This appeared on my Facebook just now, not a friends post, just one the ‘random’ things that gets posted to your timeline, except it’s not random, it’s targeted. It elicited largely the reactions it hoped for, of people yearning for the days when people weren’t ‘woke’, except they were. I re-call people saying at the time that it was a poorly thougth out campaign and somewhat sexist. For those unfamiliar with this chocolate bar, it’s famous for having large chunks and its advertising campaigns had focussed on how it was for tough people, truckers and suchlike, but this campaign just pushed things a little too far. I believe I was targeted because perhaps I’m a white middle aged male. Yet there I was reading unsolicited swearing [apologies if you are offended by swear words] and not being dreamy eyed for the good old days when chocolate was real chocolate, men were real men and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were REAL furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.
Facebook have targeted me before. During the Brexit campaign I was targeted; younger, less white friends never saw those adverts which I found so strange. By being targeted they reach a target audience and hope to avoid the anti’s and their challenging comments in a different demographic. This is the world we now live in. They don’t always get it right as I also read campaign material from the MP from a neighbouring constituency, they should be able to locate me better, but it’s getting better/worse.
If you follow UK news, a MP (Member of Parliament) was murdered in his constituency this weekend and it is being treated as an act of terrorism, though all the gory details have yet to come to light. Five years ago another MP was murdered by an extremist. The Speaker (the chair of the UK House of Commons) spoke about how the civility of political discourse is on the wane. Do we just murder people we disagree with now, like it’s a war?
It is perhaps human nature to seek to surround yourself with like minded people, people you can let your guard down with and speak your mind, where you can be sure of some support for your views. This isn’t always a good thing.
Again this week on Social Media someone shared a video of a visit to a pub in Essex, where they showed a man being aggresively racist towards them, telling them that they were not welcome in that pub. There have always been such places, gentlemens clubs, rough pubs where a certain demographic feel at home whom aggresively exclude those not like them. A friend of mine was was in the navy described Portsmouth as a city with three kinds of pubs, Locals pubs, Navy pubs and Student pubs. If you went to the wrong pub on a Friday night, you could expect hostility, even violence.
There has also been the media, people buy a newspaper that reflects their view of the world. The BBC have always reflected a British bias on world news. Comedians, like Spike Milligan often satirised this by pointing out things by putting on a newsreders voice and saying ‘Air-liner crashes in Africa! Fortunatly, no British were on the plane, phew!’ As if someone you’d never met’s life was more important than someone else you’ve never met.
What has changed is the internet and in particular Social Media, we are more exposed to people not like us, from different demographics, speaking their truth and that’s a good thing. I’ve said before how my uncle bought the Daily Telegraph to know ‘what the enemy was thinking’ and I think this is a good thing to do. On Twitter I try and follow people I disagree with for this reason and stay friends with people whose politics I profoundly despise, yet respect them as friends. Yet because it’s nigh on impossible to have a reasoned argument on Twitter, there is a tendency to block people on the site, I even hear people blocking someone and all their followers to avoid any hostile opinions, a cancel culture. Yet people have always filtered their experience of the world. People don’t see sexism or racism because they have got used to ignoring it or never learnt to notice it in the first place. Once you become aware, your worldview changes. You notice all the little things, the tiny micro-aggressions you get from people for speaking Welsh with your friends in public, in Wales, from people not from Wales, who presumably think everyoene should speak English. It is tempting to call this out ‘We’ve been speaking Welsh in Wales for a long time before the English language existed, how were you not aware?’
Civility of political discourse is an acquired skill. It takes patience to remain quiet while someone expouses ideas you know to be wrong and you just want to point out every single flaw in their argument. It takes time to unpick a view as our opinions sit atop icebergs of ideas, theories, presumptions and worldviews . To understand why someone may be in favour or agaiast something, say the Death Penalty is often quite complex. Yet in politics today everything has to reduced to a meaningless three word soundbite, but we all know or at least should know that there is always huge amounts of stuff underpining that.
Elected politicians job is to sit there and take all the naive nonsense from the other side and use that time to work out if there is a single thing both sides can agree on, or something that just might persuade someone to moderate a view just a little, to dig a little deeper, to listen just a little bit. Whilst being prepared for the other side to be doing exactly the same.
Yet most of the people in the world are not seasoned politicians, lawyers or academics, whose job it is to argue things through and be prepared to be wrong sometimes, to have our understanding changed. Instead most of us are subjected to the noisier voices within our demographic groups, from the telly channels we watch, the newspapers we read, the social circles we live in, the people we follow on Social Media.
I am in such a priviledged position. I am white male and culturally middle class. I am also an oddball. I often forget that isn’t most peoples experience of the world. My Social Media has churchy people, organ and choir enthusiasts, and death metal loving transexuals. I don’t think most people have this. Sometimes a churchy person will state an objectionable view, but be broadly supported in the churchy echo chamber. Another time the obscure music person will rage against religious people. Sometimes I have to be very diplomatic in such situations. You can’t suddenly make someone wake up and chnage their mind, but you can plant a seed that might help them get there.
This all sounds somewhat smug, but it’s about valuing expertise, which is perhaps something that has declined in society. I’ve spent a lot of time arguing, reading philosphy, arguing about arguing and speaking with a wide range of people. The thing is, I notice how guarded people who know me reasonably well are, they know how much a jack of all trades, creeds and philosophies I am, yet don’t know me well enough that I’m not going to bite the throat off someone I disagree with, but rather try and find the thing that will make them think.
For example, I do go to church and I am a scientist, these are not two mutually incompatible things, though it often seems that a lot of people seem to think they are. If you read the bible deeply enough you realise that it doesn’t say what a lot of people have thought it to say, because they’ve allowed wider society to influence their understading of the divine.
I’ve been to university as a postgraduate, I know that as humanity we actually know very little, but academics are usually fairly sure of the few little things we, as a community, are fairly sure of, that we can demonstate through rigourous experimentation. Yet somehow, the unthought through guy on the streets view is as important than someone who has spent years and years studying that particular area. It is maddening.
Last night I was listening to some music on a streaming service and just letting it pick the tracks. It should know what sort of music I like by now and it actually played 4 or 5 tracks I’d not heard before that I enjoyed. This was very strange. Normally for someone who likes listening to a good church choir belting through an anthem and then pop some grungy punk on, I have struggled with streaming and radio for most of my life, yet for a brief moment it seemed to have understood how random I genuinely wanted it to be. Of course it then got stuck in one narrow genre, but it is perhaps how things are going.
I am Generation X, the internet started growing up with me in my twenties, when everything was just little pieces of text flowing around the world on Telnet. We dreamed of the day when we could listen to any piece of music or watch any film at the touch of a button. That day came eventually and it has been brilliant. Yet now the algorithms of the big companies are perhaps retricting that choice, leaving us in our social and cultural bubbles, where that joy of randomness and total accessibility is lost and you are not looking at what someone has paid for you to look at. It starts about being less a place of wonder and being exposed to new things and new ideas, but a place of conformity, where it actively keeps away those nasty people who are not like you and fires opinions at you that you must agree with to not be a traitor to your own kind.
It’s just a disturbing time. MPs are getting murdered, Net neutrality is threatened, casual sexism is encouraged rather than slowly peeled back, climate change continues and we’re still not doing enough about it by any means and instead, instead, harking back to a reaction to a chocolate advert, a chocolate bar advert, and remembered opinion about it from within your social bubble, as if social ignorance is a good thing. This is all simply very disturbing indeed.