Racism – You and Me.

Racism is rife across the world. Most right minded people would agree that racism is ‘wrong’ and yet racism thrives.  It is perhaps more virulent now than in the whole history of mankind.

The definition from the Oxford English dictionary is as follows;

‘Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.’

 

There is a dreadful clarity in the above definition, especially if we break it down.  The first sentence talks of discrimination, and antagonism against someone seen as different – different how?  In any number of ways, most obviously colour, but language, religion, even dress.  There is a natural instinct in us all to hang on to what makes us comfortable, what we are familiar with. That seems reasonable enough.  Where we go astray is in the phrase; ‘based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.’

 

The ground gets trickier as we consider what is borne of those beliefs, namely ‘that each race possess qualities specific to that race, ‘especially as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.’ 

 

That is to say, it is the belief that underpins the ideas of inferiority or superiority.

Clearly there are differences in racial characteristics, e.g. the physical manifestations of Caucasians, Orientals, and Aboriginals et al.  The discomfort of one group with another is reinforced by their cultural differences, again dominated by belief systems.

Racism is a reaction of fear, fear of the unknown, the stranger, the sounds and even the dress of different cultures.  That fear is easily exploited by those who wish to take advantage of the frailties of the mass of people who through no fault of their own have not experienced any variation outside their tribal circumstance at all.  Anything from outside is a threat to some, to be avoided by others and accepted by a few exceptional and open minded people.  These exceptional people are in the minority.

It would be good if we all came to terms with the idea that the very nature of tribalism is to look inward and to fear interlopers from ‘other places and cultures.’ All of us to some extent are defensive and fear change.

Respect for other cultures and thus knowledge of them is the only way to lessen racial tension.  This is not easy to achieve.  In some ways different races and (for a want of a better word) tribes, desire the proliferation of their own beliefs and cultures and see others as alien.  Alien is preciously close to inferior.

So we can agree that racism is entrenched, the key to ameliorating the situation or making all mankind more open to other races and cultures, is education.  Education though can only be catholic (small c) if the prevailing belief systems allow.

Hence the more extreme wings or cultural centres who become defensively introvert alienate and put fear into those who are outside their belief system.  There are very few examples where closed communities have been accepted by the broader world.  Perhaps the Amish community in North America, and the Welsh expatriates in Patagonia are two examples.

The melting pot of mass migration has exacerbated the racism issue hugely with Europeans being upset and fearful because of mass migration from the Middle East and Africa and the US because of a massive influx of Mexican workers.

Is racism then a matter of degree?   How openly we are prepared to accept new people and new cultures.  How open can we be when superficially at least, there are huge cultural issues?  (The place of women in certain religions, Capital punishment in others, and on ad infinitum)

If I believe that capital punishment is wrong, and consequently believe the Saudi Arabians to be less than civilised because they routinely execute people.  Am I a racist?

It’s an interesting question, not least because the British Empire was built almost entirely on the proceeds of the slave trade.  Where sick slaves were routinely thrown overboard in mid Atlantic.  I am British. It is part of my history. My great grandfather was by all measures a racist, predominantly because he was ignorant, just like me. I’m a racist because I don’t know any better.  I hope I don’t give up trying to learn.

 

 

Children in Need. Help from the Aged!

 

Last week the Brits forked out £47 million plus in one night  for ‘Children in Need’ a BBC initiative that is an annual event to help voluntary agencies in the UK help children in need in the UK.  This is not the only event of mass charity efforts held each year.  ‘Comic Relief’, ‘Sports Relief’ are two others that come to mind the difference is that Children in Need is confined to the UK, the other charities are not.

Watching the show last night one could not help but be moved by the heroism and agony of those unfortunate enough to have the needs exemplified in ‘CIN’.  I was astonished to see so many sad stories in a rich nation like the UK, where so many are at the mercy of overstretched voluntary organisations.

My first reaction was to give thanks for all these wonderful workers in the volunteering sector from Hospices, to grief councillors, to play therapists and many, many more. My second reaction was to feel proud of the generosity of the Brits.  My third was to wonder why we need such a wide community of voluntary organisations in a wealthy country like ours?

Whilst this charity focused on children, there are many others in our society who have needs. There are many too who could give more of themselves into the voluntary sector. We had a prime minister who asked that we concentrate on what he called the ‘big society’ and I see what he meant.

In an aging society we have droves of senior citizens who are lonely and many that are living close to poverty.  Then again we have many who are well off and sit at home worrying about their failing health and the issue of age itself.

It seems there is a circle to square here.  The concept of mobilising the legions of ‘retired’ folk to help in all the above mentioned sectors seems self-evident. Yet because of our traditional beliefs of ‘youth’,’ maturity’, ‘middle age’ and ‘old age’ we seem to have given up the mass of older talent which ought to be conscripted into a much more vibrant voluntary sector.  The word ‘Conscripted’ will put the shivers up many a back, but life has changed and we must change with it.

Care for our Hospice Movement.

It comes as a dreadful surprise that funding for the Hospice movement is under threat.

To some, this might seem yet another ordinary ‘cut’ to a sector of the NHS that should take its turn like everything else.  After all Hospices are places that are primarily involved in end of life care, and this surely is not as important as the prevention of chronic illness and the prevention of diseases. Further the Hospice movement is well supported by the voluntary sector which the rest of the NHS is not.

If, the general population had shared the benefits of Hospice care then these attitudes surely could not survive.

I lost my beloved son to cancer and drugs and later wrote a little book about those dreadful times, the one thing that shone through was the compassion and care that we all experienced from St. Richard’s Hospice.  I wrote as follows, which I hope gives an insight into the difference that the Hospice movement makes.  It is so precious, the movement involves the best of the best, exemplifies all that is best about our human race and is beyond price.

(From ‘My Boy’ – a memoir):

“We’ve only been in this place half a day, and I’ve learned so much.  It’s as if that in his suffering and his situation, there is another dimension, I can sense it but not experience it; but at least I am aware of it.  I know that for some time I have studiously avoided discussing the future, but the dilemma is greater than simply that.  It is a question of living in the moment and cherishing each one as eternal.  This sounds pretentious, but it makes sense to me, and the thought defines what it is I can do for my boy.  These people in this wonderful hospice understand this, and their ‘strap line’; “Caring for life” is what they are all about.  To do this is beyond most of us. Yet, here is a team of diverse but devoted people, who care for the fragments of terminally ill people’s lives, and together generate such a generosity of spirit that is truly in another dimension from everyday life.”

So please, whoever you are, wherever you are, fight for your local hospice.

 

 

 

Reading and Reason

Almost 80% of the population in the West receive their news through social media.  Indeed the blogging world has enormous influence.  The difference between the social media and the traditional media, Newspapers, Radios and TV is that these formal media are subject to legal scrutiny.  They can’t generally tell untruths, at least not deliberately, and there is usually a validation of stories before they are published.  The standards of ethics in the media vary but generally the standards of institutions such as The Times of London, The Boston Globe, the New York Times, The Sydney Daily Herald, La Monde, the BBC, ABC, NBC,  et al (by no means a definitive list) set standards that the liberal social democratic populace feels comfortable with and reasonably well informed by.

There has been for many years a slide into more popular news media, Fox News, The National Enquirer, the now disgraced, News of the World.  What these media enterprises have in common is to present the sensational and the base.  They appeal to the lowest common denominator.  Examples of extreme right or left always signal danger to the very idea of a centralist democratic state.  Recently in UK a newspaper called the judiciary “The enemy of the people” which is inflammatory and extremely seditious in the sense that the statement itself is untrue and based on fallacious, and deliberately biased thinking.

One of the great issues of our time, is the freedom of the ‘press’/’media’.  The question of how to inform, as opposed to influence improperly.

The great popular uprisings of the 21st century in UK and USA (Brexit and Trump) have shown that the traditional media have failed almost entirely to influence the centrist way. Nationalism, populism and tribalism have held sway, much as they did in the 1920’s and 30’s.

With social media and fewer controls, rumour and extreme views flow with ever more freedom.  Now there’s a thing!  Freedom to express yourself however inaccurately or maliciously, you are allowed to portray the facts/fiction as you perversely see them.

Education, as usual is basis for democratic thought.  Yet philosophy and rational thinking are often perceived as elitist and the property of the rich.  The ‘have nots’ are vulnerable to accept anything different, especially if the message comes texted in mono syllables.  (Now I’ve slipped into elitism right away!)  That’s the issue, it’s the media not the message. We have to educate not only the populace as a whole, but somehow encourage popular social media to measure and ameliorate the content it promulgates.

The world is in danger of tipping into anarchy if the freedom of social media is allowed to publish anything to those less fortunate, whose ability to read one liners is still superior to their ability to reason.

 

 

You can’t have your cake and it it.

So the iconoclast Trump has carried the day. So be it, all people of goodwill will wish him well as he undertakes the leadership of the free world.

That doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed that Hillary didn’t make it, but 32 years between Bushes and Clintons would give anyone a fatigue attack!

I am also disappointed to see (I assume the democratic fringe) demonstrating against the results.  Come on, that’s what democracy’s about for goodness sake.   You can’t have your cake and eat it!

Many people voted for Trump not because they liked what he said, it was just that he sounded different.  So my American friends now expect change to come to America especially since the Republicans command the Congress and the Senate as well as the White House.

America now has a President who thinks it’s smart not to pay income tax, let’s hope when he lowers taxes he doesn’t give the same deal across the board or the USA will be full of smart rich folks but with no roads or schools.  I jest of course, Mr. Trump is not like that, is he?

America has a President who will abolish Obamacare, build a wall along the Mexican border, and ban all Muslims from entering the USA.   Will he? Really?  Mr. Trump is not like that, is he?

Trump is above all else, a scatter-brain in the best sense of the phrase, he’s an off-the-cuff kind’a guy, and therefore unpredictable in most ways.  However, the other side of that same coin, is an innovative maverick who will certainly bring new ideas, however left field those ideas might turn out to be. Our hope must be, that the vanity that scarred the election campaign, is tempered by responsibility and that the new President will surround himself with men who are honest and wise. (The electorate believe this excludes most politicians.)

The big ‘I AM’ who ran for President-elect must be replaced by the big ‘We the American People’s President’ in the Whitehouse. Some transmogrification you might think.  The White House is not Trump Tower in the park, and the constitutional checks and balances will insulate the USA and the world from his wildest ideas.  But let’s not reject all his ideas out of hand, let’s not forget he singlehandedly won the greatest election on earth.

The future looks more risky than it did a week ago, but who’s to say what the future holds? We can’t go back, the electorate have spoken.  That’s democracy for you.

In praise of the humble chip

 

I am not saying that they were the best chips in the world. It was just that they tasted as if they were. It’s what I’ve always wanted, a pub down the road, where if push comes to shove, whatever the weather I can feast on something ‘nice’ and chips.

Now ‘nice’ is not a word I really approve of, come to think of it I’m not that keen on chips. But these chips! They were hospitality, warmth and taste all wrapped into the most divine miscellaneously sized mouthfuls of heaven.

They weren’t one length, they were not all straight, some bent and some curled. They had a colour of palest ginger with cinnamon edges. They lay there coated in a glistening coat that when seasoned with salt and vinegar exploded into a savoury taste as beautiful as a fine strawberry burgundy or fizzy dry Champagne.

The swallow left a lengthy taste that made me take another, then another.  What bliss!

What was ‘nice’?  I hear you ask.  Well anything would have been ‘nice’.  The bangers were just that ‘nice’.

But there were that night things much better than that, yes the chips of course.  There was “The kitchen’s closed, but how about something with chips?” said the smiling chef. Now that was a welcoming response that warms the cockles of both my heart and my rumbling tum.

So, here’s to chips with anything, at the Ponthir House Inn.

Meddling Media

Freedom of the press, one of the bastions of a democratic society! True, I suppose, but it is still hard to accept the irresponsible (in my view) headlines against the recent Court Rulings on the Brexit affair.

For those not conversant with this, essentially the Government of Teresa May was stopped from the ability to enable Article 50 which triggers the UK’s withdrawal from The EU, without the express support of Parliament.  It had been the Government’s view that since the Government had authorised, through Parliament, the Brexit Referendum the Government were expressly mandated by the People of the UK to get on with Brexit.

The Government not Parliament negotiate treaties was the prevailing idea.  ‘Wrong’ said the Courts – you must get Parliamentary approval and that will, entail the Government laying out its goals for a Hard/Soft Brexit.  No one knows what the negotiations will bring but Parliament wants to have a say in the parameters that the Government will use as its base for the negotiations, thus revealing their hand to the formidable bureaucracy that is the EU.

Lots of Parliamentarians are of course against Brexit altogether and many see danger in the divorce from the single market.  Yet others feel that free movement of people through the UK’s porous borders is a good thing whilst others feel the opposite.

There is a ground swell of opinion that these political elite will water down “Brexit” and thus deny the will of the people, in effect giving away our border control, for example, for the ability to stay in the single market/customs union.

It may well turn out an ‘either or’ option, but Mrs May hopes she can pull off some miraculous compromise.  The one thing she does not want is one arm tied behind her back by the parliamentary elite. This includes the House of Lords where  one hundred plus unelected Lib Dem peers sit, who are known to be dreaming the impossible. This arcane process could delay or even sink Brexit altogether and in the process undermine the prosperity of both UK and the EU as uncertainty rolls on for years. All very inconvenient I admit.

Now the press have waded in crying “foul”,  the judiciary they say are negating the will of the people.  Worse, some of the right wing press are shouting “Judges are the enemy of the common man.”  All this is reminiscent of Nazi Germany during the nineteen thirties and the Press concerned should be ashamed of themselves for such seditious remarks.

Again it’s the media not the message, the Press are planting the idea that the state and judiciary are in some sort of conspiracy to thwart the majority.  This is manifestly untrue and the separation of the judiciary from Parliament is one of the fundamental pillars of our democracy.

Yes there is now a constitutional crisis, and yes, people like Nick Clegg will vote against the so called will of the people (the referendum result) but that is not the doing of the judiciary.  They merely interpreted the law that exists, and they have done so dispassionately and properly.  They are not responsible for the ensuing chaos.  That responsibility lies firmly at the door of David Cameron for the half-baked execution of an In/Out referendum with no plan for the Out option.

It’s the media not the message.

The American presidential election astonishes us in Europe in two ways,

  • How could 325 million people end up with two candidates who appear to be the least popular in the USA?
  • How can one candidate reiterate detailed policy and be ignored by close to 50% of the voters, whilst the other candidate has apparently no policies at all?

The talk of disenchantment with the political elite can go so far, surely disappointment cannot persuade millions to vote for a series of one liners including, “I like Putin.” “I’m going to build a wall.” “All Mexicans are drug carrying rapists.” And on and on it goes.  Surely 50% of the American voting public can’t be that short of analytical skill.

What is it then that carries the Trump momentum?  It must be the constant exposure of the so called billionaire chanting these absurd one liners on the one hand and his constant denigration of Mrs Clinton on the other.

So the media repeatedly shows the billionaire and his message, if there is one, is sublimated to the razzamatazz of nonsensical ideas and messages of distrust of Clinton.

Clinton tries to put over policy, and despite her efforts she’s been dragged into this slugging match of trading insults.  The fact is Trump is better at this than Clinton.  Clinton also has several self-inflicted bullet holes in her feet, from Whitewater, the Clinton Foundation, and now the e-mail saga.

The phrase ‘It’s the media not the message’ was introduced in McLuhan’s book, ‘Understanding Media’ published in 1964. McLuhan proposes that a medium itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study.

So Trump, focuses the message of his campaign about Clinton’s heinous crimes (as he calls them) This may be less about the individual issue itself (who knows if the e-mail thing has any real importance at all) – the content – and more about the change in public attitude towards the fact that such ‘Get rich quick attitudes of the establishment figures’ are in effect against the ordinary man. The man/woman in the street ‘gets’ this simple idea. This idea has become the dominant idea of the Trump campaign

Hence in Understanding Media, McLuhan describes the “content” of a medium as a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.

Has Trump stolen the collective American mind?  I do hope not.