The David Quinn Guide to Honest Debate

March 20th, 2015 by Mike Morris

Like all right-thinking people in the world, you know that allowing the gays to get married will precipitate the collapse of our god-fearing society, just like divorce and the X-case and the Mother And Child scheme and eating meat on Friday didn’t. However, it’s tough to be a right-thinking decent Christian these days. You’re probably horrified to find that all your sensible arguments don’t cut it any more. Well sure, it was great when we could say “it’s just not natural” and wait for everyone to moo their agreement, but we can’t live in the past. We know society peaked in 1954, but in these secular, godless times that doesn’t cut it any more.

So where can you look for inspiration? The answer, of course, is God, or as the liberal PC intelligentsia call Him “whatever you happen to think and can’t be bothered backing up with rational argument” (It’s that sort of nonsense that has turned Ireland into the socialist dystopia we see before us today). God’s finest missionary in the country is the greatest source of inspiration we can find. There is no truth-speaker more magnificent than David Quinn; he’s silver-tongued, impassioned and sexy (Yes he is. He’s really sexy).

You know you want some of this

So to help you along as you fight the good fight, here are a few simple strategies to enable you to argue like the man himself. Pay attention now and we might just keep the hordes at bay.

David Says: Where do you draw the line?

This is the entry-level tactic. Never just argue that something’s bad on its own merits as that will get you into tricky areas involving so-called “facts.” No, always make the point that anything the liberals want – even if it seems reasonable – is in an inevitable slippery slope, which ends with anarchic platypus-fucking orgies in the senior infants classroom. When someone says “I think gay marriage is fine,” never come out and just tell them that this is the death voice of evil from the cold black void of Satan. Just say “Well okay, but what happens next? What happens when mothers start marrying their daughters? If you allow two men to marry each other, then you’ll have to let me marry a ferret! What will you say when your neighbour wants to get hitched to a hoover?”

Effectiveness: 6/10. This was a peerless trademark of The Great Man back in the day, and the perfectly rational “if you allow gay people to adopt they’ll be stealing babies from your cot” argument remains the high water mark. It’s not as effective these days, partly through overuse, mostly because ‘where do you draw the line’ lost its effectiveness once everyone remembered there’s a fucking huge centuries-old legal system that exists specifically to draw lines. Still worth an outing though.

Logic

"The logical consequence is that they'll make it compulsory for you to fuck a rasher."

David Says: A dog’s got four legs, so anything with four legs has to be a dog.

There’s a knack to the ould ‘false equivalence’ game, but once you’ve got it down you’ll be unstoppable. Let’s start simple: do you want to discredit something (yes of course you d0)? Well find somewhere else where it’s allowed, find out something bad about that place, and then present the one as an inevitable consequence of the other, like so: “You know where else has gay marriage? Mexico! Mexico has a heroin problem, probably. Do we want all Irish people to become smackheads?” So far so good, but wait! Once you’ve got that basic principle at your fingertips, you can use the same idea in reverse to define what marriage is “about.” Only men and women get married at the moment, so marriage has to be between a man and a woman. It’s obvious, guys. It’s just like how all babies have a mother and father, so couples who adopt also need to be a mother and father. And while we’re at it, Victoria sponges have flour in them, so all cakes must have flour in them. Fuck you, Black Forest Gateau!

Effectiveness: 7/10. Even Fidelma Healy-Eames saying that the Americans had banned Mother’s Day made a splash and and got people talking, even though it was to say she’s an utter moron. Just focus on the Maestro – His Davidness’s whole “marriage is devalued if anyone can do it” shtick remains the cornerstone of our argument and it stems from this basic tactic, so it’s one you’ve got to get to grips with. Otherwise Jesus hates you.

"Biscuits come in a packet, so Jaffa Cakes are a fucking biscuit. McVities can go rim themselves if they don't like it."

David Says: Ordinary Christian families around the country…

The sentence-opener you must never forget. You don’t need facts or arguments at all. Many ordinary Christians are uncomfortable with gays marrying or lezzers kissing or women with short hair, and that’s all that matters and never stop reminding everybody. On no account say “ordinary Catholics,” that makes people think of psycho priests and child abuse – say Christians, because everyone likes Christians, and they kind of sound old and cuddly like your granny. What exactly gives the Liberal Intelligentsia the right to make your granny live in a country where they allow something that’s a bit, you know, wuuuuh?

Effectiveness. 9/10 This is your stock manouevre, your winning move, your bread and butter.

"I'm just thinking of your granny. No, not like that."

…but it’s better still if you can introduce a bit of…

David Says: We are the oppressed.

Too many people come up with classic newspeak these days like “transference” “projection” and “seriously lads are ye high or something” when confronted with the truth; that we are silenced by the establishment, like what happens in Cuba and Russia and other places we could probably name if we could be bothered doing the research. When that ladyboy appeared on the Late Late and called some people homophobes, just because they don’t believe gay people should have equal rights, what recourse did we have? All that happened was that RTÉ apologised, and took down the interview from their website, and paid us loads of money! They practically got away with it scot free! So we are the real minority here (except we’re not a minority because we speak for almost everybody in Ireland, obviously). There are loads of good places to remind everyone how silenced you are – maybe when you make one of your many appearances as a talking head on RTÉ, or in the regular column you’ve got in a national newspaper, or maybe that pulpit in church where Ireland’s silent majority go and listen to you every week.

Effectiveness: 9/10. Most people seem to think this is transparently a load of wank, but all the important people buy it. Somehow.

"People like me can't ever get a platform to express our views. Um..."

David Says: Christianity Is Under Siege.

What is tolerance, anyway? It means respect for the beliefs of others, that’s what. Well who cares for Christians? That’s the question you’ve got to ask again and again, because everybody knows deep down that the atheist liberal elites don’t believe in anything except cocaine smoothies. Never stop reminding people that Ireland’s Christian ethos is under attack, for no better reason than huge swathes of people would kind of like to change it. True tolerance means respecting our beliefs, and if we believe that same-sex relationships are, like, totally creepy, then there shouldn’t be any. Look, we’ve stopped shouting insults at you (like, mostly) and we don’t beat you up now (except for when that happens but that’s nothing to do with us) and we don’t arrest you any more. So in return we think it’s only fair that the state pretends you don’t exist. Meet us halfway, you fanatics!

Effectiveness: 8/10. Some people claim this stance is totally illogical, but logic is for cappucino-drinking hipsters and you know it.

"All I want is the freedom to hold your deviant union in contempt!"

David Says: We’re The Ones Who Really Care About Gay People.

So here’s the thing; gay relationships are wonderful, special things. Obviously they also happen to be unnatural and perverted and wrong, but let’s forget that for now. What we’re saying is that gay people should have their own kind of union that recognises just how fantastic and different and abnormal they are, because that’s what true equality is. By saying the gays can have their own sort of partnership which is almost as brilliant as marriage (except it’s definitely not marriage, because it’s not as good), we’re actually recognising gay people. We’re cherishing them. Saying they can’t do something that everyone else can is the real equality. It’s like when they had segregation in America – black people felt really privileged to have their own special toilet, right? No wait – OK, not that. Hang on, how does this go again?

Effectiveness: 2/10. Ah look, even we don’t know how this one’s supposed to work.

"Ah jaysus, I was hammered when I came up with it, if I'm honest."

Oh send us your hypocrites yearning to be free

January 11th, 2015 by Mike Morris

If ever you wanted to use the phrase “festival of hypocrisy,” today is undoubtedly the day. A march in Paris has been attended by a great many important people, and a lot of those people are leaders or senior figures in wholly despicable regimes. These people are there saying that dissenting voices must not be silenced, while working very hard to silence them in their own countries. I’m not necessarily talking about repressive regimes from Notwhitepeopleania: Enda Kenny has attended, representing a country that has its very own blasphemy law; David Cameron represents a country increasingly becoming a surveillance state; Hollande himself has questions to answer. The word hypocrisy is getting a good old workout on the internet today.

I could be remembering a mythical time that doesn’t exist, but I seem to remember hypocrisy once being a much more direct and compromised thing. Saying that people who avoid tax are destroying the country, while simultaneously avoiding tax – that’s hypocrisy. Bemoaning the immorality of single mothers destroying the fabric of the traditional family, while carrying on with a teenage mistress – that’s hypocrisy. Attending a march reacting to the slaughter of twelve people, ostensibly because a magazine published cartoons people didn’t much like, while simultaneously cracking down on free speech. That’s – um…

See, here’s the thing. This whole affair is becoming “about” many things, but it’s clearly not just about Free Speech TM. There’s the question of the rule of law, there’s the pretty sodding fundamental question of people not being murdered. It’s not actually that contradictory to believe in – say – the restriction of attacks on religions, while simultaneously believing that people shouldn’t be shot dead in their offices if they transgress such a law. To present a very clear analogue, I don’t believe that faith-based schools should receive state funding in a society that calls itself secular, but nor would I see any moral issue with expressing abhorrence and sympathy if somebody burned one down.

Part of the reason I react to this is that the word “hypocrisy” is a much-abused word. It’s the catcall of the lazy, the reactionary, the fatuous. Rags like Th* S*n regularly throw the word at anyone who involves themselves in some sort of campaign to try and make the world better.

The big example’s almost too tedious to go into, but it’s got to be picked apart so I’ll do it. Most of the criticisms made of Russell “fucking” Brand revolve around hypocrisy. He tries to involve himself in causes to help people looking for housing but haaaaa he’s got a big house himself! He goes on about inequality but he’s got loads of money! He bangs on about tax evasion but he works in Hollywood films that just love creative accounting! So fuck him, or something.

But this is just about the most warped priority in the world. Brand doesn’t criticise people for having big houses, or for having loads of money, or for working for companies with dodgy accounting practices. He isn’t a hypocrite by any measure of the word – apart from the now near-universally-accepted reactionary one, where nobody’s entitled to do anything to aid the misfortunate unless their own past is an endless plain of grass-green innocence. The squalid ugliness of the criticism is Russell Brand isn’t just how petty it is, it’s the whole premise. If Russell Brand didn’t say a word about politics and never tried to help anyone, nobody would criticise him for anything. But somehow, because he gets involved in campaigns to give poor people somewhere to live, he somehow becomes a worse person. How can anyone make sense of that?

People on the left – who agree with Brand and his ilk – are equally guilty of dismissing him, including me. I can’t say why other people react as they do, but purely personally it’s a question of resenting people who present easy targets for charges like “hypocrisy.” Being on the left – in the broad sense of “vaguely thinking that society should give a fuck about other people” – is, well… difficult. It means reconciling contradictory ideas so that you don’t end up squashing people under your own rhetoric. Many people on the left are broadly internationalist, but at the same time believe in the right of people to self-determination. Bringing these two things together requires thought, unless you don’t mind coming across as someone who doesn’t think about why they do anything and just jumps on causes they like the look of. As a result, I tend to quadruple-vet most of my opinions for inconsistency at a great big mental checkpoint before I utter them (unless I’m drunk, obviously) and I resent anyone who nominally agrees with me and yet doesn’t do this. They’re presenting soft targets, in my head, when the left needs to be antitank-rocketproof.

For clarity: this is an instinctive reaction on my part, and I’m quite, quite wrong to dislike decent people because they sometimes haven’t achieved absolute wrinkle-free intellectual consistency in their reasoning for why anyone without a job shouldn’t be rounded up and shot.

The point being that right-wing people don’t have any problem with this sort of thing. Reactionaries don’t have consistent opinions, but they don’t see any reason why their opinions should be consistent. The libertarian-right doesn’t have any issue either, because they take a single premise which makes no demands on them at all – “People should be able to do exactly what they like and selfishness is fine” – and just apply it to every single situation they run into. Then they say arse like “how can you be a socialist when you’re wearing shoes?” and think it’s clever. It’s easy for such people to avoid the charge of hypocrisy, because you can’t be a hypocrite if you never profess to give a shit about anything or anyone. But that also makes you an utterly shit human being.

And there’s the rub. Hypocrisy is just about the lamest, weakest, crappest excuse for a criticism you can hurl at anyone and yet it’s somehow become seen as one of the most potent. Everyone needs a certain level of hypocrisy just to make it through the day, otherwise you couldn’t buy a meal until they solved famine in Africa. Hypocrisy is just the consequence of caring about the world and the more hypocrites we have, the better.

To return to the Paris march, many of the leaders attending it are thoroughly despicable people who do awful things. I could list half a dozen reasons to hold David Cameron and Enda Kenny in utter contempt (can’t speak for Hollande, since I know naff-all about French politics, but I’m sure someone can manage it). And as for – god help us – Netanyahu, I don’t know where I’d stop. But if the worst thing you can say about such people is that they’re hypocrites, then you might as well resign yourself to being the kind of person who ridicules Eric Pickles because he’s fat and Robert Mugabe because he looks stupid in a baseball cap. It’s a weak-ass Daily Mail tactic and ultimately it’s the very least of things you can lay at their door. We can manage better than that.

I Am Become Death. Thanks for helping

January 8th, 2015 by Mike Morris

It’s impossible to use the word “terror attack” in anything other than a media-loaded sense, now. The murder of two policemen, and the workers at Charlie Hebdo, were widely described as terror attacks as soon as the news broke; the burning out of mosques in retaliation don’t seem to have the same universal agreement. Terrorism, increasingly, is what we decide it is.

It’s obviously horrific to think of people being murdered. But at the same time, I can’t really shake a sense of… well, ennui, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. It’s the spectacle of the same phrases being repeated, over and over again, asnd getting stripped of all meaning in the process. Many people have declared the attacks shocking, but how shocking can they be if the same bloody thing keeps happening? Some arses blow up a home-made bomb at a marathon, or a Norwegian guy goes haywire with a bomb and a gun, or an idiotic teenager goes on a spree in an American school; all happened recently, all more or less the same. “Shocking” suggests something that doesn’t fit a pattern. This isn’t a shock.

The only thing that’s vaguely new is that the people at Charlie Hebdo were effectively killed for making jokes. That’s appalling, clearly. It’s astonishing, in isolation, to think someone might be killed because of satire. And yet most of the victims of attacks like this are killed for no reason at all. How is this more shocking than any of the others, then? Let’s not forget that many people thought it was legitimate to bomb Al-Jazeera, including David Blunkett and, allegedly, George Bush. Targeting media isn’t new, either.

I should clarify that I’ve not yet ruled out the possibility that I’m being the arsehole in my response – but somehow, the wider reaction to these attacks seems more drearily predictable, more stultifyingly banal, than any others I can recall. I could just have reached peak intolerance, and yet it’s impossible to shake the feeling that Important People are repeating the same old truisms, like tired children reciting the Lord’s Prayer from memory. Free Speech is integral to our democracy – yeah, everybody knows this, except for a very small number of wankstains who in some instances get hold of guns. Nobody has the right not to be offended – yeah, we all know this too. Repeating it doesn’t make you heroic or profound, just trite. There’s even some people parroting that freedom of speech is absolute, a comforting myth to tell yourself, as if incitement laws didn’t exist.

And as for the Je Suis Charlie slogan – no, you’re really not. This did not happen to you. It is not an attack on you. It doesn’t  mean anything as a statement. You’re not Charlie, because you’re not dead. Apparently it’s an expression of solidarity, but solidarity with what, exactly? With the right not to be murdered? What’s the point in expressing solidarity with something that’s universally established, and to what authority are you expressing it? All these statements do is elevate three pathetic pricks to Evil Supervillain status, as if they somehow attacked and disturbed the whole world, rather than some innocent people in an office. Ditto the comments that this is impossible to comprehend. It isn’t, and saying otherwise elevates these arses to the status of Cthulhu. Some pathetic little men who hate being challenged and craved attention carried out the most testosterone-fuelled, witless act imaginable. It’s not difficult to understand at all.

I’ve got very little idea of the content of Charlie Hebdo, and it’s not fair to comment on satire or humour when you don’t understand the social and political context in which it operates. Most of the cartoons I’ve seen since the incident didn’t do anything for me, and some of them seemed overtly unpleasant, but I’m not French and I almost certainly don’t get it. In response to something this piffling – nominally, anyway – three stupid fuckwits went and killed them. Everyone’s happy to call this attack on democratic values or free speech. Jean-Claude Juncker has declared it an attack on Our Way Of Life. Well if so, it’s a terrible, ineffectual attack. Three dicksplashes with guns, that’s all. And all they’ve done is make sure everyone’s heard of a magazine that was previously – on a global scale – more or less unknown, save for the previous firebombing story. I don’t know, maybe they genuinely believe that western democracy can be wiped out, 12 people at a time. Maybe they’re that stupid.

Unless this response is exactly what they wanted to happen, of course. To become ideas on the march, shadowy memes with weapons. Personifications of death. If this is a terror attack, than that’s more frightening than three arses who got hold of some firearms.

Beyond the very personal tragedies to the people involved – and do I really have to say that it’s utterly appalling for them, something that should not happen to anyone? – it’s the response to this that matters. And that response has been so crap. The rush of the world and its wife to condemn the attacks, as if it doesn’t obviously go without saying and as if those condemnations make the blindest bit of difference to anything (by all means mourn. But condemn?). The expressions of support from mainstream news outlets who wouldn’t have published any of these cartoons in a bruise-blue fit, who will happily follow any establishment line they’re fed with the odd token question. People declaring they’re “not afraid” of three stupid, ignoble anti-Quixotics taking on the entire French state, as if any sane person would be. The use of news-driven phrases like “execution-style killing” which is hollow and vacant and doesn’t even mean anything (who’s “executed” in an office, or an a street, for pity’s sake?). And, of course, the tissue-paper justifications for poisonous anti-Islamic horseshit.

I’m not entirely sure why this annoys me as much as it does. By any objective measurement, people being murdered is a damn sight worse than people saying predictable things. But here’s my current thinking.

The people who did this are appalling for many reasons, but not least because they’re so boring. They’re people who want to make the whole world the same, to follow the same orthodoxy, to recycle the same derivative wank. Confronted with something that disturbed their little universe, they responded in the dullest, most tedious, most predictable way possible; they decided to erase it from the world. Sure it’s violent and murderous. But it’s also so fucking tedious, so uninventive, so miserably dull and petty and banal. That’s why dull, tedious, banal responses are playing the same game. If you say “we must not give into this or we let the terrorists win,” you’re already letting the terrorists win just by saying something so bloody dreary. These are people who, in the most violent way possible, set out to make the world just that little bit less spiky and interesting. Why help them?

But the other point – and maybe the more important one – people who talk about Our Way Of Life, or say Je Suis Charlie, are making it about them. It’s not about them, it’s about the poor sods who got shot. Our democracy was not attacked, twelve innocent people were. Ultimately, what happened here didn’t do anything to democracy, or freedom. It’s a grubby, scuzzy, verminous little crime that’s only lent importance by the global response to it. Recycling shite about values and freedoms, all while oh-so-free western democracies go on quietly removing them, is a dull, miserable pantomime backed up by vacuity and media-aware speechwriters. Nothing more.

“Wait until the next terror attack hits your neighbourhood, or the next War starts and kills a few people who qualify as Us rather than Them. Wait until you see the pop stars and the minor celebrities, the boy-bands and the girl-bands and the Executive-controlled classes, the reporters and the hacks and the big names who base every opinion they have on the carefully-assembled profiles of their target audiences. Wait until you hear them sing their song – their wailing, meaningless, empty-eyed, fake-soul song of regret for all those who died and all those whose families suffered in “the tragedy.” Wait until you hear the lyrics of angels weeping in Heaven and children of all nations coming together in a time of peace, sung even as the War goes on and the Executives and higher powers nod their heads in approval.

Imagine that song… forever.

That’s the future. No boots required.”

Lawrence Miles, This Town Will Never Let Us Go

NOTE: This has been edited since its original posting, to take out some of the more clunky annoyance-fuelled bits. I should never write quickly.

The Ugly Facts

December 24th, 2014 by Mike Morris

One of the things I’ve mentioned a few times, here and elsewhere, is that aesthetics matter. That’s not in the sense that “we should make things beautiful,” although obviously that’s true. It’s something slightly more slippery – the notion of the aesthetics of morality, or conversely the morality of spectacle – the ugliness or otherwise of what we choose to see as right or wrong. In many cases, it’s easy to be swayed by how something looks but the only mistake people make is in assuming this isn’t a valid reaction.

In Ireland, something very, very ugly is happening right now. A family is having to go to court to argue for the right of their clinically dead daughter to die. She is kept alive because she is pregnant. Her child has a very, very slim chance of survival in any case. But, because of the Eighth Amendment, she’s forced to linger on while her family and her husband watch her decay.

I’m going to say early on: of course, the family are right. The starting-point for the state, or the law, should always be not to be cruel. Putting a family through the ordeal of the courtroom is, in itself, a massively cruel act. The court will rule on the 26th, which itself seems horrendous. The entire vista is simply grotesque; it crystallises the ugliness of the Eighth Amendment, in that even after death a woman has been reduced to a vessel.

What’s… hmm, how can I put this? What’s noticeable is how grounded this case in aesthetics. That’s not to trivialise it, just to show that aesthetics are important. The image tells us, instinctively, so much about how the state treats women; the barbarity of this situation says more about the Eight Amendment than any number of impassioned essays or rational argument.

I do run into a strange disconnect here, though. Essentially, this woman is suffering an indignity which the state enforces on hundreds of living women, constantly; she is being forced to carry a foetus to term. This case has – not surprisingly – become a potent rallying-point in the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment. There’s something about that which makes me… uncomfortable. I should say clarify that this is a very personal response rather than a criticism as such, and obviously no sane campaigner should give a toss if I’m uncomfortable or not – particularly since I’m too well-stocked in the cock and balls department for this to ever directly affect me.

But essentially – and there’s not really any way of making this sentence more palatable – I don’t see why indignities committed on a dead woman are somehow worse than those forced on women who are still alive. I find a strangeness to the priorities of a society that gives far more coverage to the fate of one dead woman – who is in no pain – than to the suffering of living people. I’ve used the word grotesque, but the fact that this has become a spectacle at all is part of that grotesquery.

In fact, much of the horror here – from my point of view, anyway – comes from the ugliness of death. There is something horrific about the notion that, after we die, our bodies just become so much biomass. I struggle with the notion that I go from being a unique, living being to just being a bag of possibly-useful organs and a decent source of compost – I just try not to think about it, and I’m probably not alone in that.

So yes, it’s horrific to think of a woman being used as a mere incubator. But I also find it horrific to think that I might be cut up by medical students who are making jokes about my beer-belly, or just mulched up and thrown on some crops by someone who says “if they all had arses like this fucker we’d double the crop yields” – but I’m still convinced that this is the responsible thing to do with my remains, once my consciousness is no longer in them. Obviously, there’s an issue of consent. But I also believe in compulsory organ donation, as I don’t see how a grieving family’s wishes should trump the need of someone who got hit by a bus. Given these views, the principle of using a human body as an incubator seems… well, okay, if I’m honest?

All of which goes to show how rationality without empathy can get you to ugly places. Just because something’s ugly doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong, but it’s usually a good indicator.

Images matter. This summation of the injustice and misogyny of Ireland’s social and political attitudes is a powerful, horrific one. And yet again I’m not entirely happy with this. Because this woman didn’t ask to be turned into an incubator, but nor did she ask to be turned into a rhetorical symbol, a meme, or a name to be followed with a hashtag. I don’t like seeing anyone being cop-opted without consent, which is what’s happening here.

None of this – how much can I stress this? – is to criticise people who link to the story and put #repealthe8th after it. Because, to paraphrase something written by Rob Matthews which has always stayed with me*… someone who’s more bothered by one dead woman than lots of living ones, and makes any gesture of dissent against that injustice, is still being more constructive than a person who doesn’t give a toss about either and then criticises others for their inconsistency. Ultimately, however society chose to absorb this case would have been ugly. And therein lies the ugliness of the Eight Amendment, laid out in all its glory. It has turned Ireland into a culture where a traumatised family have to go to court, at Christmas, and listen to barristers describe this young woman as a rotting cadaver while we gape in horror at the spectacle.

But it’s not just about aesthetics, and the misogyny of this case is not just based on the vileness of the image. The thing I find truly ugly about this is the double standard. This woman is being prolonged, against the wishes of her loved ones, because there’s a tiny chance that another human being might live. What makes this misogynistic, beyond the language of vessels and incubators, is simple: a man in the same situation wouldn’t be kept alive without consent on the off-chance that, in two months, someone might need his kidneys. That doesn’t even seem horrific, because it’s too absurd to be contemplated – a bad parody of Logan’s Run. I might believe in compulsory organ donation, but a country that only enforces something of the kind on pregnant women? That’s evil, right there.

Happy Christmas.

*A review of Lawrence Miles’ Dead Romance, which can be found at www.pagefillers.com/dwrg/frames.htm. For those who don’t want to wade through Doctor Who criticism, here’s an excerpt:-
‘Miles offers an angry critique of pretty much any claim to morality us humans would like to make for ourselves. For him, our values are based on nothing more than expediency or vanity; the former in dire straits, the latter in moments of quiet reflection –
“You give money to fucking Save the Whales. You don’t bother giving money to cancer research, do you? You just give money to causes you like the look of.”
That’s one example. (…) Values and morality are all just a matter of perspective. I think Nihilism is the word I’m looking for here.
It bothered me a little. There’s no way I can take this on in my silly little review, there are thousands of good reasons in this world to be angry and pessimistic and despairing so I’m not going to try to redeem the world and say Miles is wrong. All I can really say is that a person who gives money to Save the Whales and not to cancer research is, in my opinion, still being more constructive than the person who does neither and sneers at her.’

Protest, with Manners

November 16th, 2014 by Mike Morris

Why does nobody in Ireland protest? Why is there no-one on the streets?

This truism, of the passive Irish who complain and complain and let shit happen anyway, has been around since 2008 heralded the Definite End Of The World As Global Finance Knew It. Sometimes it was quoted approvingly, usually by those looking in from the outside, as a way of congratulating the Irish for their maturity gosh no this isn’t patronising at all. More often, it was a frustrated cry against passivity, a part of those “the problem in this country…” rants. We just lie down an’ take it, fucksake what’s the matter with us, yah I’ll have another Guinness cheers.

This notion of passivity is… strange. There have been protests – in fact, there have been plenty. Tens of thousands of people marched against water charges recently, to name but one. The Spectacle of Defiance and Hope provides me with some of my fondest memories of Dublin. Occupy Dame Street was in place for some time, before it was cleared out for being terribly scruffy what with Paddy’s Day coming up and all. 40,000 students marched in Dublin in 2010, a fairly remarkable figure; 100,000 students marching in London received saturation coverage as a huge turnout, in a country that’s got almost twenty times Ireland’s population. Also in 2010, about 100,000 people went out in the snow and marched to the GPO. These are just off the top of my head, and I can think of many other marches I saw happening but can’t specifically identify. This “Irish people don’t get on these streets” chat doesn’t stack up at all, does it? So why have all these events been quietly forgotten? Could it be because, ultimately, they achieved nothing?

Years ago, an Eirigí protestor threw red paint at Mary Harney. This sticks in the mind because it gave rise to a fairly stunning image – Mary Harney, blood on her hands. There was much handwringing over this at the time, along with some fairly dense commentary along the lines of “Criminal assault – and what if the paint had been toxic?” The paint was water-based and non-toxic, so the latter’s a bit like being served some cold tea in a café and yelling “what if this had been cyanide?”

Yesterday, it seems that Joan Burton was – shall we say – detained in her car by protestors that Paul Murphy describes as, ahem, peaceful. Thanks to photos and video footage (probably taken with those iPhones that Burton believes the protestors shouldn’t have, ironically) it’s possible to say some things for certain. She was surrounded and given some pretty unpleasant barracking. She was hit by what appears to be a water balloon. People threw eggs at her car. She was lead away by Gardaí, in the end. Burton claims that people banged on and rocked her car, and I’ve got no reason to disbelieve her. There’s photo of a kid throwing a brick at a Garda car (not of it hitting, it should be said), although this doesn’t appear to be during the protest.

Now. None of the above is edifying. Some of it makes for ugly viewing. People shouldn’t yell abuse at an elected representative, or try to her intimidate her. I don’t like crowds, so it goes without saying that I really don’t like it when they threaten to become mobs. I don’t like the thought of people banging on car windows. I really, really don’t like people throwing bricks as that kind of shit can kill people (not that this was vaguely likely in this instance).

Conversely; all the above needs to be contextualised to be properly understood. And I’ve got absolutely no problem with people sitting in front of Burton’s car and preventing her from leaving. I really can’t bring myself to give a fig about the throwing of eggs and water balloons, and it’s simply ludicrous to describe such events as “assault” (or maybe I’m just unaware of the long string of egg- and water-balloon-related injuries that clog up A&E). Readers may remember the pictures of students with busted lips and bleeding heads after the protests mentioned above; on the news, it was reported that they held a sit-in at the Department of Finance and “threw missiles at the Gardaí,” hence implying there was some form of moral equivalence between the Gardaí and the student’s actions. Those missiles were eggs, and throwing eggs is no justification for having your head cracked open. The solemn pronouncements about a water balloon are similarly obfuscatory, as stupid as Bill Gates looked when he seemed so affronted by having a custard pie thrown at him. That could have had his eye out, or something.

Yeah, but can we not have the marches, the banners, the solemnly joyful movements where everyone conducts themselves perfectly? Surely we should not be satisfied with anything less than a peaceful protest?

Well no, we shouldn’t. But the great myth surrounding “peaceful protest” is that it is, by necessity, a decorous protest. This is a version of history that has the US Civil Rights movement begin with a nice lady not giving up her seat on the bus, a few marches lead by Martin Luther King, some impressive speeches and then finally the white chaps at the top doing the decent thing (Malcolm X doesn’t fit this narrative, so we’re not taught about him in school). This is, frankly, nonsense. Take that movement or anything similar and you will find reports of violence breaking out (frequently not instigated by the protestors – and it’s interesting that footage of a young woman being thrown against a bollard by Gardaí was more violent than anything seen on camera at the Burton incident); nor is it any great stretch of the imagination to visualise people – ordinary, decent, not-at-all-authoritarian people – who found such campaigns intimidating, worrying, and dangerous.

Peaceful, come-out-for-a-few-hours-then-go-home marches are – and again, I want to be absolutely clear about this – good things. They are expressions of that easy-to-ridicule word, solidarity; they are environments where, just for a short period, people can go and not feel powerless. In so doing, you express support for hardier souls who are doing that shit every single day. All that’s great and it matters. The problem is when they become seen as the final and only way of conducting street protest – the “right” way to protest, something at which authority can nod its head and then get on with the grown-up business of governance.

When hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland and the UK marched against the Iraq War, many pontificating politicos pronounced it a great expression of democracy – then they ignored everyone and went to war anyway. The decorous protest comes with politicians’ approval because it’s safely ignorable – they nod, they say they understand, and they don’t change a damn thing. If you subscribe to this view – that polite protesting is the only way – then all these protests become is a guilt-bath, an event in which you can partake to register your disapproval, then go home satisfied that the unchanged political course is not your fault.

Let’s come back to that word; “ugly.” This is the nub of the criticism of the entire campaign of people stopping men who come to fit their water-meters, surrounding them and their Garda escort, and barracking them. It is, in a sense, ugly. This doesn’t mean it isn’t, in the main, entirely peaceful. The water charges will place many of the people present in a situation where they can no longer feed their families; the legislation also provides a clear route to privatisation, essentially a legalised theft of something that is not Fine Gael’s or Labour’s to sell. People shouting insults is an uglier image than the abstract notion of state-sponsored primitive accumulation of a natural resource, but let’s not make moral pronouncements based on what looks more violent.

To be more pointed; it’s far from nice to sit in a car and have people bang on the windows for two hours. The fact remains that if you take the people in that crowd, Joan Burton (or at least, the government of which she is a senior part) has inflicted far more hardship, fear and poverty on many of those people than they did on her in that short period. In discussing protest and societal justice, we aren’t supposed to judge based on the aesthetics of the imagery – if we did, then most mass-participation movements would never, ever have happened.

What we’re seeing today includes some spectacular hyperbole (the Sindo declaring that “the republic has been shaken to its core” is a particular highlight), with grim apocalyptic prognostications on the rule of law. This is so far beyond parody, it’s probably somewhere between Neptune and Pluto. A Minister was detained for a couple of hours, had people bang on her car, and then someone threw a water balloon at her. I wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone I know, but I find it hard to condemn a wounded society for acting angrily, and I still don’t think it’s in the same league of reprehensibility as the many actions of the FG/Lab government. It’s authoritarian claptrap to dress this up as appalling or dangerous, and the heavy focus on it is overtly a form of propaganda. The point of mass-participation campaigns is that they let pretty much everybody in, and not all those people will be polite – nor should anyone expect them to be. I don’t mind bad behaviour being described as such, what I do object to is the suggestion that this is morally inferior to decrying the actions of government and, every five years, expressing a preference for a continuation of the norm.

In other words, if you want to see “anger” and “resistance” and all those other buzzwords, then that’s what it looks like. There’s a weird deference involved in the outrage here, the notion that Joan Burton shouldn’t experience this because she’s elected and important. However, Burton does not get to control how discourse happens, or eliminate voices that don’t address her in the preapproved ways. Nor does her position being give her the right not to be confronted by what her policies do – so no, I wouldn’t want my family to be in a car for a few hours, but no-one in my family is running the country and making pronouncements or decisions that affect the lives of millions of people. The rest of us are not immune from being worried and uncertain, we don’t get to set the terms of our engagement with government. Nor should Joan Burton. Nor should anyone.

Journal, 21st September 2014

September 21st, 2014 by Mike Morris

I am not going to talk about the Scottish Referendum. I’m not I’m not I’m not. Well, not much.

To my surprise, the No vote actually made me sadder than I expected. On the day of the election I had an ill-formed, hopelessly optimistic belief that, regardless of the vote, good things might be coming: a “No” might precipitate a proper democratic rethink of how the UK works, an appetite for federalism and an end to the English dominance. Instead we’re hearing transparent talk from David Cameron of “English people must get their voice heard” – because they’re so muzzled at the moment, the news is full of all the Welsh affairs and George Osborne never shuts up about Inverness – and serious suggestions that Westminster be given over to England-only MPs for two days a week.

To anyone of even moderate intelligence, this is a naked power-grab that screams its nature at every point. The symbolism of insisting that Westminster is the proper forum for England-only affairs is a clear statement that England and the UK are effectively the same thing, the botch-job of “do it by parliamentary protocol” means that the implications of four devolved countries can be ducked. During the referendum we were told, repeatedly, that the Union was “a partnership of equals” in a spectacular display of strategically-acquired ignorance. The devolved parliaments in the non-English countries are really a fig-leaf for English dominance; they effectively make the countries’ limited autonomy look like a benevolently-extended privilege. There is just no forum, none, where Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland can look at the U.K. and say “our voice is as important as yours” and that’s what you’d expect from a civilised, equitable union. Instead of addressing that, we’re being presented with the Tories bolstering their power in Westminster – and if you think the calls will stop at two-days-in-Westminster then you might as well go back to sleep. I couldn’t be bothered reading The Shock Doctrine, but I’ll lay good odds that this is what Naomi Klein was going on about.

*

This week, for the second week in a row, I heard this song in which the female singer is all about the bass. I’m expect it’s called “All About The Bass,” although this is guesswork. I’m not quite sure what this means, but the singer repeatedly emphasised “no treble” so I can only assume it’s is a concept of great importance to her; also, since pop music is now something so alien to me that it’s probably not called pop music any more, the fact I’ve heard this twice indicates that it’s probably a huge hit single. It’s mostly about the singer being chunky ‘n’ proud, dissing all dem skinny bitches and stating that she’s here to tell me that I’m perfect from the bottom to the top. I think I can be confident that she’s never met me.

This whole “you’re perfect” fad, the idea that you should love your body just the way it is – is that… sort of new? I’ve certainly never come close to loving mine. Actually let’s be clear: I pretty much despise it. Not in a serious way, I hasten to add, but in the way that I hate ironing-boards – it’s just badly-designed, not good at what it’s meant to do. When I was younger, I’m pretty sure we were told that anyone who judged you based on your looks was shallow, that appearances didn’t tell you anything about a person – in short, that it didn’t really matter how you looked. The morphing of this into love-the-skin-you’re-in (sick-bucket please) is… well, it troubles me, let’s say. It’s telling that the catchphase I gave above and most other prominent examples, like Dove’s sickly Campaign For Real Beauty, are commercially-conceived: they’re driven by the need to be touchy-feely and consumer-cuddly, while at the same time continuing to sell us shit. “Love the skin you’re in” enables Olay to flog you overpriced moisturiser; “don’t get hung up about the skin you’re in, it’s not even one of the ten most important things about you” doesn’t.

That’s what companies do, of course, but this now seems to have permeated down to well-intentioned people who actually want to help those with poor self-image (rather than just pretending to). When I was a kid, well intentioned adults told me that people would love me the way I was, but I don’t remember being told that I was perfect. Bluntly, this was a good thing – you try telling a skinny, short, clumsy asthmatic with a curiously large head that he’s perfect, and all you’ll really tell him is that you’re a liar. I’ve since replaced “skinny” and “short” with “obese” but, even if I had more abs and fewer chins, I think I’d still be dissatisfied with a pile of slowly-rotting flesh that’s weak, stiff-backed, slow and clumsy if you compare it to – say – a stray cat. I think that’s why I’ve never really been interested in the Olympics, because it’s hard to take a race between the pinnacles of human physique seriously once you remember they’d all lose to a whippet.

But here’s the thing; none of the above really bothers me, because I long ago decided not to worry about my body (or at least, not any more than I worry about cleaning the bathroom. I do try and maintain basic hygiene and the ability to walk). It seems a contemporary obsession to tell young people that they’re perfect, but this is like telling them that maths is fun or that drinking isn’t – it’s obviously bullshit, because otherwise you wouldn’t have to explain it. All it does is add pressure, make someone feel defective for failing to love their body, and convince them that the people who compliment them are just telling piss-weak lies. As inspirational speeches go, “Yeah, we all hate our pathetic piles of gristle and we learn to live with it, anyone who tells you differently is lying” might not be quite as soaring, but at least it takes the pressure off.

Journal, 14th September: The Curious Case of the Invisible Ireland

September 14th, 2014 by Mike Morris

In which I try and start writing opinions on the internet again, in case there’s a shortage.

A couple of days ago, a Better Together poster popped up in my Twitter feed. It seemed like a pretty spectacular own-goal on first glance: “Vote No to Scotch Independence,” showing the entirety of Ireland and Britain coloured in yer stylised Union Flag graphic. Yes, all of Ireland.

It was a fake, of course, and quite a funny one. What’s odd is that it didn’t seem so implausible, on first viewing. Ireland and its history is curiously absent from the debate surrounding Scottish independence. I’ve yet to see an article looking at the Irish communities in the UK as a why of examining the future Scottish experience in England if they secede, for example. Ireland is the only country ever to leave the United Kingdom, so you’d think its spectre would be all over the discussion.

This week I overheard some BBC News24 mood-report in which some poor journalist who’d been sent up to Edinburgh that day, blinking like a startled pony that had just made an unexpected quantum leap to the moon, was trying desperately to get vox-pops from the funny-accented locals without sounding overtly puzzled and/or patronising. Amid the usual blather I head someone refer, offhand-like, to the possibility of Scotland’s departure as “unprecedented for Britain.” Granted, this may have been a punter-on-the-street rather than the actual journalist (I’m not sure, I was making tea) and besides, this was a journalist-cliché use of “unprecedented,” deployed in much the same way that Jamie Redknapp says “He has literally cut him in two there.” It’s still an odd thing to hear when you’ve spent, oh, quarter of a century living in the one great big obvious precedent. It’s almost as though the last one hundred years of Irish history never happened, which is why the fake Better Together poster seemed pretty believable

Purely from a data-gathering point of view, this is perverse; it means many of these conversations are blinkered by definition. How can you have a serious discussion about the thorny issue of currency, without at least asking how the Irish dealt with the matter (they continued to use Sterling for seven years and then launched their own pound, initially pegged to Sterling, and later floated when the Sterling Area broke up)? How can anyone produce a speculative “how would an independent Scotland work?” article without referring to the relationship between the UK and Ireland? And, if you want to discredit an independence movement, the fact that Ireland emerged from independence to be one of the poorest countries in Western Europe for seventy years or so would seem a stick just waiting to be used for some beating.

Maybe the answer lies in the mutually assured destruction that Ireland represents; it could be that the yes side don’t want to deal with the spectre of Northern Ireland, decades of terrorism, and the – shall we say – thorny relationship that some quarters of the Unionist contingent have with the Irish Republic. Presumably, the no side would rather not remind people that it’s possible to become an independent country without carelessly letting your crazy, out-of-control secessionist fire burn down the house.

And yet… the absence of Ireland from the UK’s political discussion is not a new phenomenon. The UK’s referendum on the Alternative Vote system was awash with derogatory references to Italy as an example of PR’s inherent instability, and approving ones to Germany’s stability as a response. Ireland uses AV in its Presidential elections and its little brother STV in the General Elections, and yet it was hardly referred to at all. Similarly, when the UK indulges in its periodic “should we still have a monarchy” discussions – you know, the ones that usually end up with paeans to how great the Queen is at shaking hands and saying “what do you do?” – the go-to argument for royalists is do-we-want-a-US-style-presidency. Yet the next-door neighbours have a president who performs more or less exactly the same role as the British monarch, and this hardly features.

It’s tempting to launch into an indictment of Britain’s unconscious superiority of empire, but that’s not really fair. The Canadians have the same sense of invisibility as far as the U.S.A. is concerned; it seems to be natural when a large country exists beside a smaller one.

Let’s be clear, from an Irish point of view it’s no more than irritating and it’s often pretty funny – it’s oddly amusing to watch the Brits have a collective meltdown when confronted with a government coalition, completely unaware that across de water they’re pretty standard. However, it’s still an insult of sorts: an unconscious snub, a blithe assumption that a Backward Little Country Like Ireland can’t possibly teach Britain anything. In short, that it’s not a serious place.

Of course, the UK is a different country. The apparently-wilful ignorance might be odd but, ultimately, there’s no reason that people from the UK should know about the Irish voting system or its history of secession – just like you wouldn’t expect an Irish twenty year-old to know about Magna Carta, or the Tolpuddle Martyrs, or to be able to name Princess Eugenie’s parents.

But.

If Ireland were part of the UK, it would be a different story. For the entire political establishment (and a good chunk of its people) to be completely unaware of these things would be contemptuous. It would be an appalling dereliction of government. It would be, in short, intolerable… and in case that’s not entirely clear, my use of “would be” is entirely rhetorical. We don’t have to imagine what it would be like, we can already see. That’s not a partnership of equals, which is what we keep being told the UK is; that’s one country so dominant over the other that it doesn’t feel the need to know the first bloody thing about it.

Ultimately, while I think Scottish independence is broadly a good thing for various proper reasons, I’m mainly in favour because it would be funny to see the look on David Cameron’s face. In other words, I’m not that bothered… but what I do notice is how alienating a lot of the pro-union rhetoric must be, and how oblivious they are of the fact. Scotland being “marginalised” or “ignored” is a running theme of the independence debate (and many discussions before), and although I’m not Scottish they do strike a tiny, familiar little chord. Look at it in that way, and there’s a lot of British voices that resemble that Mulholland Drive guy spitting out his coffee, entirely unaware that it’s bad manners, entirely uninterested in learning why. That’s not a rigorous view, I know. But I’m not surprised that half of Scotland’s pissed off about the whole arrangement, that’s all.

Journal, 22nd April – 4th May

May 5th, 2014 by Mike Morris

This week I did an edit on the first third of The Book. Terrifyingly, I read it and thought that it wasn’t that bad. This is a somewhat narcissistic opening, I know; the main reason I’m putting this here, now, is so that I will have told The General Public – or at least, the four of them that read this website – that it has reached the one-third done stage, and that will force me to finish the damn thing rather than giving it up in a quivering fit of raw fear.

OK, now I’m wondering if that last sentence makes sense to anyone reading. The fear isn’t logical, I know. Still it’s not the first time that Making Something That Actually Looks Like It Might Be Okay has just hit me with this dread sense of responsibility. The problem with trying to make something worthwhile is that, until it actually becomes worthwhile, all you’ve really got is a gaping opportunity to make an arse of it and piss all over it and let yourself down. When I speak to other “creative” types (god, I hate that word) they don’t seem to suffer from this, at least not outwardly. They talk about ideas as opportunities, they see projects as exciting avenues to do things; it seems to me that they see exciting possibilities, not windows of great potential fuckups and desperate, sweaty, self-inflicted regrets. Or maybe they just don’t want to bore other people complaining about it.

All this leads me to suspect that temperamentally, I’m not actually that well-suited to the creative process. With hindsight, this makes my choice of profession / pastimes look like a mistake. I’d have been a bloody good accountant, I reckon.

*

I’m writing this on a train, which has just been colonised six screaming children and a young Glaswegian couple who’ve decided that giving them enormous quantities of chocolate and Pepsi is a brilliant way to settle them in for a (presumably) eight-hour train journey, and an iPod dock and speakers are a perfectly reasonable thing to give your children on a train. There’s no reason to get particularly annoyed about this, and even though being judgemental is fun there are few things in life more annoying than people who get priggish about other people’s parenting. Besides the obvious answer is to switch carriages and forget it.

So I just have to figure out a way of moving without making it obvious I’m moving away from this gaggle of kids. I could pretend to be getting off at the next station but, if I’m spotted, it’ll become obvious that I moved and employed subterfuge to do it. It’s also possible that people don’t notice and judge me anywhere near as much as I assume they do, but I’ve never been prepared to take a chance on this and I don’t want to start now.

*

I’ve been doing plenty of travelling, given the comparative rarity of being in Britain and it not raining. Not so long ago I saw the Rhyl Flats wind farm, one of the most paralysingly beautiful sights I’ve seen for some time; blades turning silently out to sea, parallax shuffling the grey silhouettes of the windmills past each other, the slow noiseless motion of the blades contrasting with the stolid stillness of the towers. It was quite lovely.

Not everyone would agree, which is fine: they might prefer the slow sweep of the uninterrupted horizon, and that’s fine too. What does bug me is people who don’t like the look of wind farms, and therefore argue that they don’t work either. We know that the spurious crap about their inefficiency is post-rationalised because, while there are plenty of people who accept wind farms as an ugly but unfortunate necessity, nobody ever says that wind farms are a conspiracy by the green lobby and don’t really generate electricity and then follows it up with “it’s a shame, because they look quite nice.”

This annoys me not just because of its colossal self-serving stupidity, but because it’s just about the least grown-up form of discourse imaginable and grows out of something more insidious. Almost everything in the world has mixed benefits, but it’s increasingly taboo to praise any aspect of something that’s been branded as bad; once something’s tarnished it’s de facto a waste of time. There’s loads of examples of this but here’s an obvious one: some readers might remember a few years ago, when Bryan Ferry got into all sorts of trouble for “praising the Nazis.” What he actually said was that the Nazis knew how to present themselves, that Albert Speer’s architecture and Leni Riefenstahl’s films were bravura exercises in just that. Anyone who understands history would know that there was nothing particularly controversial about any of this, that self-presentation was a key part of fascism’s appeal and a vital Nazi tool, that they didn’t actually rise to power in Germany by saying “vote for us, heh-heh, we’re evil.” However, Ferry broke the cardinal rule that you aren’t supposed to publicly acknowledge that the Nazis were good at anything, as if they took over Central Europe while acting like Basil Fawlty.

*

On that note: this week it’s emerged that Jeremy Clarkson Is A Racist. You can almost taste the polite liberal delight at this, because Clarkson is a tedious reactionary boor who spouts ill-informed stupid opinions and calls them witty. In other words, he should be racist. And so reciting the eeny-meeny rhyme while ostentatiously censoring the word “nigger” for laughs just becomes further proof of his indubitable racism – rather than just a boring guffbag making a shit attempt at transgressive humour that wasn’t even broadcast. It’s even been conflated with the Ron Atkinson furore from years back, even though suggesting an eqivalence between them is borderline delusional. A few days later Steve Davis was branded sexist for offering a few views on why women aren’t very good at snooker, which newspapers reported as him saying they didn’t have “the single-minded determination” when what he actually said was that men are more likely to be sufficiently geeky, obsessive and inadequate to spend eight hours a day practicing the same four snooker shots over and over again. You can argue the accuracy of this point but it’s certainly not ludicrous, and it’s not in the same league as – say – “women are genetically and physiologically incapable of understanding the offside rule.”

(If the above are both oversimplifications by liberal types, it’s by no means a thing that only Guardian-readers do. It’s commonplace for climate change sceptics to talk about “the left” pushing climate change down everyone’s throats, even though there’s nothing inherently left-wing about environmental politics and many environmental campaigners are firm free-market advocates.)

The point here is that the defences given by Clarkson’s and Davis’ mates give the game away. James May assured everyone that Jeremy Clarkson is “not a racist,” just as Victoria Coren made it clear that Steve Davis is “not a sexist.” This notion of “A Racist” or “A Sexist” is frighteningly commonplace, even though it’s obviously daft. It’s true that there are people out there who consistently hold repugnant views, but the overwhelming majority of hurtful remarks are made by people who are essentially decent but were ill-informed, unaware, didn’t think something through or were just being lazy-minded. It’s possible to say something racist without actually being “A Racist,” but increasingly we’re given a binary world where you’re one or the other. And the way of judging if someone’s A Racist or not is whether they’ve said something on a preapproved hate-list: in Clarkson’s case it was the word nigger, in the case of Steve Davis it was the suggestion that men might just have more natural aptitude for something than women.
Fair’s fair, both those things are pretty good indicators 98% of the time. The problem’s that racism, sexism, homophobia and Insert Prejudice Here are often subtle and nuanced things, so it doesn’t help if they’re discussed in a way that takes all the nuance out.

Top Gear isn’t directly racist: it just makes acceptable a form of behaviour that makes racism more likely to happen. Its humour is based on laughing at anything different, ridiculing anything that exists outside a certain chauvinistic white male perspective, by generally normalising a pig-ignorant brand of obnoxiousness. It does all this even though, in all the years it’s been on, there’s only been one commonly-cited racial generalisation (that one about Mexicans being lazy). But if the only criteria for judging prejudice is “did they say the N-Word or not,” then why bother?

So there’s the downside to political correctness: it replaces debate with taboo. In one sense, this isn’t so bad: it means we avoid having the same reductive debates over and over again. On the other, it does mean that dickheads can say all sorts of objectionable shit so long as they’re slightly clever about it.

*

Actually, given that I once explained at length to a friend that money you spent on a credit card wasn’t real money, maybe I wouldn’t be such a good accountant after all. My point was that you just had to pay off the minimum due and they’d keep increasing your credit limit, so you didn’t really have to pay anything back ever. This was a colossally stupid and not entirely serious point but in fairness, this was before the recession so it was pretty much how the economy worked.

Journal, 7th – 21st April

April 23rd, 2014 by Mike Morris

Back at work, and the last couple of weeks have been taken up with readjusting and putting myself on the U.K.’s radar. A few months work in the Inland Revenue, about fifteen years ago, meant that I was on some special sort of list and my National Insurance Number was guarded by MI6, or someone. The getting of a U.K. bank account involved the usual waterboarding and biopsies of my bone marrow.

Still, I live here now: gee, it’s all been so sudden. I don’t know what more assimilation I can do, but next time I burn the toast I’ll try and blame it on all the fucking immigrants or something. Aside from adjusting myself to being a Brit, and reacquainting myself with the salty, pungent ecstasy that is Marmite, the last two weeks involved…

Well, let’s confine ourselves to a trip to the cinema, and another to the theatre.

*

Divergent is absolutely, definitely the last time I go and see a mainstream SF or Fantasy film for quite some time. It’s the perfect encapsulation of everything that’s currently wrong with This Kind Of Thing, and it’s infuriating because I sit there and think that this should be the sort of thing that appeals to My Kind Of People. Science Fiction is supposed to be about new worlds and environments and strange concepts, about revelling in the odd. This was even the case in the 80s, because although we all know that-

- wait for it -

- Hawk The Slayer’s rubbish, it was at least trying to present a story taking place somewhere odd with strange rules. I don’t want to launch into another Star Wars defence but the popularity of the appalling Star Trek remakes, in which every single planet is no more than a stage-set for plodding, cock-obvious stabs at “relevance” and “satire,” indicates that most people don’t even expect sci-fi to take us to strange places any more. There’s a blanket acceptance that science fiction is just an exercise in putting identikit characters in the same generic backgrounds, and all you need to do is to brand said backgrounds with their own paper-thin USP.

Divergent is based on a book I’ve not read, and don’t intend to, but it was presumably written by someone who thought “Hey, that whole Sorting Hat thing in Harry Potter is a bit nasty if you think about it! I bet no-one else in the world noticed.” So it’s set some indeterminate time after an unspecified future war, and there’s a sort of a bombed-out city where everyone lives, and society is divided into five groups called sort-of-pretentious things like Abnegation and Erudite and Dauntless and Candour and something else I couldn’t be bothered remembering.

It’s not all the adolescent fetishising of ooh-his-hand’s-on-her-waist that’s the problem, because ultimately it’s a film for adolescents and that’s fine. It’s not even that it opens with an infodump voiceover that flatly tells us all this stuff about factions and tests that it would actually be interesting to just figure out (and yes, that cockawful film of The Amber Spyglass, you made that royal fuckup too). No, the issue is that there’s no sense of this world actually existing: it never feels like anything other than a cinematic construct, and a flaky one at that. It wouldn’t even fly in a Doctor Who episode, and two hours staring at this universe leads to it coming apart at the seams.

I mean, let’s do the big one first: it’s a society that traumatised and near-destroyed itself through war (somehow). That war would be overtly on everybody’s lips for centuries on end, a historical event that overshadows everything because it’s gouged into the populace’s brains in capital letters two inches deep. But no-one even mentions when this war was, or how it started. It’s an abstraction, used to justify this factions-based setup that revolves around the principle that someone can’t possibly be clever and kind at the same time (or rather, such people are so incredibly rare that they threaten the stability of society). Yes, really.

This lazy sort of disconnect extends everywhere. On the one hand, these people have got the technology to create fully immersive dreamworlds and directly see the thoughts of the inhabitants. They can go together into these environments, just by injecting themselves with a drug. And yet nobody seems to have the slightest interest in doing so, they all walk happily around their post-apocaylptic city living austere lives. When our hero, I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Katniss-Everdeen, joins Dauntless – a faction who early on spend most of their time whooping and being rebellious, free-climbing up buildings and just being teenage aaaawesome types – it turns out to be a proto-fascist military. This isn’t a twist, mind; the two things aren’t seen as mutually contradictory at all. There must have been hundreds of people working on this story, once you count the cast and crew and production team and writers, and not one of them felt the need to stick a hand up and say “ummmm, this hyper-disciplined militia of people who are rebellious and unruly and not afraid of their superiors… how the fuck does that work, then?”

In Harry Potter, for all its low-level tweeness, the world has texture; it’s full of detail and language and weirdly incidentaly places. Diagon Alley and butterbeer and that funny night bus don’t serve any plot purposes, they just make the environment seem properly encapsulating. Yet step up an age bracket and all the teenagers get are hokey premises with nowhere to go, into which demographically-correct heroes / heroines are dropped, and girls become physically strong because it’s the most marketable form of empowerment. You can add superhero films to this list; Superman and Spiderman and Insert Marvel Character Here exist in recognisable capitalist societies which barely warp at all to accommodate a world-changing paradigm. Nolan’s Batman trilogy was a ponderous load of prot-fascist wank, but at least he tried. But in general the environments, the universes, the architecture of new worlds are too difficult to grasp, so fuck it.

*

All the more of a surprise to go and see Much Ado About Nothing in the Exchange Theatre in Manchester and find it to be, accidentally, exactly what decent science fiction should do but never does. It’s got a vivid if predictable plot, it’s got strong characters, and it’s set somewhere strange. People talk in a way that’s entirely alien, but we understand them anyway. There are some acts that are, to a modern-day onlooker, utterly appalling: the shaming of Hero at her wedding, by people we’re supposed to like, is a shocking and dignity-stealing scene. But we’re asked to accept this strange paradigm as an alien manner of behaviour, something that people from this place do. It’s funny, and vividly played, and packs a wallop when it wants to.

The masquerade-dance is rendered in the most extraordinary way; the characters wear enormous papier-maché heads, all the faces the same, performing exuberant dance-moves that produce a spectacle like nothing you’ve ever seen on earth. Watching this fragment into scattered conversations, unsure of who’s who (you’re almost sure, but never quite), is to watch something exciting and unfamiliar that screams of elsewhere. So much for the shock of the new – the future all looks the same, these days. Backs’s the new forward, baby.

Journal, 31st March – 6th April

April 9th, 2014 by Mike Morris

On Friday, after a job interview in Ingerland, I jumped straight on a train and made my way to Dublin by boat.

Is it a bit precious to say that I found this… thrilling? Not just thrilling in a “wheeeeee I’m home” way, because I’ve visited home before; staggering off a plane after an overnight journey, jetlagged and tired, is nice but not exciting. What I liked was the scale, the ability to travel between countries, in a few hours, without ever leaving the ground. Like anyone sensible I hate flying, but the joy of this journey was more the closeness of a human-scaled landscape. One of the things that bothered me about Canada was its sheer size; as David Tennant’s character says in Broadchurch, “the sky goes on forever.” Cities in Canada are isolated in a way that you can’t really understand if you spend a lifetime in Britain or Ireland; surrounded entirely by wilderness, inescapable without a motor vehicle.

Maybe this is why the car is a symbol of freedom in North America in a way that people on crowded little islands don’t really understand. Cars aren’t necessary here to escape, they just bring you onto a crowded traffic system which is bursting with stress. In Britain or Ireland you escape by walking, and I like walking. Other people probably find the vast empty spaces of North America exciting, liberating even. I thought I would, too; turns out that I’m all about the close-knit rolling hills. How terribly bourgeois of me.

*

Anyway, on Friday I managed to convince a UK company that I’m employable – hurray! So, given that I started off talking about liberation, it might be a good moment to talk about dependency.

Dependency is a horrible word. It’s often used in conjunction with the word “welfare,” part of the bog-standard obsession with poor people that seems to exist as the obviously-wrong yin to the “bloody bankers” yang.

As I’ve alluded to a few times, I left Canada under circumstances that weren’t exactly happy. Many of these are personal, messy and not for public consumption, but the final push was so banal it begs to be shared: due to a mess in the immigration department, my work permit application (well, my office’s application for a Labour Market Opinion, but it amounts to the same thing) had been in limbo for three and a half months; as the two-months-out-of-work mark approached I decided enough was enough. This was partly financial, and partly just the cabin fever of not working, but…

…but. What began driving me demented, instilling me with that familiar feeling of restless languour that will be entirely familiar to anyone who’s been out of work, was the sense of not being in control of my own life. Since I had absolutely no timeframe for when the work permit dithering would be sorted, every day entailed waking up with the hope that today might be the day and waiting until about eleven for a phone call, ready to hot-foot it down to Niagara Falls where I could do the necessary at the border. At that point it passed the I-can-sort-it-today mark and so I would go out, without the money to do anything much, but it was better than sitting in a flat with crap internet and those basic cable channels that just dared me to keep watching docusoaps that featured white trash arguing loudly with itself in pawnshops.

Never, ever being in control – just waiting for officialdom to bestow me with a sense of self-respect again. There are no other options with a work permit – you can’t go and get another job because you aren’t allowed, and you can’t do anything to make it go faster because you’ll just end up yelling down the phone at someone and making it worse.

After a while, the rational part of my brain went quiet. The ridiculous delay began to feel, in some strange nebulous way, personal. I wasn’t deluded enough to feel that Canada had a personal grudge against me, but I was firmly convinced that it didn’t really give a toss whether I was there or not. This is empirically true for anyone, really; still, the feeling of being a file-someone’s-going-to-get-to brings this sense that you don’t matter to anyone. You aren’t part of the country, or the workforce, or the system: you’re outside everything, with no stake in how anything operates. In short you’re an irritation, and you know with certainty that everyone with any power over your situation wishes it would just go away so they can go home and have their tea.

This isn’t meant to be a poor-me whinge or a dig at the Canadian government. What happened is terribly unmalicious and boring; somebody decided to overhaul the foreign worker programme for reasons they probably thought were important, resulting in a bureaucatic mess being created at an administrative level, and so a procedure that took two weeks last year was lengthened to nominally six-to-eight weeks this year… and still hadn’t been resolved after fifteen weeks or so. Given that I have a Comfortable Middle Class Job and understanding employers, this shouldn’t have been – wasn’t, if I’m being honest – particularly catastrophic.

Yet in just two months of a reasonably comfortable, if frugal existence – I wasn’t going hungry, for example – I’d become apathetic, irrational, and didn’t really want my situation to be resolved. I didn’t want to go to the border, because it seemed big and scary and an opportunity for me to arse things up by saying the wrong thing to a po-faced bloke in a uniform. I didn’t want to deal with officaldom because I already half-believed it to be blithely inimical. I didn’t really want to go back to a job I’d previously enjoyed, because I felt conspicuous and out-of-place and like I’d fallen behind.

Two months.

So the first thing to learn from this is that I’m a limp-wristed dick who needs a good slap around the chops every now and then.

But the other thing? Those who are part of a much-derided “dependency culture” live in a similar-but-worse circumstance of powerlessness, or at least the feeling of powerlessness (which is effectively the same thing). To borrow a quote from this sharp piece about the rise of the BNP among th U.K.’s poor: “In none of these places was there any sense of hope or a vision of how things could be. Basically, ‘life’ was something that happened to them, not something they had a say in.”

People demonise benefit cheats, and the retort of Lefty Pinkos like me is generally to say that the problem doesn’t exist to any meaningful extent. This is true. However, I’d go further and say I’m not actually that bothered about the few people who do scam the dole at all. To me, it seems a perfectly rational and natural response to being down the dole queue for too long; getting a few quid you shouldn’t, and doing some work without anyone finding out, is just about your only means of taking control of your circumstances. Sure, you’re cheating the system, but you don’t feel like you have any stake in the system so tricking it is a bonus, not a source of shame. You’re robbing your fellow citizens, but whenever you turn on the television your fellow citizens are telling you you’re a problem, so they can go fuck themselves too. And to use another favourite line, the one about the “culture of entitlement,” the point is that if you don’t have a job and you don’t see any prospects of getting one, your entitlements are all you’ve bloody well got. You know that all authority is out to get you, because that’s all its ever done, and your entitlements are the only weapon to use against it.

The cure for me was pretty simple: head to the UK, where I could actually look for work again. Most people don’t have an out, the poor sods. And frankly, no matter how ill-gotten some gains might be, I don’t begrudge them a penny. For most people in power, a two-month hiatus or a three-day wait for the dole cheque is an unfortunate-but-inevitable inconvenience of the system; there seems to be no understanding that, for those on the receiving end, it can be a choice between “don’t feed the kids” and “go to a moneylender.”

None of this offers any practical solution to the “unemployment problem,” although all the historical data suggests “give people jobs” will solve that one sharpish. It’s just that it should be talked about with a good deal less glibness and a good deal more fucking sense. That’s not so hard, is it?