Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The politics of indifference. Part two: when everything matters.

Many things make me angry, but you already know that. In my defence, I think the world is getting angrier. It’s certainly feeling a little crazier out there in the bigger picture than ever before — and in fact as I was preparing to post this article I heard the terrible news of bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon, an event whose details are unfolding even as I write and will require calm analysis another time. 

Take a look at the last six months or so: if you told me back then that Britain would lose its long-standing AAA Credit Rating I’d have found you a boring conversationist, sure, but distinctly credible. Undeniably though, is how it's an ignominious and highly public shame on this country. You can talk up the culture, the heritage, the noteworthy historical figures, but you can’t argue with the numbers. We’ve screwed up royally here.

Tell me six months ago that ‘anything up to 100%’ horse meat would be discovered in mainstream supermarket brand foods purporting to be 100% beef — possibly for a considerable time previously — and I would express amusement, mild dismay, but really, no shock. I reckon I’ve bought meat from a supermarket fewer than a dozen times in the last two years: in the past I’ve wondered enough about how loosely supermarket-supply butchers are monitored when their output is so much greater and more relentless than an independently run family shop. To maintain supply levels and frequency, corners are inevitably cut, along with the beef, it would seem. I must say I love the bullshit of whomever it was who stated ‘anything up to 100%’ in the recent reports — it’s like being diagnosed with an illness that could cause symptoms ranging ‘anywhere up to death.’ How can anyone say 100% of one thing be another thing? Ah well. If there’s some good to emerge from this, it’s that maybe the supermarkets will play harder, we’ll all learn to be more accountable for what goes in our mouths (food-wise, at least) and cultivate closer relationships with small, independent butchers (food-wise at least), who are clearly more strictly regulated, especially as they have more to lose from unscrupulous practice (er, food-wise at least. I’ll stop now). Besides, you simply find a better range of cuts, more negotiable prices, fresher produce and a bit of honest eye-contact with a small operation. Think about it. 

Tell me six months ago that Jimmy Savile was a paedophile and I may have wanted to believe you, but would need proof. I always thought he was oddly asexual if anything — living alone with no noticeable partner, and that slightly weird, but fairly textbook Freudian worship of his mother — not factors which could be conflated into the 400-plus accusations of insidious molestation and emotional (to say nothing of financial) blackmail. It seems the bigger the facade, the easier it is to hide in plain view. 

As for the Pope, resigning — weeeeell, not without precedent, but as every elderly Pope has died on the job since at least the 15th Century certainly made it unforeseen in the modern age. It has given my mother, whose conversation is somewhat circular in her old age, something new to talk about at the very least. I must say it has given me as much pause for thought as if I heard the Chief Cashier of the Bank Of England had changed — something I only found out the other day had happened six months ago. Gripping. 

Best of all, tell me only six months ago that Oscar Pistorius would murder his girlfriend with a pistol…after claiming to mistake her for a burglar…on Valentine’s Day…geddouttahere! What? Oscar, the medal-winning Paralympian who made history by becoming the first Paralympian to qualify in the Olympics slightly over 180 days earlier? A man clearly unused to the idea of disability and failure, reduced to a pathetic, hot-headed, control-freak killer? Tch’oh!

Incredible, really. As Neil Innes said in a splendid Rutles tune: “It’s a strange world we live in, but surely we’re forgiven if we don’t know where to turn.” 

So what am I saying here? It strikes me that if I have got angrier over the years, then maybe many more people are buying into the collective madness than ever before — or rather we’re made more aware of them nowadays. The internet community, such as it is, has been in place for the best part of two decades, but the accessibility and ease of dissemination that social networking affords is probably the single most significant change in communication of the last ten years. I’m typing this intending to post it up on Blogger (thanks Blogger) and then inform my friends and colleagues on Facebook and Twitter that I have done so — thus, an instant transmission of ideology is attained to a considerable number of people who can disseminate it in turn should they so wish; this we know. 

You also know as well as I do that what this technology affords most people is the ability to post up deliriously cute pictures of cats, what they’ve had for dinner, or sanctimonious (albeit humorous) proclamations on the correct usage of grammar and punctuation. I’ve perpetrated these harmless conceits as much as anyone, and more power to them, frankly, but I’m sure we’ve all considered from time to time — if not these cheerful, happily unnecessary distractions, then what else is social networking for? 

Well, what I am seeing worries me. 

How often am I confronted on Facebook with a status update or posting shared by someone that states “99% of people won’t have the GUTS to repost this” preceded by some raving cryptofascist bollocks? You’ve all seen something like it. Here’s one I found at random: 

Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Homeless go without eating. Elderly go without needed medicines. Mentally ill go without treatment. Troops go without proper equipment. Veterans go without benefits that were promised. Yet we donate billions to other countries BEFORE helping our own first. 1% will repost and 99% won’t. Have the guts to repost this.
It’d be patronising in the extreme to go into statistical specifics to illustrate just how misguided these sort of statements can be. Let’s just highlight the essential cluelessness of assuming, as the paragraph would like us to infer, that the parlous state of financing for medical facilities, care for the elderly and so on, could have such a direct, simplistic correlation with the money supposedly being ‘drained’ in the name of foreign charities; that somehow the act of donating to charity ever boils down to a cruel choice for anyone who is kind enough to donate to anything, whether domestic or overseas (“Let me see now: blankets for Syrian refugees — or Timmy’s dialysis? Hmm...”). 

The worst part of this is that people really do let this kind of woollen rhetoric rule their reason — and I’m talking specifically about when they’re online here. I don’t see enough people using their brains — I see too many people just passing on half-baked ideas to other people who will only half-understand them, but believe that much wholeheartedly. Do we really want to be represented by someone else's words quite so often? This is not communication, nor education. It’s not even being politically active. When was the last time that one of these statements (as opposed to links to actual valid online petitions) truly fomented any form of productive soi-disant revolution? The riots that spread across the UK in 2011 were partly co-ordinated — if that’s the right word — by social networking media, you might argue. Well, QED, I say. 

If you’ve ever thought this way, then, it’s time for me to patronise you: please, go away and think. Use your fucking brain. Think a little harder and further than your first thought and consider where this train of logic will take you. Consider the true meaning of that most-abused of expressions: ‘charity begins at home.’  It’s not about where you live in the world. It’s how you live in your head.


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