Monthly Archives: December 2011

A vision from The Bad Future

The kids come every day clamouring to hear stories from Before. I am something of a novelty to them, one of the few in Containment Area 7b who remembers anything, one of the few who knows we are not kept here for our safety. They sit at my feet in a semi-circle, cross-legged, the LEDs on their ankle tags twinkling in the half light.

“Where’s Bobby?” I ask.

Jenny sighs. “Banged up. Workfare said they’d let him have another fiver if he stayed for another three hours, and his mum needed extra for the leccy bill. Workfare didn’t OK it with Above, his tag lit up like a Christmas tree and he was caught over The Blue Line after hours.”

I am still flabbergasted by how this system works, even after all these years. It feels more like a heavy-handed dystopian metaphor than the reality we inhabit. “What’s going to happen to him?”

Jenny shrugs. “Probably not too bad. Duty solicitor reckons they can get him a good community payback placement in the back room of Tescos. In two years he’ll work it off and be back on the tills.” The kids smile with relief. I shudder.

“It was kind of his fault anyway,” pipes up Tabby, Bobby’s little sister. “Easy for the cops to have mistook him for a rioter. They showed restraint.” Tabby seems full of the joys of spring today, a veritable cannon of misdirected optimism. “Bobby’ll be cool, he always is. Can you please finish telling us the story  about the hospitals and how they were all nice and that?”

“The hospitals? Ah, I remember. Back Before, the hospitals were very different. If you hurt yourself or got ill, you would could go to the hospital and they would treat you…” I pause for dramatic effect. “For free.”

A collective gasp from the children. “Free?” they breathe, their incredulous little brows furrowed.

“Free. For absolutely everyone. Nobody had to pay a penny.”

“That can’t be true,” professes Jack, the eldest of the bunch. “Do you mean it was free for all the Consumers and Wealth Creators? They’d never give things away for free to Scroungers like us.”

“It most certainly was true,” I correct him. “Everyone who needed anything from the hospital got it for free. Rich or poor, black or white, whatever you needed, you’d get it for free.”

“That doesn’t sound very competitive,” Jack scoffs. “Was it funded by the Europeans? I bet loads of people must have died.”

“Not at all,” I said. “We were all healthier because of it, and lived much longer.” These days, kids like these will probably live to fifty at most, and that’s a mercy.

“Weren’t there riots over it? Nobody would want to queue up for operations when they could just pay for it, surely? Is that why it stopped? Did the Scroungers push to the front of the queue?”

“Kids,” I say firmly. “When have any of you ever rioted?”

“Never, silly,” Tabby says, blowing a raspberry. “We’re safe now. But Before, kids like us was always just grabbing anything we could get because we’re feral, innit?” She taps her tag sagely.

I decide this conversation can wait for another day. I do not think this short story needs a tacked-on, saccharine happy ending.

“Anyway, the NHS–that’s what we called the hospitals back then–fell down because people didn’t fight hard enough, and the people wanting to take it down were too powerful. It was a very special thing, the NHS was.”

“Will it ever come back?” Jenny asks quietly. Jenny’s a funny one, more optimistic than most, even though until six months ago her family were Consumers before a dose of bad luck brought them to 7b.

“I don’t know,” I say. And I don’t. It seems like a monolithic nemesis, and everyone has absorbed the message wholesale. There is always hope though, always hope. Irrational, perhaps, but it lifts me. Maybe there still is a spark of rebellion and fight in these kids.

“I think everything will get better,” Jack announces, an air of gravitas beyond his young age. “All we need is for all the Consumers to vote Labour in 2015.”

And with that, I know we’re fucked.


On individual responsibility

It’s not your fault if you’re unemployed. There’s no jobs for you to have. It’s not a question of not wanting it enough, of not trying hard enough. There nobody who will take you, and they’ll always find an excuse. You’re underqualified or overqualified, too much experience or too little experience, too radical or too conservative, too aggressive or too placid, or maybe they just don’t like you. It’s all fobbing off, “it’s not you, it’s me”. In truth, there just aren’t many jobs around.

It’s not your fault if you have a job that you hate. There is nothing pathological about dissatisfaction with spending your waking hours in crushing monotony just so you can eat. This daily monotony does not make you a whole, happy person: it is a lie so pervasive we now ask “what do you do” instead of “how do you do”.

It’s not your fault if you don’t feel like you got the education you wanted. The doors are closing, one by one, till none but the rich can learn. They will point at the “underqualified” and close more doors, when what opportunity did you have in the first place? Its all a lie, a deliberate stacking of the deck so that only the privileged few may enjoy education.

It’s not your fault that the planet is fucked. That you forgot to separate the paper from the plastic, the tea bags from the veg, that last drip of milk from inside the carton will hardly melt the polar ice caps and cause the world to burn. While you are told that the entire future rests on you turning out the kitchen light, it is not true: the bulk of the damage comes from the corporations who freely set fire to finite resources and choke the sky. Washing your laundry at thirty degrees will not change their behaviour.

It’s not your fault if you get attacked, raped, abused. It never is. Any blame is due to a system covering its own back, desperately declaring that it is all fair and just. The length of your skirt makes no difference, where you walk makes no difference, what you drink or eat or say to a stranger is of no consequence. It wasn’t your fault.

It’s not your fault when you are denied opportunities for being too young, to old, the wrong colour, the wrong gender, too disabled, too queer. In their eyes, you are wrong; you are navigating the world backwards in heels. You are trying hard enough; harder than most. You want it enough. They just don’t want you to have any power. They want to hoard it.

It’s not your fault if you’re sick of this shit. It’s not your fault if you claw back power by any means necessary, just for a brief taste of what those who hold you down enjoy every day. They will attack you, they will call you a criminal, feral, violent, and pretend you are nought but an aberration. Yet you are not an aberration. You are part of many, one of us.

They see us all as one, those who cling on to their power. They make sure everyone else sees your problems as your own fault. It is a lie fed to hold on to their comfort. We tear each other apart under their narrative.

Remember, none of this is your fault.


When is an attack not an attack?

Today, I found myself in a position I hadn’t been in since early 2010: I agreed with Nick Clegg. On the proposed tax breaks for married couples, Clegg said the following:

“We can all agree that strong relationships between parents are important, but not agree that the state should use the tax system to encourage a particular family form.”

I don’t take this to mean that Clegg has suddenly started talking sense. He has just spotted an open goal and managed to kick the ball in vaguely the right direction in a desperate bid to resuscitate his dead party, the political equivalent of slapping a corpse and screaming “PLEASE DON’T DIE ON ME, I LOVE YOU”.

He does have a very good point, though. The state should have no role in meddling with how a family should look. This suggestion has naturally pissed off some of the usual suspects like Cristina Odone and the bafflingly-still-alive Norman Tebbit. As always, when a socially progressive attitude towards families is expressed, they fall back on the favourite language: the language of being under attack.

It happens all the time. The notion of the family being somehow attacked crops up frequently in discussion of marriage equality, the rhetoric surrounding single-parent families, and more broadly in terms of socially progressive legislation. Put simply, they cry out THOSE SCARY HUMMUS-MUNCHERS ARE COMING FOR OUR CHILDREN. In fact, it is nothing of the kind.

The language of the attack on the family implicitly applies the capitalist narrative of scarcity to families. As with money, their line of reasoning goes, there is a finite amount of love in the world, and we’d better not let those scrounging single mothers or gays have any of it, lest there’s none left for anyone else. By their very existence, non-conventional families threaten the social order by apparently hogging some love which could better go to a family with a mummy, a daddy and 2.4 kiddiwinks.

Of course, this line of reasoning is patent gibberish. Love is infinite, and money is a fiction so the narratives fail to hold up in any way imaginable. I pity those who believe that a family with one parent, or four parents or two parents who happen to be of the same sex are in any way a threat to their wellbeing. They are hiding from an imaginary foe, terrified that the rug will come out from under them when that rug is perfectly secure.

Perhaps the fear is where all of this ends, yet I suspect that using the language of an external threat or attack serves a deeper, murkier function. When one is attacked, one has two options: to fight, or to surrender. While an unprovoked attack is generally frowned upon, few except the most peaceful of pacifists will have an issue with self-defence. Pretending that families are under attack therefore legitimises the genuinely coercive tactics that the state is using to regulate family structure. It stops being outright aggression and starts to look like reasonable defence against the phalanx of queers and single mums who are bogarting all the nice things.

There is no attack on the traditional family. If anything, it is quite the other way round: we are being gradually coerced into living in the way that suits the state. It’s so clear, even a Lib Dem can spot it.


I <3 the contraceptive pill

I have been on the Pill for six years now. It has been a part of my life for so long that I sometimes almost forget that it is there.

It has only really been this month that I have been thinking much about it. When I went to collect my repeat prescription, I went through the standard rigmarole. I was weighed and had my blood pressure taken, as always. The nurse tapped in the necessary information, and BING! the computer decided it didn’t want to prescribe me any more contraceptive pills because I had been taking them for six years.

In the end, it was all right. The doctor authorised the prescription and I went away with my prescription for freedom in my hand. The scare of those five minutes when I thought I couldn’t get any more, though, got me thinking.

I really fucking love the contraceptive pill. I know it doesn’t agree with everyone, but for me it is brilliant. 

To me, the pill goes far beyond a contraceptive. It represents control over my reproductive system. I can choose when I fancy having a period, and if it doesn’t suit me I can completely skip one. I know exactly what to expect with my body and when, because I can regulate it with the pills that I take.

I can worry less if a condom breaks. I still have to go through the awkward ritual of popping to the STI clinic, but I am spared the inconvenience and expense of getting the morning-after pill, or, in a worst-case scenario, an abortion. It’s a little safety net.

It helps my epilepsy. Once upon a time, under a natural cycle, my brain would spike out abnormal electrical activity in sync with hormonal fluctuations. The Pill keeps my hormone levels regular. The seizures I have had since I went on the Pill are almost trivial compared to how it was before.

In the five minutes where I thought I would not get my Pill any more, I was terrified. The tiny little tablets I keep in my purse represent so much to me. They are autonomy, they are liberty. They are my pills, and I love them.


Placebo buttons and the illusion of control

Some things are not what they seem. You perform an action, you get the desired result. You’re in charge. You have power, you have agency.

So you think.

In some cases, it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference what you do. Take, for example, pressing the the button at a road crossing. We are taught to believe that by pressing this button, the lights will know we’re waiting and they will change accordingly. In fact, most of these buttons do absolutely nothing, and the lights will change whenever they are scheduled to change, particularly at busy periods of the day. This is what is known as a “placebo button“, a button which is entirely useless but is there anyway. They are surprisingly prevalent: on many lifts, the “close door” button does absolutely nothing, as do the entirely decorative buttons for opening and closing doors on the Tube. In some office buildings, they will go so far as to fit fake thermostat knobs.

The purpose of a placebo button is to make the user feel in control of their environment. The illusion of control is a well-studied effect. It is an example of the cognitive short cuts our big old brains take to minimise processing power: we like to think we have an ability to influence outcomes. Often, the illusion of control springs up naturally: for example, when playing craps, many people tend to throw the dice harder if they want a high number and softer if they want a low number, despite the probability remaining exactly the same for any kind of throw. If the outcome is the one desired, people will believe they were responsible for it.

According to Self Regulation Theory, a fairly strong model of how thoughts translate into behaviour, the illusion of control is a reaction to stress or uncertainty about outcome. We cope with it by conjuring up a false sense of control over the circumstances and therefore feels as though we have reasserted control over the situation. Interestingly, people with depression are less susceptible to the illusion, having a more realistic view of the level of control they have over an outcome.

The illusion of control is considered to be a “positive illusion”, though it has some less pleasant real-world effects. In one study of stock market traders, it was found that those with the higher belief in their own control were rated as performing less well and tended to make less money in their investments. Their illusion of control could well have contributed to the financial crisis. With placebo buttons, there is some evidence to suggest that our own perception of time is warped. People who pressed the “door close” button on a lift several times believed the lift came on average two seconds faster than those who only pressed the button once. Merely interacting with the placebo button produced poor judgment.

The function of the illusion of control is fairly well-studied on an individual level, though there does not seem to be any research into the motivation for facilitating people for believing they have control. There are some anecdotes from managers and engineers involved in installing fake thermostat buttons in offices, which serves as semi-decent qualitative evidence:

“We had an employee that always complained of being hot,” recalls Greg Perakes, an HVACR instructor in Tennessee. “Our solution was to install a pneumatic thermostat. We ran the main air line to it inside of an enclosed I-beam. Then we just attached a short piece of tubing to the branch outlet (terminating inside the I-beam without being attached to any valves, etc.).”

The worker “could adjust her own temperature whenever she felt the need,” Perakes says, “thus enabling her to work more and complain less. When she heard the hissing air coming from inside the I-beam, she felt in control. We never heard another word about the situation from her again. Case solved.”

“Even though we were sure our system was working as it should and maintaining space temps to within one degree to two degrees, we could never completely satisfy the occupants of the space,” he wrote. “We mounted a ‘dummy stat’ (short for ‘dummy thermostat’) adjacent to the ‘controlling stat’ and gave the floor manager the key to the stat—now the occupants could ‘control’ their space as they desired with the permission of their manager.”

“The dummy stat did nothing except to give the occupants the impression that they had control of the HVAC system and the psychological effect of having control of their work environment,” continued Langless. “Our service calls disappeared, and to my knowledge, that system is still set up and working as it has since 1987.”

Here, it is clear that the motivation is to make people feel like they are in control without actually changing anything. The placebo button is seen to serve its purpose, stopping unrest and people becoming difficult.

On a grander scale, one can compare many of the methods in which we are encouraged to engage with politics. We are encouraged to vote, and told that it is our way of making our voices heard. In fact, under the current system, in most constituencies, your vote is merely a confirmation or rejection of a pre-determined outcome, with prevalent “safe seats” meaning that your vote is about as meaningful as pressing a button which lights up the word “WAIT”.  Even small changes to this system, such as AV, would make little difference to the level of control you would have.

Writing to an MP is about as effective as pressing the “open door” button on a Tube train. Remember that under the current whip system, they are likely to vote whichever way they are told to vote, and your concerns will only be raised in a debate if it cements what the party was planning on doing all along. Likewise, the government e-petition system has been explicitly linked to “making people feel more engaged“: while you may feel more engaged, all you have done is press a button and registered your opinion.

Ultimately, these encouraged methods mean nothing: they are placebo buttons put in place by structures of power which let us feel we have a sense of control, of agency, of involvement in a corrupt system. It is not true.

This realisation of powerlessness is upsetting, and cynically, I find myself wondering if the lack of illusory control is a contributor to depression.

The difference between political engagement and waiting for the traffic lights to change, though, is an important one. If we look beyond the placebo buttons of representative democracy, we can find a wealth of methods for achieving real change through direct action, towards building a direct model of democracy. While the things we are told give us power are meaningless, with creativity and a rejection of placebo, tangible, real results can be achieved.

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This post was inspired by a lovely conversation with Jed and Wail.


I’ve met the Met

On Wednesday evening, I went to a Q&A session with Met Police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe. I was unimpressed. Find out why by reading my account of the night on OpenDemocracy. Hint: it includes institutional racism, question dodging and worrying insights into the mind of the bloke in charge of those people who smack us with sticks.


Christmas songs that can fuck off.

It has come to the time of year wherein we cannot leave the house without an aural assault of jingle-riddled festive musical tedium. While most are equally intolerable, some merit special mention for the implicit horrors they conceal. These are the Christmas songs that can fuck right off.

Rampant consumerism ahoy!

Capitalism has done a fine job of co-opting Christmas, turning it into a festival of panic-buying and receiving things you don’t really want. It is hardly surprising, then, that one of the most-covered traditional Christmas songs is The Twelve Days of Christmas. In this song, a person is given a series of increasingly ludicrous Christmas presents from a lover, presented through the medium of mind-numbing repetition. The nameless narrator of the song tells us nothing about their lover except that they buy a lot of presents. By the end of the song, the narrator has received 12 drummers drumming, 22 pipers piping, 30 lords a-leaping, 36 ladies dancing, 40 maids a-milking, 46 swans a-swimming, 42 geese a-laying, 35 gold rings, 32 calling birds, 30 French hens, 24 turtle doves and 12 partridges in pear trees. Implicit in this is that there must also be 40 cows to be milked, 46 small lakes for the swans to live in and at least 42 baby geese to soon be hatched. Quite where the narrator is going to keep all of the birds is not explored. Neither is it ever discussed that perhaps sending people as gifts might be slavery, or at the very least prostitution.

It’s immoral, it’s impractical, and it’s a vision of the future the capitalists would like to see. Its bastard lovechild is clearly visible in this godawful Littlewoods advert wherein a choir of children sing about how brilliant their mum is because she bought everyone presents.

Merry Christmas. Buy things. Debt is love.

A woman is left in a horrible, horrible relationship

Fairy Tale Of New York is the Christmas song it’s cool to say you like, because it’s kind of ironic, has a catchy Irish folky riff and Kirsty McColl died tragically early. It features bitter lyrics of a life of hardship and alcoholism, but ultimately, in some sort of Christmas miracle they arguing couple in the song realise that they love each other very much, right? Actually, not quite. Listen to the resolution of the song, at around 2.48. The woman laments that the man “took her dreams”. He replies that he kept them with him, made them his own and can’t possibly live life on his own.

Now, this would be all well and good if he wasn’t consistently portrayed as a complete and utter failure with verbally abusive tendencies. So that woman’s dream-eggs are stuck in a basket of piss, vinegar and toothless uselessness simply because the man won’t let her go. She never gets the chance to point this out, as it immediately becomes a matter of utmost urgency to report on the song choice of the New York Police Department and a bulletin on bell status. After this, we can only assume she overdoses on cocaine as white as Christmas snow, hollow-eyed on the tinsel-strewn rotting corpse of her lover.

Happy holidays!

Let me sing my privilege to the noble savages

Bono is an unmitigated cunt, and when people talk of “the good things he did”, often they refer to his charity work. Bono’s charity work includes the single Do They Know It’s Christmas, and therefore his unmitigated cunt status remains intact. This is a song in which a crowd of mostly white pop stars patronise an entire continent with startling factual inaccuracies.

Africa, as portrayed by the song, is a uniform desert populated entirely by starving people who need Middle England to ride in with their wallets and fix everything. There’s no snow in Africa, not even on top of mountains. There’s no rain, not even in the rich rainforests. There’s no rivers, not even the sodding Nile, the biggest bastard river in the world. The dear little noble savage Africans apparently don’t know it’s Christmas because Africa is such an insufferable shithole, not because many Africans probably couldn’t give two hoots about Christmas what with being Muslims.

It’s a terrible song, with a hefty dollop of misinformation. It may have been done with the best of intentions, but it’s pretty fucking racist, and it seems to have pissed off a few people. Nothing says traditional Christmas spirit like a bit of casual racism with a sing-al0ng chorus.

The date rape song

Baby It’s Cold Outside is another song which can be categorised under “Christmas romance” and tells a tale even more chilling than that recounted in Fairy Tale Of New York.

It’s about rape. Straight-up, it is a song about rape.

A woman tries to leave a man’s house. He gives her a drink. It has some drugs in it. While still compos mentis enough to argue, the woman argues that she cannot stay, says “no” several times, lists people she knows who might be worried about her and again mentions that she cannot leave. We leave her having finally been forced to into sex with coercive tactics and drugs. We’re supposed to find this rape cute because it’s all Christmassy, and who wouldn’t want to be raped by charming crooner Dean Martin? Listen to the lyrics of the song and tell me it is not about that.

As it’s Christmas, I shall conjure up the happiest possible ending for the story. The next morning, the woman goes home. Her family enquire as to why she appears to be shaken and upset. She explains what happened, and her mother, sister and vicious maiden aunt are appalled. These women call round at Dean Martin’s house, just as he is about to pounce upon another trusting, drugged woman and intervene. They then chop off Dean Martin’s raping penis and use it as a Christmas tree ornament. Everyone is very lucky in getting away with this cathartically criminal act, as the police are currently occupied with singing Galway Bay over the frozen husks of a pair of addicts. With support, Dean Martin’s victims find themselves able to move forward from the incident and engage in community activism to try to build a world without rape.

That’s the happiest possible ending, and we still have at least one rape in it. Fills the heart with Christmas cheer, that does.

The song that is surprisingly awesome

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus is a song which is intensely, intensely irritating. In all honesty, I would be happy if I never heard it ever again. The thing is, it has a surprisingly positive poly message hidden deep inside all of the twee faux-childish awe: the kid doesn’t give a shit that Mommy is necking with Father Christmas. In fact, the kid expresses dismay that Daddy can’t see the happy occasion.

Of course, Santa is Daddy, but the kid doesn’t know this. The kid is completely cool with Mommy playing with other people, and seems to think Daddy would be too. It is a glimpse at a non-conventional family set up which, for a twelfth of the year, gets played on loop. May the message one day sink in so we never have to hear that godawful song again.

Those are some of the worst, but let’s be straight here: all Christmas songs can fuck off.


The cops can strip women in the streets.

Trigger warning for humiliation and forced undressing.

Sometimes, you see things which are almost too chilling to put into words.

In this video, a young woman protester wearing a tent as a costume is surrounded by police. We cannot see much of what happens; we see what appears to be a knife being passed along and the woman shouting “this is not consensual, don’t take my clothes off”. She is then left in her underwear, clearly distressed, sitting on the grass.

It is a genuinely horrifying scene. A woman is forcibly stripped and humiliated in public by people with more power than her. Most people who watch this video will surely be disgusted and appalled by such behaviour; it appears to be such flagrant abuse.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture where victims of such abuse are blamed for what happened to them. People are frightened of the notion that the police are not exactly a benevolent protective force, people are frightened that they might find themselves victims of humiliation or abuse. And so the circus of victim-blaming for this woman began.

A local news article is careful to point out that the police asked her politely to undress first. This is hardly surprising coming from a Murdoch-owned rag, yet it is mild compared to the bile that came from self-professed feminists. Apparently she should have worn more than just underwear under her costume. Apparently she was “entrapping police”. The poor police cannot be to blame for forcibly stripping a woman in public.

No. What the police are doing here is utterly unacceptable. Any feminist should understand that it is never acceptable for some powerful people to strip a woman in public. Any supporter of the police should know that police guidelines involve them not making people strip in public. There is no justification for this whatsoever. It’s abuse, plain and simple.

I don’t want to live in a world where the police can forcibly tear my clothes of if they think my outfit is a bit silly. I don’t want to live in a world where people seek to justify that in any way.

This is wrong, thoroughly wrong. It must never happen again.
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Thanks to @alxsm for linking me to the story and @Orbsan for the local news article.


The Tories, marriage and families: why are they removing choice?

“Choice” is a word beloved by our not-exactly-elected masters in Westminster. Almost always, when it is trotted out it means anything but choice. It means we are forced to eat a punnet of warm turds because it’s better than the wheelbarrow of kebab-chunder that’s also on the menu. This behaviour is hardly limited to the pantomime we’re told we voted for: society often forces certain default options upon us.

It is becoming abundantly clear, though, that the Tories are determined to remove all semblance of choice from the decision to marry, and we shall all have to marry whether we like it or not. It’s hard to identify exactly where it started, as so much policy in the last year and a half has been directed towards getting people married and forcing them to stay in marriages.

There are the carrots. The government has declared that it will bring in full same-sex marriage, meaning gay monogamous couples can be as married as heterosexual monogamous couples and therefore marriage statistics will jump up. They brought in a tax break for married couples, a little deal-sweetener to put a ring on it. This tax break cost around £550-600 million: which, coincidentally is identical to the figure which was cut from Educational Maintenance Allowance. The tax cut is a clear statement of priorities: fuck the future of our young people, let’s keep people married.

Then there are the sticks. Separating couples will be forced to pay to use the Child Support Agency, a stealth “tax” on divorce. In combination with cuts to Legal Aid, leaving a marriage suddenly becomes an expense which many cannot afford.

Finally, there is this: teaching children about “the nature of marriage and its importance to family life” has been written into the curriculum for free schools and academies. Very little is compulsory in free school curricula: they have to teach the general English, maths, science and RE, but the rest is supposedly completely open for the schools to decide (which is problematic in and of itself, and there are myriad  problems with free schools and academies, but that’s another issue for another day). Marriage, however, has been plopped firmly and prominently on the agenda. Not any other form of relationship, just marriage. Rather ironically, this provision is called Clause 28, a clear parallel with the last time the Tories decided to impose  control on how people had relationships.

Put all of these threads together and a picture emerges: this government is obsessed with trapping people in an antediluvian social arrangement. Even before he was elected, David Cameron was farting on about “family values” and how they would somehow magically solve all of the problems in the world.    These family values translate as something very simple indeed: the classic nuclear family with a breadwinner daddy and a nurturing mummy raising a generation of fresh young Tories. The cuts are hitting women disproportionately, forcing them into greater dependence on spouses. It is hard to believe that this was not by design. Marriage, as has been identified by many before me, serves to reinforce the conservative social order.

So why frenzied drive to remove any choice about how to build a family?

Perhaps it is to do with perceived scarcity: the mythical pot of money which is empty to all unless they are a friend of the Tories. Consider the perpetual bile directed at single mothers, who, if the media and politicians are to be believed, are almost wholly responsible for a financial crisis and are stealing All Of The Money to feed their crack habits. These are women who, for whatever reason, have chosen to raise their children outside of the approved model for a family and are vilified for doing it. It scares the conservative system, and so they are scapegoated.

Similar misdirected aggression is thrown at immigrants, who are apparently stealing all the jobs and all the benefits. Once again, this is nothing more than scapegoating: they are the Jews poisoning the wells, the reds under the beds. The scapegoating is down to nothing more than xenophobia. This is accompanied by hidden, dog-whistle racism from the tabloids, screaming loudly about the number of immigrants and how “British identity” is disappearing. Somehow “family values” are tied in Britishness, as though only certain people may ever breed in certain ways.

I find my lizard brain recoiling at all of this. The rampant scapegoating, the insistence on regressive family values; it reminds me of something utterly terrifying. Rising right-wing ideology has been linked to a perception of scarcity, and these are the times in which we live. Most people believe that there isn’t enough to go round. It is unclear whether the politicians likewise agree, but their social policy and rhetoric certainly seem to be rooted in the “scarcity” line. The great irony is, there is plenty for everyone if only it were distributed fairly. Instead of pursuing this, society is moulded into a shape which suits those in charge.

The policy towards marriage is all about control and removal of choice, whatever its function. It is about the tentacles of the state wrapping themselves around any relationships, choking love until it is a mere legal contract. If we are lucky, it is nothing more than a perverted Tory fascination with how people live and love. If we are not lucky, this is only the beginning.


Jeremy Clarkson is not funny

Yesterday, millions of public sector workers went on strike. There was remarkable support for the industrial action–even the Daily Mail was polling 84% support. Most people, it would seem, are behind the idea that we should treat our public sector workers as human beings.

Enter Jeremy Clarkson, professional troll who is largely famous for driving cars and being a dripping fuckstain. Clarkson is not one of the vast majority who support the strikes. Quite the opposite, in fact. On never-watched light entertainment The One Show, he declared that strikers should be shot. He clarified with “they should be executed in front of their families.”

Naturally, the tosser brigade have leapt to Clarkson’s defence, declaring that it must be a joke, that he was being somehow “funny”, and the outcry was down to pearl-clutching from humourless hummus-munchers. It’s the last resort of the dribbling wanker, declaring that anyone who is not amused by a brazen display of utter dickery must be boring.

Rest assured, any hummus munchers who are not tickled by Clarkson’s “joke”. You are neither boring, nor humourless. The fact is, what Clarkson proposed flies in the face of what is actually counted as humour.

The truth is, we’re not entirely sure why (most) humans have a sense of humour and laugh at jokes. Evolutionary psychology suggests it’s because it gets us laid. Others suggest it’s a natural reaction to fear being relieved. Perhaps the theory with most research associated, though, is Incongruity Theory.

Incongruity Theory started with philosophy superhero Immanuel Kant, though has since continued into a rich body of research with many offshoots. It proposes that humour is the state of realising incongruity between a concept in a certain situation and the real objects which are thought to be related to the concept. To demonstrate, here are two potentially funny scenarios:

1. Jeremy Clarkson dies in a horrible car crash

2. Jeremy Clarkson is found dead following a tragic wanking accident with three quarters of a bicycle lodged into his rectum.

Chances are, you found the bicycle-bumming scenario far funnier than the car crash scenario. This is because the likelihood of Clarkson going near a bike, let alone incorporating it into an experimental wank, is highly improbable. It is incongruous, and the theory proposes that this is where humour comes from. Humour, according to this theory, can only happen when there is something unexpected, something surreal, something bizarre, something different from reality.

Clarkson’s declaration that strikers should be shot is not particularly incongruous with reality. History and the present are riddled with stories of people taking industrial action and ending up murdered by the forces in power, in precisely the way Clarkson lays out in his “joke”. In the present day UK, the likelihood of shooting strikers is becoming frighteningly more plausible. The police are already being authorised to use weapons of greater lethality in public order situations. Following the riots, a third of British people were baying for the use of live ammunition. Last winter, the police smugly backpatted themselves for not shooting student protesters. Shooting strikers is worryingly congruous with reality, and therefore thoroughly unfunny.

Of course, the joke may still amuse some. It will amuse those whose schema of reality cannot possibly perceive use of violence by the state to attack dissenters as a remotely plausible threat. It will amuse those whose minds are anaesthetised by endless rolling Sky News, growing fat on the lies fed to them by a dangerous system. It will amuse those with a vested interest in maintaining a system from which they benefit, counting wealth gained from forcing workers into ever worse conditions. It will amuse Clarkson himself, paid millions of public pounds, who will never have to face the terrifying possibility of ageing in poverty.

To most of us, though, this joke is not funny. It is a bleak vision of our future.


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