Wednesday 31 August 2016

Do not disturb

We should all be exposed to the widest possible range of ideas and opinions, so our knowledge of the world and other people is as complete as it can be. So I'm not in favour of the arbitrary censorship of supposedly "undesirable" and "dangerous" ideas.

Which is why I strongly support the University of Chicago's statement that it won't go along with such censorship, whether it's trigger warnings on books with "disturbing" content, no-platforming of "offensive" speakers, or the existence of "safe spaces" free of upsetting opinions.

All these things are contrary to their commitment to academic freedom, says the university.

Unfortunately the statement has been leapt on by those whose life is dedicated to mocking what they call "political correctness". Or what the rest of us call treating people decently and not crapping on them. So there's a reluctance to say that in this case the anti-PC brigade may have a point.

In general I find the whole concept of "political correctness" odious and mischievous, an ongoing attempt to resist greater equality and maintain elitism and privilege. Same-sex marriages? Transgender folk in the "wrong" bathroom? All-women short lists? Whatever next? It's political correctness gone mad!

However it seems to me that what the University of Chicago and other universities are resisting isn't "political correctness" but something much more familiar - over protectiveness.

They're not opposing tiresome bans and restrictions so much as the over protective indulgence of students too squeamish to deal with ideas and opinions very contrary to their own. Instead of hearing out those ideas and evaluating them, they want to shut them out and pretend they don't exist. Sorry, but that just ain't possible.

There's nothing radical or progressive about trying to silence people you don't agree with. It's much smarter to check out those opposing ideas and then comprehensively demolish them. Listen politely, then whip the rug from under their feet.

Sunday 28 August 2016

Marmite and sponge cake

As I've probably said before, I don't feel at all "British" and I don't understand those who do. The word means such totally different things to different people, I'm not even sure what I'd be identifying with.

One journalist suggests it means Wimbledon, the Shipping Forecast, Marmite, Shakespeare, Royal Weddings and Mary Berry's Victoria sponge. Goodness knows why he picked that particular combination. In any case, I have no interest in any of those things except Marmite. So does that mean I'm disgracefully un-British?

None of the things I'm actually interested in - like fiction, coffee, music, art, foreign food, ceramics - are exclusively British but come from all over the world. Which surely makes me Global or International rather than British.

Neither do I feel British in the sense that Britain is better than any other nation. That's an absurd idea. Every nation has its virtues and vices, Britain included. How can the country of rampant porn, horrendous online abuse, widespread poverty and soaring personal debt be better than any other country?

If feeling British means defending all those wonderful traditions foreigners are undermining with their weird primitive beliefs, then obviously I don't subscribe to that idea either.

Or we're expected to feel fervently British if someone British has excelled at something. When Team GB did so brilliantly at the Olympics, we were told we should be "proud of ourselves", as if I was personally responsible for such prowess. Er no, it had nothing whatever to do with me. They just happen to have similar passports.

The fact is I have a British passport only because I was born in Britain. Beyond that arbitrary accident of birth, "British" means nothing but a confusing bundle of quaint and irrelevant stereotypes.

British? Thanks, but no thanks.

Sunday 21 August 2016

Big fib

As you grow older you're supposed to leave behind all those excruc-iating anxieties and uncertain-ties and naiveties of childhood and become sophisticated, confident and fearless. Well, I'm still waiting for that magical transformation - so far there's precious little sign of it.

Judging by what I hear, I suspect that's the case with most people. They may look to have morphed into emotional and mental maturity, but only because they've learnt to hide all the helpless fumbling and put on a public front of seamless self-assurance.

It seems to me that instead of vanishing, those crippling anxieties and certainties simply revolve around something different. Instead of anxieties about sexual inexperience or exam questions, you uncover anxieties about losing your job or defaulting on the mortgage. Or if you're getting on a bit, anxieties about declining health or all your friends dying.

The idea that adulthood brings poised cool-headedness is no doubt a soothing belief when you're in the midst of teenage angst and desperately wanting it to end, but the reality is rather different. In any case, you only have to look at your own flustered, confused parents to realise there's no such enviable maturity to look forward to.

But it's somewhat reassuring to learn that since most people you meet are secretly haunted by nagging anxieties and doubts of their own, you can feel entirely equal to them and not be fooled by their phoney aplomb.

I don't think I ever seriously believed I would miraculously blossom into a perfectly composed adult sailing through every tricky situation. It was pretty obviously a big fib, along with the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and the man in the moon.

Sunday 14 August 2016

Gender bender

I don't share the view that drag queens are sexist and offensive and mock women. A few of them maybe, but surely the great majority have nothing against women and are simply playing with the idea of femininity.

Most of them are obviously just having a laugh by sending up the whole female stereotype of tight dresses, dizzy heels, big hair and massive tits. Or they're simply enjoying wearing clothes they can't normally wear. Or they're seeing what it's like not being masculine for a while.

Okay, some drag queen performers make a point of insulting and belittling women, but then so do a lot of straight comedians. It's not drag that's sexist, it's women-hating individuals who happen to be in drag. Big difference.

The great thing about drag (or cross dressing) is the way it subverts the usual gender norms. You expect to see a bloke in the standard male outfit of suit and tie - or shirt and jeans - and suddenly there's a guy in a sequinned frock, blonde hair down to his waist and bright red lipstick.

That can only be good in a society where gender stereotypes are still so rigid that anyone who wears clothes of the "wrong gender" gets a rough ride.

I guess the most famous drag queen is RuPaul, and I don't recall anyone accusing him of being anti-women.

The other thing drag queens are accused of is making straight men "uncomfortable". Well, if that means they're disconcerted by men who don't wear what they're supposed to wear and flaunt their unorthodox clothing, that's fine by me. We all need to question these suffocating dress codes that stop us being what we want to be.

"Drag is a sarcastic spoof on culture, which allows us to laugh at ourselves" - RuPaul

Pic: Ireland's very own Panti Bliss

Thursday 11 August 2016

Raging epidemic

It's the elephant in the room. It goes on all the time - in homes, on the street, in workplaces, at public events. It's a raging epidemic nobody is able to control. Yet ordinary folk like you and me seldom discuss it.

Physical, verbal and emotional harassment of women. Going on everywhere you look, sometimes stealthily, sometimes quite blatantly. Every day of the week.

Men don't want to discuss it because they'd rather pretend it doesn't exist. Or they don't want to admit they're guilty of it. Or they keep silent out of male solidarity.

Women don't want to discuss it because they've already discussed it to death. Or because so many men trivialise it and excuse it that complaining is pointless. Or because it's too degrading and humiliating to talk about.

It's not going to stop until society as a whole takes it seriously. Until there's a zero tolerance attitude. Until all the men in positions of responsibility veto such behaviour from their employees instead of turning a blind eye or condoning it. Or doing it themselves.

It's not going to stop until it's treated as the disgusting, perverted, dehumanising activity that it is. Until it's seen as a sickness, an addiction, a mental disorder. Until those concerned are ostracised and condemned.

It's not going to stop as long as men see it as harmless banter, as a joke, as normal male behaviour, as something that impresses other men, as something women are gagging for really, or as something women have invited.

I hate misogyny of any kind. Men who indulge in it sicken me. I don't want anything to do with them. They need to wake up, smell the coffee, and treat women with the respect and courtesy all human beings have a right to.

Friday 5 August 2016

Feet of clay

Hero worship is a funny thing. Generally rational, sensible people pledge their allegiance to someone, and henceforth that person is so perfect they can do no wrong. If you voice the mildest criticism of their idol, they go bananas.

Can they not see that everyone has feet of clay, everyone has personal failings and hang-ups, that absolutely nobody is perfect? Apparently not.

The cult-like worship of the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is a case in point. His thousands of supporters, aka Corbynistas, are quite sure he can walk on water, that he is a political genius, and any setbacks are always the fault of someone else.

Anyone who suggests Jeremy is falling down on the job, that he's not an effective leader, that he's not doing enough to woo the voters, is treated to a hail of abuse and venom as if they had insulted the Queen.

There are plenty of similar "heroes" whose fans jump on critics like a ton of bricks. Like Caitlyn Jenner or Lady Gaga or Margaret Thatcher. They're put on an artificial pedestal they simply don't deserve.

As a teenager, I was a bit of a hero-worshipper myself. First it was rock stars like the Beatles and the Stones, then it was fashionable rebels like the psychiatrist Ronnie Laing, the black activist Angela Davis and militant feminists like Germaine Greer.

But you would expect adulthood to bring a more realistic view of the world and the realisation that there are no heroes, only fallible mortals who get drunk and swear and make colossal blunders the same as the rest of us. Nobody but nobody is a pure and saintly human being, and treating them as if they are is just idiotic.

I can safely say I haven't hero-worshipped anyone for decades, and I'm astonished at the number of people who do. I threw away the rose-tinted spectacles some time ago.