Accept no substitutes

As anyone who’s ever glanced at this blog before – and who’s ever done more than glance at it? – I have a proud record of being last with the news. Always fashionably late to the punchline, that’s me.So it gives me great pleasure to extend that run by informing you, precisely several months after most of the rest of the internet, that the “Everyday Feminism” website is now offering an online course for white anti-racism activists who don’t feel they can work effectively without confronting their “toxic whiteness”.

Incidentally, I would love to claim at this point that I am hip enough to read “Vice” everyday, and discovered this nugget there, but that would be a lie. The truth is, I was stupid enough to visit “Everyday Feminism”, and they promptly advertised their course to me, so if they don’t like my take on it, they’ve only got themselves to blame. Anyway, if you follow the links through you will soon discover the two key points about this course:-

  1. It costs $97, and;
  2.  It’s basically about telling white people what racists and all-round bad guys they are, and getting them to accept this “truth”.

Who spends that much money on a process that’s guaranteed to make them feel worse about themselves as people? The word “masochism” is mentioned a lot in the (many) blogs that got to this before me. I think that’s actually unfair to masochists. If you pay a person of your preferred gender to tie you up and flog you, you do it because you get off on it. The connection between pain and enjoyment is clear, if too circuitous for most people. No-one – not a single person – is going to enjoy sitting in a lukewarm bath of white guilt with a bunch of social justice warriors while being lectured on their failings by the most annoying people on Earth.

A lot of other bloggers have gone a bit deeper, and drawn the comparison between the attitude of the social justice industry to whiteness, maleness and heterosexuality to the attitude of Christianity to Original Sin. Of course, you can never quite purge the stain, but if you confess enough, say a sufficient number of “Hail Marys” and generally carry out enough of the right things (like handing over cash for our online course!), you might eventually be granted grace, although by a bunch of internet feminists, not by God.

I’ve made the comparison between religious belief and belief in identity politics myself in other posts. Basically, once people stop believing in God (or gods), that doesn’t end the need for belief, nor even the need for something like a church or religious structure. It’s no coincidence that once religion started going on the defensive, from about the late 18th century on, all these alternative, secular religions start appearing. You get Robespierre and the French revolutionaries, and their “Festival of the Supreme Being.” Then in the 19th century, you get positivism, socialism, communism and all the other “-isms.”

Feminism is just a further development of that, and like a lot of its predecessors, it has a tendency, when the chips are down, to start getting very authoritarian and prescriptive about what people can and cannot do and say, and, as here, to try and train or even force them to do and say the right things. That is also something Christianity, at its worst, has very much done, and the root cause is really the same. Christianity has a tendency to keep forgetting that you can’t earn God’s grace. It’s not a reward for your good deeds, however good they are, and forcing people into righteousness is pointless. The secular religions don’t have a God in the first place and they can’t promise redemption through his grace, so all they can offer is “boot-strap your way to being whatever our version of a good person is – if you can’t, we’ll bully you into doing it.”

The paradoxical result is modern feminists who basically behave exactly like mediaeval Popes at the lowest ebb of Catholicism – they sell indulgences. Don’t worry if you can’t stop being the white person you are! Pay for our course and you can clear your conscience for that! Of course, when the Papacy did that, Martin Luther and others came along to restate the importance of faith over works. No-one can or will do that for feminism, or for that matter any of the secular belief systems. Without the supernatural, all you have are flawed human beings on the endless, most likely hopeless path of self-improvement.

You’re probably a pretty awful person, with all kinds of flaws (like reading my endless blog posts). So am I (like writing them). Chances are, neither you nor I will ever get past a lot of those flaws. There are only two honest responses to realising this – stop defining them as flaws or sins, in yourself or others, and get on with life, or head to the nearest church (or synagogue, mosque, whatever). Just don’t, whatever you do, think that you can buy a better self by paying for online courses. Or if you must, at least stop sneering at Scientologists for doing the same.

Posted in News and politics, Psychology, Religion, United States | 1 Comment

What Lebanon taught me

No, I’ve never actually been there, but I did grow up in the 80s, and if there was one place you couldn’t avoid in the 80s it was Lebanon. Or was it “the Lebanon” (yes, there were still a few older people around who called it that)? Lebanon at that time was what Bosnia was in the 90s, Iraq was in the 2000s, and Syria is today – media shorthand for “war-torn hellhole” and mental, if not physical, destination of choice for Western liberals wanting  to indulge Western liberal guilt. It was the problem that never seemed closer to being solved.

Images of the gutted and shell-holed tower blocks of Beirut turned up regularly on news programmes, usually accompanied by much speculation about the fate of several British or American hostages who had vanished into captivity there, and it seemed that every major player in the Middle East drama was fighting a war in Lebanon, either by proxy or directly. Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Iranians, Americans – they all got involved, one way or another, and the main result was more death and destruction for the Lebanese.

Lebanon is “better” now – well, at any rate, there isn’t open warfare being waged on the streets. But it’s still a far from stable place, and the basic reason for this is the extraordinary religious and ethnic diversity of its inhabitants. How many other countries are there where population statistics are so politically controversial that no national census has been carried out since 1932? Recent estimates put the population at about 54% Muslim, 40.4 % Christian and 5.6 % Druze (the Druze are an off-shoot of Islam, sort of, but that’s only as accurate as saying Mormonism is an off-shoot of Christianity, sort of). Even that over-simplifies the reality, given that the Muslims and Christians are of various ethnic origins and each sub-divided into different sects that often really don’t like each other, and that they all have their representative political parties and the parties all have their armed wings.

And that, in my view, is exactly what you get when a nation is so multi-ethnic that no single group has enough of a clear majority over the others to define the mainstream national culture. Lebanon is a great example of a multi-cultural society, and a great example of why that ideal simply does not work in practice. When there is a clear majority culture, its members can agree to tolerate the minorities because the latter clearly are minorities and so aren’t threatening. The minorities are prepared to accept that as the best deal on offer, since they can’t realistically challenge the power of the majority.

When no-one is in enough of a majority, anyone might get their hands on the levers of power, and generally everyone tries to. For a less violent example than Lebanon, look at Belgium, which has frequently become almost ungovernable because of the differences between its two main ethnic groups. “Diversity” is a nice buzz-word, but in reality it usually means conflict, often conflict that can’t be managed peacefully, and that is why it is a terrible idea to voluntarily allow a well-established national majority to become a minority and a country to become so diverse that it becomes ungovernable. And whatever you think of those who voted “Leave” in the Brexit referendum in the UK or for Donald Trump in the US, that is one concern many of them had which was absolutely valid.

You can dispute whether no change in the existing set-up either here or in the US would actually have led to this, or whether Brexit or Trump is the right solution even if there is a problem, but the dark side of diversity is not something that should be denied. Just ask the Lebanese. It’s all very well to wax lyrical about “rainbow nations” and “melting pots”, but real people usually don’t react quite so benignly when faced with different cultures. They tend to stick to their own and to those who are like them.

People can learn to tolerate what is different, but whether or not it might be more moral of us to do so, we’ll probably never truly love it. Where there never was an accepted mainstream majority culture or even where there are fears, even inaccurate fears, that there soon might not be, we’ll probably stop even being tolerant, and that really explains a lot of what’s happened in politics over the past year or so.

Posted in News and politics | Leave a comment

News now stalking me, need restraining order: The great (?) Christ’s College controversy (?) of 2016

As this has now been reported in the Daily Mail, I suppose this is both officially “news” and a “controversy”.  Here’s your link, lest you suspect me of making all this stuff up.

In summary  – several Jewish students walked into a bar, in the graduate union building of my alma mater, Cambridge University. Realising that they were being set up for the punchline of a bad joke, and also that the place had been rented out for the evening to the sporting societies of Christ’s College, my joint alma mater if such a thing exists, they started walking out again, only to be grabbed and manhandled out of the bar by some of the people inside whilst being (allegedly) subject to a hail of anti-Semitic abuse. They complained to the college authorities; two students have been punished for the assault bit, which could, the authorities felt, be proved, but none for the “hail of anti-Semitic abuse” bit, which, they thought, could not.

Why am I sharing this news with you? Well, I got sent two e-mails about it yesterday from the Master of Christ’s College (who is, for all that, a woman) setting out the College’s side of the story for the benefit of the alumni i.e. a bunch of people most of whom, like me, graduated decades ago. Without that bit of public relations, I would probably never have heard about the whole saga, as I don’t read the newspapers that have run it (and if I had to go into work today, which I don’t, I probably wouldn’t be writing this even if I had). Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

More seriously, this is a great illustration of how the digital, social media age has come to affect established institutions. Not only can people find out about all sorts of things that are pretty tangential to their everyday lives, it’s got to the point where we kind of expect to know them. The Master of Christ’s is only the latest to get caught on the horns of a dilemma. Don’t say anything, and you look as if you have something to hide (and perhaps even attract more attention because of that, the so-called Streisand Effect); say something, and get guaranteed extra attention from people who were blissfully ignorant of it all five minutes ago, and will probably complain about “being dragged into it all” to boot. Personally, I do feel a bit as if someone else’s business has just been firmly poked into my nose.

As for the incident itself,  as I wasn’t there, I naturally have no idea what really happened. However, it also nicely illustrates the practical difficulties of proving anything  in a judicial or quasi-judicial setting when all you have is one person’s word against another’s, or in this case, several persons’ words against several other persons’. If there’s one thing that’s a feature of controversial judicial proceedings, it’s that. It’s often the biggest practical difficulty in getting convictions in rape cases, for example. In this case, whilst there was apparently CCTV footage to show the Jewish students being bundled out of the bar, and to show those involved, of course, CCTV cameras don’t record sound, so the only evidence as to what was being said comes from the people involved. If what they say is contradictory, you can’t catch anyone in a lie that destroys their credibility, and assuming you’re being at all serious about presuming innocence, what choice do you have but to give the accused the benefit of the doubt?

In some situations, smartphones with video capacity operated by witnesses have provided an answer, or at least some entertaining YouTube videos. However, there are still some things, like being thrown out of a bar, that just happen too fast for people to start pulling out their phones and recording. There’s no simple answer to this problem, and if it turns out that it resulted in injustice here, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Posted in Crime, News and politics, Personal | Leave a comment

Book Review: “Wildfire” by Chris Ryan

Another trip to the (apparently) bottomless well that is macho literature. Well, in this case, it’s more “teen adventure” than macho, since “Wildfire”, published in 2006, is a young adult novel. The author has impeccably manly credentials, though. For anyone who’s too young to remember the first Gulf War, Chris Ryan was a member of the British SAS sent off on a reconnaissance mission deep into Iraq with some of his colleagues. It all went, to put it mildly, a bit wrong ( I’m pretty sure almost everyone getting killed or captured wasn’t part of the plan) and Ryan ended up being the only member of the patrol to escape.

He did this by crossing most of Iraq, evading the soldiers out to catch him and eventually swimming across the Euphrates River. Unsurprisingly, Ryan ended up a decorated war hero, and he’s spun the fame he gained from that into writing a whole series of adventure/war novels for adults and teenagers.

“Wildfire” centres on thirteen-year old Ben Tracey, out in Adelaide in Australia, where his mother Bel is pursuing her career as an environmental campaigner, for a half-term holiday. Ben is in the care of eighteen-year old American Kelly Kurtis, who is teaching him to fly a microlight, when Adelaide, not to put too fine a point on it, catches fire. There is a whole, rather silly, subplot around why Adelaide catches fire, ripped off from a fairly well-known “weather-control” conspiracy theory, but to be honest I would just have accepted “it catches fire because Australia.” Like southern California and the French Riviera, it just seems to be one of those places that bursts into flames every so often.

Bel, and a number of minor characters who are really pretty superfluous to the plot,  have to escape the flames, and ultimately Ben and Kelly must fly through them to rescue his mother from the heart of the burning city.

“Wildfire” has its positives. It is, at least, not a book you would be worried your kids were reading, if you were a parent or teacher. There’s no bad language, no sex (and minimal romance) and most of the characters are basically decent people. Even the more villainous come across as more misguided or stupid than evil; of course, the fire is the real villain. All that costs in terms of realism, naturally. In particular, Ben is portrayed as uninterested in girls to an extent that I don’t think a real thirteen year old boy would be (well, I certainly wasn’t that uninterested). He’s also responsible, cool-headed and brave in a way that probably makes him a great role model for teenagers, but a pretty unrealistic teenager. He’s such a Boy Scout.

Really, characterisation is the biggest single problem with “Wildfire”. Adults or teens, most of the characters are just so bland you can barely care when they’re at imminent risk of death. They’re like cardboard cut-out actors in a toy theatre, moved around the stage to perform the mechanics of the plot, but without the emotional range or backstories to make them interesting. This is particularly notable in terms of how they speak i.e. mostly, all in the same way.

There are British, Australian and American characters (specifically, Texans) in this book, and although Ryan makes some effort to remind us that Kelly is a Yank, most of the time you can’t really tell from the dialogue that they would all be speaking different varieties of English. Whilst I do get that Australians aren’t all like Crocodile Dundee or Sir Les Patterson and that the vast majority of Texans aren’t cowboys, these are places known for some colourful use of English (not all of it too rude to print), and this book almost completely ignores that.

As mentioned earlier, Ryan also has a tendency to throw in lots of fairly superfluous minor characters trying to escape the disaster or fighting the flames, in one case a couple from New Zealand who are dead literally a couple of pages later. I assume the idea is to show the effect of this epic fire on the population of a large city, any of whom might die or survive depending on their smallest decisions, but these minor characters tend to be even more poorly-characterised than the main ones, so really it’s even harder to feel sorry when they get chargrilled (or relieved when they don’t).

In any case, a lot of this comes across as padding for the main plot of Bel escaping the fire and Ben and Kelly rescuing her when the plot commands that she must stop being able to escape, which in itself would not fill 321 pages. In fact, our two main characters spend a large chunk of their time in the book flying away from Adelaide pursuing a red herring in the form of a train they (wrongly) think Kelly’s father has been spirited away on by kidnappers. Whilst that provides a reason why Ben can fly the microlight well enough to pull off his heroic rescue by the time he does that, it’s at the expense of reducing his and Kelly’s impact on the main events.

Either Ryan’s writing a realistic novel about what a bushfire in a major city would be like, with lots of random people running in terror and their survival a matter of luck, or he’s writing about a couple of kid heroes saving the day in a disaster. As it is, “Wildfire” ends up an uncomfortable mixture of both. For all that, I’ll give Ryan one thing – it’s better than “Market Forces”.

 

 

Posted in Art, Books | Leave a comment

A real train wreck

I should probably stop blogging so much about the news, because it’s obviously worked out where I live. At about six o’clock yesterday morning, around the time the US was realising that, yes, it had just elected Donald Trump President, a tram packed with passengers went off the tracks going round a bend and overturned, a few minutes walk from my flat. Seven people killed, forty injured, the worst (and only) loss of life in a tram accident in this country since 1959. Link.

The first I knew about it was my Mum phoning me up a couple of hours later to check that I was still alive, although I had been wondering what the chorus of police and ambulance sirens I could hear going off all around were for. It only hit me later that the last time I’d heard so many sirens go off at once in London was just as the news about the 7/7 bombings started to filter through.

Mum’s reaction was understandable.  Although I never take the tram to work, I do use it a lot. In fact, I was on a tram on exactly the same line that the crash happened on last weekend. The reports I’ve read quote various locals to the effect that trams tend to take the bend, which is where that line comes up from a tunnel to join the other tram lines coming into central Croydon from the east, too fast. That may or may not be true; what’s certainly true is how often I’ve been sitting on a Croydon tram and thought “Huh, these things are slow. I bet it could go faster, then I’d get home faster. What’s the point of having modern technology if it’s going to crawl along like this?” My judgement on public transport safety is about as trustworthy as my judgement on politics.

What can you say about a hideous tragedy, beyond that it’s hideous and tragic? Nothing, really. Speculation about the cause is too early, and potentially illegal given that the police are investigating. Trying to say consoling things to the victims and their families would be frankly insulting. But there is something to be said about how Britain’s second-biggest current news story reflects on its biggest – the US election and its aftermath.

Emotions have clearly been running very high over the Atlantic, and, even more than here after Brexit, some people, notably younger people, are getting extremely overwrought at the result – protests in the streets, internet meltdowns and so on. I have the privilege of detachment here, of course. My family isn’t at risk of being deported back to Mexico and my free healthcare isn’t at risk (well, actually, it sort of is, but that’s a different story).

I think it’s fair for people to feel disappointed and upset in this situation, and to express their feelings about that, but everyone also needs to have some perspective. If you can’t cope, emotionally, with an election that “your side” didn’t win, how are you going to cope when you lose your job, get ill, get divorced, or the host of other bad things that life can present you with, without warning and with no concern for what you think about it? For that matter, how about injury or death?

If there’s one thing that the Croydon tram crash shows, it’s that sometimes death can come quickly, without warning and in horrible ways. This isn’t inevitable for most of us, or even likely, but it is possible, so we shouldn’t cheapen the privilege of being alive by wasting life on futile anger over things we can’t control. To put it another way: we often describe some kind of messy or difficult situation, like Trump in the White House, as “a train wreck”. The horror of a real train wreck, though, is simply beyond the comprehension of anyone whose never been in one, and we should all remember that.

 

Posted in News and politics, Personal | Leave a comment

Book review: “Market Forces” by Richard Morgan

It sounds like the dullest Economics textbook ever, but it’s a novel, and this is part of my ongoing series about macho literature. As Market Forces came out in 2004, you’ll probably have to scour libraries, second-hand bookshops or Ebay for it, and given the age I’m not going to make any effort to avoid spoilers either.

I have to admit that Richard Morgan was a new name to me, but he does seem to be a fairly successful writer as these things go (i.e. he’s still publishing books and has a Wikipedia page). Most of what he’s written seems to be either traditional fantasy or sci-fi of a “cyberpunk” kind, and there’s definitely something of the latter about this novel. Although the futuristic tech isn’t all-pervasive, it’s certainly there, and Morgan likes to chuck in a bit of futuristic slang too (“gangsters” are “gangwits”, for instance, in what I like to imagine must have been an officially sanctioned effort to make them sound less scary).

The time is the mid-21st century and the place is London. The population is divided starkly between the majority, living in the zones, basically Outer London suburbs which seem to be progressing from “the worst British council estates/US housing projects as they are now” in the direction of “Beirut in the ’80s”, and the minority of “suits” or “zek-tivs”, apparently all working in financial services, who get to live in the nice parts. Not that their lot is entirely to be envied, because in this world, the way you progress in your career, and/or resolve workplace disputes is by, in effect, challenging your opponent to a duel in your (heavily armoured) high-end cars. Yes, yet more car porn, although thank God it doesn’t get nearly as literal as Crash on that score. The corporations effectively control the state, which sounds pretty much of the minimal, privatised, kind anyway, so this is all legal.

We follow Chris Faulkner, a zone boy made good who I cannot imagine being played by anyone other than Jason Statham, as he makes his career at Shorn Associates. The firm does “Conflict Investment”, which seems to boil down to supplying guns, money and, what the hell, probably lawyers, to either corrupt Third World governments or the rebels against them, depending on who looks more like winning and providing juicy pay-offs.The novel is the story of Chris’ corruption by his balls-out capitalist world, as he moves from nice guy at the beginning, although more about that later, to raving sociopath who’s killed nearly all of his colleagues, a string of “gangwits” and lower-class thugs and at least one South American dictator at the end. He does make partner, which in this universe is pretty much like becoming a made man in the Mafia, but his wife’s left him and he’s just killed the nearest thing to a friend he appears to have.

Chris beats the dictator to death with a baseball bat, by the way. He also breaks necks, kneecaps people and runs them off the road in their cars to crash and burn to death. Chris Faulkner is, by the end of this novel, the sort of fictional character who Patrick Bateman from American Psycho would admire.

It’s pretty obvious that the main plot of Market Forces is driven by a good, old-fashioned Faustian pact between Chris and his firm. I mean, there’s even a Mephistopheles figure, his colleague Mike Bryant, who takes Chris under his wing at Shorn and schools him in violence, and perhaps inevitably ends up dead under Chris’ wheels in the final duel.

But for a Faustian pact plot to work, you have to feel that something of value was lost through the corruption of the main character. Chris is presented, early in the book, as having some standards at least, but by the time he joins Shorn, he’s already killed people to progress his career. He’s voluntarily joining an organisation that he knows works like a cross between an investment bank, a private military organisation and the Mob, and his main motivation for this is money. Exactly how nice a guy is he, and was there really a lot of corrupting left to do? Faust was a man who’d spent his life on scholarship and just wanted to party a bit. You can chalk him up as a loss to humanity; who cares what happens to Chris Faulkner?

And that is the central problem with all of the characters in this book. None of them are very likeable, even the ones that are supposed to be, and they don’t always have clear motivations for anything they do beyond The Plot Wills It. Chris’ backstory is that his family was impoverished by his father’s business failing (thanks to one of the suits he ends up killing on his way to Shorn) and that he’s desperate to escape poverty, but if your family was screwed by one of the rich guys, why would you respond by seeking to become just like them? At one point, he gets the chance to escape Shorn, when things start to heat up, by getting a job with the UN, which in this novel has some sort of ill-defined role regulating the capitalist cowboys. He doesn’t take the job; why is never really explained beyond “money” and idiotic macho bravado. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

It goes without saying that everyone else at Shorn is, by our standards, an unspeakable dick with metaphorical and often literal blood all over their immaculate suits. Chris’ wife, Carla, and her father, are supposed to be “the opposition” within the novel, calling him out on his bullshit, but they’re so self-righteous it’s hard to sympathise with them even when you agree with them. Incidentally, did I mention that the father is Norwegian, but lives in the London zones?  In a world where, much like today, Scandinavia has not followed the Anglo-American economic model? Admittedly, he is some kind of wannabe international revolutionary, but even that seems inadequate motivation for living in a hell-hole slum with a population that seems totally uninterested in revolution when he could be subverting the world from the comfort of Tromso.

And there’s no real reason his daughter, who holds similar views, would have wanted to marry someone like Chris. Why isn’t she the one working for the UN? Because The Plot Doesn’t Will It, I suppose. Oh, and because whilst Richard Morgan, to be fair to him, tries to create both convincing female characters and female characters with an effect on the plot, he never manages to combine the two. The best-drawn women characters, including Carla, don’t really affect the plot at all, and the one woman who does, the (incredibly obvious) main antagonist, is a cardboard cut-out bitch.

As for the setting, although dystopian future London is vividly imagined, as a dystopia there are several improbable aspects to this. As I mentioned, the novel was published in 2004, near the height of the last economic boom, and it has that period feel about it. Bankers at the time genuinely did consider themselves Masters of the Universe, and got considered that way by media, governments and perhaps even the public. They look a lot less masterful the other side of near-bankruptcy, government bail-outs and years of sweating for profits in a world with negative interest rates. In this novel, the bankers are powerful enough to tell the world how to run itself. Whilst capitalism is still capitalism, and financiers are still powerful, the idea that the sort of radical social change that has happened here would come about just because bankers wanted it to happen looks a lot less plausible than twelve years ago.

More importantly, why would any bankers want their own country to consist of a tiny minority of extremely rich people with everything and a vast majority of very poor people with nothing? Basically, what the elite has achieved in the novel is what Karl Marx thought capitalism would achieve  in the 19th century – everyone ends up in an increasingly impoverished proletariat, except a handful of ever-wealthier bourgeois (in Marx’s day, factory owners; here, owners and employees of finance houses). This notably failed to happen in the 19th century, partly at least because the people with power realised that letting this happen would, much as Marx predicted, lead to revolution. Morgan’s world relies on his elite being too dumb to realise the same thing, which isn’t impossible, but does go against the entire previous history of capitalism.

The bankers are also implausibly enthusiastic for developments that would undermine their own profits. OK, you can no doubt make a lot of money from manipulating the politics of Third World countries (and, of course, this already happens, in a less flamboyant way than the fictional version), but is it really so much that you could afford to throw away the money that depends on most of your population not living in absolute poverty? You’d destroy the consumer base for a lot of the companies you invest in, wreck the residential and commercial property markets that you also have a lot of money invested it, your UK government bonds would turn into junk bonds. Why would any of the people in a position to encourage this actually want it to happen?

Morgan frequently references something called “the domino recessions” in the novel, more or less as a hand wave for “how most people ended up as impoverished as they are.” He doesn’t explain what that involved, although I have a feeling we’ve probably been living through it since 2008, and I’m still not living in a slum run by gangsters. The setting of a novel never has to be as convincing as its characters for it to work, which is why I put the problems with the characters of Market Forces first, but they both really have the same problem. They’ve been made to fit the plot, rather than vice versa.

Interestingly, in the Acknowledgments, Morgan mentions that the novel evolved from a movie script, which at least explains why I can’t help seeing Chris Faulkner as Jason Statham, and perhaps explains some of the weaknesses of Market Forces. Over a couple of hours, with the action moving fast enough and enough explosions happening, you don’t have time to notice the implausible bits and, if you’re lucky, the actors will fill in missing characterisation. Over nearly 500 pages, you can’t miss either.

 

 

Posted in Art, Books | Leave a comment

Donald Trump: “He’s just a good-looking rebel who plays by his own rules.”

Of course, The Trump is pretty much an obscure and neglected figure just now, so apologies for boring my few readers by doing yet another post about him. I mean, what is there to say about this little-known, reclusive, enigma?

OK, irony aside, I have genuinely tried to limit my comments on Mr Trump, if only because the blogging world surely already has an huge over-supply of opinion on the subject.

But that’s the Trump for you – he just won’t let you ignore him. Even if you want to, even if you’re not American and even you if live thousands of miles away from him and don’t  get to vote on whether to put him in charge of your country for the next few years. Rampant attention-seeking is, of course, just part of a politician’s job, especially during an election, but he makes Kim Kardashian look shy and retiring.

So what do I think about recordings of his lewd remarks about a woman he worked with on TV coming out? Well, firstly, and boringly, no, that isn’t the way you should talk about or behave towards women; I’m not going to remotely try and defend what Trump said. However, there is, without doubt, the most colossal self-righteousness on this whole subject, particularly from the male commentators now lining up to condemn him , and this is particularly relevant to Trump because a lot of his popularity rests precisely on his willingness to challenge the norms of good behaviour and acceptable belief. As Bart Simpson once said of a popular rival in an old episode of The Simpsons, “He’s just a good-looking rebel who plays by his own rules.” OK, “good-looking” for Donald Trump is pushing it, but the rebel playing by his own rules bit certainly applies.

What would have happened to me if I had been born rich, become richer and acquired media stardom along the way? Perhaps many things; but one likely outcome is that I would now be writing this without the benefit of a head, which would have fallen off through decades of having as much sex as possible with those women who are attracted to rich and famous men regardless of their many character and other defects. I’m not, morally, a better person than Donald Trump; just one who can’t get away with bad behaviour and outrageous public comments as easily as he can. And I don’t think I’m unusual in that either. A lot of people would have reacted to decades of fame and fortune exactly as badly as the Trump clearly has. Some actually do; look up Acquired Situational Narcissism as it applies to those who achieve fame. Specifically, a lot of men might have done exactly what he did.

I would hope I wouldn’t have gone down the road of borderline workplace sexual harassment to obtain my lascivious goals, but then, until earlier this week I would have hoped I wouldn’t get into an obscenity-laden shouting match with a stranger in a public place too. You can’t be sure what you will do until you get the chance. We should really stop pretending otherwise.

And, as I mentioned above, that is really the point of Donald Trump. The world is full of people, especially less well-off or powerful men, who given the protective blanket of wealth and power, might well indulge all their baser instincts and their nastier prejudices too. And somewhere deep down many of them know this and resent the social restraints that stop them doing it here and now. Donald Trump turns up and says “Aren’t all these restraints stupid? Watch me break them and get away with it. Vote for me and maybe you can too.” And that’s really the core of his appeal. He’s the candidate of the Id, far more than the Republican Party.

If you think that sounds like a fictional character, I’d agree. Just about every villain or anti-hero in fiction with a decent fan-base bases their appeal on doing just this; Donald Trump is what happens when this leaks out of novels and TV into reality. It’s perhaps not surprising that he was host of a reality TV show, where even the “reality” is fictionalised. If he now loses the US election for going too far, it will show that, even in a media-dominated era, there are still limits to behaving as if real life is fiction.

EDIT: Another point that’s occurred to me about Trump since I first posted this a week ago: why has it taken allegations that he sexually harassed women to (perhaps) cause his downfall? After all, there’s been ample evidence for months, most of it originating from his own mouth, that:-

  1. He’s unbelievably vain, narcissistic and self-important, even by normal political standards.
  2. He stands for policies that would probably ramp up international tension hugely, to the point of risking outright war if they were pursued hard enough.
  3. His motive for doing this is fairly clearly to appeal to racial prejudice and/or rampant nationalism among voters. A lot of right-wing politicians everywhere, of course, do that from time to time, but usually in covert ways. Trump is a lot more blatant about it and will toy with extreme lunacy like conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism that in Europe, even overt far-rightists like Nick Griffin or Le Pen would probably avoid (in public, anyway).
  4. He takes not giving a damn about other people’s views way, way beyond the level required for success in public life, and seems to revel in it. As mentioned above, he’s actually made doing this a big part of his appeal.
  5. He wears a ridiculous wig. That may sound petty (and it is), but believe me, if he’d been standing in a UK election his campaign would probably have been derailed by the hairpiece alone.

Everything about Trump, to me, screams, “I am as unstable and untrustworthy as hell and will proceed if electedto make as big a mess of America as possible, probably with a huge grin on my face whilst doing it (and undoubtedly with a bad wig on my head).” It’s like the real-life version of the plot in every cartoon or comic ever, where the bad guy gets elected as Mayor of Niceville and proceeds to make life hell for the hero(es). And he can shrug all this off, but not a receptionist claiming he shoved his tongue down her throat?

“People are strange” doesn’t begin to describe it.

 

Posted in News and politics, Republicans | Leave a comment