POPCORN THOUGHTS – On Eastenders, Dead Kings and an Open-mind. I have a dream…
by Lizzie Soden –
Why are people fascinated by Dead Kings?
I really love and want to promote the idea that we all have an “existential particularity.” I first encountered this idea in a book called ‘Address of the Eye’ by Vivian Sobchack.[i] In it, she describes the notion that because we all have our own particular life experiences, this informs how differently we view and interpret the same things; even if we are sitting next to each other in the Cinema. It may sound like common sense but it’s a concept that really stuck in my mind. That normally doesn’t happen when I encounter theory books.
Reading heavy in-depth theory about anything (in this case the phenomenology of film watching) is not my super power. I have a short attention span. I like to understand the “jist” of things, which I can often grasp pretty easily. Once I understand this jist, I have little patience left for reading an in-depth analysis of it. Maybe it’s a temperament thing. I get distracted easily. ‘Tis the bane of my life.
I do have a clever plan to get round this though. I gravitate towards people who can do the reading bit, and then I talk to them about it. Sometimes for hours. That’s what gets me engaged in ideas. I like my thoughts to be provoked during long and stimulating conversations. I am constantly curious and love analysing. I have often been told I over-think and analyse everything way too much. I’ve always been this way, despite never having marks at school which would suggest it. None the less, I managed to get through school like everyone else, even if I did only get 4 O’levels ( old fashioned GCSE’s.)
I passed my English Literature O’level by reading the introduction and the notes at the back of the set book the night before my exam. In this case it wasn’t that I was impatient with dense theory; it was a case of reading something it wasn’t easy for me to immediately understand and giving up. Shakespeare. Fucking boring shit. I was a 15 year old already disillusioned with a Grammar School education, which by and large had no relevance to my life. This book was something to do with a dead king called Henry IV. Before you think I’m older and wiser and able to appreciate Shakespeare now, let me be clear. I still think it’s boring shit. I never understand why people get so passionate about Shakespeare…..or dead Kings. Those that do, (and some of them are people I love dearly) no doubt can’t understand why I don’t. That’s fine. After all we all have our own existential particularity.
I live in Leicester, here in the UK, and believe me, I now know first hand how passionate a very large number of people get about dead Kings. Our city’s been packed with dead King fans. Polly Toynbee wrote about the phenomena surrounding the re-internment of Richard III in the Guardian. She said:
He may have been a child-murdering tyrant, but he was a king. So, in a nation where we still think like subjects, not citizens, thousands came to humble themselves before his 500-year-old bones.[ii]
There is more than a whiff of patronisation in that statement methinks. So apparently all those thousands of people, congregating in our City Centre, wallow in a state of humbleness, or have some kind of shared submissive consciousness born out of twisted nationalism. Even if that were true for some of the re-internment audience, lumping everyone together as being the same in virtue of their nationality is pretty fucking bigotted. It’s widely accepted that it’s not OK for Nigel Farage to do that. Why is it OK for a Guardian columnist? There’s something about this comment, perhaps more important than the fact that it’s patronising. It’s yet another example of a simplistic, black and white narrative which attempts to rule out any other explanation as to why things are as they are. It’s a narrative that also (coincidentally) serves the interests of the narrator, allowing her to look superior. We tolerate this kind of narrative in a way we wouldn’t if it were coming from that right-wing corner of the political spectrum, which is easier to paint as backward and reactionary. I hate hypocrisy. I am certainly not keen on double standards either. (No doubt I am guilty of both occasionally. We can only do our best).
Who are the Bigots?
I suppose the reason we may only equate black and white, close-minded thinking with the right, is that social conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes retaining traditional social institutions and thinking. At the risk of constructing a simplistic narrative myself, I think it’s OK to say that “on the whole” conservatives are drawn towards simple, straightforward, time tested versions of events, where everyone knows their place and what’s what. Its all very comforting. Social conservatives have always been with us. These folk are very reluctant to let go or question their strongly held beliefs. Those traditions serve them well, so they don’t see why they should be critical of them. From their perspective, their beliefs just reflect how things are. It’s quite easy to paint them as selfish greedy bastards. They are inherently drawn towards looking after number one, but at the same time, they do this out of a sense of duty. They are motivated by self-interest, which you could argue most people are, but no doubt, this motivation also comes from a sense of social responsibility (albeit entrenched in what I find to be pretty unethical values, as they do tend to adopt a social philosophy that serves the needs mostly of those in socially and economically privileged positions). Again, not all socially conservative people are like this.
We do have to generalise sometimes, as painful as it may be. However, as of late, it seems we have forgotten what it means to generalise badly. We’ve forgotten the importance of treating people as individuals. We’ve forgotten that there are many different degrees of certain attributes that are common to a single group. Not all people that align themselves to that group have all the attributes subscribed to them, good or bad.
When individuals refuse to see these things, they become close-minded bigots. As noted earlier, bigotry is not confined to the right-wing by any means. Close minded bigots push all my buttons, and are the antithesis of everything I value highly. I say “kick ’em out of the country.” (joke.) When people refuse to open their minds because it is already made up about something, and they don’t want their beliefs challenged as it makes them feel uncomfortable, I do feel sorry for them. Doesn’t mean I want to hang out with them much though. Bigots aren’t simply humans who disagree with us. People who agree with us can also be bigotted. People who disagree with us aren’t always bigoted either. I should add that I suspect we are all bigots about someone or something.
What’s going on?
I suppose my political leanings were informed by the understanding that on the whole, the left is necessarily more interested in exploring how things should be. Not just how things are. I thought those on the left were always progressive and forward looking, the epitomy of open mindedness. (OK, we always had those dogmatic religious type zealots on the fringes, who learnt what their grievances were from some pre-determined script.) However most, I believed, had integrity. They started from strong social justice standpoints and ethical considerations, empathy, understanding, while encouraging people to try and comprehend difference, and not indulge in hasty generalisations (racism, sexism, etc). I thought the left advocated a community minded ethos where people come before profit (free market capitalism) and fighting for the rights of disadvantaged people, re-distribution of wealth and social justice are a given. I had a vision of the left that was motivated by the greater good and opposed to greed, selfishness and money grabbing. (That’s not to say that money cannot contribute to the greater good though. I am all for a far more ethical capitalism and common ownership/social enterprise models, where wealth is far more evenly distributed, and the austerity agenda is well and truly seen as the bankrupt ideology it is).
We all appear to be in a bit of a rut, to say the least. In fact I think we have hit a fucking social crisis. Most of what we hear the left churn out also seems to be polarising and simplistic diatribes. They are everywhere on the internet and social media, and the most outraged and narcissistic jerimiads seem to be the loudest. Again, this kind of politics has always been with us. However the disturbing fact of the matter for me, is that they don’t seem like a benevolent alternative to the right. The left may actually be as reactionary, as self-interested, and as backward looking. They often seem seriously uncompassionate.
When I noticed this, I was wondering if I was becoming more right wing. I had a bit of an existential crisis, when people I normally agree with started posting memes, articles, and tweets that sounded both vitriolic and pretty hysterical. However, after a lot of research and long rambling conversations, I became convinced that most reasonable people can see through this shit. It’s a weird situation. Most people who are supposedly less politically engaged, are better able to identify and reject ideology which is black and white, un-nuanced, shaming on the one-hand and over sensitive on the other, from both sides of the political spectrum. Added to that, most people, surprise surprise, and contrary to the lovers of political rhetoric’s beliefs, aren’t interested in simplistic claims about what adopting their views will produce in terms of solving all of society’s problems. Ordinary people are a pretty sophisticated bunch in terms of seeing through the shit of this digital age.
It’s bizarre. For most of my life, I thought the politically engaged members of my side were the vanguard. Not the “common folk.” Now maybe that situation has turned on it’s head. How did this predicament sneak up on us during a time of austerity? I wonder. Um, hello? We’ve just had a fucking economic crisis….
Why all the Petulence?
Since the crash of 2008, the political discourse in the US and UK seems to have developed a stroppy teenager’s outlook. It focuses on a kind of self-centred petulance, combined with an inability to see that everyone is unique and flawed. Combine that with the ghost of the ‘Mary Whitehouse’ temperament, and free thinking, speech, and generally good reasoning are in dire trouble.
Here it might be pertinent to perhaps acknowledge the fact that being ruled by emotional impulses and reasoning always ends in tears. Strong and angry emotions are always less capable of seeing things clearly than clear minded reason. It’s been proven that it is always good to stand back from strong feelings about stuff, and think about why you are feeling what you feel. Whilst not advocating a return to emotional suppression and the stiff upper lip, maybe it’s best to let that emotional volcano die down before you mouth off. Especially if you’re going to say something like this:
It’s not fair! If you don’t agree with me I am offended, and today don’t you know being offended is a fate on parr with predetermined abuse!
Shit, I just realised I’d better be careful what I say. I’ll have lots of offended people jumping down my throat with lists of social deprivation issues that we still need to complain about. Of course I know that. I was just attempting to be light and humorous, which incidentally also seems to be a bit out of fashion lately. It probably feels better to be earnest, serious, and angry all the time. You feel worthy if you’re taking a clear and angry stand against something, complaining how horrible the world is for having tolerated it at all. Complexity gets in the way of this. Even if the complexity is actually part of the reality you are describing.
Simple explanations make it easy to feel like you can go from a complaint directly to an important social change. You punish wrongdoers along the way. The punishment might not be in the form of a legal sanction. It could be a twitter storm. The trouble is, this is sadism and it ruins lives. It stops people from developing nuanced thinking. It engages the animal part of our brain, the angry parent that wants to beat the naughty children who in this case, are fellow humans.
When a parent gets angry without noticing the complexity of situations, they often become not just the angry parent. They become the abusive parent. Nothing is ever simple, as my Gran, those heavy theory writers, long rambling conversation lovers, Shakespeare or even Eastenders script writers would no doubt tell you. Incidentally, I personally far prefer Eastenders to Shakespeare.
Why do I love Eastenders?
For those who are not UK residents, Eastenders is a long running British soap opera, uniformly despised by a certain class of people who feel watching it would be a lowering of their cultural consumption standards. (I get it in the neck from many of my nearest and dearest regarding my addiction to it. Hey, it’s better than some of my past addictions. They can only be described as extremely unhealthy).
In Eastenders, you get plot lines that are reminiscent of the Classics, Greek tragedies and ironically, Shakespeare himself. I would far rather watch it instead of having to wade through Oedipus and Macbeth. Each to their own. In the 30th anniversary week, a grieving father, the legendary Ian Beale, after many plot twists and turns, found out his dead daughter Lucy had been murdered by his wife. That was bad enough. It then transpired it wasn’t his wife who murdered his daughter, but his 11 year old son Bobby, who had hit her over the head in a sibling quarrel but didn’t know he’d killed her. The wife was shouldering the blame. The ethical quandary thrown up by this scenario was whether the father should shop him in, and ruin his life by loading him with guilt, and inevitably have him taken away from his family, or just grin and bear, accept it was a tragic accident, and protect him. A moral dilemma.
Loads of people hate Eastenders. Maybe Polly Toynbee does. The haters normally say stuff like:
It must say something about the state of our nation that this programme is one of the most popular currently screened. Nobody laughs. Nobody has a blinding stroke of luck or a really nice day. As a representation of London’s East End, it is pure hokum.”
Dull, dreary, unrelentingly disillusional, and ethnically preposterous. The most popular programme of an apparently diseased and dying nation. Avoid it like the plague.
They obviously have avoided it like the plague as the descriptions are not even particularly accurate. We all tend to make assumptions about things with little or second hand information. I personally don’t get offended they hate it or disagree with me. I am not putting it on a pedestal. I do wonder though why they think entertainment or Art ever has to be “like the real world.” They remind me of folk who only like paintings that look “realistic,” I suppose. I say it might be better to just take a photo.
I always enjoy stuff that illuminates aspects of our lives and the world. I like it when I’m challenged, when I’m induced to ponder on ethical and political situations, and explore complex issues in my mind. That’s not for everyone, thank God. Nothing would get done. It’s just me and my existential particularity. However that’s what Eastenders does for me.
After the murderer of Ian Beale’s daughter was revealed, Twitter was alive with points of view, constrained by having to be expressed in 140 characters or less. Alas, there were no easy answers. Eastenders, lest we forget, has tackled a great deal of difficult and taboo social issues from differing viewpoints through the eyes of it’s well known characters over the years. In many cases, I think this program has changed societal attitudes for the better. For example, the first gay man kiss on prime-time TV caused shockwaves, the taboo of talking about childhood sexual abuse was exposed, characters experiencing mental health issues were portrayed sensitively in order to break down a lot of myths, the plight of homeless families in London was revealed and the issue of the right to die was explored. Societal change happens slowly, after we are presented with new, insightful, and informed ways of thinking about things. First a few people on the front line with concerns about social justice identify something that needs to change. It takes time for people to catch up and get onboard. As the late great Tony Benn pointed out:
First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.
Is it all that bad?
In my lifetime I have experienced massive societal change for the better. Especially in terms of gender expectations and attitudes to my mood affective disorder which I no longer feel the need to be ashamed about. Doesn’t mean there isn’t always work to be done. People always like to find something to moan about though. I’m having a bit of a moan myself now, and as I said people moan about Eastenders, even though its not trying to be like real life. It’s a fucking soap opera.
On a side note I am happy to blame my parents for the love of this genre. I wasn’t allowed to watch soaps as a kid. Once you have a desire surpressed, it grows, sometimes to uncontrollable levels. I probably should say no more on that topic. Once I start on Catholic priests I might never stop. Maybe I’ll return to that in the future, but I think I’ll go back to dead Catholic Kings for now.
Shall I go back to Dead Kings?
So Polly, I think the people lining the streets to see Richard were there because that shit floats their boat. It floats their boat for a multitude of reasons. I would hazard a guess that most folk lining the streets were history buffs, or over 60, but there was also a hell of a lot of locals: people from all ages, races and backgrounds, coming to have a nose at what was going on, because it was a good do. Leicester is a City that knows how to put on a good do. We are famous for our diversity and Festivals and Events. I myself went out of curiosity to see how many people would give a fuck, and it turned out to be tens of thousands. Some had even come from the other side of the world.
New Technology is wonderful but confusing and scary at times.
I was thinking that many, but obviously not all, that came from that over 60’s generation, may feel a bit left behind by modern technology, and are searching for some kind of comfort from the past. Some simply love the comradery. Nought wrong with that. It was a good day out with people chatting to strangers that had a common purpose. This is a human trait that we all enjoy. Nowadays, those of us who are computer literate can easily seek it out online. From Mumsnet to ‘Culture on the Offensive’ we look for people who have the same concerns. We search for people like ourselves, with similar interests and values both in the real world or the digital sphere. I hope this means I will feel less lonely in my old age than many housebound elderly today.
About that; technological progression undoubtedly has its good points. Millions actually. You wouldn’t believe that if you only listen to those people (normally pontificating on radio 4) who seem outraged at all of it. They don’t understand that world, and have never properly experienced it. They are fearful the digital realm harbours something like the devil.
It is a human base brain thing to conjure up the devil, or an equivalent evil force that posseses people. It’s a manifestation of our fear about stuff we don’t get. Also the characteristics of evil people, sometimes worse than bloody Hitler, are often unjustly and sensationally super-imposed onto certain individuals, whose only crime may be that they are different from us, and we don’t understand them and are threatened. That, or they happen to have been born into the current fashion’s worst and most misaligned demographic group for the particular age we are living in. So we demonise them…and those who are less scared, just laugh at them.
It goes without saying that the people in those crowds watching the incongruous sight of Richard’s bones pass by in a coffin on a horse drawn carriage, flanked by a measly 2 knights in armour, weren’t all the same, or there for the same reasons. They may have, on the whole, looked similiar, but just as I wouldn’t lump people wearing Sari’s together, and judge them to “all be the same,” neither would I lump people with the Marks and Spencer beige anoraks together and expect them to be the same. Some of them probably hate the Great British Bake Off.
It was a day out. A one-off occasion. King Richard III was a controversial figure. The last English King to die in battle. People could discuss that. John Snow got maybe a bit too excited about it. The theories about Richard abound, and we’ll never know the answers. That’s fine. This is part of the human condition. We will always be searching for answers. We can only come to conclusions with the knowledge we currently have, and no human being on earth knows exactly the same things. We can always learn new stuff from other people. The only requirement is an open-mind.
We all love and deserve a bit of Self-Soothing don’t we?
So, sorry to keep harping back to this, but the truth is simplistic narratives (and their embedded explanations) make people feel psychologically better as they offer a chance to self-soothe. They give people certainty and something to believe in. People like answers to shit they don’t understand that perplexes them. This is religion’s USP actually. Having faith in something alters your mood state, from one of potential turmoil and stress, with cortisol pumping round the brain, to a place of certainty and knowing, which brings immediate calm, as well as a good old dose of brain produced opiates. Maybe that’s the state of mind which is often described as being where we feel at one with God and/or the Universe. That sense of definitely knowing something and not having to think about it anymore. Remember folks, opiates, naturally produced in the brain by a calm self-soothed mind, or acquired from external sources can get addictive. They feel amazing. That’s why all sorts of beliefs take on a kind of religiousity. This is in no way constrained by any limits of intellectual capacity or education.
Why can’t I got a job?” “Because of those immigrants.”
Why aren’t there more women in politics?” “Because of sexist men.”
Should I vote? ” “No because it’s a waste of time unless there’s a party that represents ALL of your interests.
Simple as. Phew, now I don’t have to think about it anymore. I wonder if perhaps there is a stigma against nuanced thinking that needs to be broken. There are however a lot of advocates of other stigma breaking in our public discourse. I think stigma breaking makes people feel good because it makes them feel like they are doing something worthy.
Stigma Definition – British English: If someone or something is stigmatised, they are unfairly regarded by many people as being bad or having something to be ashamed of.
It might just be me, but what seems to be happening to compensate for all kinds of unbelievable stigmatisation which happened in the past, is that even if someone or something IS bad, we are bound by the rules of the “advocates of stigma breaking,” to not mention the bloody obvious. We fear being accused of stigmatising a whole bunch of individuals who have a particular stigmatisable trait. A lot of the people who are actually getting stigmatised are the people who belong to what are sometimes called “oppressor groups.” In other words, people we call “the powerful,” regardless of their personal circumstances.
Didn’t Martin Luther King have a dream where people were not judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character? I believe the point he was making applies to the judging of any demographic group of people. You should never treat people within any demographic group as though they are all ‘the same’ in virtue of accidents of birth which have given them some kind of random common trait. The trait could be physical (skin colour, particular genitals, different brain functioning or physical ability) or a social construction (economic disadvantage or privilege, class, occupation, etc).
So what would Martin make of the section of contemporary society’s political discourse that glorifies black and white thinking, shaming and over sensitivity, all mixed up with zealousness, now appearing from both sides of the political spectrum? I fear he may actually be turning in his grave because the notion of judging people by the content of their character has gone totally tits up. Today, it’s all been turned on its head by a tide of surging wet guilt. A lot of effort is going into judging and dividing up people into whole demographic groups by virtue of often pretty vague and often personally motivated value judgements. It’s all about where they fall on a religiously minded oppression axis. The division is led by the latest new crop of self-elected voices for the people.
There’s an irony in this. The movement to label people as “oppressed” and “priviliged” is ultimately a way of judging all members of a demographic as the same in some way. It’s just as prejudiced and patronising as those much maligned racists of the past. Within these new politics, whole groups of people are painted with the same brush in that they are totally revered. Whereas in the past that brush was dipped in piousness and privilege, now it is dipped in patronisation and pity. The politics for the disdvantaged, today, feels like a kind of pity apartheid.
The higher the group you are deemed to fall into climbs up the randomly socially constructed ladder, the more you are demonised, and left to survive on your own; the lower the group you are deemed to fall into, the more you are deified and protected from any kind of criticism. The deification is like the deification of old dead Kings. Luckily, we can happily indulge in formally treasonous conversations about Kings or Princes now without being sent to the Tower. They are actually fair game because of their wealth, gender and privilege, right? I dunno. William and Harry seem OK to me. They aren’t running round beheading people, and project pretty altruistic natures. They couldn’t help where they were born. They might hate the system as much as many others, but be powerless or seriously guilt tripped not to change it. Just like us. Loads of stuff in our lives we have no control over. Loads of stuff is not our fault. We like to think otherwise. We learn from our mistakes. Onwards and upwards.
Wankers do exist and we have all be been one.
There are always people around who make mistakes and act like idiots. There are total wankers too. There are manipulative self-serving assholes. They come from all races, genders, ages, sexualities and backgrounds. Incidentally, if you believe that those descriptions don’t include you, at some moment or time of your life, you may be deluded. There’s far too much expectation for people to be perfect, and lots of ‘worthier than thou’ outrage at common shitty human traits.
As a woman, I am regularly informed that regardless of my actual character, or how I may live my life, or what choices I make, or how wealthy I am, I am a victim and oppressed. I have it bad. I do have it bad sometimes. That’s true. Everyone does. I have been pondering though about how the way we think about how oppressed particular people are is actually extremely backward looking, and steeped in historical precedence, no longer wholley applicable to the West of 2015. This backwardness is most aggressively promoted, ironically, by the same people who look down on those looking back on the life of Richard the Gangster King. As I said earlier, I don’t get this passion for wallowing in the past.
Incredible excuses for morally dubious behaviour are offered in droves, as guilt ridden gifts for us girls; whilst struggling individuals who by accident of birth are born into the white male heterosexual male category are brought up by some to feel shame if they voice any sense of helplessness. This is often just because they possess a penis, and happens regardless of the lack of privilege they may have, compared to their successful female counterparts in any other aspect of their lives. Is that not some warped corrupted penis envy? Is that not patronising to successful thriving women? This may have something to do with why suicide rates are much higher in white men.
It seems that serious civil rights that have been fought for and improved the quality of life for many, are conveniently ignored. If you deny that things are better now than they were the 80s, you’re often treated like someone who denies the existence of global warming. This pisses me off. I campaigned a lot for women’s rights and my daughter was raised to have no less an expectation of what she could do in life than her brother. My son was raised to be able to show his emotions, be nurturing, and not worry about traditional gender roles. I’m a mother and I am now pretty sure I am primarily loved or loathed, admired, accepted or judged on my behaviour, and who I am, not by how clean my kitchen floor is or what washing powder I use, even though we still have those adverts of domestic goddesses still sprinkled across the media. Things have moved on from a time when women couldn’t dream of being anything other than that. Women today are pretty savvy about that the possibilities that exist for them.
Not being judged differently because you are a woman is what the women’s movement was advocating in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Now if you criticise any aspect of a women’s behaviour, you are seen as anti-feminist and therefore anti-gender equality. Viv Albertine from the Slits, whose book I am reading at the mo, agrees with me there. Shit, maybe we are both guilty of also hankering for the past. Things were better 35 years ago in some ways, but they really are better now in terms of gender role expectations. Viv and I were on the vanguard of that change but we didn’t know it at the time. We were too wasted.
I don’t know what you think, but I see a perplexing wave of thinking that calls itself ‘feminist’ today. It delusionally negates women from having a sense of responsibility, and thus inadvertently patronises us. People are under the illusion it’s progressive though. That’s not what I understood as feminism, growing up. I can’t get behind this new feminism. It’s not going to further the cause of gender equality or challenge the oppressive elements of traditional gender roles for both genders. The narrative it espouses seems totally self-defeating, as it encourages women to take on the psychologically damaging identity of permanent victim. Things we sailed through in our youth as part of experimenting, making regretted mistakes and learning, are now being redefined as things that we should in retrospect see as having hurt us really really really really really badly. The old adages about how we grow through pain, are now being brushed off as victim-blaming. Females, on this thinking, don’t get treated in the same way as males. They are protected from men, infantilised, and encouraged to take on the persona of a perpetually aggrieved wingher, whilst men are without doubt always evil perpetrators. Contra this thinking, we are not delicate little flowers. Wasn’t that myth overcome in the 60’s and 70’s?
It feels like that spoilt teenage tantrum and moral outrage spirit d’age oozing itself into gender politics. It looks and smells totally reactionary to me. I wouldn’t call myself a feminist nowadays as it seems most of their activist campaigns and discourse tactics range from backward looking to bullying. Who knows what kind of thinking I would be aligned to.
Thankfully most reasonable people actually don’t give a shit about all this expressed outrage. They just get on with things. They quite rightly ignore it. Most of the younger generation I know in particular, seem to on the whole have it sussed. We have left the 80’s behind. As I said, on the whole, people are either douchebags or decent regardless of the demographics they belong to.
Of course, I am not, by thinking and sharing my thoughts about this, all of a sudden denying that there has been real race/class/gender/sexuality struggles and discrimination, and proclaiming that it’s all ok now. I know it’s not all ok. Life can never be a perfect Utopia, and if it were I suspect we’d all be rather bored. I am just wondering whether categorising people and engaging in these “who’s more oppressed than who” competitions distracts us from the actual barriers that significantly harm people in 2015. Most of these are economic. There’s maybe not much attention left for the economy amongst certain “activists” because they are too busy running around aggressively promoting bigotry and double standards. I doubt if they have much energy left for other stuff. I bet those with vested interests and power are pretty happy to see all this.
If I wanted to retain power, what would make me happy? The disempowerment and splitting up of the people who ‘could’ and ‘should’ stand together to challenge real injustice (as the civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights and trade union movements did in the past.) They are splitting themselves into little self-interest groups, and demonising and shaming and blaming each other. The ever increasing gap between rich and poor, and the growing use of food banks, the multiplicity of wars going on, and religious fundamentalism get lost in the war to redistribute social priviliges (rather than money). I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bilderberg Group didn’t come up with the idea of identity politics at one of their think tanks. Divide and rule and all that. Reminds me of that Monty Python ‘People’s Popular front of Judea’ sketch. Watch ‘Life of Brian.’ Actually those of a certain disposition will probably be mightily offended by it nowadays. It used to be only the Christian right that were outraged.
There’s a whole lot of seriousness and earnestness about. Maybe those creating battles are doing it because, on the whole, they don’t really have any, and our base brains love to fight. Those who are fighters of ‘stigmatising, discriminating and offending’ are pretty noisy today. To be in any way critical of any loved and comfort inducing narrative, often leads to you being labelled offensive. The message is pretty clear: You are either with us or against us. All or nothing thinking.
And so dear reader, we return to the concept I started with: existential particularity. The existential particularity of individuals is what these politics refuse to see. In fact, it’s what these particular self-righteous people in 2015 seem to find most difficult to see when looking at other human beings. Yes, even though you are from a “priviliged oppressor” group you still have your own existential particularity. People who participate in a tradition we dislike have their own existential particularity. They don’t interpret the tradition the way we do. It’s best to remember this when ascribing motivations to them. Especially if their motivations are the reasons we can’t stand that tradition. People are complex and unique. People lie. People have different temperaments and interests. Life is never perfect and we can’t stop everything that is bad from happening. Sometimes it is what it is. We can’t always get what we want. Life isn’t fair. Being outraged about that might not be wholly productive.
Why can’t we state the bloody obvious?
Oh, and by the way, saying a man who flew a plane full of people into the side of a mountain was a mad man does not mean you are saying that all people who experience depressive episodes would do the same. They haven’t have they? As far as I know this is the first time. Should you ignore the facts of the matter to avoid offence? Yes, if you want to infantalise an entire group of people. As a person who manages a mood affective disorder (Bipolar) I would still rather be offended than patronised. Funnily enough, I, like everybody else, am probably offended by something every day, and funnily enough, I cope. It’s called human interaction. It’s part of gaining wisdom to be able to deal with offence, without being totally enraged every time it happens.
Having had the experience of managing a mood disorder, I will share my belief that challenging this polarised identity politics, this all or nothing thinking, you’re with me or against me dogma, is good for you psychologically. In fact, it’s better than good. Its great for your mental health.
This is because being in a constant state of outrage or fear is bad for your well being. Trying to be compassionate, as far as you are able, to every human being, however different they are, is also good for your state of being. As long as it’s never at the expense of being compassionate to yourself.
I suppose the great thing though about being a middle-aged nutter is you are far more self-reflective and able to understand and embrace who you are. My Bipolar brain is part of me, as is my gender, background, age, sexuality, parenting skills, creativity and so on. But I would prefer not to be judged by virtue of socially constructed simplistic notions of any of them. None of them alone define who I am. I am a fusion. Just like jazz funk.
I know some people seriously do need protecting and looking after, and are isolated and alone as I write this, which is a shocking indictment of where our society is. The erosion of the welfare state hasn’t helped. The under-funding of mental health services is ridiculous. I’ve been in that isolated place a number of times. I expect everyone has to a greater or lesser degree. We need to continually challenge the ideologies that are ruthless, uncaring and only serve the needs of the privileged. We need to educate people about injustices as we come across them, and join with others to try and overcome them. I am all for that.
So, as I start to run out of steam, I want to stress that none of this rumination should be taken to mean, we can never make generalisations in order to offer some kind of explanation. That’d be ridiculous. It’s all probably just going to come down to some taking of responsibility. We need to look at the big picture and take responsibility for what may happen if people wholly buy into any particular political explanation as fact, and how that could impact the way they deal with, think about, treat or demonise certain people. So if you’re going to generalise, do it with the proviso that, just because in general something may be true of a group or situation, and that may offer you soothing simple explanations to questions you have, or struggles you contend with, never forget that any group of people is made up of flawed and struggling human beings trying to fathom shit out and navigate the world just like you. And like you, they do this with their own ‘existential particularity.’ I’m sure if you’ve bothered to read this far you know this, so sorry if I’m preaching to the converted. Use the fact that ‘it’s complicated and that’s fine,’ and keep an open-mind in order to get your natural opiates flowing and enjoy. I’m off to watch my favourite soap. Until next time…
[i] see Sobchack, Vivian The Address of the Eye: A Phenomenology of Film Experience (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,1992).
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