A cup of post truth tea

anicecupofteaandabiscuit2Last week. 10km up. Somewhere over Europe.

The seatbelt sign has disappeared and I’m pretending to work on my laptop as two metal trollies slowly work a stop-start pincer manoeuvre from the front and back towards my middle-of-the-plane seat.

The captain informed us earlier that it will only take forty-five minutes to fly from Dusseldorf to Zurich.

Eventually the trollies collide next to me and I am asked to choose my beverage. There’s only twenty-five minutes left before we land so I opt for tea.

She asks what type. I say normal. Blank look.

I elaborate, in my pigeon German; English breakfast, proper, normal, brown tea….bitte.

The young lady flicks through a rolodex of tea bags announcing them as she does. Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Green, White, Orange or Strawberry infusion, Camomile and so on.

I shake my head, repeat my order and receive the look of someone who’s just been asked for a skinny, vanilla latte with a side of salted edamame beans.

I take a glass of water and continue with my pretend working.

I would submit to you that not all progress is good progress.

Something’s were better left the way they were. I liked the world when the only choice of tea, outside of India and China, was brown tea. Aka, the kind I drink.

Now in saying this I fully accept that this lack of choice puts the minority groups who actually enjoy drinking a cup of hot water with a few lemon and bark flavoured twigs at a disadvantage. But such is life.

We don’t really need such choices, they serve no purpose other than to confuse, and slow things down.

We live in a world where we have come to expect that we get what we want, when we want it. Be it a ten kilometre high fruity infusion, instant Netflix, free pornography, retail therapy or amazon reordering our toilet roll.

So when things don’t happen the way we think they should we are becoming unequipped to deal with them.

The two seismic democratic results this year and specifically ‘our’ reactions to them are wonderful real world examples of something not happening in the way we believed they should have.

And what did we do?

We cried foul, we protested, we sought therapy, we stomped our feet, we rattled the bars of our respective cribs, we blamed Facebook and turned (and continue to turn) every legal stone to try to reverse what was a fair and unfettered democratic result.

Democracy, it would seem and to quote Churchill, is only the best worst form of government when it delivers a result along our accepted norms.

And both Brexit and Trump were anything but our accepted norms.

Don’t get me wrong I too was as bemused as the next person when I woke to discover the world had gone mad. I even started questioning the principle of universal suffrage. Can there not be a intelligence test or some other hurdle before they give out the right to vote?

I was shocked and surprised. Who on earth thought that Brexit was a good idea or that voting a misogynistic bully with stupid hair into the white house was wise?

Well, as it turns out, quite a lot of people.

I started realising that what I thought were the accepted norms of the world aren’t actually the accepted norms, they are my norms, not shared by what a democratic textbook would define as the majority.

Oddly the majority of the world care more about the prospect of a job and their ability to put food on their family’s table than the plight of immigrants or the right of some members of the LBGTQ community to pee in whichever toilet they choose.

This majority are apparently willing to look beyond the offensive or borderline illegal statements or whether the person is actually telling the truth if he or she can deliver something different to what has not been delivered for them in the last thirty years or so. They ignored the crap and focused on what will make a difference for them, not all Trump supporters support his views or are sexist xenophobes – they just believed he could deliver more than the next man, or woman as the case was.

My shock and surprise at both results lasted probably about a day or so and once I had worked out the how it happened to my own satisfaction I put all my toys back in my pram, and immediately cancelled my therapy sessions.

The majority of the world doesn’t exist in the same world as me nor most of the people I know. I haven’t met the majority. I don’t know them and I clearly don’t think like them. Politicians the world over don’t seem to understand them either and this is the most troubling aspect of this year, aside from David Bowie, Prince and Terry Wogan of course.

The leadership of the United Kingdom and the United States, regardless of political affiliation, got it very badly wrong. The rest of the world’s leaders are now sitting up and taking notice like a bunch of startled Meerkats.

They were so far out of touch with the bulk of the electorate that they allowed such catastrophes to occur. Yes I blame them, and now with the luxury of hindsight it doesn’t seem that surprising. I don’t agree with these results, but I can understand why they have occurred.

It seems for every big issue, be it terrorism, immigration or the economy, the majority would move right and the political class would move left, the chasm this created delivered us Brexit and now Trump. Merkel will probably be next and lets see what happens in France in the coming months.

So what to do now?

Well there’s not much to do really.

Protesting is something I do believe in. If enough people protest and raise an issue it will get done, politicians will only do what we tell them to, they value their jobs far more than what they have said they believe in, just listen to Paul Ryan now as a case in point. It’s been quite some time since a politician stuck to his or her beliefs regardless of the implications.

Protesting against a vote result is a wasted protest though, you might as well be protesting against the bad weather. Save your protests up for when you really need them, for the policy statements or the bad legislation or another war.

Rioting will help even less.

If you will allow here’s my advice. I suggest you accept that not everyone in the world has the same beliefs as you. Try to understand like I am that you are not always right and I know this is difficult. Try to understand that whatever that cause or issue you feel so strongly about might not hold the same weight with others. Lots of others.

You can call them what you want but there is more of them than you or me.

When Lenin stepped off that train in Petrograd 1917 after years of living in exile he promised ‘Peace, Bread and Land’ to the masses and it worked. A simple promise. Easy to understand and to rally behind.

This simple promise was never fulfilled but that’s a just being pedantic. The majority believed him, like the majority believe Trump or believed Farage, Gove and Johnson.

Promising something and delivering something is altogether different and if we could fast forward four years I bet you the post Brexit or Trump administration world is a very different one to the one they have painted for us. Where Brexit is concerned I hope not, with Trump, well that’s a different blog altogether.

It will be different though and when it is I certainly hope proper debate and discourse returns and is the only mechanism used to determine how we all move forward from that point.

Because regardless of the result, this ‘post truth’ world we appear to have landed in isn’t one I like. Nor do I approve of it or want it to continue.

It’s a bit like that cup of milky Earl Grey offered as a substitute to proper tea when you have no other choice.

Its weak, totally devoid of substance, it has a nice name but ultimately when all is said and done, it will deliver you nothing.

The Gruffalo

UntitledWhat matters more, feelings or facts?

A week or so ago I turned a corner and forty years old disappeared from my rear view mirror, looming ahead of me front and center is fifty. I don’t feel forty-six. I don’t even know what forty-six should feel like which probably makes me wholly unqualified to deal with the big five-zero when it arrives.

I just don’t feel it, I still feel twenty-five, but I also don’t dispute the fact that I am.

2016 is hardly a momentous year for me. It’s not a milestone in my life. If I was to look back on my life I doubt 2016 wouldn’t stand out much. It’s been a pretty good year though and I keep my fingers firmly crossed for the final five months.

It wouldn’t stand out if I was the only person on the planet but I’m not and given everything else which has happened this year, and continues to happen, I do think this year will stand out, but for all the wrong reasons.

I’ve said it before and will say it again that its difficult, if not impossible, to see events properly whilst they are occurring. You need to be able step back and gain some historical perspective to see how things affect or interact with each other and their knock on effects. The other thing about historical perspective is that time tends to get condensed. Take the twenty-one years during the two world wars. Aside from Germany it would seem nothing of note happened anywhere else. Of course it did, its just the historical lens only allows us to see the events which have an impact on the subsequent events and then it basically ignores the rest. The interwar years tend to be reduced to a few paragraphs and only to act as the bridge or to show cause and effect between WWI and WWII.

So are we living through an inflection point in history or just some dull nothing of note period?

To answer this properly we would need a flux capacitor, 1.21 Giga-watts and a DeLorean. We would then need to go speak with our grandchildren and ask them what they think. I cant speak for them but I think we can be fairly sure they wont be that happy with us for this year, regardless of its overall place in history.

We, and I use ‘we’ very generously to include my generation (x) and the baby boomers (my parents generation), are the generations who make up the majority of the worlds population today.

We are the generations who have had the opportunities which were handed to us by our grandparents. They were the generation who fought and died to give us the life we have today. They weren’t fighting for themselves, they were fighting for us. We did nothing to deserve it, we were just fortunate enough to be born after 1945, that’s it, and every year quite rightly we thank them for it.

So lets now jump back to the future to today and if we use our retrospective historical perspective lens what have we done with such a gift?

We have grown comparatively wealthy, we have educated ourselves, we have pushed innovation to such a rate its hard to keep up. We have advanced the world through science and medicine, we are rapidly rejecting faith and have lifted everyone’s welfare up a few notches. We have significantly more ‘stuff’.

What else? Can we say, like our grandparents could, that we are handing over the world in a better state than it was when we inherited it?

How have we handled ourselves this year for example? Have our decisions this year done anything to improve the baton in preparation for us passing it on in the coming years?

There has been one decision already taken this year, the EU referendum, and another one coming up, the US presidential election. Given we are still the majority both these major decision have been, and will be, taken by us.

The next generation will have their say but they are still the minority, for now.

And this brings me back to feelings vs. facts.

It seems right now feelings are trumping facts every time – if you forgive the obvious pun. The whole Brexit leave campaign ignored every fact placed in front of them. To me the epitome of the whole campaign was summed up when Michael Gove was asked about some expert opinion and he said ‘Its clear the population are sick of hearing from so called experts’. He knew very well that any learned or scientific analysis of the post Brexit situation would not support his position so with one condescending sentence ignored them and by using the phrase so called undermined their hard won, peer reviewed, credibility as experts without any justification whatsoever to do so. He did it with no shame or embarrassment before immediately directing the discussion back to the rather vague feelings of the electorate, according to him. Another fact bomb diffused.

And it worked. We believed the non-factual statements, we believed the lies and half truths. We believed the sound bite fear mongering about a faceless enemy called Brussels or immigration and never thought to question any of it. We believed it so much that we are now going to pull Britain out of the EU – a decision, which as minor aside, was polar to the wishes of the next generation.

My parent’s generation and my generation have had the benefit of the EU for most of their working and studying lives. We have all enjoyed the freedom of travel and the peace driven by integration. We have all enjoyed free education, social benefits, access to the free market and international study programs.

Now, given our age, these things are things we don’t need anymore. We have used them up so why should these be important to anyone? We are the most important generation right?

The two main items which were top of the importance list for leave voters were immigration and taking control back. Afterwards everyone agrees both items will not be addressed properly by leaving the EU, so personally I am at a loss as to why have we actually done it in the first place? Just to prove we can?

I don’t think I need to go on. What we have done by voting to leave the EU is to ignore the big picture, we have decided to ignore the needs of future generations. We have ignored the facts, we have ignored the truth and focused on our own feelings, basically it was a fuck anyone else vote and yes, that does include our own children. How does this stack up against the generation who were celebrating VE day back in 1945?

I would suggest not very well and can almost guarantee history will judge it as much.

So that’s one decision down, what about the other one coming up in November? Well as far as I can see its pretty much the same situation. Facts being ignored, focus on the fear and rally everyone against the enemy who is always ‘out there’.

And the talking heads keep saying how you should feel, regardless of the reality.

Create an enemy and keep the population focused on them. It’s Muslims or the Mexicans this time around but it could anyone really. Just make sure that they don’t look or think like the majority and you will be ok. If you ever have had the inclination to work your way through the toxic drivel which is Mein Kampf you might be surprised to see this is exactly the approach a certain Mr Hitler employed during the 1930s in Germany. Establish beyond doubt who the enemy is using falsehoods and pseudo-science and then blame all of society’s ills on that enemy. It worked back then, why not now?

The similarities are so apparent to the extent I have found myself having to resort to Godwin’s Law during some discussions on the subject. Facts and normal debate is dead, normal healthy political discourse and challenge seems to be something we can just ignore now.

If you lie, just keep repeating the lie even when faced with absolute proof of the lie and eventually people will just give up trying to talk to you and you can carry on with your baseless rhetoric, unchallenged.

The slogan Make America Great Again got me thinking, when exactly was America ever great? I came to the conclusion, once again, it was 1945. That was the time when they justifiably could claim to be great, a huge industrial powerhouse who had just brought peace to the world and harboured little or no interventionist ideas. It stopped being great some time ago and a lying misogynistic lump of a man with no concept of even the basics of politics or common decency stands zero chance of returning it anywhere close to where it once was.

But what do I know? Perhaps I’m old fashioned but I still believe in a strong opposition and independant press. I still like to have heated fact based debates and up until this year I firmly believed that freedom of speech meant the best argument would always win the day.

Oddly I also believe we should hand over the world to the future generation in a better state than when we inherited it.

Perhaps these concepts don’t apply anymore and maybe this is my problem. Why should I care about silly things like facts, the future or for that matter the truth when it comes to gaining political capital?

Its clearly not that important anymore, but as story goes the more the mouse talked about the Gruffalo the more real he became.

And this, I think, is what scares me the most…

Drinks like Richard Burton. Dance like John Travolta.

trump capWhat’s the difference between a pledge and a promise?

Nothing really. Both are commitments to do something and both are not legally binding. One is used more often than the other but they sort of mean the same thing. A pledge does seem to have an air of formality which a promise doesn’t though. For example I would never make a pledge to buy my kids an ice-cream but I often promise it.

During the 2010 UK Election the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party Nick Clegg made a pledge not to raise university tuition fees as part of his party’s campaign manifesto. Subsequently, as part of a coalition government the Liberal democrats did nothing to stop the tripling of tuition fees. In short, the pledge or promise they and he made during the election was broken.

Or to put it another way, and looking at it in retrospect, he lied to get votes.

But this will comes as no surprise to anyone, a politician who lies to get votes is just doing whatever every other politician is doing. Right?

I was thinking about this in relation to the worsening state of the Republican nomination elections going on right now the other side of the Atlantic. For the most part Europeans are watching on with disbelief as the rhetoric keeps being ratcheted up to what would normally represent politically suicidal levels, but oddly as it does the cheers just get louder and the votes keeps coming in.

I am of course referring to the leading candidate Donald Trump and how he is managing, almost single handedly, to turn politics on its head.

He himself recognises it and, not possessing a single modest cell in his body, is also very happy to shout about it.

The old adage; no publicity is bad publicity, has never really applied to politics. If, for example, you were photographed masturbating with an orange in your mouth whilst wearing a KKK smock this would normally spell the end of your political (or other) career.

If it was Donald Trump however he would probably get extra votes from orange farmers and white sheet manufacturers.

The statements of fact about what he will do when he becomes president are clearly un-doable. He is making pledges or promises now which everyone knows cannot be done.

  • Ban Muslim people from entering the US. How?
  • Build a wall with Mexico and have them pay for it? How?
  • Kick the Syrian refugees out. Where to?
  • Shut down parts of the internet. How?
  • Bring back jobs from China. How?

Everyone knows these statements are lies already but contrary to the normal rules of politics people are lapping them up and continue to vote for him. They don’t seem to care if he is telling the truth or not.

For what its worth I don’t believe Donald Trump will become the next president of the US, no matter how popular he appears to be right now. The joke will eventually wear thin and when push comes to shove Hillary will end up sitting in the oval office wondering what else her husband got up to in that very seat.

So is there anything good to come of it all other than a few comedic months before the reset button is pressed?

I think so because I don’t think there is a reset button.

If its possible to put the borderline racist, misogynistic and frankly stupid statements aside for a moment, he is shaking up the established order and this can only be a good thing. I like it because once the hoo-ha has died down and he goes back to just being a bit of a dick with stupid hair someone else could come along, someone less like Trump, who might actually benefit from the change. Suddenly not only is it ok to depart from the party line, it seems to be the way to go.

Most democratic countries around the world have a very similar operating model.

Most countries have one, two or three major parties and a lot of minor ones who will never stand a chance of ruling. Mostly these parties are formed around a fundamental principle or two such as the conservative party or Labour party in the UK. These parties have inherent rules which members must follow even if they disagree with them – the party line has to be adhered to at all times.

What this means in practice is the general population have very little choice. Yes you can vote for the green party or UKIP if you like but deep down you know your party will never be able to put into practice the policies which you hold close to your heart.

Whatever you think of Trump he does appear to be appealing to the broad masses and whether you like it or not isn’t this the point of democracy?

Maybe, just maybe, the legacy here will be that a less offensive version of Trump will come along, a Trump-light say, who can actually give the broad masses what they want without alienating the whole world in the process and when he does the established order won’t be able to stop him, or her.

But back to a pledge vs a promise. How can it be that a party or politician can campaign and promise or pledge everything and when they actually get into power not do half of what was in their manifesto? How can it be that they seem to be continually getting away with it? Conning the electorate that is.

Shouldn’t this be illegal? Shouldn’t the election be annulled or something?

If, for example, Trump was to actually win the election he would find himself sitting on a long list of un-executable promises.

The Mexicans would say go build it yourself. Muslims would just say no when asked the key question at immigration. The Greeks or Turks would refuse the plane(s) carrying the refugees back. Someone would actually point out its impossible to shut down the internet, the Chinese would just keep manufacturing and America wouldn’t be great again.

How would his screaming, dribbling, greasy finger-licking, supporters feel about that?

So if I was to be advising him right now I would tell him to continue being loud, keep the hair and the brashness but promise nothing. Nothing at all, other than promise to hold everyone else to their pledges or promises, and if they decided to do a U-turn they would be fired immediately.

How about that for a novel way to hold our respective leaders to account?

It would never pass any party committee test but if Trump has shown us anything over the last few months this isn’t totally necessary to catch the imagination of the electorate.

And maybe I’m just a bit old fashioned but at the end of the day aren’t these the people who should really matter?