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666 words on Donald Trump

Donald Trump.

It’s fun. Laughing at his corn on the cob ‘hair’ and his penis anxieties and his miniature orange fingers.

It’s amusing.

Laughing at his supporters, extras from Deliverance, clinging to racist signs and confederate flags like security blankets.

It’s hilarious.

The idea that a born-rich business man who is enmeshed in the financial system that fucked over poor Americans, is now using the anger this created to his own ends. It is genuinely genuinely funny. The way that he still says he wants to unify America. When he has managed to spew so much hatred he has alienated women, Mexicans, Muslims, the mentally ill (who he blames for gun crime and calls ‘sickos’), and even his fellow Republicans. The idea that he can create peace when his own rallys become mini civil wars. And we are encouraged to laugh, because – underneath – we think he CAN’T become President. And even if he did, then, we are told, he’s just an opportunist. Ted Cruz is worse, they say, because he actually has a belief system.

But wait. Wait wait wait. And wait again.

First, Donald Trump could be the next president. Ask any depressive and they will tell you that the worst case can become the scenario. Winston Churchill was depressed enough to understand where the Third Reich could sink to. Being depressed can be useful. We need to be collectively pessimistic. And besides, with Trump securing over twice as much media coverage as Bernie and Hilary put together, it’s not pessimism. It’s realism. (‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’, said George Santayana.)

Second, he is not JUST an opportunist. He may have flipped and flopped on planned parenthood and the Iraq War but he has always been consistently racist. In the seventies, we now know, thanks to the Daily Beast, his real-estate business was the subject of a lawsuit after it was found to discriminate against African Americans (a C for coloured was put down on application papers to ensure they wouldn’t get a property). Also, there is increasing evidence that his father Fred Trump, was the Fred Trump from Queens in the 1920s who got arrested for being part of the KKK. And when you see old interviews of Donald from the 80s almost every time he will talk with anger about Japan or Russia ripping off the American people. That classic sign of a racist. Always thinking the natives are getting ripped off by the outsiders, or at least stirring up that narrative. So, when he talks about Mexicans being rapists and when he talks about a wall or when he conflates ‘Islam’ with ‘Islamic extremism’ or when he is slow to distance himself from the KKK or he talks about China being ‘cunning’ he is being opportunistic, yes absolutely, but also consistent.

Third, it really doesn’t matter. Obvioulsy it would be worse if he became president but even if he didn’t, he’s already done damage. Not just in America but across the world. He has allowed the international league of closet racists to step out of their little wardrobes of hate. He has legitimised ignorance. He has shown that if the world watches The Apprentice for too long instead of reading books it slowly loses empathy and the power of critical thought. He has taken the legitimate torrents of anger of poor white people and managed to channel it downstream to the even more marginalised, rather than up river where it belongs. This new Emperor Nero, who makes Saddam Hussein’s taste in interior design look understated, has shown how you really can’t underestimate an electorate. He, with his vulgar Vegas towers and his golf courses and his shrugged-off hypocrisy, has shown the west that mad rulers don’t just belong in totalitarian regimes. They can belong in the west. Because democracy means little when it becomes another reality TV show.

It might be the end of the world. But we still can’t switch to another channel.

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SOME THOUGHTS ON PRIVILEGE

SOME THOUGHTS ON PRIVILEGE
Okay, this is a long post.

You don’t have to read it.

It’s about my thoughts on empathy and privilege and what we are allowed to discuss and not discuss, and whether – in certain cases – political correctness has – against all odds – gone a little mad, if that is possible.

It might be controversial, but I hope it isn’t. I’m aiming for questioning. I’m aiming for that feeling I like happening in my own mind, of an established thought being illuminated in a slightly different way. The opening of a mind.

I have thought a lot about privilege this year. My own, and other peoples. Partly this is because earlier this year I proposed a book on masculinity and how fixed concepts of gender harm men, and got a lot of quite brutal animosity from a lot of people for even suggesting that men might have it hard in certain ways.  The kind of animosity that gets covered in The Guardian and The Independent and gets people to still post me about it months later.

While the patriarchy benefits men economically and socially, there may be some kind of emotional fallout.

In one sense, this controversy ‘worked’ in my favour. I got offered three big book deals in a week and lots of publicity. I even trended on Twitter for a minute or two. Whoo. Some saw it as part of a master plan. Others, less ridiculously, saw the furore itself as an example of male privilege in action.

Anyway, after much deliberation, I can safely say that book won’t be written, because I really can’t be doing with the grief. But it is still an issue close to my heart. And it is not an issue close to my heart because I care about men more than women, or that I don’t believe in privilege, but because I believe that the concept of masculinity as taught to men by men and by women and by everything from the Army through to Toys R Us, is a damaging and ridiculous thing that hurts women as much as men.

The idea of the strong, silent, providing male is the reason why the gender pay gap exists. It is also, in my view, the reason why more men kill themselves. The issue of masculinity is tied intrinsically with the problems of femininity. And I know that feminism has to be led by women, and I am not trying to be John Stuart Mill here, but as ‘lived experience’ seems to be a key criteria to writing about sensitive issues I do believe my lived experience of being a man who never fit into the right masculine box, has something to offer. I also believe it is impossible to talk about gender in isolation.

Anyway, instead of a book here are some thoughts on how the current discussion of privilege can itself have dehumanising effects:

1. We live in a patriarchy. Most human societies on Earth have been shown to be patriarchal and have patriarchal origins. This means men have traditionally had the roles of power and provision, while women have been subjugated by society towards a more domestic and nurturing role. Maybe ‘subjugated’ is the wrong word. We must be careful to not view gender equality in masculine terms. Maybe the traditionally ‘feminine’ roles of parenthood and nurturing should be valued as much, if not more, than the ‘masculine’ values of work and provision. But there are large inequalities and uneven expectations which patriarchal values continue to inflict. For instance, the gender pay gap means that women still earn nearly 20% less than men. And you only have to look at the ratio of male:female ratio of CEOs to see the shine in the glass ceiling. I think by broadening the idea of masculinity to the extent that those roles previously perceived as ‘feminine’ are never seen as demeaning would lead to happier more equal homes AND workplaces.

2. Even in a patriarchy men can have problems. Indeed, as someone who believes true individual happiness depends on other people being happy oppression of 51% of the population is going to have knock-on effects on the other 49%. Men and women are not separate species. But aside from that, there are other ways society harms men. For instance, four times as many men as women kill themselves. Nine out of ten homeless people are men. Men still die younger than women. Men are more likely to be addicts. 79% of murder victims are male. Men are more likely to end up in prison. Many of these things change widely between countries and eras, so they are CULTURAL. So to shrug and just say, as many have said to me, ‘men kill themselves more because they choose more violent methods’ seems a bit of an empathy and sympathy failure. Especially when, in the UK of thirty years ago the numbers of suicides between genders was roughly equal. We can therefore do massive amounts to stop the main cause of death for men under 50, yet we don’t, for fear of looking sexist.

3. I am a heterosexual white male. I am dripping in privilege.

4. And yet I have still recognised privileges even greater than mine. For instance, a heterosexual white male going to Eton might have more privilege than one going to the failing comp in Nottinghamshire that I went to, where there was very little expectation on any of us to go to university. Maybe a woman or person-of-colour going to Eton has more privileges, on balance, than a soft white boy amid the downwardly mobile school I went to. (One of the comments I got on Twitter was: ‘fuck off back to Eton white boy’.) But then, going to a better school than I did does not make you immune to problems either. I think we should always see the human first. As scary as it might sound, even Donald Trump is a human being capable of feeling pain and hurt. That doesn’t mean he won’t inflict pain and hurt. But if we insist on seeing the human in everyone, always, even while condemning their actions, the human might shine back. And maybe if Donald Trump had been given a more flexible idea of what being a man is – one that isn’t about earning money and objectifying women – maybe his attitudes would be a little warmer and saner.

5. The first time Hitler wrote about the Jews, in a letter from 1919, he used the word ‘privilege’. We need to be careful of that word. It has dehumanising effects. That is not to say we shouldn’t recognise it and see the harm it causes, just that we shouldn’t use it as a shortcut to not caring about any group of humans (the posh, the male, the literate, whatever).

6. Caring about one thing (say, the number of male suicides) does not automatically mean you can’t care about another thing (say, the number of female victims of rape). We don’t have to wall off our empathy.

7. Men indisputably belong to the more violent gender. But how do we stop that violence? Yes, violence can be a product of power structures but it can also be a product of impotence and frustration. Happy men are not violent men. Working on ways to improve men’s mental health will surely improve a lot of the issues that women have to deal with. This was the most explosive thing I ever pointed out on Twitter, but I stand by it.

8. We must never break down groups of humans into competing teams. I think the main problems of being human – that we can become ill, that we can experience pain and loss, that we are going to die – are utterly universal. We all deserve massive sympathy and love and congratulations simply for the privilege of being alive.

9. If you are connected to the internet and if you can read this you are privileged. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a problem that needs addressing. We all need love, we can all feel pain, especially in tough social and economic times, but we should always try to resist becoming the monster even as we fight the monster (sorry Nietzsche). We are all good and all evil. The entire human race is all of us. As Philip K Dick said ‘we are all stations in the same mind’. Let’s see us all as one. Let’s try and understand before we hate. Let’s try a little love.

10. That’s it.

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A blog about blogging

Hello.

Yesterday I inadvertently created a bit of a firestorm for something I tweeted about book reviews and blanket praise. I feel a bit unsettled about some of the responses and have been told by a few people they are going to blog about it, so I thought I should probably address the teacup-storm too and explain a few things.

Firstly, here is the thing I said that caused most offence:

“There is too much positivity in the book world. Esp in book blogs and on YouTube. Books can’t all be good can they?”

As well as:

“We need a critical culture in books. We need for people to say what they want about a book, for a healthy book culture.”

And possibly:

“Books are ideas. They are debate starters. They are conversation starters. They are meant to spark a range of opinion.”

Some people agreed with this. Some didn’t. Both positions are fine. But then some people got very heated, both publicly and in my DM box.

Now, I just want to clarify a few things:

1. I am not anti blogging or bloggers. This is a blog. I am a blogger.

2. I am not anti positive reviews. Look at the side of this page. I will shout my good reviews from the rooftops. I am a total tart. Good reviews fill me with pride. Positive reader reactions are why I write.

3. I value reviews massively. Too much. I read most of them, even the bad ones (though might be less prone to tweet that one for The Humans that said I had ‘deliberately sold out to become the sci-fi Tony Parsons’). Only this week I nearly wept when one of my favourite writers wrote a lovely, detailed review of a non-fiction book I’ve just written. I had been scared for years of writing it, and that review undid a decade of fear. Never mind sales. That is what a review can really mean.

4. I am self-critical. Every writer has to be. That is what editing is about. I cringe at 60% of what I write. I have been shouting ‘God, I’m shit’ at my Word Doc for the last month. And I would really recommend that you ignore the reviews and don’t buy a book I wrote called The Possession of Mr Cave. Criticism is how you raise your game. A critical culture, when it is devoid of personal grudges and is done from a position of love for an art form, is vital. It raises that culture. It is how, on a grander scale, healthy civilisations work. Debate. Criticism. Thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Critics are needed. If no-one had said ‘no, you’re doing that wrong’ we’d have been wiped out before the Neanderthals. I never went on a creative writing course, but have learnt a lot about my own writing from constructive critical opinion.

5. I criticise things I love. I don’t criticise Manchester United because I don’t like football. I commented about one aspect of book blog/Youtube culture because I value it. I like to think I engage with online book culture. In fact, the precise prompt for the tweet came after researching lots of YouTube ‘vloggers’ (forgive me for hating that word), because I WANT TO BECOME ONE. I have discovered I am vain enough to want to sit in my bedroom and talk straight to camera about stuff. And so I trawled through a lot of (chiefly American) blogs and became mildly nauseated by the overwhelming level of unthinking positivity. I began to feel how Michael Stipe felt when he wrote Shiny Happy People. But it’s no biggie.

6. That said, I was kind of addressing myself. I mean, I have reviewed books before. I have felt the pressure to say nice things I only half mean. I may be alone in that, or not. I sincerely don’t know. There has to be a balance between a personal kindness to an author and a respect for the medium itself. And let’s face it, if a tweet can be hated by you, so can a book. Books are also made of words and opinions and many of them are – consciously or unconsciously – saying things that demand to be argued with. Let’s not patronise books. They are not an endangered species. They are strong and powerful and will outlive us all.

7. The main argument seemed to be that people who review books for free want to choose books they think they’ll like. Fair enough. (Though surely you can never know what a book is going to be like until you read it, even if it is from an author you like, or why review?) Another argument was that authors can sometimes get nasty with reviewers. This is terrible, but true. There have been cases. Authors who can’t accept criticism of their work are a growing phenomenon. There was a case recently of some self-published nut job whacking a reviewer over the head with a wine bottle. What is happening? I defend anyone’s right to give me a terrible review. Any author should. Books aren’t the end of a conversation. They are the start of one.

8. A couple of bloggers said they won’t review me now. Fine. Although I don’t know how that proves your professionalism, or places the book before the author. I am far too much of a nervous wreck to be a hero but would happily take a metaphorical bullet for the right for people to speak their minds without consequence. Also, if you want to be respected as a reviewer wielding the power available to you if someone says something you don’t like is not the best tactic.

9. I love books. I write screenplays as well, but books beat them hands down. A book is the most beautiful art form there is. So much art starts with words. Books end with them too. They are pure and self-contained and apocalypse-proof. I love writing books and, mainly, reading them. There are 180,000 books published a year in the UK. We need to be discerning now more than ever. We need to know our taste. We need to demand the very best of our writers. We all need to raise our game. I certainly do.

10. Life is short. We are all alive for a blink of an eye. If we agree books are one of those things that help us enjoy and explore and comprehend our existence, then we can be free to disagree on the details. Let’s all be friends.

 

 

 

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10 Things to Tell A Sexist

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Along with millions of other Youtube viewers I enjoyed Emma Watson’s speech on feminism at the UN. It was a very wise speech, successfully arguing that for feminism to reach its goals it needs to be a movement for men too. The genius of the speech was in showing that feminism is a benefit, not a threat, to men.

Anyway, within the same week as this great speech, we have seen too many examples of how much work is still to be done. Not only has Emma Watson faced pathetic trolls threatening to publish nude photos of her, but Youtube blogger Sam Pepper has filmed a prank of himself groping women while asking for directions, and a mall in the Phillipines has been selling T-shirts advocating rape.

This is sad. And rather stupid. And lowers us all. We need to remind sexist people exactly why they are their own worst enemy.

1. Feminism is really equalism. It means humans have equal rights to be themselves and live freely, without harassment or stigma or unfair treatment.

2. Feminism is good for men. More than three times as many men kill themselves as women. In part, this is down to values which make men feel they have to be tough and never admit weakness.

3. Your rape jokes aren’t funny. A mall in the Phillipines has been selling a T-shirt describing the violent crime of rape as ‘a snuggle with a struggle’. The humour here is the humour of hate. For a society where most rape victims are reluctant to speak out, that T-shirt is actually incitement. It tells women their trauma is insignificant. It is an act of violence in itself. The point of humour is to defuse things, to find relief in things that are uncomfortable. You can joke about anything. It’s not the subject, it’s the intention. Rape should not be defused any more than paedophilia or race crimes should be. It should be stopped.

4.  Feminism is about equality. It isn’t about girls v men. It’s about everyone being able to be the full human they are. It’s about creating a caring, safer, more advanced world.

5. Empathy. That is the secret to a successful life. To be able to understand that other humans are exactly as complex as you are, with the same wants and needs and hopes and failures, will make life so much easier and pleasant for you. Try it.

5. One day you might have a daughter. Your sexism is shrinking the world she will live in.

6. You are a sexist. That is one of the bad -ists. You believe men are the stronger sex. Yet you troll and bully out of weakness, a sense of inferiority. You defeat your own misguided belief system every time you speak.

7. Groping is wrong. It is not a prank. It is trespassing. Humans are not fruit. If you need to grope, go back to your cave and vigorously grope yourself over your X-Box.

8. Porn does not reflect sexual reality any more than The Expendables 3 reflects the reality of growing old.

9. You are on the wrong side of history. You know those bad guys in historical movies? The ones who are on the side of slavery, or who belong to the KKK, or who supported fascism? Well, you will be those historical bad guys. Hell, you already are. (Quick, change sides.)

10. Humans are amazing. And it isn’t our brawn but our brains that make us so. We might not be as good at flying as an albatross, or as good at smelling as a dog, or as brilliant at hearing as a bat, or as strong as a gorilla, and our digging skills would be laughed at by most aardvarks, but wow, look at our brains. Our brains are equally impressive, whether we are male or female. They can create books, art, music. They can calculate and muse and dream. Our unique beauty, as a species, rests in our ability and desire to do things and create things and enjoy things that aren’t directly essential to our survival. We not only live, but have discovered there is a point to living beyond simple reproduction and staying alive. To belittle and demean fifty per cent of our species, simply because of some really incidental physiological differences, is to miss the point of life itself and to lower the joy of being human. If you are a mysoginist, or even a plain old sexist pig snuffling about in your own prejudice, it really is your loss. The air really is better up here.

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Some selfish thoughts on suicide and Robin Williams

It’s been a depressing week, on all fronts.

On the war front, obviously. But that seems to be every week. The twenty-first century just seems to be one long rotating war.

It has also been depressing on the depression front.

Of course, we had the horrible news about Robin Williams hanging himself in his bedroom last Sunday night.

I hate hearing about famous people killing themselves. This is partly because it is sad to lose someone you ‘know’ even if you only know them in the sense that they have been in a lot of films and TV interviews that you have seen.   And Robin Williams was always someone we felt we knew. There was always so much of him.

Yes, sure, he was great in Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting. But even in The World According to Garp or Awakenings or more uneven stuff he was always brought an intensity – through manic comedy or sparkle-eyed emotion – that couldn’t be feigned. Even when he wasn’t so great it was because there was too much of a performance, never too little. The acting – as with the stand-up comedy – always seemed like a valve for the intensity inside. The rapid fire performance in, say, Good Morning Vietnam or the dark introversion of the child abuser in Insomnia being a kind of lava busting from an intense roaring molten soul.

So yes. There is that sadness. We’ll miss him. He made good stuff.

But also, as someone who has suffered suicidal thoughts, very nearly acting on them once, there is a kind of selfish sadness. A sense of strange dread. A thought that someone we can visualise and hear in our heads, someone who had the money to get the best treatment out there, who had family, who had support, who had been successful by almost everyone’s measure, had fallen victim to depression at the age of 63.

63. That’s the other thing. When I was suicidal I used to imagine there was a certain point where such a fate is less likely. Once I’d passed 27, that famous fatal end-point for suicidal rock idols, there was a sense of achievement. Like reaching the next level of a video game. Same when I passed 35. I was no longer in the 21-35 ‘young man’ danger category. But there are other danger categories. In America and the UK suicide rates for middle aged and older men have risen by as much as 40% since 1999.

I remember hearing of David Foster Wallace’s suicide at the age of 46 and thinking, oh crap, things can get worse. Then Hunter S. Thompson blowing his brains out one clear afternoon at the age of 67. So yes, depression is not just an illness that claims the young. It is increasingly an illness shown to be fatal at any age. Life isn’t a journey upwards. We do not always accumulate strength as we go. It can weaken our minds as well as our bodies. I started to worry that, if I had a diagnosis like Parkinson’s or had sudden money or life worries in my sixties it could trigger a depression I wouldn’t have the strength to recover from.

But then, let’s be rational. Just because Robin Williams killed himself doesn’t make it any more likely that we will. Suicide happens. But most cases of depression don’t end in it killing the sufferer. Winston Churchill never killed himself. Mark Twain didn’t. Long-term depressive Tennessee Williams ended up accidentally choking on the cap from his eye drop fluid in his eighties. And also, of course, a suicide shouldn’t cloud the whole memory of someone. When Virginia Woolf told her husband in her suicide note ‘I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been’ she meant it. Depression is best thought of as a weather pattern. A hurricane might destroy a house that had enjoyed glorious sunshine a week before.

 

Of course, we are all going to die. Some of us will probably die in our sixties. The trick is not to fear this, but to accept it as the thing that gives life its value. ‘That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet,’ said Emily Dickinson. So let’s mourn those who gave us pleasure, but try not to mourn ourselves from the future. Let’s enjoy the fruit before it browns. Let’s taste the sweetness if we are able to. Let us be thankful for the moments we know, and never fret about the ones we don’t. Let’s live.