The insidious hidden narrative

My friends, this stupidity is what Western culture has been reduced to…

In a panel discussion I recently watched, when one panelist suggested that women should be the ones who raise children because they are better at being mothers, everyone, including the audience and panelists, went silent in shock and disapproval. Yet earlier in the same discussion, when another panelist declared that hook-up apps are popular with gay men because men are pigs, the audience laughed.

I wonder if you noticed the double standard? If you suggest that women are better at something, that’s a bad thing. But if you suggest that men are lousy at another thing, that’s approved and celebrated.

The first panellist didn’t say that men cannot be good at being parents. Nor did he say that women should not do any other job but be mothers. But people will generally read into things what they want to read, rather than what is actually there. There’s an insidious narrative running through society, and those who buy into this narrative don’t realise how they are voluntarily participating in spreading hate toward those who don’t buy the narrative.

This is the hidden narrative:
1) Being a mother is seen as a negative thing and undesirable for modern, progressive women. Women who become full-time mothers are perceived to be wasting their life potential, for they are not investing their capabilities into monetary gain.
2) The idea that gay couples are just as equal and capable as heterosexual couples. In other words, they are exactly the same in capacity, and no suggestion that they are in any way inferior should be tolerated.
3) All men are inclined to be promiscuous – that’s just a fact of life that we have to accept.

If you embrace this narrative as modern western society tends to, then I’m not surprised if you react the way the audience reacted in that panel discussion. But, instead of condemning and vilifying those who don’t agree with you, why don’t we challenge this narrative?

Is investing your capabilities in motherhood, the role of raising the next generation, less productive than investing in monetary gain? Do gay couples, in raising children, not encounter differences from heterosexual parents? Are these differences harder or easier for them? Do we have to just accept that men are more driven by sex to be promiscuous and unfaithful, or can we demand a different standard from them?

Is it possible to question the assumptions laid out above?

If you’re interested in the debate, the two aforementioned panellists are Peter Hitchens and Dan Savage: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3868791.htm

Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBv50ogV1KU
And in case the previous link stops working: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQY4BuYWD4s

Politicians vs ‘working people’

It’s funny how in the UK, Labour party politicians like to portray themselves as champions of the “working people”. And then they set themselves up against businesses. Are business owners not working people? Are rich people not also working people? Isn’t it just allegorical language to refer to “poor people”? “Working class” is no longer an adequate description in a nation with strong welfare system like the UK. It’s time to move on from such outdated language. In this country, the poorest of the poor rely on the welfare state. They have to, because many of them are unable to work for some reason or another. In comparison, the richest work their socks off to gain their wealth and hang on to it. Rich people ARE working people. The class of people known as the “landed gentry” are all but extinct in this century. If they want to hang on to wealth, they have to work for it! What do politicians know about being poor anyway? How many Labour MPs have had to scrape a living on minimum wage?

The Labour party is largely funded by trade unions, many of whom are so powerful that their members have no worry over their jobs, such that many (if not most) cannot claim to be truly ‘poor’. So what sector of society are the Labour politicians really supporting? Or have they bamboozled everyone, including themselves, that they are actually champions of the ordinary people? Meanwhile, they refer to their political opponents as “Tories”, the “nasty party”, with much scorn dripping from their voices. As if the Conservative party do not have the same goals as the Labour party.

This does not mean I support the Conservative party. I am not a Tory. I detest what the Conservative party are doing, privatising willy-nilly, without recognising the role of the public sector, and without thought for the consequences. And the lip service they pay to the nation is patronising at best. Most people already know that Conservative party politicians have no idea what ordinary people in the private sector think or experience. But people still ended up voting Conservative anyway, because David Cameron has managed to scare the nation into thinking that they are the only party who can be trusted with the nations finances. The actual truth though, is that under Cameron, the deficit has grown, public spending has increased, and none of this even remotely relates to economic growth. After every crash, the economy naturally rightens itself and brings itself back to growth. It’s the nature of the human survival instinct. It’s got nothing to do with Tory policies of privatising the public sector. It’s detestable that they claim the credit for recovering the economy. And it’s even more disgusting that the public actually believe them.

Listening to politicians debate about work and the economy, much talk of “skills”, “training”, and “qualifications” are bandied about as if they are the solution to all our economic woes. It just demonstrates how little politicians know about the working world! Yes, it’s true that the country is short of skilled employees, particularly in the technology market. But these skills cannot be gained by “training” and “qualifications”. Industrial expertise cannot be gained by throwing people into training programmes dreamed up by “non-profit” think tanks. No amount of paper certification matches up with real world experience. Real expertise can only be gained naturally, through exposure, experience through trial and error. Scientists do not become experts in their field by undertaking training courses. They do so by being involved in industry, and their expertise grows as the industry grows. If you want a skilled workforce, you have to encourage the industry as a whole. You don’t invest in a generation of overqualified and inexperienced individuals, as both Labour and Conservatives are wont to do. Throwing money at training and apprenticeships is just opening yet more avenues for training providers to take advantage of and extract money from the government.

For example, the financial services sector is booming because it is deregulated. Yet nobody talks about training, qualifications and apprenticeships in the finance sector. Why? Because a successful business takes care of itself. If a business is to succeed and thrive, they have to make sure that their workforce is adequately prepared for the work they do. They don’t rely on the government to fund their training. They don’t bemoan the lack of skilled people for the job. If they desperately need someone with a certain skillset, they will pay good money to employ a person with that kind of skillset. When prospective employees see how well certain skillsets pay, they work hard to invest in those skills for themselves. That’s how the job market works.

So, when politicians talk about investing in “skills”, “training” and “qualifications” for the “working people”… I despair. Politicians are the least skilled when it comes to policy-making.

They are, however, excellent at spin and smear. This is what the political industry has become. And the dumb public who buys their crap is to blame for this.

Politics: in polite company, in personal attitude.

Recently, I was at a small social gathering. At one point, the name “Margaret Thatcher” was mentioned, and immediately looks of disapproval spread across some of the faces in the room. This was quickly followed by comments subtly denigrating the late politician.

Being a foreigner who was not in the country during Thatcher’s years, I didn’t have much knowledge of her, her policies, their impact on the country, or how well/badly the public received all of the above. But given the how plainly obvious that at least half of the room thought negatively of the former prime minister, my curiousity made me venture the question: “Why is Margaret Thatcher such a divisive figure in this country?” However, my company politely declined to comment, maybe because there was too much to go into.

Now, it seems to be an established truism in many parts of western society that you do not discuss politics in polite society. (I shan’t delve into the reasons why for now) But even though my friendly company obviously tried to stick to this, it occurred to me that this is somewhat impossible. People simply cannot contain their political ideologies and allegiances. It comes out one way or another: Your worldview fundamentally colours your perspective and your thought processes, and obviously this will manifest itself in the way you speak, the way you behave, the way you even react.

Because of the conflict of these two realities, we end up with this: Because of the deep ideological commitments and divisions that span this country, the aggression towards certain people/ideologies are always and obviously there, bubbling under the surface. But polite decorum dictates that this emotion never be actively manifested, so this aggression manifests itself passively. What we end up with is behaviour that is literally and definitely passive aggressive.

Could we fundamentally disagree on issues without feeling personally hurt/insulted/attacked? Can we have principles without being emotionally invested?

I strongly feel that mature society shouldn’t be suppressing political and ideological disagreements. Let’s not be afraid to confront disagreements. We should be able to discuss contentious issues civilly, find out where we agree and disagree, and maybe even debate the issues on their individual merits and shortcomings. Maybe instead of dismissing the other for being so obviously wrong/blind/stupid… if we can try hard to understand each other, charitably interpret other people’s decisions, we might be able live in a more harmonious society.

Can Britain achieve this?

Peace and tolerance doesn’t mean hiding behind a mask of politeness and the wilful suppression of personal opinions. Disagreement does not necessarily lead societal division. But when discussion of contentious issues are avoided by moderates, extremists take advantage of this vacuum, and they take ownership of these issues. This mechanism becomes self-feeding, as moderates, in the attempt to avoid being put in the same camp as extremists, distance themselves from these topics even further. The problem amplifies itself, as anyone who dares to talk about these issues is typecast as an extremist or at the very least leaning in that direction. This is seems to me to be a very unhealthy society. I’m afraid this is the description of Britain as we know it.

(Incidentally, I tried to do some brief research, and found this relatively neutral summary of how Thatcher became so divisive in British culture: http://josharcher.uk/blog/why-margaret-thatcher-is-hated/)

Dear Britain: Please quit with your self-righteous attitude.

Dear Britain:

Please quit with your self-righteous attitude. You have accomplished some great things in the past, and one of the greatest things you accomplished was the push to abolish chattel slavery. However, you do not now hold a monopoly on morality and everything righteous, nor have you ever done so. We are all fallible human beings trying to do the best we can.

The trigger for this post?

Last night, I witnessed this snippet from a House of Lords debate (in paraphrase):
“Capital punishment is barbaric, and we need to urge countries like the USA to abolish capital punishment. ”
“For example, there was a person on death row for 39 years. This is inhumane.”

They disagree with capital punishment but they want the convicts to be killed off quickly? Such short-sighted self-righteousness is very typical of the British. The biggest objection to capital punishment is that an innocent’s life may be taken in the event of a wrong conviction. The reason people sit on death row for a very long time is so that there is ample opportunity for the conviction to be overturned in light of new evidence. (And in case you think I support capital punishment: I don’t. I believe only God has the responsibility to give or take life.)

My takeaway point is:

If you disagree with someone, please don’t immediately assume that you are right and they are wrong. Ask questions. Try to understand the other side’s perspective and the reason they take their position, before condemning them. They just might have some insight that you don’t.

Let’s not blame the media

When are people going to realise that they cannot blame the media for the ills of society?!?

Why is this so? This is because the media only produces what sells. The media only sells what people want to read. If mass media produced stuff that people were not interested in reading, would not fork out money or attention to it, they would not be the powerful propaganda machine society seems to fear them to be. We always hear about the media doing this evil, the media doing that evil… But how many people remember that they are this successful propaganda machine because SOCIETY pays them to be like this?

What I can see is this. In the UK, ‘left-wingers’ read The Guardian, and ‘right-wingers’ read the Telegraph. Both sides prefer to read views that reinforce their existing opinion, through the psychological filter many refer to as ‘confirmation bias’. Their respective media outlets pick up on this affinity for devouring rhetorical material, and like any savvy business, they feed their customers more of what they want. They churn out more polemic, in ever stronger and more emotionally powerful tones, to meet the demand the growing emotional hunger of the public. The consequence of this is that we have a positive feedback loop that pushes public opinion to extremes. People rarely care for evidence that contradicts their beliefs. People rarely care to pause and consider counter-arguments fairly when their emotionally-invested positions are challenged. Reason, evidence, rationale all go out the window in this self-reinforcing loop of self-affirmation. When someone throws out an argument that supports your position, no matter how tenuous, we tend to readily embrace it despite the complete lack of evidence. It is something society is addicted to. And you can hardly blame the media for this – for the media is inextricably integrated with society. You cannot blame them as if they are an entity separate from society – not only are they businesses only giving you what you want, the journalists responsible for the content are also an integral part of society.

So clearly, the problem lies with society.

What is the solution? Doubt everything you read. Try to take the opposite position to what you hear people say, even if it’s a position you agree with. If you’re a socialist, try to understand what Telegraph articles are saying and try to be sceptical of what the Guardian tells you. If you’re a Tory, be generous toward Guardian articles and be critical of what the Telegraph reports. Be a contrarian. Stick your head above the parapet. You will be shot down. You will be hated. Most reasonable people realise this, and so they keep their heads down. They don’t want to be hated. And I don’t blame them.

Unless you have a balanced perspective, society will continue to polarise. Extremism arises. The voice of the moderates who keep their head down for the sake of self-preservation will save themselves, but their collective lack of effort will spell the doom of civilisation. It has happened before. It will happen again. History repeats itself.