Sunday, 8 January 2017

The Social Acceptability List 2016

Another year whipped by, and it turned out to be a year like no other. Rulebooks are being burned and ripped up and rewritten, and what’s deemed acceptable has become a game of trial and error. The Overton Window has been stretched, but perhaps only for those with the most vocal following. So what’s in and what’s out? The Fallen in Public look at our politicians, newspapers and netizens - What’s in? What’s out? What’s OK? What’s not? Read on to find out...

IT'S IN! Scaring the shit out of people

AT THEIR BEST, CLOWNS ARE UNSETTLING, BUT IN 2016 THEY WENT TERRIFYING. The killer clown craze, starting in the USA, later embraced in the UK, Canada and Australia was born by social media, and boosted by the constantly mortified traditional media, putting fear or joy into readers' hearts depending on their blood pressure.
A harmless prank or a menace? Why not both?
Clowns with knives were seen, lending weight to the theory that these are a new breed of terrorist; panic that paedophiles and sexual molesters might disguise themselves as clowns spread in the news, which would be a strange occurrence because these sorts tend to have more success when they disguise themselves as people.

How coincidental is it that this craze occurred in 2016? ‘You have no right not to be scared’ weirdly parallels the ‘you have no right to not be offended’ jibe coming from the anti-liberals on Twitter, or those who wear T-shirts saying ‘Does my American flag offend you? Call 1-800-LEAVE-THE-USA’. It’s been a year of victory for those that scaring the shit out of people, being offensive, being unkind and inconsiderate, all for kicks is appropriate because it’s not illegal. Don’t like it? Deal with it.

Even scarier were the clowns on the TV – Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage, and Donald Trump – proving once and for all that clowns aren’t funny but just give you nightmares.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Social Acceptability List 2016

Another year whipped by, and it turned out to be a year like no other. Rulebooks are being burned and ripped up and rewritten, and what’s deemed acceptable has become a game of trial and error. The Overton Window has been stretched, but perhaps only for those with the most vocal following. So what’s in and what’s out? The Fallen in Public look at our politicians, newspapers and netizens - What’s in? What’s out? What’s OK? What’s not? Read on to find out...

IT'S IN! Strongmen
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue, shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Donald Trump

After thirty years of whinging, sensitive liberals ruling the world, it’s time for the Strongmen. Packaged and sold as the answer to all problems, strongmen are being chosen by their populations to halt the liberal march towards doom, with its nightmarish vision of people getting along. The strongmen of choice are headed by president-elect Donald Trump and his Russian friend, the indestructible Vladimir Putin, but others are making their mark: Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in 2013 a mere Prime Minister, when he began the plans for replacing Gezi Park with a shopping centre. Protests followed, and took on a hue of anger directed not only at redevelopment misery, but other concerns about the direction of this proudly democratic Islamic country, an issue that many had seen coming given Erdogan’s history and right-wing Islamic ideology. But Erdogan’s crackdown and his authoritarian figure must have delighted some, because he was elected president the next year. After blaming a coup on Fethullah G├╝len, who lives safely in the USA, Erdogan’s relationship with Obama cooled, and with Putin, warmed, despite shooting down the latter's plane earlier in the year.

On the other side of the planet the Philippines elected Rodrigo Duterte, who unleashed ‘death squads’ to murder suspected drug dealers and users. Unrepentant, Duterte defended himself against ‘corrupt’ journalists and their questions, called Obama a ‘son of a whore’, and made friendly waves across the sea towards China. Strike 2 for America’s hopeful first black president.

China’s president Xi, while far gentler in tone than his brethren, is championed at home as a strongman - the great counterweight to America’s might - and also has in his corner the added kudos of not even pretending to be democratic.

While the UK hasn’t quite elected one, much of the political muscle has been provided by our very own autocrat-in-waiting, Nigel Farage, who’s fast learned that demagoguery can be sought and found and enacted without the need of the ballot box. Wearing the mask of a democrat, he ran his party like Mao and uses headline grabbing controversies to get his name out, rather than reason or debate. After bemoaning Obama’s involvement in the UK/EU referendum as meddling in UK affairs, he went and did the same thing in the USA. All the while getting the benefit of the doubt from our media.

Having realised that neither bigotry nor lies can dent his appeal, Farage went hypocrisy crazy by endorsing Trump’s mad suggestion that he would be a great ambassador. If only all authoritarian leaders could pick their ambassadors, hey Nige. Over Christmas he worked Berlin’s terrorist attack into his favourite political cause (destroying the EU) and called Brendan Cox an extremist for supporting the anti-extremist organisation, Hope Not Hate. On Christmas Day, this ‘defender of Christian values’ told his Twitter followers to ‘ignore’ the ‘negative’ Archbishop of Canterbury, as if Farage’s followers weren’t already ignoring those who call for peace, understanding and unity.

With more trouble coming, al la Brexit, Farage will be poised to make it the fault of liberals and elected politicians, rather than himself. He might just do it. For these strongmen aren’t just winging it – they’ve managed to get the ears of the electorates, seizing the vacuum of trust in the political establishment. Their self-consciously anti-pc language is cheered on as it gets on liberals’ nerves. Even lies and hypocrisy are applauded as long as liberals are being hounded – the strongmen act as leaders of movements in which the liar lies on behalf of the mob, fighting for what they think is a bigger cause. Populations in fear grant their leaders this licence.

Much talk of late on democracy, people power and how important it is. It’s one of the few things which simply cannot be questioned. But the rise of the strongmen shows that people, albeit unconsciously, are desperate to be led, and to have blind faith that the leader’s cruel worlds will only manifest in actions which affect others. Democratic authoritarianism is in!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

The Social Acceptability List 2016

Another year whipped by, and it turned out to be a year like no other. Rulebooks are being burned and ripped up and rewritten, and what’s deemed acceptable has become a game of trial and error. The Overton Window has been stretched, but perhaps only for those with the most vocal following. So what’s in and what’s out? The Fallen in Public look at our politicians, newspapers and netizens - What’s in? What’s out? What’s OK? What’s not? Read on to find out...


Experts: “I think people in this country have had enough of experts.” Michael Gove, 2016.

Give me your academics, your economists, your huddled central bankers yearning to speak free, the wretched refuse of your teeming think tanks. And bind and gag them and throw them out to sea. If 2016 was anything, it was the year that people stopped listening to people who know more about things than they do, and this distrust – this victory of blind gut instinct – has been celebrated. This is a victory of the little people, said Nigel Farage, self-appointed king of the little people.

It’s been a long time coming. Experts have been ushered onto news panels next to politicians and pundits for some time now, and as the latter two’s trust has waned over the years, it’s no surprise that the third has been condemned. Digital media has done its part by making everyone a journalist (read expert) and most analyses condensable into 142 characters. An entire thesis can be cast in to the bin with one comment below the line: “What is this shit?”

After two years of surprise results in the UK and the US, pollsters were the first to look daft. If they can get it wrong, pundits wondered, maybe all experts are wrong? And maybe, just maybe, the opposing position to that of experts is correct by definition. Yep, find out what experts think, and choose the other option – that’s where we’re at. “Experts built the Titanic,” noted an insightful caller on Radio 2.

Economists have been making bad predictions for all of eternity; it’s not their fault if politicians have presented them as cast iron guarantees, rather than a collection of estimates within set parameters. But economic orthodoxy, faith in the neoliberal model, has no doubt blinded economists to failures: the IMF, the ECB and central banks in the West have been peddling neoliberal economic policy (austerity, privatisation, deregulation, etc.) regardless of evidence contrary to its expectations, and evidence of poor results. The reason? Too many rich people are doing too well.

You’d expect the cynics of economic experts to be crying out against neoliberalism, right? Well, curiously enough Michael Gove hasn’t gone this far, perhaps because the economic consensus, the one he’s been telling people to ignore, is largely based on policies made possible and popular by one Margaret Thatcher, and are rather close to his heart.

The depth of the anti-economist jibe is this: they didn’t see the financial crash coming; they haven’t fixed the euro. And look at Greece – eeww. Who could argue with that? A child can understand it.

The distrust extends to the high reaches of academia, charged with being left-wing brainwashers by a McCarthyist press, the judiciary, labelled ‘enemies of the people’ by the Daily Mail for making judgements on constitutional law, and international organisations like NATO, the UN, the International Criminal Court. These post WW2 organisations are a pain in the ass for Russia, China and Israel, and now America has a president who’ll finally sympathise.
Against the experts are pitted the people, the real people. "There's only one expert that matters, and that's you, the voter," Gisela Stuart of Vote Leave puked into a microphone earlier this year, in a wonderful celebration of 2016, the year when truth and knowledge went relative.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Social Acceptability List 2016

Another year whipped by, and it turned out to be a year like no other. Rulebooks are being burned and ripped up and rewritten, and what’s deemed acceptable has become a game of trial and error. The Overton Window has been stretched, but perhaps only for those with the most vocal following. So what’s in and what’s out? The Fallen in Public look at our politicians, newspapers and netizens - What’s in? What’s out? What’s OK? What’s not? Read on to find out...
IT'S IN: Walls!


Walls are back! Some thought that walls had had their day, but they were wrong.

The Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall and the Wailing Wall are great historical walls of fear, division and protection, and so are our contemporary walls. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 signifying the end of capitalist/communist, east/west, democratic/authoritarian divisions, the presumed new order was to be one of unfettered (as much as humanly possible) trade and travel, typified in institutions like the EU. Liberal democracy was the answer, it was said – problem solved. But with capital flight, gentrification, outsourcing and (deep breath) immigration, along with other traits of neoliberal capitalism – wage stagnation, job insecurity, etc. – western populations have rediscovered their love of being boxed in.

It’s no great surprise that immigration tends to be the big villain. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign wallowed in the dirty language of xenophobia, promising to build a wall to keep out Mexicans. Britain doesn’t need a wall to keep out Europeans, because we already have a moat, but the sentiments were the same: fear of outsiders coming to wreak havoc and steal jobs. The simplest answers are given for the most complex of problems, and what could be simpler than a wall? If Ukip ran on a ticket of widening the moat, they’d surely sail to victory.

The EU has an external border, but since 2015 temporary internal borders have been reintroduced all around France and in certain areas around Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Going rogue, Hungary has been whipping up walls, one alongside its non-EU neighbour Serbia; one alongside its ‘open border’ neighbour Romania. The EU external border is gradually becoming more rigorously fortified.

Not one to be left out, Britain has joined in the effort to combat the Migrant Crisis because she is beginning to feel the effects, and so in an effort to stop refugees and better life-seekers from getting into trucks and getting into the UK, Britain has built a wall in Calais, one kilometre long. It’s a classic example of treating the symptoms rather than the causes. Perhaps they are practicing for the post-Brexit world, which could include a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and maybe, if all hell really breaks loose and Scotland goes independent, one there too! I’m guessing no one will want to talk about causes there too.
Walls are nothing if not symbolic, and sometimes you can have the symbolic aspect without the physical thing. So non-tangible walls are on the up too: London is seen as an out-of-touch enclave of Liberal Metropolitan Elitists; Washington is a swamp which Trump has promised to drain; European provincials are unsure whether they should hate Berlin or Brussels more; Russians and Ukrainians despise one another; the English think the Scots are taking their money, the Scots think the English are taking their freedom; the British young blame the British old for taking them out of the EU; liberals blame bigots for taking them out of the EU; bigots blame politicians, globalists and soppy wet liberals for creating an EU that had to be left, and my gran blames everyone for everything. Extremely high, albeit imaginary, walls separate all sides.

And the digital world makes it super easy to discover just how hated you are. Social media is rife with communities which communicate in echo chambers, learning how to use keywords to separate their friends and their foes – libtards, Brexiteers, Remoaners, Leavers, Remainers, MSM, Daily Hate, Guardianistas, ‘out of touch’, progressives, ‘regressives’, control, ‘religion of peace’, ‘waycist’. The internet, striving to replicate and re-present the anxieties of the real world and doing a damn fine job.

Monday, 26 December 2016

The Social Acceptabilty List 2016

Last Christmas, we gave you a list. The Social Acceptability List 2015 sought to reflect on a year of social discourse; how certain concepts, words and things moved towards or away from the so-called Overton Window. The list was this:

It was in!

islamophobia, war, voting out the box, ties with china, shaming

It was out!

privilege, global warming denial.

A year on, we’re able to see how things have changed, or haven't. Islamophobia’s still riding high with burkini bans in France and “Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on”. War, too, is ever popular, with the one in Syria reaching what appears to be a disastrous climax.

The social activism of ‘shaming’ and ‘checking one’s (or another’s) privilege’ has continued, and the tactics and concepts of the left have spread to the right: the so-called white male’s fightback is simply identity politics without the understanding of historical prejudices. Hence where privilege last year was out, it’s now in. The Identitarian Movement of Europe, and the Alt-right movement in the US, seek power in their white, male identities in the same way that Beyonce found it in her black, female one.  

Voting out the box (Syriza, Podemos, Ukip, Corbyn...) was big in 2015 but 2016 has been defined by it, specifically by Brexit and Trump – two votes which threaten to throw entire societies into the wilderness. 2016 has been marked by a vocal disgust at those who have voted in this way, leading to debates about how and where people get their information. Those who question Facebook as a reliable news source and/or the Trump/Farage-led peddlers of deliberate mistruth and misrepresentation are told they are scornful of voters who warmed to it, and are, ultimately, undemocratic.

Finally, discussion of global warming has been drowned out by talk of other things, but conspiracies in general are up and global warming denial has been bolstered by Trump, who claimed that manmade global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to thwart the American economy. On the back of these loose words, and with a rise in protectionist economic policy sentiments, ties with China could be in question. Trump has taken a pop at China’s South China Sea militarisation, taken issue with China’s low valued currency, and taken a call from Tsai Yingwen, Taiwan’s independence-leaning president, hitting China precisely where it hurts.

After 2015’s glory year in Anglo-Chinese relations, typified in Xi Jinping’s romantic trip to David Cameron’s pub, and George Osborne’s glowing expectations of trade with the Chinese, 2016 has been full of stumbles. The Brexit vote has caused worry and bemusement in China, who value stability over pretty much everything. The new UK PM Theresa May ordered a review into the Chinese-backed Hinkley Point power station because of security concerns. But things settled down later: May went ahead with Hinkley (as if she had a choice), and China’s state-backed SinoFortone bought the pub chain that includes Cameron’s pub so Xi could toast this little victory.
Keep posted for the Social Acceptability List 2017!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Scourge Part 7.

Part 7: On Our Way.
It was freezing. Hellishly freezing. What have I got myself in for? I woke at 7 wearing vastly more clothes than I had fallen asleep in. Dave was making green tea and looked rosy and alert. After a few sips I too was rosy. It was the first day of the walk, and we were almost on our way.
“A little bread and Snickers, and we’ll be on our way!” said Dave, stretching in the morning sun. It looked to be a good one. The clouds were high and ruffled, like silk sheets, and the sun was in the east, hardly peeking over the mountains and hills which we were soon to cross.
It was a tad ironic that our first stint towards the east was to be spent heading northwest. This was to reach St. Bees Head, the most westerly point of North West England. Before that, we were obliged by tradition to soak our boots in the sea. Before that, however, something had come to my attention which needed attention. After that, we'll be on our way, I told myself.
A rare sequence of logic had occurred in my head during the cold night. My passport, which was now at the Belorussian embassy, was going to be sent to Dave’s house while we were away. It dawned on me that it might need to be signed for, and then it dawned on me that Dave’s girlfriend was not going to be in the house. This could be a problem.
“It’ll be fine,” Dave said. It was the reassurance of someone whose life wasn’t going to be affected whether it turned out fine or not.
“How?” I retorted.
“A neighbour could sign for it, or you pick it up from the depot or something.”
I bit off a nail. “If it goes back to the depot, I won’t be able to get it before I have to go to France.” My schedule was tight: return from the North on Saturday, leave on a giant trip to Beijing on train on Sunday. “I’m going to phone my mum, and then we’ll be on our way.”
It was 10:30 before we were on our way. I won’t bore you with the arduous and contradictory obstacles which conspired to thwart my humble attempts to secure my passport, save for the simple fact that it was torturous and Homeric in its scope. And it wasn’t over: I’d have to find times (and phone signal) to phone my parents, the Belorussian embassy and, now, my aunt, during the week.
By the time I’d made some kind of vague arrangement, I was too fed up to do the stupid boots-in-the-sea nonsense. I found Dave reading by the beach and joined him. “Fuck it,” I said, “let’s go.”
The beginning of the walk is marked by a plaque. We were going to take a photo next to this plaque when an extended family chortled up to it and began taking a range of photos, as one would at a wedding. The two of us stood patiently for a moment, with me and my newly heightened stress levels radiating a conspicuous aura of impatience, and then we left. I shook my head in appalled disgust at these wretched foes and their dimwittery. Photos!
We left and marched up the hill. The walk was immediately taxing, the incline and heavy bags putting strain on our hitherto untested shoulders. The extended family, who we’d by now named the Fellowship, were right behind us, chuckling and whooping. They overtook us when I phoned my parents again to talk more about passports, and we overtook them when they stopped to drink water. Every time we passed we engaged in a quintessentially British bit of theatre, remarking on the weather and the challenges ahead. This peaked when we reached a river, cut deep into the high rock which we had to descend to cross. There was a bridge at the bottom and a kissing gate. A naive walker such as myself didn’t know the term ‘kissing gate’; for those as ignorant as me, it’s a gate on a spring which pushes against a fence which has to be pushed open and squeezed past before you let the gate fling back against the fence. It’s like an airlock for the countryside, stopping animals roam freely. On the other side of the gate and the river, Dave stopped to apply sun cream.
“They’re coming,” I warned him under my breath. But it was too late.
“Here we are again!” laughed the approaching woman, currently spearheading the Fellowship. With three generations, ranging from about 55 to twelve, they were surprisingly spritely. Embarrassingly so.
“Waiting for us at the kissing gate!” another woman chuckled.
“We’ll have to stop meeting like this!” said a man, presumably some kind of uncle, who’d begun to enjoy the euphemistic shenanigans.
“We couldn’t resist,” I said.
They stopped this time to exchange backgrounds. We explained that we were from London (which isn’t strictly true but makes the conversation simpler) and this is our first big walk. They were more local than us, from Coventry, and one in their ranks had done it before. This time, they planned only to walk half way. They all had two walking sticks each, which looked professional but seemed, to us, superfluous. As for the kids, it was their first time doing a long-distance walk, and although they shrieked with delight and a zest for adventure, I pitied them.
“See you next time!” Dave yelled as they strolled up the valley, before lamenting to me in a quieter tone, “We’ll never be rid of them.” Wanting to escape the Fellowship was no trifling matter: our grand visions of the untamed country, the rugged path trodden down by a couple of silent, hardy wanderers, was not aided by the happy-go-luckiness of an extended family high on fresh air and good spirits. It was far too nice.
The next time we passed them we did it at such speed that I was tempted to make race car sounds as we overtook. We’d gotten our act together, with water and sun cream and snacks all in reaching distance. Bag straps were all tightened and our march was seriously on; it was our Nazgul to the Fellowship on the next hill. This time, we’d decided, we’d leave them for dust.
We achieved this, and spent another two hours hugging the cracked clifftop walking north. The rock was red and aged, freckled with clumps of grass. We considered the few sheltered spots hidden in the sloping grassland, weighing them up for potential camping spots, practicing for the coming evenings. Across the Irish Sea was the Isle of Man and the peaks of southern Scotland, and besides us was St. Bees Lighthouse, which has been guiding the local ships in some form since 1718. The one we were passing was built in 1822 after the previous had met its fate in the embers of a fire which killed the lighthouse keeper’s wife and their five children. An image of the Fellowship huddled in the corner under a blanket of smoke flashed across my mind – I couldn’t help it. On that note, we banked eastwards and said goodbye to the coast. Finally, we agreed, we were on our way.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Scourge of the Trail, Part 6

Previously on The Scourge (link to part 1)

Part VI: St. Bees.

Virgin Trains – they look fast, with that sloped front and stripes down the side, but they’re not. Fast enough to kill you if you crash, yes, but not fast enough to get to Carlisle in less than four hours. By any standard that’s not a good deal – if something is going to be dangerous, it should at least be efficient.
It was five before we wandered out into the citadel of Carlisle. We had half an hour to waste here before our connection to St. Bees, so we bought coffee, newspapers and sandwiches and wandered around the city gates. Being on the border of England and Scotland, the gift shops are all full of Scottish souvenirs. It was comforting to know that I could come away with Scottish souvenirs without having to set foot in actual Scotland. I wondered if there were English souvenir shops just over the border on the Scottish side.
In the news, the hitherto peripheral figure of Jeremy Corbyn was making seismic leaps towards political leadership, and astonishing pundits in the process; and a British scientist was being ripped apart by the lions of social media for making an ill-advised joke about women.
As we debated the efficacy with which a slip-up can turn into a career-threatening scandal, our train came and very nearly went. Carlisle station confused us and we found ourselves, heavy bags and all, clambering along the platform hunting for our train. It was hidden on one of those special little platforms, saved for the loser trains which the other trains don’t like. All the cool trains went to London, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh. Ours, a rickety contraption, perhaps one of the first trains to have been ever rolled out back in the 18th century when Britain was in the throes of empire, contained only the poor sods that time left behind, who had no choice but to venture, or return, to the bitter countryside; and the two poorest sods, all going to one destination: St. Bees.
We entered St. Bees cuddling the fields, looking over the Irish Sea towards the Isle of Man and a rocky-looking Scotland to the north. With these chunky bags, I felt conspicuous. I could hear the locals’ thoughts: another couple of city boys doing the Coast to Coast. Bet they won’t last a day.
Dave, being the man with the book, was responsible for finding places to stay. Coast to Coast not only gives you maps, but also a roundup of reputable accommodation in any given place, complete with a little review of facilities, price, and phone number. Our first night was to be spent, for a cool £6 each, in the garden at Stonehouse Farm on a delightful patch of grass overseen by a blond chap who sounded, to Dave’s ears, like his uncle. It was all very homey.
It was our first time putting up tents and we were grateful to have no one watching us, judging our ineptitude. Pegs were getting lost and bent, and refusing to go in the ground. Arms were too weak to force them. Poles were being thrown around, as were muttered expletives. Half an hour later, however, we were able to look with pride at our new homes, Dave’s palace and my pod.
The weather had turned, and a brisk wind had picked up. We flip-flopped down to the beach to take a look at the sea. The water was wholly uninviting, and we put off the C2C ritual of stepping in it until tomorrow. We found the Queen’s Head and I had a fish and chips while Dave had a vegetarian curry. We savoured it as if it were our last, for we were sure it would be. Back in the tent, our ‘kitchen’ awaited.
I read The Whitehaven News which told of the attempts of workers at Sellafield nuclear plant to save their jobs, and the contestants for Miss North West Great Britain, for which local farmyard animals were added to make up the numbers. It was also reported that hundreds of moon jellyfish had washed up on the beach at St. Bees, and the advice, against all popular remedy beliefs, was not to piss on the sting. Another story was about selficide – the act of dying while taking a selfie. People were electrocuting themselves, falling into ravines, getting run over by trains, and so on; and the craze was catching on all over the world. “Don’t take selfies,” Dave told me with authority. “It’s simply not worth the risk.”
“I suppose it’s comeuppance for an immoral act of narcissism,” I mused.
Sadly for me, the camera on my phone was half broken, meaning only the selfie shot worked. To take a picture of something, I had to take a ‘selfie’ and then awkwardly remove my self from the frame. This was a bit of a balancing act even of steady, safe ground, but on a windy mountain top...
“You’re going to die,” said Dave, and took a sip of IPA.
I considered this for a moment. “Fuck it,” I said. “I’m getting a beer.”
In darkness we reached the tents. A cat was in mine. I pushed him out and waddled in. The night air was brisk but my pod-tent kept the chills at bay. With my tiny torch a-fixed to my head, I read a Matsuo Basho haiku and went to sleep.
First winter rain,
I plod on,
Traveller my name.

Take me to Part 7.