and anyway I couldn’t be sexually assaulted/harassed. The views in universities in the mid-90’s with regards to men’s desires being coercive and invalid has done me far more harm. Of the things that happened to me I wouldn’t have classified them then as I would now, and if I used current ideas of harassment then the list of what I’ve both experienced and done would be far longer. I’ve seen this change in attitude in what’s considered acceptable amongst my friends within our own group and by and large that’s been a good thing we’re a more considerate bunch because of it.

This change in attitude makes judging past behaviour very difficult, the past is indeed a foreign country even to those of us that were there. It gets even stranger when other people insist that something you experienced was something other than what you experienced it as. Despite all of this I think the initial desire of the “#MeToo” tag to illustrate how wide-spread experiences were was a good thing. But of course these things drift, past behaviour gets reinterpreted through the haze of memory, ever smaller things get counted so that people can jump on the band wagon to get attention or write an article ( like this one) and so forth. The claims have to become ever more inflated to keep getting attention and to make the headlines. After all “he touched my knee and I wasn’t fussed” doesn’t normally make for much of a story. Then hot on the heels of #MeToo came the self-flagellation of men promising to do better, confessing their sins and asking forgiveness for unspecified past misdeeds #Idid #Iwill.

With such a febrile atmosphere on social media the time was ripe for yet another Westminster scandal – a leaked document of vague hints and allegations of MPs doing utterly normal things. just imagine MPs looking at legal porn or having consensual relationships with people! The horror! Burn them! As other people have observed listing such mundane things among more serious allegations both Jonathan Pie at Westminster.

Hopefully it goes without saying, though these days if you don’t say it you’re in trouble, that rape and assault are serious offenses and in no ways acceptable. Not all unwanted interactions are preludes to violence. Though of course it gets wearing not knowing which ones might be so one can easily start to see every interaction as a potential source of violence especially when the media mainstream and social is pumping out a relentless message that a clumsy come on is the same as assault or will lead to it. It’s as though the attitudes from the mid-nineties universities have risen from the dead and escaped into the wider world. Social pressure to get people to improve their behaviour is a good thing, by and large, and used to be called manners (so terribly old-fashioned). Casting all men as offenders or will-be-offenders doesn’t help that, the people who will listen to such messages by and large have probably already heard them and try to be polite – those that need to learn how to behave aren’t going to pay attention to even the wittiest hashtag or vice article. Those that listen will either end up assuming that any interaction is a mine field and best avoided or you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, those that aren’t listening aren’t listening. Ironically as I type this a friend of mine is dealing with a perfect decent and friendly chap not understanding why they don’t want a particular photo on-line. They acquiesced but there was a failure of manners and understanding. You can almost start to see the appeal of chaperones and rigidly enforced codes of manners except that didn’t work so well last time, it’s almost as if some sort of mutual middle ground were needed, that maybe treating people as homogeneous blobs rather than individuals is a bad idea. Of course being of the wrong gender by current mores I shouldn’t speak about this no matter how it affects me or those around me. So here’s someone of an acceptable gender on the subject:
“Belittling the real, devastating crime of rape doesn’t do real, devastated victims of rape any good, either. In fact, as with all the shoots of the monstrous Triffid, New Puritanism, it is strangling compassion and blinding empathy.”

I don’t know what the answer is a lot of my friends feel unsafe which is bad, people should feel safe going about their normal lives and normal human interaction shouldn’t be a mine field where an ill-judged comment can cost someone their job. Perhaps turning down the hysteric reporting and stop treating a wink or scarcely brushed knee as being anything like assault it might help make people feel safer. Perhaps it might even make it easier to deal with the actual problems that remain, as at the moment if “assault” can be anything from a brushed thigh to rape it’s impossible to react properly or gauge the problem being dealt with. People are complex, social problems more so – who knew – but one thing that’s fairly certain puritanism and witch hunts have a really bad track record.
Anyway here’s a debate among people far more erudite than me.

Potemkin’s gay bar

The Gruniad is reporting that a new development must run a gay bar for at least 12 years. So in an age where discrimination on the grounds of sexuality is illegal, a developer is being forced to discriminate on the grounds of sexuality. But has been demonstrated time and again only some forms of discrimination on the grounds of sexuality incur the ire of the powers that be. That however is by the by, the article claims that queer bars are closing at an “alarming rate”, which whilst it doesn’t specify what that alarming rate is one must assume that it’s substantially higher than the 29 pubs a week that the entire pub trade is seeing. It might be worth noting that the venue that has caused this bizarre planning requirement it located in the borough of Tower Hamlets. Now it could be a complete coincidence but Tower Hamlets has a rather high proportion of Muslims 38% compared to the national average of 5%, and adherents of Islam aren’t known for their propensity for frequenting bars gay or otherwise.

The BBC does make a stab at asking “Why are London’s gay bars closing”. Which raises the possibility that there’s less need for queer specific bars as people are more tolerant these days, and there are dating apps. However such a narrative isn’t allowed to live for long, before it switches quickly back to talking about the community need, and how there is still demand and that people are fighting back to save their bars. However much like many other campaigns to save community bars none of the actions being taken seem to actually involve the very simple idea of : drinking in them!

Bars and pubs have been closing across the board as demand falls: because younger generations are drinking less generally and people have less spare money. This is always going to hit venues with more specialist and thus smaller client bases harder than more open venues. So if your favourite venues are closing down you realistically have two choices:

  1. Drink in them, and get your mates to drink in them so they make more money and can stay open
  2. Start petitions to force other people to pay to keep them open for you whilst you drink else where

One of these will work long term, the other will keep the venue open as a parody of itself unable to adapt. The developers taking over the site of the Joiners arms, will have to keep a queer focused venue open for 12 years even if no one uses it. Subject to some sort of inspector to make sure it’s queer enough, but based on what criteria, does it have to be all drag queens and bears? What happens as queer and mainstream cultures cross and merge and inspire each other as they’ve always done? What trends count as queer enough? But so much simpler that people sign a petition to force other people to fund a social venue they may never use, rather than spending their own money to actually support a venue and keep it viable. So here we have the tragedy of community venues closing due to social changes and financial pressures repeated as the farce of state controlled discriminatory, fossilized loss making Ptomekin bars. All alternative and underground cultures are facing the same problem just ask a goth what they think of the changes to Camden. Now being queer isn’t the same as being a mod, rocker, psycho-billy or mettaller – but wanting to drink in a specific type of bar is. Many historic pubs have been lost to only the tears of the people that actually used them, and self pitying articles of people that liked to talk about how they would or did use them – without having set foot in them in years.

The simple inescapable truth is that if a venue matters to you, the only way to keep it it to use it, and spend enough money in it that it remains viable – anything else results only in state maintained theme parks which won’t be used either by the people that used to support the real venue or those that wrote mournfully about the decline of a “much loved” historic venue.