Okay. No more Benadryl for me. The hay fever was terrible, but this sleepiness is worse. I skipped a dose yesterday to ensure I didn’t sleep through the podcast, but I took one just before I went to bed last night, thinking that the effects would have worn off by the morning. They hadn’t. Holy crap! That’s either powerful stuff or I have a low resistance to pharmaceuticals. I’m struggling to wake up. My brain is fuzzy and every time I close my eyes I begin to dream. It’s taken me ages (and about two naps) to write even these few words, which won’t amount to much of anything. It’s a shame. I had things I wanted to write about today that wasn’t about Liverpool becoming champions.

What I did intend to write about was the Maxine Peake story yesterday and my response to it. It made me realise, again, that there really is no innocence in the world. There’s no room for it.

Maxine Peake said something that definitely slipped from being a reasonable point about the industrialisation of security training and became a barely disguised attempt to blame Israel for all the ills of the world. Even if ex-IDF soldiers are teaching security to American cops, it doesn’t mean they created, perfected, or disseminated the knee-on-the-neck technique that killed George Floyd. This little nuance needed to be picked up, but it wasn’t when Long-Bailey praised the interview, which she only did because it was supportive of her version of Labour. Not that any excuse mattered. It was assumed that she was amplifying an antisemitic voice. She issued a retraction and apology, but it was too late. The toxicity leaked everywhere. It never becomes anything less than harmful.

I too had picked up on the militarization of police force angle, which interests me, yet does that mean I was also amplifying the antisemitism? I hope I wasn’t because I did also mention that there was a problem of tone with Peake’s original statement. Yet that didn’t feel enough at the time and perhaps it wasn’t. This is a problem of blogging quickly when stories pass before your eyes and you make quick judgements when rushing to go do something else. You have to be careful because leniency is rarely given, innocence never assumed. No matter how many times you preach moderation, there will always come a time when you don’t say the right password. You skip the all-important qualifying word or sentence: “No animals were harmed during the making of this film” or “This game represents a diversity of ethnic and religious views and was made by a team representing a variety of cultures and backgrounds.”

This doesn’t just happen around antisemitism, of course. It’s racism, sexism, ageism, trans-ism… The list of isms seems to grow by the year. Purity tests become endless. Every day you’re expected to derive from first principles that you’re not a bad person. Yet there’s always a moment when you’ll slip and say something that can be read the wrong way. That’s always problematic when it comes to comedy but especially cartooning. Was that body-shaming when you drew somebody too large? Draw a nose the wrong way and you’re engaged in antisemitic tropes, even if you didn’t realise that your subject was Jewish. You end up checking people’s heritage before you draw them, assuming by that point that you still want to draw them. Often, it’s just not worth the trouble. Because take a skin colour a tone too far one way or the other and you’re either erasing black culture or pushing your cartoon into the awful backwaters of historical racism. Don’t mock an accent. Don’t mock a class. Don’t mock anything about the person. Ad hominem is no longer permitted beyond this point.

Yet the simple fact is that I’ve never liked Raheem Sterling. Never liked him when he played for Liverpool, where he was a disruptive presence, clearly pushing for a move to a “bigger club”. Never liked his swagger. Hated the huge M16 tattoo on his leg. Didn’t like the way he squared up against Joe Gomez when on England duty. Yet he becomes a high-profile figure in the fight against racism. I support that. I think he’s done good things. Yet I still don’t like him. And even as I write this, I sit here wondering how I parenthesise that to again point out that it’s still entirely a Liverpool thing. He’s not booed because he’s black. He’s booed because he was always a deeply selfish player who put his own ambitions before those of the club.

The constant need for qualifying clauses becomes exhausting but I also wonder how sensible debates can ever be had in this world of hair triggers and perpetual offence. The Black Lives Matter sparked a conversation about systemic racism that disappeared the moment somebody attacked Churchill’s statue. We rarely have serious debates about our electoral system without it eventually turning into a debate about the monarchy. America won’t even address the fundamental problems with its Constitution because it will be seen as an attack on gun ownership. And, of course, there’s no way peace in the Middle East will ever come about so long as the language of settlement is wrapped around the totems of religious identity on both sides of the divide.

I’m not sure what the answer might be; not in a world where J.K. Rowling can be demonised by trying to tackle one of the most difficult conversations of the day in words that were carefully chosen, life experiences that were painful to recount. Is it just a case of choosing our words more carefully or might it be that the words have already become toxic that our path to any solution is blocked off to us?

Starmer undoubtedly did the right thing on Thursday and it does prove that he takes the problems of antisemitism inside Labour seriously. Yet I can’t help but wonder where is the growth that follows? When does Labour have that difficult conversation about the language it uses when discussing Israel? When do they learn to debate without using the tropes of antisemitism? How do they stop this happening again?

The answer is: they probably don’t. Nobody does. People are rooted in their belief that others are deliberately misinterpreting what they say. And it’s not just Labour who have this problem. This is everywhere where issues are polarized. There’s distrust everywhere and it now feels like that’s all we have: the purity tests failed, reputations defiled, and points scored. I’m not even sure what these scores amount up to. There’s no growth. No prizes to be won. Just hollow victories to be claimed by everyone.

8 thoughts on “Friday”

  1. All very true. I’m almost certainly being paranoid but I wonder whether some of that was aimed at me….so to be clear; you are definitely not a bad person but I do think your first response to the article was misguided. (What did you tell me recently about loved ones saying you were too nice??)

    1. Ha! No, not you. Honestly. It was about myself and how I perhaps don’t protect myself as much as I should, but also the wider world where everybody is primed to latch on to “badness” in other people. It’s hard to enter into things in an open and honest way when you have to be on your guard all the time. That’s what I meant about leniency. People assume the worst, rather than the best. And you’re right. I can be naive at times but only because I assume the best rather than the worst.

  2. Hence the silent majority, most people are now scared of being labelled or even worse losing their jobs. It is also why the polls always underestimate the right wing vote. I’ve got zero sympathy for Rowling, she rode on the woke bandwagon for many a year and has now found to her cost that if you don’t possess the full set of badges you are persona non grata. That people are debating what constitutes a woman shows what happens when a society becomes utterly decadent. The hypocrisy on display is also stupefying, the people who will condemn Rowling for her views would at the same time be baying for the blood of any white person who said they identified as black and routinely blacked up. Owen Jones is always ready to pounce on incidences of racism and homophobia, yet wrote a piece explaining why “gammon” was neither racist nor ageist. That gammon and boomer never result in a sacking or prosecution is evidence that we have simply changed who is fair game for vilification in the media and online. On the streets…. well that’s still a different matter.

    I have heard that in next weeks Independent interview they will have David van Day of Dollar talking about the future of asymmetric warfare as they were unable get Bobby Davro to hold forth on torture techniques of Central American dictatorships.

    Starmer was simply looking for an excuse to sack Long Bailey, anything would have done, apparently she had been arguing with him about schools reopening.

    I saw a quote the other day, don’t know whose it is, seemed to fit our circumstances.

    Hard times make strong men
    Strong men make good times
    Good times make weak men
    Weak men make hard times.

    1. The problem with “gammon” was that it had little history and, certainly, no long association with oppression. Plus, I don’t think there was every much moral high ground. I still read quite respected pundits laughing about “snowflakes” and “Remoaners”. It’s just part of the culture war. There are idiots on both sides and, given our click-bait culture, idiots get the most exposure since they generate the most clicks.

      The same is true of the celebrification of our politics. Trump and Johnson are symptoms of the same disease, in which critical thinking has been replaced by our susceptibility to virulent marketing. People buy into a product and therefore become brand loyalists. Labour might complain but only because they forget this fact, which Tony Blair was perhaps the first to fully understand.

      As for that quote: I was naturally drawn to it, so I stopped myself and thought about it for a few minutes. I concluded that I don’t believe it.

      Like so many great aphorisms, it feels better on the ear than it does the head. I don’t believe that “strong men make good times” or, for that matter, “hard times make strong men”. There are as many examples to disprove that as there are to prove it. Maybe I just don’t subscribe to the “strong men” view of history, so I also don’t believe in one based around “weak men” either. All a bit too close to “humanitarianism is the expression of stupidity and cowardice” for my liking.

      Incidentally, I looked it up and traced it back to a book called “Those Who Remain” by G. Michael Hopf, which appears to be a bit of right-wing postapocalyptic hokum. Yet it’s a quote that’s really gained traction within online communities. I can see why. It’s like Schlesingers’ Cycle of History or Toynbee’s view of history as a set sequence of growth and decline, and even older traditions where history was viewed as cyclical. First, they are attractive because they are overly simplistic. (Put any two values on an axis and the natural fluctuations between the two will look like a cycle, so I don’t see what that’s any different between, say, liberal and conservativism). Second, they strip us of agency and assume that we’re destined to always make the same mistakes as our forefathers.

      I understand the attraction because at my core I’m a structuralist and I believe that we have certain proclivities that we find it hard to escape. Yet I’m also enough of an empiricist to believe we generally progress towards the light. Are we decadent? Absolutely, in some things. We’re progressive in others. We can and do choose our destiny. That’s why I’m not as hard on Rowling or any of these feminists who are now under attack. What they are discovering is the decadence of feminism, an unthinking ideology that badly modelled after reality. This could be the beginning of something better, which paradoxically takes us back to where things went wrong.

      Arguments that try to wrangle feminism from the jaws of transgender rights always seem to me to be a symptom of a problem that began when feminism wrested power from the “patriarchy”. Instead of creating an inclusive theory that accepted masculinity as an equal (or one among equals), they treated it like it was the problematic sex – it’s too often phrased that way when men are described as “lacking” a second X chromosome rather than having an additional Y. (This is the fundamental problem of the #MeToo movement which repeated the mistake, by replacing one injustice for another.) The result was a world where “male space” was constantly under siege, either as something “bad” or something that needed to be rebranded as a “new” masculinity. The result: men were made to feel bad, which only produced a predictable reaction into hypermasculinity.

      These theories worked well for a time. Gay rights replicated the struggle and continued to treat maleness as the common enemy. “Male” was suddenly the least fashionable sex to be. And now this is turned on its head with transrights challenging all those newly protected spaces. The “how dare you exclude me” has become a cry of “how dare you include yourself”.

      We feel like feminism has been around for an eternity but forget that, in historical terms, it has been shortlived. In the wider sweep of history, it might even be seen as a crude means to a revolution, ultimately an overcorrection. The result should be a better appreciation of the individual, with the logical conclusion being the right of individuals to “invite” people into their spaces. It takes us back to men’s clubs, long the bane of feminists, becoming a model for sport where “women’s athletics” will have the right to exclude people. We need to start thinking more in terms of the individual rather than a predetermined identity.

      [Edit: An interesting article on that quote here-> https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/05/02/hard-times-dont-make-strong-soldiers-warrior-myth/]

  3. Snowflake and remoaner, both terms that I hate btw, do not specifically reference age and race, gammon does. Heseletine and Clarke could very easily find themselves being called gammon if they found themselves expressing an opinion that annoyed the people who wield the term. It is a racist and ageist term.
    Some older black men have grey stubble, now what meat product is black and grey?, I know!, black pudding!. It would rightly be deemed racist and unacceptable.

    All empires and dominant nations since the dawn of time have had a period where they have risen, stagnated and then fallen in significance. In those terms, based on evidence, history is cyclical. I believe that at its core human nature never changes, we are a pack animal and I take a gloomier view of where we are heading than you do. We have done a reasonable job of destroying the place we inhabit, and have built up enough destructive force that the next time we descend into a bout of major blood letting it could be our last.

    The focus on individuality has gone too far for me, but that would require an epic amount of words to quantify on my part and it’s late.

    A quick word on the article, very interesting, but the guy doesn’t know much about the composition of the Roman army for the majority of its existence (the vast bulk were proles, auxilia and mercenaries). They were hard men. It’s a bit like believing that the bulk of the British army at Waterloo was made up of old Etonians when in fact they were, as Wellington put it, “the scum of the earth”

    btw, just my take, it don’t make me right.

    1. Yes, I take your point but I never understand any argument which suggests that ‘gammon’ is racist, except as a way to play the race card back against people who typically play the race card. It always struck me as deeply childish but that’s true of any argument about the severity of insults except as a distraction from the issues at hand. But that, I suppose, is precisely what I was saying in this post. We end up arguing about language rather than solving problems. I think people just enjoy the argument.

      As for history cycling: haven’t these debates gone on for centuries, often underpinning some of the craziest stuff that humans have done? Hitler was influenced by Spengler but these ideas go back into our prehistory. It’s turns up so often in our myths and religions. Joseph Campbell made his career documenting them. Wasn’t this why structuralism became so dominant in the 20th Century, with Modernism a response to the mechanised nature of the First World War? The idea was that people could transcend their nature and that it was only convention that made artists stick eyes on either side of an nose. It sounds bonkers when written like that but aren’t we children of that world, where we’re constantly taught to think beyond conventions?

      I accept that I might be too optimistic but the older I get, the more open I’ve become to poststructualist ideas, which takes the structuralist insight a stage further to modify our nature. Admittedly, taken too far you end up with Mao who wanted to break history’s cycles through revolution. Yet part of our modernity is that we are changing the way we view history, changing the way we view ourselves. Yes, it’s entirely likely we fuck up the planet and everything goes to hell. In my darker moment, I think that but it doesn’t exactly put a spring in my step each morning. In my brighter moments, I prefer the delusion that life can and does improve, even if progress doesn’t always follow a straight line. It’s like Musk’s rockets that land standing up. I love the playfulness of that, how they defy conventional logic.

      No idea about the article. Noticed it after I’d written by comment and thought it might provide more info on the quote. Military history isn’t one of my stronger points. 😉

      1. Military history used to be a bit of a passion for me when I was younger, back in the days when I actually read books. On the quote specifically, you are right that it doesn’t quite stand up when stress tested, but then not that many quotes do when you have a go at deconstructing them.

        For me, I think if you poke fun at the colour of someones skin it’s racist, it’s not about getting back at anyone. I’m tempted to ask you if you think the term black pudding would be racist but probably better to agree to disagree on this one as we could circle it endlessly.

        1. Ah, probably true. And speaking of decontructing, I hope you don’t mind that I turned my reply into a blog post. I’d written so much that I thought it easier and (more importantly) it filled my minimum blog requirement for the day. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *