“When I arrive in Hell, the Devil will sound like a headline”

I’m indebted to my old friend, the inimitable Professor Batty, for telling me about this excellent essay on the internet and reality and our feelings and quite a lot of other things too.

Do it now. Fight the new pace of thinking designed to keep us in Facebook fights and make Facebook more money. Resist getting so wound up by every story that you accelerate off a cliff into apathy. Lengthen the circuit between a candid thought and your anticipation of how it will be received, a circuit constantly shrinking in fear. Try your ideas out with people you are not desperate to impress, so there’s less ego clouding your discussion.

How the bad guys try to look like big guys on Twitter

This Twitter thread is about Nazis, but it’s describing tactics used by the religious right, anti-LGBT groups and other awful people on the internet.

By appearing numerous, the Twitter Nazis create the general impression that their movement and their ideas are mainstream. A big popular grassroots movement, rather than a fringe of a few thousand internet assholes and their pet bots… this was an old tactic of the Mongols and other horse nomad armies, who would use clouds of dust or extra campfires to create the illusion of superior numbers.

The silence of the trans

It’s not easy being trans. Not only do you have to deal with the various unpleasantnesses that being visibly different entails, but you have to balance the demands of everyday life with constantly, viciously silencing people who want to have a debate about whether you exist, whether you’re sick or thick or whether it’s ok to discriminate against you because you’re weird and icky and stuff.

Take poor Katie Hopkins. Silenced, with nobody but her 832,612 Twitter followers, readers of her forthcoming book and readers of her new right-wing blog to listen to her thoughts on trans people.

Have some sympathy for Janice Turner, whose Times columns about trans people only reach 1,835,000 print readers, 80,000 digital subscribers and the paper’s 1,069,719 Twitter followers on Sundays.

Imagine the pain of running Scots indy blog Wings Over Scotland, where your feelings on Trans issues can only be shared with 300,000 unique monthly visitors, your site’s 53,871 Twitter fans and your personal account’s 6,513 followers.

Feel the pain of Jenni Murray, who can only talk about trans people to 3.69 million BBC radio listeners and 40,200 people on Twitter.

Imagine the heartbreak of Julie Bindel, unable to talk about trans people except for on her book tour, in Guardian articles (153,163 print readers and 22.7 million online), in BBC TV and radio appearances that reach millions and to her 19,000 social media followers.

Try to empathise with poor Piers Morgan, who can only be unpleasant about trans people to his 6,301,837 Twitter followers, the 819,000 people who watch him on Good Morning Britain and the programme’s 413,446 followers, and the couple of million people who watch his Life Stories programmes.

Or try to imagine how it must feel to be Sanchez Manning, writing pieces for the Mail on Sunday that might only be read by 1,248,194 people in print and just 29 million more online.

The next time somebody with a six, seven or even eight-figure readership tells you yet again that sinister trans people are silencing legitimate debate and supports it by showing you a Twitter activist with 327 followers, you might find yourself asking a pretty simple question.

Who’s silencing whom?

(All reader/listener figures from sites’ own advertising packs or reliably sourced news stories)

Don’t take nice to a gun fight

I enjoyed this piece by Lindsay King-Miller in Rolereboot.org.

In You Can’t Kill Racism with Kindness, King-Miller writes: 

“My goal is not to create a country where everyone tolerates each other, agrees to disagree, and goes about their business. I cannot agree to disagree on whether poor people deserve medical care, whether black people deserve safety from police brutality, whether my queer family deserves equal legal protections.

These are matters of right and wrong, not questions of opinion.”

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot given the recent moral panics over LGBT* people and trans people in particular: I’ve been very loath to call people exhibiting bigoted behaviour or espousing bigoted views as bigots, because that’s not nice. But I’m doing so as not to harm the feelings of people who are actively trying to stir up hatred against particular minorities.

King-Miller again:

“Calling a racist a racist might make him sad, but it doesn’t oppress him in any way.”

When I posted the link on a forum I hang out in, another poster quoted French feminist writer Christiane Rochefort’s comment that oppressors don’t realise you have a grievance until you pull out the knives. I’m in a less militant mood so I’ll talk about Karl Popper instead.

In 1945, Popper described very well what has been happening with far-right arseholes on Twitter and what’s happening in certain sections of the UK media right now. He called it the “paradox of tolerance”.

The paradox of tolerance is what happens when you tolerate the intolerable: neo-nazis, for example, or bigots.

“If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant,” Popper wrote, “if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

He wasn’t arguing that we silenced the intolerant, however, provided that “we can  counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion”. However, “we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.”

This is inevitably caught up with the issue of free speech, which some people seem determined to misunderstand. Free speech says that nobody can stop you from having particular views. But it doesn’t say that you have a right to have a platform for those views.

You can make a painting that’s really anti-semitic but you don’t have the right to have the Louvre replace The Mona Lisa with it.

You can write a book about how lesbians are just awful but you can’t force Diva magazine to review it.

You can write a song about how you really hate working class black people but you can’t force Stormzy to cover it.

And so on.

This is where the controversial topic of no-platforming comes from. No-platforming started off as an anti-fascist tactic, with universities refusing to give a platform to the likes of the National Front and the BNP. We can’t stop you being big old racists, the students said. But we can stop you from being big old racists here.

In an ironic twist, some vocal former no-platformers such as feminist writer Julie Bindel now face no-platforming themselves, from the same kind of angry students that used to no-platform the NF and the BNP. I say “same kind” but thanks to tuition fees the students are also paying customers now, with expectations of what their money should and shouldn’t be spent on. Some of those students, the trans ones and their allies, don’t think it should be spent on giving people who say awful things a platform to promote their book or raise their media profile at the expense of other, more vulnerable people.

We can’t stop you saying awful things, the students are saying. But we can stop you from saying awful things here.

It’s not silencing people. As if. The people being no-platformed reach a collective audience of many millions through national newspapers, BBC TV and radio and social media. Some, like Katie Hopkins, seem unaware of the irony in campaigning against our supposed tolerance for hate speech and then whingeing when people try to no-platform them. As she said on her LBC radio programme:

“Why do we pride ourselves in being a tolerant country when being tolerant seems to mean that we give these individuals free reign to say what they like?

Hopkins’ bosses at LBC clearly agreed, and when she posted a tweet suggesting a “Final Solution” against muslims she lost that particular platform (although it’s sad that the end of her Daily Mail career wasn’t because she called foreigners cockroaches and other repellent things; it’s that her losing-libel-cases habit was too expensive for the paper to stomach. Like a cockroach, she’ll be back).

There’s a great XKCD comic about this very thing.

XKCD free speech

It’s not silencing. It’s just saying not here.

I’m okay if that hurts some bigots’ feelings.

This one goes out to the haters

I’m wary of saying “bye” to 2017 and celebrating the demise of a terrible year. I did that to 2016, which turned out to be a walk in the park compared to the shitshow that 2017 quickly became.

I’m with Paul Bettany on Twitter:

“In January I dismissed my mate’s theory that David Bowie was the glue holding the universe together but I don’t know man… I don’t know…”

I’ve written about the big picture stuff for Metro. On a personal level I had some experiences I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

But, and it’s a big but, I’m leaving 2017 as a much happier person than I remember ever being. I’m optimistic about the future. Not so long ago I wasn’t sure I had a future. And a huge part of that change has been because I’ve made a conscious effort to question my own bullshit, to try and see the world as it is or might be rather than through a glass darkly.

As Morrissey put it:

It’s so easy to laugh, It’s so easy to hate
It takes strength to be gentle and kind

But it’s so worth it, no matter how imperfectly you may do it. If you’re determined to see the worst, that’s all you’ll see. If you try to be respectful and kind, you get it back in spades.

One of my favourite films is the 1990 psychological thriller Jacob’s Ladder. In it (27-year-old-spoiler alert!) one of the characters, Danny Aiello’s Louis, paraphrases the German theologian Eckhart Von Hochheim:

Eckhart saw Hell too. He said: The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they’re not punishing you, he said. They’re freeing your soul. So the way he sees it, if you’re frightened of dying and… and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth. It’s just a matter of how you look at it, that’s all. So don’t worry, okay? Okay?

I’m not suggesting that 2017 was analogous to Hell. But I like the metaphor of battling demons when they’re really angels, freeing your soul.

It’s just a matter of how you look at it, that’s all.

So don’t worry, okay?

Okay? 

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid

My 2017 was pretty uneventful. How about you?

To echo Taylor Swift, Gary can’t come to the phone right now… because he’s dead.

That’s okay, though. He’s gone to a better place.

So this is a big Christmas for me. It’s the first Christmas as a separated parent; the first Christmas in many years where I’ll wake up alone; the first Christmas where I won’t be visiting in-laws or my father; the first Christmas where I won’t be doing bedtime stories for overexcited and highly sugared kids.

The first Christmas for Carrie.

It’s been an interesting year, both in the traditional sense of the word and in the Chinese curse of “may you live in interesting times.” I toyed with the idea of a “things I learned this year” list, but I think I’d rather share a single — albeit quite long — thought. It’s kinda sorta about being trans but not really about that at all.

You hear the word “transition” a lot in discussions about transgender people, usually to refer to a physical process: somebody assigned male at birth (ie, born in an apparently male body) may transition to female via hormones or surgery. But to me, the real transition is more abstract and more powerful.

It’s about moving from a miserable life to a happy one.

There are many things I wish I’d done differently this year and many things I regret, but I don’t regret that transition. I took a photo a few days before I finally came to accept that I was trans and I looked like somebody had just dug me up. I took a photo last night and in it I’m so happy I want to punch myself, because there’s nothing that annoys me more than happy people.

Part of that transition from sad to happy has been to really question my attitudes. I always believed that if people discovered I was trans they’d shun me or build a giant Wicker Man and burn me inside it, but I was completely wrong.

If I was wrong about that, what else was I wrong about?

I referenced David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” in my last post, and this year I’ve made a point of trying to embrace what he called “real freedom” — the “unimaginably hard” choice to reject the default mode of “fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self”.

Wallace was right. It isn’t easy. I certainly don’t manage it all the time: I try not to grumble “who are all these people in my way?”, but that’s the default so of course it’s easy to fall into that way of thinking. But I’m trying, and I’ve found that by doing so — by working on the assumption that my core assumptions and beliefs may well be wrong — I’m experiencing life in a very different way. And that helps when people say terrible things about me or people like me too: rather than assuming they’re terrible people or bigots or whatever I try to understand and emphasise.

I still tell them to fuck off and block them, though. I never said I was a saint.

I’ve challenged a lot of things this year and taken steps I never thought I would. But by far the biggest thing I’ve done is to constantly try and do what DFW wrote about and what Mark Hollis of Talk Talk sings about trying to teach his children in Happiness Is Easy: “to recognise excuse before it acts.”

Here’s a silly wee example: Christmas lights. Who are these people with their stupid lights on their stupid houses every October?

Here’s a better question: who am I to judge? If they get a happy feeling from switching on their big daft Santas, that’s great: it’s a bit of joy in a world that often seems awfully short of it. My default is to judge, but realising that means I now greet people’s OTT illuminations with a smile rather than a sneer – so I get a little bit of joy from it too.

The people with the lights may well be assholes, but I don’t know if they are so I choose to imagine them as portly, jolly grandparents who just bloody love Christmas. Who cares if it’s true or not? It’s a much better assumption than my grumpy default, and the lights make me happier as a result.

As DFW put it:

If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

And that’s what I learnt in 2017. May your Santas light up the sky.

Merry Christmas x

The capital-T truth is about life before death

In 2005, David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech to students at Kenyon College. It’s one of my very favourite things, and I keep meaning to post a link to it here.

David Foster Wallace: This is Water (PDF)

For the young people who apparently want everything as video, the YouTube version is here.

Sometimes you come across a piece that manages to express something in a way that pierces your soul. It could be a song, or a painting, a throwaway line or a speech given by a writer to a bunch of teenagers. This, for me, is one of those. I’ve read it more times than I’ve listened to Joe Le Taxi, and I’ve listened to Joe Le Taxi a lot.

I don’t want to spoil it — it’s beautifully crafted, terribly sad and incredibly empowering. But I’ll admit that Wallace’s death hit me very hard: I think he succumbed to the very demons his piece helped free me from.

I hope you find it as powerful as I did, and still do.

This is water.

This is water.

The sexual harassment Santa Claus

The news that Time Magazine made the sexual harassment “silence breakers” their Person of the Year (instead of giving it to the Harasser-in-Chief, who clearly thought the accolade should be his) has resulted in pretty much what you’d expect: cries of “not all men”, whataboutery and barely disguised victim blaming.

The reaction to the topic on the Facebook page of BBC Scotland’s Kaye Adams programme this morning was pretty typical. I’ll give you a flavour. See if you can guess which gender the commenters are.

Females“.

No nice people say “females” instead of “women”.

Women can’t be trusted. They just make this stuff up to ruin men’s careers.

A woman co-worker told me I had a nice bum, and I do, but it’s not fair.

Male models are objectified too but you don’t hear anybody complaining.

“Is it still okay to say hello to a woman or is that sexual harassment?”

Ooh, let’s think. Is saying hello to somebody exactly the same as, say, forcing them to watch you wank onto a potted plant?

“What about the female teachers that have sex with young lads at school?”

We can all play this game. What about sunrise? What about rain? Fucking magnets, how do they work?

I’m not claiming the moral high ground here or claiming to be different from the other guys (although of course I am. There aren’t many Carries out there in guy land). But arguing against people speaking out about harassment is like claiming kiddie-fiddling is the fault of sexy kids. That is not the side of the argument you want to be on.

Not the real Santa.

No, it isn’t all men, but it’s a hell of a lot of them. There’s no sexual harassment Santa Claus, travelling the world abusing all the women all by himself.

If it isn’t you, then it’s somebody you know. Maybe your colleague, your guitar player, your golf pal.

This isn’t just the occasional guy making an awkward but good hearted attempt at wooing (shut up, Morrissey. You’re the indie Katie Hopkins). It’s the lived experience of almost every woman you know. Men, even male models and men in lycra cycling shorts, do not experience the crap that women do.

This isn’t women suddenly speaking up. This is women finally being listened to. If you’re telling them to be quiet, you’re part of the problem.

Dad / daughter music maths

 

My musical career

Age: 45

Years playing gigs: 25

Gigs played: 100s

Disastrous gigs played: 100s

Gigs that ended in ignominy, in financial disaster, with chairs being thrown into ponds, with destruction or theft of equipment, with credible threats of physical violence or with severe chafing: too many to count

Most prestigious venues: Glasgow Barrowlands (opening for Mansun), T in the Park (unsigned stage)

Biggest crowd: Barrowlands, 1,000ish (probably a lot less)

My daughter’s musical career

Age: 10

Years playing gigs: <1

Gigs played: 2

Disastrous gigs played: 0

Gigs that ended in ignominy, in financial disaster, with chairs being thrown into ponds, with destruction or theft of equipment, with credible threats of physical violence or with severe chafing: 0

Most prestigious venues: Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow School of Art

Biggest crowd: Concert Hall, c. 2,475

I always knew she’d outshine me, but I didn’t think it’d happen quite so quickly.