Privileged Ignorance & Harrassment

I am a privileged white male. As such I haven’t ever really suffered from discrimination or harassment. I have never been racially abused or been sexually discriminated against. I have on occasion suffered a little homophobia from men who presumed I was gay.

Yet, in spite of this privilege, I have suffered from anxiety. I have been hyper-sensitive to discrimination that never really came my way, it was all in my own head. Having overcome this anxiety I ran into a new problem, that people were still behaving peculiarly around me, notably women and something seemed to be triggering it. This issue vexed me greatly and had me going around in circles trying to work it out for years, wondering if I had overcome anxiety after all.

I eventually worked out that the reason for the shift in the behaviour by these women, was that they had decided that I was seeking a relationship with them. The thing is, i wasn’t seeking a relationship, well no more than I do with everyone. I mean I wasn’t trying to force a closer or indeed a sexual relationship. Yet once they had ‘decided’ this, their behaviour towards me changed completely. In itself this isn’t a problem, the problem was that it bugged me for not knowing why the behaviour had changed and made me anxious again.

However, most of us are attracted to other people and it is a ego boost, a positive thing when we discover that other people are attracted to us. However the reaction to me seemed something much stronger, much darker and more sinister.

The answer dawned on me one evening in London. I was following a man and a woman down the street, they seemed to be having an argument. This seemed quite a normal occurrence until the man stopped and walked the other way, he seemed almost instantly calm as if he didn’t know the woman. It then dawned on me that perhaps he didn’t know this women, who was striding purposefully on, looking straight ahead, you would at least think about looking around to a friend or partner who had left an argument. I then realised that he may have been simply harassing her, or giving unwanted attention to this woman and quite possibly sexual harrassment.

This may well have been an everyday incident on a city street. However it was new to me and I began wondering how much abuse has been taking place in front of my eyes, yet somehow I had been blissfully ignorant of it.

If you are lucky never to have really been abused, you do not know what it is like, or what it looks like. If you live within a privileged bubble, such events are not on your radar. Being a reasonably educated person, I tend to socialise with other educated people, so this world of discrimination and abuse must happen elsewhere outside this bubble. So safely enconsed in this privileged bubble we don’t even notice such abuses when they may be right in front of us.

The thing is, I’ve been an anxious person and am highly sensitive, why hadn’t I noticed all this going on before. If I hadn’t noticed it, then surely it must be even harder to spot for more conventional white males whom are more central in the white male privilege bubble.

This revelation opened up this horrid tawdry world of abuse that exists everywhere. In particular, it made me realise the shit that women have to put up with, probably on an almost daily basis. If you are regularly harassed you are going to develop strategies to protect yourself.

Hence, I had stumbled upon the reason why these women were behaving strangely towards me. They were detecting cues and clues for potentially abusive behaviour from me and raised their guard. This was such an amazing relief for me to uncover, there wasn’t anything wrong with me, I really didn’t need to be anxious! There was no reason, or anything about me as a person that was being  guarded against, but simply a manifestation of how awfully too many of my ‘fellow’ white males behave.

The great thing about this, is I can now detect it. So, when I start seeing a lady being uncomfortable with me, I am able to recognise it and back off and fortunately this doesn’t mean  I end up in uncomfortable situations anymore or lose friendships because of it anymore. I am aware of my own privilege, though I view it as a curse, it has clouded from me truths about the world. I am always welcoming people who are not members of this odd group of people called ‘white males’ into my circles and am always amazed now by how happy  people are to accept white males into their circles despite the potential increased risk of abuse.

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Football, People and Nationalism

Yesterday was a wonderful day to be Welsh. The national rugby team played well against the All Blacks, though lost in the final twenty minutes when the Kiwis turned things up a gear. Then Wales played our first match in the finals of an international football competition since 1958 and won a thrilling game of football, 2-1 against Slovakia. The Welsh fans sang a rendition of Calon Lan (A pure heart), which brought tears to my eyes. Reports came through of the fans singing and socialising with Slovakian and French fans in Bordeaux. Everything seemed so positive.

However, all this was in a context of the bad side of nationalism, the EU referendum debate and violence surrounding the football match between England and Russia. There seems to be a lack of understanding of what a positive nationalism or patriotism is.

A positive nationalism is an understanding of who you are as an individual and of the culture you grew up in, an identity within which to find a place to root yourself, a comradeship with people you share something in common with, people who you can let your hair down with, forget your own troubles and celebrate life together. As human beings we all have so much in common, yet we are all different. so it is good to share what we have in common and respect where we have different ideas. It is always interesting to explore different ideas, to delve into exactly what the fundamental difference is, but respect that difference.

I am a proud Welshman, first and foremost, i have a common feeling with the people and environment of Wales. Nonetheless I am also proud of people everywhere, struggling to make the world a better place to live. I am British, I have friends from England, Scotland and Ireland and appreciate how a wider British culture influences who I am. Furthermore I have particular feelings for the people of countries I have visited, part of their culture has also entered my life. I have nothing against countries I don’t know, they are simply places I have yet to visit, those cultures haven’t entered my life. It is possible to share and celebrate life with people from every culture all over the world, it just means a little bit more when you with people from the same home as you.

I believe that nationalism goes wrong when it is used as a negative force, particularly when it is used to back a political argument.

In the EU referendum there is a valid theoretical argument for leaving the EU. The problem is with the official leave campaign. I went to a panel debate about the EU referendum this week, what frightened me was that it clearly stood out that many advocates of the leave argument harbour a bigotry to immigrants, underneath and underpinning the argument is a bigotry towards people who are not local. It’s crazy as we are all immigrants, the number of people who have families that have lived in the same town for hundreds of years is tiny and so what. Even for those people, some of their ancestors will have come from further afield. I really don’t understand how people can allow hatred to influence their judgement, to appeal to negative perceptions of immigration, effectively to stoke racism to garner support. The UK has it’s problems but the cause isn’t immigration.

I am a football fan, it’s a wonderful game and the camaraderie between fans is a wonderful experience. So what is the difference between supporters of Wales and supporters of England. Perhaps the only real difference is size.

There are some deranged people who like to get drunk and pick fights with people. Football hooliganism is a problem because it allows these people to come together and find another lot of similarly deranged people to fight with. These have always been a minority of people associated with football. However with insularity and a herd mentality encourages people to get drawn into the provocation.

As a Welshman and Manchester City supporter and someone who has travelled around the world, there have been many occasions when I’ve gone to a bar to watch a match and been the only or one of a handful of fellow supporters. So, I have learned to be aware of being a minority and find ways of sharing love of football with people who support the other team. It is always special to be back in Wales, to really let go and be completely passionate about Wales. we even have a word for this ‘hiraeth’ (a kind of longing for home) .I love travelling, but there is no warmer feeling when you cross over the bridge back home to Wales.

However there are people from larger countries, such as England and Russia, where there is always enough fellow supporters to never be a minority, which gives people a wall to hide behind and why build walls, it allows national feeling to be closed, rather than open to other people and cultures. It is not good to always be in a majority or always in a minority, it can distort your thoughts, to separate someone from the self, to take on ideas from the collective without the opportunity to think them through properly.

What I don’t quite get about this misunderstanding of patriotism leading to a negative nationalism is that it seems to equate from an identification with states, rather than people. This leads then leads to a hatred of people in favour of support of a state, it seems so paradoxical. I don’t like the government and don’t feel a real connection with the UK state as such, I feel a connection instead to the people. I also dislike other states which seem to be making the world a worse place. For example, I take issues with the Russian state for invading another country (Ukraine)  it just seems bizarre in the connected twenty first century world for such military action to take place. However I realise that the Russian people are not the Russian state, i bear no ill will towards the Russian people. We all should try to influence our own states to be better, but as individuals we only have a very small influence, removing the current UK regime has long been a problem. No individual can be blamed for the actions of their state (well unless they happen to be it’s leader). Some  politicians will sometimes try to appeal to this perverted nationalism of support for the state, rather than our fellow man, this is wrong and plain weird.

Anyway the UK EU referendum has left everyone confused, myself included. I know many people who have switched from one side to other several times, there is no clear answer. If the polls are accurate, the UK as a whole is split 50:50. I hear a commentator say yesterday that due to the ever shifting sands of public opinion, the result may well be arbitrary. The difficulty with an arbitrary decisions based on peoples feelings on the day, is that the result could well be influenced by peoples national feeling as a result of what happens in the European football championship. Wales will play our friends and neighbours, England on Thursday, one week before the vote it will be a passionate affair, though hopefully will not influence the European Union question.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Fighting Extremism

To my eternal shame, when I was a teenager I was somewhat racist. I thought that people from different races and cultures, had different morals and because of this should not integrate into my own culture. I grew up in a community in rural Wales, which back then was exclusively white Caucasian with a Christian background, a monoculture. Racism does exist in this community, even today, because some local people think that the way things are done around here are somehow better than that which occurs in the rest of the world. The media is partly to blame for describing bad news in such a way as to lay blame on a community that locally is not fully understood.

Fortunately, Wales is a multi-cultural society, the capital city, Cardiff, historically a major world port, attracted people from all around the world. All it takes to debunk any notions of that people from other cultures are less moral, it to talk to them, and understand their culture. From this increased understanding comes the realisation that any cultures moral system is no better than any other, every culture attempts to be moral.

People fundamentally are very different, however certain traits are more common in some races and cultures than others. It is these demographic differences that leap out to outsiders. It is crazy though to then immediately judge that culture for these differences, based on only a very partial understanding of that culture.

This craziness, this leaping to generalisations does happen. For example, if say an Afro-Caribbean man comes to the culture and makes a minor social indiscretion, people often then extrapolate from this one instance to blame an entire race for this minor mistake, because they are the only Afro-Carribbean person they have interacted with, so based on their experience, 100% of that race are seen to have this negative trait. Of course, anyone should know not to form conclusions based on one experience. It is sometimes difficult to assert if people are just criticising an individual or an entire community.

This phenomena of judging without understanding happened to me recently in the wake of the Paris attacks. Certain people I know, who are Atheists expressed the opinion that it was religion that was to blame for extremism. I explored what they were saying with them, I conceded that it does happen that some religious people do become extremists, but not all. In any case extremism occurs in atheist cultures too. The point is that these people had leapt to the generalisation that religion in itself caused extremism and they didn’t really understand what faith is, what prayer is. It is people that cause extremism, not religion. Really, the concept of cultural relativism is so important.

People cause extremism by making judgements before having a good understanding of a culture. Groups of extremists then gather together who share these same naive views. Extremism exists everywhere.

The debate in the UK this week is how to tackle the extremist group ISIS. The question is portrayed as should the UK bomb Syria, where ISIS have political control, in addition to bombing ISIS in Iraq. Syria is already beign bombed by various other cultures. It seems a cosmetic change in policy and arguably a distraction from tacking extremism. However governments can’t defeat extremism, people must defeat extremism. How do people fight extremism?

Firstly, we must not be quick to judge.  Acknowledgement that our own and all other cultures are imperfect. To be wary of the easy answers peddled by politicians and the media. To commit to study the other culture in depth to see if there is any truth in these easy accusations.

Secondly, to not tolerate intolerance. To not allow extremist views to propagate, to challenge the views of people in our communities, to not allow extremist views to become acceptable. Really extremism shoudl be tackled worldwide, in every community, globally. Only then will extremism be deafeated.

The war on terror, isn’t really about bombing people or restricting peoples movements. The war on terror is in hearts and minds of those around us. Extremism has to be beaten locally before any community can genuinely help at a wider level. Already, since the Paris attacks, Muslims in the UK have been physically assaulted and abused. The focus should be on talking to these extremists attacking British Muslims. By doing this the cause of extremism can be tackled, rather than the symptom, terrorist organisations.

 

 

 

Meaty Intolerance

Sometimes, I find it a challenge to be tolerant of people who are intolerant of vegetarians. Particularly such arguments as: Humans are omnivores, it’s ‘natural’ to eat meat. These arguments smack of the highest hypocrisy as the implication is that industrial intensive farming, rearing animals in cages on high growth diets is somehow ‘natural’, it isn’t, To many it’s intolerable. Yet veggies are labeled as being awkward people.

I grew up in rural Wales, in a community of small family farms, rearing animals in a traditional free range way. When I was fifteen I discovered that much of the meat I was eating was from intensive factory farming. I found this intolerable and became a vegetarian. Many years later I felt able to ethically source free range meat. This means I now eat meat once, maybe twice a week. Actually the traditional pre-industrial diet.

It annoys me sometimes that people still regard me as ‘awkward squad’ as I don’t eat meat at restaurants. when I first meet people I identify as practically vegetarian to not cause offense, until people get to know me better. The thing is that when I explain my food preferences to people, or expose urban people to the reality of food production, they tend to agree with me, but don’t act. Two reasons are often given:

1/ It’s too expensive. Well yes, but you don’t have to eat meat in every meal, meat should be a treat, not an everyday thing. It seems people are not prepared to make the changes in how they shop or cook.

2/ It’s too difficult to ethically source meat. This is true for the majority of places in the U.K. But if no-one doers this, there is no market pressure put on food production systems, so abuses of animals welfare perpetuate.

Really, it comes across to me, that people are intolerant of vegetarians yet when forced to think about it  they agree, but are simply not prepared to follow through on these convictions. I appreciate how how odd it is to go to a supermarket and ignore the vast majority of the meat section and all the products containing meat, to be lumbered with feeling an irritating sense of superiority in such stores, to feel like an outsider. But really, there is nothing wrong with being right, honest with yourself and true to your convictions. Being not true to yourself to support industries you find intolerable, is to me one of worst ways of living.

Tolerance

Growing up as a member of minority groups is difficult, because there is a sense that you are not ‘normal’, so there is a desire to discover what ‘normal’ is. There is a sense of questioning why you are different and a sense of anger that your way, your needs are not tolerated. I struggled with this until I accepted that there is nothing actually wrong with me and accepted myself. The sense of anger comes after reflections that what you are isn’t immoral, so other people shouldn’t be prejudiced against you, yet there continue to be examples of other people not understanding.

There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ person. The majority of people are in the majority on any individual facet of life. some people feel less prejudice due to who they are. However some minorities face differing levels of challenge. Two ‘extreme’ examples:

People over 6′ tall: These people live in a world of discomfort because every standard chair and desk is too small and too low. In society generally, the needs of this minority are not fully appreciated, but few are actively prejudiced against tall people.

Paedophiles: Some peoples minds are such that they are sexually attracted to children. Sex with children is morally one of the worst, if not the worst, abuses humans beings are capable of. If the paedophile is fully aware of themselves and reflected that they should not under any circumstances act on these desires, then there is no problem. What is a problem are the societal barriers for such a person to seek help from a wider misunderstanding society, for help in coming to terms with this facet of themselves. There is a lot of prejudice towards such people

The point being that actually there is no real difference between these examples, yet society in general accepts tall people more readily than the paedophile.

Tolerance is essentially about awareness that everybody is different and to accept everybody without prejudice.

I am reminded of the biblical story of Sodom (Genesis 19). In this story, two angels visit the city of Sodom. The angels are welcomed by Lot, but the remainder of the people in the city seek to do the visitors harm. God removes Lot and his family to safety then unleashes fire and brimstone upon the city of Sodom. My interpretation of the story is that the people of this city have become immoral and sin has become accepted as ‘normal’ in the city. The people of Sodom are intolerant of the visitors as failure to welcome guests is itself an example of intolerance.

When I first read this chapter I was unaware of the connection between the name, Sodom and sodomy, a reference to homosexual practice. Indeed some people interpret this story as ‘evidence’ that homosexuality is a sin against God. This interpretation has led to a long history of discrimination of homosexuals, when actually the message of the story is one of tolerance and the importance of reflecting morally upon ones actions.

I find it strange that as an individual it has taken me some years to accept myself for who I am and be happy. it is better to be open and listen, so that you can understand yourself and other people can understand you (but also to be respectful when people don’t understand you). Yet it has taken society much longer to accept minority sexualities, gender equality, racial equality and many many other minorities. There is still far too much intolerance in the world. Sadly there is still intolerance within Christianity, a force whose message is the promotion of tolerance.