What is the half-life of our outrage?

With all the goings on of general elections, Brexit talks and acts of violence it’s been a depressing, and I use the term advisedly, few months. There have been unnecessary, untruthful, but not unexpected personal attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and others. Even the DUP claims they are feeling a lack of ‘respect’ from Conservative back-benchers. There have been manifesto u-turns, later denied, not from any change in values but by attempts at damage limitation driven by political expediency. People have died from violent aggression and what some have suggested is criminal negligence.

The self-destructive, sheer incompetence of putting the ‘dementia tax’ in a manifesto which would adversely impact your core vote is difficult to credit. Who the hell thought that was a good promotional strategy? Not turning out for a national debate and not being able to address public concerns without nervous laughter and the endless repetition of stock phrases didn’t play particularly well either. Don’t even get me started on the cabinet reshuffle – Gove again – only this time the poisoned chalice is Environment – as Caroline Lucas suggested, a man not overly qualified for the post. Time for a new Amazon best seller, ‘Everything I know about the Environment’ to follow up on ‘Everything I know about Education’.

OK, there has been a significant rise in the number of young adults voting – hooray! There has been some kindness and hope around as well as much venting of outraged opinion, at least in our house if nowhere else. There seems currently to be some impetus to adjust some of the inbuilt injustice in our society. Trickle down economics never worked and cutting police, education and healthcare budgets is so patently short-sighted that it’s very hard to believe that there is anything other than cynical exploitation of the poorest in society behind such actions. After all you wouldn’t want a poor person running the economy as POTUS would say.

“The distance between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, known in the Europe of the early nineteenth century, is coming back with vengeance.” (Zygmund Bauman in Collateral Damage, 2011)

What is the half-life of our outrage? What is the hope of those in authority over us –that if things can hang on long enough the anger will dissipate? The raised voices will become hoarse and fall quiet? The marchers will grow tired and the banners will be put down? With any luck the whole business will blow over like a ‘twitter storm’ and then the masses will have been allowed their whinge and it can be back to business as usual.

“Let the masses remain inert, unthinking; do not disturb them, do not arouse them; do not get them moving, for if you do you are an agitator, a trouble maker, . . .  you are a radical!” (Saul Alinsky in Reveille for Radicals, 1969

My own faith has as its main figurehead a religious, radicalised individual who took a home-made whip to those he felt where exploiting the poor. He overturned their trading stalls and no doubt caused a few people to complain. Did it have any lasting effect? I’m thinking that next day the same traders were back in business either dismissing it as a one-off action by someone who clearly needed help or perhaps muttering about who was to blame for such radicalisation and even perhaps how illegal it should be to confront the lawful authorities like that. Problem solved he was tried and executed within the week.

Our current government, led by Theresa May at the time of writing (next week who knows), has promised reviews and action to put a stop to the radicalisation of individuals. Really, you can legislate radicalisation out of existence? I’m part of the Christian faith – for God’s sake look at history. Christianity wouldn’t exist if you could legislate radical beliefs out of existence – the Roman’s tried some fairly drastic measures – it didn’t work.

“Compromise is as impossible between the church of Christ and the idolatry of wealth, which is the practical religion of capitalist societies, as it was between the church and the state idolatry of the Roman Empire.” (Cedric Mayson in the R H Tawney lecture entitled “Liberation and the wineskin business”, 1986.)

What scares me most is not acts of terror by individuals, fundamentalists or governments. These are a matter of record throughout history, present suffering and future inevitability. What does scare me is where the lines are drawn. Where does legitimate protest become terrorism – making a whip, turning over tables, interfering with lawful trade? When does sharing strong feelings about the manifest incompetence and injustice of government led policy become radicalisation of others?

Back at the beginning of the Blair years Bob Holman set out three key objectives for the sort of relational society he believed God wanted: “First, the relief of poverty. Second, the promotion of greater social and material equality. Third, the raising up of the powerless and the casting down of the powerful.” (Bob Holman in ‘A Voice from the Estate’ in Joined up Writing, March 1999). The first of these, I suspect few would object to in principle until it hits the wallet. The second – ah, a bit more tricky this one. There is, we are told, “No magic money tree” – so that means taking money from the rich and redistributing it to the poor – never been a popular policy with the rich. The third – yes raising people up – ‘uplift’ as they refer to it over the pond, but hang on this ‘casting down’ that’s a little bit radical.

So, when will the thought police come knocking? After all I’ve ‘preached’ enough ‘lefty’ stuff at long-suffering students over the last few years. I believe it was my job to do so.

2017 – Stupid is as . . .

I have hopes for this year but, to be honest not much in the way of overall hope. I’ve never really been an optimistic soul, on balance I prefer to be pleasantly surprised rather than suddenly disappointed. Generally, my hopes are the small stuff of human kind almost exactly like last year’s resolutions with the dates changed. Learn to play the guitar better, take more and better photographs, have more sex, lose more weight, be less paranoid – that sort of thing.

My overall hope level is mired, stuck at well above wellie top level in the slurry left behind from earlier years. I retain a deep mistrust of major political figures – inevitably Donald is high on my list – God save us. Next, Boris, our Foreign Secretary for goodness sake, an astute political operator in the domestic sphere but I don’t think the bumbling public school buffoon act works internationally. Coming up on the rails is Theresa with ‘Brexit is Brexit’ – it doesn’t really matter how much conviction you say it with it’s still as meaningless as a cosmetics ad script. Farage and his fascist ilk I’m truly hoping to discount and God forbid Gove rears his ugly head again – he effectively killed UK youth work in the space of a few months undoing forty plus years’ commitment to the well-being of young people.

Last year I despaired of Labour’s ability to get its act together and lead a coherent opposition – it still can’t. I joined the Greens and I’m going to stick with it. We don’t really have a realistic chance at holding the balance of power but I can at least appreciate the approach to party leadership and headline policies. Yes, there are still the occasional truly annoying hippies hanging about the fringes but even they have more integrity and purpose and act more truthfully than ‘post-truth’ establishment figures.

To maintain the whinge for a while – what happened to the word liar? Did we really have to find a substitute for it – is it perhaps less risky in terms of libel to suggest that an individual is adopting a post-truth stance rather than just lying through their teeth?

Fact-checking social media was always necessary action, one of my previous students was busily denying unsubstantiated rumours of her engagement on Facebook this morning. My problem is that some of the fact-checked stuff is still impossible to believe. We are watching the rise of stupid, not that it ever really went away, we’ve always had the Daily Mail, and for liberal lefties like myself it served a purpose allowing us to laugh at the stupidity of others and the more ridiculous side of ourselves. But, when stupid becomes the new truth where the hell do we go from here?

Truth has always been a somewhat elusive and magical beast. As Pilate wryly observed ‘What is truth?’. My truth is not necessarily your truth, what I believe to be causal factors may be unsubstantiated nonsense to you – e.g. global warming. OK, I get that, but really, believing a promise on the side of a bus that £350 million was going to go on a weekly basis to the NHS was just stupid. I keep hearing the sales pitch of ‘getting our country back’ or just as bad if not worse making it ‘great again’. Whichever way you cut this sort of rhetoric it’s stupid twaddle of the first order. Life never works backwards, not even with a well-equipped DeLorean.

We only get the chance to move forward and whilst I’m sanguine about future possibilities there are some truths worth fighting for. A gay Christian American friend recently Facebooked a Muslim quoting a Jewish holocaust survivor from a Guardian interview, inclusive and international! Speaking about the experience of being rubbished by Trump, Khizr Khan quotes Elie Wiesel:

“We must always take sides, neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”

God give me the will, energy and opportunity to interfere this year.

Changing lights – Red to Green

I was rejected and in despair. The Labour Party’s leadership election had left me cold. The bulk of MPs backing Owen Smith, or perhaps it was hatred of the other candidate, just didn’t seem to correlate with the level of support for Jeremy Corbyn amongst the local Constituency Labour Parties.

At first I thought the £25 fee wildly undemocratic and all the High Court/Court of Appeal juggling beyond embarrassing. It did cross my mind that this was a fundraising scam to increase party funds. That would have been manipulative and sneaky but at least it would mean that this wasn’t the PLP acting in a mean-minded way to exclude poor people from engaging in the democratic process.

Then, the rejection email arrived, no explanation, despite registering on 20th July, I “do not currently hold any status with the Labour Party”. I briefly hoped this marked a return to good socialist principles on the relevance of social status. But no, apparently not, it actually meant I was ‘persona non grata’ in the leadership election process.

So, there I was attempting to support a party which, except for the last election, I had voted for since the early eighties. A party whose existing Westminster elite, although unelectable as a government themselves, seem to believe that policy rooted in social democratic values is unelectable. In September last year Paul Krugman observed, in the New York Times, that The Corbyn upset isn’t about a sudden left turn on the part of Labour supporters. It’s mainly about the strange, sad moral and intellectual collapse of Labour moderates”

Sorry Labour I did try, really I did but I’m going with the Greens. They believe in shared leadership something you clearly don’t. Peter Tatchell recently tweeted that the Greens are “a democratic, united, radical, visionary party”. Labour, that was supposed to be your job. Of course, the true reason for my shift from Red to Green is really incredibly shallow – any party which can put a Blues Drummer of the Year nominee into a leadership position gets my vote.