Monday, 15 January 2018

Mesmerised

When I snap my fingers you will awake. One, two, three... So goes the old stage hypnotist spiel, whereupon the supposedly mesmerised stooges will act out their rehearsed business and the audience will be amused for a few minutes. And then the audience gets to go home and think about the act of gross deception they just participated in. Were those subjects really unable to resist the will of their puppet-master, or were they just going along with it so as not to spoil the show?

Do I think hypnotism is a crock? Pretty much, in that environment; the idea that certain people possess the power to almost instantly induce a trace state in their subjects is clearly risible. (Having said that I have endured some of Ed Miliband’s speeches.) Do I believe that in a controlled environment people can be induced to relax and enter a waking dream? I guess so, if they want to. Can hypnosis create Manchurian candidates who will kill on a command word? Hell no – far too many people took far too many drugs in the sixties.

I have a low regard for the soft pseudo sciences, especially those whose title ends in therapy: psycho, aroma, chromo, hypno and so on. And especially those whose claim to be a science derives from their name alone. It’s not that they have no place at all; after all the placebo effect is recognised, measurable and can be surprisingly strong. It’s just that even after their snake oil salesmen practitioners have been revealed as charlatans, the weak-willed still feel the need for a magic cure.

Magicians often hide their distractions in plain sight, misdirecting their observers with dazzling displays while the mundanity of the trapdoor allows the ‘volunteer’ to vanish. But we all – by the age of majority, you’d hope – know that what we are seeing is a show and not reality. Spend money on a hypnotist to stop you smoking and you will be taught practical strategies, displacement activities, to get you over the craving. It isn’t the hypnotism that is stopping you smoking, but having bought into it you will convince yourself that Mr Mesmer did the trick.

Look into my eyes...

The above, however, seems to be utterly negated by the Trump effect. Whatever else he might be – madman, liar, crook, psychopath, bully, paranoid power freak – all of which he has in common with many who have held the office before him, he has the left mesmerised to instantly react whenever he appears. And that is a bloody brilliant act. As the blond bouffant hoves into view you can barely take your eyes off it. And then off they all go, wildly strutting about the media stage, clucking like hens, fighting off imaginary threats and helplessly dancing to his tune. When Donald Trump snaps his fingers... One, two, three... 

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Cry Wolf!

It’s that time of year again, the time when the Fabian Society members get together under their ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ emblem, stare the collective onlookers in the eyes – into the eyes, not around the eyes - and try to convince them that their aims are only benign. The Fabians are, of course, the Momentum of their day seeking to shape the debate and push an agenda as misguided as it is elitist. If only the masses would accept the warm embrace of better people who have only their advancement at heart. (I leave you to interpret that last sentence how you deem fit.)

I sometimes think all political clubs put on special, extra-strength, metaphorical blinkers before conference. The principal speakers should at least, you would think, be capable of looking beyond narrow partisan faiths and open their eyes to the reality that just because they believe it, it doesn’t mean it is true; or that it is the only truth. If anything, the fringe events are worse – if the main audience are in the bubble the fringe speakers should be wielding pins.

No doubt much hot air will be released over Shitholegate and the terrifying – to them – way in which the President of the United States of America has continued to eschew the guarded lexicon of diplomacy in favour of the language the rest of us use. ‘Third World’ has long been a euphemism for ‘people we don’t want to be like’ while International Development Aid is shorthand for ‘throw the dog a bone’, or ‘please try to be more like us’.

Let’s have no more talk of ‘developing countries’ and ‘deprived areas’ when we really mean shitholes and lawless estates. Those who hail from these origins are rarely under any illusion that they come from a rich, vibrant culture; they are just grateful – those few who do escape – to be given a chance in the west. They aspire to western successes and willingly adopt western values. But the people who speak out at gatherings like the Fabian Society seem to believe that it is we, instead, who should adapt.

This is a double kick in the face; they would impose hardship on the host nation and fete the new arrivals as exemplars of a bright, multicultural future, while depriving the donor nation of its best and brightest. But forget about the future; all our experience shows that mass importation of incompatible cultures is parasitical on the host. And all our experience shows that no matter how much effort is expended over many decades on overseas charity, the problems are rarely alleviated.

If the Fabians et al genuinely believed in social justice, why don’t they consider actively deterring mass immigration and insisting that once educated, the doctors, engineers, scientists and lawyers must return to their country of origin for at least, say, ten years and work on its improvement? I think most ordinary people would support that sort of thing. Oh but wait, ‘most people’ implies some form of democracy and the elites do hate a democracy.

The Fabians - a little reminder...

So, what have we learned today? The Fabians would rule over us, for they know better. They believe that open democracy, which they denigrate as populism’ would turn the country into a shithole. Better, they will conclude, that the running of the country remains in their trust, insisting as they do that they know so much better than the masses. And the solution to all this shithole-threatening populism? Import yet more of the uneducated masses from shithole countries... just watch.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Differently Equal?

Well, I confess, I have no idea what is going on any more. Toby Young steps down from his appointment to the OfS, falling victim, not to a few off-colour comments that would go unremarked in the average workplace, but to the indignant mob of bien pensant robots, programmed to fly off the handle at the merest whiff of Tory insobriety. It would sit easier if, for instance, the same sort of treatment was meted out to the odious Keith Vaz but the oily little boy-renter is still an MP and continues, Teflon-like to shrug off all charges.

I was going to write about this renewed taste for mob rule, whereby the baying hounds, the self-appointed arbiters of what will and will not be tolerated, can decide who does and does not deserve to be able to earn a living; whose voices will be heard and whose will be silenced, but plenty of far more eloquent others beat me to it. So I will content myself with one aspect of it. In Toby Young’s statement he referred to the caricature with which he had been portrayed and I realised that this reductive discourse is taken far too seriously.

Caricatures, lampoons, cartoons, soundbites, frozen stills of punches thrown, grimaces pulled, eyelids closed and gestures which (if you are so minded) can look a little like a Nazi salute; we use emotive shorthand to convey an image. The great cartoonist’s art is to capture the essence of a personality, an event, a movement in the fleetest of brush strokes, the most minimal of captions and make that thing instantly recognisable and ideally memorable. But is it true?

For those of a certain generation the grotesques created by Peter Fluck & Roger Law for the excruciatingly acidic Spitting Image have taken the place of reality. Who can think of Michael Hesletine without imagining Tarzan; who can only see John Major in monochrome, desultorily pushing peas about a plate? Maybe we kidded ourselves that we knew the difference, but I’m pretty sure that for most of us the cipher is sufficient. Thus the land-grabbing, poor-kicking, cruel Tory is cemented in the brains of leftists as surely as is the image of welfare-scrounging entitlement whores in the brains of Conservatives.

Thus Theresa May’s reshuffle, despite nodding to political correctness and replacing white men with a colourful array of ‘diverse’ options is lazily portrayed in the media as pathetic. Because Theresa’s tag is ‘weak and wobbly’. You wonder what is going on at Tory HQ when they didn’t recognise that a pledge to be ‘strong and stable’ is so easily subverted by the other side. Maybe we have gone too far down this road to turn back, but surely it’s not too late to put the complexity back into our lives.


Can’t we excuse past transgressions as youthful folly and recognise that people do learn and grow? Can’t we ever accept that the ground troops of both left and right ultimately want similar things and consider blended politics? Can’t people reconcile themselves to the possibility that there can be such a thing as a Liverpudlian Tory, or is Esther McVey a riddle too far? And is it just possible that our convenient labels obscure that fact that we are more alike than we allow ourselves to believe?

Monday, 8 January 2018

It's all true!

One week in and 2018 shows no sign of newly turned leaves in terms of the endless social media spats around Trump, Brexit and any issue which divides opinion on roughly left/right lines. Those happy few who cleave to neither creed tend not to use social media in the same way, posting up recipes, family anecdote and pictures of kittens; heaven knows what they must think of the raucous cacophony that rages all around them sitting as they do in the calm eye of the Twitter storm.

Why do we do it we should ask ourselves? Why do we put ourselves up for ridicule, as we all do when we try and use spurious facts and ill-reported slander to bolster our claims? And what are facts anyway? Government statistics; can they be trusted? And opinion polls, what of them? What, apart from trying to prove a partisan point drives people to poll in the first place?

I used to naively believe in facts as indisputable truths, science as unpervertable veritas and the evidence of my own eyes as crystal clear. But no, because one person’s indisputable evidence of increased NHS spending is another’s cast-iron proof of cuts. One person’s free speech is received as hate in another’s ear. And like illusionists performing their tricks even unedited video footage can be used to portray ten different truths to ten different minds.

Add to this the Photoshopped versions, the misleading ‘memes’ and the plethora of fake accounts set up especially to promulgate untruths and propaganda and it is little wonder that – and here comes the ‘L’ word – literally nobody can claim ownership of the unvarnished truth. Even just retweeting something that strikes a chord with you, right or wrong, makes you part of the problem. It drags you into the morass of lies and deceit and simple misinformation that seems to be the only constant across mass communications media today.

What’s the alternative though? Stay silent with all the frustration that not having a voice brings? I have noticed that even only slightly controversial tweets will get a dozen ‘likes’ to each retweet, as if people wish to register approval without drawing attention to themselves. I can’t blame them for it, but it does seem a mite timid when you have the power to nail your colours to the mast and broadcast to the world.

How about applying the reasonableness test? What is more likely do you think – that the Tory government colludes with rich offshore individuals to directly increase their wealth by systematically robbing the poor of what should be theirs by right – or that in creating a business friendly culture which employs millions it incidentally enriches some to an extent that can be seen by some as morally wrong? Or that socialism, in seeking to create a fairer world, inadvertently deters people from becoming wealth creators thus, as a by-product of good intentions, produces bad outcomes?

Comparing political conspiracy theory to simple coincidence is like comparing divine design to evolution. One requires an omnipotence and omniscience so powerful that it cannot be fathomed by humankind, the other a simple theory involving imperfect copies, mutations and millions of years of trial and error. Our understanding of the human condition itself is still evolving and you’d think we might learn from our mistakes but it turns out we don’t. At least not from one generation to the next.


So until we reach that nirvana of enlightenment we will just have to stumble along and make the best of it. Perhaps not being so quick to condemn those who use ‘the wrong facts’ or draw the ‘wrong conclusions’. If a piece of news seems too good to be true, the chances are it’s not. Do you want the difficult truth that life is hard and there are winners and losers, or do you want the miraculous truth that Saint Jeremy Corbyn will cleanse us of all our sins? Do you believe the other side’s delusions are lies and your delusions are true? It’s a tricky old game.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Keep Calm

Could everybody stop, for a minute, and just try not to be offended. In fact if you could stop being offended for just one day in the month you might find a way towards the light. Obviously, going cold turkey might be a test too far, but you could, you know cut down a bit. Think of it as an outrage fast; or think of it as an offence ramadan and refuse to take offence during the hours of daylight. Come on it should be easy enough at this time of the year.

One step at a time. Try imagining, just for one day, that the NHS still exists. Or, if that is too hard, try believing that some Tories – not all, I grant you – were not educated at private schools, like their Labour counterparts. Picture, if you will, a Britain where everybody finds Diane Abbott an embarrassment, not just those with a sense of perspective. And put aside, for a few hours at least, your visceral revulsion for all things white, male and heterosexual.

Try not to be triggered, for instance, by the simple fact that our current left-of-centre government just happens to be controlled by the Conservative Party. And remember that Margaret Thatcher died in 2013 and left office over a quarter of a century ago. Dan Hodges makes a fair point when he says: “There was a time when Britain’s motto was Keep Calm And Carry On. Today it’s Take To Twitter And Start A Moral Panic”. Read the article, it’s very good, but do try not to be offended. 

Giving up taking offence is not for everybody, obviously. Some are so wedded to the concept of ‘Social Justice’ that they can’t even imagine a world in which every utterance is not intended to cause harm. If you extracted all the outrage from social media you would be left with little more than twee, self-congratulatory messages of joy and pride; and what a tedious world that would be. So, I’m not saying don’t get exercised; getting exercised is an important part of caring and seeking to improve. Just don’t get so carried away.

 Just because headline writers use words like ‘fury’, ‘crisis’ and ‘destroyed’ to make you click on the links it doesn’t mean you have to buy into the hyperbole. People’s lives are not ‘ruined’ on anything like the scale you might need to believe; it just makes better copy. The Grenfell survivors, for instance, are in far better shape than they would be had they stayed legally in their home countries. And Lily Allen pretty much brings on herself the opprobrium she attracts.

Trigger warning!

Giving up an addiction is not easy though and many will relapse, but try it. For some it will be a Trump tweet which leads you to fall off the wagon, for others Corbyn, but take it one day at a time. Then, after a while you might discover that becoming offence-free is liberating, restoring your mental equilibrium and clearing your vision. You will be happier, healthier, less angry, less stressed. But never forget that all these benefits can be lost in an instant; the instant somebody mentions Brexit.