Fear of Welsh

A lot of people are afraid of the Welsh language. I think that there are a lot of complex reasons for this rather odd fear.

I have just done a whole week in the Welsh language, doing everything in the language, living in a house with fellow Welsh learners under the guidance of our tutor. I remember feeling somewhat scared about the prospect of only speaking in Welsh for a whole week as we sat around the dining room table preparing not to use English.  I was nervous of losing the comfort blanket of my first language for a whole week.

Yet, it was an enormous amount of fun. Perhaps the most important aspect of the no other languages rule for the week was not being able to ask: “What is the word for X in Welsh/ Beth ydy’r gair am X yn Cymraeg?”, not being able to use a dictionary and having to rely on finding ways to describe things with my limited Welsh vocabulary or simply using gestures. This also meant not being able to use the internet for a whole week.

The result of this single rule was to live in the Welsh language, to think in the Welsh language, to enter an entirely different world really. Instead of simply looking for the equivalent English word or expression, I  lived in Welsh, enabling a close personal relationship with the language. It was a very special and unique experience. Indeed it is one most Welsh speakers never experience, as Welsh speakers always encounter someone who can’t speak Welsh in any given week, or simply use an English word for somethign they don’t know how to express in Welsh.

It was very very mentally tiring not being able to use the vast amount of understanding of the English language I have acquired. English almost became a ‘foreign’ language, which meant that sometimes when walking in the street and overhear someone speaking English, it would sound odd and garbled as I was indeed thinking and being in Welsh.

There were a couple of occasions during the week when I would encounter fear of Welsh from English speakers. The first time was when as a group we were laughing and joking  about a Welsh sign. A man approached and asked ‘Are you lost?’ As we couldn;t speak English someone said ‘Dan ni’n iawn diolch [We’re fine thanks]’ and smiled. A smile is almost universal and I’m sure he understood that we needed no help, however he persisted ‘I don’t speak Welsh’. I made an apologetic face ‘Dan ni’n iawn, diolch, rhaid i ni siarad yn Gymraeg yn unig [We have to only speak in Welsh]’. Suddenly he raised his voice ‘ I said that I don’t speak Welsh, you are being very rude’. At which point our tutor, who was allowed to speak English, intervened to try and explain this unique circumstance and an argument proceeded. The thing is this is a fairly unique aspect of Wales and the Welsh language , in that almost every Welsh speaker can speak English too and many monoglot English speakers are troubled by the Welsh language as this man obviously was, he felt threatened by it, that he has encountered a rare situation where he was unable to communicate. The thing is in most of the rest of the world this doesn’t happen, you cannot assume a knowledge of English you encounter people who don’t speak English and you do communicate with gesture and tone of voice and broad feelings are communicated. Having said that there are Welsh speakers who don’t speak English, in Patagonia in South America, a bilingual Welsh-Spanish speaking community and indeed a few Welsh learners from non-English speaking countries. The man had an negative attitude to the Welsh language and was hostile towards it.

I experienced this again after the language immersion experience. For the first day after, i stayed predominantly in Welsh. I visited a local castle and asked for my ticket in Welsh, quite naturally, The lady at the counter responded ‘I don’t speak Welsh’ at which point i reverted to using English and asked politely for a ticket in English, however she shied back from the counter and another lady took over my transaction. Another encounter with fear of the language.

Of course as a learner of Welsh I regularly experience language fear when talking to strangers, particularly first language Welsh speakers, especially when you don’t know their attitude to a Welsh learner. It’s partly a fear of being judged on your ability and risk of appearing to be a simpleton, which in effect you are at the time, and this is coupled with all the incessant language politics we suffer on a daily basis in Wales. My week in Welsh, has helped me grow my confidence in Welsh so much, being in Welsh I don’t have the cloying memories of anxiety I experience in English. It’s like I have a different version of my personality in the Welsh language.

As English speakers, we are just incredibly lucky to be able to travel in so much of the world in our first language, so many British people, never learn another language, never placing themselves in a situation where they have to learn to use another language to communicate. I think that some of these people simply find it threatening when people use non-English languages in Britain, the phrase ‘Why don’t they speak English’ is often heard in the certain circles in English society, lobbied at the Welsh speaking community and other language communities. However, an I have learnt that being able to exist in another language is a truly wonderful experience. As a Welsh speaker, sometimes I want to experience the world in Welsh and sometimes in English. Hiding within only one language and being hostile or fearful of other languages is just a very odd desire, to want everyone else to be as similar to you as possible. As learners we now our fearful feelings are somethign to get over to leave behind, non language learners ar perhaps not ready to take a risk in a new situation and wish to remain fearful?

 

Awakenings

Waking up to a new day, a new start, a whole day of possibilities is a very wonderful thing. However, it often doesn’t feel like it, often we are worried about all sorts of things or just feel like we can’t face it this morning. So, when we go to bed there is a sense of not knowing what things will be like in the morning. For those who suffer from anxiety or depression this sense of the unknown is not a neutral thing, it grinds us down with excessive worrying.

Waking up in a broader figurative sense, with a full realisation that much of your own worries are unnecessary, turns those rare happy bouncy days into somethign more regular, more likely. When there is a bad day, there is a real reason for it, such as bad news. This is what waking up from or recovering from anxiety is like, the troubles come from the world rather than from inside ourselves.

Perhaps the greatest thing about not being anxious anymore is being able to feel with other people, to be on the same track as other people some of the time, to share success together or even endure bad times together on the same emotional wavelength. This enables a real sense of connection with other people, enabling you to be open with people and it not to be terribly inappropriate and enabling you to empathise with what others are communicating to you.

To be anxious is to be living with a big shield around you, it’s stops people getting in and stops you getting out. It’s a pointless shield, cutting yourself off from your own emotions and those of people you care about. Of course you need to protect yourself from chaos, but some trust in the world and other people is necessary, you have to go an journey and trust that it will be all-right, that there aren’t monsters lurking around the corner. I think that in the modern world to increase trust in the world at the very time the world is becoming less trustworthy as our sense of community is under attack

This is what recovery from anxiety gives you. The first flush of super positivity and energy from getting there is amazing. Once you get used to it you realise some quite important things.

Firstly that modern society has got it so wrong, we are all increasingly living in our own worlds, we are not communities that bond together and share the ups and downs, we are on our own rides, much like the person suffering anxiety or depression.

Secondly, a sense that we post-anxiety people are always going to be on this different ride, simply because all those years we have suffered anxiety and cut ourselves off from the world we have learned social skills in a much different way to other people. We have learnt social rules in an academic way, through trial and error, to find ways of getting by and causing the least damage to ourselves and to other people. Whereas the non-anxious learn more ‘naturally’ with their feelings bouncing off others feelings and finding what works well, rather than what limits damage.

The difficulty with getting older is that we have more responsibilities and less time to play, less time to learn, so there is a sense of knowing that we will never really catch up with these abilities, the shadow of anxiety will always remain with us. This is compounded by the fact that other people do find it odd that as a more mature person you are acting like someone much younger and you just have to blot that out to keep learning and not drift back to anxiety.

It’s unlike learning a second language, where you can put the time and effort in to catch up on the language skills. Yet, second language learners know they will never quite gain that true fluency that comes from learning a first language. It’s like second language speakers miss out on being a child in that second language. Even though we can play like a child in the language we will never be children in the language. I think it’s a different thing with learning Welsh and being Welsh because many of us are learning a language that we wish we had been brought up in, rather than learning a foreign language to better explore a different culture somewhere else in the world. There is a sense of it being bizarre to learn a ‘native’ language later in life. Yet it isn’t!

It isn’t because it’s the same thing as overcoming anxiety, it’s learning a set of skills that we should have learnt when we were much younger. But, you can’t be young again, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still learn and make your own life better.

Anyway, I’m off to live in a closed community for a week, an immersion week of Welsh only, no English, no other languages, just Welsh, kind of trying to experience growing up in Welsh! I’m really looking forward to it, it’s such a rare thing outside of families and when grown up and so very special.

Oh, and the UK is suddenly having a General Election. I have so much to say about that. It seems to be about a battle for Britain and those of us who feel a part of Britain, whether Welsh, Scots, Cornish, Northumbrian or even just English, of those for Britain and those against. Those who seek to divide and those who seek unity. Those against Britain are miles ahead in the polls, it’s very disturbing, so I feel that I should do whatever I can for the dear people of these isles. Anyway, but that’ll be for when I’m back here at this keyboard and knocking on people’s doors. If you are in the UK and thinking about voting Tory or UKIP, please please please please think very hard about whether that choice is really the best for Britain.

Hwyl fawr tan tro nesaf / Goodbye until next time

It shouldn’t be allowed.

You know when you are getting old when the values of your generation are replaced by a different set of values. Over the past few years, student unions at British universities have been banning speakers from speaking. The reasoning for such bans seem to be not to give a platform to non-mainstream views and to protect students from hostile ideas.

I grew up with the highest value given to freedom of speech and protection of the environment. Perhaps the two greatest causes of the times I grew up in. Going back I remember the sheer disbelief that Nelson Mandela was incarcerated in apartheid South Africa, members of Sinn Fein were not allowed to speak on broadcast media, having to be dubbed in interviews. Their were endless debates about the rights of the  BNP (British Nationalist Party) to be heard. In can perhaps be said that my generation failed to succeed in it’s two big causes.

The basic idea is that freedom of speech trumps any other consideration. With this freedom there is then the freedom to respond to ideas that people don’t like. Debate is seen as vital to a healthy society, so without it society is unhealthy.

The other issue for my generation was privacy. What you did in your private life had no bearing in your public or working life. There was a sense that you didn’t have to say anything you didn’t want to. There was also a freedom of not to speak. I grew up in a world with grandparents who had vivid memories of the Second World War, fears of a totalitarian Nazi state and a general fear of a manipulative ‘Big Brother’ state as exemplified in George Orwell’s ‘1984’, which was made into a film in 1984!

Of course generational shifts occur. Each generation deals with what it perceives as the great failings of the previous generation. My generation threw off the shackles of appearing respectable and doing what you feel you should do, to have the freedom to be ourselves, pursue our own dreams. Really this was at a time when the establishment itself was becoming less and less respectable anyway, hence the lack of respect for respectability!

If there is any single cause of the shift from Generation X to The Millennial generation it is the internet. My generation grew up with computers evolving into ever more powerful machines, performing ever more amazingly useful functions, my generation love computers. The difference is that Millennials grew up with the internet already there, for Millennials the internet wasn’t a source for wondering what could we do in ten years time. Really computers haven’t developed all that much recently , all that has happened is that bandwidth has increased, enabling streaming video and functions available on portable devices, such as smartphones. How I remember the days of leaving the computer on overnight to download a series of pre-chosen music tracks for listening to the next day. This seems almost laughable now.

Putting these these things together, you have my generation in thrall to the internet, yet hugely paranoid about privacy. So much so that many people my age, spurned social media because of the fear that anyone could then trace our tastes, opinions, location, contacts, etc and use this information against us. So many people, myself included, just gave up on maintaining privacy to make use of new forums. Yet, my generation have this idea that snooping on peoples activities is bad and thus no ‘respectable’ person should use such information, like how you pretend not to hear and forget things you accidentally overhear. Except some unscrupulous people do, privacy is not respected, online presences are scrutinised by employers and security services. I don’t livwe in soviet russia, but I think I’m would be less surprised if at some point I am taken away at night and never heard from again.

Dealing with this creep in increased access to information, working both ways is something society has not really addressed in any meaningful way. Social media, such as Facebook, started off innocently enough. I was introduced to Facebook as a way of keeping in touch with a group of friends once we became geographically separated. Over time, as with most Facebook users, More and more ‘friends’ were added, now several hundred people from various aspects of my life. To the point where my Facebook is full of people with widely different outlooks on life, though the majority generally share my worldview. In many wasy this is bad, any prejudices I have are enforced, people and views outside my social circle are not encountered.

Prejudice is a terrible thing. Back when i was a very young man, I had prejudices, and held ill thought through beliefs. I’m  sure I still do have prejudices, but I strive not to have any. anyway, because I was comfortable to express my opinions, I was questioned and these things were discussed, I listened, reflected, discussed further with other people and eventually overcame some of my major prejudices. Arguably such prejudice removal processses are being less common for two main reasons:

Firstly, that we end up in social circles of similar people to ourselves, made up of people with similar world views, so any prejudice doesn’t seem like a problem.

Secondly, if we do venture to be open about our opinions, instead of being listened to and the ideas discussed, there seems to be a growing tendency for abuse, to be shouted down, to be ‘unfriended’. The problem with this is that if you are shouted at, seemingly unreasonably, you start ignoring what you hear and build a wall between yourself and your opinions with the wider world, it enforces the prejudice rather than dispels it.

An example of this second reason happened this week on Twitter. A man wrote “I confronted a Muslim woman yesterday in Croydon and asked her to explain Brussels. She said “Nothing to do with me”  a mealy mouthed reply”.

Okay, lets pretend not to know about what happened after this tweet and give the guy the benefit of the doubt: A man  didn’t understand the Brussels terrorist atrocity of last week. He has heard countless reports from the media about this being an attack by “Islamists”. He has put these two things together simply as ‘Muslims are to blame for acts of terrorism” So, he aired this view to a Muslim woman in his community. So what should have happened is that members of his community discussed the situation with him, he would listen and reflect and modify his beliefs to reality and possibly vice versa . It may be that this man didn’t know any Muslims personally to ask. However instead of this being an episode of freedom of speech working for mutual benefit, instead the situation created increased tension, the man was subjected to endless abuse and probably feels compelled to apologise, for expressing an opinion he knows is probably shared by millions around the world. My point is that by not expressing his opinion, by there not being the freedom to air it and for his concerns to be addressed thoughtfully and sympathetically, he is instead ridiculed and ‘banned’.

So, for a generation Xer, like myself, the world seems to be becoming a worse, more scary place, where instead of being honest, open and ready to listen, we seem to be entering a protectionist world, where we start to hide out  personal thoughts and opinions, this is very bad. where instead of working together to resolve problems and misunderstandings, we pigeon hole the rest of society and keep our opinions to carefully selecte similar people to ourselves.

One of my early prejudices was racism. In a pre-globalised world, where people didn’t travel the globe, it seemed perfectly acceptable to laugh about funny stories about the strange people who lived on the other side of the world. Of course, once people do travel and people learn more about other people and cultures, it is no longer acceptable to ‘point and laugh’ at the different people. Because those other people become part of our communities and ourselves part of theirs. Society adapts to changes in circumstances by speaking and listening. the issues are worked through.

A concern is that this happens less. People used to socialise with all of their local community, rather than a sub -set of it. Any community anywhere in the world is made up of different types of people, with different personalities and opinions. In a local community, if someone airs a controversial opinion that offends others, it is often said that the person who said the offending remark was a decent person, meant no offence and the community would then go to work discussing the issue with the offender, working it through with them. With no such local close-knot community this fails to happen, people prejudices are not addressed.

Of course, local, isolated communities have there own issues, their own prejudices, I know I grew up in one! But at least there is some diversity, rather than the narrow social circles we can easily inhabit through work or social media. Perhaps because there isn’t the wider social support to help people overcome prejudice, that people are physically and mentally attacked fro expressing views that there is a desire to protect, to keep people free from controversial ideas, rather than confront them head on. That if you were to confront the racist, sexist, homophobes in the pub, instead of community support, you would be left to be attacked yourself by that sub-set of society that supports that prejudice, or in cruder terms to be beaten up by their mates.

In local communities humanity has developed systems to regulate these local communities. As individuals or families it is possible to regulate what information is kept private and which shared, we decide who we tell certain things to. With the internet, there has not been this evolution of social systems. We use the internet for private communication between friends and family as well as publicly and we also use it to communicate professionally. sometimes it is not clear who we are broadcasting to. The problem with this is a free open discussion within a group is fine for developing understanding of an issue, it is another thing when things are seemed to be discussed more widely. The problem is that we haven;t developed clear ways of differentiating what is more private and what is public.

Another issue is access to information. The internet is a fantastic resource, it is possible to look up information or opinion on any matter within a few clicks. From this it should not be possible to claim ignorance. However, of course it still is, there is more data available than anyone can sift through. Whilst research is seemingly ever easier, the direction of things is actually more difficult. For example a search engine should speedily take a user to the information they seek, but they don’t, they pigeon hole users, and give results based on geographical location and previous browsing history, so seeking objective information becomes harder, we are still subjected to very bias data. We still haven’t really developed ways to use the internet effectively, we rely on  curated material and the bias of our own communities. so much as this occurred, so used are we too bias data that there is a tendency to no longer look for facts, to build up a full picture of an issue. Rational argument is coming to seem less important than who is saying something, someone’s background is more important than what they actually are saying.

There seems to be a worrying trend of protecting access to opposing opinions, with so much information available, as individuals we do yearn for simplicity, to be able to see the wood for the trees. Hence the wish for protection from the wilds of extremist views as we are increasingly exposed more to extremist views and less of the reasoned consensus views of the community, because there no longer is a community in the traditional sense to buffer and question extreme opinions.

 

 

 

Coming Out

One of the main problems with being anxious is a fear of being misunderstood. This fear can be so pervasive that it prevents the anxious person from being themselves expressing how they really feel. so, the anxious person will hide their true feelings, act in a way removed from their real lives. The anxious person has created a wall between the world and themselves. The anxious are sensitive people who don’t like to cause upset to others.

Progress in overcoming anxiety is often hampered by genuine misunderstanding. Often the anxious person is different, is unconventional, so people may not understand them. This is often why being a social outsider is challenging because socially there isn’t often the time or opportunity to make it clear where you are coming from, what the back story behind how you are acting or what you are expressing stems from. Really, convention does hold everyone back, it stops people listening and humans often seem to be hard-wired to leap to a quick conclusion. Thus outsiders are generally at a social disadvantage, unless communicating with fellow outsiders, leading them into sub cultures of fellow outsiders.

Regardless of whether someone is an outsider or not, anxiety itself causes exactly the same problems,  the fear of being misunderstood holds the person back and they send out unclear unconventional signals.

When I was an anxious person, all I wanted to do was be myself, do what I wanted to do and express how I really felt. Essentially, the anxious person wants to ‘come out’ to make a statement to the world:

“I am going to be myself, express how I really feel, do what I want to do. I know that sometimes some of you will misunderstand me, I’m happy to explain, but the fact that you misunderstand me is actually your problem, it’s not mine anymore.”

Having taken this step, it is a very liberating step and there is a sense of release and for a while, you can be too open, seem over-excited by little things, because of this it seems that there is a greater misunderstanding of you. So, there is a temptation to ‘crawl back into your shell’. however it is important to push on, such a person is new at being themselves publicly, they are new to a whole different way of socialising, it takes practice to re-develop social skills in a new way, to learn when it is appropriate to talk about themselves and to learn when it isn’t necessary or important.

 

 

 

Fear of Ideas

All people fear new ideas to some extent, a fear of change and the unfamiliar.  Such fears are natural, but often embracing new ideas or ways of thinking can be immensely positive. The familiar, the status quo, seems safe, so why even consider change? Well, sometimes the status quo is bad for people as individuals and wider society. sometimes it is easy to forget that everything is a journey, we can take small cautious steps, we can always turn and go back or in a different direction. Such a steady cautious approach is safe, rather than leaping crazily across to another place, a place that is strange and unknown. Accepting new ideas doesn’t change who you are but can make you a better person, just take small firm steps.

I have written much on this blog about my overcoming anxiety. Making such a change was scary, there was a fear of my personality changing, a change in my values, a change in how I think. I think this was why I rejected, like many other anxious people, the calls of people to just let go of yourself or to just not be anxious, this is taking that giant leap into the unknown. Better advice to the anxious is to take cautious steps, allow people to reflect that the direction they are going in is one they are happy with.

This process of change, of alleviating fear, occurs in many areas of life and realising this, has helped me understand why other people are cautious of other ideas. For example, my becoming a Christian.  When I was young, I lived in a traditional Christian community in rural Wales. My generation were highly sceptical of religion, we regarded it as a load of nonsense. We regarded religion as scary irrationality. Growing up there seemed to be this maniacal street preachers, evangelicals waving their arms around as if possessed by spirit, a seemingly very conservative culture that stifled innovative ideas. Then one day i was exposed to the joy and wonderful music of renaissance polyphony and the choral works of J.S. Bach, this music helped me understand some of the core ideas of Christianity, that they were good, open ideas, that the complexity and suffering of human existence, could be understood as a whole, that it was okay to accept this and that doing things to make the world a better place was a righteous thing to do.. This music led me onto a journey of discovery of the Christian faith and along the way I became a Christian. Becoming a Christian was not scary, it didn’t change how I am, or my other beliefs, it simply helped me become a better person. It has helped me appreciate that there are no easy answers, no single mantra to base your life on, that faith, like anything else is a journey.

Another issue, I am passionate about and  often write about is food. I became a vegetarian at the age of 15 because I became aware that many animals reared for the meat I ate were kept in inside with restricted space, this seemed cruel and wrong on animal welfare grounds. I now ethically source meat, I don’t believe it is wrong to rear animals for meat, but in rearing animals there is a contract that the animals should have a reasonable quality of life and be able to express natural behaviours. What I have come to realise is that there is a wonderful synergy that can be achieved with animals welfare, sustainably looking after agricultural land and the wider environment, sound economics, healthy food and a greater enjoyment in eating. Though it seems there is a fear of changing diet and shopping habits, even with such positive outcomes. Though i appreciate I arrived at this synergy by taking slow steps and consideration of each step. I used to fear that having high animal welfare standards may mean that it was not possible to feed all the humans on the planet by farming in such a way and may cause environmental damage. I was so pleased to realise that this isn’t the case, positive change benefits other areas. My message on food is that only eating meat as a treat and not everyday is healthier, cheaper, more sustainable and maintains animal welfare. Meat from animals that can range freely and are fed in a sustainable way, develops muscle, which makes the meat tastier and increases nutrients in the meat, making it healthier for the animals and the consumers. Rearing animals, working with nature, rather than against it, not only seems better, it is also better economically. So, I would encourage people to ethically source meat and save money by cutting out eating low quality meat in every meal, ultimately it’s cheaper and more enjoyable.

I think the idea of being open to new ideas and ways of being is so important, to better ourselves individually and wider society. However it is important to journey slowly and carefully, keeping our feet firmly on the ground as we do so.

This is why I was upset by the words of Donald Trump this week. Often politicians and other orators need to be regarded cautiously, they appeal to core conventional beliefs of a culture, then can take great leaps into the unknown, without questioning, without scrutiny. using Trump as an example, he states that there is a fear in Western societies of terrorism and in this most people will agree. However then Trump leaps onto blaming Muslims moving into the US as part of the problem, when there is no rational basis for this belief, it simply plays on fear and encourages fear, when fear is the actually the enemy. If Trump was a great expert on the history and politics of the Middle-East, then he may be worth listening to, however Trump himself has stated that he knows little of the history or politics of the Muslim world, thus he is not qualified to make meaningful comment. We are perhaps fortunate in Wales to have a significant Muslim population, there are a part of our communities, our workplaces, so it is clear that they are as decent people as any other sub group. The knowledge that the family down the street are ordinary decent people and are not secretly plotting the overthrow of civilisation, to think that they were would be extreme paranoia. However where there isn’t a normal family living in your locale it is much easier to play on the fears of the unknown.

Newspeak

As a teenager I read George Orwell’s  novel ‘1984’, a polemic warning of the sort of dystopian society Britain could become in 1984 (written post-world War 2), based on the totalitarian state of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The book is such an important warning from history, made a huge impact on me and it remains a useful tool to compare where we are as a society.

The UK government have implemented some very worrying surveillance legislation and are proposing yet more in the forthcoming ‘Snooper’s charter’ whereby individuals internet browsing history is recorded and monitored by the UK state. It is possible that such information can be effective in screening to uncover terrorist plotting. However, we are led to fear terrorist atrocities, whilst in reality we are more likely to be hit by a bus. The mass media, television, newspapers, the media, focus on these awful events and the everyday preventable loss of life through avoidable poverty is somewhat brushed aside. It does seem as though we are living in an Orwellian dystopia.

There is much evidence of this, from CCTV on almost every street, monitoring of our movements online and through our mobile devices. People have got used to be monitored, whilst we may not like it, it has become part of modern life. what scares me is that all this surveillance, with this proposed legislation becomes legitimate, legal. Once data is officially held it becomes a commodity that can much more easily be used by the state or corporations to influence our lives. For example, insurance premiums may be effected by accessing this data, potential employers may screen such data so only people from a certain demographic are able to assume positions of authority. It is like how only through ‘membership of the party’ can one live a decent life. It is genuinely concerning.

One of the most interesting facets of ‘1984’ was newspeak, how the totalitarian regime managed to change language so that dissent and rational though became more difficult. In the novel such phrases as ‘War is peace’ and ‘Freedom is slavery’ exemplified doublethink. The modern political realm is full of doublethink, In Modern Britain we accept that ‘Development is making things worse’ and ‘Planning is something you do after you’ve finished’. In party politics it is even worse, or should I say more developed, policy is rarely defended from criticism, rather critiques are attacked for who says them, whether they be members of the proletariat, academics, ‘liberals’, jews or black disabled lesbians, no-one outside the inner party/establishment is really allowed a say. Indeed when anyone who speaks up, there is a fear they they may disappear without trace.

It all seems very dark, when the ‘enemy’ of ‘islamic terrorists’, was itself created by funding of Arab groups by the Western establishment and then dodgy ill-advised wars begun with the result of fostering ‘islamic terrorism’. The establishment created their own enemy, whom there own proletariat are led to live in fear of, so we allow the establishment to monitor us, to watch over us through our webcams. Economically people are thrust at the age of 18 into debt to the state and financial industries (who are largely the same people), then to achieve a decent standard of living and repay these ‘debts’ we are encouraged to take jobs that pay well, yet exploit others, rather than do anything useful. If the 14 year old me could see the world of 2015, he would be very worried indeed and I am worried. Actually we are powerless to do anything about it, instead simply resist, and try to make the most of it.

Fear of the Dark

The dark, a place we don’t understand, we can’t see, monsters may lie around the corner. As children, most people have a fear of the dark. Most people grow out of such a fear; there are no boogiemen lurking under the bed, they are the product of our imagination.

Fears remain, but as we grow, we tackle them one one by one. I used to be racist. I grew up in an exclusively white Caucasian community. One occasion, when I was quite young my family traveled to the city. I remember being in a market surrounded by black people. I felt scared, these people looked, dressed and spoke differently to me. I didn’t understand them, they could be monsters! Of course, I grew up to realise that people of different races and cultures are nothing to be scared of, simply different. Indeed I was being absurd, I grew up with Floella Benjamin; a wonderful Afro-Carribean childrens television presenter, who i love dearly.

Recently i have been trying to understand what motivates those of a right wing persuasion. I found an article that suggests that conservatives and liberals are psychologically different. Traditionally, liberal politics have been more progressive and in favour of reform, whilst conservatives favour stability and tradition. The hypothesis is that conservatives are more fearful than liberals.

The right wing media portrays a world of fear, whether of immigrants, of the Scots, indeed anyone different to themselves. Often such tales of fear are akin to the child in bed with the lights out. Ideas that are not understood, and the motivation behind them are also not understood; they might be monsters!. It is the fear that causes the imagination to take things to extremes.

For example, some objections to same sex marriage argue that this will lead to the legalisation of incest. This is laughable to people who understand the case for same sex marraige. However, the point is that something not understood, may lead to monsters. Traditionally homosexuality was a social taboo, society has largely overcome such a fear, Any reasonable society will never legalise incest as it is simply bad and wrong.

However, are not liberals, such as myself equally fearful? Liberals are as guilty as those of the right in viewing policys we don’t understand the motivation for, as leading to monsters. Perhaps the difference for liberals is that we are more fearful of the consequences of not changing, of not abandoning a tradition whose function is no longer relevant.

There is again the problem of British democracy. A two party system, that usually produces governement from a party of the right or the left. During governments, debate is taken away from the popular to within the factions. People may vote for either a centre-left or centre-right government. What the electorate then get is a more extreme government as the debate is no longer between conservatives and liberals, but between the extreme, moderate and centre-right (or vice versa), to the exclusion of the majority outside that party. Because those of the centre or opposing faction don’t understand the motivation behind that party, they are fearful; what will the monsters plot to do to us?

Generally there is less to fear than is perceived. The vast majority will prevent the extremists getting their way. Reform will generally stop once a reasonable solution has been achieved. However, as a European, I do have a real fear in politics. We have grown up in the shadow of Nazism and Stalinism. We are aware that it is possible for the monsters to get into power and perhaps this fuels our fear of the dark, of the other side, a world we can’t see.

If we keep trying to understand the world we can’t see and stop people when they take an idea too far, then there is hope that the monsters won’t appear when we switch off the light.

A victory for fear that no-one voted for

I feel really depressed by the results of the British General Election.The British General Election of 2015 was billed as a game changer for British politics, it was, but the result didn’t reflect that. As soon as I saw the exit poll figures, I foresaw the end of the union, that few actually want. The numbers:

UK vote share:

Conservatives 36.9% (+0.8%), Labour 30.4% (+1.4%), UKIP 12.6% (+9.5%), Liberal Democrats 7.9% (-15.2%), Green 3.8% (+2.8%), Plaid Cymru 12.1% (+0.8%) (Wales only), SNP 50% (+30%) (Scotland only).

What depresses me is that the two main establishment parties vote was little changed, yet the Conservatives won a victory on the number of seats to give them five years to do whatever they want, which is very very scary. The election was fought on fear of change, that managed decline was more stable than change. By the Conservatives winning with a tiny increase in vote, their victory was more due to the collapse of the LibDems (representing a rejection of the last five years by supporters of a centrist party, uncomfortable with the right wing agenda) and the rise of UKIP than any popular endorsement of the austerity agenda.

The British political establishment has given the UK neo-liberal governments for thirty years, the nation and our economy has become weaker and weaker because of this. Anti-establishment parties, all increased their share of the vote (UKIP, Green, SNP, PC), which to me reflects a growing rejection of neo-liberalism, but due to the antiquated electoral system is not reflected in parliament, with the notable exception of Scotland.

Scotland was the story of the election, The SNP with 50% of the vote, took all but three Scottish constituencies. This is not a reflection of nationalism or a desire to split from the UK as such. I have many friends in Scotland, and being Welsh, understand the issue. The electorate in Scotland were not afraid, to seek a new kind of politics, an alternative to the neo-liberalism that has lowered standards of living, particularly in the North and Western ‘fringe’ of the UK, whose economy hasn’t been allowed to grow due to the power of the the London based financial services industry. Change is what Scotland voted for. The desire for independence isn’t based on nationalism, but simply is seen as the only way of having an alternative political system, to have real economic growth that the English seem afraid of or more accepting of the status quo (well for those in Southern England who generally have suffered less from the UK’s industrial decline.

The victory for the Conservatives and their divisive politics will further increase the divide between Southern England and the rest of us. It is this that will most likely lead to the break up of the UK in the next five years, rather than support for a National party in Scotland.  It is simple hard to see anyone sticking up for the benefits of unity as the nation becomes divisive, resentful and argumentative. A strange election for probably the last UK election as we know it.

(Mis-)Understanding the World

As humans we all think very differently. sometimes i think that it’s amazing that we are able to communicate with one another at all. There is so much misunderstanding in the world. I used to be very cynical about others peoples beliefs. There is so much trouble in the world. I struggled to understand and be distressed by such things as: why people keep electing the same bunch of idiotic politicians, why do people wear fur, why do some Christians struggle with the theory of evolution, why are some people are racist.

One explanation is that people find it hard to understand ideas that appear to contradict deeply held beliefs. That to understand the reasoning behind a set of ideas requires giving up certain ideas or at least considerable modification. People all have different learning styles, decision making algorithms and ways of thinking.

I would argue that there are both good and bad ways of thinking. The difficulty is that some good ways of thinking are not universally applicable. conversely bad ways of thinking seem to work, to lead to truths some of the time.

I used to suffer from chronic anxiety. To overcome this anxiety I realised that this was simply a bad way of thinking. anxiety is also self-enforcing, like a bad habit. It wasn’t easy to let it go and adopt a new way of thinking. It wasn’t easy, partly because of fear of changing other deeply held beliefs though the logic of the new way of thinking.

Really, there is nothing to fear. A good way of thinking, will lead to truths in a better way than a bad way of thinking. One of the things I found unnerving about my change in thinking was being able to understand religion and found that I had become a Christian. i can almost laugh about now; i thought that i might somehow believe that blowing up non-believers was justifiable, but that was a myth.

As humans, we have to accept that as individuals we will never get everything right, our ways of thinking, even good ones should be questioned and re-evaluated every once in a while. We will always have some mental blocks on understanding certain things. We should strive to unblock them, to focus more on the mental process rather than the conclusion. and of course to remember to live and not spend our entire lives re-evaluating ourselves, which I spent too much time doing. Rules are good and useful, we should never rigidly adhere to the conclusions based on these systems, as they are sometimes wrong.

Maturity Lies

What is maturity? is it simply time or something that happens. Is it a consequence of acquiring responsibilities, such as looking after children? It is about living with decisions or transcending the necessity for such decisions?

I drifted into the ‘teen’ section at a local bookshop recently and picked up ‘We are Liars‘ by e. lockhart. It is a cracking read (slight spoilers to follow). In this short novel there is an argument between two characters about mottos to live by.

On one ‘side’ is the idea of striving to achieve peace with the world, the other ‘side’ is the idea of striving to achieve peace in the world.

The world is an unjust place, being fully aware of this is depressing and there is little you can do about it, kind of like going insane in the total perspective vortex. So, finding a way to cut this out of your life, to be more comfortable and happy, seems a good strategy and an achievable one.

On the other hand, fighting against the evils of the world seems a better strategy morally.  an involvement in a campaign, provides energy, rewards of feelings of solidarity and seems to separate the self from the problem. It should be noted that purely adopting this behaviour has a tendency to lead to extremism, for example by adopting a ‘moral code’ to justify immoral acts.

These two positions grind against each other in the novel. Being a ‘teen’ book, it suggests that a choice between these competing ways of being is to be made. The implication being that making the choice and committing to it is maturity.

There is also the issue of tradition, particularly family tradition. Instead of making choices for oneself, one can adopt the family position. The benefits are made clear within the family group, but it takes an outsider to reveal the costs.

It appears a scary choice, especially to the young. There is a fear that going down one path or the other will change you as a person, or affect some key cherished principle. This fear actually prevents such a choice being made. I used to be very fearful of making decisions, of making a mark on a piece of paper, kind of ‘uh oh, here we go, where is this going to lead!?’.

The novel and my personal view is that such a choice is not a mark of maturity, but rather an escape from the dynamism of life. Maturity, to me is not making the choice, but finding a way of being both, which is not in itself easy or necessarily simple. To an adolescent seeking concrete truths, this may seem a smeary and inconsistent answer. With age, comes a greater appreciation of time, the temporal nature of existence. It is possible to be happy, and unconcerned with the nastiness in the world, whilst in other parts of life, or at other times, to be fervently fighting injustice and striving the make the world a better place.It is possible to not linger but learn to rapidly switch between the two

Maturity is perhaps being free of the burden of choice, of allowing oneself to go on a journey, not being afraid and aware that steps can be retraced if it becomes apparent that a different course would be better. Not to eradicate a possibility, but realise that things can be left to one side and returned to. To keep options open and to realise there is no end point to decision making, it is simply a journey. Maintaining this balance, prevents the pitfalls of extreme choice  leading to  tragic ends.