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21 April 2011

OUTRAGE!

Apparently there’s ANOTHER ‘kiss-in’ at the John Snow tonight. It seems there are a lot of people willing to be mobilised against ‘homophobia’ without spending even a cursory amount of time investigating the origins of their ‘outrage’ and the actions they’re signing up to. The more I read about it, the more I am convinced that there was no homophobia in what happened (a summary explanation which I posted elsewhere is below.)

The surge in ‘Twitter outrage’ in the past year or so is incredibly bizarre. It only ever seems to reach a superficial level and rests entirely on a very narrow ‘liberal’ identity of self derived from identity politics. The ‘promised land’ seems to be a place where we can all live without offence rather than achieving any real equality (a significant, substantive equality which recognises class structures and economic power as primary, not who we have sex with.) I’m not sure if it’s pushing people to express opinions on things that they think little about or if it’s just giving a platform to people who have never tended to do this. Either way, it’s a bit dumb. I’ve said it before – for all the shouting about ‘equality’ that certain people do, their entire sense of identity would be lost forever if people *really* stopped giving a shit about people being gay.

Re: the ‘incident’ (it was in response to someone demanding further action so I’m tackling their points):

I’m afraid this is a perfect example of what I said when I wrote about people being outraged without actually bothering to check the details of what they’re outraged about! The version of events that has taken hold (a gay couple kissed and were forcibly ejected) bears little relation to what we’ve been told: - The info about the complainant is here: http://news.pinkpaper.com/NewsStory/5215/16/04/2011/man-who-sparked-john-snow-furore-claims-couple-were-fondling.aspx

Firstly, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there WAS a complainant. Previously we’d been led to believe that the landlord just took exception, not that a member of the public made a complaint. The complainant’s description of their behaviour tallies with what my friend told me. She said that most people were indeed rolling their eyes and thinking ‘get a room’, but if someone complains then clearly that places pressure on the pub to do something, right?

Secondly, and crucially, you’ll see that both the complainant *and the guy who tweeted when ejected from the pub* acknowledge that they WERE asked to tone it down, and remained in the pub for at least an hour afterwards. If this was a case of bar staff taking offence to gay people, why on earth would they not just eject them immediately?!

Thirdly, in the original story the guys involved said they ‘refused’ a request to moderate their behaviour. They said they told the person who came over to ‘turn around instead’ and ‘took little notice’ and continued to kiss ‘not in a confrontational way, just on the mouth’. That’s a bit different from the version in this story, where they stopped, stayed for an hour and then were randomly ejected.

Fourthly, again originally they described their behaviour as nothing more than a ‘peck on the lips’. One of the SUPPORTIVE witnesses described it ‘full-on snogging, but not heavy petting’.

Next - no-one ever suggested that the John Snow had contacted police or requested police remove them. The police involvement (which only seems to appear in some versions of the story) was that when they were arguing with the landlady, a man in the pub identified himself as a police officer, showed a badge and said they had to leave if she asked them to.

Some other points - I’ve no doubt similar things have happened in other Sam Smiths pubs - because similar things happen in pubs across the country. The implication that there is some Sam Smith-wide policy on gay kissing is risible and an insult to all of our intelligence. There are several Sam Smiths pubs in Soho, myself and many other gay friends regularly frequent many of them without incident. And I have seen straight people being asked to leave pubs after kissing before (not Sam Smiths ones, but I’ve never witnessed anyone being ejected from one of them that I can recall.)

Yes, I do think the people involved should know best - but a) there are so many inconsistencies that it’s impossible for any of us to know exactly what happened, least of all those now trying to destroy the pub b) I don’t think just because someone believes they’ve been discriminated against, it means they have been. If you were asked to leave a pub for kissing, of COURSE you’d be angry and indignant, whatever sexuality you are. It doesn’t mean you were asked to leave because you were gay (and indeed gay people get ejected from gay pubs.)

Lastly, yes it’s odd that no-one from the pub has made a statement, but I don’t think this can be used as some damning evidence of guilt. Because really, it snowballed so quickly that if the pub stuck to their guns, said they weren’t homophobic and had every right to eject the pair, the people who turned up to the kiss-in (and countless others) would be demanding their blood. Perhaps an apology would have satisfied everyone, perhaps not, but maybe they don’t feel the need to apologise and are being stubborn. As for Sam Smith, I imagine they feel at arms length from the situation given their heavy presence in Soho without incident and the fact that the landlord makes the rules about who comes in and who stays, not them

25 May 2011

Relationships, the gay world and ‘social networking’

…as part of an attempt at explaining why so many relationships (by which I mean friendships also) in the gay world (and wider, but it seems to be magnified here) are transitory, shallow and ultimately worthless. In one sense this isn’t anything new, but I think social networking has definitely made it more pervasive. People chat online - a form of dialogue which is very controlled and particular, where it is easy to project whichever image of yourself you want to see reflected back at you - and feel that they know each other. They then become ‘friends’ and hang out together, more often than not going out and drinking, but when it comes to it they don’t really know the slightest thing about each other and don’t really care about each other. The ‘real’ friendship becomes an extension of the online one, where the ultimate aim is to have a certain idea of yourself affirmed. I think the sad fact is that almost all of us have these kinds of relationships with some people; the even sadder thing is that I see entire groups of ‘friends’ who seem to have them with each other.

Then there is the fact that, even ten years ago, you would meet someone and get to know them over time. Now you meet someone (on those increasingly rare occasions where you meet someone outside of the online world) and then go off and start messaging them and chatting and making plans. Everything is sped up and perhaps we neglect the effort necessary to create that special connection that makes a relationship rewarding in the rush. Not to mention the fact that as soon as you meet someone these days all of your friends (and their friends) can and do swiftly move in and start messaging each other and nothing seems particularly intimate.

If there is any ‘point’ to life then surely right up there jostling for top position must be making connections with people and getting the rich rewards that come from that. In the gay world you see lots of people fucking each other then moving onto the next one, fucking them and then onto the next one. A revolving door that goes nowhere. Which is not to criticise promiscuity, but when you don’t even know why you are doing it and/or confuse it with intimacy, then something has gone wrong. Something that grows out of this is that you have heaps of people in relationships because they fancy each other and get along quite well - not because they feel amazing just being with each other, not because they think that the person they’re with is the best person in the world at that moment. They break up, feel sad for a day and then move onto the next one. It’s a place holding relationship to prevent people from being ‘alone’ and having to face up to the things they don’t like to think about, and their friends whose internal lives they know nothing about do the same and perpetuate it.

Make no mistake, these things have changed a lot even in the time I have been ‘an adult’. I cannot comprehend how a 16 year old must approach relationships now - is it essentially the same as when I was 16 (15 years ago!) with bolt-ons, or fundamentally altered, forever?

9 November 2011
7 March 2012
From the latest ‘Adbusters’, describing work of Antonio Damasio at USC. This struck me because I read a piece yesterday suggesting that research was showing that traditional concepts of morality and empathy were less valued by teenagers today. Obviously this is a hugely simplified take and nothing conclusive, but I’ve long thought that we’re not going to understand the impact of the internet on our humanity until we simply have to live with the results, be they positive or otherwise.

From the latest ‘Adbusters’, describing work of Antonio Damasio at USC. This struck me because I read a piece yesterday suggesting that research was showing that traditional concepts of morality and empathy were less valued by teenagers today. Obviously this is a hugely simplified take and nothing conclusive, but I’ve long thought that we’re not going to understand the impact of the internet on our humanity until we simply have to live with the results, be they positive or otherwise.

24 March 2012

Living off-camera

She doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk. There’s nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it’s off-camera? What point is there existing? 

Warren Beatty’s infamous quote from ‘Truth or Dare’ seems rather prescient with regards to our social media age. We have our own ‘cameras’ now and there is a very real sense of our actions being judged according to how ‘public’ they are. We let everyone know when we’re socialising; we let everyone know when we’re reading a book; we let everyone know when we’re doing charity work. I’m always wittering on about how we won’t know the affects of social media until it’s far too late to do anything about it. Will we end up with generations of extreme narcissists, acutely aware of how they are presenting themselves to the world, how they are perceived and acting accordingly? Perhaps it’s already happened and we’re all already there.

2 April 2012

Authoritarianism and social media

I’ve observed the 'storm' over the proposed monitoring of e-mail and social media with a sense of bemusement. It’s difficult to know which authoritarian proposal or action is going to ignite moral outrage these days, because so many pass with little comment. The 'Minority Report' pre-emptive arrests on account of the Royal Wedding were reported but quickly forgotten (and, judging by conversations with my own peers, many people remain unaware they ever happened). The authoritarian clampdown around the Olympics has been more widely reported but, again, doesn’t seem to have ‘caught on’ as an issue. In fact, it has inspired barely concealed reactionary sympathy from cuddly liberal icons. I think it’s also safe to say that many of those expressing outrage over the government’s plans were far more equivocal about state monitoring of communications and, indeed, state crackdowns in general, during the English riots.

What I’ve found really interesting, however, is that there has been an almost kneejerk response to these proposals because they involve the government (and in some quarters, a Conservative/Lib Dem government - let’s not forget that Labour were plenty authoritarian during their time in office). Because we don’t really have to look very far to believe that the state in its broader sense can easily ‘monitor’ online communication and, further, get the populace to do it for them. We all know the story of the guy reported, arrested, charged and convicted over his tongue-in-cheek ‘threat’ to blow up an airport. We all know because it was one of those things which ‘caught on’. It was a liberal cause, with Stephen Fry leading the charge.

Fry has played a leading role in many ‘twitter storms’. When Jan Moir wrote her silly, awful column about Stephen Gately, he again led the charge. As with Paul Chambers, people reported Moir to the police.

Then, last week, you have the jailing of Liam Stacey for racist tweets he posted regarding Fabrice Muamba. Stacey had less than 300 followers on Twitter and his vile comments would clearly never have been seen by the target, or indeed anyone beyond his followers, had they not been seized on and swiftly shared/commented on by thousands of others. Clearly, he deserved to be challenged. Yet, once again, he was reported to the police. He was apparently convicted of “a racially-aggravated public order offence to incite violence”. Who exactly was in danger of being incited to violence isn’t exactly clear; the avalanche of condemnation was swift and explicit. Yet people wanted his head - so much so that, bizarrely, many started posting screencaps and Youtube videos of his comments in order to ‘preserve the evidence’. You can still easily find these, post-conviction. The comments were vile, certainly, but no-one who seriously believed that they could ‘incite’ anything would share them further and long after the event (one of the Youtube videos, consisting solely of his tweets, has 100,000 views).

Of course, there is absolutely no equivalance between what Paul Chambers tweeted and what Liam Stacey did. This was reflected in the response to the involvement of the state in both cases: while the former inspired outrage, the latter inspired celebration or pointed disinterest. No one could defend Liam Stacey’s utterings and that made any broader implications of his conviction moot.

Yet the implications (if they weren’t already clear) were hammered home soon after when people began to question why we should stop with Stacey. Demanding similar action against homophobic utterances on social media sounds almost reasonable. However, when Louise Mensch was desperately trying to ignite a twitter storm over a Labour councillor’s tweet gloating over the death of Thatcher, many supporters compared it to ‘hate speech’ and, with grim inevitability, a few people tweeted that they had reported it to the police. The Guardian has had an implicit campaign of late regarding the ‘online abuse’ of female writers, with several writers arguing that this also is ‘hate speech’ and should be punishable in law.

This is the path we’re on - one where thoughts, comments, words, ‘threats’, deemed unacceptable by different sections of society, are pounced on and reported to the authorities. It’s almost always done in the name of ‘other people’ - protecting ‘other people’ from offence, the threat that ‘other people’ may be inspired to do bad deeds, the belief that ‘other people’ lack the ability to read these things in the same way that we do. Criticism of it is dismissed glibly, as if its rightness is so evident that anyone questioning it is already beyond help.

It reminds me of the panopticon . I’ve shared that article before - it links the concept of the panopticon to social media in relation to marketing and ‘capitalist realism’ but its relevance to this discussion is clear:

…inmates had to presume guards might be watching them at any given moment, which meant, according to Bentham, that they would have to behave as if they were being watched all the time. In this way, the Panopticon, by its very structure, created the effect of total surveillance, while allowing for actual surveillance to be intermittent and even absent.

The government doesn’t have to legislate for constant monitoring of our online communications. It doesn’t have to because we do it ourselves and we are so very quick to run to the state we don’t wish to monitor us when we see things we don’t like. This will always be justified with an appeal to the most indefensible of communication and the weakest of minds reading it - in the exact same way that governments justify their authoritarianism. Censorship and state control can be (and is) far more sophisticated and subtle than we tend to believe. If we are outraged by state ‘intrusion’ into our communications, we should all think about the role we play in it.

20 April 2012

Why Twitter is not a street and we’re not shouting

“YOU WOULDN’T SHOUT THAT AT SOMEONE ON THE STREET” is a favoured observation of many on Twitter who obsess about ‘trolling’ and online anonymity. Read any discussion about the issue and it’s bound to appear at some point. Yet it’s a completely bollocks analogy. Here’s why:

-          Twitter is a medium set-up to entirely encourage people to express their thoughts, opinions, activities. You wouldn’t walk down the street and shout to everyone ‘I AM GOING TO THE PUB’. You wouldn’t rush up to people and thrust an essay you had written on disability allowances in their face.

-          The reality is that people do say things in ‘real life’ which offend others and do say things which could be conceived as threats. Who hasn’t said ‘I am going to kill….’ or ‘…. is a dick’? The context is key. In person people take more notice of the context – the person saying it, the way they say it, whether it’s meant seriously, whether it’s said in anger. On Twitter many make absolutely no effort to do this and make zero allowances for the fact that people sometimes say stupid things, silly things, sarcastic things, things they regret etc etc. Really, think about this for a moment – I’m not ‘defending death threats’, but if someone is actually going to kill you, they’re probably not going to announce it to you on Twitter.

-          The analogy always suggests someone (usually a man) shouting at someone (usually a woman) who is passing by on the street. But it is frequently used against people who give criticism or insults to journalists, columnists, writers, directors etc in reaction to a piece of their work or something they’ve written online. These folk tend to have many more Twitter followers than most and receive copious praise for everything they put out. So, a more accurate (but still crap) street analogy would be someone walking along the street shouting ‘JENNIFER LOPEZ IS A BAD MOTHER’, with 100 people standing around them shouting ‘I AGREE’ and someone across the road shouting ‘YOU’RE A BLOODY IDIOT AND I HATE YOU’. Then the first speaker shouts ‘OMG YOU ARE SO RUDE’ and 20 of the hundred people start shouting ‘YOU ARE SO RUDE’ and the person across the road either shouts ‘I AM SO SORRY’ or ‘SHUT UP, I STILL HATE YOU’ until everyone gets bored and goes to the pub.

-          Already touched on but the analogy is always presented with the sinister threat of intimidation and physical action, a threat which simply isn’t automatically there on twitter. Especially when it’s some random sending a stupid insult to someone with a massive platform. In society there are hierarchies of power. Someone with a column in a national newspaper has far more power than someone with 24 followers on twitter. This does not change merely because the latter is now able to directly write something to the former. It of course doesn’t mean that the latter can’t still be a complete idiot or should be able to do whatever the hell they want, but it certainly makes the relationship a lot more complex than the street analogy would suggest.

Sure, we could and should all try to be nicer to each other but that is a far wider issue than twitter. It also applies to the countless columnists/magazines/tv shows which rely on making fun of public figures,  making people embarrass themselves and/or ridiculing grotesque caricatures of people. There’s nothing wrong with the advice that you should take a breather and think about what you’re writing, especially if you’re irritated or angry. However this should also apply to the reaction – increasingly we all need to ask ourselves if we really are offended, if we really feel threatened, or if we just think that we should be or, worse, are trying to inflate something in order to drown out something we don’t like. It’s getting a bit silly when someone who writes a single crap joke at someone is labelled with the same term as someone who, say, obsessively harasses the family of a dead child for months on end. There is no ‘shouting on the street’ analogy for the latter and we can all unite against such behaviour – but only if we stop going crazy over some imaginary man calling us a cunt from the other side of the road.

29 April 2012

You gotta have friends

The Adbusters piece I shared earlier, with its description of relationships as “transitory counterpoints to the anomie induced by a culture of individualism”, was neatly timed. The nature of ‘friendship’ is something that has occupied my mind for a while and I’d had a few conversations about it this weekend. What does it mean to be a ‘friend’? Looking around, there is much anecdotal evidence that many modern friendships are not borne out of any compelling relationship between two people, any curiosity concerning another person’s inner life. Instead, they are extensions of the self - shallow, convenient arrangements wherein we seek to see our own version of our identity reflected back at us. Of course the observation that we tend to gravitate towards people with similar opinions and attitudes is nothing new; what is perhaps novel is the effect of social media which has undoubtedly increased the speed of social interactions. Arguably, it has lessened the depth of emotion and empathy involved. For all the wonder of social media and the opportunities it affords, it seems very easy for it to become a giant echo chamber. Contemplation and dialogue are not encouraged in the race to quickly express an opinion. Interestingly, however, we seem less and less willing to a) have our opinions or, more, our conceptual identity challenged or b) challenge the same in others.

A huge part of this is a modern emphasis on an insipid individualist ‘positivity’ wherein we are encouraged to ‘support’ others. This typically means supporting their own concept of self rather than critically engaging with them. Banal praise is the order of the day. Criticism is seen as negative and there are few worse crimes than to be viewed as such. Indeed, the only criticism which even begins to be acceptable is ‘constructive’ - it must not be too forceful, too disruptive or fail to demonstrate respect for aforementioned ‘self’. Online, those engaging in this increasingly lumped in with ‘trolls’ who hurl mindless abuse. In the ‘real world’, we bristle with indignation when our friends strongly disagree with us - it almost feels like they are moving their tanks onto our lawn. We all want to ‘belong’ and as we all grow less tolerant of being challenged, social groups can be in danger of becoming metaphorical circle jerks. This pervades much of our society, from our politics to our media. Indeed, it often manifests itself in avoiding sincerity altogether and instead communicating in dripping irony and sarcasm.

Morrissey famously sang that we “hate it when our friends become successful”. A negativity regarding the personal achievements of those close to us can come easily and lazily. Yet it comes from the same place as the counterpoint empty positivity - a desire to protect our ego and our core sense of who we are. It seems that there is so much to be lost in this mindset. So many opportunities to see ourselves in different ways, examine our beliefs and our actions, subtly alter who we think we are. In attempting to move beyond an individualism which values nothing higher than our own self-belief and self-worth, we can find enduring relationships based in a mutual respect and a deep understanding that being ‘wrong’ is not a terrible thing, not a personal attack and is even something to celebrate. Those relationships are the ones which endure. It’s a lesson I am learning, I hope.

12 December 2012

The “gay marriage debate” - made for (but ill-served by) social media

The gay marriage ‘debate’ is, in many ways, made for liberals on social media. It’s easy to slot it into the ‘barbarians at the gate’ narrative which writers like Charlie Brooker have made a career out of, flattering the egos of a self-identified ‘enlightened’ group by contrasting them with an oppressive, bigoted ‘other’. Related to this, it allows that smug, trite superiority which many non-believers feel over the religious, who have become the symbolic receptacle of any and all anti-marriage sentiment (which itself has become synonymous with homophobia.) The debate feeds the unpleasant self-victimisation which is clung to by many privileged (white, middle-class) gay people – witness, with tiresome inevitability, the speed with which these people have once again rushed to analogise their ‘plight’ to that of black people (apartheid! segregation!) More than anything, it facilitates the sense of certainty and being right which Twitter absolutely thrives on.

As a result, yesterday largely seemed to consist of shrieking slanging matches where many people were acting like they believed themselves to be the UK’s modern-day equivalents of Rosa Parks. Yet rather than fury resulting from an engagement (even in an unproductive way) with people who believed differently, this largely seemed to feed off another one of Twitter’s more dangerous traits – that of it serving as an echo chamber. I could find barely anyone who was making arguments against gay marriage – instead there were scores of people shouting ‘me too!’ while working themselves into a frenzy and almost competing to see who could be most outraged. This reached a bizarre peak with hysterically overblown attacks on Labour for apparently indicating that they would give their MPs a free vote on the issue. This was, it seemed, the worst thing that had ever happened to the labour movement. Never mind clause 4 or the Iraq war, tuition fees or complicity in torture, adoption of most of the worst excesses of Thatcherism or woeful acquiescence to the austerity agenda – it was this procedural issue (one which will surely not even be noticed by most people) which had people threatening to leave the party in droves. This was especially odd given that Labour’s record on gay rights isn’t exactly as straightforwardly glittering as we’re now led to believe. Even more so since we only have to look to recent history to find Labour members assuring us that many gay people didn’t want marriage and civil partnerships brought “joy and security”. Indeed, a search for ‘Labour’ and ‘gay marriage’ in the final year of the Labour government brings only 21,500 results – in the past year this returns 340,000 results. Gay marriage is an idea for which the time has come and it’s very obvious that even many of the most vocal supporters did not even think about it only 2 years ago, making the righteous fury seem very ill-fitting.

This seems to stem from the rise and rise of Labour as ‘the Tories but nicer’. Economic issues, once the raison d’etre of the party, have increasingly been hollowed out and replaced by liberal concerns. Make no mistake, Labour today is a liberal party rather than a socialist one. It was notable that yesterday’s chorus of opprobrium drowned out confirmation that Labour will oppose one of the most shameful and harmful aspects of Osborne’s Autumn statement. This is the direction many of us want Labour to go in and one which has potential to make a real difference to the lives of millions of people – yet only a week after a statement which found the government’s plan for the economy in tatters and them further heaping the worst of this failure onto the poorest in society, much of the left was tearing itself apart over the almost-entirely symbolic issue of gay marriage. Some canny observers noted the timing of the government’s gay marriage announcement with suspicion. Judging by yesterday’s response, it’s difficult not to believe that they were correct to do so.

This of course raises wider issues, not least the question of what ‘equality’ means. The gay marriage debate is concerned only with a very narrow legal equality (and perhaps in a wider sense with civil rights) and almost no-one who loudly bangs on about it seems to pause to think about ‘equality’ in any other way. Yet many who oppose gay marriage do so not because they are homophobic but because they believe that we should be pulling away from the state privileging certain relationships between consenting adults over others, not striving to cement it further. This is partly why some have readily agreed with David Cameron that gay marriage is an inherently conservative (and Conservative) idea, something which the angry righteousness of many supporters cannot possibly allow for. To go even wider, gay marriage is almost completely and utterly irrelevant to economic rights and economic equality, things which should be at the absolute core of any left-wing party. Yet we have the perverse spectacle of activists thanking a government, which is increasing inequality and poverty while dogmatically attacking those on benefits, for their stance on gay marriage. Do gay people exist outside of the economic sphere? Only the most sheltered and privileged of people could possibly expect a homeless gay person, a gay person whose benefits have been cut, a gay person who has been made unemployed, a gay person forced to use food banks, to be intrinsically grateful to the government because they will be able to call their partnership a ‘marriage’.

Inevitably, any move away from the state’s power to privilege certain relationships over others (‘marriage’) would upset some religious people. ‘Some’ being the important part of that sentence. The outpouring of hatred and contempt for the religious which many have engaged in as part of this ‘debate’ is horrific and certainly no better than the vile homophobia engaged in by some in the name of God. Opinion polls suggest that a majority of the British population has supported gay marriage since even before civil partnerships were introduced. Given that the latest census indicates that around 25% of the population is atheist, it surely follows that many religious people support gay marriage? Rather than devoting so much energy to the loud minority who espouse homophobic views it would perhaps be more productive to engage with the quiet majority who don’t. Having been raised Catholic, attending church regularly and going to a Catholic school, I tend to find the lazy superiority of many self-proclaiming atheists to be utterly repugnant. Being religious doesn’t mean you abandon your critical faculties and being atheist doesn’t mean that you are a brave champion of rationality. I still have many religious family members, friends, workmates and acquaintances and absolutely none of them, whether Christian or Muslim or Sikh, has ever had a problem with my sexuality. So as flattering to your ego as it is to celebrate your intellectual superiority over those who believe in ‘old men sitting on clouds in the sky’ (why is it always variations on that?!) I think debate and progression would be better served by getting off the war horse and realising that most folk are actually pretty decent (and indeed that not everyone opposed to gay marriage is religious or even homophobic.)

This applies generally and, of course, takes me back to the beginning because Twitter and the like are fundamentally based on self-validation and polarisation rather than deep engagement or self-reflection. The gay marriage question being played out on these forums has rendered it enormously tiresome and poisonous and we would do well to think about the nature of ‘equality’ and how our own treatment of others is inescapably part of that. Social media has ill-served this debate.

19 December 2012

Some Thoughts on Happiness, Privilege and the Good Life.

For the first time that I can recall I got a little bit emotional when leaving London yesterday. Part of that was no doubt because I now usually do the Christmas trip back to Glasgow with my boyfriend but he had been sent to Turkey with work, so what is usually an exciting conspiratorial journey felt a bit flat and sad. As I travelled to Euston, however, walking through what is now ‘our neighbourhood’ and taking the route we travel to work on every morning, I had this sudden realisation that I’m very happy here, living our little lives. I love where we live; I love the people I associate with; more than that, I like the man I am always becoming (for the most part). I am old enough now to know that things never remain the same and that happiness comes and goes but I am also old enough to think that one day I will look back at this period and smile. As the eels song goes, “these could be the good old days”. London has worked out pretty well.

It’s been a bit of an odd year in that I have hit an age where both myself and my peers become noticeably concerned with the future - with becoming an adult. Everyone has been thinking about the person they would like to be, the things they would like to do. I don’t really know any hugely ambitious people - no accomplished surgeons or gifted authors or wealthy entrepreneurs - none of us really do jobs which could ever be described as ‘important’. This feeds a lot into the insecurities about getting older because you’re supposed to aspire to these things, right? They’re part of the ‘you’ve made it’ package, with the loving partner and the pretty flat and the socially-conscious shopping.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently because I’ve been watching Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States. As the title suggests, it presents a narrative of US history which deviates from the ‘norm’ - being Oliver Stone, this of course means that it has a strongly left-wing slant. It’s been quite a while since I watched or read any history and it has been eye-opening. How easily I forget that World War II, an expansive British Empire, the atom bomb, Stalin have all been in the lifetime of people alive today. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the period, it’s almost impossible for someone like me in 2012 to fully comprehend its existence. Thinking about it has made me ashamed that I am so ignorant about so much but more than that, it has made me ashamed that I do not fully appreciate how privileged and fortunate I am (no matter how easily those words may sometimes come to me.) I wonder what the older generation must think of us, so entitled and self-absorbed, so ready to seek out slights and offence which allow us to feel like victims even as we enjoy lives which are golden in comparison to most even today (let alone the past). That’s not to say that no-one has it bad or that truly wretched things don’t happen any more, of course not. Yet I think about how notions such as self-sacrifice and humility were once at the core of what it meant to be a human - they had to be. More and more they seem to be lost as a healthy confidence and self-belief distorts into a grotesque certainty that we deserve to be better, more noticed, more accomplished, than people around us. Self-reflection doesn’t currently seem to be a much admired quality. We are set to transmit and to feel certainty, traits both fundamental to and exacerbated by social media. From concerns about ‘internet trolls’ to our rushing to de-construct a new Guardian or Daily Mail piece we don’t like, we get worked up about such empty bullshit. We argue over binary opinions which very rarely evolve and very rarely differ from most other people’s in any meaningful way. We convince ourselves that the louder we are, the better the human being we become.

Yesterday I deeply felt that there is a a quiet victory in just being alive and enjoying what you have. Living that little life that few people will remember. See, I’m so conscious of my privilege and how smug this sounds that I feel the need to say that I don’t mean that we should live insular lives, blind to the world around us. The very opposite, in fact: we should engage with it more but we should do so with humility and the knowledge that we really don’t know as much as we are certain that we do. None of us are going to change the world by tweeting a lot or sharing Facebook links and, certainly, none of us are going to constructively engage with anyone else until we can recognise our own ego and feel embarrassed at how rampant it sometimes can be. Some people will read this and think I am talking utter drivel; some will think I am self-satisfied and trite; undoubtedly I will read this back at some point and cringe. For the moment, however, I am truly grateful for all that I have. For the moment, I think that trying every single day to appreciate this; trying every single day to be aware of who I am as a person; trying every single day to strive towards being a kinder, more compassionate, more humble person - I think somewhere in that a good life can be found.

Themed by Hunson. Originally by Josh