Search

Stewart Hotston

Hope, Anger and Writing

Category

Culture

Belonging

Or how to make friends with your average man

Men and friendships are quite strange. I’ve been through periods in my life where I’ve struggled to maintain meaningful friendships. Part of this is because many male friendships are based on belonging or taking part in themed activities where the theme is the point, not the friendship.

Consider supporting a football club or golf or Rotary. Think about more rarified clubs like those who do ultramarathons or martial arts or belong to a reading group. Much of the time the nature of the people in the club doesn’t matter – they can be ‘a character’ or stand-offish or aloof or awkward but it doesn’t matter (thankfully) because we’re all here to do the same activity.

This is good because these clubs and social activities give us a route to making social connections we would otherwise not have. And loneliness among men is a chronic problem – and only grows worse as we get older sadly.

For me though, belonging to a club has never quite delivered the kind of relationships I want. The reason? I want to talk deep stuff, want to talk about how I’m feeling. I want to share where I’m scared and where I’m nervous and I want to hear about that for others. I don’t really, always, want to fix stuff even if that’s my go to mechanism in the way society has taught me to feel useful.

This is a problem because society, the way we teach men to be in relationships, strongly suggests that men need to not talk about their feelings and to try to conform to what the majority want. (I’m not saying this is unique to men, just that it’s a design feature of our cultural conditioning here in the UK).

Becoming a father has taught me as much about my relationships as it has about what I want from them. I have thought long and hard about what kind of relationships I wanted with my children and how to foster those and, largely, that’s what I’ve been fortunate enough to develop. I wanted relationships where I could be honest, where I would explicitly trust them and where they could, in return, risk trusting me. I’ve also thought about how I rolemodel other ways of being a man to both of them. For them both I’ve wanted them to understand men can be affectionate, prepared to admit they’re wrong, open about failure and success and capable of being openly excited. This has required me to change how I am as a person and, honestly, it’s been a strange but completely satisfying experience.

I’ve also explicitly set out not to fix every problem. I’ve set out to be someone who they can talk to, can ask for help from but also who will be there as they experiment with the clear message that failure is a normal part of life and, when it happens, we should talk about it, how we feel about it and how we respond both to the failure but also those feelings.

If this sounds sappy…well I don’t think it is. It’s been a hard process to choose that and then live it.

It’s also informed my other friendships. As one of my best friends commented a while back ‘you’re one of the most buttoned up people I know’. They meant, I think, that I keep my feelings to myself.

They are right. I do it because i fear people don’t want to know how I feel, that they see worth in me being capable not in being vulnerable. I fear that I am less likeable if I am expressive of my feelings. All these things are lies I believe in my soul. They are lies I’ve been taught throughout my life and that I see men being taught every day by each other, by women and by society through the stories we consume and the narratives we see across work, politics and daily life.

Of course I want to be indispensable. Of course I want to be a hero to others, to be respected and loved and seen as a pillar. But I’ve also got to reject these things because the way they’re defined is too alone, to much focused on what I do, not who I am in my community.

I’ve talked a lot about community recently as anyone who heard me speak at EasterCon could probably testify. The more I think about what I want from life the more I know it’s community where together we make great things, where together we live a good life and where together we understand our human frailties and accept one another completely.

I’m not losing my individuality but I think that I’m really only me when I’m also part of a community and that is why loneliness is so damaging. Sure, people come in flavours and many love alone time but none of us are uplifted by loneliness.

The cure to loneliness is belonging to a club in the same way that the the solution to being hungry isn’t going shopping. It’s part of it but it isn’t the whole thing. In philosophical terms it’s necessary but it isn’t sufficient.

Belonging is crucial. But belonging is so much more than doing something with someone else.

What I have found is that, largely, when I’ve taken the risk of talking about my feelings and my desires and my hopes and failures with others they talk about those things too. There’s some permission here that we’re all looking for but we too rarely offer one another.

If you have the chance today…try it with someone and see what comes back. It is the first step to building proper friendships.

On male friendship – what even is it?

This is a tough one. Where do we begin talking about male friendship?

I’m going to try to talk about it candidly. I’m certainly not a guru or an expert which I suspect will come through quite clearly. There’ll be no neat categorisations (although I’ll probably manage to squeeze in a list or two). I also don’t have any idea if the things I want to talk about are things that feature for me alone or for others too. It may be that I get sidetracked here or write more than one post but this is a beginning.

I find friendship difficult. By that I mean that I find the concept of having and being friends one of my heart’s desires but I also don’t really know how to do that. I moved around a lot as a kid. I was also the only brown boy in school (and then at A-levels too).

I remember being told I wasn’t welcome at the only Asian club at University because I wasn’t a Hindu (brought up a good atheist by parents desperate, I think, to integrate).

All this means I don’t really have friends from school (there are a couple on Facebook) and I have a few friends from University but most of the friends I have now are those who I’ve met and built relationships with as an adult. In that sense I have no nostalgia for being younger. My school days were absolutely not the best of my life.

I open there partly because it colours how I see friends, especially as someone who identifies as male. I don’t like watching sport and I don’t like drinking beer. I am, in many ways, that weird nerd whose interests are almost entirely his own.

If friendship is built on shared experience I’m not one for doing the kinds of activities that build it. I love running, reading, movies and writing. I’ve been a good fencer (a sport, sure, but hardly a team one), I love cooking and thinking about things. I also love parties and dancing and eating out with friends.

My friends are all over the place – some are like me in some ways but many aren’t. I’m the kind of person who can, because being a social chameleon was absolutely vital growing up, adapt to most situations but I’m not sure I’m the person you think of first to invite to things, to ask if I’m ok or to include.

Since I’m writing about friendship this is what I want – people who I can pour my heart out to, who I can be silent with, who I can share my failures with and with whom I can laugh, find/offer support and feel safe.

In practical terms I’m fairly rubbish at all of the above. I worry that telling people how I feel will alienate them, I worry that being silent bores them. I am frightened of admitting my failures and because most of life has been one where having space to be me has been lacking…well you can see the direction here.

Add to this the toxic and strained conversation about what being male looks like in the public space and it makes sharing these kinds of experiences and desires challenging.

My experience of the representation of male relationships is that they’re functional or sexual. We work together or we relate to sexual partners too often via ownership language rather than partnership language. i.e. where we come together it’s nearly always in a way that then separates us again.

I remember one baffling conversation with a friend who insisted that the entirety of Frodo and Sam’s relationship should be read in a gay context. When I challenged this (let’s not even start to talk class, trauma, education and the hierarchy of armed forces) by suggesting that men could have relationships as close as Sam and Frodo without it being seen via primarily a sexualised lens they were baffled. I wanted to challenge this because, whatever my sexual attractions I also want to have friendships that are so very deep as they are there. I want to be able to tell my male friends that I love them and for that to be understood for what it means. English is rubbish in this regard. Classical Greek at least has different words for different types of love. That would be far more convenient.

This friend didn’t say they didn’t have male friends like this, but they also admitted they couldn’t imagine it for themselves. My heart dies a little when I have these kinds of conversations.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I think the difficulties I experience in trying to be me with my friends are extremely complex. What is clear is that I don’t mean being me in the moment but I mean being me over the long term with people who grow to understand my rhythms; the threads which make me. I think these challenges are largely constructed (ie there’s nothing essentialist in them, they’re largely a product of the society I exist within) but that doesn’t make them any less constraining.

The life I’ve led also feeds right into the kinds of relationship I can sustain, the kinds I want and the kinds that threaten me.

So there’s a few subjects I’d like to think about at some other time.

  1. anger and safety
  2. belonging
  3. whether a lack of common identities means we struggle to build meaningful relationships
  4. loneliness among men
  5. transgression and forgiveness
  6. What it’s like being friends with someone who identifies as male
  7. Fatherhood and friendship
  8. rolemodels for friendship among and with male presenting people

This is rather confessional but I don’t think I can talk about these issues without being honest about myself. I hope that’s of some use.

On censorship

There’s a typical media bubble furore right now over the ‘censorship’ of Roald Dahl and other older writers who remain, although bafflingly to me, beloved of quite a few people who consider themselves morally right on. Therein comes the exercises where people try to contort themselves into defending something they know is problematic but where admitting that would put them in the position of, outrageously, having to take a look at what they love and questioning the harm it may have done.

So far so normal for my life as a minority among an ever blind to self majority.

Why then am I writing this? Because it’s both too easy to say such nonsense as ‘I read it and didn’t become a racist’ and to simply tell people who like Dahl and Fleming and any host of other writers whose attitudes have aged terribly (and this in itself is a problematic phrase we’ll come back to momentarily) that they’re the problem.

As it’s so often up for debate let me state here that trans people are people. Fully so. Indeed, allyship is fundamentally intersectional and if you come for them then you’ll better come for me too (hey, I know I’m also on the fascists’ list, but it’s worth reminding bullies they can’t pick you off one by one).

What do i think about this?

Firstly it’s not censorship. There is no government censor demanding the offending copies be destroyed and replaced with new bowdlerised versions. So please stop calling it that.

What this is, is revision, amendment, adaptation. I think whether you believe this to be wrong rests on two intersecting sets of attitudes the First is simply – are you prejudiced. If you are then you’re going to struggle accepting there’s anything wrong with Flemings’ happy projection of sexism, racism and ableism in his Bond books. You’re going to struggle to see how buying books from the estate of Dahl doesn’t implicitly condone his virulent anti-semitism. This doesn’t make you a racist or anti-semite or misogynist.

But it makes you a fucking terrible ally. If you are still in the camp that thinks that because it’s not affected you then it must be fine then you are not my ally. Because it’s sure as fuck affected me. The writing of Dahl (mean spirited as it is about people who don’t meet his particular moral norms), the terrible attitude towards anyone not a white british upper class male of Fleming, the out and out racism of Lovecraft. These harm people like me. They harm us twofold. First you keep giving your money to publishers who see you supporting these awful attitudes and so keep publishing them. The second round effects of these do untold harm.

Secondly they harm us because they continue to entrench, in a thousand tiny ways you are fucking blind to, attitudes and behaviours that essentially say white men are ok and everyone else is (slightly to grossly) inferior.

But that’s enough on why these books are problematic.

The question right now is what to do about it.

This brings me to the second set of motivations about amending and adapting literature. Whether you think it exists as a perfect artefact or whether you think culture is a living breathing thing. I’m in the latter camp but if you sit in the former, even if you don’t realise it, then you may well regard adapting ANY work of art as problematic, more so than the messages it contains.

I wonder if you’d rather nazi works of art or the art of the KKK or mussolini and Pinochet’s regime works should be put on display prominently rather than being quietly forgotten? Probably not (unless you’re some kind of edge lord who thinks reductio ad absurdum is a god tier debating technique rather than the province of 10 year olds caught pissing in the sink).

I understand the reasoning. if the work of art is a thing itself, a direct platonic objet d’art then interfering with it is sacrilege. Religious in its level of desecration (apologies of you’re an atheist who feels like this but perhaps you’d be better off taking a long look at how you value objects and what that says about the axioms of your ideological value system). I mean you’re on the wrong side of history, fighting Canute like against the encroaching sea which can easily wipe away your sand castles but at least your position is comprehensible.

For me, someone who continues to face racist abuse and who witnesses and experiences a thousand smaller expressions of unthinking prejudice any attempt to change the framework within which the discussion takes place is a positive one. My kids read and listened to a select few of Dahl’s stories. They hate James Bond and they (and their friends) are all too aware of Lovecraft and mock the racist old bastard whenever he comes up. This is fine by me.

Do I think these authors and others like them should be banned or actually censored (and gosh, because we’re talking about changing windows of acceptability among the MAJORITY here, that’s a lot of authors and artists)?

No. I do not.

I think we should be honest about the fact that in giving people like me a voice, in your recognising me as a proper human being who is worth every bit as much as you that we must alter what we think is acceptable to say, express, paint, sing and write about. I think we must look at our histories in which your parents were abusers of mine in a thousand ways even when they were kind because of the nature of the imperial and classist society they lived in and consider the legacies of that upon ourselves today.

I think that if we can change the landscape for the better even if only for a few that is worth doing because we are doing something right now that will echo through the years to come. But we do not forget the past. We do not exploit the past for gain. We do not pretend it didn’t happen but we do not hold it over one another either. If we truly want equity and equality then we must, especially the representatives of the majority, accept that our tastes should be open to change in order to lift others around us up.

Far too often in these debates those who have never been harmed because they’re in the majority scoff at those who have been harmed and, worse still, mock those allies who are trying to make our culture somewhere safer for those who are harmed by old attitudes and the power structures they still represent.

This is no way to treat those trying to do good. This is no way to make me feel safe around you. When I hear your comments I mark you as someone who is at best cloth eared and tone deaf but who is, at worst, willfully ignorant and therefore not someone who I can trust in any way at all.

If that causes you to think about what you say then I want you to know this is no condemnation – I hope you see this as me being vulnerable (and spikey as a result natch) about how your attitudes impinge upon my life and my experience of the spaces we share together.

So no to censorship. This isn’t censorship. It’s people in some small places trying to make things more inclusive and contemporary (just like those books were when they were published). They’re trying to update the hymns and when you object on the spurious reasons I’m seeing all over the place, you are the crusties sitting at the back of church demanding hymns are sung exactly as they were written three hundred years ago. Regardless of the fact they were contemporary back then, regardless of the fact they were often mixed up, rejigged and adapted to their situation then. You see the ossification of the object and assume that’s the pure form rather than realising that like any fossil, the stone version of the bones has seen not just the life stripped away but the meat, sinew and blood too. The fossil is nothing more than a fractured memory as far from the real thing as a painting of someone in love is from love itself.

The question I’d ask is – are you an ally? if you are then perhaps a little more nuance and a lot more empathy about the people whose lives are actually involved might go a long way to helping you understand why these small acts – so irritatingly silly to you – are actually wonderful signs of rebellion against prejudice and hatred.

Words matter or people wouldn’t be arguing over them.

Interest Rates and Inflation (this is a long one)

Everything here is my own view and does not reflect upon any institutions I may work for or be involved with. That’s not to say what I’m going to write is controversial (it largely isn’t among experts) but, you know, this is me.

It may also be that you have a view on this already and on that basis nothing I’m going to say here is written with a view to changing your mind should your view be different to mine. I am going to be snarky and if you find your view ridiculed? Sorry, I think these issues are important enough that those whose approaches would leave us all worse off need, at the very least, to be made fun of.

A couple of housekeeping points. First – prediction is really hard, especially when it’s about the future. (thanks Niels Bohr). I’m not going to talk about the future in this post. I’m simply going to talk about what some things are and what we know about them thanks to past events. Second, I’m going to try to keep jargon (such as monetarist, neo-liberal, keynesian, chicago school, exogenous, M0, M1 supply etc) out of the text – not because I can’t swing my educated dick around with the best of them but because this isn’t a policy document.It’s something I wanted to write to explain some stuff about inflation, rates and the consequences for you and me.

Third and final point of housekeeping – economics is not a science no matter how much maths is used, no matter how many formula. It is much harder than most science. It is also, as a discipline, much more arrogant. Although I’m trying to explain something here, I’m also giving you a health warning that although looking back we can try to describe what happened and then venture explanations as to why – the truth is there are no ‘great men of history’ driving what happens.

Right. That out of the way, let’s take a look at what I’m interested in talking about today.

The BoE describes Inflation as the word we use for rising prices. Which is annodyne without being incorrect.

The rate of inflation is therefore the rate at which prices are rising. Again, accurate without being insightful.

What that doesn’t do is explain WHY prices might be rising, what impact that has nor the fact that the measurement itself is…a thing worthy of examining.

So, first, what creates inflation?

Some people blame capitalism and suggest we could have a zero growth kind of world. I wish them luck. Why the snark?

Because inflation is a measure of what it takes to maintain the standard of living we have now. Think about that for a moment. Inflation is a measure of the cost of something at a given moment in time against another moment in time. I always struggle to help people see how inflation is a measure of cost over time. It’s not a measure of something today.

Think about it like this: I have built a road. To pay for the materials, expertise and labour I have to have money (and investment in stable systems in place over time to create expertise, tools and those same materials). I may have this money through two routes. I can save up until I have the funds OR I can borrow the money. Borrowing is essentially bringing money I might have in the future into today.

So I build my road. The money is spent. The road lasts forever.

Wait. Something isn’t right with that statement.

Yep. The road doesn’t last forever. It degrades. It crumbles and gets potholes through use. It needs maintaining to keep it in good nick. You could think about inflation as the amount you spend through time to keep that road in good condition. It’s not a perfect analogy but hopefully you get the point – which is inflation is a record of the cost of having something over time.

I think it’s a better description than saying inflation of 10% means a shirt that cost £10 last year will now cost £11 because it gives you a sense of why that additional cost has materialised.

So far so vague.

let’s delve into the weeds a bit. To do that we’ll need to leave the rather hand wavey/philosophical description above and assume that inflation’s about people wanting things and what they’re prepared to pay for them that drives prices – it’s obviously way more complicated than that. We’ll also ignore why basic measures of inflation entirely ignore the indirect impact of how society is structured and the economic and social policies in place for that society (and those it interacts with). For now though let’s go back to school for a moment and assume that what high schoolers and undergraduates are taught about inflation is actually true (pfff).

There’s basically two types of inflation. The first is what we call demand led inflation. This really means that you want something and you’re prepared to pay for it. If there’s not a lot of something and you still want it you might actually be prepared to pay more for it and the people selling it will therefore choose to charge you more because you’ll still buy it when they charge more. That is demand led inflation because your demand led to prices increasing.

Side Bar: this is not really what demand led inflation is – because that entirely ignores unequal demand, inequality and the elasticity of demand. ie. you may want something badly but can’t afford it, so you don’t buy it. I can afford it but the seller knows I can afford it and that I’ll still choose to pay for it if it’s twice the price. So they raise the price twofold and hey presto we have inflation. Except that the costs haven’t changed and now the seller is richer and there are lots of people(think about this globally) who can’t afford this thing that’s desirable. That might sound reasonable until you think of it being clean water or access to medicine. Inflation is too often thought about in connection to luxuries and not often enough with basic human essentials in mind. It’s important because sometimes the demand that we all have access to something is reasonable, compassionate and humane. Other times it’s not but the two things can both be true. END of Side Bar

There can be many reasons for this kind of inflation. You may be wealthy. You may have a critical need. You may simply want something for no other reason than you want it.

The other side of this coin is supply led inflation. Basically when the person/people/companies selling something jack up the price compared to the last time you bought it. Think Martin Schkreli who tried this with medicines and was, in the end, convicted although the actual gouging he engaged in wasn’t the illegal part (thanks laissez faire economics!).

The reasons for why supply led inflation may rise are also many but are rarely the same as those on the demand led side. They could be that the prices of raw materials have increased or the cost to heat their factory or the wages they must pay or the im(ex)port taxes levied by international treaties. They may be required to adjust their methods or invest in new machinery. Sometimes just the cost of keeping things running can lead to them needing to put cost up.

Side Bar: you may have heard of shrinkflation – this is a recent word for something that’s as old as the hills. When a company needs to put prices up it may not be able to because demand for that product would collapse. So it might keep prices the same but reduce what you receive for that. It may be a smaller chocolate bar or a flight with no free meal or a train that has no tables…these are all examples of the same thing. END of Side Bar

The perils of high inflation are unique to the human condition. high inflation, regardless of the cause, a the fact that prices are rising fast. Now, high inflation sounds like its a thing that happens in a moment but it’s not and this is REALLY important to grasp. Rising prices rise over time. That means that what costs £10 today may cost £12 next week but then £15 the week after. If you’re earning only £10 then both of those rises are damaging to your ability to just STAND STILL and maintain the quality of life you had yesterday.

You could just give everyone more money so they can afford everything but that too is definitely inflationary as suddenly people will spend this will definitely lead to SELLERS raising prices because they can and that will bring us right back to where we started but WITHOUT solving the problem of everyone spending more just to stand still.

It’s really important to realise that most inflation is transitory. By which I mean that there is a period in which the prices rise and then they stop rising. Think of it like this – when you accelerate from 20mph to 30mph there’s a period when you’re accelerating but when you reach 30mph you stop increasing your speed. Inflation is the acceleration and, just like driving faster, it stops when you reach that new level/speed.

Most of the time at least.

Knowing this doesn’t help if your wages don’t match the increased costs. Now, not being able to have the same quality of life as you did yesterday sounds bad and it is. For many people they absorb these costs and carry on but for many others they find they can’t eat or pay for heating or afford new clothes. For the least well off they discover they can’t afford to live in a house with walls and a roof. Inflation is exceptionally damaging in many circumstances because it always hits the poorest hardest, earliest.

Now, you’ll often find a moral dimension in inflation arguments and it runs like this. Talking heads moan about workers wanting more money arguing that if they do get more money they’ll then by able to buy more and therefore drive prices further up. No one ever criticises bosses for taking huge payrises or suggests that billionaires are responsible for asset bubbles (news flash, they’re a symptom of the disease not the cause, but they’re a cancerous symptom, one that spreads and does damage similar to but not identical with the problem from which they burst like nasty buboes). This one sided offence and moral castigation tells you people i) don’t understand inflation and ii) think workers should know their place and that place is to do work and not really be humans who might live for other reasons than work.

However there is some truth in the argument if you carefully excise the moralistic puss. It is this: if costs remain stable then demand led inflation can lead to price rises that increase inequality and damage economic stability. I come back to the fact that the ultra wealthy do this simply by existing as nodes for wealth accretion but hey, that’s just me.

In these circumstances, and these circumstances alone – that is where it is the great mass of people driving prices up via demand for more – then raising interest rates can have some impact. Not a huge amount, certainly not directly on people since the majority of homes in the UK are owned without a residential mortgage attached (the ONS estimates that only 28% of homes have a mortgage attached)) and so rising rates will have no DIRECT impact on the majority of people. If you factor those in with fixed rate mortgages the proportion remaining unaffected rises even higher. (and let’s not talk about the US where standard fixed rates are between 10-30 YEARS, not 1-3). For these people rates could rise to 10000% and they’d still not be directly impacted.

For others who borrow, the rate at which they borrow may only reset once every few years. So raise it today and rising rates won’t impact them until a few years from now.

Yet in fiction and in many economics textbooks and certainly in most news media, this is the only kind of inflation anyone ever talks about (because it’s easy to be moralistic about individual choices and being judgy sells copy).

What we’ve experienced in the last twelve months certainly has some elements of this – there was a huge amount of pent-up demand post lock down. Yet inflation was exceptionally low during lockdown and so this, really, can be balanced out by its later contribution to our overall inflation numbers (the rate at which prices rose reflected, in some part, the sudden demand in the market after months of people being stuck at home. This isn’t correct across many sectors but it’s close enough to being right that we’ll let it pass unremarked).

What isn’t well understood outside of banks and hedge funds, insurers and other financial professionals is this: the inflation that kicked UK CPI to 11.1% for it’s October reading is largely led by supply led factors. That is, factors that I as a consumer have no influence over. None at all. My buying habits have largely been to stay where I was this time last year. What I’ve discovered is that to do so I have to spend 11.1% more (on average – for those with less the inflation rate could be as high as 20% because the items they want have seen more extreme localised inflation). This isn’t me wanting more, it’s me struggling to stay still. Again, when I ask for a pay rise it’s not to buy more but to buy the same as what I was buying last year! That is hardly demand led as traditionally defined.

Why is this? A bunch of complex reasons all coming together at the same time.

The first is the impact of lock downs on a global scale. Factories shut, ships didn’t sale, ports were closed, mines stopped mining and people stopped planning for normal levels of demand. This meant that when the world started to ignore covid and carry on as if it wasn’t there (thank goodness for vaccines) the demand for life to return to how it was in 2019 simply couldn’t be met.

There were no factories producing widgets, no ships to take them and no ports to receive them. These shortages resulted in companies struggling to fulfil demand and prices rising because just to ratchet up production and mend supply lines and get shit around the world demanded new, unforeseen investment. It turns out that if you turn big things off it’s not simple (or free) to switch them on again.

Then the fact that some places responded to proposed shortages by agreeing to pay more than others. This demand inflation wasn’t created by you but by companies who wanted to sell to you and knew they could make you pay more just to stand still. So shortages turned into prices rises.

No one was earning more at this stage, we were just paying more.

Then came the war in Ukraine which obliterated the world’s grain supply as well as making its energy supply something it hadn’t been for 30 years – a geopolitical existential crisis.

Again, the desire to be warm is not a demand led problem. it’s a supply led problem. We ‘demand’ being warm but it’s not us pushing prices up wanting to be WARMER. We want to be as warm as we ever were not baking like never before…The political risk involved in this market which is a fundamental for EVERYTHING else meant that as unit costs for generating energy increased everything else also became more expensive. That is a cascade which means disproportionate non-linear rises in manufactured goods downstream. That process still hasn’t finished playing through the global system and there’s nothing to say it won’t continue for at least another 18 months (sorry, just the messenger here).

Now, I hear lots of ill informed people saying we need to raise rates to suppress demand. The desire to be warm when it’s -4C outside isn’t going to be suppressed by having the price of energy go up. You will impoverish people or, worse still, kill them from lack of heating. But you won’t make their desire to be warm go away. Fundamentals like this are not luxuries and the callous and wilful ignorance that refuses to see the nuance here infuriates me. That’s not the worst of it.

In a supply led inflationary scenario raising rates doesn’t work to bring prices down. Prices stop rising by themselves. Now, for those at the back – something really fucking important. When inflation falls from 11.1% to, let’s say 5%, that doesn’t mean prices are falling. It means prices are STILL RISING but only at a slower rate. In our car example, it means it’s going to take me longer to reach 30mph but I’m still going to reach 30mph.

It also means that price rises will naturally slow because the shocks play through the system and are gone. i.e. rising rates have no impact on those price rises and certainly had no influence on them slowing down. Prices have risen, the change is done, inflation has fallen but that doesn’t mean prices have fallen, on that the pressures on the supply side have stopped pushing prices rises through the system. We’ve reached 30mph which is, it turns out, too fast for many people to keep up with.

That is not a comfort to someone who’s already been priced out of being warm because their wages haven’t kept pace with rising costs.

Secondly, sure, Mr Governor, raise rates in the UK to 10%. I’m sure Putin and Zelensky will take notice in Russia and Ukraine…or not. I’m sure energy generators selling to China or the US will take notice and reduce their prices…or not. I’m sure people shipping from India will reduce their prices…or not. I’m sure the fact the EU can afford to pay more than they did before for supplies which once came to us will mean our prices fall…or not.

Localised raising of interest rates CANNOT control for global events as they interact with a thoroughly interconnected economic system.

What raising rates WILL do is lead us into recession as companies and individual exposed to interest rates find they can no longer meet interest payments, find that their customers can’t afford even what they bought last year. As their revenues decline those same companies will close and put people out of work and so on. It is, as the chief economist of a certain bank I know well said, meaningless and an act of self harm to raise rates when the drivers of inflation are i) not impacted by those rates and ii) those who are impacted by those rates will only be further impoverished.

Why? Well on one side prices are rising and will continue to do so. On the other hand my ability to even pay what I paid last year is now diminished because I’m at risk of losing my job and because my interest payments have increased. This triple whammy of rising prices, falling incomes and increasing interest rates is an economic disaster and why we’re likely to see rates in the UK peak around 4.25% – which is still historically low.

Sure it will reduce demand but it won’t reduce prices because those prices were rising independently of consumers.

Smart move there Mr Armchair Economist/Political Hack/Moralistic Moron.

Do I have better answers? There are some REALLY smart thinkers out there who have suggested alternate approaches for this specific kind of economic challenge but that’s for another post, another time.

Making the most of surviving

With Tangle’s Game on sale right now (go here or wherever you get your books from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tangles-Game-Stewart-Hotston-ebook/dp/B07PFDTKT1)I thought I’d talk about one of the events which happens to the main character and where it comes from. The reason? Well, setting aside the racist bile I’ve had for writing about people who aren’t White or from the misogynistic tech bros who hate the fact a woman’s involved in a thriller about Blockchains, it’s about why someone who’s under threat one moment might then turn around and work with those self same people the next.

The inspiration for this scene comes from my own life and that of a couple of friends of mine and was instrumental in exploring the kind of person the main character is.

When I was in my late teens I found myself doing youth work in East Germany. The country was only four years after the fall of the Berlin wall and was still recovering from decades of declining infrastructure and struggling to integrate with its much wealthier western counterpart. The town I was in still had bullet holes in the walls of its buildings from WWII.

One evening I was inside the youth centre and a young lad came in and said ‘there are some people outside who want to talk to you.’ The look on their face was one of nervous fear and when I asked why they looked nervous it turned out that a bunch of skin heads with problematic t-shirts and tattoos were outside demanding to speak to me. These young men had a reputation and I was the only brown face (literally) for dozens of miles around.

So, guts in my throat, I went to speak with them. I have never been more scared in my life. We talked for a while and eventually I asked why they wanted to talk to me and they were pretty candid about my colour and that I was British. We talked some more and I asked if they were racist (yes, the stupidity of youth). We talked around their answer (which was yes, but) and I talked to them about why and the conversation went somewhere very interesting.

They said they were ashamed of being German. That they felt their country had failed and instead they admired Britain. They’d got it all wrong, if you see what I mean, because the things they’d clung to in their search for meaning were all the wrong elements of what it means to be British (at least for me). We talked some more and by the end of it they were pretty much chaperoning me around the site. I was no longer terrified but I had no idea where those young men were going to end up in future. Yet I’d gone from terror and understanding they were admitting being racists to them seeing me as someone they were proud to know.

Another example is of a situation where I intervened in a fight where a single man was getting beaten up by a group of three. I didn’t throw any punches but asked what they were doing and why. They threatened to beat the crap out of me but I refused to back down and basically told them that, yes they could, but then what? I refused to allow them to be in charge of the situation. Did I trust them? No. Did I expect to get beaten up? About 50/50. But I wasn’t going to let them continue and I knew I could be in charge. We talked and talked until one of them, looking completely defeated just turned to me and said ‘you’re a really good talker, aren’t you.’ They left the man alone and after that, when they saw me around town we would talk and they would be really friendly. Once again, I’d been terrified but on a dime it had flipped to being something I could control.

In Tangle’s Game, my protagonist Amanda, is faced early on by an antagonist who wants something from her – it’s not personal, it’s transactional and realising this, she turns the situation on its head by giving them exactly what they think they want. It brings them under her sway and gives her agency when moments before they’d been threatening to take it from her.

The criticism it’s received is that it seems unrealistic that anyone would do that. My counter is I’ve done it. I’ve had friends do it in a more similar way to what happens in the book where they’ve faced potentially catastrophic situations and have effectively taken charge and bought their way out, either literally with money or with influence and power. In facing situations like that I’ve found the only way to navigate them is to switch off my emotions and make the interaction entirely transactional (by switch off I mean have them come back later to bite me in the ass but, hey, better than a melt down on the spot). There’s a rhythm to transactional interactions which allows for deeply unexpected outcomes for everyone and, often, allows for compromise where emotional responses cannot deliver the same.

This is a long way of saying that, often, what appears as inconsistency in others is actually a cap in our own experience. Because we haven’t been through the same kinds of situation as them, haven’t experienced power exercised in that way and haven’t had to deal with those extenuating circumstances where it’s not simply about the thing in front of you but all the other plates you’re juggling at the same time.

Why you should stop watching the West Wing

I have a thesis. You might not like it. Back in the day I watched the West Wing. It was phenomenal television – pertinent, often issues driven and, perhaps most importantly, cuddly. It made people like me feel like the world could make sense and we were making progress. Sure, it had it’s issues (lack of representation being a BIG one) but it was fundamentally a show without cynicism that loved people and, most importantly, believed in them and their power to do good.

The thing is it also peddled a myth which, with the election of Barack Obama, many of us swallowed wholesale. The myth of progress, of a people united by rationality and their love for others whose only real differences were not in temperament but in the policies to reach the same progressive ends. Collaboration, cooperation and compromise were the hallmarks of successful episodes where solutions to, what in the real world were frequently intractable, problems could be reached in the space of 40 minutes.

I am all for these things being the mark of mature and good humanity. The problem is hard to explain so bear with me. The issue is with the myth the West Wing sells us. It tells us people are fundamentally on the same side, that we all want the same things and that, with enough discussion we can arrive at mutually beneficial outcomes.

I’d really love for this to be true and, in many cases it is. I spend my working life negotiating among disparate businesses, often with multiple parties in play at any one time, all of whom have their own agendas. Even here, especially here, that truth is the one which brings people back to the negotiating table until deals get done (or not).

The problem is that examples like the above elide a fundamental truth – a truth so obvious it remains invisible to us – that we are talking the same language and want the same thing. It is the myth at the heart of the West Wing and it’s poisoned liberals and progressives into believing there’s only really one culture out there and all of us are kind of a part of it.

The problem with this myth – that we all want the same thing – is that when we imbibe it we stop being able to believe or understand how others might want something different to us. Not different in that they choose ramen when we choose steak but different at its very heart.

Our inability to see that, even though we’re the same biological species, we might live in entirely different worlds leaves us unable to process the political reality we’re facing today. It leads to people like Corbyn saying with a straight face ‘we won the argument but lost the election’ which is the most egregious example I can think of where someone has internalised this myth and literally cannot understand how being reasonable (in their own minds) hasn’t led to the logical outcome of the world aligning itself their way. (I’ve been married a long time and one of my main lessons? Winning the argument and losing the person is the very definition of catastrophic failure).

In other words we’ve forgotten how to accept there are different weltanschauung out there

First of all, even though I subscribe to this world view in terms of my woke/anti-racist politics, it’s simply not the only coherent world view out there. It’s where we fall down and fall down badly because it leaves us entirely unprepared to truly engage with those who see the world different to us.

It leads to us thinking people who don’t agree are wrong headed – not in that they see the world differently, but that they haven’t thought it through properly and if only they would they’d come around to our point of view. All the evidence tells us that’s not true. Sure, some people change their minds based on evidence and thank the world for them, but most of us including everyone reading this, is predisposed to agree with the news that supports what we already think. There are entire medical disciplines dedicated to exploring these biases in human cognitive architecture.

So we tend to see people who are on the other side to us as evil and their motivations as non-explainable by ‘rational’ people. The former may well be true from our perspective but the latter most definitely isn’t. The thing we forget is that with the exception of a small slice of people whose brains are properly different to the rest of us, most people believe they’re doing the right thing most of the time and won’t willingly do something they consider morally wrong without great justification.

Remember that slave owners looked to the bible for their justifications, looked to science and that those sympathetic to their beliefs still do. The news this week that the Southern Baptist elections were essentially captured not by a Christianity which is focussed on helping the poor and seeing the truth that there are no slave nor free, jew nor greek, but instead is the captive of right wing conspiracy theories worried about the attack on white wealth and supremacy. Southern Baptists were more worried about anti-racist movements than Qanon’s grip on their members. I mean, sure, the entire denomination was set up because Northern Baptists were too much in favour of people being equal and emancipation but, as an example of people believing they’re right? Here’s a doozy.

You might dismiss them as loonies or extremist but that’s a mistake made by following after the world mythologised in the West Wing where words can only mean one thing and the world can only be seen one way by reasonable people.

Mary Douglas’ works, inter alia, Purity and Danger, and her essay on Taboos remind us that we are all products of our cultural environments and our ideas of risk, taboo and purity are culturally constructed, that our identities fit into that sense of community and the reflexive feedback involved in defining our own sense of self and how it fits into the multiple communities we are a part of is both something constantly in flux but also, crucially, a process which is almost entirely invisible to us.

The myth of the West Wing is that there is no process and our preferences and fears are objectively the right ones.

Sorry, I’m risking getting all technical. (Read Mary Douglas though).

My point here is that the kind of myth promulgated by the West Wing is one which damages our ability to be political actors because it plays into an idea that there isn’t really politics anymore, there is only technocratic processes by which we can all, eventually, arrive at the same place.

We can’t.

There is a culture war and there are more than two sides but those of us on the ‘woke’ side (and yes, it’s a fucking badge of honour for me) have made a massive error in our approach to those on the other sides. We have assumed far too often that our opponents know the truth of what we want and are either extremists or imbeciles.

the truth is both more mundane and decidedly more challenging. Our opponents exist in a different weltanschauung. The world us fundamentally different from the place where they stand. yes, we might be able to say, ‘they feel threatened about having to give up privilege’ and be right. But to diagnose the difference like this is to miss the point – what drives the underlying view of the world in which holding onto that power is seen as morally right? What are the structures which are in play that support such kinds of thinking?

So much nonsense has been written about the culture war between the ‘West’ and ‘Islam’ that we should have spotted this earlier. Because dismissing these theses, nonsense to someone like me who sees the crass simplifications, caricatures and othering inherent in these arguments misses the crucial point. Those writing these kinds of polemic have actually performed a really helpful act of self diagnosis which we’ve ignored. We’ve then ignored the fact that for people for whom these kinds of texts are serious also see us as a ‘culture’ to be made war upon.

The entire framing of ‘anti-anti-racism’, of deriding BLM as ‘marxist’, as passing laws to ban Critical Race Theory, an academic discipline arising out of legal studies as somehow un-American are not symptoms of madness in their own context but logical steps for a culture which believes it is at war. Someone can say they’re ‘anti-anti-racist’ with a straight face not because they’re racist (although, you know) but because they see anti-racism as an element of a culture which is trying to extinguish them.

Our memetics are in conflict and we progressives haven’t yet recognised it. We cling to the idea that if we’re reasonable, that if we behave a certain way, then others will come around. They won’t because they see us as part of an alien culture trying to conquer them.

To be sure this is an extreme reading of the situation – but I’m trying to make a point – that coddling ourselves with re-runs of the West Wing is to engage in the childish act of insulating ourselves from the reality of the situation, which is our enemy has seen us more more clearly than we have seen them and if they are running legislative and policy rings around us it is because they have, somehow, understood this is the way to maintain their pre-eminence. Because don’t misunderstand, White Supremacy as a fundamental guiding world view remains pre-eminent in law, policy, politics and entertainment.

Do I have any policy ideas? Not really but I think we need to be plainer in our language for those on the other side. We should cut through with how we see it – Anti-anti-racism is racism. Full stop. Being against CRT is to take the side of White Supremacy. Why? Because for many they don’t see it that way and it just might provoke a conversation and if they’re deeply offended or dismissive? Well they’ve told on themselves. It should be disgusting to be racist and transphobic but it isn’t in far too many places. We have to guard our spaces more carefully – not with ideological purity (because ugh) but with a clear idea of what we believe and why that is important.

For those who are bewildered in the middle we owe them clarity with compassion because for many they simply don’t understand the fuss – they too have internalised the myth of the West Wing and can’t see the conflict for what it is. Too often their confusion is fertile ground for those with clear ideas – and that, right now, is the right racist, white supremacists, not us.

I love the West Wing but it is bad for our health. Watch The Underground Railroad instead.

Coconut or P*ki – neither one thing nor another

I’ve deliberated about this post for a while. Partly because it’s about my identity as a person but also because there’s a lot I want to say which is nuanced and hard to articulate in the current landscape without inevitably coming up against gatekeepers and people who think they have the right to adjudicate the idea of belonging.

I write (a lot) about identity. I tend to focus on those places where I intersect with attitudes and opinions which would diminish me or seek to flat out ignore me. Often I’ve tried to talk about a lack of understanding which can lead to marginalisation for no other reason than a lack of language with which to engage. In my work for various literary prizes, through involvement with inclusion discussions at work and elsewhere I’ve become aware of something I think is worth talking about; the idea of majority vs. minority voices.

Much of the debate about race and identity at the moment appears centred around Whiteness. When I talk about that I mean it is about Whiteness vs, everyone else. As a necessary corrective here in the West (and wherever Whiteness is seen as some kind of innate virtue) it is also the gateway through which other identities are forged.

The problem is that in an effort to represent those other identities a lens of nationhood is used and the same kind of purity language is deployed by people on all sides as to what it means to be ‘X’.

I’m not Indian, nor White British/Irish/French, nor Ukrainian or Egyptian (the main identifiable nationalities of my grandparents) The rather provocative title above is meant to reflect how I feel so often among my peers. Among my South Asian friends I’m not really Indian – I don’t speak urdu, hindi and I don’t identify as Hindu or Muslim. I don’t have immediate family on the continent either, so my roots there are effectively non-existent.

Nor are we in contact with my father’s family for a host of reasons but it also means I have effectively nothing deeper than my parents. Yet I can’t easily look to my Britishness because I’m not White. I say Britishness as so many BIPOC do when referring to the UK because we long for the unity and togetherness the idea of the Union brings rather than the terrifying tribalism of English/Welsh/Scottish – a form of identification which seems a torn flag away from excluding us forever. White people ask me to talk about race, they ask me about Indian food (and hey, I’m a foodie so I can at least oblige) and they expect me to understand their awkwardness when it comes to talking about the colour of my skin – because it’s an ever present subject for them. On the one hand I’m not authentically brown enough for my Indian friends (and the word coconut is pretty pejorative, let’s be clear) but at school and in the street I’m just another Paki.

I write about this because I see a blindness occurring among allies which I want us to be aware of because it goes to the heart of who I am and how I engage with the world. As someone of mixed heritage I’m a liminal person. I don’t fit in with nationalistic or stereotypical ideas of identity. And people who do think of mixed heritage too often fall into the openly hostile or gatekeeping variety, demanding I align myself to one or other. ‘Why don’t you speak Urdu, man?’, or ‘I don’t think of you as coloured,’ being two of my least favourite.

Yet this is only half the story. As a friend of mine once astutely remarked – with my background there’s not a place in the world I could go where someone won’t hate me. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not all sad and depressed about this and I’m not asking for sympathy. I’m 45 – I’ve had plenty of time to get to grips with this state of affairs.

What I am concerned about is the conflating of majority non-White populations with anyone who’s not White. You see it in discussions about representation all over and about who is allowed to write what. Am I allowed to write about Indian characters because I’m a second generation immigrant who was brought up centred in White cultural norms? It’s a serious question I’ve asked myself.

People like me, people with mixed heritage OR who are second/third/Xth generation immigrants should not be mixed up with majority populations elsewhere. The fact that bestsellers in their own contexts like Cixin Liu’s books are being translated in English is fantastic. The fact I can read Nigerian SFF and watch Egyptian TV series about the paranormal are both amazing. Yet they are NOT representation in the ways allies tend to think. They are the voices of other majority populations, embodying their cultural values and their ideas about the world – and you’ll find no judgement from me in the arrival of those voices. I love it even if I think we consumers are too uncritical of those voices right now.

The problem I have is we let them stand in for proper representation, use them to substitute for doing the proper work of creating an inclusive society. It’s easy to commission the translation of an already best selling TV show or novel and we can pat ourselves on the back for bringing alternative voices to market. Except what we’re doing is again privileging majority voices. Because in each case there are more people with Chinese (c.1.4bn) and Indian (c.1.4bn) and Pakistani (c.230m) and Nigerian (c.200m) ID papers than British (c.70m) and the majority populations in each of those nations are engaged in their own battles about representation and what it means to be them with minority voices battling to be heard.

Giving voice to other majority populations is not the same as representation. It’s still a VERY GOOD thing for an open society but it is also too easy to use that to erase the need for voices from people who live among us, who live in our culture and are a part of our daily lives.

This last year I’ve become increasingly concerned that the focus on White supremacy is, while incredibly and persistently necessary, also creating a situation in which we simply lump everyone who’s not a White Supremacist into the same smoothed out bucket. It’s also making it that bit harder for criticism to be levelled against other majority populations in the business of suppressing and erasing their own minority voices.

Like I say, this is a difficult subject to write about because there are so many groups who can read what I’ve written and take offence (or even take comfort that they’re not the bad actors when they really are). The real world of representation is working with and serving those minority voices in our midst, not importing majority voices which are distinct from our own. The former is doing the labour, the latter is simply being an open society. I realise both are being challenged right now but honestly, the former is the more important because without it, and the cultural inoculation it provides, the latter will be used to power the machines of stereotype and to pedal soft power.

Back to front

There’s a lot of discussion about algorithms at the moment. Algorithms are nothing more than recipes. If people say ‘algorithm’ they normally mean the recipe for whatever they’re talking about. A mathematical algorithm for finding a solution? Think the recipe for finding the solution.

Why do I care about algorithms and whether we should really call them recipes (the analogy isn’t perfect, don’t @me, I’m quite aware)? Mainly because the discussion about algorithms in the public sphere relates almost exclusively to social media and how these processing recipes lead users to ever more extreme and unpleasant content.

I’ve been quite concerned with this book over the last few days. Reminded as I was by a lecture by the author in which they said something I had entirely missed in my general thinking about the kind of content we’re shown online. I am almost embarrassed to admit it as well – because I like to think I ruminate on economics quite a lot.

As a reminder, the book is called: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power and is written by Shoshana Zuboff. Zuboff has written a lot about this subject but this book is (despite the cover being uninspiring) a very good piece of work.

I don’t want to talk too much about the book except I want to draw out one key idea because it should turn your world upside down a bit.

First though. We have been told all over the place by tech-bros, concerned citizens (I’m in this category), opinion piece writers and others that the algorithms which we look at blaming for the slow radicalisation of people as bland and formerly innocent as our grandmothers, our friends and our children are i) in need of fixing and ii) often beyond understandding.

We’re told that these algorithms are often the product of unconscious bias (such as when facial recognition software didn’t recognise PoC as human or when Google associated PoC with gorillas in image search software). We’re told it’s a side effect but one which makes them money and so they’re loathe to change their ways. We’re told it’s the tail wagging the dog – unfortunate but fixable.

Zuboff dismisses this idea and reminds us these companies have made their fortunes by learning about us. So far so not surprising. Yet Zuboff then reminds the economically literate among us what that learning is good for. It’s not good for knowing what we did in the past because we can’t make money from that. Nor is it good for knowing what we’re doing now – again, I can make money on what you’re interested in NOW but it’s not the prize. The real prize from this learning is to know what you’re trending towards tomorrow – because then I can make real money from knowing your future tastes and preferences.

Zuboff then reminds us about the point of advertising – not simply to let us know a product is available, but to create a felt need we didn’t know we had and then sell us the solution for that sudden new found desire.

In short, these algorithms are designed to do two things.

  1. They’re designed to predict what we’ll want to buy tomorrow
  2. They’re designed to push us into buying products we don’t know we needed today.

Algorithmic drift into showing you more extremist material such as racist content, anti-vax nonsense, anti-elite conspiracies serve the two goals above. Why? Because these drifts don’t exist in a vacuum – social media companies (and let’s be honest, we’re only really talking Google and FB in liberal societies) are selling these predictions to companies – telling them they can guarantee purchases and eyeballs on adverts. Deliberate drift to extreme material is proven to guarantee both of those things.

Furthermore, there is an argument which goes like this: SM companies could see extremist material was both attractive to many people and a direction society was moving in, in part because of their exposure via SM companies’ activities, and they had a choice:

i) do they change their business model to avoid these excesses, or

ii) do they lean into extremism knowing their activity will appreciably shift society that way and thereby increase their revenue

Zuboff, among others, suggest only the second of those two options can be true without regulation.

So in the discussion around free speech this week (and possibly next?) you’ll see lots of back and forth over whether private companies have the right yadda yadda yadda. What you won’t see (yet) is much on whether these companies deliberately created these environments exactly with the intent of fostering extreme content to increase revenues.

My proposition is this: the tail never wagged the dog. The algorithms we’ve seen were designed explicitly to monetise user data by predicting their behaviour and nudging them towards it in order to create opportunities for companies they were pitching their services to. This has always been the dog wagging its tail.

Over the next few months as regulation becomes a more central concern of liberal governments (with the possible exception of the current far right UK conservative government) one key plank of companies’ defence will be it wasn’t their fault – they were, at worst, as surprised as us by the outcomes. Do not believe them. This isn’t about free speech – that is a distraction – and a different argument. This is about whether companies with our personal lives stored on their servers should be required to treat that data not as if it’s their never ending gold mine but as if it’s something to which privacy and political standards around propaganda and manipulation should be applied.

Memetic Defences (part 2)

Or how to tell a different story to build the world you want

Important point – if you’re interested in the strategies for making the world a better place, skip down to Article one and read from there.

Part one of this pair of essays was essentially the groundwork – laying out my thinking on memetic defences (and I swear that’s the last time I’ll use that phrase). I wanted to explore some of what we think we mean when we talk about open societies vs. closed and whether open societies are really as weak to malign influences as we can sometimes assume. The short answer is that we’re not and the virulent policing done by closed societies is really just a sign of how weak they are compared to open societies. It’s the difference between consent driven policing and marshal law.

This second part is concerned with taking our thinking forward and asking (and partially answering) one big question – how do we actively defend the features of open societies we are generally fond of? Not least, the openness, the honesty and the reflection I discussed in part 1?

I would like to say it’s all story – and if you know me in meatspace you’ve probably heard me say this a few times. Except I want to step away from that because I no longer believe it’s entirely true.

There are two enemies of the open society – the internal and the external. For example, we can easily identify Russia as an external existential threat to the European/Anglo-Saxon project of open societies. They have been busy poisoning and murdering their enemies in our territories and funding misinformation, lies and political operators driven only by their own benefit. And it works because the internal enemies of the open society are those who i) wish to make themselves invulnerable to the accountability built into open societies while ii) reaping their benefits. We can and should also identify other specific external national voices as opponents (rather than enemies) of the open society and they are inter alia China and certain theocracies in the Middle East. China is not an opponent in the same sense as Russia because their opposition comes from their own view of how the world should be constituted – which is deeply nationalistic and centred on the benefits of a close society – which is, by definition, against the promotion of open societies. Could they become antagonistic rather than expansionary? Of course, but we’re little different and hence I don’t see that as the same problem right now as I do the internal enemies of open societies we have here in the UK and the USA.

Our real enemies here are internal. I’d love it to be otherwise but I can’t see anyone really being as threatening to the idea of equality, openness, honesty and reflection as those who oppose from within the remit of the societies we live within.

What is my reasoning for this? We start with a government who is aping the populist, truth independent and deeply corrupt practices of self enrichment at the cost of all else we have seen promoted by the republican administration in the US. The Goodlaw Project’s identification of the misuse of public funds during COVID has been exhaustive and thorough and has revealed with startling clarity that a certain class of already very rich white publicly educated upper class English people has simply used a national crisis as an opportunity to make out like bandits and rob their constituents without even bothering to deny their actions. Furthermore we have literally seen (with the Priti Patel and Dominic Cummings fiascos) bald statements from senior government officials that the law only applies to others and exceptions should be made for them. This isn’t just an attack on truth, openness and reflection by stymieing its operation, it is a stab to its heart by simply ignoring it as something important.

Now, the point of this post was to talk about ways forward, not to lay out the crimes of dipshits who care nothing for their constituents but only for the people they serve.

So what do we do about this?

Well, it does start with story but it doesn’t end there. Everything is about the stories we tell ourselves. The stories we tell one another. A fantastic example is from Mark Carney’s Reith lectures this year where he reiterates research done by Michael Sandel and others around the effectiveness of penalties on bad behaviour. What they showed was what penalties act for some, particularly those with resources, not as a social stigma but as a form of permission to act badly. The most famous of these studies was one where a nursery found parents were coming late to pick up their children. They instituted a fine system but found MORE parents were coming late rather than fewer. It turned out the fines let parents feel ok about coming late because it acted not as a penalty but as a fee. Poor parents were penalised, rich parents felt they were getting an additional service.

It was better when people were told off and asked not to do it, when people were encouraged when they did the right thing and, most importantly, when other parents told latecomers they were in the wrong. I have seen this first hand and it guides certain small activities I always engage in. For instance, I always says thank you to people who are serving me in a shop. I always ask how they are and I have taken every opportunity to intervene when I see them being mistreated.

I always say thank you to people who stop for me as a pedestrian at a pelican crossing because I have seen enough instances of people not stopping to mean I want those who do stop to know it’s a good thing they’ve done (even if they’re just obeying the law).

I try, in my normal life, to normalise praise and encouragement for people who do what they should do (even if doing it is mandatory). Why? Because I want them to have the story that doing the right thing is praiseworthy.

Article one: we do not praise people enough. And we certainly don’t praise people enough for doing what they should be doing anyway. I have little evidence to say it works except, for instance, this: I run a lot. I say hello to everyone I meet. And now, people I pass on my regular runs say hello to me first. It’s a change of atmosphere. It is the same with walking the dog – my wife always says hello and we have discovered some lonely people who now stop to talk to us every time. This is simple community building but it’s much deeper than that. So. Normalise praising one another and praise one another for doing the right thing. If they say ‘I’m only doing what I should,’ then amazing, social norm achieved!

Article two: give air time to those who tell stories of the world the way you want it to be. Tell those stories yourself. Retell them to others. We give too much airtime to people who upset us – be they politicians, racists, TERFs or others. STOP IT. We should be aware of them but we should NOT be giving them airtime. We should, instead, be telling the stories of the good we see in the world, of the wonderful things we’ve seen happen and how we came across them. The more we nurture these good things the more they will grow and fill the airwaves. Sometimes, sure, we have to directly oppose those who would do us harm and I’m all for that, but that’s an endgame. For as much as possible we should be telling stories of blessing and encouragement to those around us. Ok, so here’s two examples. I’m a MASSIVE fan of both the new series of She Ra and of Star Trek Discovery. I’m a fan both because they’re brilliant pieces of fiction but also because they tell stories about a world which exemplifies the kind of values I want to see normalised where I live. It’s also an important strategy for ensuring the Overton window moves in the direction we want it to. Every time we highlight something bad rather than tell the story of something good we are actually doing the work of those who hate for them because exposure normalises.

Article three: there is no ‘winning’, there is only constant recreation of the culture we want to live in. Too often I grow tired of seeing ‘nothing change’ but the truth of the matter is, if I stop talking about the world I want to see, stop talking about the way I want it to be and stop acting to make it so, then it will change and not for the better because others are every bit as invested as I am in remaking the world in a way that suits them. The problem is they’re White supremacists, Indian Nationalists, German Fascists, TERFS, whatever. And this really comes to a deeper point – we need to normalise being politically active. I don’t just mean being a member of a political party – I mean being active in your community, being active in making your voice heard – whether that’s writing to your MP, joining committees at work, creating silly things like running clubs of movie nights or whatever it might be. We have seen in the post war dividend and the rise of corporate globalisation the downside that we’ve been alienated from our political lives. We have them but it works best for certain powerful vested interested if you and I don’t actually act as political beings – because it then leaves others unopposed. These days we tend to regard being political as a thing which we add on to who we are. Instead we should normalise the fact that all humans, all stories, all activity, is political in nature and act accordingly. It might seem tiring but it’s really only tiring when we try to add it on rather than letting it be part of who we are. If you have children and want them to have the best world possible? Then you need to be political and you need to help them understand that homo sapiens is a political animal, not a happiness seeking one.

Finally – Article four: Protect the stories you want to see triumph. Too often in my life I’ve seen ‘allies’ expect me to do the work, to fight the fight and allow them the space to say they’re on my side. That’s not enough. Not for me and certainly not to build a society which is open. Allies need to see themselves as more than people who are alongside those under fire. The apostle Paul writes something along the lines of ‘if you succeed I celebrate with you but if you fall I suffer with you.’ Excuse my paraphrasing for my own benefit. The point is this: we are all potentially allies to someone in need of our support and we need to normalise acting as if it was us being attacked directly. I’ve often seen the counter attack ‘I don’t see any X people saying this is a problem’ by racists, sexists, whatever. This is because they’re probably too tired, depressed or frightened to speak up. The fact Allies are fighting for them is exactly what these scum bags are afraid of. We need to normalise stepping in. We need to normalise making it a social problem when racists and sexists et al express their horrendous opinions. We should have zero tolerance. We are the good samaritan. I sometimes think people get tired of it but I’ve found a way to bypass that issue. When I see these events occur? I have nurtured a sense of ‘this is my space you’ve come to shit all over and I won’t have it.’ Righteous anger is a good thing where it’s put in the service of other people’s dignity.

I hope these ideas are of some use to you. I hope you see there is always hope even when our own governments are trying to strategise against us. Thank you for reading this and see you all soon.

Following this I think there’ll be a final essay on how we engage with those who differ from us – not on social media because there’s absolutely not point with the way it’s structured and with the incentives it provides – but in the flesh. Additionally, there’s no getting away from the fact that social inequality breeds social division and unravels social cohesion. There’s definitely more to say on this too because no matter how good a story is, if it’s moving in the opposite direction to people’s experience it runs the danger of losing its power to change the world.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

Edible Reading

Reading, eating, writing

Knights of IOT

Design | Integrate | Connect

ScienceSwitch

Your Source For The Coolest Science Stories

SwordNoob

Adventures in HEMA, LARP, Archery and other activities

ebookwyrm's Blog

Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever

Damyanti Biswas

For lovers of reading, crime writing, crime fiction

countingducks

reflections on a passing life

Lucy Mitchell Author Blog

The Emotional Highs and Lows of a Romance Author

Self-Centric Design

The art of designing your life

Adrian Faulkner

Hope, Anger and Writing

Fantasy-Faction

Hope, Anger and Writing

Alternative Realities

Why have virtual reality when you can have alternative reality?

1001Up

1001 video games and beyond

Fringeworks - Blogs

Hope, Anger and Writing

Shadows of the Apt

Hope, Anger and Writing