Living in a burning world

When I was a kid, I used to devour apocalyptic fiction: give me a shattered society trying to survive in a nuclear winter and I’d be all over it.

One of the most frightening ones I read was Nevile Shute’s On The Beach, which truly terrified me.  It’s set in Australia in the aftermath of a nuclear war, with the characters awaiting the inevitable arrival of the radioactive fallout. It gave me nightmares.

It’s not as frightening as this article.

The article is also about Australia, and about people stoic in the face of a man-made disaster. This one isn’t nuclear war, though. It’s fire.

Our weather apps now carry dotted lines across the shining sun: smoke haze. We learn the meaning of “temperature inversion”, in which warm air traps cool – and smoke – beneath it; our weather reports now carry air quality ratings. For the past month they’ve ranged from “poor” to well beyond “hazardous”. In news updates about the fires, it’s now commonplace to hear two horrific phrases: “seek shelter” and “too late to leave”.

…The fire danger warnings have a new category. Colours at the low-danger end are green, moving through yellow and orange. The new one is a deep, malevolent red with black stripes, and it’s called “catastrophic”.

On the first catastrophic warning day there’s a palpable fear, because even expert firefighters have never seen anything like this. The winds are completely unpredictable. Nobody knows what will happen.

The writer, Charlotte Wood, is well aware that her article centres the relatively affluent city-dwellers, not the poorer people who’ve been affected by these fires in much more devastating ways.

…as the days and weeks pass, here in Sydney the mood changes from disbelief to hypervigilant fear to a kind of WTF petulance. It’s still happening? We’re used to turning our attention briefly, intensely, to “those poor people” affected by climate change, then returning to normal life. Now those poor people include us.

Internet fights break out over whether it’s obscene to complain about the smoke. Of course it is; we’re lucky, we of the middle-class inner city. I can afford to buy a new Ventolin once a week, for example. I have time to do each load of laundry thrice before it smells clean. My work doesn’t force me to remain outside, breathing in this shit all day long. And of course, no fires have visited inner Sydney. None of ours are among the 600-plus homes burnt to the ground. None of us are among the dead.

But even as this is happening, right-wing politicians pretend it’s business as usual.

The prime minister’s family lives here in Sydney; surely by now the man must be saying something? I checked his social media pages. Prime minister Morrison’s Instagram account carried grinning images of him – baseball cap in place – atop a ladder, draping his family home in twinkly Christmas lights. No matter what’s going on each year, says the PM of a burning nation, getting in the Christmas spirit has always been such an important part of our family life.

But it’s not business as usual. The 2010s were the decade when our planet burned. From Wired:

This year, for example, wildfires in the Arboreal forest ringing the Arctic were unprecedented in both intensity and latitude, according to The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The organisation says that the Earth’s boreal forests are now “burning at a rate unseen in at least 10,000 years.”

And fires pump more CO2 into the atmosphere, creating a terrible feedback loop.

In Brazil, wildfires – which have been at the most intense since 2010 – released the equivalent of 228 megatonnes of carbon dioxide. In an atmosphere already chock full of pollution, this is, of course, bad news.

There is much more bad news where that came from. And our response is to decorate our Christmas trees and pretend everything is okay.

We’re going into an election here where the PM can’t be arsed taking part in a climate debate; no wonder. Under the Conservatives we’re going to miss our extremely tame 2020 climate targets. We’re failing to meet our modest commitments to tackling carbon emissions, pollution, waste and overfishing. We’re also going to miss our 2050 emissions target.

We worry about Bags for Life and paper straws, tinkering with things that don’t matter while the world burns and the rich and powerful tell us not to believe the science and to keep on consuming and polluting and trashing the only home we’ve got.

From On The Beach:

You could have done something with newspapers. We didn’t do it. No nation did, because we were all too silly. We liked our newspapers with pictures of beach girls and headlines about cases of indecent assault, and no Government was wise enough to stop us having them that way. But something might have been done with newspapers, if we’d been wise enough.

The apocalyptic novels of my youth were supposed to be fiction of the most pessimistic kind. They’re starting to feel horribly real.

Library closures are a horror story

The Guardian:

Almost 800 libraries have closed since the Conservative government implemented austerity in 2010, new figures reveal.

That’s nearly a fifth of the UK’s libraries gone in a decade.

One of the awful things about this, and there are many awful things about this, is that savage cuts to library services reduce the number of library visits. That reduction is then used to justify further cuts on the grounds that fewer people are using libraries.

Libraries aren’t just places to get books, although of course that’s important: my mum taking me to the local library kick-started my imagination and ignited a love of stories and language that’s been with me my whole life. I wouldn’t have the job I have if it weren’t for those visits, and I wouldn’t be the person I am without those books.

I’m with Manic Street Preachers – “Libraries gave us power” – and Walter Cronkite here: “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”

Libraries are crucial for social services – librarians spend more time helping people fill out essential forms for benefits than they do stamping books; with many crucial services only available online, libraries are a godsend for those who can’t afford or who are not confident in using computers – and for people who need somewhere to go that doesn’t require them to spend money. In the absence of help for some of society’s most vulnerable people, they can be a valuable safety net.

And they make people’s lives better.

Here’s a study from the UK Arts Council from a couple of years ago.

library use is positively associated with subjective wellbeing after controlling for a wide range of other factors. Library usage is associated with higher life satisfaction, higher happiness and a higher sense of purpose in life

…We also find that library engagement has a positive association with general health. After controlling for other confounding factors, being a regular library user is associated with a 1.4 per cent increase in the likelihood of reporting good general health. We valued this improvement in health in terms of cost savings to the NHS. Based on reductions in GP visits caused by this improvement in health, we predict the medical cost savings associated with library engagement at £1.32 per person per year. It is possible to aggregate NHS cost savings across the library-using English population to estimate an average cost saving of £27.5 million per year.

…We note that this is likely to represent just a subset of the secondary health benefits of libraries, which may impact upon other medical services and costs aside from GP visits.

This vandalism is a terrible thing with terrible consequences, and it’s completely unnecessary: it’s the results of cuts forced upon us by cultural vandals who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Not my movement

In the 2014 referendum campaign for Scottish independence, I was a proud Yes supporter. I wore the badge with pride, attended rallies, and felt part of something important: we had the opportunity to make a better, more tolerant, more inclusive country.

In 2019 I wouldn’t attend an independence rally because I’d be scared for my safety.

In recent years trans people have become the bogeymen among significant parts of the independence movement, especially online; this week’s news that a member of the SNP complaints committee has resigned over antisemitism has been blamed on a trans conspiracy, even though vocal and vicious transphobia has thus far resulted in zero consequences for any of the people engaging in it.  Outright transphobia has become mainstream, with even senior politicians embracing and signal boosting antisemitic trolls simply because they really, really hate trans women.

The New Statesman, hardly the most pro-trans publication, has noticed too.

In a turbulent social media microclimate that includes prominent MPs, MSPs and activists from across Scotland’s political parties, allegations and instances of transphobia and homophobia are being met by those of misogyny and abuse. Offline, the controversy has focused on provocative public meetings to discuss “concerns” about the reforms, opposed by demonstrations from LGBTQ+ activists. The issue has provoked conflict within the SNP that has spilled out into the wider nationalist movement, and also taps into socially conservative elements of wider Scottish society. The dispute has been enough to prompt a modest climbdown by the SNP leadership, which has delayed the proposed changes.

…The various elements of Scottish nationalism that the SNP has tried to push to the fringes – such as socialists and a populist hostility to “minority” issues like trans rights – are coalescing around a new style of nationalist activism that feels, from the demonstrations I’ve attended, more like a kind of ecumenical religious revivalism than serious movement politics.

I’m saddened by this, and scared.

Update: 24 hours later, here’s the editor of the Scottish edition of The Times with an exclusive. According to the so-called paper of record:

LGBT activists in the SNP are allegedly digging up dirt on members who oppose self-identification for trans people in a campaign to “purge” them from the party.

Allegedly, of course, means that the claim can’t be substantiated. But facts don’t matter. The Times gets another bullet to fire in its war on trans people.

This, incidentally, demonstrates the problem with press regulation in the UK. You can’t complain about any of this because the regulatory code only covers claims made about named individuals. Provided the Murdoch press doesn’t lie about specific people, it can print complete fabrications about – and incite hatred of – entire groups of people with impunity. And it does, every week.

Trigger happy

One of the things I’m really interested in is where words come from and how they’re used. For example, I’ll happily bore you senseless about how “shambles” has changed meaning several times. In the 15th century what originally meant a stool or money changer’s table became used to label the table butchers used to display the meat they had for sale. Shambles then became synonymous with slaughterhouse, before arriving at its current meaning – a state of great disorder and confusion – in the early 20th century.

Sometimes that evolution just happens, but sometimes meanings are changed deliberately. Take “politically correct” for example. It began as a left-wing in-joke, sarcastic and satirical, with left-leaning people taking the mickey out of their own tendency to go a little too far sometimes. It didn’t develop its current pejorative meaning – “political correctness” as a supposedly malign force to be resisted by right-thinking people – until 1987, when the book The Closing of the American Mind told its readers that the real bigotry was telling bigots to stop being bigoted. Since then it’s been used almost exclusively by right-wing politicians and pundits to rail against feminism, LGBT+ rights, anti-racism and anything else that stops them being awful to people.

If you’re a UK newspaper reader, you’ll recall a very similar process occurring with “Health and Safety”. The Health and Safety Executive aims to stop factory workers having their arms ripped off by faulty machinery, agricultural workers from suffocating in grain silos and miners from contracting fatal lung diseases. According to the right-wing press in stories that often turn out to be exaggerated or completely fabricated, what they call “elf’n’safety” has, like political correctness, “gone mad”.

It’s no coincidence that the pundits who rail against “elf’n’safety” also rail against “political correctness”. They are, after all, two cheeks of the same arse: how dare the proles demand safe workspaces and protection from discrimination? Whether it’s railing against red tape or LGBT+ rights, the pundits are firmly on the side of, and punching down on behalf of, the people who have all the power.

Something similar has happened more recently with “triggered”. “Trigger warnings” began in discussions of male violence towards women, particularly sexual violence. Because victims often experienced the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, potential triggers would be flagged up in advance of discussions or presentations so that vulnerable women wouldn’t find themselves mentally reliving their ordeals. There’s some debate over whether the tactic actually works, but clearly it comes from good intentions: it doesn’t want to add to the trauma of sexual abuse survivors.

It’s worth bearing that in mind when you see boorish men – right-wing, anti-feminist pundits, politicians and comedians, some of whom have very dubious attitudes towards women – using “triggered” to assert their superiority over whichever minority they want to abuse.

It’s particularly galling when you see the son of the pussy-grabber-in-Chief using a term originally designed to help the victims of people like his dad as the title for his book. Donald Trump Jr is currently touring the usual right-wing outlets to promote Triggered: how the left thrives on hate and wants to silence us. 

This week he was heckled off stage – silenced, you might say – at one of his readings.

Here’s Arwa Mahdawi writing in the Guardian.

One of the big themes of Triggered is, to quote Trump Jr: “A victimhood complex has taken root in the American left”. But let’s recap the situation shall we? Trump Jr (who describes himself as “hyper-rational” and “stoic”) has just published a book complaining that he is being silenced by the left. He is touring the US talking about how he is being silenced. He has been invited on primetime TV to talk about being silenced. And he is complaining about being silenced to his 4 million followers on Twitter. Maybe I am missing something, but that doesn’t exactly sound like being silenced to me.

What’s interesting about this particular event is that the people who actually did silence Trump Minor weren’t from the left. They were from the far right.

Mahdawi:

…the Trump administration has emboldened so many bigots that Maga-hat-wearing supporters are now coming after Jr for not being extreme enough. There has been a 30% increase in the number of US hate groups over the past four years, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center – a trend the civil rights organisation blames on Trump’s radicalising influence. Dangerous fringe groups have crept out of the shadows and are shouting at the top of their lungs.

The column articulates something I’ve been thinking for a while: there’s a common thread that unites the people who call their books or TV shows “triggered”, who delight in “triggering” audiences on social media, in print or in their shows, and those opposed to workers’ rights, LGBT+ rights, women’s rights and vegan sausage rolls. They genuinely believe that they are an oppressed minority.

A delusional victimhood complex is at the very heart of rightwing ideology. Immigrants are invading and stealing all the jobs. Jews are taking over the world. #MeToo is intent on destroying innocent men’s lives. Gays are destroying family values. The right never see themselves as racists or bigots; they see themselves as victims who are fighting back against the imminent extinction of western civilisation. Forget being stoic or silenced; they are constantly triggered and they never shut up.

Money for nothing

Interesting developments at the LGB Alliance, the newly launched anti-trans group. It’s managed to raise over £25,000 in largely anonymous donations in just 11 days of existence, largely due to support from right-wing media here and in the US.

The right-wing press and the US religious right like the Alliance because while it advances the same argument as the most hateful religious conservatives – trans people’s rights are at odds with LGB people’s rights, even though the majority of trans people are themselves LGB; trans people aren’t really people and don’t deserve human rights; trans people are icky – its figureheads are a black woman and a gay man. That means unlike straight white guys, they can’t be criticised because there have been no wicked, misinformed or bigoted black or gay people in the history of the world ever.

The right-wing support has no doubt helped the fundraising, as it’s helped other anti-trans fundraisers in the past. But it’s interesting to look at this particular one, because this is very specifically claiming to be an alliance of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the UK.

So why are so many of the supporters straight people from North America?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s lovely to see so many straight people such keen allies of LGB people and putting their money where their mouths are.

But it’s also rather strange.

There are lots of fundraisers online for LGBT things. And almost all of them are struggling to meet their targets, whether that’s a few hundred quid for a poster campaign or a few grand to do up an LGBT+ community centre.

What all those fundraisers have in common is the distinct lack of straight Americans and Canadians offering solidarity and throwing their money at them.

But when a couple of people in the UK start a group designed to destabilise Stonewall, the trans-inclusive LGBT+ charity named after the Stonewall riots that were in part started by trans people, it’s a different story.

Why would straight people from the US and Canada be so passionate about destabilising the UK’s main LGBT+ charity?

If only there were some kind of explanation.

Anyway. £25K and counting. That’s a lot of money. Where’s it going? It isn’t a charity yet so it doesn’t need to tell you.

Here’s where it isn’t going. It isn’t going to help homeless LGB people, who – including trans kids – account for 24% of the UK’s under-25 homeless population. It isn’t going to lobby for proper funding of live-saving PReP medication for gay and bi men (and some trans women). It isn’t going anywhere near any cash-strapped LGBT organisations at all. It’s going on marketing, and on salaries, and on a launch event that will no doubt scaremonger about trans people.

It’s possible that the £25, 257 and counting is being donated by people who are also donating to other organisations – real ones that are registered charities. But it’s unlikely. Anti-trans crowdfunders consistently attract a very different funding pattern from other charity crowdfunders, and this appears to be no exception.

For two years now the crowdfunders of anti-trans organisations have all followed the same pattern: supposedly grassroots organisations raising five-figure sums within days of going online, with promotional support from the US Christian and conservative right on social media and sometimes in major publications too.

The LGB Alliance has now raised its funding target from the initial £25,000 to £50,000. How much of that money will go to provide practical assistance for LGB people rather than demonising trans women? The answer, I suspect, is none.

We know how this will play out. We know this because we saw endless “protect women!” crowdfunders raising five-figure sums incredibly quickly over the last few years. That money didn’t go to fight for Northern Irish women’s reproductive freedom or marriage rights. It didn’t go to fight FGM, or fund rape crisis charities, or help women’s refuges, or go to any vulnerable women or girls.

At least a quarter of a million pounds was raised by a handful of anti-trans groups, and much of it was spent on newspaper adverts that lied about the law, on packs urging schools to break the Equality Act and bully children, and on providing a good living for people whose previous careers had ended in failure. In one case it even bought a bigot some bedding.

Some crowdfunders didn’t even pretend to be about protecting women. One prominent anti-trans activist crowdfunded £2,000 for her own living expenses because being a bigot is so time-consuming; another, claiming to have lost their job for speaking out about trans people, raised a barely believable £64,000 for nothing in particular.

Others raised money for specific purposes and then changed their remit, so for example one activist raised a five-figure sum to pay for legal representation in a case that didn’t then go to court. In one particularly egregious example, activists set up a crowdfunder as a thank you to a notorious anti-trans bigot; when the bigot declined to accept the money, much of it was spent on a new mattress for an anti-trans activist.

Not all of the people running crowdfunders are grifters. But as a rule of thumb, when the first thing someone does to “protect group X” is to ask for your money, it means they’re only interested in helping one very specific group of people.

Themselves.

A greedy few ruin everything for everyone

This is a story about two different social media posts that demonstrate the same problem: that the greed and/or stupidity of a few people on the internet can ruin things for everyone else.

First up, there’s Film Stories Junior. To the best of my knowledge it’s unique: it not only caters for under-15s, but it commissions and pays under-15s to write for them. It’s produced on a shoestring budget by very good people.

Here’s editor Simon Brew, a man who is usually one of the most even-tempered people on social media.

To the absolute shitheads who are pirating copies of Film Stories Junior magazine: stop and think for a minute.

I’ve sunk my savings into this magazine, trying to pay under 15s for writing about film work, showing them that their brains and words have real value.

It is so hand to mouth. I stay awake pondering ways to bring more interest and industry support to it. I’ve put everything on the line for these magazines. And you just steal them.

You steal a kids’ film magazine, and threaten the future of it.

You threaten me being able to print more of their work. You threaten them earning for their work.

You’re stealing a magazine that’s written by kids.

Meanwhile on Facebook, Cris Shapan – as in Cris Shapan, maker of incredibly funny fakes – has found that the content he shares for free online is being stolen and sold for profit.

I have discovered that there are MANY examples of my work being sold on eBay by people who have no connection to me whatsoever. They have simply taken it from the net, printed it, and put it up for sale, often in the $30-$50 range.

Shapan’s initial and entirely justifiable reaction was to decide not to post any more of his work online.

I can’t see the logic in allowing others to make a buck off of my work while I’m eating crackers for dinner. Thanks, and sorry…really, really sorry. I have some really great fans.

After a lot of supportive posts from those fans he’s decided to leave the existing content up for the time being – “the damage has already been done” – but he’s really wary of posting anything new. Why give your work away for free so that others can profit from it?

The world does not smell of paint

There’s an old Billy Connolly routine where he talks about The Queen. “A guy once told me that The Queen thinks the world smells like paint, because ten feet in front of her there’s a guy going [mimes frantic painting].”

Like the best jokes, there’s a grain of truth in it. When a dignitary comes to visit the flower beds are tidied up, the overflowing bins emptied, the rusty railings repainted, the homeless people moved to somewhere less embarrassing. It’s the same world we all live in, but the visiting dignitary sees a very different and much nicer version of it.

I was reminded of it yesterday when Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, spoke about coming out as a gay man in an interview with People En Espanol. When Cook came out five years ago, he was the only leader of a Fortune 500 company to do so. Ever since, he’s used his platform to advocate for a better world for gay and trans people: as he says, outside Apple the world is still a very unfriendly place for us.

Back to the paint. In his interview, he talked about how he believes that being gay is one of the greatest gifts God has given him.

at least for me, I can only speak for myself, it gives me a level of empathy that I think is probably much higher than average because being gay or trans, you’re a minority. And I think when you’re a majority, even though intellectually you can understand what it means to be in a minority, it’s an intellectual thing. It’s not intellectual for me to be in a minority. I’m not saying that I understand the trials and tribulations of every minority group, because I don’t. But I do understand for one of the groups. And to the degree that it helps give you a lens on how other people may feel, I think that’s a gift in and of itself.

I think a lot of people in minority groups will relate to that. To be in a majority group (not necessarily a numerical majority; you can still be in power when there are fewer of you, so for example men have more power than women even though they’re fewer in number) is to live in a world that smells of paint and fresh flowers.

I’ve certainly experienced that, and since coming out three years ago I’ve seen a very different version of the same world. It’s made me question pretty much everything, to look at the things I thought I knew and ask: is this true, or what I’ve been told is true? If this is how my particular tribe is treated, is this how other groups are treated too?

The answer is often yes.

As Tim Cook says, being gay (or trans, or a single mum, or Muslim, or…) does not mean you understand the trial and tribulations of every minority group. But it gives you a lens on how they may feel, and how they may be treated. And I think he’s right that it gives you a level of empathy that’s higher than average.

The converse can be true too. If you’re not part of a marginalised group, you can have a level of empathy that’s much lower than average. For example, here are some posts this week from the Daily Mail, a newspaper whose readership is primarily older, affluent, white, Christian, heterosexual and cisgender. The story was the horrific deaths of 39 people in the back of a truck.

“I’m personally over the moon. Sneaking in and stealing our benefits.”

“39 less people we have to support.”

“Hope this serves as a deterrent.”

“Tough.”

“Thanks for the news, it’s brighten [sic] up my day it has.”

#notallolderaffluentwhitechristianheterosexualcisgenderpeople, obviously. But there’s precious little difference between the hate in the comments and the hate in the pages.

Here’s a promotional image from a paper that caters for a similar but slightly less affluent and educated readership. It’s a few years old now but you’ll recognise the name: she’s still saying much the same, and often much worse, on social media.

Look at that banner at the bottom. The Sun used those horrific sentiments in a marketing campaign. Buy our paper! We’re racist and inhuman!

The column also claimed that migrants were “cockroaches”. A few months later, Hopkins published her infamous “Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants” column.

Hopkins’ print career ended shortly afterwards, but not because of those columns – the management were fine with those. Her gig ended because her legal bills were getting too much for the paper’s accountants to bear.

There’s no difference between Hopkins’ comments and the ones on the Daily Mail website.

This is what you get when your media isn’t diverse, when you cater for (and in some cases, constantly try to stoke fear and anger among) a very specific group of people.

Of course, members of minority groups can be hateful arseholes too, especially if they’re fed the same kind of bullshit against other groups: divide and conquer is the oldest strategy in the book. But it’s an interesting exercise to really look at the people who tell us to hate and fear others in this country, the ones fuelling transphobia or islamophobia, the ones telling you to hate foreigners and celebrate their deaths.

Whether they’re writing columns or waving poisonous placards, they’re people whose worlds always smell of paint.

Burn the witches

There’s a fascinating piece in the New York Times by Whitney Curry Wimbish, an American writer living in Scotland. It’s about our witch trials, the ones we didn’t get taught about in school.

…the authorities targeted more than 3,000 people throughout the country, from the largest cities to the most remote and sparsely populated islands.

The accused were teachers, nurses, domestic workers, tailors, farmers, ministers, coal miners, mostly female but also male, indicted by men and women alike. They were imprisoned, tortured with brutal creativity, and in many cases, executed. The intensity of the panic rose and fell more than once over these 200 years and, according to scholars, coincided with personal grievances and the state’s insistence that all citizens actively promote God’s will.

In Scotland, as in the US, the victims were innocent. The cause of the hysteria has been attributed to lots of things – economic distress, changing attitudes to women, the power of the local Kirks and many other things – and was probably a mix of many different factors. Some of it was undoubtedly cynical hate mongering by the ruling classes, as Wikipedia describes:

In the view of Thomas Lolis, James I’s goal was to divert suspicion away from male homosociality among the elite, and focus fear on female communities and large gatherings of women. He thought they threatened his political power so he laid the foundation for witchcraft and occultism policies, especially in Scotland. The point was that a widespread belief in the conspiracy of witches and a witches’ Sabbath with the devil deprived women of political influence.

But a big part of it was technology.

Across Europe, the hatred that led to witch trials was fuelled by the cutting edge technology of the time: the printing press. It did then what social media and mass media does today.

One book in particular, Melleus maleficarum or The Witch’s Hammer, has been widely credited with fuelling the European witchcraft panic. As the excellent Text Technologies blog explains:

Europe was in the midst of great social change at this time. The Reformation brought about a challenge to the moral authority of the church. Scientific and technological innovations where changing the way people lived, thought, and worked. People were moving into urban areas, which changed the traditional feudal order and hierarchy. All this change led to social instability and confusion. In a state of upheaval people look for moral guidance and authority to explain what is happening and what can be done about it. Melleus maleficarum offered this moral guidance and authority. Because of its contents, structure and printed form Melleus maleficarum provided a powerful new ideology that people were seeking.

…Although the printing press was not the cause of the European witch craze of the 1400 through 1700’s, it was a technology that allowed for the mass production of material that was instrumental in the dissemination of information that fed the witch-hunt craze… Without the printed texts, the witch-hunts would never have been as devastating as they were.

The Women’s Museum of California:

The church and those in power made expert use of the printing press, weaponizing it to disseminate propaganda that declared magic and witchcraft inherently evil. With the intent of identifying and punishing women who did not submit to their will, then the church used reproducible media to associate independent women with witchcraft, regardless of their actual experience with magic.

…From their very inception, witch hunts were organized, initiated, financed, and executed by the church and state in an attempt to control women and much of the imagery was disseminated through the mass production made possible through the printing press.

It wasn’t just women. The anti-semitic blood libel, which has led to countless Jewish deaths, was spread by the printing press (and some of its most notorious titles have found new life fuelling new hatred on social media). The printing press reassured American Puritans that black slaves were supposed to be slaves because of the word of God. And so sadly, viciously, murderously on.

Whenever people in power – whether those people are a race, a religion or a royal family – have wanted to crush people they see as enemies, they’ve used technology to allege and incite hatred of supposed deviancy. There’s very little difference between the lurid allegations made against so-called witches by the churches of the day and the lurid allegations made against black, gay, Muslim or trans people by more modern but no less hateful people today. They’re in league with the devil. Burn the witches.

Back to the NYT:

With the passage of the centuries we’ve come to understand that 100 percent of people accused of witchcraft were innocent. We recognize the nonsensical nature of a crime committed by being something, not doing something. But we still persecute people simply for who they are — or who we think they are.

We know where the witchcraft panic came from, how it was spread and who benefited from it. Perhaps we need to spend more time studying and learning from the reasons why it stopped.

Less than human

Yesterday was just another day in the UK press. The Telegraph suggested that trans people should be made to carry ID cards in order to go to the toilet. The Times lauded a new anti-trans hate group specifically set up to exclude trans people from the wider LGBT+ rights movement. The Daily Mail and The Sun continued to make hay from claims that two young trans people “forced” a multinational corporation to “erase women”.

It was just another day on the internet too, with trans people being abused 8 times a minute. That abuse ranged “from insults and harassment to calls for the genocide of transgender people and their allies”, with people suggesting that it’s OK to kill trans people because they’re “less than human”.

That’s courtesy of the anti-bullying charity Ditch The Label, which has co-authored a report about online transphobia.

It makes for incredibly grim reading. On Twitter, 12% of posts relating to trans issues or people are abusive; elsewhere abuse makes up 18% of blog comments, 19% of news comments, 40% of forum discussions and 78% of YouTube comments. And that’s just clearly abusive posts. It doesn’t include dog-whistles where bigotry makes its point more carefully.

Despite this, these are still very minority views. As the report notes: “constructive, pro-trans conversation far outweighs the negative. Transphobic conversation is in the minority, but it’s still very loud and very damaging.”

These may be minority views, but they represent the majority of trans-related coverage in most of the UK press and broadcasting media. A vicious, vocal minority is being repeatedly platformed by editors and broadcasters who should, and I suspect who do, know better.

Every single trans person I know is tired of this and terrified by it too.

A bad idea from history

In the Telegraph, David Thomas wrote this:

Thomas’s argument is simple. “If drivers, pensioners, students and disabled citizens have cards that establish their bona fides”, why shouldn’t trans people?

There are two answers to that.

One, drivers, pensioners, students and disabled people don’t have to produce ID so they can go for a piss in safety or get on with their lives without being beaten up.

Here’s Ellen Murray from TransgenderNI:

Having this for trans people “voluntarily” is against the law, absolutely unenforceable, breaches human rights grossly and is a very dangerous direction to go down.

And two, because they have been tried before.

Here’s one.

These passes were “transvestite passes”, which were granted by German police until 1933 based on diagnostic interviews by sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld at the Institute for Sexual Research. The holders were allowed to wear the opposite gender’s clothing in public without fear of arrest.

They weren’t granted after 1933 because on the 6 of May that year Nazi students and soldiers stormed the Institute, destroyed equipment and materials (the most famous photo of book-burning Nazis is of those people destroying Hirschfeld’s work), and seized the records of people who’d been interviewed by Hirschfeld. Those people were then specifically targeted by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps where they were ostracised by other prisoners, abused, experimented on and killed.

If Thomas isn’t aware of this terrible history, he should educate himself. And if he is aware but chose to ignore it, he should be ashamed of himself.