2000AD post on Mindless Ones

Here’s me, talking about 2000AD on its fortieth birthday. Tomorrow, I write about a story that has a special resonance right now…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I Shouldn’t Say “I Plan To Write Something Every Day”, Should I?

I said it on here a couple of days ago. Yesterday I couldn’t write because of a headache. Today, I can’t write because I only had four hours’ sleep last night (couldn’t sleep with the headache, and then the dog woke me up early in the morning, howling when my wife left the house), so now I’m exhausted, still have the headache because I couldn’t sleep it off, and now I also have an arthritis flare-up in my knuckles so can’t type much.
I’ll be back tomorrow.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

She Broke Gods

I’ve done a few of Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenges before, but haven’t in a while. I’m trying to write more fiction, so I decided to do the latest one. As always, I challenge myself to write it in one sitting, without a plan before I start.

There comes a time when a god has outlived its usefulness. We can all tell it’s coming — everyone except the god itself. It’s collapsing under the stress of not fitting into the world any more, and everyone can see the cracks, see the disjoint between what it symbolises and the world, but the god can’t see what’s happening. Sometimes the collapse takes hours, sometimes decades, but the final end always comes as a shock to them. You can see the utter astonishment on their faces, as their facade shatters, and the hollowness inside them is revealed.

Sometimes, if they crack the right way, the face remains whole during the disintegration. If you know where to look, you can sometimes find a godface where it landed, buried centuries ago. I like to go looking for them, and to wonder what they were god of, though of course I can never know. I’ve found a few, but have never reported them to a museum. I always leave them in peace. It seems the right thing to do.

But when you dig up the great, petrified, four-metre-tall faces, they all have the same expressions, as if in their last instant of life, they’d realised that every assumption they ever had about the way the universe worked was wrong.

Which is, of course, exactly what has happened. Anathema has whispered her word to them, and they’ve realised the truth.

Anathema, alone of the gods, understood the nature of their existence. The gods all convinced themselves that they were creative forces — that the god of thunder created thunder, or that the god of music invented melody. But Anathema knew the truth. They were neither creator, nor created, but byproducts. The existence of the concept necessitated the existence of a god associated with it. And that god would have power, but only so long as the concept had power.

And so the gods, despite their belief in their own immortality, all had limited lifespans. Some, like the god of the Sun, were measured in the billions of years, but a billion years is nothing to the eternity which the gods believed was theirs by right.

And so, as the concept with which they were associated became less useful, the god would be hollowed out, even while not realising it. And then one day, there would be no more city of Ur, and no-one alive who remembered the city, and no-one who even remembered the story of the city, and there would be nothing left of the god of Ur except a shell that thought itself a god. And then Anathema would come, and whisper her word, and that would be the end of it.

The other gods knew nothing of this, of course. They never thought to ask Anathema what it was she was god of (and she had ways to make sure the question would never occur to them), and when one of their fellows disappeared, they would forget it had ever existed. And so the gods were protected from the knowledge of their own mortality. Once a god has died, that god is totally forgotten.

Many have wondered what Anathema’s word might be. Over the millennia, there have been hundreds of cults and movements worshipping her. Philosophers have debated for centuries what word might have the power to destroy the gods, and theologians have discussed what language it might be in, and what effect it might have on a human who heard it. Would it, perhaps, destroy the human the same way it does a god? Or might it make humans immortal, by giving them knowledge kept from even the gods? Might it be incomprehensible to them? Might the universe itself be merely the echo of the word?

All these questions and more have been asked, over and again. And Anathema has let her worshippers continue, and her investigators query. And then, once the pious and the inquisitive have died a natural death, she ensures that they leave no trace upon the world. The books go out of print and rot on the shelves; the churches fall into disuse, their stones stolen and used to build nondescript hovels, and within a generation of each movement dedicated to her, she’s unknown again.

Some have said that there is a more secret movement dedicated to her, a movement which never has any more than two members at any time, and which keeps the hidden truths of her. Some say that the periodical waves of interest in her are inspired by this movement. Some say that her secret followers control the whole world. Others say that this secret movement consists of the real gods, the ones who created the gods we all know.

Some say a lot of things.

But no mortal will admit to ever having heard her word, and no god can possibly conceive of it. We can merely deduce its existence from its effects, much as one cannot see the wind, just the destruction caused by a hurricane.

We know that her word serves a purpose, and that eventually all gods would hear it. But we never thought what that would mean. Until today, when I was forced to.

A crack came from the sky — the sound of a dying god, directly overhead. I rushed to shelter myself, and saw the godface plummeting. It landed mere metres from me, and once the dust had settled, I went to investigate.

There, in front of me, twice my own size, was the first fresh godface I’d ever seen, parted from its god only minutes before. It was the face of Anathema. And her expression was different from any I’d seen. It was a look of perfect content and satisfaction.

I’d never thought, of course, about the fact that Anathema herself was a god, and must also one day die. But now I can think of nothing else, just about what happens now that the god-killer is dead. And what might have killed her.

When gods die, we’re meant to forget them. But I’ll never forget that face.

This blog post was brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Linkblogging for 17/2/17

Not done a linkblog for a while, have I? But I’m trying to make sure there’ll be *something* up here every day, now, and I’m uninspired, so you get links.
(I was going to do a review of Cerebus in Hell #1 for Mindless Ones, but it turned out, having read it, that the actual review would just be “it’s Wondermark but not as good”, which didn’t really seem worth a separate post).

Fred Clark has a Bonhoeffer quote which seems very appropriate at the moment

Millennium Elephant’s vision of a liberal future

Charles Stross on one possible worst-case scenario for the world right now

A law student’s guide to free speech (and what it isn’t)

Jess Nevins writes about his book on the history of costumed heroes

Kristine Rusch gives some advice on how to be a fiction writer in difficult political times

And my wife, Holly, does a guest blog for Scope (actually transcribed from a phone interview, so in “spoken English” rather than “written English” — I mention this because she’s felt a little odd about that herself) about her experiences trying to find employment as a disabled immigrant. Warning, contains photograph of me.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Steve Bannon’s Plan to Save the World

I’m going to try something new here. I’m going to take a leaf from @alexandraerin’s book, sort of. Erin pointed out recently that Twitter threads get shared much more widely than blog posts, because each tweet acts as a pull quote. So I’m going to tweet (large excerpts of) this post as a thread, and may do the same with my other political blog posts. The full post is available in the link in the first tweet of the thread. Let me know what you think about this.

So. I recently learned something about President Bannon that made sense of quite a few things for me. What I discovered is that Bannon genuinely believes, for what he thinks are scientific reasons, that Donald Trump might save the world.

The reason he thinks this is the same reason the media is full of thinkpieces about “millennials”: a book published in 1991. Generations by William Strauss and Neil Howe, and their sequel The Fourth Turning, were very influential books in their time – Al Gore gave copies of Generations to every member of Congress – but they’re largely regarded as pseudoscience now. But Bannon is a fan, especially of The Fourth Turning, which he made a documentary about.

In Generations, Strauss and Howe outline a hypothesis about how history works – basically, everyone is influenced by the events that happen in their childhood and young adulthood, everyone reacts against their parents’ generation, and so you get a new cohort of people coming up every twenty years or so who can, broadly, be talked about as a group.

Strauss and Howe claim that there are four types of generation – Idealists, Nomads, Heroes, and Artists. In terms of current generations, the “silents” born before the early forties would be artists, the boomers (early forties through 1960 or so) idealists, gen x (1960ish through 1980ish) nomads, and millennials heroes. (The generation now in their early teens and younger would be another artist generation).

What they claim is that these four types have been cyclical (with one exception) since at least the fifteenth century, and that this leads to a roughly eighty-year history cycle in British and later USian history. These cycles all culminate in a crisis which pulls everyone together.

(Of course, as with all these vast comprehensive hypotheses of history, the predictions and generalisations are so vague that it’s unfalsifiable. Hari Seldon only exists in books.)

The crisis usually happens when the idealists (who don’t remember the last crisis) are in their 50s through 70s, and in charge. The nomads (cynical, rootless, opportunists) are in their 30s through 50s, and making all the decisions about how to organise things in detail. And the heroes are in their late teens through early thirties.

With that generational lineup, Strauss and Howe say, you get visionaries giving the world direction, cynics making the uncomfortable hard decisions, and young heroes as willing cannon fodder. When there’s a crisis, that lineup pulls together to get through it and remake the world in their image.

(Note that they don’t talk about what particular ideals the visionaries have. The boomer generation has a lot of left-wing radicals, but also a lot of right-wing Christians. It’s that they have strong beliefs, not what the beliefs are, that matters.)

There is, however, one big exception that they admit to their hypothesis – the American Civil War. What they say there is that the big crisis happened too early, and so instead of coming together the idealist generation polarised.

Now, Strauss and Howe were writing in the 1990s, and what they said was that a crisis would come in the early decades of the 21st century. The example of a crisis they used was a massive terrorist attack on New York City. They gave examples of what the reaction would be if that happened in the early 2000s, the late 2010s, and so on, with their different generational makeups.

They got it roughly right, in that they said an attack in the early 2000s would lead to disaster – there would still be many silents in the upper echelon of government, and Xers don’t make very good foot soldiers in their view. The military adventure that resulted would lead to an increased polarisation in the boomers’ ideologies. And they said that a very likely result of this would be an eventual civil war in the US. An attack in 2001 would be the same kind of too-early crisis as the US civil war.

But an attack in the late 2010s would be a different matter. If the crisis came then, then the boomers would all put their political differences aside and lead the US to invade the Middle East and bring peace to it, in a war that would be like the USian War of Independence or World War II.

And a number of people who believe in Strauss and Howe’s work have come to the conclusion that the only way to save the US is if there’s another 9/11 style crisis in the next few years – if Afghanistan and Iraq turn out to be like WWI was for the US, a mere prelude to the real fight.

Now, again, I don’t think Strauss and Howe were right. But Bannon does. He made a film about their work a few years ago. That film’s last line: “history is seasonal and winter is coming”.

Bannon believes that the only way to save the US, and possibly the world, is to have a crisis in the next few years. One bigger than 9/11, which will pull the US together, to lead a global war. And this man is currently the most trusted advisor to a US President who is at best unqualified for the job.

Bannon’s malign influence may well yet turn Strauss and Howe’s books into self-fulfilling prophecy. Winter is coming, indeed.

This blog post/tweetstorm was brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 7 Comments

The Beach Boys on CD: Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin

After completing That Lucky Old Sun, Brian Wilson went into one of his periodic creative slumps, discovering that he was, at least temporarily, unable to write new songs. Making an album of cover versions seemed the obvious option to keep his revived recording career going, and so when Disney asked him to record an album of songs from their films, he agreed – but on one condition.

Before recording the Disney songs album, he wanted to record an album of cover versions of Gershwin songs. Wilson had been inspired by Gershwin ever since, as a tiny child, he had first heard Rhapsody in Blue at his grandmother’s house (from what he’s said over the years, it was probably the Glenn Miller version, which is a leaden, lifeless, thing, but which clearly contained enough of a hint of the piece’s full majesty for a small child to see its beauty). Rhapsody in Blue had been one of the touchstone pieces of his career, one of those pieces like “Be My Baby” that one can hear echoing throughout his work, and now Wilson wanted to record an album of songs by its composer.

The Disney company agreed, and Wilson and his band went to work. Wilson and musical director Paul von Mertens selected the songs together – mostly going for the obvious choices, and selecting among them based on what was in Wilson’s vocal range. Based on their discussions, von Mertens came up with rough arrangements which he taught the band, before Wilson went into the studio and reworked the arrangements.

Based on this description of the working method, it might seem that this is more Paul von Mertens Reimagines Gershwin than Brian Wilson, but listening to the record itself it becomes very apparent that this isn’t the case. If nothing else, it’s always obvious when Wilson doesn’t care about the record he’s making – his vocals when he’s less than totally enthused can be painfully bad.

On this album, though, Wilson hits what may be the vocal peak of his solo career. He’s still a somewhat eccentric vocalist even here, and it’s a massively courageous decision to try to take on songs which have been famously performed by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, and the rest of the greatest interpreters of American popular song. Any performance of “Summertime” or “Love is Here to Stay” will immediately invite comparison to those recordings, and the fact that sometimes the comparison isn’t a laughable one is in itself a major success. Wilson apparently worked on the vocals here harder than on anything he’d done in the studio in years, and it shows.

Not everything here works, but more does than one might imagine, and while some of the arrangements might seem a little Wilson-by-numbers, there’s a freshness to many of these interpretations that’s a million miles away from when Wilson’s contemporaries suddenly decide in their 70s that they’re going to put on a smart suit and sing the Great American Songbook backed by an orchestra playing ersatz Gordon Jenkins or Nelson Riddle.

Interestingly, this marks the only time Brian Wilson ever got a number one album on the Billboard jazz charts.

Rhapsody in Blue/Intro
Songwriter: George Gershwin

The album opens with a mostly a capella performance of the main musical theme from Rhapsody in Blue. A stack of wordless Wilsons in harmony are joined by von Mertens’ clarinet, until the last few bars when a full orchestration takes over. A sweet little introduction to the album – and fragments of the piece will be heard throughout the album, as orchestral linking tracks.

The Like In I Love You
Songwriters: George Gershwin, Brian Wilson, Scott Bennett

And unfortunately the first proper song on the album is one of the worst things on it. When the album was first mooted, the Gershwin estate gave Wilson access to some compositional fragments, unreleased songs, and so on, with the offer that he could turn some into finished tracks. The first and last songs on the album are the result of that, with Wilson and Scott Bennett completing Gershwin melodies.

But in this case, the melody they were completing was actually a full song – “Will You Remember Me?”, a song which Gershwin and his lyricist brother Ira (whose own talents are often unacknowledged, but whose lyrics are often as subtle as his brother’s music is beautiful) had written for the 1924 musical Lady Be Good, but which had been dropped from the finished show. [FOOTNOTE: At the time of writing, Michael Feinstein’s performance of this song can be heard at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8FUHNcNFIo ]

Quite why it was dropped is a mystery – “Will You Remember Me?” is not in the very first rank of the Gershwins’ songs, but it has a stately, sparse, beauty to it that makes it a minor classic that deserves revival.

What Wilson and Bennett do to it though, is less revival than putting it out of its misery. A new, meandering, verse melody is attached to Gershwin’s refrain (which becomes the chorus and bridge of the new song), and Ira Gershwin’s simple but elegant lyrics are replaced with utter drivel like “Gliding in a starless sky/’Til we found the inner light/Now we can duplicate the universe”. The whole thing is turned into something that could have been a track off Imagination, albeit with more organic-sounding backing, and Wilson frequently has to go out of his vocal range to hit the high notes. A poor start.

Summertime
Songwriters: George Gershwin, DuBose Heyward, Dorothy Heyward, Ira Gershwin

This is much, much, better. Most of the first half of the album is taken up by a medley of songs from Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess (a racially problematic work in the way that only well-meaning white men writing about the lives of black people can be, which nonetheless contains some of the best music Gershwin ever wrote), and this arrangement of the opera’s most famous excerpt gives it a slow, leisurely, languid, blues feel which suits the song perfectly.

von Mertens’ orchestrations here are much thicker and heavier than his usual sparse work, evoking a heat haze in the Deep South, and the cello part in the extended instrumental outro may be von Mertens’ finest arrangement contribution to one of Wilson’s records. Jeffrey Foskett and Taylor Mills add some great high wordless vocals, and the casual vibraphone answering phrases in the early parts of the song provide a crucial hint of improvisation for what might otherwise be perhaps too rigid an interpretation of the song.

I Loves You, Porgy
Songwriters: George Gershwin, Du Bose Heyward, Dorothy Heyward, Ira Gershwin

The second of the Porgy and Bess excerpts is a fairly conventional treatment of one of the opera’s better-known standards. There’s nothing remarkable about the arrangement, and while Wilson’s vocal is competent enough, it’s never going to compete with Nina Simone’s interpretation.

What is remarkable about it, though, is that Wilson sang it at all. It’s indicative of his increased level of self-confidence and comfort that someone who was embarrassed of his beautiful youthful voice because he thought it made him sound effeminate would now sing a song like this – a love song to a man, asking him to protect the singer from another man and not “let him handle me with his hot hands”.

In that situation many singers choose to gender-swap the lyrics or otherwise alter them, but when von Mertens discussed that possibility, or the possibility of performing the song as an instrumental, with Wilson, Wilson just said “I’m gonna sing it.”

I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’
Songwriters: George Gershwin, Du Bose Heyward, Dorothy Heyward, Ira Gershwin

He didn’t, however, sing this – the third of the Porgy and Bess numbers, and one of the great highlights of the album. A lovely, jaunty, instrumental take on the song, this is reminiscent of tracks like “Barnyard” from Smile, as von Mertens switches between harmonica and bass harmonica to play the melody, while Probyn Gregory’s banjo drives the track forward. Guaranteed to raise a grin.

It Ain’t Necessarily So
Songwriters: George Gershwin, Du Bose Heyward, Dorothy Heyward, Ira Gershwin

And we’re back to a more conventional arrangement for the final Porgy & Bess number. “It Ain’t Necessarily So” is one of the most slyly cynical songs the Gershwin brothers ever wrote [FOOTNOTE: All the Porgy & Bess songs are credited to all the collaborators on the opera, but many featured just one lyricist; Ira Gershwin wrote the lyrics for this and “I Loves You Porgy”, while Du Bose Heyward wrote the words for “Summertime”]. Sung in the opera by the character Sportin’ Life, the lyrics wittily present his view that many of the stories in the Old Testament are less than historically accurate, but what many in the opera’s original audience will not have realised is that the melody he’s singing is the same as the aliyah (the blessing sung in a synagogue before reading from the Torah).

Wilson’s reading of the song, like most, cuts out the last verse (about Methuselah) and the tag, removes the Cab Calloway style call-and-response scat sections, and has a repeat of the “to get into heaven” section, giving it a more conventional song structure. The arrangement is a relatively standard one, as well – a gospel-tinged, organ-driven take, whose only unusual features are in the middle eight (some banjo arpeggios, and “bom” backing vocals that remind me a bit of “Cherish” by the Association).

Wilson’s vocal is a little too earnest for the song – its dry east coast wit is not a great fit for Wilson’s open sincerity – but it’s still a very competent performance.

‘S Wonderful
Songwriters: George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin

Wilson’s take on this song, first performed by Adele Astaire in the 1927 musical Funny Face, is clearly inspired by João Gilberto’s 1977 bossa nova version, although Wilson sings Gershwin’s melody straight rather than in Gilberto’s half-spoken style. While the song isn’t one of the Gershwins’ best, this is a decent enough performance.

They Can’t Take That Away from Me
Songwriters: George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin

One of the few real missteps on the album, this classic is redone as a shuffle, with a backing almost identical to that of “Little Saint Nick”, call-and-response backing vocals, and a sax solo that wouldn’t be out of place on a Dion single. The uptempo poppiness clashes badly with the song’s wistfulness.

It was probably necessary for Wilson to include at least a couple of songs in something approaching his early-60s pop style, but it really doesn’t work well with the Gershwins’ songs, and this is the most skippable track on the album.

Love Is Here to Stay
Songwriters: George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin

The very last song George Gershwin ever wrote, its lyrics added by Ira after his brother’s death, this is given one of the most straightforward arrangements on the album, but is none the worse for that. For the most part it’s taken very conventionally, as a small-group lounge jazz arrangement, with drums played with brushes, vibraphone, and a string section playing a pad in the background. The only unusual element is Gregory’s theremin solo (actually played on a tannerin, an instrument designed to sound like a theremin but be somewhat easier to play).

It works, though. It’s a touching little song, and Wilson sings it well.

I’ve Got a Crush on You
Songwriters: George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin

A more radical restructuring this time, as Wilson turns this standard into a doo-wop ballad, all piano triplet chords and “wop wop wop wah” backing vocals. It works surprisingly well, thanks largely to the wide-eyed sincerity of Wilson’s vocal.

I Got Rhythm
Songwriters: George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin

Another rearrangement into early-60s Beach Boys style, this one works much better than “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”, with its clanking piano, honking sax, surf guitar, and Jeffrey Foskett’s wailing falsetto giving this a real feel of 1964 (though the song it sounds most like is from much later – this is very like “Desert Drive”) and the simple uptempo joy of the song means that it’s a perfect candidate for this kind of treatment.

We could possibly have done without the tag, in which Foskett sings “I’ve got, I’ve got rhythm” to the tune of the old Beach Boys album track “Farmer’s Daughter”, but otherwise this is a nice bit of fun.

Someone to Watch Over Me
Songwriters: George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin

The penultimate song proper on the album, this is also far and away the best thing on it. The song itself is one of the Gershwins’ very best, a lovely, vulnerable song. Its themes of longing and insecurity, and the childlike way in which they are expressed, are perfect matches for Wilson’s own songwriting – it’s the only song on here that one could imagine Wilson himself having written.

Arranged here as a simple, harpsichord-driven, ballad with ideas reminiscent of both “Wonderful” and “Caroline, No”, this rises head and shoulders above the rest of the album, and Wilson’s touchingly sincere vocal performance is as good as anything he’s managed in his solo career.

Nothing But Love
Songwriters: George Gershwin, Brian Wilson, Scott Bennett

The second of the reworked Gershwin fragments, this is based on a song from 1929, “Say My Say”, which as far as I know has never been heard by the public.

It’s a better song than “The Like in I Love You”, though it doesn’t sound very Gershwin to my ears (apart from some of the chord changes around the line “I’ll tell you what’s timeless/Nothing but love”). In fact, it sounds like nothing so much as some of the uptempo tracks from That Lucky Old Sun – it has some of the same chugging rock feel as, say, “Morning Beat”.

According to von Mertens (in a 2015 interview with David Beard), the basic rhythm track was recorded before the melody and lyrics were written, and Wilson improvised a wordless melody line over the track, to which Bennett later added the lyrics.

It’s not a great song, by any means, and has none of the best of either Wilson or Gershwin in it, but it’s listenable enough.

Rhapsody in Blue (Reprise)
Songwriter: George Gershwin

And the album ends with another stack-o’-Brians, singing a fragment of Rhapsody in Blue over strings.

bonus track

Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off
Songwriters: George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin

An iTunes-only bonus track, this duet between Wilson and backing vocalist Taylor Mills was left off the album proper for good reason. Neither Wilson nor Mills sound remotely interested in their performance, and none of the care which is evident on the rest of the album is here. The song itself is a classic, of course, but this performance won’t ever take the place of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s version in anyone’s heart.

This blog post was brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

On Red and Blue

I’ve had a couple of experiences on Twitter recently which I’m going to generalise into a statement about the whole of British politics at the moment, like a proper columnist would, or something.

(I’m being flippant because this is one of those posts where I think I’m feeling round the edges of something important, but am not at all sure about my own analysis — this post deals with a lot of ideas around identity, class, and more, about which many people are sensitive and which I have shown myself in the past to be remarkably tone-deaf about — if I cause offence by saying something stupid, please be gentle).

A few days ago, I tweeted something I’d seen elsewhere, a joke about how it would be stupid to move from the north of England to the south-east. In doing so I inadvertently caused a great deal of offence to a friend of mine — one of the people whose friendship I value most highly — who lives in London and moved there from the north.

My friend said that this joke, which I had meant as a mild bit of punching up, read to him like the same kind of ranting about the “metropolitan elite” that UKIP do. It hadn’t read *at all* like that to me, but then I realised that my friend is a gay man a few years older than me, and that (while we’ve never talked about this, and didn’t even in this conversation, so I may well be imposing additional meanings here that he didn’t mean, which is one reason I’m not naming him) a gay man moving from Greater Manchester to London in the very early 1990s, when James Anderton was still in charge of policing in Greater Manchester, may have a *very* different perception of what “moving from the north to the south” means than I do.

But then I also thought about my own reaction a couple of weeks earlier, when my wife Holly retweeted something *she* found funny — a joke “UKIP Cookbook” that was listing all the great British food we could eat post-Brexit instead of foreign food. And it was basically just my own diet. I was brought up working class in the north, and being autistic I have a strong reaction both to complex flavours and to unfamiliar ones, so my diet is very much that of a stereotypical old working class man — except I wouldn’t put brown sauce or tomato ketchup on my food, because that would make it too exciting.

And this is a problem right now, because there’s a realignment in politics going on. It may be an abortive one — our voting system is *very* resistant to change — but the combination of the Brexit vote and the reaction to Trump seems to be causing a major rethink of where the lines are in British politics — on one side are Labour, the Tories, and UKIP, and on the other side are the Lib Dems, the Greens, and the SNP.

I came across a line the other day in a comments thread, which stuck with me: There are two basic categories of political ideology: “nobody wins unless everybody wins” and “nobody wins unless somebody else loses”. The post-2016 realignment in British politics certainly seems to me to be along those lines, with the Lib Dems, Greens, and SNP all arguing to various degrees for an open, internationalist, non-zero-sum world (to quote Buckminster Fuller, all seem to have the aim “To make the World work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone” — the SNP may be a special case there, as they’re a nationalist party by definition, but they seem to have a fairly internationalist view of nationalism — I don’t properly grok Scottish nationalism…), while Labour, the Tories, and UKIP all seem to be arguing for a sectional-interest zero-sum world in which “we” (white British people who fit the gender binary) have to take more and stop “them” (anyone who isn’t all of those things) from getting anything.

Whether, and to what extent, this split exists in the population at large is open to question — at least some Brexit voters were supporters of “Lexit”, while no doubt some Remain voters hate foreigners but were convinced by economic arguments that they would be worse off. (And this is, of course, one of the reasons I don’t like referendums — a single, simple, binary yes-or-no question is treated as having implications *far* beyond the question asked.) But right now party politics seems to be aligning that way, using the supposed fissure around the question of EU membership (a question to which the answer actually reads to me as most people saying “I don’t know and I don’t care”) as a proxy for a general set of worldviews.

Now, whether this realignment lasts or not, and whether it’s a good thing or not, I don’t know. But with it comes a big danger, and it’s one we can see in those tweets I talked about at the start.

Because people are treating this realignment as a proxy for even more things. We’re splitting the world into a binary, and I don’t like binaries at the best of times, but I especially don’t like this one.

There are many possible divisions that the remain/leave binary can be mapped on to, which one could make a sort-of convincing argument about. It can be mapped to north vs south (if you ignore Scotland), England vs the Celtic countries (if you ignore Wales), rich vs poor, London vs rest of UK, old vs young, left vs right, Cavalier vs Roundhead (I could make a surprisingly good case for that one), boomers vs Gen X/millennials, industrial towns vs university towns, and so on.

But the one that seems to be taking hold is one of an internationalist, rootless, metropolitan liberal elite against salt-of-the-earth working-class types who are protectionist Little Englanders.

Now, this is just as much a nonsense as any of these other false binaries. Just compare, for example, prominent hard-right-winger Daniel Hannan (born in Peru on one of his parents’ multiple South American landholdings, educated at the £11,310-per-term boarding school Marlborough College and Oxford, speaker of three languages) with Lib Dem leader Tim Farron (brought up by a single mother on a council estate in Preston, educated at Lostock Hall Community High School, thick Lancashire accent). But it’s a false binary that is very, very appealing to the people in charge at the moment.

And it’s one that the liberal left are, on occasion, more than happy to live up to, in little things like that “UKIP cookbook” tweet, or in bigger things — during the AV referendum, for example, the Yes campaign tried to appeal to the public by putting out leaflets with Eddie Izzard and Benjamin Zephaniah supporting our side. While I’m a fan of both men, that did rather play into the stereotypes about us.

And this is, really, a *big* problem. Because it’s looking to me scarily like we’re heading for a US-style “culture war” in the UK. And just as in that case, a war between “the elite” and “the salt of the earth” would mostly lead to collateral damage among people who are neither — LGBT people (especially trans people given the current mood music, but the others in the acronym aren’t on particularly sturdy ground either), immigrants, BAME people, disabled people, and those who fit into multiple categories.

Not only that (as if that weren’t bad enough) but it hurts everyone. Think of the people in red states, being harmed by the economic policies of the Republicans but being condescended to by the blue-staters — and especially think of the people in red states who *don’t* vote Republican, but who won’t enthusiastically vote Democrat either. And think of the Democrats who can’t win, despite being the less-awful of the two major parties, because the image of them is of snooty elitists — because a Latinx Wal-Mart greeter living in a cockroach-infested one-room apartment is magically “elite” because they’re doing it in California or New York, though the main effect that has on them is to make their rent ridiculously high.

The solution is not the kind of professional-Scouser more-working-class-than-thou attitude of right-wing politicians like Paul Nuttalls of the UKIPs or Andy “I’m Northern, Me” Burnhams of the Labours. Nor is it being posh but “recognising real concerns” and being “moderate and sensible”.

Rather, it’s recognising that people are complex individuals, and that while some people fit the stereotypes, most don’t. It’s trying, as far as possible, to have an identity politics that allows people to have multifaceted identities.

Because no-one, on any side, actually fits these stereotypes. It’s very easy, on seeing the news that Stewart Lee has joined the Lib Dems, to say “well, that’s the kind of thing they do in that London, isn’t it?”, and it’s equally easy for those in London to treat people in the north the way Lee does on his TV show, as drooling idiots who say things like “well, that’s the kind of thing they do in that London, isn’t it?”

And to an extent that’s OK when you’re just making a joke — although even the most innocent joke about that kind of identity issue can hurt people in ways you’d never expect. But if you try — on any side — to tie your views on a whole host of nuanced political issues to things people see as an intrinsic part of their identity, and then give them a straight either/or choice, you may well not get the result you’d like.

Because people are multifaceted and complicated, and very rarely will their political views match the identity you assign them. And most people’s identity is far more complex than the stereotypes, and you never know who you might be stereotyping by accident.

Signed
A straight white fat Northern working-class man on a low income, with a strong Northern accent, who regularly eats at Greggs and doesn’t like subtitled films or vegetables, shops at Iceland and ASDA, and isn’t actually even sure what a quinoa is but knows he wouldn’t like it if he tried it.

and

a disabled Lib Dem member, a homeowner in a rapidly-gentrifying suburb of a major city, who works in the media and used to work in IT, a published novelist and member of Amnesty and Greenpeace who has read the Guardian all his life, who studied at Oxford university, used to drink lattes constantly but switched to Americanos to try to cut down his dairy intake, and who’s married to a disabled bisexual immigrant.

This blog post was brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 7 Comments