It’s Not For Girls

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.

Rant over

Knights of the Road, Bludgeons and Rapiers

The UK currently has a shortage of HGV drivers [Heavy Goods Vehicle, Lorries]. So we’re suffering empty shelves in the shops and concerns about fuel supplies because of it. I think this says a lot about the problems of the UK.

When I was young truckers [lorry drivers] were regarded as ‘Knights of the Road’, professional expert drivers able to drive a 40 ton vehicle safely and even stop to help us lesser mortals who suffered a punctured tyre or other breakdown, I have benefitted from their assistance myself. Yesterday I had to stop behind a non-UK plated lorry stuck on an very awkward corner on a narrow road where a building juts out onto the road, quite possible a driver unused to wielding a lorry on our narrow windy Welsh roads. There was a lorry coming the other way, this could have caused huge holdups on the road, but the second driver hopped out of his cab, had a quick word with the driver then helped guide the lorry around the corner and we were all able to continue our journeys after the smallest of delays. This guy was why we used to call truckers ‘Knights of the Road’.

I’ve been driving cars for thirty years and as cars have got more technologically whizzy, sadly driving standards are far worse then they once were and this applies to truckers too. My social media feeds have been filled with stories from British truckers about what’s happened. This is not just ‘Brexit’ this is a long known about problem.

The issue is a lack of respect of human decency, pay and conditions for truckers have been falling. Truckers often have to drive long hours on increasingly congested words, with poorer driving standards in general. Thus the job is much harder and more stressful than it used to be. Not only that but finding somewhere to park up for the night to sleep in the cab is harder. Unlike the rest of Europe, the UK does not provide enough dedicated rest stops with toilets, hot showers and somewhere reasonably priced to eat; thus the trucker doesn’t get a genuinely restful night sleep. I expect our ‘just in time’ supply chains systems add to pressure.

Instead of listening and tacking these issues as they arise, the UK opted to allow conditions to deteriate and import truckers from Central and Eastern Europe, who were less unhappy with the poorer pay and conditions and then Brexit happened and these drivers for the most part went home and who could blame them.

Brexit and Immigration

Before I start this section I want to define what I regard as good and bad immigration. There are people who come to Wales, because they like Wales, want to live here and respect Welsh culture. I have no problems with such people whatsoever, in fact I welcome these people who like my country enough to want to live here. Usually, after a few years they become in part Welsh, understanding Wales, yet retaining their cultural identity from their previous home. I’ve seen this happen with friends from England and furthur afield becoming more Welsh every year they live here. Would it not be wonderful world where we all had the freedom to go and live in another country we liked if we really wanted to? This is what I call good immigration.

Then there is what I’m calling for now bad immigration, or economic migration. People who move to another country because they will get more money than they would at home. It’s not all bad if someone wants to try a new country, like it and decide to stay, it’s more that soem will have come for economic reasons for hope that things are better than at home and it is the economic reasons that keep them somewhere they are maybe not at their happiest.

Immigration is a very complex subject and every migration is an individual choice, but for the purposes of this argument I felt a distinction needed to be made as so often discussions of immigration don’t.

I do have some sympathy with the Brexit cause as regular readers will know. One of the things I agree with is that an economy, like Wales, the UK or wherever should be as self-sufficient as possible. It should provide the economic conditions that provide enough natively trained nurses, doctors, plumbers, fruit-pickers, lorry drivers etc for it’s own needs [So some UK people can work elsewhere in the world and be balanced by people wanting to move here]. However since Thatcher we’ve pursued a dogged obsession with capital and ‘free-marketeering’ at all costs, trade union power [labour] has been practically eliminated to the point where if the lorry drivers complain about their industry becoming unsustainable, they are told to suck it up and hear some twaddle about ‘market forces’ as if labour isn’t an inherently important part of any economic system. The UK has ignored the issue by simply importing ever cheaper workers for too long leaving British HGV trained drivers stating they would ‘never go back’ to trucking in the UK.

Really, to be a proper economy, the UK should have addressed these problems as they arise, rather than seek ‘sticking-plaster’ solutions, not take responsibility for created problems and only make decisions when forced to at the last possible moment due to a crisis. The Brexit that cried for this comprehensive economy, where you could live as a trucker or a nurse and not suffer poverty and mental or physical health issues because of it should be possible. Do bankers and financial services executives really need to get ever expanding slices of the pie ? Should the UK government not look after the people of the UK?

I sometimes think of Brexit as the last resort bludgeon approach as opposed to the refined considered rapier approach. The rapier approach would be different industries communicating challenges to the government, the government listening to everyone and formulating the optimal plan to resolve the issues which may be a long project. However the UK government doesn’t do this. There are so many issues that frustrate people in Britain, that however much we shout, write to our MPs, protest on the street or even block motorways, the government does not listen. To get anything done to force issues to get resolved you need the bludgeon approach, you force the solution. Brexit is basically a bludgeon to force the UK economy to produce the workers it needs, by cutting off the option of importing skilled workers from the rest of the world. The Brexit vote happened in 2016, there has been five years for the goverment to address the issues of Brexit, to build resiliance, by improving the training, pay and conditions of the people the economy needs to function: nurses, refuse collectors, lorry drivers, cow milkers, but it hasn’t, it has yet again waiting until the last moment of crisis to say ‘okay, we’ll… um… import truckers for a short period of time’

Welsh Independence

The issue of independence for Wales can be regarded as a very similar case to that of Brexit. Yet the supporters of Annibyniaeth [Independence for Wales] and Brexit are usually not the same people, almost politically opposite, this is actually a little odd.

I like the idea of a confederal Britain, a Britain where the needs of Wales and the North East of England are just as important as those of London, where the people of Britain work together cooperatively to strengthen the economy and raise living standards, this would be fantastic. However it would need the rapier like approach, mature, evidence-based discussions and compromises to create a functional democracy and economy. Just as the UK didn’t resolve it’s relationship with the EU, or support a resilient distribution industry problem in a timely mature way, it’s really not going to create an equitable federation of nations and English regions, it needs the bludgeon of full independence for Wales to then begin the processes of creating structures of mutual cooperation across Britain to genuinely unite Britian as ‘One Britain, Many Nations’ and with Europe and with the wider world. The reason being that the landed elites, the Tories and their chums in corporate finance are not going to simply give up their power and priviledge just because it’s the sensible thing to do. Brexit only happened because it doesn’t really affect them with their wealth stored off-shore, annibyniaeth loses them power and status, so of course they’re going to be against it and do whatever they can to belittle the arguments.

There is an objection to immigration in Wales, to the “White Settlers” of generally nice retired English folk, seeking the peace and quiet of Wales, is not an objection to people moving to Wales as such for that reason, but simply that people buying homes in Wales, using ill-gotten gains from finance or house price hyper-inflation whom can afford to pay over the odds for homes in Wales, when local young people can’t, when they are earning their money solely from wages. Where you have lovely pretty coatal villages which have lost their soul due to being bereft of young families where the majority of houses are holiday lets. Those young families being forced out to live somewhere affordable on a local working wage. It’s not just Wales, I have friends from London, for whom London is their home, but they cannot afford to move back to London due to the housing cost relative to wages crisis.

I sometimes feel that the only real difference betwixt arguments for Brexit and Annibyniaeth are based on social mores. Brexit is perhaps an attempt to return Britain to some idea of a united self-sufficent proud nation, whilst independence for Wales is percieved as something new and radical. Hence Brexit is percived as conservative and annibyniaeth radical. However these differences are superficial. The real arguments for the two are perhaps very similar indeed. Seeking to move the debate on from superficialities to the real issues stumble when powerful forces seek to keep discussions going around in circles on unanswered questions like ‘What do you mean by immigration?’, ‘What is Brexit?’ and getting everyone confuddled so they vote with their gut feelings. The Brexit ‘debate’ never got beyond these inane discussions and it often seems to also be the case with the argument for independence for Wales and Scotland, that proponents of annibyniaeth are endlessly rebutting naive ideas on the lines of ‘too small, too poor, too stupid’, when such arguments are devoid of meaning or truth in the real world.

I mean the notion of ‘Taking Back Control’ is one I instantly related to. We need a genuine democracy in Wales, England, Scotland, Cornwall, all of Britain. The great failure of Brexit was that we haven not improved or are likely to improve by doing nothing the democratic structures, nor use the opportunity to do anything better than the UK could have done within the European Single Market. Instead we have given back control to the same priviledged bunch of numpties that got us into this mess in the first place. Fo what some pathetic attempt at humour involving Kermit the Frog?

Lets all just stay kind, keep listening to people and keep on trucking: Listening to this will make you cry

The Other People Problem

I’m not a petrolhead. I only like cars because they get me from A to B quickly and efficiently. Yet that doesn’t mean I don’t have preferences in cars. Most of all, being 6’2″, slim with fairly long legs comfort is a top priority and then maybe stuff like fuel economy, reliability, style and just being pleasant to drive. For a multi-billion pound industry, surely motor manufacturers should be able to get this stuff right by now?

I only take an interest in cars, when my current car becomes uneconomical to repair and I pass it on and am plunged into choosing a next car. I always buy cars over ten year sold, mainly because that’s all I can afford, but also I get frustrated every time that newer cars just seem less comfortable and less pleasant to drive everytime I get a new one. This seems bizarre to me.

Yes, engines are now a lot more reliable now, cars don’t rust terribly anymore and fuel economy has come on a long way, which is great, style and comfort, not so much. It seems these things perhaps don’t appeal to the important demographic deciding which cars get produced, the demographic of those with probably too much disposable income that buy brand new cars.

It seems that cars are designed with customers who buy new in mind, which makes sense. However such buyers are people who want the latest thing. Whether it’s sun roofs, push button handbrakes, the latest bits of flashy electronics. These things are not terrible if well-engineered, but they often are not. Sadly comfort and being pleasant to drive take ‘a back seat’. Fortunatly there are lots of car manufacturers so they are usually models which are comfortable for tall people.

It’s the same with other things, take mobile ‘phones. A lot of new ‘phones no longer have a 3.5mm audio jack. A great bit of technology that has yet to be bettered. It is replaced by proprietry cordless headphones. The main problem is the propriety one, instead of being able to choose the headphones you like, or at least fit your ears, you are stuck with the limited range of a small numner of manufacturers. The other is that the sound quality of cordless earphones is still below that of the humble 3.5mm jack.

It just seems that peoples desire for the latest fad, means people accept inferior downgrades to quality. I’m not some hick who does not embrace new technology, I just ask that it needs to be an improvement. Sadly it seems this isn’t usally the priority for the influencers or early adopters.

Democracy is a great concept, but most people are not politically educated, so we end up with the corrupt incompetent idiots of the UK Tory party in charge. Like everything else, slick marketing campaigns once again lead us all down the road of gimmicks and reduced quality. The problem seems to be other people.

Fever Pitch

No. “Here We Go” again with the tired old football cliches and the England football team doing well in an international competition so once again we get the endless, tedious questions “I don’t get it, why don’t you support us?” Quite why fans of one team would seek to enlist support form another team baffles me.

Sporting Rivalry

If you are a fan of team sport and support a team, especially in football, you instantly take on board the rivalry system. Almost every football team has a rival team, the team fans really deeply desire their team to beat. I’m a Manchester City fan and our rivals are Manchester United. Whenever City play United my desire for City to win is never more hightened, they are our rivals, it determines who gets the bragging rights of ‘the best team to come from Manchester’ until the next encounter. As such you could say I support two teams, Man City and whomever plays against Manchester United. Even beyond that, if you pitch any two English league clubs against each other I could tell you instantly which side I would want to win. There are lesser rivalries and teams we have soft spots for through the league system. Former players who’ve moved on and do well somewhere else either increase my regard for a team and sometimes lessen it. It’s a fascinatingly complex system.

In International football it’s the same. I’m Welsh, so I support Wales and whomever plays against England. So I’m not going to be rooting for England. The other Celtic nations also regard England as their rivals. If you look at the populations (Wales 3.2 million, Scotland 5.5 million, Northern Ireland 1.9 million, Republic of Ireland 4.9 million and England 56 million) then England dominates, it has a much larger pool of players to call upon for international duty, so England are the team we most want to get one over. However for England supporters the Celtic nations are tiny and perhaps not of equal football status so England have sought a rivalry with a comparably powered football nation, Germany.

Historically, when team sport began formalising in the 19th century, the idea of matches between teams representing nations was introduced. The first football internaitonal was Scotland versus England and an intense rivalry developed. As football expanded, Scotland whilst still a rival for England, is less of one, which is why England’s rival is now Germany.

The Casuals

In team sport where teams attract large numbers of supporters who follow their teasm through thick and then, who go to watch matches live whenever they can, can be defined as true supporters. However with the advent of television, football matches and mass madia coverage of football we get what I’m going to call ‘the casuals’ people who support a team, but don’t fully commit and have probabaly never been to an away match in January in the pouring rain to watch their team get thrashed from a stand without a roof, or not ‘earning their dues’.

Earning their dues is an important concept for many football fans, because in watching you are emotionally investing in the team. This emotional investment means that you suffer the defeats harder, but are rewarded with feelings of ecstasy when you win big. You don’t get that full life-affirming wonderful elation from winning if you have never suffered from those cold damp defeats or not earnt your dues.

I’m not against casuals enjoying football, or celebrating when the team they support win, not everyone wants to make the commitment to fandom of some. Football is traditionally a working class game. Much of working class life on low wages in dull dangerous work doesn;t give people much to celebrate or be happy about, so along comes football, with the promise of joy on a Saturday afternoon or at least despair, but at least a despair that wasn’t related to your individual circumstances. This emotional rollercoaster is still appealing today. There are very few spaces, like the football terrace, when you can feel instantly welcomed as a fellow fan wthout having to prove yourself, to not be able to predict how you are going to feel in ninety minutes time.

Internationals

For many people their first encounter with a sport is an international match. I went to the badminton competitions at the Commanwealth games in Manchester, the Welsh players got my unconditional support for their games. That badminton competition had five courts in a large hall. The middle court was the ‘show court’ where the most highly ranked players played, attracting big crowds for those with good hopes of picking up a medal. However I was down on court 5 for a mixed doubles match between Wales and Scotland. There were about 5-6 people sat behind our Draig Goch and just 7-8 Scots behind a Saltire at the other end. As supporters we sang and shouted our hearts out at each other during the match, perhaps a little to the annoyance of those trying to follow the ‘big match’ on centre court and perhaps to the players themselves unused to non-badminton people watching them play, but it was all good fun.

I suspect World cups and European Championships attract a lot of newbies to football, who simply support their national team. People who perhaps do not understand the history of the rivalry system, people who then ask ‘But why don’t you support us, we’re all British?’ . Outside of football the idea of mutual support between the nations of the UK, where we share common cultures does make sense. I get it, at the Olympic games I support UK athletes wherever in the UK they come from, because I have more in common with them than an athlete from the other side of the world. However Olympics sports do not have the rivalry system and in particular the inter-Britain rivalry system.

Once outside the world of fans and sport you begin encrouching on the world of politics. We Welsh, the Scots and the Irish have historical political grievances with England and the UK, meaning the governments not the people, From Edward I to Thatcher and beyond. Such grievances should be put aside for sport, which is about people not the governing class. However you are then asking sport fans to consider politics over and above sport and this is kind of dangerous territory. Sticking to sport and it’s rivalries means we can leave politics at the door for 90 minutes. and that is the power of sport and something we shoudl preserve and not through away on some whim.

So I’ll be rooting for the ‘other team’, for Denmark tonight, thanks for asking.

A Trip to Planet Antiwoke

Let me take you on a trip to the Anti-Woke world. It’s a world I don’t really understand and one I’d like to explore. What strange beasties live there, how does their soceity work? What do they do for work? What are their value systems?

Firstly some definitions. what is this concept of ‘Woke’ we hear so much about these days. The simple definition is “Awake to the injustices of society”. So to be Anti-Woke is to want to sleep, to be ignorant to the injustices of society. Why would anyone want to be Anti-Woke?

Perhaps simply asking this question defines me as being a ‘Woke’ person. To be a member of the liberal educated section of society. Maybe it’s those of us that like asking questions: How does this work? Why are things like this? What would happen if we changed this or took that away? We are the kids who wanted to go away to university, to learn new things to gain new experiences to explore for the sake of exploration. We are the kids who kept pestering our mams and dads with questions, long past their ability to answer them.

Maybe it’s how we deal with unknowns. When we encounter an unknown, we almost straight away want to understand it. When we hear about racism, modern monetary theory, transsexuality, climate change, our response is to find out more about it, to ask questions, find out what the alternatives and solutions are, Even feel pangs of guilt for being ignorant about something.

As a teenager I was obsessed with Douglas Adams’ ‘Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy”, the title suggested help in understanding the crazy world I was growing up in. Which is kind of what the book does, which is why I liked it. In this book there is something called ‘The Total Perspective Vortex’ a machine which you enter and are suddenly presented with the entire sum of knowledge of the universe and you as your importance as an individual within it, as an infinitely small dot within another infinitely small insignificant dot. It leaves everyone who leaves it mad… apart from one Zaphod Beeblebrox, because ‘I’m President of the Galaxy, baby”. Maybe Zaphod is simply President of the Antiwoke world.

The thing about being curious and having a limited life span is that it is not possible to know everything, to have read every book, to find every answer. Eventually it’s time for bed or you won’t be able to concentrate on anything tomorrow. You have to go about life, getting food, paying your bills, doing what your body needs to stay healthy enough to find the time to read more books, to find more answers. What happens if you don’t want to do that, to not be endlessly asking questions, to relax, chill out, to not be bothered about not knowing the answer? Arguable this is the function of religion, to help us find peace in a confusing bewildering world. The sense of, ‘We can deal with some of these things and leave the rest to God’. Except now religion is playing no part in it, there is no philosophical guidance to ‘How to be ignorant’. Welcome to the world of Antiwoke.

I was a vegetarian for fifteen years and am now fussy about what meat I eat. I have thought a lot about where my food comes from and done some research. I was in the pub and we were talking about eating fish and a friend said to me “I love eating fish, but I hate it when they leave the heads on, I can’t eat it then” The why not was because it reminded him that this was an animal that was once alive, killed just so he could eat it. So rather than understand where the fish came from, make agonising decisions about whether I am happy to eat this particular fish knowing exactly where it came from, he simply chose to be ignorant of all that, so he could just enjoy eating the fish in a temporary bubble of ignorance.

So, really, there does seem to be some justification for being ignorant. Moral qualms can be eased by being in the majority, most people do eat fish. Questions can be left for the experts to work out. We live in a complex society where it’s impossible for individuals to knwo everything. It’s why societies have specialists. We have doctors to spend years strudying medicine to help us when we get ill. We have lawyers who spend years studying our legal system. We have scientists working out how the universe works. Really, we have an option to accept that there is no point thinking about a specialist subject as there are people who are already way ahead of us in studying it. So why not spend out free time doing things we enjoy, helping other people, doing things that make us happy and not worry about the questions?

I have a postgraduate degree. Whilst I was studying for that I had the strangest sensation. I was asking questions and suddenly there were no answers, no books with those answers in. I spoke to my professor, he said something like ‘Well done, you have reached the limit of human knowledge in this area, it’s just our lab and a few others around the world” So maybe 20-30 people. So soon? No-one has worked this bit out yet? The dawning of understanding of actually how little science actually knows and understands about the world is kind of scary, that humanity carries on wrecking the planet whilst knowing so little about it.

I was in a Zoom Webinar this afternoon with some distinguished scientists we were putting questions to. The most common answers were ‘I don’t know’ or ‘My hunch is X but no-one has done the work on this yet”. I have worked in some “real world” jobs, but there it seems ‘I don’t know’ is not an acceptable answer. As human beings we kind of don’t like not knowing the answers to things, yet in science it is something we have all learned to do and accept. Having access to a scientific lab and to be able to answer your own questions is fantastic, but also tinged with having to ignore some lines of enquiry as you have to restrict yourself to sticking to what your funding is for. We know we cannot answer all our questions or know everything, we have to accept ignorance, that we ‘don’t know’. I suppose scientists accept this state of affairs through the priviledge of being the world experts in some tiny bit of science, that most people don’t even think about. Like the fish eater, we embrace ignorance as part of the job.

Yet, this is not the world of Anti-woke, this is merely the Big Bang Burger Chef we’ve pulled into for light refreshments on the way. Antiwoke is a world of choosing ignorance seemingly without a reason for doing so. A world of England football supporters booing their own players for expressing solidarity for those who suffer racism. A world of ‘I’m not racist and deplore those who are, but there is just too much focus on anti-racism these days, that is what I’m objecting to” It’s ignorance as a cultural identity. A reaction against those clever sods who like finding the answers to things. a reaction against being told what to do and what to think.

And I do get that. I’m quite happy to be told I’m wrong, because being wrong is scientifically very useful. A thousand dead ends have to be explored until the path to a solution can be found. However being told that how I think is wrong is much deeper. It’s a criticism that draws on our deepest most primeval fears, of monsters under the bed. Perhaps because the gap between experts and your chap on the street is so large that a genuine resentment has sunk in. We live in a world where disparity in incomes has grown and grown and perhaps a backlash is forming. Expertise, specialism, even science itself is percieved as part of this “do-gooders telling adults how to behave”.

During Brexit we had government ministers saying “We’ve had enough of experts”. During the Covid pandemic scientific advice has been ignored by politicians. Perhaps the difference is the scientists know they are ignorant and the those on Antiwoke don’t know what they don’t know? I think it’s also Social Conservatism, valuing tradition. A world where value is placed on opposite sex relationships, so when same sex marriage comes out it supposedly diminishes that special status of heterosexual relationships. It takes away a pillar that holds up the society of Antiwoke, the traditions that bind us together, so we don’t all go mad from not knowing enough about the world.

As scientists, we’d love to cure cancer, stop climate change, find a way to get rid of taxes, build spaceships to travel beyond the solar system, but we can’t do that in one go. We have to take lots of tiny little steps and sometimes a few paces backwards. Science is kind of telling people, ‘Look there is no magic lozenge we can produce in our lab, you lot just have to stop flying in aeroplanes, eat less meat, shut up and respect footballers kneeling, accept that Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are oafish egotists who should not be even near a position of authority, wash your hands, wear a mask’. The perception that liberal educated people are treating everyone else like spoilt children is real as if we were a single all-powerful being.

And who created climate change and racism in the first place. It was the educated elite of earlier generations, developing technologies they expected would be replaced by something better long before they started causing damage to the planet. On the world of Antiwoke is a perception that the ‘elite’ are ordering the citizens of Antiwoke to fix the problems created by another elite. “Sort your own problems out”

The people of Antiwoke see a world of them and us, as the Woke world as one speaking with one voice, through a Giant loud-hailer suspended by Art in the atmosphere. They accept ignorance as an integral part of their culture to be defended and do not see that science is not one thing, but lots of different people all working on completely separate little problems, all hoping to persuade the decision making people that there problesm is a little bit more desereving of funding than something else. A world where those decision makers are concerned about keeping their university going, even if it means investigating the wrong things or reducing research output to reduce costs.

On Antiwoke it all comes across as one thing, Simply it feels like one voice saying you should be doing this, a list of thousands and thousands of rules, just to keep going, just to survive. The people of Antiwoke just want their freedom to keep their traditions going, to not to be told what to do all the time.

At the very core of the planet AntiWoke, is a desire to just get on with getting along, to ignore the endless rules for this and that which seem to stop people being able to earn enough to get by.

Slartibartfast: On this new Earth they’ve given me Africa to do. So I’m doing it with all fjords again,I think it gives a nice Baroque feel to a continent, but ‘oh no they say, not equatorial enough’. Science has achieved some wonderful things. But I’d far rather be happy than right anyday

Arthur Dent: That’s a terrible philosophy.

Slartibartfast: Is it? I’m sorry I’m a bit out of touch, I have been asleep for 5 million years you know

[Remembered from ‘Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams]

Cummings and Goings

Yesterday the former Chief Political Advisor to the UK Prime Minister spent seven hours giving evidence to the UK parliament on the UK governments handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Some fairly damning things were said by My Cummings, that Boris Johnson isn’t fit to be Prime Minister and suchlike. However to someone who does not support the Johnson government, there were no surprises, there wasn’t anything revealed that we didn’t kind of know already. We know this government is really bad. Yet today a new opinion poll has come out with the Conservative support rising. What is going on here?

Times were when such relevations from a key figure in the UK government would have ben scandalous, cause a raft of resignations, inquiries set up and a drastic shift away from the support for the government. This doesn’t seem to be happening. I’m trying to understand how Conservative voters are percieving this and why they do not seem outraged by all of this. Cummings made the point the the last UK general election presented a terrible ‘choice’ between Johnson and Corbyn.

In conversations I have had with Conservative voters, the reaction I get is that yes, they know Johnson is an incompetent oaf, that ignores advice, waits to be forced into a decision and then waits a week before announcing it even if it means thousands of needless deaths. However they simply feel that Corbyn would have been even more terrible. Yet somehow these Conservatives don’t accept that the whole FPTP two party electoral system is to blame for only giving electors a choice between, really terrible and even worse. How is this a functioning representative democracy? Every evidence of corruption that comes out is greeted with ‘the other guys are corrupt too’, every lie greeted with ‘all politicians lie’. How is this not an awful state of affairs for politics to be in. Yet still independence movements in Wales and Scotland are scorned for wanting better constitutional arrangements? that we should wait and someday someone decent will come along, well I’m middle aged and this has yet to happen in my lifetime.

A function of FPTP is that for the majority of the time, the average person will not vote for the winning candidate, as elections are won with around 40% support. However I now have an MP who I voted for, for the first period in my life. It’s very very strange, they vote how I would wish them to in parliament, they stand up for causes I believe in. I would imagine if they ever voted against my wishes, I would feel some twinges of guilt for voting them in, something I’ve not experienced, a guilt people perhaps do not want to have, yet must exist in every Conservative voter. I think most people who voted for Johnson don’t want to really know how bad he really is and continue to mythologise how bad Corbyn could have been.

I think that disilusionment with politics and democracy in the UK has reached such levels that people have lost hope and just trying to get on with their own lives as best they can and pray the government doesn’t impact their lives too much. This is poerhaps why these relevations are not causing the shockwaves, those who follow politics may expect.

One Britain, One Nation?

Today apparently was ‘One Nation One Britain’ day, it’s the first time I’ve heard of it. There is a campaign group running sessions with school children to promote the idea that they are all members of the nation of Britain, regardless of their race, religion or cultural background. Superficially this all sounds like worthy stuff, helping children feel confident in their identities and breaking down barriers.

However two things about this raised concerns. Firstly is the notion that this may be seeking to indoctrinate children with a specific nationalist agenda. So I looked at the website and found this disturbing statement: “accommodates differences without over-emphasising and reinforcing them”. Two questions: What is “over-emphasis” and who decides this? and What is reinforcing differences? I’ll come back to this.

The second concern is about context. In the UK, Scotland are looking at seceeding from the UK to become an independent country, have just elected a parliament in favour of an independence referendum and the current Conservative government have made it clear that they wish to defend the current union arrangement. It reeks of being a political rather than an educational agenda and thus is indoctrinating young children. There are these ideas of “British Values” which is a fairly meaningless phrase in itself as it means nothing, but is powerful as people think it is one thing, when it isn’t. The idea that Britsh values is simply as defined by the government is: democracy, rule of law, liberty, tolerance, fairness and respect is surely what any nation state should aspire to and not specifically British?

The focus of this campaign, from the materials on the website suggests that it is seeking to promote racial and religious harmony, to help children of immigrants and other minorities to feel part of Britain. This is great, however it’s the notion that a ‘British Identity’ is more important than any other identities that someone may have that raises huge concerns. The agenda seems to be promoting one identity over another, one must not be over-emphasised or supported (reinforced) but the other, British identity should be. This makes me feel very uncomfortble. This is not the Britain I grew up in. The whole concept that a nation state is somehow better than others is deeply disturbing. I grew up with the sense that British nationalism is a vague concept, the pageantry of the Royal family, or celebrating British traditions and something not to be taken seriously for fear of the rise of Nazi style nationalism.

A lot of the material seems to be centered on Bradford, a Yorkshire town with one of the highest ethnic minority populations in the UK, sometimes referred to as ‘Bradfordistan’, so it’s wonderful if the communities there get along better with each other, reducing racism and other societal problems. However it’s this notion that people need to be integrated, rather than let it happen as a natural process, or even do what we can to abolish racism, so racism isn’t a barrier to integration. It’s the whole ‘You must be like this’ that smacks of authoritarianism that simply isn’t the Britain I grew up in or a “British Value”

I suspect this organisation have given little thought of how their agenda affects other minorities in the UK, in particular those of us who are Welsh or Scottish. As a Welshman, the idea that Britishness is somehow more important than Welshness makes no sense and is simply seeking to impose a national identity, or rather give an identity a higher status than another. In Wales we have had a long history of this. From Edward I’s ring of castles in Gwynedd to suppress the Welsh, through the tryanny of the blue books, to Tryweryn to today. It does not promote unity.

Being Welsh, I view the UK as a family of nations all of equal standing, sure we may argue all the time, but at the end of the day love each other. This view is threatened by any notion of a British identity being of a higher status, in creates a resentment. It makes me lower in regard a sense of Britishness and Welshness becomes a more important part of my identity. This is problematic for UK unity, you either saw all identitiies are of equal value or you have conflict. It may be the case in places like Bradford where a British identity is below parity of status, so efforts to equalize the identity between relationships is of value, but such strategies cannot be universal unless equality is put front and centre of the strategy and this One Britain One Nation thing does not do that as I have explained above.

I’ve always been comfortable and gained self-confidence from being Welsh and British, there should be no conflict or issues of status between these identities. Just as there should not be any higher status for whites over blacks, or christians over other religions. Such ideas of such superiorities should surely be confined to history and not something actively promoted, particularly to young children. Promoting this particular form of ‘British Nationalism’ in a nation that has for centuries been a multi-nation, multi-ethnic nation state is actually divisive, rather than bringing about the unity they purport to desire.

These are complex issues and teaching children the concept of citizenship is relatively novel and difficult to do in a politically neutral way. The UK is divided in to conservatives (things are broadly fine and don’t need to change) and liberals (there are some clear improvements to be made) Promoting a ‘British identity’ or rather a white establishment class view of Britian is damaging. This campaign seems to be promoting this.

I feel I should make a distinction here between education about and promotion because often the distinction gets blurred. Promotion is encouraging certain behaviours or beliefs, whilst education is simply informing people about an issue. For example, something like homosexuality, should be taught about in school as it is something that exists and awareness of it is useful. However it is often suggested that this education is akin to promotion. It isn’t, telling people that something exists and what it is is not the same thing as encouraging people to adopt something. Schools really are not going ‘Hey kids be homosexual, you’ll be happier for it’. Being aware of something does not promote something. I’ve read about Nazi Germany but I do not want to live in a society like that one.

I’m not saying that the idea of citizenship or belonging as a person who lives on the island of Great Britain should not be discussed in schools or saying that good things about Britain shouldn’t be celebrated, but doing so in a balanced way and valuing the diversity of Britain isn’t simple and having a government, a political party with a clear Nationalist agenda promoting it, is very worrying indeed.

The Shadows of Brexit – The UK elections of May 2021

The UK has just had a set of elections, for the Senedd in Wales, the Scottish parliament, metropolitan mayors and council elections in England and a Wetminster by-election in Harltlepool. A lot of the analysis and commentary has foccussed on differences in shifts of voting patterns between areas that voted for Brexit and those that didn’t and apparently different trends in the nations of the UK. It’s been a lot to try and unpack and seems to say a lot about a post Brexit UK.

Wales

The make up of the new Senedd, doesn’t look much different to that of the last one, the Labour party will form the new government with pretty much the same number of ASs. Essentially it seems the votes for UKIP (the Brexit party) has fallen away with lent votes returning to the Labour party fold.

Scotland

The pro-independence SNP has won a fourth term of power and there is a clear majority in favour of independence in the new Scottish parliament. Of interest was a pro-union tactical voting, where Labour and Conservatives voters switched parties in an attempt to keep the SNP out, which in terms of individual votes was successful, but not enough to prevent a SNP government. It looks as though the UK government is going to fight it by arguing for the opposite of the democratic mandate argument wheeled out so often for Brexit.

England

England saw two distinct trends. The “Red Wall” areas, the towns and post-industrial areas of the North have switched allegiance from Labour to the Conservatives, whilst more of Southern England has become Labour voting areas, perhaps particularly the urban cities.

It seems that not only is the UK still very divided, but that there is now a clear difference in post-Brexit voting patterns in Wales and Scotland in comparison with England.

I’ve seen a lot of wailing and despair from left-leaning folk about a betrayal of Brexit voters in traditional Labour heartlands in England. Accusations that voters there have stupidly voted against their interests by switching votes to the Conservatives. There seems to be a trend here that breaks along national lines.

A lot of the UK, especially areas that have traditionally supported the Labour party are neglected areas. Much of the post industrial landscape: South Wales, Northern and Eastern England and Scotland are areas defined by under-investment and relative poverty. These areas stand in contrast with a relatively wealthy South East of England, which traditionally votes Conservative. This traditional voting pattern seems to have shifted and it is perhaps all to do with Brexit.

I’ve always maintained that Brexit had very little to do with EU membership, that it is something else entirely. Support for Brexit was highest in the post-industrial towns of the areas I mentioned above. Whilst Brexit was led by Brexiteers of the far-right, it’s supporters were those whom had traditionally voted for Socialism and the Labour party. Superficially this seems paradoxical from a traditional left-right political spectrum viewpoint. However the voter from a neglected, poverty stricken area wants more than anything is change and hope, they have little to lose. Voting Labour for generations has not got them anywhere, they see the hub-cities (London, Manchester, Birmingham etc) seemingly doing very well, seemingly at their expense, cities filled with younger largely university educated people who support a socially liberal agenda (LGBTQ rights, racial equality etc), issues that seem to top the agenda of left-leaning political parties that are not top of the agenda for the post-industrial towns, which want investment and change at the very least as their top priorities.

The Brexiteers were arguably successful by creating a false enemy of liberal metropolitan people, people that support progressive social policies, European cooperation and a world without borders. Being able to live and travel across the EU was a huge benefit, but if you are too poor and lack a university education, you were unable to make use of such an opportunity anyway.

These liberal metropolitan left-leaning communities are a false enemy, as they are the children, the brothers and sisters of post-industrial Britain. They are the gay man who escaped an oppressive deprived society to move to the big city which had an LGBTQ community. They are the person who did well enough at school to get into university to escape their deprived town.

I know this as I went to university in the UK and met these people. Yet they have different perspectives, which may explain the national differences. I’ve met people who are still very proudly from Yorkshire, but would never move back. I’ve met others from Northern England who have expressed the same thing. They have found lives in the hub cities the Manchesters , the Birminghams, the Londons and would not move back to the post-industrial towns (the Burnleys, the Dewsburys, the Hartlepools)

However I have also lived in Cardiff and these liberal metroplitan people in Cardiff, people from the North or the Valleys retain the idea of moving back home. Whilst I expect these attitudes are not universal and that there is nothing unique to the hiraeth of Wales, yet there seems to be in Wales much more of the idea of a one Wales, of a whole nation, to put something back into the communities in which we were raised. Whilst in England the North South divide, now the big metroplitan city, post-industrial town divide has somehow a greater separation.

There is still perhaps a sense in Wales that the Labour party in Wales is very much a Welsh party, the link between the cities and the post-industrial towns is still strong, whilst that link has diminished much more in England. The Labour leadership in the UK/England is much more separated from the post-industrial towns to the extent it has lost their support post Brexit. It may simply be that in Wales that at least the idea of independence or at least a greater autonomy for Wales is in the political discourse, that a one Wales focus presents an appealing change. I believe this is also true of Scotland, yet such a one-nation narrative hasn’t yet taken hold in England. An England where the party that delivered Brexit seems to offer an appealing prospect of a divisive right-wing popular nationalism, rather than the inclusive liberal one-nationism on the rise on Wales and Scotland.

An interesting election and the shadow of Brexit has cast some shifts in voting patterns that are very regional in nature that do not match traditional trends. As Britain finds a way out of Covid and Brexit it will be interesting how long the shadow of Brexit continues to be such a major influence on British politics. How much will the Conservatives continue to conduct the culture war against liberal metropolitan culture that Brexit showed was electorally successful? How long will it be before we in Britain gets governments that take the health of the nation and it’s economy seriously rather than political expediency? It will be interesting.

Smalltown boy -Bronski Beat

A Fortnight on Brexit Island

The full descent of the UK into self parody has been laid bare these last two weeks.It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so pathetic.

A week last Monday was International Women’s Day, which was nice.

On the Tuesday the interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Meghan Markle). In which there was only one real shock: No-one had told her what she was getting into by marrying into the British Royal family. The Royal Family has it’s own press office and a is a huge instiution, but no-one told her the reality? She may have been an actress and not entirely innocent to the machinations of the press, but no-one told her that her every public appearance would be scrutinised to the nth degree by the press, a racist press keen to disparage her every utterance, her every dress. Or tell her that most of her life would be stuck in a royal palace unable to do normal things like invite freinds around. How naive were the palace?

The upshot of this was dividing the people of the UK into those on Harry’s side for looking after his woman and those who frown on anyone revealing that the Royal Family isn’t one big happy family.

The next day we learned of the case of Sarah Everard, a young woman murdered on her way home in London. This hit the press as her alleged abductor is a serving police officer. Sadly this isn’t the only alleged case of police officers abducting women. Furthemore in the context of Black Lives Matter, where men have mysteriously contracted fatal injuries whilst in police custody, whilst the police are apparently clueless as to how this occured. Deeply disturbing.

Thursday and Friday were much more positive, women from across Britain took to Social Media to describe cases where they had been assaulted or simply felt afraid every time they walked home. This was wonderful as so many men are ignorant of how much of this goes on without men noticing.

On the Saturday a vigil for Sarah Everard was held in Clapham, South London, where she had lived. The organisers had approached the police asking for assistance in managing the event in as Covid-19 safe way as possible. The organisers were turned down, even after seeking judicial support. They cancelled the event, but this was now a huge national story and many people were asttending anyway, including the Duchess of Cambridge (Meghan Markle’s sister in law). Then at dusk as Clapham Common filled with candlelight, the police noticed that people were gathering too closely at the bandstand and decided to enforce the Covid-19 temporary laws, send in the police, kettling the crowd and hence increasing the risk of Covid -19 spreading, to go in and throw a few women to the floor and make a few token arrests of people at a vigil for a woman murdered (allegedly) by a member of the same police force. Do the Metropolitan Police not have a PR department?

The police doubled down in defence of their actions, but by Monday the story had developed. The UK parliament was ‘debating’ a new Police Bill, one that would effectively remove the right to protest from UK law, but parcelled in with some laws about longer sentences for sex offenders like Prince Andrew (allegedly). Cue more protest marches in London for the right to protest during a Covid-19 lockdown. The vote in parliament was carried but has subsequently been shelved to be passed/ dropped quietly later in the year when everyone is focussed on the latest scandel.

The flag isn’t small it’s just further away.

Boy did we Brits need some light relief at this point. This came from an unlikely source a BBC Breakfast news anchor, Charlie Stayt. Breakfast TV is supposed to be a little more light hearted than heavier evening news programmes, whilst still covering the major news items of the day. First some context: Having the national flag at government departments or drapped in the background when ministers hold press conferences is fairly normal across the world. However with Covid-19 and people working from home, the government decided that ministers should have full size diplomatic flags in the background at their home offices or their living rooms when doing interviews. It looks ridiculous, do you have a flag stand in your living room? Charlie Stayt at the end of an interview made what looked like an off the cuff, light hearted question about the size of a government ministers flag. This wasn’t his finest hour and it was not terribly funny, but this was live TV, one for the gaffs reel perhaps?

But no, the camera cut away to Naga Munchetty, the co-host who had burst into giggles; flag size related to manhood possibly? Instead of the usual British laughing at ourselves in a ridiculous situation, this took on a sinister tone. It wasn’t Charlie, who’d made the gaff who got the Social Media stick, but Naga, a woman of colour from the nastiest of British Nationalists, calling her a traitor and worse.

Ever since Brexit first emerged, the UK has been deeply divided, it’s the same people on the same sides of every argument, on every issue, not just Brexit itself. There is the narrow right wing British Nationalism that hasn’t moved beyond the “Glory of Empire” supported by the UK press in championing it’s cause: Boo for the Duchess of Sussex [a black woman], Boo for these dead troublemakers dying in police custody [black men], Boo to women speaking up for themselves, Boo to people giggling in a situation where the UK flag is involved [especially a black woman], Boo to anyone who suggests that Brexit isn’t such a great idea after all and Boo to people protesting about the UK government… from these ‘not racist but’ British Nationalists? Lets not mention that this Police Bill also makes life impossible for the Romany community, notice a pattern here? And there is the rest of us, ordinary Britons who’ve not been suckered into this mess.

The poor old Union Flag. A flag supposed to represent all of us as Britons, to have a sense of pride in,to wave around when people of the UK do well. A flag that repesents the UK of Monty Python and of great sportsmen and women, something we could happily wave. This flag has been usurped by the far right, the racists, the supporters of an exclusionary narrow British Nationalism of the chronic Stockholm Syndrome sufferers who despite the most incompretent and corrupt UK government, still vote Tory. I want no part of this, this does not represent the Britain I know and love.

So what do the government do? I’m hearing this troubled flag is to be wielded in a new policy in a sham political culture war for their interpretation of the Union. They’ve installed a Tory as head of the BBC, who have forced newsreaders to remove non UK flags from their backdrops on Twitter accounts and reduce topical comedy output. Instead of trying to unite the UK in a tough period, the Covid-19 pandemic, they’re further dividing it, where we ordinary folk have withheld our right to protest, to see our friends and family and been in Lockdown since Christmas for the greater good to just be attacked by this government and their cronies. I’ll wager they beign provocative and are just waiting for someone somewhere to publicly burn the flag to further divide the UK to make a enemy for the ‘British Nationalists’ and their awful cause. Troubling times indeed.

Bloody Vegetarians and Culture Wars

Welsh Mountain Ewes

Before the advent of Social Media the only time some people encountered vegetarians and vegans was when they were invited to dinner. A host would suffer the inconvenience of preparing a special meal for them often without much experience of cooking veggie meals. You can imagine the cook muttering ‘Bloody vegetarians’ as their workload for the dinner had doubled. It was for these people a rare occasion when they encountered an ‘alternative’ lifestyle, if would then be forgotten about and perhaps they would not invite that person for dinner again. It was also a world where homosexuality could also be ignored, it was something that people did in the privacy of their bedrooms and rarely were same sex couples seen kissing in public. It was a world where the Welsh language existed in Wales and rarely got a mention in UK media, a language for many in England simply ignored as it didn’t touch their lives.

Social media has changed all that. Whilst we spend much of our time on social media in our own bubbles of similar people who broadly agree with us. Very often now these worlds collide. You will post an opinion and whilst you may get a lot of likes there will often be some trolling and hate directed towards you. It is a Culture War, you have your allies and a set of enemies out to destroy you. A world where racists and homophobes spit abuse hiding behind anonymous social media accounts, where the Welsh language is attacked by people who have never lived in Wales whom only speak one language themselves and where farmers who try and break down the barrier between producer and consumer by filming their lives on farms are attacked by poisonous vegan extremists [Such as NYFarmGirls].

The internet was supposed to be the great leveler, facts and opinions could be freely exchanged and published, our knowledge of the different elements of society would improve and we would all be able to understand each other a lot better and used this shared knowledge to come together to solve social and economic problems at a global level. These early ideals haven’t really worked out as imagined. Instead we have created spaces of like minded individuals rallying together against trolling enemies. It’s become very us and them as the trolling enemies tend to be the most extreme activists for whatever political cause they expouse.

One area in particular I struggle with is agriculture. Farmers and certain vegans spit acid at each on my social media on a daily basis. This helps no-one. We live in a world facing a climate catastrophe, with a large human population where feeding the world and mitigating climate change as much as possible are the biggest challenges humanity has ever faced. Yet there are culture wars going on which makes finding solutions harder rather than easier. It’s an issue I struggle with personally as I have a sympathy with both camps, though I am far from being a fence sitter. The problem is not veganism or animal agriculture, it’s the whole broken food system in need of reform. Partly this problem is a huge disconnect between food producers and consumers, there has not been popular consent for the changes in agriculture, people largely don’t know how or where there food is produced and now the dis-connect is huge. These are barriers that should be broken down, not put up.

Some background. I grew up in rural Wales in an area dominated by lamb and beef farming on small family run farms. Whilst I was a townie, I spent much of my childhood playing and occasionally helping out on these farms. However when I was about fourteen I discovered that some of the meat I was eating didn’t come from these local family farms but from intensive ‘factory farms’ with much lower animal welfare standards. I was shocked and immediately became a vegetarian, to the horror of my friends! Then some years later I felt knowlegable enough to start eating meat again, by only eating meat with what I felt had sufficient welfare standards, which means I only buy meat from butchers shops who source their meat from local farms, I never eat meat out of my own home [okay apart from one local restaurant that I know sources all their meat locally and sustainably] and I still annoy people by being vegetarian at dinner parties and restaurants. I have been accused of snobbery, but I choose how I live my life, I’m trying to be as ethical and sustainable as possible as I believe if everyone did this, we wouldn’t have the problems we do. We need much better education about food from farm to fork.

I don’t believe that it is morally wrong to rear animals to eat them. I have complete respect for those that believe this is wrong, it is a sound ethical position. I’ve been through these arguments time and again and I have a different view. My focus is that sustainability is the most important thing we as a species on this planet need to achieve.

I hope, kind reader, that you can understand my dillemma. I have many friends who are farmers and many friends who are vegans and sometimes they interact with each other on social media. This isn’t actually a problem, my friends are my friends, however I do increasingly sense a growing hostility which breaks my heart, because we have all been lumped into these horrid Culture Wars that are of no benefit to anybody. I don’t support 100% of farmers nor 100% of vegans, but I do support anyone who is genuinely trying to make their lives more sustainable, it is not easy.

It is difficult to imagine what a sustainable world would actually look like. Mankind did exist sustainably on this planet for millenia before the industrial revolution, something the British are very much responsible for. I hear some farmers state that their families have farmed on the same land they way they did for centuries so it must be sustainable. Except that isn’t true, agriculture has undergone massive changes in the last century and much of it to the detriment of sustainability. Scientists are trying to model what would be required to be globally sustainable and whilst these models are far from perfect thus far; trying to model anything on a global scale is incredibly difficult. A recent model postulated that a pound of meat [400g] per adult per week as the answer, I would say that’s probably not that far off, but allows for 3-4 meat containign meals a week. Thus everyone needs to learn how to make vegan meals and ideally source there meat ethically [not from a supermarket]. Iit seems obvious that to feed the world sustainably will involve a much lower meat consumption rate and to increase localised food production. It is simply not sustainable to have every type of food available 365 days a year, wrapped in plastic and transported from the other side of the world.

To me it seems the solution will look something very like agriculture from before the industrial period, with more land devoted to crops (grain, fruit and vegetables) for human consumption for the most part. I was looking at maps of my part of Wales showing what fields were used for in the past: Some fields were used for grain in rotation, some for vegetables and pasture grazing. Other fields were just used for grazing by sheep [Watch this film from 1931 to get the idea]. Today those fields are almost solely used for pasture, because modern agriculture by machine requires larger fields and need to be flat to operate and also because yields from Welsh soils for crops do not compare favourably with the croplands of East England by a huge margin. My area of Wales now exports beef and lamb to the world and we import grain, fruit and vegetables from the world for our own cosnsumption. Welsh farming has specialised, but perhaps needs to become more self-sufficient again.

Such specialisation isn’t a terrible idea in itself. The issue is more than this relatively sustainable practise is currently slightly more expensive than industrialised indoor production using more grain in the animals diets. Family farms are going out of business and industrialised farms are still growing. However the real economic costs of industrialised prodution are not reflected in the market price: Oil is subsidised, animal feed production is subsidised and environmental costs of pollutant run-offs and soil erosion are not accounted for. Yes, Welsh agriculture is also subsidised. However, agriculture globally is subsidised. Almost every government in the world subsidises their agriculture. Markets forces do not really operate as they should in agriculture, we enjoy/suffer cheap low quality meat and pay the difference through our taxes. Whilst our governments worship neo-liberalism and the belief that ‘free’ markets are all, we do not have a system that supports development of suistainable agriculture.

These issues are complicated, which is precisely why we need to listen and talk to each other to develop solutions and stop shouting at each other. Blaming farmers and vegans is completely counter-productive, the problem is the current global systems which need reforming. These are massive questions. All we really can do is do what we can to source our food locally, seasonally and sustainably.

So, support your local butchers shop if you are lucky enough to still have one, support local distribution systems like box schemes. Support democracy by keeping trying to vote out governments that are corrupt and take bribes from big business and do not serve the interests of ordinary people, support our farmers, our local retailers, our vegan friends and all people working towards solutions. Keep ignoring the haters who over-simplify problems and thrive on division, on us and them, of farmers and vegans, lets work together to create a sustainable world.