I’m not racist but…

It can often seem very difficult to understand what Brexit is. Yet essentially to understand it requires the busting of a number of myths about Brexit.

Brexit has never been about a rational weighing up of the clearly identifiable negatives of EU membership to the UK economy against the benefits of membership. Neither is it simply a rejection of centralisation and diminished democracy, for that should have happened at the UK level a long time ago.

Politically, Brexit was bought about by the ‘Brexiteers’, the leadership of UKIP and many in the Tory party. The Brexiteers aim was to further the cause of laissez-faire capitalism, to free capital to make more money for itself to the benefit of those already with lots of capital. This can be viewed as simply the self-interest of those with capital, the leadership of UKIP and much of the Tory party.

Capital, or wealth is only one part of an economy. Capital with too much power diminishes an economy, capital alone does not make good decisions, it needs help. A free market is not one where capital calls all the shots. A true free market is where producers and consumers interact to produce a fair price for goods and services and what those goods and services are.

The aim of the Brexiteers has been to use their influence and control of the UK media to further their cause, to pass the blame for the decline of the living standards at the EU’s door, rather than the fault of laissez-faire capitalism itself. After all these neo-liberals have gained positions of power in the UK and have learnt how to manipulate the UK electorate.

The vast majority of the people who voted for Brexit, 52% of the UK electorate are not the people with large amounts of capital, who are greedy for more power and influence. The vast majority voted for entirely different reasons I believe. What most people want in life is perhaps essentially stability and the opportunity to improve things. This stability, or basis for growth consists of three essential things: Cultural stability, Economic stability and Community support. People in the UK are concerned about the decline of these things and the Brexiteers offered them hope for change, whilst the ‘Liberal Establishment’ mistook the issue of immigration being raised again and again ad nauseum to be closet racism, which it did indeed feed upon. The concern about immigration was not about race at all, but rather the issue of immigration was a proxy for the three fears:

Cultural Stability

People within a culture, naturally want to preserve their culture for the good things it provides. A culture can absorb new arrivals and over time the new members will be assimilated into the culture, or their children will. This is eased where there is a willingness to learn about and take part in the culture. However when the levels of immigration are high, the incomers can swamp the existing culture to the extent that it is possible to live in a different culture if those immigrants all come form a different culture. There are then fewer places for the existing culture to exist and the incoming culture can come to dominate. If you are a member of the native culture, you can feel to be an alien in your own home, you lose the ability to predict how your local society will react to events, you lose the cultural stability of your own culture.

This issue is well known about in Wales; there has been the decline of the Welsh language and it’s culture. I also experienced this growing up. My area of Mid Wales had increasing number of retired people moving in from outside Wales. It only became a problem when services and employment for young people declined, forcing the young to leave. This meant that Mid Wales now has the lowest economic productivity of all of Britain, largely because the population now has a very heavy post working age population and few young people to look after them and the loss of the local culture.

The centralised UK economic model has caused the young to move to seek work. The flexibility of the young displaces older people from their work and even their local area.

Economic Stability

People want to secure enough income to be financially secure, to be able to support their family and wider community. To have enough disposable income to be able to participate in the economy, to support worthwhile enterprises in their area, rather than scrape an existence using short-term solutions to make it to the next pay cheque. People also want there to be training and employment available locally for their children to become economically active and hence support them in their old age.

Young adults and immigrants moving to an area, are more flexible and able to tolerate the inconveniences of living in the most inconvenient part of an area. The young and immigrants are more able to take on job opportunities that the established population cannot as readily. The establishment population have cultural commitments and investments that restrict there ability to move and work longer hours. If the local economy is not growing, which is now the case across Britain, then emigration from your home becomes an option, giving you the chance to be the more flexible to out-compete a resident population somewhere else. It presents a tough choice between economic stability and cultural stability.

A lot of the fear of immigration is that the only major growth area of the UK is around London. So the jobs go to the young and other immigrants who are prepared to put up with the huge inconveniences of living in London [having to travel to do anything] and loss of the support of the home culture, rather than come to where there is ample Labour awaiting work, such as the Valleys communities in South Wales.

Community Support

The great thing about communities is that they have enabled humanity to move beyond subsistence farming, to pool skills and resources to create modern societies. In a declining economy people are concerned that there will not be a hospital bed for them if they become ill, that there will not be a good school place for their child. That should some disaster hit their family then the community will not be able rally around to help them overcome it as they are overburdened by struggle themselves.

Then there are immigrants, that they will place additional demand on social services. The Liberal economist will say that this doesn’t matter because as the population grows, there is  proportionally more money for services and service levels can be maintained. However, this academic economist is talking about an ideal theoretical world. The current reality in Britain is that Social services, such as Schools and Hospital receive a lower and lower proportion of the nations money pot anyway. So, incomers will indeed put additional strain on services. Incomers also tend to require more from Social services as they haven’t built up the social capital of community support or cultural investment.

Racism

I don’t believe a lot of the racism that exists in the UK is not purely racist. Racism is prejudice towards people of a certain race. There is also prejudice towards people of different religion, hair colour, cultural background, religion, height and so on. People are people and to be prejudiced against someone for their race makes no sense, for what does it matter what colour a persons skin is.

A lot of racism is by proxy. People will see a decline in their cultural stability, economic stability or community support and when immigration levels are too high to their area this is noticed. Instead of laying the blame at the political for not investing to equalise opportunity everywhere, they will blame the immigrants. So when those immigrants happen to all be a particular race, that label sticks and over time does develop into genuine racism.

In the UK, immigrants tended to live in the poorest connected areas of cities, the most inconvenient places to live. Areas where the native population wished to leave if they could. So over time these areas became culturally dominated by certain groups, often becoming the dominant culture. It is absurd to expect a dominant culture to integrate to a minority culture without strong motivations for doing so. This was so much of twentieth century urban problems in Twentieth Century Britain. By that point racism from the native population already exists, which acts to pull the discrimated against communities together, reducing the strength of motivation to explore the native culture, which is now a journey away anyway.

But…

It doesn’t have to be like this. The Brexiteers can be stopped. We can start valuing our own cultures again, we can provide economic security to all and use that to encourage real economic growth. We can ensure our communities are supportive of all their members again, rather than a privileged few. The answer is the slogan the Brexiteers used under false pretences; Take Back Control. What we need is decisions made by the people for the people. Not to produce some socialist utopia, but to ensure that there is balance in all things, between Capital and Labour, so capital can be used to invest in things we all need, rather than used to make the majority poorer. Create balance between Public Services and Free Enterprise to maximise the economic efficiency of our communities. To ensure that every region can survive and thrive, because it has strong support networks, freeing peoples time and energy to pursue innovation and economic growth. To not allow things to become inefficient through centralisation of control . To spread wealth around, so everyone can use a small bit of the capital generated to support their own families and  communities. To do this we need democracy and decision makers to be truly accountable to their communities, rather than an elite few. We need power to reside in communities, within areas like Wales, so we can grow and make our lives more secure year on year, to not allow any individual politician to cut themselves off from those communities, that is why we need independence in Wales and indeed we should apply the same principles everywhere. We should shift from laying the blame on people who are in some way different to us to those who made the decisions that caused our loss of culture, economic stability or community support and thus regain our freedom.

 

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The problem with Liberals

On these pages I have often described myself as a Social Democrat and not a Liberal. These two political doctrines to the outsider appear quite close, yet I feel there is fundamental difference between the two. This difference is why I have a problem with liberalism.

Social democracy and Liberalism share some common world views. Perhaps most importantly that society should work for everyone, it is worth repeating, everyone; black or white, rich or poor, man or woman. However the two doctrines differ in how this society is to be realised. Social Democracy advocates working out what the centrist position is from first principles, whereas Liberalism finds the centrist position more relatively, based on prevailing public opinion. This relativistic stance is to me the weakness of Liberalism.

However, as human beings we are relativistic creatures, how we think, how we behave and what we value is determined socially. This social determination is guided by our families, our social peers and the communities we grow up in. The views of the world we hear around us, shape us. There is natural desire to compromise with prevailing views in a society, to ‘fit in’ and find our own space. To be able to compromise, you have to be able to understand and be prepared to be persuaded by arguments if you test them and find them convincing.

In many ways Social Democracy is the tougher discipline as it prescribes picking apart all this social fabric to get to the fundamental issue. Social Democracy is thus a cold discipline, relying on logic and reason,  can seem devoid of feeling. Yet it isn’t cold as the aim is to provide something for everyone. This criticism also applies to Liberalism, whilst the Liberal will listen, they may lack empathy as they are trying to work out where the centre is, rather than understand each individual.

Both the Liberal and the Social Democrat are a little jealous of those away from the centre on the left and right wings, the Socialists and Conservatives. Jealous, because the wings don’t have to think so much. To the wings political positions come easily, certain arguments just fit naturally with how they think and the opposite arguments seem alien and incomprehensible. Centrists often run into this problem that they don’t always get a reasoned argument for something. So often an argument will rest on an appeal to a common sense that runs true with how they think. The problem with such rhetoric is that is doesn’t extend beyond like minded people, to the centre or the ‘other’ wing. There seems to be this rise in division and the recent development of Nationalism in Europe and North America that raises serious concerns. I blame the Liberals.

Partly it is because the Liberals have moved from the centre, where us Social Democrats still are, towards the right as it has appeared that society has moved to the right. Electoral success has been the reward of this drift. Tony Blair, was essentially a Liberal, as were Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Here in the UK, the Liberal Democrats found themselves in a coalition government with the Conservatives from 2010 to 2015, for the good reason of providing stable government. However, the Liberal Democrats failed to do their job as a coalition partner and went native with the Conservatives, to the horror of Social Democrats and Socialists, the ‘Liberals’ had let us down, again. It was not unexpected, Liberals, with their mode of drifting to the centre ground, working everyday with predominantly right wing Conservatives would lead you to shift your perception of the centre quite far rightwards, which is what happened.

Liberalism may he partly the cause of the recent rise of Nationalism, of Brexit and Donald Trump. Once you start drifting in a certain direction currents often speed you on in that direction, because nationalism is very good at subverting human nature.

<Slight tangent in case anyone is getting confused, I am supporter of Welsh independence, or “Welsh Nationalism” as some like to call it. We are not “Nationalists”, it’s just not the same thing, ok? (maybe I’ll expand on this next time!)>

The problem with Nationalism is that the worldviews and opinions of the people who surround in our lives, in our communities, our desire to fit in and to work to make things better are essentially positive. For social animals everyone doing their thing and working with the people around us to improve society is simply a good thing.

However, the sly fox of Nationalism achieves it’s end of replacing the ‘good of the community’ with the ‘good of the nation’. So instead of being inspired to improve our communities, we are inspired to work to improve our nation. This is not the same thing. Nations are somewhat artificial constructs and do not seek to help people, they have a life of their own and play around with our notions of self and community. Nationalism when it arises, often has a scapegoat, a group to blame for the nation not being as mighty as it could be, be it the Jew in 1930s Germany, the Socialist, the immigrant or the Muslim in recent times. This right wing nationalism, relishes competition, which is actually bullying as it slowly works it way through society, the narrative subtly changes until you find yourself in a totalitarian state, like in George Orwell’s ‘1984’. The Liberal just adapts in this environment, the Liberal remains in the social centre, even though this social centre is now way off balance. For the Conservatives, they don’t notice the true horror as to them at last society  is  chiming with their own worldview, they feel as though they have won something and even the Socialist may be happy as it appears that society is at last demonstrably ‘improving’. But, to those able to be Social Democrats and to those on the outside, it is a nightmare.

Whether we are truly caught in the  Nationalism trap in the UK and USA, is perhaps too early to say, but all the very worrying signs are there: There is stoking of fear of ‘foreigners’, the scapegoating of  minorities in particular Muslims, There have been elections won by populist extremists and possibly more to come in France and the Netherlands. and when we are told that these people win, so we now must conform to whatever they want to do, to be good “patriots”…

It just seems like that many people have forgotten the warning from history about Nationalism, that Orwell wrote about in ‘1984’. Even in Germany, the country that most painfully learnt the lessons of the perils of Nationalism, some 80 years ago, is seeing the rise of Nationalism. Remember ‘Ignorance is Strength’ & ‘We are at war with Eastasia, we have always been at war with Eastasia’.

 

 

 

 

 

Black Sheep and Corbyn

I have written about how I believe that right wing people, conservatives, and left wing people, socialists, think differently. There is scientific evidence backing this theory both genetically and from psychological profiling. I have then argued that society in general should reflect that, economies should be more efficient if they cater for the diversity of people, so people can find their niches to survive and thrive. Yet, the political media  very rarely mention this and thus an impression is created that one ideology is simply better than the other, which I have long argued simply isn’t true. I mean if you accept this theory it becomes absurd to introduce competition or commercial strategies to public institutions like the health service, the railways or the BBC, or expect commercial organisations to fulfil social requirements. ‘Balance in everything’ should perhaps be a universal motto.

The media ignore this is the frenzy of Jeremy Corbyn, being retained as leader of the Labour party today. The left need a political leader  who is left wing. Corbyn became leader simply through being the right person at the right time. It is the weakness of the Labour party that no-one else with a broader appeal is currently available. so, the infighting and a leadership election was a complete waste of time, especially at a time, when an objective assessment of what to do about Brexit is required.

Of course social demographics plays a part, but it is perhaps worth re-considering traditional voting patterns. There used to be much more of families voting the same way and perhaps there is a genetic component to this. So many families will produce the odd person of the opposite persuasion. I grew up in a largely conservative family, however considering genetics, my grandfather, who passed away before I was born was a socialist, so I assumed I had inherited his ‘socialist genes’ rather than been an outlier. Such ‘black sheep’ often chastised for ‘rebelling’ against the family serve such an important role. The black sheep are in a position to argue for balance, to point out that the established way of doing things doesn’t work for everyone, only those who fit in with those traditions.

Broadly, socialists tend to be attracted to public service co-operative roles, whilst conservatives tend to be attracted to market trading competitive roles. I heard a right wing commentator talking about the importance of competition in schools. Yes, competition is important for children, the conservatives benefit from it and it teaches the socialists an understanding of the role of competition. so, it is equally important for children to do cooperative tasks because this benefits the socialist children and teaches the conservative children about the role of cooperation. The point is that neither is better than the other and it si wrong to have one without the other, it’s like the Yin-Yang symbol. Working in public service is as important as working at innovation and producing new products in competitive markets.

I heard on the radio today someone say that ‘Britain will never elect a true socialist’, which begs the question ‘why not?’Britain needs a socialist, a black sheep, to restore some balance to our economy. It is possible that the genetic pool of the British is predominantly right wing, after all the modern British, genetically are a mix of original settlers (which we know little about), Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Normans and Vikings. Added to that mix is the diversity of immigration predominantly from specific regions: Africa, the Caribbean Islands, the Indian sub-continent, Poland etc. Essentially a product of the British Empire period and European wars. This is interesting as the genetic mix still varies across Britain, the phenomena of large numbers moving vast distances is only a few generations old, and not long enough to have truly mixed the genes.

Contrast this to France, with a different history and a different Empire (so a distinctly different group of Africans), has tended to be more socialist than Britain. However it is a very interesting question whether the different gene pools do generate different mixes of left or right wing people, or do populations tend to balance out this diversity.

It’s a pertinent question as the party political landscape appears to no longer reflects the diversity of opinion and people. We no longer live in a world where politicians justify their policies in practical terms. Instead arguments centre around ideology, that one ideology is simply better. It’s like saying that blue eyed people are somehow better than brown eyed people, or that dark skinned people are better than light skinned people, it’s nonsense. Yet we live in a world where respect and tolerance of diversity appears to be in decline and there is a rise in tribalism again. Whichever pigeon hole you slot into, your historic identity, seems to have become more important, when there is perhaps little use in creating needless division. Diverse people have generally got on fine, even the black sheep in the family are usually accepted as full members of the family.

Just listen to the rhetoric of Donald Trump and other right wing leaders, look at the deeply saddening scenes in Syria, the Tory regime in Britain. There is a need for Corbyn, because people like Corbyn have been sidelined for too long. I don’t agree with everything Corbyn says, I don’t have to, I just accept the need for someone like him to drag us back to the centre ground, to create a level playing field, where whomever we are, whatever your social or indeed genetic background is, that there is the opportunity for you to find a role to contribute to the economy and society, whilst accepting that other people are different. a world where we can maximise value so we have the resources to deal with disasters and other problems.

Welsh and British, but not European

The UK EU referendum didn’t seem to be really about UK membership of the EU. In many ways it should have been a rational assessment of the the benefits and costs of continued membership of this organisation. However it is difficult to isolate a single issue like that from it’s context. I have read about people describing the campaign as about identity politics, about the end of Britishness, the end of the UK; with Scotland, Northern Ireland and indeed Wales, leaving the union. The campaign has left a very divided confused Britain, in part due to the those under my age being strongly for remaining, whereas those older than me being largely for Leave. It is arguable than in a few years as the population ages, such a campaign would never again be won by Leave.

It does seem that people of my age are on the cusp of this generational divide. My parents were the post second world war baby boomer and the younger generation are the millennials. Perhaps the key difference between these two generations is the second world war. I am a member of the last generation who was able to talk to people who lived through the Second World War, to have had conversations with former soldiers who fought in that war with my grandfather. My grandparents retained lingering prejudice and suspicion of Germans, because they were the enemy and they saw the destruction of British towns and cities wrought by German bombs. However my generation and the one behind me, have no negativity towards Germans.

I have always described myself and Welsh first and British second. It does seem that this identity is on the wane. When I was growing up at international football matches, Welsh supporters proudly flew both the Union flag and Y Ddraig Goch, English supporters almost exclusively flew the Union flag. Here we are in footballs Euro 2016 [and Wales are in the semi-finals, WOW! Dewch ymlaen Cymru! Dan ni’n enill yn erbyn Portiwgal!] where the Union flag is very rare amongst Welsh supporters and equally rare amongst England supporters, who now fly the St George’s Cross. My English friends of my age, described themselves as British and didn’t really understand my pride in being Welsh. In Welsh circles it was often discussed that the English didn’t understand their own identity. However these days, there is a sense of the English understanding that they are English or have some other identity, such as British Muslim.

Going back again to my parents and grandparents. Whilst they rooted for Wales in sport, they retained a support for England when England were playing a non-home nation [the Home nations are Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland]. I think it was the sense of unity that came from the war, of working together for the good of the country, which no-one really talks about nowadays. This was the generation that saw the creation of the National Health Service (NHS), the Welfare state, had jobs for life, a generation that invested a part of themselves in the nation state.

Now these national institutions are under attack, the sense of identity of being British with the NHS. I have grown up with Thatcher and a generation of politicians that grew up under her influence, which has divided the nation of the UK between North and South, which has encouraged economic individualism. Instead of a uniting identity, my generation and the millennials, generate their own identities, based on who they are. It is this generation that positively identify with being European, in a way my grandparents would never do. There is no sense of identity with the British government, people generally don’t see the Prime Minister as our leader as once people did. My identity is with the people who live on these islands, not with those who govern it.

Personally, I do not identify or feel European. I appreciate that I come from a European culture. However I have been lucky enough to be able to travel around the world. Most of my experiences have been outside Europe. So I identify myself as more a World citizen than as a European citizen. The other issue is language. As the UK is an English speaking nation, we have and continue to grow up heavily influenced by North American culture. Yesterday  the USA celebrated it’s independence day from the British. British and Irish people have this dual outlook that is both towards America and continental Europe, that is not perhaps shared to the same extent by other Europeans. It is sobering to think that the British may soon no longer exist as a socio-political entity. I will always consider myself British, though a long standing attachment to England, Ireland and Scotland and the subtle differences between mine and these nations. However if the UK does indeed break up, this sense of a cultural Britishness may also fade.

This sense of Britishness is actively threatened, as there is a division between those who see non-white British origin people as apart from everyone else. This talk of identities has awakened racist abuse and attacks. Yet in the metropolitan towns and cities particularly, people are aghast at these attitudes. This has come to be symbolised by the animosity over this last week between Bremainers and Brexiters. All this on a day before the publication of the Chilcott report, which will hopefully clear up whether the UK did indeed join the US to invade Iraq in 2003 under false pretences, with no coherent plan. A conflict that was a catalyst for the rise of terrorism from groups like ISIS, hundreds of thousands of pointless deaths and suffering, that did not bring about the peace that allegedly justified that war.

I am sure the Brexit vote aftermath will continue for some time. However at least tomorrow, we can forget about it and be carried away by the excitement of the football!

Keep Calm and have a cup of Tea

Now that some of us have calmed down a bit and people have realised what has happened. It is very clear that the UK is in no way prepared to leave the EU. My last post highlighted some of the issues that would need to be sorted out before a Brexit, should that be what the people and politicians of the UK actually want. Furthermore raising the possibility of Brexit seems to have brought about a surge in ugly racism, which is making many question whether this is indeed a route the UK would wish to go down. We knew the racism was there, but suppressed, it now seems that the racists are having a field day.

Many people, including myself, got a little carried away on results night in thinking that the vote would  immediately trigger Brexit, as Cameron had suggested he would (but we shouldn’t have believed the serial liar). The reactions have highlighted the difficulties of having a binary vote on a complex issue. As I’ve stated before, the vote doesn’t mean as much as some people will claim it does. Referenda rarely answer the actual question on the paper.  What the Brexit vote does show is simply that the British are unhappy with the political establishment and want change and they are also unhappy with the UK’s relationship with the EU (and really any fool could have told you that, without wasting millions of taxpayer’s money), that is it. How to move forward from that is complex, which is perhaps why the two main political parties are holding internal elections to decide how they wish to go forward.

One of the main problems with such a binary vote was it’s vagueness. A more informative advisory referendum would have had perhaps three options:

1/ More political integration in the EU.

2/ Maintaining current relationships with the EU, with  change not related to further integration

3/ Withdrawal from the EU

Many people have been communicating that they were against 1 and 3, but were unable to express this opinion on the ballot paper. There was a feeling that the best outcome was a narrow win for remain, effectively giving the 2 option a win. The polls were suggesting a 52-48 win for remain, and there was perhaps too much trust for opinion polls, now that opinion pollsters have no way of getting a random sample of the UK population (due to change in how phones are used and internet polling methodologies). Perhaps too many tried to game the poll (the UK electoral system encourages such gaming) and vote leave to express discontent, expecting the remain win, that everyone expected, even the UKIP leader expressed this at close of the polling stations.

The difficulty now, is that with the result there is now an expectation of change, but with no clear time-scale or even what they change could be. The adage ‘Keep calm and carry on’ seems highly appropriate. Really, the situation now is simply that the UK is considering changes to it’s relationship with the EU, but nothing is going to change soon. This is challenging for large business making decisions about whether to locate inside or outside the EU, but it is perhaps better to get on with the process of reform than continue with steady decline.

This idea, I talked about yesterday of moving to a federal UK, may gain pace. Having a federal UK would remove the constitutional hurdles to a UK decision to leave the EU, allowing constituent parts of the UK, including possibly the City of London, to make their own arrangements. It would also simplify the process of change, avoiding the issue of multiple decisions awaiting requisite decisions (possibly involving referendums which take months to organise) during a ticking clock time-scale of the two years stipulated in the article 50  of the Lisbon treaty article. Each region could forge it’s own brexit, some regions could remain in the single market, others completely sever ties with the EU. It is a time to be positive, to use this opportunity to explore new options. Differentiation, not to break an already divided UK, but to accept differences and ultimately strengthen the unity of the British Isles.

The other idea is electoral reform. The other thing the whole Brexit débâcle is the huge disconnect between the positions of politicians and the general public, both at a UK and EU level. This has been exacerbated by the antiquated UK FPTP system. There should be no need for referendum in a representative democracy, with an appropriate degree of proportionality,  where the elected politicians make decisions as a representative group of the general population. The UK should not have got into the position where at least 53% of the population are unhappy with something (in this case the EU) whilst 75% of the elected members of the political class are largely happy with the current EU set up. It makes one wonder how many other issues there is such a wide democratic disconnect over? Electoral reform would partially resolve this problem, styrenghening th eUk in the long term, allowing all of the UK to be more quietly governed with the consent from the population. Over the last few days it seems as though the nations of the UK have been radicalised, due mainly, to the failings of democracy to represent opinion. Instead political parties game the electorate with their electioneering, pitting people against each other, playing tribal politics, which is simply wrong. We have to learn to work together, it is so much more efficient.

 

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.

The Pop Problem

Recently Iggy Azalia cropped up in a discussion I was involved with about sexism. I obviously follow the wrong things and completely missed hearing about this controversial artist. The charge against her was that she was racist because she ridicules rap culture. Having done a little research into this artist I disagree with this charge, I would argue that this is an example of the one of the major drawbacks of pop music. For it is pop music rather than rap music.

I am a strong supporter of freedom of speech and the freedom to pursue want you want to do (this is ‘self’evident’ according the the constitution of the USA). so Iggy Azalia can produce the music she wants to. It seems as though she loves rap culture and wanted to make a living from being a rap star. She has achieved this end, good for her. However, my and indeed popular opinion is that she isn’t very good.

Most artists in the world, I would say are not very good. whether that be they lack talent, haven’t worked hard enough at developing their art or simply only appeal to a narrow audience that doesn’t include me. This isn’t normally a problem as once you have been exposed to the artist, you can decide they are not for you and can ignore them. If an artist doesn’t appeal to enough people, they can either work on continuing to develop their talent, or give up on making a career as an artist. The pop problem is that often pop artists who are not very good, have successful careers and regularly appear in popular media. so even if you decide that they are not for you, you are continually exposed to them through the media, for example on radio plays. This is a shame as people are promoted as artists, when these artists achieve success without the opportunity to truly develop their craft.

Pop music is a special genre of music because many successful acts are not very good. By not very good, I mean that they are not good musically or interesting to the listener. I love pop music, there are many acts that I like, which I admit have very little musical worth. Rather pop appeals beyond music either through their social commentary or the interest created by the phenomenon of their existence. To those of us that like pop music, part of the fun is the fact that many pop acts are annoying. Pop aficionados, such as myself,love to discuss why rubbish acts are popular. Whilst rap music isn’t one of my favourite genres, I do like some of it. I have enjoyed hearing Azealia Bank’s work, I think it’s really good. So, here is an example of a good artist not being as successful as a poor artist. This irritation is, to me, a fundamental part of pops appeal. It is what the less music obsessed public contribute to artists success, that doesn’t occur to the same extent in other musical genres. An alternative title for this piece could have been ‘ Azalea & Azaelia’. Listen and compare yourself:

Iggy Azalea vs Azaelea Banks [Warning: Naughty language]

I would suggest that there are positives brought about by Iggy Azaelia’s success: An example of someone committing to pursuing there dream and achieving success. Exposing rap music and perhaps other musical genres with origins in black culture to a new audience. Providing a subject for the discussion of race in society as a means of combating racism or discussions of the rap genre in general..

Are there negatives? Is there a case that Iggy Azaelia’s career is promoting racism? It is perhaps an example of the tyranny and oppression of the predominant culture. Racism stems from oppression of black people by white people. while great strides have been made against racism, it continues to exist, so people should be careful not to act to fan the flames of racism. As such it is hard to imagine a black woman breaking into a musical genre of white origin unless they were exceptionally talented, whereas a pretty blonde Australian lady can be successful without being very good. It is this fact that is the most uncomfortable factor concerning this artist.

I have argued that the blame for the pop problem does not stem from the artist. The problem comes from the record industry and the popular media for promoting such artists, but they are commercial organisations and if they can see a profit in something they will of course exploit it. This is perhaps particularly pertinent in rap music, which has origins in a way for young musicians to escape from impoverished lives in the ghettos of Los Angeles and New York, indeed the nature of the genre is to lyrically explore ghetto culture, a large part of the music is the wittiness of the lyrics and everybody appreciates clever humour.

It is the success of rap music in becoming a global phenomenon. such that rap has entered popular culture. Often such artists can be viewed as presenting parodies of rap music. For example some examples of artists I like: Lady Sovereign and my personal favourites. the Welsh group Goldie Lookin’ Chain.

Such examples indicate that rap music has become popular with white audiences. why has the music of black cultures been so successful with white audiences? Personally, whilst not a huge rap fan, I do love other such genres as reggae, dub, gospel and soukous. To me it is the sense of bass driven rhythms which one can melt into, the music enters your body in a natural way, as well as your mind, in a way that music of white origin doesn’t. The music seems an inherent part of the culture, rather than as a counter culture. White Pop and Rock music is often a music discovered by white people in their teenage years, it is a music of discovery and angst, rather than pure music. Perhaps this is simply because black culture has been oppressed and that effects everyone, whereas white music is only for those who feel apart or rebellious about their own culture.

The case of Iggy Azalea is an interesting one. It is an example of the pop problem and sits more uncomfortably than a typical case of the pop problem because whilst her music in itself is anti-racist, it does exemplify the inherent racism in the popular media. This is galling because there is no individual to focus the blame for this on but rather the culture of the popular media.

i accept the criticism of Iggy Azalea, that she doesn’t write her own music, but rather seeks to be someone who grew up in the black ghettoes of the United States, which she isn’t, so isn’t writing about her real experience.

I believe that in the 21st century, society needs to move on from reporting and promoting things as ‘freak shows’ of people that don’t fit conventional rules, but rather more actively and intelligently comment on the art itself rather than the personalities.