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OUR POST-TRUTH WORLD

17 Nov

Quite a lot of people have tried to define the age we live in and almost without exception they come out with words that imply that, politically, we live in post-truth Britain.

But what does this mean? For as long as I can remember politicians have been accused of being free and easy when it comes to the truth. Quite often the actual facts behind a situation might get in the way of their own personal happiness, wealth or sex life. Yes, I did say sex life. There’s not much some politicians (or men of any persuasion, be they politicians, bin-men or lawyers amongst the whole rainbow of employed people) wouldn’t promise in bed to a loved one when they’re in the opening glory and first muscular twitch of an orgasm. And promises, if made to one’s nearest and dearest, are often reasonably sacrosanct.

But it’s not the bed-room mutterings I’m thinking of so much as the wealth ones. Politicians like to line their pockets because there’s one thing they know about their jobs and that is the simple fact it might only last until the next election, when a disenchanted public might oust them from the gravy train.

And in this age of materialism the gravy on that train is positively addictive.

Let’s look at this particular period of time with my birth bracketing one end and today bracketing the other.

The world has, in that seventy-three (almost) years become a very different place. My father died within only a few years of me being was born, so I was brought up (with my younger brother) by a widowed mother and the one pride and joy in our home was the radiogram. It was furniture. It was polished. And it made sounds. The gram part, although electric, only had one speed (78 rpm) and the radio had never heard of VHF. Many people had similar radiograms but few had a better one. We didn’t have a television set (there were a few around, my uncle had one with a tiny screen and pictures in less than fifty shades of grey – they said it was black and white but in all honesty when my mum dragged me to his house there was only grey and never actual black or real white.

Domestic chores were done (by mum) by hand and the house was owned by the local council as part of a large estate of hastily built steel houses put up in haste to house people made homeless by the German Luftwaffe.

So the only thing of any worth we owned was that radiogram, and I wish I had it now. But it probably went into a tip when my mother died half a century ago. The thing is, though, we may have been poorer than most but I, as a schoolboy, didn’t really know that. I wore a school uniform (all of the daylight hours, I didn’t have what you would call casual play clothes) and my grey shorts were the same as anyone else’s grey shorts. They didn’t mark me out as being different. The society we lived in, still shuddering from wartime destruction of both property and lives, didn’t make life any harder for my mum that widowhood would anyway. And she lived in an age that was still warped by Victorian false morality and I believe never thought once of relieving the sexual tensions brought on by her widowed status with a parade of strangers marching through her bedroom. She wouldn’t even have turned to plastic. But all that is by the by.

These days there’s so much more.

Look around your home and at the devices few people owned back when the bracket opened. Kitchen appliances. That blessing in electronic disguise, the microwave. We had a cooker. Gas. Full stop. No mixer, food processor, electric tin opener, electric kettle… Nothing fancy like that, and until well into the fifties the iron was heated on the cooker hob.

My mother only ever owned one vacuum cleaner and it was a small hand-held one and she used it on the stairs. The rest of the house was swept, which was easy because the main floor covering was linoleum. Her sister had a carpet sweeper which the small boy me thought was magical when we called on her. You pushed it and hey! It picked things up! Things so small you couldn’t even see them! But then, she had the odd carpet in her home.

As I said, we had the radiogram and with it my mum had a selection of a few 78 rpm records. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik on two twelve inch records was played until the grooves gave out, and even beyond that, and there were maybe a dozen other more popular discs, gathered by her over many years. Lovely.

The radio aerial was a single length of wire that ran round the room, tucked neatly into the dado rail about a foot down from the ceiling and running round the front room. So we had decent reception, though that damned radio never managed to pick up Radio Luxembourg on 208 metres because the nearby BBC transmitter with its Third Programme output drowned out most things, especially when small boys were trying to tune in to something less classical.

And that was it. My mother didn’t own her home, had a radiogram and a copper in the kitchen in which she slavishly washed our clothes, and if she had the time a tiny hand-held vacuum cleaner for the dust on the stairs. We didn’t have a car (even now I can remember that man next door telling her she really ought to buy a car, it would make life so much easier, and her reply that she was a woman and didn’t drive…) Yes! In 1948ish a woman thought it less than womanly to drive! And before you all put fingers on keyboard in anger, I do know there were lady drivers back then!

The thing is, and this is the main point of this piece, the actual possession of material goods was on a different plane to the one it’s on today. And that’s true for everyone, even politicians.

So if a politician can, by lying, make life a little richer for himself then that’s what most of them will do. By a vote here, by a whispered word there, and when Referendums come along by as many dirty big lies as they can conjure up.

And wealth is addictive. The more some people get then the more they want, which explains in part what motivates the Farages, Johnsons and Trumps of this world. They will invent any version of what was never the actual truth in order to further their aims, and be most convincing when they say it. And the rest of us, those who’re never quite sure when our modest wealth is going to run out or be stolen by big business backed by a political elite, endorse their lies because we want to believe them.

So we have Brexit and the Americans have Trump, both brought about by lies or such gross distortions of the truth that they are lies, and I’m hard pressed to work out which is worst. But they are both present as nightmares that won’t go away because we, in our folly, created them from other people’s lies.

© Peter Rogerson 17.11.16

THE ROOTS OF ANTI-SEMITISM

14 Jul

Anti-Semitism has plagued the Jewish Semites for much longer than any of us can remember and it’s irrational and largely unfair. Now, this opening paragraph has been written after I composed the rest and re-read it and wondered if I ought to share it with anyone. These days you’ve only got to criticise one tiny aspect of Jewish life to have accusatory fingers pointed at you and be called Anti-Semitic by those baying for your blood. But read on. After all, I mean no offence to anyone save, perhaps, the Pope.
One of the joys of religion has been the knowledge of church leaders that they only have to mould the mind of a young child and they’ve got that person for life. It doesn’t always work that way, of course, some of us shake off the shackles of pre-school mind-shaping and actually learn to work things out for ourselves. But the only reason, in my opinion, that any religion has survived over the millennia is because of the “give me a child until he’s five and I’ll show you the man” reality. It doesn’t have to be everyone, but just enough to be persuasive.
This much has been known for ages. It formed the minds of masses over centuries, and in times when religion, say Christianity but it could be any religion, was much more dominant in daily life the spread of irrational belief down the centuries was almost complete. Such was the power a few centuries ago that men and women were burned alive because they espoused one flavour of God opposed to a slightly different one. And the draconian treatment of lesser mortals by the monarch was justified because he or she was God’s representative in the land. Monarchs weren’t ordinary mortals and even they believed it.
But it’s not just belief in gods and fairies.
I got to thinking this way because I was thinking of anti-Semitism this morning as I lay in bed quietly waiting for Dorothy to emerge from slumber. It’s horrible. It’s a dislike and even hatred for a people because of the accident of their birth, and it’s irrational like gods are irrational. And as I thought about things I think I hit on the answer… or if not answer, the reason.
When I was knee-high to a grasshopper in school I was taught a lot of scripture. I guess it was getting towards the tail-end of the real dominance of religion within education, when the word secular made bishops shake with fear. And one of the phrases I learned to parrot was the fact that there were Jews and Gentiles, the Jews being the good guys and the Gentiles being the rest. The Jews were God’s chosen people and the Gentiles weren’t, and I, for my sins, was a Gentile.
I’m not sure who foisted the gobbledygook that is Christianity, a bastard branch of Judaism, on to the rest of the world but I guess it was the Romans in the fourth century AD. So I’ve no intention of blaming that horror on the Jewish people. Nor am I going to blame them for imagining a deity into existence a long time ago and using a perfectly natural human foible as described above, continuing to believe in it. As a race or tribe or people they are entitled to clothe themselves in whatever traditions please them. It’s when it spreads to the rest of the world through no fault of their own that trouble begins, and because their religious texts became part of the Christian sect’s sacred writing (a minor group if ever there was one, but enough people adhered to it for it to work its way to Rome) and because those texts still included the certainty that Jews were the chosen people of the religion being espoused by them, the rest of us got to accept our Gentile status – or else.
And in the vital way that religions work, that made us inferior.
And if a people start to believe that they’re inferior they start to feel irritated because despite what it says in the good book, they don’t feel inferior. And as an adjunct it’s just possible that if people read that they are superior it might in some way colour their relationships with others because a corner of their mind believes it.
I could be misrepresented here as someone blaming the Jewish people for their own problems, but I think I’ve made it clear I’m actually blaming a colonial power that has long ceased to exist outside the Vatican. It was fourth century Rome that stole a minor Jewish sect and made it its own, pinched texts, even sorted out which texts to keep and which to consign to obscurity and thus mould a religion that was already becoming different from its origin. But they kept the Jew/Gentile distinction, in black and white and reprinted in every language under the sun, and that has been the downfall of a people largely blameless for the inevitable and nasty and very ancient Anti-Semitic outpourings that have marred humanity for much too long.
Maybe people living in that corner of the world would be much happier and at ease with each other if some ancestor many centuries BC hadn’t hit on the nonsense of a god, complete with its absurd garden of Eden with a talking serpent, the certainty that women are so inferior to men as to be virtually a separate species, non-human and thus not eligible for Heaven, and the nonchalant accepting of slavery, and then wrapped the whole kit and caboodle up as a religious-cum-political catch-all philosophy that eventually and I suppose inevitably leaked beyond their borders. But their god has now gone everywhere and has spread from being a small nuisance in the Middle East to a world-wide threat to peace and even the future. If the concept of a deity and a son of that deity could be squeezed back into its bottle and revert to becoming no more than a hippie cult on the fringes of Jewish society it would be all right by me. But that Jewish homeland is the one place you don’t find too much Christianity, and I find that bloody annoying!
And finally, there’s got to be some innate weakness in our evolved and evolving mentalities to require any kind of god at all. Maybe it’s the uncertainties of being or perhaps knowledge of our very mortality that sends us seeking for a second chance at living, but there are still churches and cathedrals where voices are raised in melodic song in praise of a whisper in the ancient desert airs of long, long ago.

OUR GENERATIONS

13 Jul

A great deal has been said and written about the way young referendum voters tended to vote for remain in the EU whilst older ones wanted to get out. Let me start by saying that I’m older and I see the out vote as the greatest threat to this country since Suez. But I’m not every old person.
So why this disparity in voting patterns dependent, in general, on age?
I think the answer’s quite simple.
Fewer young people read national newspapers. It has been a habit, almost a necessity, in times before mass communication became quite as hectic as it is today, for most adults to get their news delivered daily by the paper-boy. As an aside, I haven’t taken a newspaper in years, and that might explain my reluctance to join my age-group in the referendum. Last year one erstwhile friend even used the fact as an accusation in a semi-political debate online! The idiot!
Nowadays many people have a wide variety of sources, ranging from rolling news television channels, the Internet with its social media to brief summaries on the radio and even news apps on their phones. And young people are more at ease with this flexibility.
Three of our national Newspapers have been particularly robust when it comes to condemning the EU – the Sun, the Express and the Mail. And for years it has dripped through their pages, in news reports as well as editorial comment, immigrants, Brussels, sovereignty, Brussels, evil, Brussels.
And many, many of the reports and articles have been either gross distortions of the facts or downright lies. They have been designed, over years, to fix certain notions in the minds of their readers, and the three tabloids mentioned are particularly good at it. And the biggest sadness is that in the post-truth era we live in it’s perfectly acceptable.
Younger people have been influenced to a lesser degree and, let’s be honest, their youth gives them more flexible minds anyway. Old fogies like me tend to be fixed in our mental processes. We’re famous for it. Many won’t use the Internet because they can’t adapt to slightly different ways of thinking. Even back in the seventies elderly grannies couldn’t program their video recorders because video recorders were newfangled and somehow beyond them.
So older generations have had their minds massaged gently by Murdoch and his cronies whilst the young have a clarity of vision that is the essence of humanity struggling ever upwards and onwards.
There’s one thing that confuses me, though.
The older people with a gleam in their eyes want to return our nation to its golden years. Those of Empire. Those of using military might against the underdog and sending missionaries complete with their gobbledegook out to “save” souls for an impossible Christian god. Those of forcing their own children to toil in mills and factories for fourteen hours a day. Those of immense poverty and inequality. Those of an average life-span in the thirties. Those of infant mortality at a frightening rate.
Scary, but they see it as a golden age, possibly because age and the tabloids have blinded them. And deep inside their dreams they need to return to it.

A GLORIOUS, GOLDEN AGE

20 Jun

I’ve been reading quite a lot about the glories of our past as a nation and the way it’s being ruined by our membership of Europe and I’m hard pressed to find anything particularly glorious about it.
The British Empire might have seen to be a cash-cow to the British, but it impoverished half the globe and ruined perfectly good societies by imposing a phony religion and distant royalty on them. I know there are those who look back at its passing with regret but in all honesty I can’t see much to be regretful about. Our own ancestors were once part of a huge empire, the Roman one, and they didn’t like it one bit. And when the Romans departed as their own centre broke up they left a country that was confused and ready for the taking by successive waves of invaders, culminating with the Normans in the eleventh century.
But the British Empire isn’t very much any more. The ownership of a people and their ways of life, their traditions, their faiths, is a spiteful and corrupt objective borne by an insatiable greed for wealth.
Anyway, back to my point. When was this golden age? It was certainly never in my life-time, and although my parents are both long dead it wasn’t in theirs either. And it wasn’t in the nineteenth century when Victoria sat on her throne, though a handful of men made fortunes from the toil of the masses. I would most probably have been one of those masses with a life expectancy in the thirties. I’m seventy-two now.
Or what about the eighteenth century? Ordinary men and women being driven towards the ever-expanding cities as an agricultural revolution drove them from the land. Or before then, when you just had to keep up to date with which brand of Christianity you subscribed to or risk having your head chopped off.
Or the medieval period when just about everything you were allowed to do was prescribed by the church and punishment for failing to attend at church was a fact of life. And don’t forget, the civil wars that seemed interminable. The wars of the roses that saw the Tudor kings emerge and thousands get killed (they had no choice, the men fighting for this or that cause, they did what they were told by their owners, the Lords of a nation of Manors.) Then there was Cromwell’s civil war and thousands more dying on battlefields.
And don’t forget the killing fields of the twentieth century, with two world wars that nobody could look back on with joy. Some call it the century of the fascist dictators and we would be wise to avoid its repetition. The leader of UKIP reminds me very much of the history of 1930s Germany and the rise of their monster.
So tell me… when was the glorious past? When are we supposed to look back on with envy and longing for its return?
And will leaving the only sensible arrangement, a united Europe complete with its imperfections and need for reform, take us there

WAR….

1 Jun

It makes me wonder…
bearing in mind that the EU and its predecessor the Common Market were born as an attempt to reduce the chance of European wars, I can’t help thinking that it might have been a good thing if it had been formed half a century earlier, at the beginning of the 20th century.
Then maybe the 17+ million deaths caused by the first world war (1914-1918) and the 60+ million deaths caused by the second world war (1939-1945) might have been avoided, and almost 80 million people who lost their lives so tragically might have lived full and wholesome lives.
Who can tell? Certainly not history, because those wars were fought.
And if we leave the EU, what then?
Maybe back to the war zone.
And Armageddon.

IN OR OUT?

28 May

I wonder how many of us who are to vote in the EU referendum next month really know what they’re voting for? Both sides of the debate throw statistics at us and both sides are not afraid of lying.
Don’t forget – lying can come in many different shapes and sizes, from plucking statistics wildly out of the air to assuming that the Britain of today is in any way similar to the Britain of yesterday. Things grow with time, and that includes countries. Our UK these days is a better place than it was and when I hear anti-EU people suggesting there was some magical golden age some time in the past, when the sun shone more brightly, when people lived their happy lives in chocolate-box cottages, I wonder what on Earth they’re on about.
I was born in England and much as I find a lot of pleasing qualities in the country of my birth there’s no reason to be proud of it. Being born here wasn’t an achievement, not something I did using skill and judgement and my innate intelligence to achieve, so I don’t need to be proud of it. No: being born here had nothing whatsoever to do with me and if it was anything it was like a number in a lottery, a casual touch by the finger of fate when it came to where my parents holidayed – though there wasn’t much chance to travel anywhere in 1943.
And if I look back there are quite a lot of things that were disturbing about life in this country. The twentieth century was riven by two gigantic wars in which millions were slaughtered and apportioning blame for those conflicts is far from easy because everything I have read about them was written by the victors and it’s long been said that such necessarily biased reporting skews the facts. Anyway, I’ve never understood why the First World War had to happen (and I seem to recall neither did Baldrick, so I’m in good company) and my teachers at school just about convinced me that the Second World War was part Two of the same conflict.
But wars aside, there have been other undesirable features of my country. Homophobia made the lives of many intolerable (how many good men and women had their lives wrecked by their very natures?). It was even written into law, when Victoria was on the throne, that intimate behaviour shown between men even in the privacy of their own homes was punishable by imprisonment – women, I believe, were excluded because nobody dared suggest to a sulky monarch that women were anything but perfect.
Then there was the way children were beaten – and in my life-time, too. Some schoolmasters were proud of the way they administered six of the best to boys quivering with fear because their school-issued pen had made a blot. Not today, thank goodness.
And have you read tales of small boys sweeping chimneys or crouched for hour after hour in mines, under the ground?
No, there was no golden age but bit by bit what was best about life has been whittled away by greed and the need for ever more wealth. During her time as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher set the ball rolling, selling off anything that was portable so that the “market” could be in charge. And the market was. In charge of telecommunications, electricity, gas, water, housing, everything, so prices went up in order for dividends to trickle into the pockets of those who could afford to buy wads of shares. Not me, you’ll notice. I’ve never been able to afford to buy wads of shares.
This week the utilities company visited us and fitted a “smart” meter. For free, they said. Free? Toenails! Wherever there’s a private company nothing is ever free. The cost will lurk somewhere, in price rises, in sneaky little ways that private enterprise is so good at finding.
So those who want to go back to those good old days, when were they? Did I blink? Have I missed something?
We had an empire once. Huge parts of the map were coloured pink (at least they were in my childhood atlas) and the pink denoted the British Empire. Or, to put it another way, the countries we’d stolen from their natives on whom we’d imposed a crown and a wretched religion. That wasn’t great, though the soldiers with their fancy hats and shining swords might have called it glorious.
If we leave the EU, though, it’ll be sad to lose the cheap booze at Calais and all the other perks we travellers find, and even sadder to have to join the queues at customs where they can decide how much tax we should be paying on this or that bottle of whisky, and confiscating it if we can’t afford it….

THE INFLUENCE OF THE PRESS

20 May

When it will come to the forthcoming referendum concerning the UK’s remaining or leaving Europe, I wonder how many voters will consider the issues? And by issues I don’t mean the prejudicial and very skewed reporting in the popular press. I mean the real facts.
Everyone knows that Rupert Murdoch would love us to leave the EU even though he is not a Brit, but he does own the most popular newspaper in the country and can ensure that his own opinions get dripped out so that, over time, his more ardent readers believe that they are fact rather than opinion. After all, he has claimed that the influence of his vast media empire is so powerful that it can dictate the outcome of general elections. In fact, he can appoint governments using the grey world of print as a mind of private hustings. His readers are, of course, largely unaware that they are being influenced.
Then there’s Richard Desmond of Daily Express fame. Like Rupert Murdoch, he’s wary of the UK staying in Europe. Being a purveyor of pornography (the real stuff, not merely the lies that ooze out of his newspaper) he probably worries that a moral European burst of legislation might do something to curtail the highly profitable and explicit dissemination of boobs and bodies.
It is, they believe, in the best interests of their empires for the UK to retreat back into itself. Murdoch lends his support to the Conservative party whereas Desmond favours UKIP, and I dared say you’ll find that Sun readers vote for Murdoch’s preferred policies (get personally richer and stay personally rich no matter how poor the rest of us get) and Express readers adore UKIP (let’s go back to the good old shiny sunlit days of yore). Both lots might believe that they read the papers that they agree with, forgetting that it’s those very newspapers that have, over several years, shoe-horned those opinions into their heads.
And it might not be in their own best interests or the best interests of their country to follow them. If it’s all to do with returning to a golden age then I don’t think there’s anything glorious for our nation to return to. At best our forefathers abused the working classes, locking many of them away in workhouses in misery, separated from husbands, wives and children, and at best they tried to bully the rest of the world under the pretence that they were imbued with of some kind of artificial benevolence.
When it comes to the European referendum we’ve all got to think about what’s just got to be best for us as individuals and us as a nation and somehow I can’t see how shrinking into the luminescence of a non-existent bright and shiny past represents anything more than a rather silly pipe dream.