Conformity Rules

Following on from my last post. The other aspect of a socially conservative viewpoint is the value placed on conformity to social rules. Again this is a spectrum, but perhaps the issue with it is that it’s self-perpetuating as it encourages greater and greater conformity to be viewed as a valuable member of a society. This aspect is simply bad.

The ability to follow social rules is important for a society to function, to enable people to come together to do something enriching or useful. For example I went to a Christmas play for young children before Christmas, Llygoden yr Eira (The Snow Mouse) concerning the adventures of a mouse in a snowy wonderland. We probably all know the rule about theatre, musical performances or football matches, that you don’t enter the stage area unless specifically invited by the performers and even then you must do as directed by the performers. However this was a show for very young children who could not be expected to know this rule and it was very tempting to get up and touch the wonders being produced on the stage and so the children did. The company expected this and allowed it up to a point and had a number of crew at hand to herd children off the stage when necessary for safety and coherence of the show. In many ways the show was educational is showing children what was acceptable and what wasn’t. This social rule is there to ensure that everyone can enjoy the performance as intended, it makes sense.

On the other hand the example I gave earlier of homophobia. Repression of homosexuality, because it is seen as a social value of the majority as the majority are almost always heterosexuals. However homophobia is in itself socially damaging and divisive, so there it should not be valued and is unacceptable behaviour.

As I see it, there are some social situations where you need to conform and behave in a certain way and others where such restrictions are much reduced. For example expected behaviour at a Church service and that at a music festival, where social norms are expected to be flouted. Thus society has a good balance, we learn the rules and have space to relax those rules once in a while. However it seems that some  conservatives place a value on conformity above and beyond simply enabling people to enjoy themselves or work together on particular projects.

I grew up in a very conservative part of rural Wales and it was very stifling and there were very few places rules where rules were relaxed. Indeed the popularity of local taverns as the place you could relax those rules perhaps contributed to their popularity. When such a conformity starts to dictate how you dress, how you behave, what jobs are acceptable and which discouraged it becomes painful as the rules no longer make any kind of sense.

When rules don’t make sense and there seems no logic or reason for them to exist you cannot help break the rules, you just keep breaking them as you are unable to internalise their sense. All children break rules as they don’t understand them or why they exist. That is why good parents tell children why a behaviour is wrong, such as playing with electrical wires a sit’s dangerous, but it will be some years until they get taught all about electricity at school, but the rule makes sense, as children do learn what can be played with and what is to be left alone.

As adults we expect to have learnt the rules, that is the mark of being an adult. when some conformity rules get difficult and you have to twist and bend your personality so much to fit those rules, you are no longer in control, you can’t rely on reason or experience to tell you how to behave and it then follows that you cease to be useful, trying to follow the rules takes all your time and energy to the point that you can do little productive work. If you are not naturally inclined in such a way that you are a perfect match for the these conformity rules, you fail socially, you become mentally ill and suffer from anxiety.  The upshot of this is you have a society where a significant percentage of otherwise healthy individuals cannot contribute to that society and this makes no sense. Conformity to rules is there to make social functions easier, not more difficult, that is why I don’t get this obsession with extreme conformity.

Anxiety is a terrible affliction/ Being nervous before going on stage or attending a job interview, is normal anxiety. Seeming to continually break the rules you don’t understand which no-one will take the time and effort to explain to you, makes you constantly anxious and encourage you to withdraw from society and this is not a good thing to do. If you are going to have rules, they need to make sense, and not just be a privilege for those whom through sheer dumb luck are able to naturally conform with arbitrary social rules.

I think it’s going to be one of the biggest challenges of the next years. The world is facing devastating climate change. Every person and organisation will need to make big changes to how we do things. It’s going to effect what we eat, how we shop how we work and how we travel and so many of the conformity rules that exist in Wales and throughout the world are going to have to change. In particular the quantities of unsustainable meat society consumes. I was vegetarian form the age of 15 and so many people didn’t understand  my reasoning or the importance of sustainability. I think this is partly as this social custom was rigidly enforced “If you don’t eat your meat, how can you expect to have pudding!”. Getting young children to eat healthily is hard work, but there is no need to enforce rules, purely because they are the traditional conforming rules to older children who may know a lot more about nutrition than their parents.

To tackle climate change the world needs to become a lot more liberal in it’s worldview. However it’s then even more important to identify and protect the things we genuinely care about as positive values.

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

I want my country back

This phrase has been heard numerous times over the course of the UK EU referendum. I have wondered what exactly it means to the people who utter it. Most accounts of this phenomena describe it as a  nostalgia for a society from the past, for simpler times and a desire for some of those elements to make a return. This is a sentiment to which anyone over over a certain age can relate to at some point.

For some it is a desire for a monocultural monoethnic conformist world where everyone thinks and behaves the same way. Quite why anyone would want that is beyond me, I grew up in such a world and hated it, I couldn’t wait to get away and explore the world. This view betrays a fear of the different, a fear of our fellow human beings. We are all different, so such a view just seems nasty.

However, often this nostalgia is for positive things. A friend and I of similar age were talking about growing up when we just went off exploring with our friends, climbing trees, building elaborate dam systems in local streams, making complex underground maze systems in barns full of straw bales, generally getting very muddy indeed. As long as we made it to someone’s house in time for tea or not home before it got dark, we were not reprimanded  (well only about getting muddy and we sensed our parents didn’t really mind, that the criticism was for forms sake). This is a world that can be longed for. a world where children are not stuck inside, lacking socialising with their peers, exploring themselves and the world around them. Longed for because it was a healthier childhood.

This EU referendum has highlighted this desire for better things from the past, such as affordable housing, education, secure employment or food. however it seems that instead of looking for the fundamental reasons why, much of British society is now worse, people are instead looking for someone else to blame, in this case immigrants (whoever they are, as we are all immigrants). There was a video on YouTube of a man being shouted at in Bristol to be told to ‘Go back where you came from?’, to which he replied ‘Do you mean Cardiff? [where he was from!]’. I don’t understand why anyone would blame people for things, or specifically people who are in some way different, for the problems. It is systems, governmental policy, not thinking things through, that are the problem.

A hatred of people, creates it’s own destructive downward spiral. Once you start blaming ‘other people’, you disconnect yourself from other people. This is highly dangerous and antagonistic. This is the force that creates terrorist groups such as ISIS, who hate everyone who is not a member of their group. So, people then hate ISIS, which leads to hatred of the people in ISIS, then fuzzy thinking and group-think take hold and suddenly it is all Muslims who are to blame, then all Arabs, then one day you have a referendum on membership of the EU where the debate becomes about immigration. Culminating in today, where a MP (member of the UK parliament) was shot by a gunman because he apparently disagreed with his locally elected MPs views.

For me, the country I want back is one of respect and tolerance. Where you behave as you see fit, without fear that some maniac isn’t going to shoot you, where children will return home at the end of the day.  A world where extremism, such as Nazi Germany was something we read about in history books.

This modern curse of extremism affects all of us, whoever we are, wherever in the world we might be. Last week another gunman killed around fifty people in a nightclub in Orlando, USA. Once we got over the shock that another fifty lives had been lost to this extremist disease, we realised that this was an attack on the LGBT community. I am not a member of the LGBT community and being a white, male heterosexual I haven’t encountered or really able to empathise with such discrimination. Anyway the attack was in a LGBT nightclub. LGBT nightclubs are safe spaces, places where members of the LGBT community can be themselves, with less fear. If you are not discriminated against you don’t know what it is like. I’m only really getting my head around this myself.

Last year I was in Germany. I was walking down the street and a guy shoulder charged into me and ran off. I turned to my friend (my host in Germany) to ask what had happened. He said “Well if you are going to walk around in a floral shirt, this sort of thing happens”. I was wearing a floral shirt and it was pointed out to me that almost all the German men wore striped shirts. It wasn’t for being Welsh, or foreign that I was charged at, but because my attacker assumed that I was LGBT. This incident didn’t affect me, I continued to enjoy my holiday. However if such things were a regular occurrence, an everyday thing, I would feel more and more excluded and perhaps seek out safe spaces where all the other non-stripey shirted people went.

So it seems that extremism enforces sub-cultures, which is the opposite of this nice simple world everybody really wants. So to get out of extremism perhaps requires strange things to happen.

And then there’s me. I have written about how I used to be an extremely anxious person. Someone who tried to exist in the shadows, not stand out, not say what I really thought. I tried to say and do what I thought people expected me to do, but I couldn’t, I failed at this, it is just easier to be myself. I was behaving as if I was being discriminated against, when I wasn’t at all, so I was really happy to realise that I am able to be myself, to do such things as cry when Wales loses to England at the football as I did today. However I have since learned how much of this awful discrimination there really is. It’s not just race, it’s gender, sexuality, age, nationality and many other things. There is this ‘expectation’ that we are supposed to be able to conform to, but no-one can say what this conformity actually is, or what it is for? Traditional values? like living in mudhuts, scraping a living off the land with no modern tools? Following one interpretation of a contradictory religious text, written thousands of years ago, when most people did live in mudhuts?

It’s quite simple, there is nothing wrong with respecting other people. Jesus taught that we should respect other people, why do so many ‘Christians’ act contrary to Jesus? Respect has to be learned. We do all get angry. Anger wells up for all sorts of reasons: when we hear people whistling when our national anthem is sung or when a gunman shoots a hard working woman with two young children. We all get angry.

Anger does not have to lead to hatred, we should all learn to control our anger. Like as children climbing a tree when the branch starts to break because of our weight, after getting to safety our first instinct was to blame the tree! We learn the folly of anger. When our football team loses, we don’t hate the winners, we learn to walk away knowing that our day will be some another day, when a gunman goes on a gun rampage in Florida, we do not blame the non-LGBT community, we feel sorrow for those with lost loved ones. When a politician is killed, though we do really get angry at politicians a lot of the time, we appreciate that they are a human being too and that the gunman is a flawed human being too, just like the rest of us.

So, lets stop blaming the tree. Lets go back to a world where we listen to each other with respect, where we exclude no-one, where our mothers would scold us if we ignored the new kid, where we don’t have problem with people being different as we are all different.

 

 

 

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.

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.