Writing to ourselves

This is a tough one because I can’t quite form the thought that’s bubbling but I want to try. It’s clearly about the little local difficulty this week, that tiny of thing of Trump getting elected. And it’s also definitely about the disconnection between most things I read beforehand and what a majority of the US public must’ve read.

But other things keep popping in. Like the photo of a spray-painted sign that went went around social media this week. It’s so peculiarly spaced that you have to think for a moment but what it’s trying to say is “Make America White Again”. Forget that it’s an inexpressibly painful statement and instead if you see the photo, look at the symbol between the words.

Here’s someone doing the America-for-Americans crap but he – it’ll be a he – uses a German Nazi Swastika symbol. That symbol had a life long before the Nazi Party but that’s over, that’s gone, that’s erased: this logo is forever Nazi and German. If the painter knows this, he’s just broken his own ambition of building a wall between the US and ‘foreigners’. If he doesn’t know, then he’s even more ignorant than you already think.

Yet here’s an ignorant prick turning to writing. Writing matters. It reaches people: even his hateful message got widely circulated and I’m part of that. We couldn’t be more different, this man and I, yet he wrote something and I’ve passed it on to you.

Usually, though, it is true that we write and read within our own walled gardens. This has been an issue with the rise of Facebook and Twitter where if you don’t agree with someone, you can just remove them from your social media life. It’s definitely a big issue now as the result of the election was a surprise to pretty much all of the media writers. No question, they believed they were right and no question, each article condemning Trump backed up their view.

Only, I don’t think the walled garden idea is entirely fair. At least part of the problem with media coverage of the election is that people lied to them. People knew that it was bad to say they supported Trump, so they didn’t say it. The more they didn’t say it, the more the accepted view was that you couldn’t support this man so the more they didn’t admit it.

Obviously they knew they were lying, obviously they chose to lie, and it follows that they did so because saying they backed this foul man was socially unacceptable. It isn’t any more. He won. So the haters feel they’ve won too. Even if we didn’t have the evidence from Brexit here and even if we weren’t already seeing it in the States, you could predict that hate crimes would rise, that the darkest sides of people would come out into the light. Because they think they can do it, because they know it is socially acceptable to enough people, because their President is truly theirs.

That makes me shake. That’s a walled garden where the people in it have just discovered each other and are crowing about it.

It’s horrible but it’s not new. Even though Facebook and Twitter have exacerbated the walled garden idea, we have always had this exact same thing. Think back to when newspapers mattered: you didn’t see very many dinner dates between a reader of The Sun and one of The Guardian.

Go back even further, no, further than that, keep going, still more, nearly there, here you are. Pre-industrialised society. Whatever were the generally accepted norms in your village could be very different to what was thought right in the next. Back then the barrier was a physical problem of separation, now it’s more human response.

And I’m afraid it is human. We are born into one tribe and even if we leave, we seek out others. Writing has enabled us to leave sooner and spread further, yet we still and always will gather in similar groups. Aaron Sorkin once had a character say that if you’re dumb, surround yourself with clever people and that if you’re clever, surround yourself with clever people who disagree with you. We won’t.

I don’t write to you because I consciously think you’re in my tribe, I write to you because I like you. My Facebook friends are people I like, or people I’ve worked with, or people I’m pretty sure I know even if I can’t quite place them at the moment. Amongst them, there’s been a lot of talk about blocking and unfriending people who are pro-Trump. It is tempting but I’ve resisted because I do want some gristle, I do want to learn and grow and persuade and be persuaded.

But I accept that in the main, I am in a walled garden and I am writing in one. I also accept that this is bad and that we should do what we can to break those walls down.

Only, there is a part of me that thinks this isn’t the problem. If Trump and Clinton supporters are in walled gardens, if Brexit’s Leave and Remain sides are in walled gardens, we probably can’t change that.

What we need to do is make our walled garden bigger than their walled garden. And we’ll do it with writing. You and I.

A natter of life and death

That’s all, just a natter and a blather. In the run up to a general election, my mind wanders around more than ever and chiefly it’s focusing on, grabbing on to, just about anything except politics. Just possibly not today.

I do remember my family worrying that I had no interest in the news when I was growing up. They’re sick of me now: I read hundreds of articles a day through my RSS reader and they aren’t sure what RSS is or why I like it so much. But, grief, the ability to just check out the headlines on your phone while you wait for the kettle to boil, it is beyond handy. I could go to each news site in turn on the phone’s web browser but what am I, a barbarian? The news comes to me, all of it, from everywhere.

There are myriad RSS newsreaders, by the way, and they’re available to you on any phone. I have an iPhone and swear by one called Reeder.

I also swear at a lot of the news I read. Maybe that’s what my family doesn’t like. But the consequence of RSS, swearing and – okay, okay – getting older is that I have never been so politically aware.

And therefore so politically depressed.

There is no party I want to vote for, no person nationally or locally that I want to see in power. No one. Well, I do delight in Nicola Sturgeon but I don’t know much about her nor is it physically possible to vote for a Scottish party here in England. She does just tick two boxes that make me happy: for one thing she’s an adult woman where the other leaders feel like schoolboys. For the other, the concept of Scotland being decisive in this general election is dramatically exquisite to me because of the previous bollocks about whether the country should split from the UK or not.

Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t know what I think about it leaving, I just see that I was right about what would happen if it stayed. Specifically if it stayed because of the promises made to it. I’ve written before about how England, UK and Conservative promises to the Scottish people sounded like a pissed boyfriend vowing to be better from now on. They never are, you know they never are, and these promises never would be, you knew they never would be. I barely listened to the promises: I knew they’d vanish after Scotland agreed to give it one more go.

Now, maybe – maybe – that boyfriend is going to need a favour.

I’m not usually right about politics yet sometimes it is obvious and I think unfortunately the obvious stuff is always bad. Prime Minister David Cameron made a comment recently about how abhorrent an idea it is that Scotland could have sway over the whole UK, that decisions made in one part of the nation could affect everyone. He makes decisions in one part of the nation that affect everyone. He makes those decisions in one room. It’s the Cabinet, which curiously enough seems to be the extent of his care when we’re not near an election: does policy X or Y personally benefit and profit someone in the Cabinet? Then we’ll do that.

You see how easy it is to be cynical? I’m not convinced it’s possible to be anything else at the moment. For the first time in my life I do see the logic in not voting at all. Our democratic system is arguably built to favour the incumbent, it’s certainly built to support the system itself and the furtherance of the status quo. I can see the argument that voting is supporting a system that feels theoretically right but practically broken.

In other words, I can see that voting only encourages them.

Nonetheless, I will vote. I cannot do anything else. Cannot.

This may seem a somewhat un-topical reason but amongst everything I think about democracy, amongst everything I want to see happen and everything that I fear will instead, I have to vote because of the Suffragettes.

Don’t get me started on the idiocy, the shameful idiocy that women haven’t just always had precisely the same right to vote as men. Don’t. I’ll go off on one about how human beings can so often create society structures that speak of equality and fairness, that have laws and standards and decency but also a giant bloody hole in them. Democracy for all, oh except women. Treat your neighbour as you would want them to treat you, oh except if they’re not the same sex, religion or race as you, then it’s fine, do what you want.

That’s not me going off on one, by the way. Me going off on one about this is a seven-hour lecture.

The Suffragettes did not support the system, they changed it. Think how impossible that seems now and dial back a century to how even more impossible it must’ve been then.

The system we have now is materially better than it was. Look at Nicola Sturgeon again: one hundred years ago she wouldn’t have been allowed to vote, now she’s head of a political party. Things are actually better. Genuinely, truthfully better.

Just don’t look at the standard of lying we get from politicians today. If I can see that this claim doesn’t match that claim – and doesn’t even come close to this fact – then the standard of pork pies is so low as to be insulting. If you’re going to tell me bollocks, at least put some effort into it.

And just don’t look at any debate, certainly never tune in to Question Time which has become about as bad as Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Parliament.

I’m going to vote but it will be for my best guess at the least worst option available and I have little confidence that I’ll get it right.

I’d like to see a Suffragette-level shake up of the system. But I’ll settle for us reevaluating Eton. We keep saying that’s a great school because we keep being told it is by our politicians who chiefly all went there.

A bastion of British education.

Schools are supposed to form you into an adult. Eton takes the child, makes a schoolboy, and stops. You can name politicians you like, you can point to adult and responsible things they do, but still when you hear them talk and argue, when you see what they do, what they achieve, the word that comes to mind is only similar to bastion.