Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

There's plenty being said about the verdict in the Hillsborough inquest today but for me, most of the questions about it tend to come back to those cages, to the metal fencing that penned in the Liverpool supporters and fans of other clubs, in those days.

How could a crush at a football game have been so deadly?  Because the people there were jammed into cages to watch their team play, and couldn't escape onto the pitch.

How was it possible for any kind of cover-up to take place, when the whole terrible thing had been captured on film?  Why would the Sun print outrageous slanders against the victims of the disaster?  Why were there so many people willing to believe those lies, and why are there still so many even today?

Because the people who died were the type of people that could be put into cages, without any real or material objections from anyone who could've put a stop to it.

The cages tell us a lot about the regard in which football supporters were held by the people responsible for their construction.  And not only in big flashpoint games or high-risk matches between rivals, but every game, week-in, week-out.  Ordinary men, women and children, the old and the young.  People just like you or me, any one of us who has ever been to a football game.

The truth of Hillsborough, not least the absolute contempt for the public at the highest level of society that led directly to it, has been public knowledge since I was a kid.   So why has it taken twenty seven years for some kind of justice to be done?  Why did the victims' relatives have to fight tooth-and-nail for the result that they got today?

And I'd say, just look at the cages.  That picture paints a thousand words.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

The Imaginary Bacon Rolls Of Terror

Brendan O'Neill isn't happy with the liberals and multiculturalists this week, or any other week, for that matter.

He's concerned about that Charlie Hebdo think-piece, the one about how the Muslims are oppressing everyone by wandering around wearing headscarves and so on.  Specifically, he's worried that  

"...chilling of discussion around Islam encourages a climate of mutual apprehension and tension in European communities, where non-Muslims are implicitly told to keep their concerns to themselves while Muslims increasingly come to live in a kind of protective bubble of non-criticism or just non-discussion".

And I mean, he has a point here.  It's certainly true that you can attract plenty of hysterical abuse, simply for speaking reasonably on various Islam-themed topics.  I'll add that the same is true of sport journalists who get on the wrong side of football fans; critics who e.g. give superhero movies bad reviews and women who have the temerity to say things while being female.

Still, Brendan's describing an existing phenomenon here*, and the Hebdo case is very unusual in that it's one of very few involving the threat of actual violence, rather than just some twatty comments on social media.

It's worth noting though that the Hebdo piece didn't piss people off because it was telling us uncomfortable truths.  It mainly annoyed people because it's yet another example of folk intentionally acting like stroppy, belligerent dicks, while theatrically complaining about how they're not allowed to act like stroppy, belligerent dicks.  Basically much like The Spectator, but French.

And of course, folk have every right to act like stroppy, belligerent dicks if they so please, much as other people have every right to respond by calling them racists, or whatever.

Is it racist, to kick off on a mad ramble about how pissed off you are that the Muslims won't even let you buy a bacon roll in an imaginary bakery?  Is it bigoted, to make illogical claims conflating headscarves and nailbombs?

Well maybe it is and maybe it isn't, and the distinction doesn't really matter much to me.  The iron rule remains the same either way - you don't have to be racist to be an arsehole.

That being the case, the Hebdo piece looks to me like that very modern form of opinion journalism - the deliberately antagonising cry-wank.

All I did was deliberately go out of my way to annoy people, and now they're all annoyed because they are so very thin-skinned and unreasonable.  Oh, woe!

And none of this is happening in a vaccuum.  The French generally are a bit more... robust than we are, on such issues.  Their public figures certainly aren't afraid to say precisely what they think.  French intellectuals routinely announce that Everything Is Fucked because white people are too nice to the ethnics, and it's always seemed to me that there's a strong undercurrent in French thought that foreigners can never be French, mostly because of their wacky religious beliefs.

And let's remember that there is currently a cultural and political movement that is rocking like a hurricane in France, and that it isn't self-censorship or bashfulness in the face of fruity foreign fatwas.  It's the fucking National Front.

While the hacks wail in terror about snotty Tweets, the actual real far-right is booming.  Let's not insult Brendan, or any of the other howlers and chucklers, by assuming that they aren't aware of precisely the type of politics that is driving headscarf bans or pork-only school lunches.

I think that ultimately, what we're looking at here is deep confusion** about the difference between

- Secularism
- Intentionally being as dickish as possible, and
- Media types going out of their way to annoy people and then complaining about tyranny when people get annoyed.

Secularism itself involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.

I'll leave it up to you to decide whether e.g. boiling with resentment about the unavailability of imaginary ham sandwiches is an example of secularism, or just of people being as dickish as possible.  

What I will say is that this confusion isn't at all cost-free.  It's precisely this kind of nonsense that's brought us such unedifying occurrences as:

British soldiers kicking down doors in Helmand in order to liberate Afghan women from their husbands, fathers and brothers; 

The French government freeing women from oppression by threatening them with arrest if they wear the wrong outfits, and French authorities giving schoolkids the choice between eating pork or fucking off, and

The British government trying to help oppressed Muslim women by deporting the ones that don't speak English.

If there's some kind of intellectual battle going on here, I suspect that it's between people who are trying not to be dicks about everything, and people who are determined to be as dickish as possible, all the time.

It's not always easy to tell which is which, because there's a hell of a lot of overlap between the two sides and because both deploy similar levels of apocalyptic boo-hoo, but it can be done.

*As it happens, I often agree with Brendan on most free speech issues.  I think it is problematic that many political and media types are afraid to speak their minds openly because they think they'll be branded racists.  As I've argued in the past of characters including Nick Griffin, Nigel Farage and David Starkey, the best thing for everyone is to encourage cranks to be as frank as possible, and to let the public decide whether they're arseholes or not.  I'm very confident about the public's judgement on that, at least. 

**A deep confusion that is being intentionally sown by hacks including Brendan O'Neill, by the way.

An Evil Genius

Let's say that you were an evil genius along the lines of The Joker in The Dark Knight*, bent upon creating the most chaotic, hostile world imaginable, as quickly as possible.

How would you go about engendering the maximum amount of mutual distrust, discord and suspicion amongst your fellow human beings?  Would you e.g. hijack boats full of citizens and prisoners, and force them to choose which of them would be destroyed with high explosives?

Probably not.  A better way would be to maximise everybody's exposure to the sections of society that most hate and fear them, people whom they would never usually encounter.

To do that, you'd need a mechanism that exacerbates existing faults in society - a way of pitting people against their immediate religious, political or cultural foes.  Ideally, you'd want to ensure that this occurs in an intimate and familiar setting where people feel most safe.  Somewhere like, maybe, their own homes, just to really make them feel threatened and uncomfortable.

What you'd want, would be to bring vulnerable or just mildly thin-skinned people into contact with all manner of highly aggressive idiots.  You'd want earnest feminists arguing with the most bitter misogynists; ardent secularists being brought into the orbit of religious zealots; devout Muslims discovering that there are legions of people who utterly despise them and their religion; to find ways of bringing even the most atheistic of Jews into the immediate proximity of rabid Holocaust-deniers.

What you'd want really, is just a way of making sure that insecure and irritable people - by which I mean, normal, everyday people - are roundly and thoroughly abused by others who deliberately seek them out to offend and upset them.

And, most important of all, this has to happen in an environment where nothing, nothing at all, could ever possibly be resolved, and where the arguments can only ever get angrier, nastier and more fraught with bitterness and mutual recrimination, rather than less. 

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Twitter.  If you want to bring the haters together with the hated, accept no substitutes.

Some academic should run an experiment on the prevalence of social media and perceptions of personal and communal persecution, before and after.  I think the results would be stark.  Truly, it is one of the few venues I can think of where the prey willingly and enthusiastically line up to be introduced to the predators.

Whatever your opinions are, on any damn issue, Twitter in particular has some idiot somewhere on Earth, just desperate to call you a Commie or a nigger or a faggot, or whatever derogatory racial/religious/political/sexual etc. slur it is that you'll find most offensive, just for conveying them.  Simply log in, express yourself, and there's a good chance that they'll turn up eventually.

Now, I recognise that most people who use social media don't have to deal with this type of this stuff, most of the time.  I'm guessing that my brother's Twitter account, for instance, is mostly comprised of footballers and comedians, and that he doesn't get much abuse for posting the occasional photo of his dinner or an opinion on a film.

Nonetheless, for lots of people like me - mainly, mouthy twats who want an audience to sound off at about their super-controversial views on lots of micro-political issues of minority interest - it's a much more hostile environment**. 

And yet, still.  You can't open a paper without finding out all about the sudden upsurge of bigotry against... well, whoever anyone hates, anywhere, as evidenced by some sad berks with Twitter accounts.  Of which there are millions of examples worldwide. 

For the most part, this signifies nothing, beyond the fact that vindictive people all over the planet who would otherwise have had to have satisfied themselves with merely being horrible to their neighbours, now have a swish application that allows them to be vindictive to strangers on the other side of the planet.  And it's sure not restricted to Twitter.

But let's remember - the biggest internet squabble of the last few years wasn't about, oh, the rise of ISIS or the genocide of the Armenians.  It was about video game reviews written by girls, and it got really, really nasty.  Nowadays, people get death-threats for saying that they don't like superhero films or particular computer games.

I think people mistake all of this emboldened cuntishness, where what was once unspeakable is now said openly, for an upsurge in prejudice.  It probably isn't - it is, after all, only twenty years since a good chunk of the Scottish populace went bug-fuck mental at the idea that a teacher could tell a pupil that it is, theoretically, okay to be gay.

The major difference is that every dipshit, almost everywhere in the world, can now speak where they can be heard.  It'd probably be a good idea for us to work out how to deal with that, sooner rather than later.

 *But less shit than The Dark Knight.

**I'm fine with this myself - I am, by and large, as much of a complete dick on social media as I am in real life, and so I expect to get a certain amount of dickishness in return.  I appreciate however that others aren't trying to be dicks like I am, and try to moderate my behaviour.  Occasionally, at least.

I'm also not letting Facebook off the hook here.  I've seen shit on there that would turn your hair white, and from family members rather than acquaintances.  Twitter just gets more scrutiny, because there are more politicians, celebrities and journalists who use that platform regularly.