December 2017



What does that make you think of?

For me: the shortest day of the year and the nights getting lighter. Okay, it’ll be the end of February before it’s still light at five o’clock but at least we will be travelling in the right direction. I know lots of people enjoy the winter and dark nights and curtains drawn and all that but they’re ill. I think I might have mentioned this before. And I know that I’m ignoring the elephant in the room with regards to December: yes, Christmas. Or christmas. Or xmas. Or tinsel and Argos time and consumerism gone mad. It does nothing for me. I find the whole thing somewhat tedious.

Although, that’s not entirely true. SilhouetteDespite having no connection or leanings towards or even sympathy with organised religion, my favourite part of Christmas is when a bunch of us meet up on Christmas Eve at our local tennis club, have a few drinks and sing carols. We sing them badly and always finish with Fairytale of New York. I almost get what people find appealing during those few hours. And the next best thing is how our family has adopted the Secret Santa method of giving presents. No more trudging the streets of Sheffield on Christmas Eve or subjecting ourselves to hours of boredom in MeadowHell. We all spend one ten pound note on one other person in the family and that’s that. It’s cheap and it’s brilliant and it sticks two fingers up at the ridiculous level of wasted spending that society expects of us.

There, that’s better.

This is a late one (as in late December) but I want to talk about perception and clarity. Not just in writing but in everyday life, most particularly in or on social media. The picture above is me but it leaves a lot open to interpretation: where is it, how was it done, did I take it, is it really me, has it been photoshopped, is it a genuine representation of what was there at the time? It’s not possible to answer any of these questions (well, it is for me) but it would be utterly bonkers for anyone else to form an opinion about it or on it. There is simply not enough information. But this doesn’t bother us so much these days, does it?

PhoneHere, we have a phone, an old-fashioned phone. What used to be called a candle-stick phone. A type 150 perhaps. Although it isn’t a 150, it’s a light fitting and we made it for our Christmas show. But it was good enough to fool the audience and some even asked where we’d got it from (eBay for about two hundred quid if you want one, the 150 not the light fitting). So it’s an illusion and it works because the people at which the illusion was aimed were perfectly happy to buy into that deception and accept it as reality.

This has, unfortunately, been realised by the bottom feeders within the media. It’s easier to convince people of your point of view by simple conjuring tricks and misdirection rather than rational debate. And obviously I’m talking here about Brexit, immigration, religion, diet, blood sports… the list goes on. There was a time when politics was only discussed by boring old farts who read newspapers with no pictures in them. That was because, in order to enter the debate on any complex subject, it was necessary to first get yourself informed. Otherwise, your point of view or opinion would simply be blown out of the water by a better informed opponent.

That’s all gone, hasn’t it? I suppose I need my cards on the table before I continue, at least on the subjects above: I voted remain and still believe that is what we should do (my two granddads were blown up, shot and gassed to achieve peace in Europe); I really like brown people, never met one I didn’t (I’m also fond of other shades of people from different countries and cultures); I’m an agnostic, a vegetarian bordering on vegan (damn that cheese) and I abhor the idea of killing anything for fun. But I’m not making any assumption that my choices are the right ones and opposing choices may be made for perfectly good, well-thought-out rational reasons. It’s just that they aren’t presented in that way. And neither are mine. Everything has been reduced to a sound-bite or meme.

FaceAche and Twatter have become almostMoon toxic environments due to this new dualistic way of looking at everything. I was fortunate enough to study critical thinking at university. It was a hard course but utterly fascinating. One of the basic concepts of critical thinking is to reject the idea of binary discourse. The idea that there are two sides to every coin. It’s not true in almost every situation (apart, obviously, from coins). Situations, both political and social are complex and many faceted. By dumbing a subject down to only considering binary opposite stances is to reduce the whole argument to tribalism. You take any of the subjects I mentioned (or any other contentious issue) and find a thread on social media that is dealing with it and you will discover two completely different sets of people shouting and bawling and abusing one another with absolutely no possibility of reaching a consensus. All subjects seem to have been reduced to the level of football. Football at it’s worst.

I’m not just having a go at football here though. Football is designed to be a competition between two teams and there is a winner and a loser. That’s the nature of it and there’s nothing wrong with that it’s just that it can and does and certainly, growing up in the seventies, did bring out the worst in people. I get that it’s your team and the other team are the opposition but it does sometimes divide communities and families. We deal with that, on the streets, by deploying masses of police, police vehicles and police horses at various matches. We are in danger of making that the case in every aspect of everyday life. We have to learn that there are many ways of looking at problems and to ignore the manipulators in society that simply want us to fight over it (because, in all honesty, it doesn’t matter a toss to them which way it works out. They’ll be fine whatever). We have to understand that it is these people that encourage binary discourse that are the real enemies of the people. They are setting us against each other for their own amusement (I imagine. I can’t think of any other reason other than to distract us from everything else they’re screwing up). It’s time we told them to ‘Go whistle’ and start thinking for ourselves.

Living in Sheffield, I see division between otherwise good friends or members of families over our two football teams, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United. Not being a football fan, I can be accused of not understanding. But I am a rugby fan and if Wales beat England in the Seven Nations then I’m disappointed but I will have enjoyed watching the game. I get as much pleasure seeing Leigh Halfpenny score an amazing try as I do Dylan Hartley. Maybe I’m different. I don’t know. RW&BI once suggested, in company in the presence of large quantities of alcohol, that perhaps it would be an idea to support both Sheffield teams. It was as though I’d lit the blue touch paper. I was actually surprised at how people reacted. It doesn’t seem such a stupid idea to me but maybe I’m naive. But, like I said, football is designed to be tribal. There are only two teams and feelings run deep. Maybe the pleasure gained from watching football is all about the tribalism and the belonging and maybe that fills a void that we used to fill in prehistoric times by beating the shit out of each other and stealing wives and children. Maybe the aggression and the violence serves a purpose. It eludes me but, one thing I am sure about, we must be absolutely stupid to allow ourselves to become divided and violent towards each other over subjects that we can’t even be bothered to research to discover the real complexities in social living and politics.

Here’s to 2018.

Peace and love.